On Set Etiquette: A Few Things To Know On Day One
"Before I make a prospective employee an offer, I invite them to lunch, to see their manners." said a well-known NYC mogul. For the sake of staying on point, we will call him Rich. He continued, that he chose to not hire a well-qualified, highly educated candidate, solely on the basis that the candidate added salt and pepper to his salad before trying it. Initially this sounded ludicrous. Of course, manners and etiquette are important, but a well-qualified candidate can be taught to put a napkin on his/her lap. Rich then explained his reasoning for his matter-of-fact decision. He said, by not trying the salad first, that revealed the candidate to be a know-it-all, unwilling to test the waters and/or do the proper research needed before moving to action. Rich concluded, the candidate liked things his way and had a higher probability of failure taking on the brand of a new company. Lastly, he said, that by adding salt and pepper before trying the meal, the candidate not only insulted the chef, but also Rich personally, as he made the recommendation.
On set we do not care if or how you apply condiments to your meal. What is relevant here, is the meaning behind why we hold to certain rules on set. You may not think what you are doing or not doing is perfectly fine, when in fact, it could be harming your career.
So, here we are, today is your first day arriving on location, for what is going to be a great day of production. Your specific job title will come with its whole list of etiquette rules, but for the sake of the helping the masses, your job title is: On Set Guy (who does everything.) What are some things you need to know to keep you from blowing a shot, costing millions and keeping your job?
Rule No.1 -Be Punctual
This should be your Golden Rule in all aspects of your life, but definitely with your job. A typical 9-5 job may not have an issue continuing a normal day if you are late. A movie, commercial, or shoot is never a typical day. Everyone on set has their own role that they are responsible for. If the Actor is late, who is going to run the scene? If the Best Boy is late, who is going to run the lights? If the hair and makeup is late, who is going to prepare the talent? Save everyone time and money and come to work on-time.
Rule No.2 -Know Your Place
Being on set is like being in court with the King. Would a jester speak directly to a King before spoken to? Same goes with a production set. Do not speak to the Director unless spoken to -his/her train of thought is the reason you have a job that day. If you have an issue, go to the person directly above you, not the person above them. All positions allocate jobs and rely on the people under them to take care of those jobs. If you are responsible for your position and oversee the jobs of five different people below you, would you want to know that the coffee was cold? Lastly, follow your immediate supervisor with meal and break times. Eat when they eat and break when they break.
Rule No.3 -Don't Touch Anything Not Requested
This is an important rule to keep in mind. You will see that everything happens quickly, and setup time is a huge part of the ordeal. Moving the lighting, the camera, the props, wardrobe, the set, etc., can cost you a shot and in turn cost the production a lot of time and money. With that, watch where you step. You may not mean to step on a power cord and cut the electricity for the camera, but it was you regardless. Save your job; watch your feet.
Rule No.4 -Be Quiet
Speak to a sound guy and they will tell that they pick up everything. Mind your voice, the way you eat and drink, nervous tapping, your cell phone -all sounds. Side note: be mindful of what you say. There are eyes and ears everywhere. Best to keep your thoughts to yourself, unless they are certainly beneficial. In which case, make sure to share to your immediate supervisor and after the Director says, "Cut".
Rule No.5 -Go with The Flow
The industry works on relationships. Show up to work ready to work hard, long and unpredictable hours, and eager to learn. Your reputation is what will land you the next job. Make sure that you are known as a hustler -someone who doesn't need to be asked twice and the person that doesn't complain after a 16-hour shoot.
Knowing these etiquette rules and how they impact you and the entire production, will not only benefit you, but the entire team. No one has ever said, "I don't want to hire that person because they were a team player." Count yourself as booked!