20 Film Terms You Need to Know to Survive On-Set

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 the film crew 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Crew Call – The time of day shooting is scheduled to begin for the day. Your call time may vary.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. Craft Services (Crafties) – An oasis in the desert of boring equipment trucks. The crafties food truck supplies snacks and food to the crew.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. The Lot – No you aren’t ordering burgers. The lot refers to the film studio. As in “Are you on the lot?”.
  13. 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.
  14. Hot Brick – A fully charged walkie-talkie battery. When starting out you need to supply these to your superiors throughout the day.
  15. 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.
  16. Cowboys – A shot that is framed just above the knees of the subject.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Martini Shot – The last camera setup of the day. Announced on set so everyone knows to pack up any equipment, not in use.
  20. 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.

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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.

Walkie Talkie Lingo Cheatsheet Everyone on Set Should Know

On every project, you will be given a walkie talkie lingo and will be expected to know how to use it to communicate professionally with your department. Initially, this can be daunting if you don’t know how to use it correctly, but radio can save time and is an effective way for people to communicate across the expanse of a film set. Nobody likes wearing a walkie. It’s difficult to listen to one person talk to you, while you hear other people talking over the radio stuck in your ear. With these simple tips, you’ll be running the channels like a pro.

Each department generally has its own channel except for the ADs, Art, Costume, Makeup, and Medics, who often all use channel 1 together. If using channel 1, it is important to restrict the only necessary conversation to that channel. Anything that is specific to one person or lengthy in explanation is best served by channel 2 or another designated chat channel. This keeps the channel free for any immediate contact.

Walkie talkie lingo isn’t just for talking but also for listening to instructions and keeping up with what is happening on set. Depending on your department, most of the information to go about your work will be said over the radio via a superior or another department. Train yourself to listen when you hear these voices so you don’t find yourself asking dumb questions that have already been answered seconds earlier.

Here’s a bunch of tips on understanding walkie talkie lingo like a boss:

  • Speaking – push the button and wait half a second before talking. This ensures that the beginning of what you are saying is not lost.
  • State your name plus state their name, et voila! Simple, transparent communication is achieved. E.g. ‘Matt to Sam’.
  • Wait for their response… E.g. ‘go-ahead’ or ‘hello’. You now have their attention and can ask what you need. If you don’t initially get their attention they could be speaking to someone face to face and won’t catch anything you say.
  • If your conversation is going to take longer than a couple of sentences, then best get them to switch to channel 2 or the chat channel. You can now speak freely on channel 2 but don’t forget to switch back to channel 1 when you’re finished or you will miss all the important info rolling around.
  • Note – channel 2 isn’t a private channel. Many people will eavesdrop on these conversations if they think it involves them or they are just bored with the regular channel 1 talk. Don’t go stating all your innermost secrets.
  • Be clear and precise. Don’t mumble. Don’t use superfluous language, and get to the point already. This involves thinking about what you need to say before engaging in a conversation over the radio. You may find yourself saying some funny things when everyone is listening if you don’t think before you speak.
  • Eventually, your battery will die. Charged batteries or ‘hot bricks’ can be found in containers scattered around set or if you’re desperate and in a hurry, the PAs usually carry spares on them.
  • Take care of your radio. Charge it each night in the truck and try not to get it wet when it’s raining. There’s nothing worse than a faulty radio that is preventing you from communicating and listening to your department when the set is moving at a million miles an hour.

When starting out, it’s extremely important that you understand how to use the radio effectively. If you are unable to master a simple task like this, your department will banish you immediately and deem you a useless cause. It’s harsh but true. Alternatively, if you nail this within your first week and can be relied on to listen and communicate effectively, you will become an invaluable part of their team.

6 Tips To Cope With An Exhausting Film Schedule

Working in the film industry is demanding and unrelenting, commanding a high level of work ethic over extremely long hours. The lengthy hours and grueling film schedule can test people’s patience, strain relationships, and push people to breaking-point when they are stressed and pressure is applied from higher levels to achieve even more.

It’s important to be aware of this and protect your non-negotiables throughout a job in order to manage family life and certain significant events. You will find your outside social life will decrease dramatically for a season, as you won’t have the time for mid-week dinners and you’ll be sleeping the week off come Saturday.

However, you will make great new friends that form your film family, and these folks will carry you through the fatigue and deliria. You will have amazing experiences, visit awesome places, and do some really cool things. This all makes for great stories when you do have time to go to all the birthday parties and social events when your project concludes.

Here are some simple strategies to cope with the arduous shooting film schedule and grueling industry that have helped me navigate marriage, friendships, and family dynamics.

1. Get as much sleep as possible.

Fatigue leads to grumpiness and exhaustion, which leads to jaded, worn-out film crews; a common feature amongst the overworked, experienced crew. I may not be able to stay up late binge-watching Netflix and won’t be able to discuss the nuances of so-and-so’s social media activity the following day but at least I’ll be looking after my body and mind for the long term. Sleep is incredibly important in refreshing your body after each day and the majority of people don’t get enough each night.

I may not be able to stay up late binge-watching Netflix and won’t be able to discuss the nuances of so-and-so’s social media activity the following day but at least I’ll be looking after my body and mind for the long term. Sleep is incredibly important in refreshing your body after each day and the majority of people don’t get enough each night.

2. Eat well and drink plenty of water.

The catering will be excellent, so it will be easy to do this – but it’s still important. With enough sleep, good food, and plenty of water, your body should be able to function with the demands of long hours. On-set catering makes it easy to eat a variety of vegetables and nutritional food that will keep your body running.

Spending extended hours outside in all sorts of conditions will dehydrate your body unless you endeavor to guzzle plenty of water. Recently on a job, it was so unbearably hot and humid that I was drinking 1 liter of water each hour for an entire day! If someone offers you a drink of water, just take it, even if you aren’t thirsty.

3. Enjoy the break at the end of each job between contracts.

Often you will have a short break between finishing one project and starting the next. It’s hard to line up contracts perfectly as you will either have to leave the previous job early or the next one may not start for a few weeks. Many people stress that they are out of work for a few weeks, but considering they have worked fifty to seventy hour weeks for the last few months, hopefully, there’s a bit of cash with which to relax and enjoy the break. If you’re not in that position, try and get a few TVCs to supplement your income while you recover.

Usually, three days after I finish a job, I’m a bit of a zombie. I sleep in, read, relax, and let my body recover. You’ll really feel it if you do back-to-back jobs without a break. Sometimes this is necessary as you don’t want to turn down the next project but be aware of the back end of that project that you will be prone to getting sick and exhaustion will start to affect your mood and productivity.

Many people stress that they are out of work for a few weeks, but considering they have worked fifty to seventy hour weeks for the last few months, hopefully, there’s a bit of cash with which to relax and enjoy the break. If you’re not in that position, try and get a few TVCs to supplement your income while you recover.

4. Treat your partner or spouse to something special at the end of each job.

You won’t have spent as much time with them over the last few months as you should have so buy them a meaningful gift, go on a holiday, hang out together – whatever it is that enriches the relationship. It’s important to show that your relationship is valuable even though it may have been down the priority list with work taking so much time recently.

There are too many people in the film industry who are divorced or in unhappy situations as a result of working too much, too often, or neglecting to value their spouses when they do have the time.

5. Take your +1 along to your premieres, wrap parties, and any other fun social event the film crew has.

Having the chance to meet your work friends and feel a sense of involvement in each project you do is important. When it comes to discussing the next project, they will know who you are working with again and will be supportive of your career and the opportunities it affords you as a team or family.

6. Book a vacation each year.

Granted, you may not know what or where you will be working but people need holidays. Don’t get caught in the trap of never booking a holiday because you might miss out on the next contract. There’ll always be another job that comes around. Film productions shut down over Christmas and early January so this can be a good time to have a two-week break without risking missing work.

It’s actually surprising how booking a holiday on random dates will often work in with the jobs you are offered anyway. My wife and I usually book a holiday at the end of a big contract – just the two of us having fun together. It doesn’t have to be a really expensive, extravagant getaway, and simple is often the way to go.

After a year or two, you will become accustomed to the lengthy hours, but it will still take a week or two every time you start a job to get used to the long days again, particularly if you’ve had a bit of a break. At the end of a job, you will find yourself exhausted and a break is often well deserved.

If you do happen to do back-to-back jobs, you will definitely start to feel it toward the end of the second or third job as the exhaustion builds. By applying some of these tips, you will hopefully be more prepared to manage the exhaustive long hours and demands that a career in the film industry requires.

10 Tips To Negotiate Your Rate Like A Pro

Learning how to negotiate is a learned skill for most. It is nerve-wracking and awkward, but necessary in the industry. For every job, you will have some kind of negotiation over pay rate and conditions. Negotiation for a job takes place with the Unit Production Manager (UPM) or a Head Of Department (HOD) and definitely gets easier in time.

Asking for more money or dealing with a UPM you don’t know can add to the stress, but you will eventually learn to navigate these conversations with finesse. Initially, you won’t have a lot of bargaining power, so a tip is to more or less take what is on offer. However, time and experience will sharpen your resolve to bargain for what you’re worth, not what you’re offered.

Nevertheless, be mindful that being employed for less than you had hoped for is usually better than no employment at all.

Here are some simple tips to help you negotiate rate:

  • Know what your position gets paid. If you go in knowing what you should be offered for that position, you will know how to react when they state an amount. This can be hard when you first start out because it’s not really kosher to ask people what they earn for their position. Many of the unions publish market rates so I’d suggest doing some research on their websites to see what each position is expected to be offered.
  • If it’s your first time in this role you are more than likely going to be offered a low rate. We’ve all been there. So long as it’s a good opportunity and you are working with a great crew, don’t worry – it’ll get better as you gain more experience.
  • Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to negotiate. I often get called while I am on set but discussing my next contract while juggling three hundred extras is not the right time. I ask them if I can call back at a later time when I can be in a calm environment.
  • Politely comment if the rate is below what you were expecting and make it clear what your expectation was. You can always suggest what the union’s market rate is, so you were expecting something closer to that ballpark. You may need to inflate your rate marginally in case you have to negotiate down slightly from what you have stated. If you are on par with the industry rates they will generally come to the party (if the budget allows).
  • Remember that the UPM has to negotiate with most of the crew and occasionally the cast, which can number in the hundreds. For them, the shorter the better. Keep your discussions short and state your requests clearly. Don’t play games and hopefully, they won’t either.
  • Don’t worry if they start telling you there’s not enough in the budget, everybody’s taken a pay cut, etc. It’s the same story on every job. Know your worth but don’t be greedy. You will discover your rate will differ slightly depending on the scale of the project. This is normal and allows small and independent projects to be made.
  • Getting the job is probably more important than arguing over $50 a week. If the UPM or HOD is someone who may give you more work in the future, it may be better to take a small pay cut to ensure work in the future.
  • You don’t have to agree immediately. Once the discussion has settled, I often say I’ll have a think and let them know my decision the following day. This allows me to discuss the job with my wife and decide on the pros and cons of doing the project.
  • You won’t get every single detail in that initial phone call or meeting. Realistically, you’ll probably only discuss a weekly deal based on a 50-hour week (this comprises of forty normal hours and ten hours at time-and-a-half pay), rough start date and the length of the job. This is also the time to discuss any box rentals such as laptops or tool kits, and vehicle rentals.
  • Ask for a summary email. Once the negotiations have been finalized, you can ask for a brief email confirming the rate, box rentals, and dates so you have it in writing if the negotiations took place over the phone.

After you’ve negotiated a rate and details, you will be issued a deal memo. This normally happens during the first week of work, or occasionally you may receive it before you start.

Your deal memo will generally be based on a standard industry contract (otherwise, you should have discussed it in your initial negotiation with the conditions of work stated). The deal memo is the basis for a film crew contract that is undertaken between yourself and the production company for the period of the project or timeline discussed.

I’ve had straightforward negotiations, hard negotiations, and negotiations that have broken down and resulted in me not doing the job. From each experience, I have learned something and have improved at this process each time. These days when I’m negotiating, I can go in confidently knowing what I’m worth and can back it up with previous job rates.

Some people are better at negotiating than others, but you will not be able to avoid this part of the work-life so you might as well get used to it and become good at it.

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.


20 Cinematography Terms Everyone on a Film Set Should Know

Camera terms aren’t just jargon for one exclusive department to throw around like code as they shout at each other across the set. Everyone working on the film should be privy to them and use them day-to-day in order to get things done efficiently. Here are 20 camera terms that every crew member should know:

AKS – Abbreviation for accessories. Often labeled on the boxes of camera equipment.

Camera Left/Camera Right – The direction of left and right in relation to the direction the camera is facing. Usually opposite the subject’s left and right.

Check The Gate – Called out after a take that the Director is satisfied with, for the 1st AC to check the internal part of the film camera called the gate. They check for any signs that may cause the film to be unusable in that previous take. Nowadays, as we use digital media rather than film stock, some people use the term ‘check the chip’ as there is no film gate but a camera hard drive. The 1st AC may playback the last take on the camera to ensure there were no technical faults.

Cowboys – A shot that is framed just above the knees of the subject.

Crossing – Called out as you walk in front of the lens if the camera operator is lining up the shot. Courteous to let them know you will block their shot momentarily but are passing through.

Cutaway – A shot of something that isn’t directly related to the action sequence. E.g. A cutaway shot of a clock, as a student rushes down a hallway late to class.

Dirty – Something is in the foreground of the shot. E.g. An actor’s shoulder or some set dressing.

Eyeline – Where an actor looks relative to the camera. This may be adjusted on different camera setups to ensure the shots can be cut together smoothly.

First Position (Ones) – The place where an actor starts in the scene. They may then have a move to a second position and so on.


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Jam – To sync something, usually the camera to the sound time code.

Marks – Colored tape, sausage-shaped bags, or t-markers put on the ground to help the performers know where to stand. It can also be used as focus marks or dolly marks to help the camera and grip team through their camera moves.

Master – A camera setup that runs the entire scene and keeps all characters in view. Often used as an establishing shot of the scene. Most directors will begin by shooting the master coverage of a scene and then move onto the closer coverage of singles, etc.

MOS (Mute On Sound or Mit Out Sound) – Rolling cameras without recording sound. MOS is written on the slate so those in post-production know there are no sound files to sync with the takes.

Off Screen – The actor is not in the camera frame but is still required to be on set for an eyeline or to deliver their dialogue for the other actors.

POV (Point of View) – A shot taken from the view of the subject. Normally what the actor is looking at but can be the POV of any item. E.g. An animal’s POV looking up at its owner.

Second Sticks – The first clap was missed so the 2nd AC does a second clap and calls “second sticks” so the post-production team can sync the sound and image effectively.

Singles – A close-up shot containing just one character.

Slate (Clapper Board) – The clapper board used by the 2nd AC’s to put an ID on each take so the editor can easily see what scene this shot is for and what take it is. It is also used to sync the sound between the camera takes and sound rushes during post-production.

Spraying – When spraying any aerosol such as hairspray or water around the camera, it’s considerate to call “spraying” so the camera department can either cover up the lens or turn the camera away from where you are so nothing goes on the lens.

Tail Slate/End Slate – The clapper board is added at the end of a take rather than at the beginning. The slate is turned upside down or 90 degrees to identify it is a tail slate.

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. The book is available for $25 from Amazon.

25 Grip and Electric Terms Everyone on a Film Set Should Know

You will inevitably need something from the grips or electric department if you spend enough time on set. They will often be willing to help (if you ask politely and at a good time), but it always helps if you know what the piece of equipment you need is actually called. Here are twenty-five grip and electric terms that will get you started.

Apple Box– A wooden box that can be used for almost anything. It comes in various sizes and is commonly used as steps, seats and to raise props, dressing or actors.

Barndoors– Folding doors that are attached to the front of lamps so they can be opened and closed to control the output of light.

Bazooka– A camera mounts similar to a tripod but only has one center shaft that raises the camera up and down.

Beef– The output of light.

Best Boy– The second in command of the grip or electrics department. They often do most of their work offset in the truck as they plan for the future shooting days.

Black wrap– Black aluminum foil that is used to cover light leaks or shaped into flaps to cut the light.

C-stand– An extremely versatile metal stand used for holding lights, floppy, cutters, and anything else you need to be stabilized.

Dance Floor– When it’s impossible to lay a track in the set or the camera move is more complex than a simple push in, the grips will lay smooth timber or plastic sheets down onto the ground to create a perfectly level floor. The dolly can then be pushed in any direction with minimal bumps and vibrations to the camera.

Diffusion– A white material used to soften the light source.

Dimmer– A device used to control the power of the lamp.

Dingle– A piece of cut-off foliage to provide the lighting effect of a tree shadow on the subject.

Dolly– A heavy piece of equipment that the camera can be mounted onto to give a smooth moving shot. The dolly slides along a track that looks just like a train track. This is extremely heavy; avoid being too close to the grips when they are looking for a hand carrying this up the stairs.

Duvetyne– A thick, black cloth used for blacking out windows, and covering equipment and crewmembers when they are in reflections.


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Floppy– Square or rectangular frames with black material used to control the light. They can be used to cut the light off a certain subject or to blackout an area for the director’s monitor.

Gaffer– The head of the electric department.

Gel– A transparent colored filter that is applied to the front of a light to manipulate the color output.

House Power– Using the location’s power as opposed to power supplied by the electric generator. Always good to check with the electrics department that it’s okay to plug into house power.

Key Grip– The head of the grip department.

Key Light– The main source of light on a subject.

Lamp– Just another word for light. The electric department tries to be all fancy and such.

Scrim– A type of material similar to diffusion to manipulate the intensity of the light source. Typically scrims are quite large, either 10’x10’ or 20’x20’, and used to diffuse the harsh sunlight when shooting exteriors.

Shot bag– A heavy bag full of lead shot used to weigh down stands. Looks like a sandbag.

Stinger– A single extension power cord left ‘hot’ by the electrics for occasional use.

Track– Steel or aluminum track that the dolly glides along to create smooth camera movements. The track is laid level by the grips across all types of terrain using apple boxes and wedges.

Wedge– Small timber triangles used to level the dolly track.

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. The book is available for $25 from Amazon.

IFH 162: 7 Tips To Nail Your First Week On a Film Set

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Your first week on a film set will be an intimidating experience. It takes time to find your feet and feels comfortable in such a unique working environment. You may have experience from college working on short film sets, but it is usually completely different working on blockbusters with hundreds of crew, cast, and extras. There can be large machinery moving around, lots of noise, multiple cameras, and camera cranes, equipment everywhere and on the stages, it is generally quite dark. You need to be aware, confident and know what happens on a film set to complete your tasks to the best of your ability. Here are some tips to help you get through your first week:

Be Early

Make sure you arrive at least 15 minutes before your call time to ensure you know exactly where you are going. This accounts for that extra little bit of traffic you weren’t expecting or when the main car park at the studio is full and you have to park 2 miles down the road. This is not only just for your first day but I love to see PAs and other people in my department show up 15 minutes early for work and sort themselves out before they have to be ready. In the fast-paced world of film sets, I might not slow down for the next 12 hours so having 15 minutes to mentally prepare at the start of the day helps to keep me sane while working this wild job.

Read Your Call Sheet

You may not fully understand everything that is on there just but at least have a go at reading it and trying to figure out what is being shot today. That way when someone asks you to get a coffee for so and so you know you can find their role on the back page and hopefully figure out where or who they are on a film set. My book explains everything on a call sheet in detail.

Wear The Right Clothes

There’s a bit of a delicate balance between looking presentable and wearing what is comfortable and manageable on a film set. Don’t assume that a film set is a fashion show – you’ll quickly learn it’s the opposite. On your first day, make sure you are wearing appropriate clothes for the conditions. That means if you are going to be outside, plan on coverage for the sun and elements. Be prepared to climb ladders, squeeze into small areas and generally get dirty. Shoes are one of the most important pieces. They have to be closed-toe or you won’t be allowed on set, and make sure they are the comfiest shoes you own.

Stay All Day

You won’t have many jobs to complete and your department may even offer you to come in late or leave early. I would try to avoid this if possible so you see the full range of what happens on a film set. By all means, if you do need to go home for your family or whatever reason, then leave, but if you can stay until the end of the day it will give you the chance to speak to your colleagues with less pressure or time constraints. You might even get to enjoy a beer with them as they chat about the day that was.

Ask Questions

You will have lots of questions about various people. It’s important you choose the right times to ask these questions. On your first day, you won’t have many jobs to fulfill. You’ll find yourself as an observer more than a contributor, but the people working around you have a purpose and a role to fill, often with a timeframe associated, so they can’t always stop to answer your question. A good time to ask them is at breakfast, lunch or on wrap while packing up.

This is when they will be most relaxed and have time for you. Some roles will also have downtime while the takes are done over and over again and you may get an opportunity to step outside of the studio and chat with other crew members. The majority of the crew will be happy to answer any questions and give advice if you approach them politely and at the right time. Everyone learned from someone before them so there is this really nice unspoken code of passing information along to the next generation if they are willing to learn.

Know Where To Stand

A film set is an overwhelming workplace at the best of times, let alone in your first week. You’ll feel out of place and won’t know where to stand as people with gear rush about. It’s a fine line in your first week to find a good place to be that is close enough to the action and your department, but out of the way enough so as to not be a hindrance. Next to the gear trolleys for your department is a good place to start, whether it be the camera trolleys, grip or electrics gear dump or even the costume rack of clothes. This allows you to grab something if someone in your department asks. Hopefully, there’ll also be a general crew monitor that will allow you to watch takes.

Don’t make the mistake though of pulling up a chair and sitting there all day. This will make you redundant for your department, as you won’t be taking pressure off their work. Treat this as a bonus rather than a right, and only watch the takes if necessary for your job or if you aren’t doing anything else at the time. I’ve seen many newcomers set just stand behind the director’s monitor and watch the takes. This is not the place for you to stand even though you may be used to that from film school.

Do The Little Jobs Well

Your first day will likely be a lot of waiting around and finding your place in the department. You’ll need to learn plenty of new things and the people teaching you won’t always have the time to teach you right away. If they do ask you to do some jobs, and more often than not they’ll be the small jobs, do them as best you possibly can. If it’s to get the cast water, make sure that water is stocked all day long and you offer it to them between camera setups.

Learn the coffees that each member of your department drinks. Don’t bother asking if they want one in the morning, just make them one and surprise them. A big distraction to doing these little jobs well will always be your phone — it’s there begging you to pick it up and check what’s happening on social media while you are bored locking down the back of shot or cleaning video cables. Avoid this temptation like the plague, because I guarantee the moment you pick it up and look bored is when your boss will walk past.

Alex Ferrari 2:45
So today's show is going to be about the seven tips to nail your first week on a film set. Now this is also this is not only for young filmmakers coming up out of film school. I've never been on a set before. But some of these tips really resonate even today, with seasoned vets that we kind of forget about some of these things. So so here's your first tip, be early, always be at least 15 minutes early to set. If you're on time You're late. I know that sounds cliche, but it's true. I always try even today when I go to set I always try to be early. It's a good sign to the crew. It's a good sign to, to the production to the production team in general as a director showing up early, but as a PA, you've got to show up early as a crew member showing up early is good because it shows whoever you're working for on that day that you're really into it that you can be counted on. Something that simple can actually get you more and more work something as simple as just showing up early. Now tip number two, read your call sheet. Now you might not know exactly what that call sheet says but you should try to figure out what they're going to be shooting that day. The more information you know about what's going on on the day of production, the more valuable you can be and the less mistakes you will make. And this goes not only for pa but for everybody on set. This is another one that tip number three wear the right clothes and the right shoes for the day. I cannot tell you how many times I was out on a set and when and when I was starting out as a filmmaker and didn't wear the proper clothes. And I was either out in the hot sun and there was no other option and I was burning up or it was super cold and I was not wearing the right clothes. I went on one set that I didn't have a jacket and I just wore a T shirt and I went up to the Hilton in Hollywood and I froze my butt off because the sun went down. I was up there and I was just inexperienced with the weather here at the time was when I first got to LA and I caught a cold I caught a cold because I was I was freezing my butt off, it was horrible. So always try to wear the right clothes. Also as pa is and and also other parts of the other departments, grips and so on. If you're wearing super baggy clothes, and you're going to be going into tight spaces, that doesn't make a lot of sense. So if you're in a tight room or going into tight spaces to kind of rig something, if you're wearing big baggy clothes is going to catch you up. I mean, you're, you're really kind of going in a battle. And this is your uniform. So you really need to know what you're going to be doing that day and dress appropriately. And the other big, big, big thing is shoes, you're going to be on your feet all day. And trust me, if you do not have comfortable shoes, you will pay, trust me, I've gone through this. Now on a one day or two days shoot you might get away with and then you just put your feet up for the next week. But if you're on a feature, that you're on this three, four or five, six weeks, and you're on location somewhere and you don't have the right shoes, you're screwed. So make sure your shoes are really comfortable as well. Now, here's Tip number four, stay all day. Because a lot of times, you know, your department might be you know, closing up as a PA or as a grip or anybody like that, or any art department any of these departments might be wrapping early. And then you might just take off home and by all means if you have a family, then go home, but or you need to be home for some reason your dogs or whatever, then go home. But if you can stay, it's really beneficial because you can sit around afterwards, talking with your colleagues, talking with your department heads, building those relationships, and hopefully, maybe even grabbing a beer with them after after the shoot. This is how you build relationships. This is how you build connections in the business. And that one beer can lead to multiple jobs later on down the line. So stick around if you can. Tip number five, ask questions. If you're just coming into a film set, especially as a PA, but in any of your departments ask questions. Now the key is to ask questions at the proper time. Now a really good time to ask these questions are either at breakfast at lunch at rap, or while you're packing up. Now Believe it or not all of these people on set learned from somebody else learned from asking questions of somebody else that they were working with or mentoring under. So most crew members are going to be really open to answering questions, giving you advice, and so on. As Matt Webb says in his book, there is this kind of nice unspoken code of passing information along to the next generation if they're willing to learn. So take advantage of this and learn things because you might learn something from somebody on set that took them years to learn and they can pass that information on to you and save you years of hardship. Just from some advice. Tip number six, this is a huge tip, know where to stand. I cannot tell you how many times I've been on a set where I have to yell at a PA or yell at a crew member who is in the shot. My advice is to stand next to gear trolleys, or camera trolleys or any kind of wherever all the gear is hanging out for your department, that's a good probably a good place to start, where to hang out and you won't be in the shot. And also if someone asks for something, you're right near the the gear so you can grab it for them and be very useful to your department. Then also guys don't make the mistake of just pulling up a chair and sitting down. Anytime I'm on a set and I see any crew member, you know, honestly just sitting around doing nothing most of the day, I don't want them back on my set, I want that crew member that's going to be moving and on their feet all the time. And when you need something, it's there. I don't have to ask for it. I mean, I've been on shoots that I literally had to yell for grips to come in from outside all day, they would just sit around outside smoking and not be there when we needed them that the DP was angry, I was angry. And it was just horrible. And guess what they never got work again. And I guarantee you that dp made sure that they never worked on any one of their sets again. So always be available to help someone but also make sure you're standing in the right place so you don't interfere with production. And the final tip, tip number seven, do the little jobs. Well, if someone asking you to make sure there's plenty of water in the cooler, that's your job, do it very well. If you can start learning what kind of coffees your department likes, even if you have to start writing them down, put them all together. It really shows a lot of initiative. And I know that sounds like I want to be a filmmaker I don't want to get people coffee. If you're working your way up in the film business and you're working your way up on set to work on set. These are the things you have to do. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was at film school, believe it or not, was one of my film teachers said learn how to make a good cup of coffee. Because if you know how to make a good cup of coffee, you will get work. And I tell you a lot of times that is very, very true. I learned how to make really good Cuban coffee, which is a very high octane kind of coffee. And I got tons of work purely as a PA purely because I knew how to make really good coffee and it got me work got me on set, and I was learning. And one big mistake that I see a lot a lot of crew members making today on set is the second there's not something to do. They pick up their phone, they're on social media, they're tweeting, they're watching a video that doing something like that, it shows this interest, it shows that you're not interested in what's going on. And if you have a boss on the day, either your department head or a producer, or anyone like that, and they walk by and they see you on a phone, it's not a good thing. So I would stay off your phone as much as you can. And check your emails and check all that stuff at breakfast at lunch at rap. But during the day, if you can stay off your phone, I would stay off your phone. That's just my advice. So I wanted to give a big shout out to Matthew Webb, the author of set life a guide of getting a job on the film business and keeping it he wrote the article that's associated with this podcast. And I took a lot of his a lot of his tips and kind of added a few of my own in there as well. But Matthew, thank you so much. And if you want to check out his book, just head over to indie film, hustle, calm Ford slash 162. And I'll have a link in the show notes. So don't forget to head over to free film book calm that's free film book, calm and download your free filmmaking, or screenwriting audio book from audible. It helps support the show, so I greatly appreciate it. And also guys, if you like the show, please spread the word. Just head over to filmmaking podcast.com and leave us an honest review. It really helps to show out a lot and spread the word man spread the word far and wide about the podcast. I humbly thank you. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




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IFH 140: 6 Mistakes To Avoid Your First Day On a Film Set

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6 Mistakes To Avoid Your First Day On a Film Set

1. Arriving Late

If you’re not early, you’re late. I aim to get to work at least 15 minutes early each day on a film set. This gives me time to set up, read my call sheet and sides, cram in some extra breakfast and make my boss a coffee. If you are late on day one you instantly create a bad reputation for yourself and this industry is built on reputation and relationships. Set your alarm early for the first day, pick out what you need to wear the night before and make sure you’ve had a look at where you need to get to so you don’t get lost.

2. Forgetting Names

No one will remember your name but don’t let that be an excuse to forget theirs. It’s great if you can remember as many names as possible on your first day on a film set, at least those in your department. This will make you stand out and give you the best chance of them remembering you. I sometimes even write down people’s names in a notebook or phone when they aren’t looking so you can refer back to it. Alternatively, you can also ask the production office for a crew list to help you remember who’s who.

3. Asking An Actor What They Do

You’ll be trying small talk with whoever is standing around. It’s pretty embarrassing when you ask an actor what department they are in or what they do. Embarrassing for them I guess, as they expect that you’ll know them from the seven short films they released on Vimeo last year. As long as you are polite I’m sure they’ll get over it. I’ve asked Mel Gibson’s son what his last name was. He politely replied ‘Gibson’. That makes sense, I thought.

4. Phone Ringing During A Take

This is even more embarrassing than when you wet yourself in kindergarten and had to go to sickbay to get some spare clothing. Don’t let your phone ring on set, especially during a take. At least have it on silent or even better, just turn it off if you don’t need it for some kind of emergency calls. Your Facebook and Instagram updates can wait until you get home. If your phone does ring during a take I can guarantee the crew will remember who you are and be hassling you each day until you provide a case of beer for your sins.

5. Walking Through The Back Of Shot

Film sets can be a daunting place at the best of times with crew members rushing about knowing exactly what to do and where to be. You’ll find it hard on day one to even find a place to stand that is out of the way. Have a good look at where the cameras are pointing and make sure you don’t settle in the back of the shot. It’s always embarrassing when you hear “Cut!” and the director berates the person that was standing in the shot only to realize that it was you…

A safe bet is near all the equipment trolleys. Usually, this is fairly close to set but enough out of the way until you discover your place on set.

6. Standing In The Actor’s Eye line

An eye line refers to where an actor is looking in the scene. It may be directed at the other actors, it could be out to the horizon or it could be an imaginary moving car that is driving in the distance. So, why should you stay clear of it? Actors are performers and they need to feel secure during filming.

You’d likely not love fifty people gawking while you feign ‘true love’ and awkwardly kiss your sweaty co-star in a claustrophobic studio. Such a kiss could only be made worse by a wandering PA aimlessly ambling into their line of sight. If you need to be close to the action during the scene, try and hide behind some equipment or set dressing so that you remain inconspicuous. Alternatively, turn your back to them or simply look down at the ground while the scene is played out. Don’t move around and fidget.

Alex Ferrari 0:56
So today on the show, guys, I wanted to talk about being on a film set. And it's something that a lot of us are on and especially when you're first starting out, there's a lot of things you a lot of mistakes, you make things you don't know secret languages that are spoken. And I've been blessed enough to meet a guy named Matt Webb. Matt Webb has worked on some big blockbusters down under over in Australia, New Zealand, working with George Miller have met on Mad Max, The Great Gatsby hawkshaw Ridge, the new Pirates of the Caribbean and alien covenant as just a name a few. So the guy has been on some major sets and he's an assistant director. And he wrote a book called set life a guide of getting a job in film and keeping it and Matt is doing a lot of writing for indie film hustle, we brought him on as a contributor. And you know, you know sometimes I forget what it's like being someone that's just jumping on a set for the first time since I've been on so many sets in my career. And it's really great to get this perspective and and he brought up a really good point, you know how to avoid some mistakes on your very first day on film set, which could be the most nerve wracking time to be on a film set. I still remember when I got my first pa gig, working, working on a show at Universal Studios Florida back in the 90s. You know, the first day you don't know what to do You don't mistake so he came up with six mistakes you should avoid and I wanted to go over those mistakes. Because I think they'll be very helpful for a lot of people listening, a lot of the tribe who are new to the industry. So very first thing and I think this is a great, a great tip, regardless of being on set or not arriving late. If you're not early, you're late and that's no question about you always try to arrive at least 15 minutes early to set that shows hustle that shows people that you're serious about being there. And that again goes through our life. You know, I always try to be early if you're late if you're if you're on time you're late and you always should keep that in mind with all things but especially on set especially when you're going on your first day. Try to be there as early as possible because I guarantee you people who hire you will notice that people who do hire, do look at hustle, look at not complaining, look at whatever that you ask them to do. You just do. And those are little tips, little side tips and I might be throwing a couple nuggets out there as I go through these six tips of things that will help you get a job and keep a job. Next forgetting names. This is something I need to improve on. I'm horrible at remembering people's names I remember everyone's face but I try hard for me remember names and I'm trying to fix that but it's something that you starting out in the film industry and being on set. remembering names. Huge, huge deal so if you have a smartphone, or even an old fashioned piece of paper little notebook which you should always have By the way, if you're a PA or first day on set, always carry a little notepad in your back pocket to make notes or anything like that or use your smartphone to do it. But when you meet somebody when they're not looking write their name down and write something that they're wearing that day maybe to make you remember so if they're wearing a hat they're wearing this or they're wearing that helps you remember and you got to study this on the during the day in the set. Just try to remember names because believe it or not If you do remember people's names right off the bat, they will notice you it's a sign that you care. It's a sign that you're taking this seriously. So definitely do not forget names. Mistake number three, don't ask an actor what they do. I know on a set, there's a lot of downtime, and you know that you're waiting for setups and things like that. So you might just not have anything to do at that moment. So you're trying to make small talk with people hanging around the set. And you you walk up to an actor, and you go, Hey, what do you do? What department are you in? And they go, I'm in the next scene. It's extremely embarrassing, and it's not a good thing. So just make sure you know who the actors are in the scenes before you ask that question. Matt writes, in the article, really great little thing, he was on Hacksaw Ridge, and he walked up to Mel Gibson son, he's like, Hey, what's your last name again, and he just very politely quietly just said, Gibson, and pretty embarrassing to say the least. But, but definitely just find out who the actors are, before you start asking those kinds of questions. Mistake number four, for God's sakes, don't let your phone ring in the middle of a take that pretty much is the nail in the coffin, if you're a PA, and in turn, a camera guy, anybody on set. If your phone rings in the middle of a take, you could have a Christian Bale blow up, depending on who the actor is, or the director or the producer or the DP, there's many department heads will lose their frickin minds if a phone goes off. So, for God's sakes, keep your phone on silent. Mistake number five, walking through the back of a shot. Sometimes, depending on how big the set is, depending on how big the scene is, you might inadvertently be standing in the back of the shot. And I believe me, this has happened to me on many of my shoots, where I have a PA, a camera guy a grip, who doesn't have an awareness of where the cameras are what we're doing at that moment. And I see them in the shot in the background and post and I'm like, you've got to be kidding me. And I've seen that on other movies I've worked on I'm like, Oh look, there's a grip in the back. Oh, look, there's a PA or look, there's a guest that showed up. And they have no idea what's going on. And they were just hanging out in the background, and they ruin the shot. So if you're lucky, it will happen in on the day as a directory, you'll be able to find it and fix it. But if you're in post, and you have somebody that's constantly sitting there, which I've seen happen, they got to spend 1000s of dollars sometimes to clean that person out because it'd be too expensive to go back and shoot. So please be aware of where the camera is, what the setup is, and what's going on on set. So whenever you're sitting down or hanging out, make sure you're behind the camera in a place that's safe, because you do not want to be the guy or the girl who is braided by the director or the producer or by the PR department head. Because you are just not aware of your surroundings and ruined a shot you're talking about 1000s and 1000s of dollars, sometimes a minute to be on some of these bigger sets. But on a film uneven on an indie film. It's still a lot of every minute that passes is valuable. So please, don't walk through the back of a shot. Don't hang on the back of a shock. And the final mistake to avoid is standing in an actor's eyeline. Now, for you for everyone who doesn't know what an eyeline is when an actor is working. And they're just they're acting in a scene and you're standing right where they're looking off camera that could take an actor out of the moment that they're in trying to create that magic that they're trying to create in front of the lens. So always avoid the actors eyeline, it's very disrespectful and it's an amateur move. You don't want to be in the actors eyeline. Now some actors are cool with it. Some don't care. But some like as I said before Christian Bale that whole Christian Bale blow up was specifically because a dp was right in his eyeline and he lost his crap. So do not be in an actor's eyeline. It's just disrespectful. Don't be jumping around. Don't be looking at your phone in their eyeline Have some respect for actors have fun and respect for what they're doing. And I guarantee you if you're new on set and you do it, you will get burned and you might not get hired again. So to avoid your eyeline, just turn your back to them. You could turn your back to them look down at the ground just don't hit that don't look at their eyes don't just don't, don't stand right in the middle of the actor's eyeline turn your back. Don't make any moves. Be still until the scenes done and then move if you're actually caught in their eyeline. So do the best you can just to be respectful. And that's it guys. Those are six mistakes that you should avoid on your first day on a film set. I hope that helps you a little bit. Matt's book set life is really awesome, by the way, and you could get a link to the book on the show notes at indie film hustle.com forward slash 140 How was this helpful Guys, please, if you like the episode, share it, share it with everybody, you can share it with all your friends through social media, email, whatever, please spread the word. And by the way, you guys have been spreading the word. The podcast has been growing in leaps and bounds. I think those last 10 episodes at that Sundance series I did really kind of ignited a lot of people. Last week's episode or earlier, the last episode, excuse me, on why I edited on DaVinci Resolve for this is mag, that was a that was a really successful podcast, everyone's really talking to me about it and really like it. So please keep spreading the word it's really helping out the podcast is really helping out the site. And at the end of the day, we're helping more filmmakers. And that's really, you know, what I'm trying to do is trying to get as much information out there some real information out there as as possible. So thanks again so much, guys. And don't forget that Meg is world premiering at cinequest on March 4 at 320. Now, myself, Julie and a bunch of the cast and crew are going to be at the Saturday screening and the Sunday screening Sunday, we have it on March 5 at 8:30pm. And then we've got another three screenings throughout the week. So if you're out there in cinequest, or you're near the San Jose San Francisco area, or LA area want to make the trip up to cinequest. It's a lot it's a great festival, a lot of great information, a lot of great panels and, and workshops and stuff like that, definitely check it out. And I'll put a link in the show notes to to all the if you want to buy tickets or want to get access to the world premiere, that'd be great. I also have a lot of cool stuff coming because I'm a maniac. And I apparently have no no life. But I actually do believe it or not. But I have a lot of cool cool stuff coming up for you guys on how we're going to be self distributing. This is mag, we're going to I'm going to be going through the entire process and documenting the entire process of how we self distribute this as mag, how we are released strategy, and you guys are going to be a part of that. And I'm going to talk more about that in the coming weeks. We're hoping hoping to release this is Meg in the summer for online and I will talk more about where and when in the coming week. So guys, as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)