Congrats! You got hired to work on set. Hopefully, you know where you’re going and who to report to because it can be a little overwhelming the first day there. Let’s quickly go over some first day DO’s and DON’T’s for the production side. In the near future I’ll cover it for the “Talent” side.
1. DO Ask questions
Whether you’ve worked on a set before or not, the first time in a new place is a lot like the first day of school. If you’re new to a production, everyone will be sizing you up and the absolute WORST thing you can do is pretend to know something you don’t. So, the first thing to do is figure out the power structure of the set. On the production side, that means finding out who is your Tech Manager, Head of a Department or 2nd Assistant Director (1st assistant directors are too busy). These are the people who you will be reporting to directly if you are coming in on the ground floor. They are also in charge of the most important thing: Your hours. You get your in and out time usually from them so always make sure you are in contact with them. For more high powered job, you probably been hired directly by the director or Exec Producer, so this doesn’t really apply to you as much.
You want to make sure you are seen right away, that you’re on time (Always) and that you understand exactly what your job is for the day or duration. Ask lots of questions if you aren’t sure what’s happening, not in an oblivious way but in a constructive way. Ask what tasks need doing and what’s the best way of doing them. Make it obvious that you are eager and willing to learn. Nothing is more annoying then saying “YES I can do that!” and come crunch time, you really can’t. Time is money and sets are all about time, so never ever BS a skill you don’t have when you’re on set. BS to get the job perhaps, but once you’re there it’s time to learn and learn fast.
If you have an opinion that you think can help or make something better, by all means voice it but do not assume it will be listened to. Don’t be bitter about it but follow your instructions and if what was ordered of you failed, go back to those in charge and again voice your idea. Usually that is the best time to try something new, since you’ve already tried their way.
2. DON’T Stare
In a lot of ways, being on set is the best seat in the house. You are literally where the action is happening and it can get very easy to just stare and watch as an actor, anchor or reporter starts to perform. Whatever you do, DO NOT stare at them. You are not at a zoo. Feel free to watch them work but don’t daze out and make it obvious that you are just watching them work. Aren’t you supposed to have a job too? It’s easy to get blinded by the bright lights but the easiest way to get fired is by making the “Talent” uncomfortable. They are doing their jobs, you do yours. Don’t approach them with a funny story when they are preparing to work. It’s common sense but you’d be surprised by how many people are terrible with their timing.
The vast majority of performers are good people and when they are not about to be working, can be down-to-earth, regular folks so treat them as such. Feel free to say good morning to them but do not think they are your friend, at least not right away. That comes in time.
Even if the most drop-dead gorgeous man or woman is standing right near you, fight the impulse to stare at them. It’s good training for the dating world as well.
3. DO Find the Craft Service and Bathroom FOR THE CREW
The first few times on set, it’s very easy to get lost so it’s always good to arrive early and get the lay of the land. Find out where the bathrooms are, find out where you can securely put your stuff and if you are being fed, find that right away. Make sure however, that it is the CREW craft service area. A lot of times, everyone will eat together but there will be times when things are segmented and you don’t want to be caught grabbing a doughnut or sandwich from the area meant for the lead actor or the director. It may not be a game-ender but it certainly won’t help your impression on other people, especially the big decision makers.
Also make sure you exercise portion control. Set days can be very long and the last thing you want to do is gorge yourself. Have a good breakfast and a healthy lunch with plenty of proteins for the energy and as always, try to limit the sugar as you’ll crash very quickly and still have a lot of hours left in the shoot.
Likewise with restrooms, most of the time, everyone shares them. However, there will be times when there are designated spots for the crew. Make sure you know which is which.
4. DON’T Assume anything is confidential
Any job is a lot like high school. Everyone likes to talk and most like to gossip. Whether it’s about their own lives, the business or usually, about what’s happening on set that very moment. About how this producer is a moron or that actress has fake boobs or that grip is high, you’ll hear a great deal. Whatever you do, try not to engage in the gossip yourself. No matter how well you ingratiate yourself in to a group, everything that gets said will eventually circulate. You can break balls or just chops when you get comfortable with everyone but never assume that what you say will not be in confidence.
Far too often, someone says something and it gets repeated in places it shouldn’t to people who you DO NOT want to hear it. Even if that friendly Production Assistant seems like a great secret keeper, he may just be peeing next to a producer and mention what he heard or sitting next to someone at lunch who also says something. You never want to be the source of a story.
5. DO Have fun
Being a part of a TV or film shoot is a privileged experience. These jobs are in high demand and should be treated with respect. At the same time, set life can be a lot of fun and it’s important to enjoy yourself. Make friends with those around you. As I mentioned above, ask questions. If you’ve never worked with lights, when they have a moment, find out how they work or are set up. The best way to get asked back again and hired for future jobs is to be remembered positively. If people remember that you did you job and were extremely personable, you stand a much better shot.
Yes, the hours suck. You are there far too early, stay far too late and there will be moments when you feel like you’re being misused or maybe mistreated. Unless it is above and beyond unfair, you just grin and bare it as best you can. As a rule, people prefer to work with the cheerful warriors versus the bitter. Everyone there is going through the same thing, which is important to remember and it beats digging ditches, doesn’t it?
6. DON’T Assume you’ll get out on time.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER assume that you will get out on time or heaven forbid early. If your call time is until 5pm and you schedule a hot date for 6pm, do not be surprised if you are late to that date. Shoots take time. Especially in film, there is a lot that goes in to each shot. Directors will sometimes want to do dozens of set-ups for each and those can take time. LOTS of time. The last thing you want is to have your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend waiting to meet you and you can’t leave. Unless it’s an absolute emergency, like someone is gravely ill or in peril, never ask to leave because it’s passed your out time. You will not be asked back.
Now, if a shoot goes over its scheduled time, you will be working overtime, which means extra money usually at a higher rate, so you shouldn’t complain. Due to that, shoots will always attempt to keep things smoothly and on time because a production team doesn’t want to pay the crew overtime. However, you’d be shocked by the number of people who begin to complain openly that their wife or husband is mad at them for being late and usually that implies to the production team that you have better things to do. Even if you DO, never say that. Your job should be the most important thing happening. For many people there it IS.
Frankly, that is why marriages and relationships suffer in this business. It gets very hard to keep plans with long shoots and significant others can feel like they are coming second. That’s why it is extremely important to be upfront with them. Make them understand that your time is fluid and make sure you are always in contact with them. So long as they don’t feel left out of the loop, things can usually be managed. It is extremely important to balance everything but when you are on set, if you want to come back again, you stay until you are wrapped.
(Obviously, if you can work out a system with your co-workers where they can cover you, by all means, escape when you can, but make sure you don’t get caught and you better pay them back! Good bottle of scotch or a nice dinner are acceptable ways of repayment as well as covering them if they need to do the same in the future. Again, this is not typical and you shouldn’t assume this will happen but you can play it right sometimes.)
These are just a few basic guidelines for working on set, with plenty more to come in the future! Feel free to add any of your own!
PHOTO CREDITS: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Warren_Chaney_%28seated%29_on_set_of_U.S._Dept., _of_Army_Broadcast_Production.jpg, http://www.hec-sbc.org/important-questions-you-should-ask-a-mover/, http://vampirediaries.wikia.com/wiki/File:Troy-staring-gif.gif, http://www.spunk-ransom.com/2010/12/15/scenetoday-featured-on-the-twilight-saga-craft-service-table/, http://www.parentwellbeing.com/blog/positive-gossip/, http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-have-fun-152/, http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/advice/1773-where-to-wait-for-your-date-weighing-the-pros-and-cons/, http://www.quickmeme.com/Boromir/page/312/