Sunday, 17 August 2014



There is nothing more exciting than giving someone new their first experience of being on set. You watch the excitement and newness of it all, through their eyes. For some they become disillushioned by the tedium, others are thrilled by the experience, but never forget this is actually work. It's work we enjoy doing and hard with long hours. I am a great believer in bringing new people on a set, to learn and experience. I give them a sheet with a list of things of they need to know. Largely because I wish I’d been told them when I started. Manners and attitude will get you well-liked and asked back. Be polite to everyone. It’s a team effort and there is a management system to it all – more often than not that means starting at the bottom and it doesn’t often live up to your expections. There is nothing worse than hearing a newbie say ‘that’s not my job’, ‘I didn’t sign up for this’, ‘that’s outside of my job spec’ – if you find at the end of the day it is not for you then by all means say that but not during the day when it is at its most stressful.


Communication is key. People love problem solvers – people who think on their feet, who help and keep busy. This is part personality, part-attitude, part-common sense and part-ability to do the job that will make people want you around. Someone commented on set recently that you can work with inexperience but it's very hard to work with a bad attitude.

An eager, upbeat personality will be well appreciated – no one likes a faffer but having a cheery personality on your team can really brighten the day. Eagerness to get going – runners are called that for a reason because to run is often a requirement of the job.

This is a performance or results driven industry. I learnt two things from this firstly you need to do your job well and secondly the tough bit that came as a shock to me is people who do their job brilliantly but are really unpleasant (ie abrupt, rude) this will be tolerated as they get the job done and well. 

Sets are very flirty environments and friendly places. Don't read too much into it - people are amusing themselves passing the time. Over-familiarity can be out of place and certain terms of endearment can cause offence. If someone acts inappropriately to you then report it to your HoD, if that doesn't work then let someone in production know, as no one should feel uncomfortable in their workplace.

You should be reimbursed for travel you undertake on behalf of the production ie for runs and for any calls you make from your mobile. This should be agreed in advance. Should you be working for free most productions will cover expenses which refer to travel and lunch but check what your lunch allowance is. Avoid buying anything for a production out of your own money. Ask for a float and KEEP all receipts. 

Understand and adhere the hierarchy whether you like it or not – directors are like the Prime Minister (producers are on this level too but not necessarily on the creative level), ADs rule the floor, heads of department are next and everyone else are the workers.

It is your responsibility to get yourself to and from set, a location, and within plenty of time. Print out a map if needed. If you are really lost then call someone like the coordinator or production secretary, not the producer. Ultimately you are responsible for getting yourself to set on time. A 1st AD I work with says 10 minutes before unit call is 30 minutes late. 

With regard to transport in my experience people are good at giving each other lifts if it is a remote location so ask around if you don’t have any means to get there or home. 

Be mindful of personal hygiene, wear deodorant and shower each day - personal hygiene is essential. Sets are crowded and confined spaces - someone will tell you to wash – it's horrid but true.

Wear sensible flat shoes on set and bring weather-proof clothing for exterior shoots - shooting crew need it and you’ll appreciate having it in wet or cold conditions.

Sets are a mine of gossip and suggestion. Crews love it – how else do you fill in the time between takes? If you tell one person something chances are an entire crew will know. Avoid.

Don’t stand by the sidelines watching it go on around you – no matter how complex film-making may seem – there’s always someone needing help. Look and be busy. Ask who’d like a tea/coffee, remember how they like it. Cables to be tidied, boxes to be moved, bins to be filled or emptied, tables to be wiped, kit to be lugged somewhere, a stand or a flag to be held. Ask what can be done, needs to be done next and prep accordingly.

Don’t make excuses – no one wants to know. People are stressed, tired, working to a demanding schedule only give explanations when asked and that is to clarify. Take responsibility, not the blame, as no one likes a cover up. Say sorry and get on with it. Unfortunately, with the tight time factor many of us suffer from the perfection complex so want things done perfectly. A task that normally takes 15 minutes to do but takes you 30 don’t explain why – apologise and say it won’t happen again. People will get it.

Crew welcome questions and curiousity about how something is done. It’s a given on a set that newbies will do that and eagerness is respected. There is a difference between curiousity and badgering. Downtime - on arrival and breaks between set ups is good. Let people have their lunchtimes. Talk to the department crew you want to work in, not necessarily the Head of Department (HOD) ie camera talk to the assistants, the grip or lighting, speak to the electricians (sparks), want to direct go to media or video village, ask to help lift things. Sets are busy places, dawdling, being disruptive, giddy and simply hanging around on set during shoot will be frowned upon.

Language and terminology on sets differ especially terms and names for equipment. Asking is key but remember the answers. Enquire how to do something rather than figure it out, ask where something goes rather than putting it down anywhere. Anywhere or over there can mean it is lost, if it can’t be found. 

Key phrases are ‘mind your backs’, usually means watch out someone is walking towards you with heavy kit. DFI – don’t follow instruction. Breakfast refers to the first meal of the day, lunch is the main meal of the day and these don’t follow a time pattern if on splits (starting in the middle of the day) or nights.

Should you be sent on an errand or a ‘run’ - ask where should you bring the item back to and who should you hand it to. Get a VAT receipt. Give the change to the person who gave you float and quite literally hurry up and run if necessary!

At meal times always allow cast and shooting crew ahead of you, you shouldn’t be first in line any way. Don’t plonk yourself beside the director, producer and DOP offering suggestions. Bring it to your HOD. If it is a safety issue, go straight to the 3rd AD – again with this one common sense prevails.

There is always something that needs to be done and no excuse for doing nothing. When watching on set - check that there are no cups or rubbish lying around – have your eyes pealed. It will be noticed.


Fill the photocopier with paper
Tidy general areas – put things in bins
Clearing plastic cups being mindful they are not left on set and could end up in the film – do a circuit of the set at least once an hour
Check bins – fill them and empty them
Check there is toilet paper and hand-wash and that they are tidy
Runs to shops
Making tea/coffee/bring cups of water
Standing by a door way or blocking off areas ie manning a door and not letting anyone in
Research general topics

Sunday, 3 August 2014


Getting work on a film set can seem like a big industry secret – it can boil down to many factors luck, who you know, birth-right, education or timing. There is no set path but there are loads of jobs in production. 

Begin by understanding that there are different departments, some on the floor (on set) and others behind the scenes. Crafts that are purely based in and around the set include Assistant Directors, Camera, Lighting and Sound; Crafts that are both on set and off set are make up, costume, art department; off set departments comprise production, editorial and location.

There are some realities to working on a sets to be aware of before you embark on this career path. Most are discovered through trial, error and embarrassment – but remember we told you so first. 

  • Freelancers (which is what we are) don't know where the next job is coming from and are not guaranteed work. 
  • Rare as it is, jobs do fall through at the last minute for creative as well as financial reasons. 
  • Prepare for little sleep and long working hours. 
  • Forget about a social life. Should the 4-week schedule clash with Glastonbury - you may face the possibility of having to choose one over the other. 
  • Develop thick skin and toughen up because a lack of gratitude or appreciation comes with the territory. 
No matter what your training, there will be no better way to learn than being on the job, being on set is where to pick up how it is done. 


The educational route is a popular one. The degree courses and one-year diplomas don’t automatically lead to employment or that you'll walk into work but you will gain experience. The advantages are enormous, you will get to understand the system and play with equipment. Anytime spent with equipment is invaluable, as nothing slows a shoot down quicker than an incompetent crew member. 

One year courses give practical experience like working with equipment and the making of films, they give an advantage, over the next guy who doesn’t. You won’t go straight into the role of head of department but you will learn how to handle equipment responsibly and create a reel showing what you are capable of. It teaches you about the different crafts. You need to equip yourself in the best way possible for a role in the industry and that’s what ostensibly the educational route offers. AIDAN ALCOCK, PULSE COLLEGE.

Working on student films is a great way in. Many student films take non-student people on shoots. You get experience and a show reel. It is also a place to nurture relationships, get the contact details of the crew and stay in touch. Use social media to maintain that relationship – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. However, don’t be offended if someone rejects your facebook request as that may be for personal use. 

People in life do need luck, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sometimes you just don’t realise the luck you have around you. One of my pieces of luck was in the village I grew up in was a guy, Richard Branson who became my best friend. Most people get into groups because they like each other but at film school you meet people who have something to offer you that's different to you. They bring something else to the table and that’s what can give you the advantage. NIK POWELL, DIRECTOR NATIONAL FILM AND TV SCHOOL 

Prepare to work for free as work experience, on shorts and student films – it is the most likely way in. It’s all about creating contacts and a community. Search for work on, Shooting People, forums.

Contact diary services and agencies like Gems Agency, Sara Putt or Production Guild – they often have listings of low-budget or start up projects, where you can gain experience. JAYNE GREGORY at GEMS AGENCY, says their motto is 'today’s runners tomorrow’s directors'. They encourage newbies to get in touch or join their Facebook page, which lists entry-level roles. Her advice to anyone who gets on a job is to commit the whole day and don’t even think out going out that night!

If someone asks me what skills would I advise them to acquire, I will always say First Aid training and being able to drive. These are invaluable. I have known runners to be chosen not because of their experience but because of an up-to-date first aid certificate as one is needed someone on a splinter unit. 

Write to production companies, facility companies (camera, lighting, grip equipment companies), line producers, production managers and ask what entry level jobs they have. The Knowledge is a great directory for sourcing this information. Remember you have to bide your time and the work may seem menial but you will be rewarded eventually. 

You will notice at some point that not everyone has got there through hard work. The reality of the industry is that nepotism exists and is accepted. Life isn’t fair but before you give off these guys still have to learn their craft. General rule about unfairness on set – avoid sulking and back-biting. Leave that for drinks or after the shoot. Most people want to keep working and so keep their heads down. 

Take your responsibility seriously. When asked to block off (stopping people walking through areas or keeping noise down) - don’t let people through and make the T signal with your hands. They will stop knowing the production is turning over. If you are sent to make tea and didn’t ask whether people want sugar and milk – bring some back in a cup with stirrers. Carry a note book - write things down. Take the job seriously whatever the task - you’ll stand out if you don’t. 

Develop skills and learn. Hurry up and wait! It takes one single job to climb the ladder and it can also take years to do so too - there are no hard and fast rules. Being organised and taking direction are key skills, these can be acquired. Watch how those around you do it. Show willing. It's all about attitude and a bad one smells. 

A way to impress is to arrive early and see if you can help set up, stay behind and help to put things away. Utilise the chances in front of you – most technical guys are only too happy to share knowledge with you once you’ve shown willing and competence. One 1st AD I worked with, used say 10 minutes before unit call is 30 minutes late. 

After a shoot has ended thank people individually, go and shake their hand, even if it is several days later it is never too late. Tom Harper, one of my favourite directors, thanked everyone at the end of each week. It really made a difference. I've always been impressed by runners or work experience who seek you out to thank you at the end of a job. I write a hand-written card to most heads of department and crew after a shoot because without them we wouldn't have a film. When openings come in, people remember those who were personable and hard-working.

Every job is an opportunity to meet people who may take you with them so give yourself every fighting chance. 

Keep persisting, you will get work on a set, if you want it.