Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sets* (But Were Afraid to Ask): A Beginner’s Guide to Good Form on a Film Production


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sets* (But Were Afraid to Ask): A Beginner’s Guide to Good Form on a Film Production

You’re new to a film shoot? Well, we’re thrilled to have you. You’re a bit nervous about the experience? Well, we’re also thrilled about your nerves. Because we have a guide to make them disappear.

We get it. There are some places that are inherently a bit nerve-wracking, like the dentist chair or the waiting room for your local Mohel. Film production sets, for first-timers, could fall into that category as well. You’re going to come with your own set of concerns: Will I know what to do? Will I be a shining star? Does my breath smell okay? Will anyone notice my new pants? Does my perceived appearance, talent, and purpose on this shoot, as well as on this planet, meet the objective reality (which is impossible to truly know) or will this lack of objective understanding of the self, of the soul, of purpose, lead further into an existential crisis where you’ll find yourself screaming on the way home into the ever-present void, aka the interior of your Honda Civic?

We can’t answer most of these questions (besides the pants one. They look great). But what we can do is offer a simple, basic guide for first-timers on film sets to make sure you show up feeling good and prepared, and that your experience during the shoot is a real humdinger.

01 — Manage Your Expectations

It’s (often) bigger than you think – First-timers on set are often overwhelmed by the volume of people and equipment. Maybe the final commercial will only be 20 or 30 seconds long, so you assume it’ll be one guy with his dad’s camcorder on a tripod and some day-old muffins for lunch. In reality, our productions are much bigger and fresher. There is special equipment, and specialists, in every department, from camera to production to audio to hair & makeup. Every piece of equipment gets used and has a specific purpose.

Dress appropriately – We all want to stand out and get noticed, but a film shoot is not the time to do it with your wardrobe. Wear simple, dark, functional, and weather-appropriate clothing (the industry term is ‘production blacks’). Avoid anything that is loud and obnoxious. You never want to be a distraction on set.

Know your point of contact – Unless you’re a random walk-on, you’ve surely been in contact with someone from our production team. Save their information, know their name, and even look up their lovely face on our lovely website. Find them when you show up to set. They’ll greet you with a smile, maybe a high-five, and will give you clear directions on what you need to do next.

02 — Conduct Yourself

Like a professional – A film set is (ideally) a well-oiled machine, with systems in place to ensure the engine runs efficiently. This means a chain of command is established, not to intimidate or depreciate but rather to maximize the skills of everyone on set. Understand where you fit into the system, concentrate on that role, and carry it out to the best of your abilities.

Communicate – This might be the most important thing to remember: communicate with those around you about what you need to do, where you need to be, and when to make yourself available. No one should ever wonder where you are, why you’re doing something, or if you’re awake.

Hurry up and wait” – This is one of the cliches on a film set that you’ll probably hear at least once. Film sets are busy places, with lots of different individuals doing a lot of different tasks. To organize the day as efficiently as possible, we need to overlap talent (actors/performers) so they are processed and ready before they’re expected to shoot. This typically means some waiting before being flung into action.

Be flexible – We love you. And you’re doing just great. We swear. But as time is in short supply, sometimes you’ll be asked to change your approach. Maybe we want a few different options in the editing room. Maybe the tone isn’t quite right. Maybe your performance is so good that it’s distracting. Whatever the case may be, you might get some direction in a straightforward and respectful manner. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. So, roll with it and remember that you are loved.

“I’m attracted to someone on the production. They might be my soulmate. Should I flirt with them?” – No, please refrain while on the job. If you need further explanation, just log on to the internet.

“My grandmother thinks I’m somewhat of a comedian. Should I tell loud jokes constantly?” – No, please refrain. If you’re telling a loud joke and making everyone (or no one) laugh, you’re a distraction. Wait until we wrap, then let the grandma jokes fly.

03 — Common Mistakes

Bringing food and drink to set – There will likely be snacks, meals, and an assortment of beverages for you to indulge in. If so, there will be a place off-set for you to consume it. Don’t bring the food or drinks to set. They cause clutter and could be dangerous if spilled.

Stepping on cables – There is an unsolved mystery of the human condition: if you see a cable, you want to stand on it. Please resist this impulse. It decreases the life of the cable and could be a tripping hazard. You may look at the cable all you like, though.

Congregating around the monitor – Watching the footage from the commercial is pretty cool. Especially if you’re in it. This is why we often set up a second monitor for the cast and crew to check out. But if there’s an army of people in front of the main monitor on set, it may inhibit how efficiently we can operate.

Not being aware of the camera and on-camera talent – If you’re within eyeshot or earshot of the camera, pay attention to when we are rolling. If there’s sound, lower your voice to a whisper or pause your conversation until the take is over. And similarly, be mindful of where the eye-line of the on-camera actor is. Performing is difficult, and unless you’re Laurence Olivier, even more so in front of a sea of people. Try to stand where you’re not noticed by on-camera talent.

Helping your new friends – ‘Everyone is so nice, and working so hard, why don’t I grab some gear and help out!’ – We love the attitude, but you might unwittingly be causing more problems with your helpful inclinations. So, grab a juice box, hang out, and watch us boneheads do the heavy lifting.

04 — Why You’ll Have Fun

We constantly have cast, and clients tell us that they had a blast and that shooting with Barbershop will be an experience they remember for the rest of their lives. We cultivate a relaxed and warm atmosphere where everyone is working hard and collaborating. Traditionally film sets can be intense, high-stress environments. That’s not what we’re about. We might have music pumping during the shoot. We’ll joke with you during our breaks. We’ll make you feel comfortable and appreciated. Because when we’re all working together and the vibe is good, it translates to the screen. So, expect to have fun. Just don’t stand on that cable.