Film School Essentials: 20 On Set Film Terms You Need to Know
A film set is a wacky place full of nicknames, strange film terms, and abbreviations. There have been so many days when someone has asked me to do something and I’ve enthusiastically responded “Copy that”, before realizing I don’t fully know what they even asked. Before long you’ll be using these film terms like a pro and rolling your eyes when the young film-school graduate doesn’t know what a hot brick is.
But for now…here’s 20 film terms to help show off your film savvy next time you’re on set:
- MOW (Make Own Way) – An actor or crew member will transport themselves to set for their call time as opposed to being picked up and driven by the transport department. Don’t muck this one up or you’ll be waiting for the public bus and late to work.
- Crew Call – The time of day shooting is scheduled to begin for the day. Your call time may vary.
- Unit Base – This is where the makeup, costume, and cast trailers are located, as well as crew parking and catering. It’s the largest base and first point of call when arriving for work. (In Los Angeles they call is BASECAMP)
- Recce – Visiting a location before shooting commences there to plan and work through any issues that may arise from the location. Multiple location recces will take place in pre-production with HODs present to ensure no time is wasted during the shoot. Or, often I’ll do important ‘recces’ to the crafties van just to make sure they still have plenty of donuts available.
- Craft Services (Crafties) – An oasis in the desert of boring equipment trucks. The crafties food truck supplies snacks and food to the crew.
- Runner – Runners are the most junior positions on a film. Managed by the office, runners transport stuff between the production office and set, and also pick up anything else needed for the crew. They are not here to pick up your dry cleaning (unless you are the Producer) but they can be great in organizing any pickups and deliveries your department may have. Get friendly with the runners and they’ll be able to help you out in so many ways.
- Pre-Call – When a department or individual has a call time earlier than the crew call. Be sure to check your actual call time rather than the crew call, as it may be different. It’s always embarrassing to receive a call from your boss while you are still in bed.
- New Deal – Moving on to a new camera setup for that scene. The Director and all involved are happy with the takes and “new deal” will be called out by the ADs.
- Flag On the Play – After calling “new deal or moving on” but then someone realizes there was an issue and the take needs to be redone. The crew may call “flag on the play” so people pause and discuss the issue before moving equipment.
- Per Diem – A daily allowance for costs incurred while filming on location. Usually for food and laundry. They used to come in wonderful cash-filled envelopes but now are deposited in your bank account with your paycheck.
- 10/100 or 10/1 – I’m going to the restroom. This often confuses newbies on set as to why someone wouldn’t just say “I’m going to the restroom”, but apparently it’s more polite and film etiquette to use code.
- The Lot – No you aren’t ordering burgers. The lot refers to the film studio. As in “Are you on the lot?”.
- Hot Set – A set that is currently in use for filming or needs to be left as is because filming will return there in the near future. Don’t touch or move the props or set dressing, or else prepare to feel the wrath of the art department.
- Hot Brick – A fully charged walkie-talkie battery. When starting out you need to supply these to your superiors throughout the day.
- DFI (Don’t Follow Instruction) – Stand down, don’t do what I just told you to do, something has changed so it’s not needed anymore, standby for new instructions. Someone may tell you to “DFI” after they have just given you an instruction. Again why not just say “don’t do that”. I think it’s so we film professionals who can pretend we are highly skilled individuals.
- Cowboys – A shot that is framed just above the knees of the subject. No Indians required for this.
- Blocking – The early stages of rehearsing a scene. The Director works with the cast to place everybody in the set and walk through actions and dialogue. Be sure to give them space and stay quiet while this is happening.
- Abby Singer Shot – The second last camera setup of the day. Named after the renowned Assistant Director, Abby Singer, who always called the last two shots, giving the crew time to start packing up their gear knowing they were almost at wrap. This is the time to make sure the beers are on ice if they aren’t already.
- Martini Shot – The last camera setup of the day. Announced on set so everyone knows to pack up any equipment, not in use.
- Wrap – End something, usually the end of the day of filming but can be used as a wrap on a scene, actor, or item. It’s always nice to hear these words called out at the end of a day, or even better at the end of a job.
Here are a few bonus film terms by LA Film Pro Andy Somers:
Turning Around: a more major change of camera setup, where they begin shooting in the opposite direction. This takes substantially longer than a minor camera setup change when shooting in the same direction because everything that’s currently behind the camera has to be moved out of the way of the new shot. The important implication is that you have a lot more downtime to take a break if not needed during this change.
MOS: meaning “Mit Out Sound”, I.e. They are not recording usable sound for the take.
NDB: Non-Deductible Break, I.e. The free breakfast given to align everyone’s meal penalty periods.
Meal Penalty: free money Union members are given because they didn’t feed you on time.
Picture’s Up: they are about to roll and shoot an actual take.
Rolling: the cameras (and/or sound) are rolling to film a take. Pay attention and be quiet. On stage, this is signified by a single bell or buzzer. A double bell or buzzer means no longer rolling.
Matt Webb is the author of Setlife: A Guide To Getting A Job in Film (And Keeping It). He is an Assistant Director with credits including The Great Gatsby, Mad Max: Fury Road, Hacksaw Ridge, Pirates of the Carribean and Alien: Covenant.
Setlife: A Guide To Getting A… is a must-have guide designed to prepare you for what happens on a typical day on a film set. Matt Webb’s no-fuss, practical tips are essential reading for anyone chasing a career in the film industry. He definitely knows on set Film Terms. The book is available for $25 from Amazon.
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