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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