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