7 Tips To Nail Your First Week On a Film Set
Your first week on a film set will be an intimidating experience. It takes time to find your feet and feel 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:
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.
You will have lots of questions to 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 crew will be happy to answer any questions and give advice if you approach them politely and at the right time. Everyone learnt 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 to 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.
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.
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