The one thing that never really gets discussed, but is prevalent on almost all sets, is setiquette. (Created by forming the words “set” and “etiquette” together, ingeniously) It’s what you must or must not do while on the set of a project and usually defines your character, depending on the people who are paying attention (which usually are the important ones). I’ve been on all kinds of sets and I can see how some of these rules apply, but some do not. But, it should be noted that I picked this list up recently on the web and agree with much of it, and also I do not agree with some of it. I will make notes after each rule and provide examples where I can. Also note that the person who assembled these did them in an order of most voted upon and not another manner.
- NEVER work without pay. While in many circumstances I can see this being a problem, there are times when it can also be a blessing. For instance, when a friend of mine was asked to be an extra on the original Transformers movie, that helped them to segway onto a few more sets as a featured extra, and eventually on to a point where they had lines. That Transformers movie paid him nothing, but did allow him to meet crew that remembered him on some of the other movies. By working on even the largest of sets at little or no pay can make it easier for you to move up in the world. Another good example of no pay would be helping a good friend to make their “masterpiece”. Yeah, it’s chocked full of experience. And yes, it’s a great way to get your feet wet and determine if you really want to venture into this thing called filmmaking. But, some of the bad things with no pay are that you can used and abused, degraded, or used for long periods without any recuperation. And it can certainly drain your wallet, especially if you’re paying for your own gas/expenses.
- Never try and guess your wrap time. You’re just jinxing yourself. While this is true to some degree, it’s also something you need to strive to fix. If your scheduling sucks, then you’re doing something wrong. It’s best to not try to guesstimate the time you’re going to be getting done, but to better strive to understand why you’re taking so long in the fix place and fix that. I once estimated that we would be done by 1am in the morning once, and we didn’t finish until 6am, and that doesn’t include wrap and tear down. That was one long day, I tell you. And because of a great and dedicated crew, we finished what we needed to.
- Don’t fart during a take. This is VERY true. And it goes without saying, as it will cause different types of problems. Sometimes it’s the giggles from cast and crew which can last for upwards of an hour. Sometimes it’s a very pissed off camera crew or Director, because they were getting some great footage. And sometimes it’s the offensive smell. If you’ve got to do it, excuse yourself by explaining (quickly) that you have gas. Leave the area, do your thing (among the make-up and hairdressers so they’re gassed out), and return quickly. This also goes for a scratchy throat that seems to tickle in the middle of a take. I once had the scratchy throat while directing Plastik, and when the take was done, I not only coughed for an eternity, but almost gagged on my spit!
- Never give your opinion unless you are the director. This goes without saying. If you have an idea, SAVE IT. Talk about it over a break, preferably NOT on the actual set! And make sure it’s not something that condescends the project, or you’ll be hunting for a new job. Keep your negativity to yourself, as it’s never appreciated as much as you think. In one instance, I had a bit player come to me as the Director and ask me to change the end of the movie. Like completely alter the end of the movie so that the main character doesn’t die! They said, “It would make this movie much better.” Like, where do you find the bravado to do something like that?
- If you don’t know something, don’t act like you do. I once had a camera operator who wasn’t too sure about the camera he was using. During one of the first takes of the movie, the 1AD decides to ask him about his settings, including his stops and ISO settings. The camera op, in a panic, threw numbers at the 1AD and told him the completely wrong settings to have the other camera set to. So, the lighting on each side was completely off. In another instance, several actors asked one of the producers what location we were heading to next. The producer, thinking that we were using an older schedule, told them a location 25 minutes further from where we were actually filming next. So, when most of the crew showed up to a park in order to film, but almost all of the actors didn’t, it was quite the situation. Not only did we need to wait for almost an hour for them to return, we needed to prep them upon their return for this specific scene (which called for different clothing). It’s very important to a production that, if you don’t know the answer or understand the question, you need to ask someone else that does until it gets answered.
- Stick to your role. Plain and simple… If you’re a producer and that is your only role, be a producer. If you’re a sound recorder or boom operator, be those roles. Unless the production team has asked you to fill in on other roles, stick to the role you know or were asked to do.
- Keep your phone OFF. This is a no-brainer and should probably be number one. But alas, at least it’s on the list. Don’t have your phone on. Don’t leave it on vibrate, as 99.9% the reception will cause interference with the audio recording equipment! And if not that, it will put your mind into a spin, wondering who it was that was trying to get in touch. Just warn people you’ll be out filming and that you’ll be incommunicado.
- Don’t move ANYTHING on set unless told to do so. Continuity is VERY important! If you have nothing to do with the set, which usually means about 95% of you, then don’t go on or through the set! STAY AWAY! If you so much as bump something out of place, you’re bound to make things difficult to replace in the right position later on. This doesn’t have much to do with actors, as they’re the ones who interact most with the set, so they can ignore this advice IF THEY’RE BEING FILMED!
- Never call, “CUT!” This goes for EVERYONE. Crew, cast, bystanders, etc. The only people to technically call cut are the Director, 1AD, Sound Recorder/Mixer, or the Camera Operator. And those latter two should try to communicate with the other two in order to bring the production to a stop, otherwise it can get ugly. I know, as a Director, I have explained this to several people and expect them to get the word out, if I don’t explain it to everyone. I want them to know who should be calling the shots. And if I ever hear an actor calling cut, I generally give them one time to not do that again before I become intolerant and let them know not to do it again in front of everyone. Actors shouldn’t call cut because it’s not their show! They should know that you need to call line to the script supervisor and wait, if they’re having problems, not call out cut.
- You should always be waiting on someone but never be waited upon. If everyone took this tact/mentality, no one would ever be waiting for anyone. That being said, try to be where you’re required early. (Sometimes I need to take my own advice on this one, but I’m usually the guy that gets to be late.)
- When yelling out “striking” before you turn on a light, give a few seconds before actually firing it up. This is true, but only because if you’re yelling something out loud, people have a tendency of turning to find out what is going on and get immediately blinded by the 1000W bulb now hitting them in the face, burning out their retinas. Call out “striking”, wait about 3 seconds, then hit the switch to fire things up.
- Never forget the chain of command, because it’s not a democratic process. This, for many productions, is true. I once had several people “mutiny” on me because they must have felt like I was the “weakest link”, even though the movie was mine, as well as the money involved and the directing. Needless to say that I was not intimidated, I didn’t buckle, and those people haven’t worked on another movie ever since. (Hey, I’m pretty powerful. Okay, but seriously, they just gave up acting, which was probably for the best.) Remember who the big people are and have the respect that goes with that position. We didn’t get there for no reason what-so-ever… Well, unless they BOUGHT their way onto a set. Which reminds me… Oh… Well… That story will have to wait.
- Don’t run unless there’s an emergency. Running on the set, or even “off stage” is ALWAYS a bad idea. So many disruptions, and too many variables to account for what could happen. It’s just best not to do it, even if you’re a PA for Steven Spielberg. Walk (quickly) calmly to your destination if it’s that important.
- Feed your crew. This should have been higher up the list, too. I have two requirements when I am filming (so if you ever contact me about a project, KNOW THIS): I need Monster Energy™ drinks THROUGHOUT the day, and I need to be fed! Anything and everything is fine with me. You got subs from Subway? Excellent. You made a crockpot of meatballs and have some bread and cheese to add to them? Wonderful. You grabbed some McDonald’s on the way in and now I’m eating McDoubles and fries? Cool. (But expect a lot of problems with Rule #3 above.) Just make sure you have something for people to eat and keep them full, otherwise folks will take it upon themselves to go out for lunch and return… whenever.
- Don’t put drinks on the camera/audio cart. Here are my rules with that: If you break it, you buy it. Or at least pay for all of the insurance to get the right stuff back. So, if it looks like it costs more than your car, you’d better NEVER step within five feet of it, especially with something like a drink!
- Keep your mouth shut. This goes without saying. If you don’t have an important question, you should probably not be adding to the already noisy situation. Just keep quiet. I have met (and still know) a few people who cannot, for the life of them, stop talking. It’s just their nature. And it would be really great to tell them to keep quiet. But the rule is out there, and it should be observed… And observed well.
- Safety first. While it may seem blatantly obvious, many people will ignore it. Whether it’s draped power cords that shouldn’t be there, or a ladder that can hold well below your capacity, you need to be safe. I’ve seen everything, from guys standing on office chairs with casters on them, to people dangling over the ledges of buildings in order to capture a shot. All because they knew that they could do it. But what happens when something goes wrong and that person gets hurt? If you’re not insured, you’re screwed. If the production is not insured, it’s quite screwed, too.
- Just be cool. I cannot stress this enough: If you cannot just go with the flow, you’re probably in the wrong business. Whether it’s a screw up in scheduling and you’re there 2 hours early, or if the catering people make a mistake and show up an hour late with the wrong food, you need to learn to go with it. Adding more stress to what adds up to be one of the most stressful jobs in all of entertainment is not going to help you or the people around you. If you’re that much of a priss, and cannot fathom why you need to be uncool, you should probably consider another field. This goes for all you A-list actors, too. Yeah, you know who you are. The ones we like to call the “brown M&Ms” behind your back.And the last two I am adding from my own, personal knowledge:
- Help whenever you can. That means, at the end of the shoot, when everyone is trying to get packed up and done for the evening, ask if you can help in some way. I usually tell people no, or at least only get them to do minimal things. But just the thought of asking to help is very cool. Just be expecting to actually do something for those people out there who really need the help.
- Be realistic. This is probably one of the most important things on this whole list, and I thought about saving it for last, if you’re actually reading this list. Never expect that you’re going to shoot to stardom from standing on this set. Never feel like you’re “the star”, even if you are. You’ll gain more respect by being level-headed and down-to-Earth, even if you’re about to fly back to your mansion in Beverly Hills after three months of filming on this set we’ve been talking about. And people will remember you for that.