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Set Etiquette: 10 Simple Rules

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Prep yourself for the set with all the right terms


Set Etiquette: 10 Simple Rules

By Clare Tattersall

“Lock it up,” yells the director. A sudden hush falls over the studio and everyone grinds to a halt. The only movement comes from a red light flashing high above the crew’s heads. The director barks “action” and the scene begins to unfold. Whatever you do, don’t make a sound. One peep could ruin the take and your career.

Set etiquette rules are the film industry’s grail. You’ve heard of them, know they exist, but you can’t find them anywhere. If you follow these 10 simple rules, you’ll be one step closer to turning your love for this business into a budding career.

If you’re late, you’re fired.

The call time is the time you’re expected to start work.

“Being late is a cardinal sin on a film set,” says Peter Gerretsen, a renowned producer who’s been in the business for more than 40 years. “Filming is a very collaborative art. You depend as much on the assistant wardrobe lady as you do on the chief camera operator. You can’t start the day if someone is missing.”

Time is money in this industry. It costs the production thousands of dollars every minute you’re late.

“Even if you show up at call time, you’re going to be 15 minutes late” by the time you set up and settle in, says David Hardy, a business agent for NABET 700 CEP, a union representing film and television technicians in Toronto. “Schedules are so tight these days, so any time wasted is not acceptable.”

Ideally you should arrive on set half an hour before your call time. That gives you plenty of time to check in with your department head, grab a cup of joe, chow down on a doughnut or two, and have a few laughs with the crew before you start your day.

Be prepared.

Once on set, you must be prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“If you’re hired to do a job and that’s your profession, you’re supposed to go with your own equipment,” Hardy says.

Don’t expect anyone to lend you their tools.

The set is a place of work not a fashion show, so wear appropriate clothing. Ladies, leave your pumps at home. Standing on your feet up to 16 hours straight is hard enough without three inch spiky heels pinching your toes. Also, refrain from wearing any rude, lewd and obscene shirts.

Be prepared for all weather conditions.

“They shoot rain, snow or shine so you need to have proper clothing,” Gerretsen says.
Carry a full set of rain gear, a second set of dry, warm clothing, and gloves and a hat with you at all times. You never know when you’re going to need them.

The forecast isn’t the only thing you should check, Hardy says. Read the call sheet too.

You might be filming a storm scene in the middle of July. If you have to stand under a rain tower without the proper attire, you’ll be all washed up in more ways than one.

Follow the chain of command.

Do not go to your department head with comments or questions. The industry is extremely hierarchical and you’re expected to confer with people in your ‘class.’

“There’s a defined way of doing things and when you step outside of things you ruffle feathers,” Hardy says.

There are a lot of crew members between you and your department head. Speak to one of them instead.

“Big ears, small mouth.”

If you’re new on set it’s best to fly below the radar. Keep your opinions to yourself. They’re not asked for or needed.

Film sets are full of gossip. Instead of joining in on the tabloid fodder, enjoy it from a distance.

“It’s difficult to know who’s who on a film set,” Gerretsen says. “You can’t tell from how people are dressed how important they are. It’s best to keep your mouth shut.”

Keep your hands to yourself.

Do not do someone else’s job. If a microphone or a prop has to be moved, call the boom operator or property master. Unlike other jobs, you shouldn’t do anything outside of your job description. Each department is in charge of a specific area of production. If you move something that shouldn’t be moved, you won’t get in trouble – the specific department will.



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