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How To Prepare For Your First Day Working On a Film Set

By March 27, 2023May 1st, 2024Certificate Programs

From job shadowing and internships to paying gigs, there’s always excitement in working as an on-set grip and electric or production assistant helping bring scenes to life. But whether you’ve worked on smaller, amateur productions or have never stepped onto a professional film set before, you should know what is expected and how to conduct yourself properly on set. After all, film crews must operate like a well-oiled machine to stay effective and efficient, so there are a few pointers you’ll want to follow.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Before your first day on set, it’s a good idea to plan your wardrobe. While you want to look professional, you also need to remember that working on set is tough.

It’s important to have a really good pair of shoes and comfortable clothes

“Working on a film set is really laborious,” said Villa digital filmmaking graduate Romone Reeves. “A lot of people go into their first day of filming not realizing how messy it can be. It’s important to have a really good pair of shoes and comfortable clothes that you’re not going to bat an eye at if they get destroyed.”

Whether you’re an on-set grip and electric or production assistant crew member, you’re going to be on your feet most of the time. Have a comfortable yet durable pair of shoes or boots that will protect your feet. If you know filming will be outdoors, prepare attire for both anticipated and unexpected weather conditions. On-set grip and electric grip workers should also always have sturdy leather or insulated work gloves.

Have Your Gear Ready

On-set grip and electric crews are responsible for building, rigging, and adjusting cameras and lighting, so you will be working with a wide array of tools daily. Having a toolbox or toolbelt is essential. Even if you don’t expect to use everything, it never hurts to have spare tools ready just in case someone else on the crew needs them. Your tool checklist should include:

  • Wrenches
  • Screwdrivers
  • Allen wrench/key
  • Clips
  • Clamps
  • Rope
  • Pocket Knife

On-set production assistants don’t need to bring tools, but there is one thing they should always have. “Having your license on you is important as a PA since there’s a good chance you’ll have to drive to pick something up, whether it be coffee, costumes, or even actors,” Romone shared.

Both production assistant and on-set grip and electric team members should also consider wearing a fanny pack to hold other useful items like a walkie-talkie or first aid.

Know the Chain of Command

You should have a good understanding of the on-set hierarchy before day one. This includes knowing the chain of command for individual departments and the crew as a whole. Remember that the director is at the top and any creative decisions or adjustments from the director should be followed.

As a member of the on-set grip and electric crew, you’ll mostly be working with the camera, grip, and electrical crews. The director of photography, the key grip, and the gaffer are the heads of these crews, respectively. Your orders will come from these leads and be disseminated by the best boy grip, or the grip second-in-command.

Production assistants do not report to any particular department. Each day on set can be vastly different for them. For example, they may need to serve as a stand-in for the costume department one day while helping grip and electric crews another. They should be familiar with each of the department heads and be prepared to step in on set wherever needed.

Be Early and Ready to Work

Forget about getting to work on time. When it comes to working on a film set, you’re either early or you’re late. “Being on time actually means being on set at least 10 minutes early,” Romone said.

Take those extra minutes to familiarize yourself with the call sheet. This is a guide that lists the cast and crew, shoot addresses, the filming schedule, relevant phone numbers, and crew titles. You won’t be tested on any of this information, but the crew on set will know if you’ve misread something. This is also a good opportunity to get used to some of the jargon commonly used on set and meet with other crew members. Chances are you’ll be working with people you haven’t met before, so try to introduce yourself so you’re a familiar face to others.

Follow On-Set Etiquette

On-set etiquette isn’t complicated, but it is very particular. “The number one rule on set is to have your phone off,” Romone said. “And if you can’t have it totally off for some reason, make sure it is at least on silent or ‘do not disturb.’ If your phone goes off in the middle of shooting, be prepared for everyone to turn and look at you.”

In general, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings. Everything has its place on a set, including you. If you aren’t directly working, find a spot out of the way, out of the light, and out of the actors’ eyeline. Stick to this same spot when you’re not actively coordinating operations.

Another good rule of thumb is to only handle the gear you have been tasked with. You shouldn’t touch or use anyone else’s equipment without their permission. Even if you need to move equipment to set up for a scene or to make a necessary adjustment, find out who is in charge of the gear and have them move it.

Last but not least, be mindful and respectful of cues on set. Don’t shout or walk on set during shooting. Unless a correction needs to be made before shooting begins, keep with the other production crew and allow the director to take control of the set.

Have a Good Attitude

It sounds cliche, but a good attitude is important if you’re going to work on set. “Bringing a smile and positive attitude to set is really important,” Romone shared. “It helps people feel comfortable and keeps up morale. Don’t be the person in the back with a glare on their face.”

Shooting days are long and tiring. Nothing makes a day go south faster than working with a difficult crew. Know your strengths and weaknesses and work towards improving those areas when you can. Be curious and willing to learn yet courteous. If you don’t know how to help with something, be honest. Trying to help others with a task on set that you don’t know how to perform can be dangerous, so always be upfront about your abilities.