Step 10: On the Set

Written by | B-Roll

Wow. You booked a role and you’re on the set. Now comes the reality of it all. Like any other business, being on the set has its nuances and breaching any protocol can not only seem unprofessional but can cause unexpected costs and delays. So let me dig into particulars:

1. Be on time. When it comes to set, if you show up on time, you’re late. Being late can impact a set tremendously, so be there early.

2. Interaction with the director. Theater actors seem to think that, like in theater, there will be weeks of rehearsal before the “curtain goes up”. There is no such thing on most film sets. On most films, the first time you see the director after your callback will be on the set. Because of that, most directors will not remember your name, so don’t be offended if the director calls you by your character name the whole time you’re on the set.

3. Don’t bug the stars. You may be working with actors that you’ve always wanted to meet, but you need to be aware of social cues and flat out professionalism. Actors are often sitting on the set in their director’s chairs, and it may look like they’re not busy, but that doesn’t mean that they want to engage in conversation. Actors are often running lines in their heads or are in character and don’t want to be disturbed. Watch and be aware of the situation. You should be able to figure out pretty quickly what’s acceptable and what’s not.

4. Stay in your own lane. Filmmaking is a strange blend of being extremely collaborative and everyone staying in their own lane. You need to learn the nuances of each. The bulk of the collaboration actually is staying in your own lane. If you are on the lighting crew, you don’t want the wardrobe person to tell you what to do, and the audio person doesn’t want the caterer to tell him what to do. As an actor, the prop person will not tell you how to act – and you shouldn’t tell him how to do props. Even if you are playing a cop, and the prop person is giving you a gun that would never be used by any police department, it’s not your place to correct someone in another department.

5. Being wrapped. Inexperienced crew members may make the mistake of telling you that you’re wrapped, when you actually may not be. Only the assistant director is in a position to tell you that you are done for the day.

6. Lunch time. Assuming that you are on a SAG project, you must be given a meal every six hours, or the production company has to pay you a meal penalty. Lunch is typically ½ hour, so don’t leave set and disappear for a while. There is a good chance that you will be in wardrobe when you break for lunch. Many wardrobe people will provide you with robes to wear over your wardrobe during lunch, but many won’t. Be proactive in not staining your clothes or taking something off and putting it on wrong after lunch. Be a team player.

7. Props and wardrobe. There is a good chance that you will be given some pieces of wardrobe and/or props for your shoot. If you are an extra, the wardrobe and prop people will most likely keep your pay voucher until you return what they have loaned to you. If you are an actor, it is part of your job to return everything that does not belong to you.

8. Paperwork. If the project is a SAG-AFTRA project, there will be paperwork to do on the set. You will need to fill out a timesheet called an Exhibit G that shows when you got there, when you broke for lunch, when you were done with lunch, when you were wrapped, and when you were out of makeup and wardrobe. The Exhibit G establishes what your overtime will be, so make sure that it is accurate. You will probably be filling your contract out on the set, too. You should ask for a copy of your signed contract — it’s important for you to have it. Your contract will be a standard contract issued by SAG. You are not allowed to waive any part of it, and you need to be especially aware of a few things, especially if your social security number is right, and if it shows that you brought your own wardrobe (for which you’ll be paid).

9. Drugs and alcohol. On a film set, lives are at risk, as is expensive equipment, sets, etc. There is NEVER an excuse to be impaired on a set, and many sets will fire you on the spot if you are drinking or doing drugs. When you work on a film I’m producing, your initial contract is your first and only warning about drugs or alcohol on the set. Any sign of either on the set from there on will mean immediate dismissal. Be respectful.

There you have it – there is so much more to learn about being on the set, but if you work on what you’ve just read, you’re off to a good start!


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Last modified: August 13, 2017

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