Etiquette On The Film SetEtiquette on set is similar to general etiquette in any business, with some specifics that are important to know. The basics, however, are the same. Being polite is a must, using please and thank you where possible; be humble as well, since nobody likes a braggart. Show up early: as the saying goes, “early is on time; on time is late.” Work hard and work happily, and let others do their jobs, focusing on your own department instead.

Ask questions whenever you have doubts and listen carefully to instructions. Try to ask other crew members at your level before bothering your department head; they’re busy people. It’s also helpful if you can make your boss look good and avoid embarrassing your co-workers, especially by not pointing out others’ mistakes publicly.

Showing up early is especially important while on set. Call time is the time you need to be ready to work or travel. If you like to have coffee and socialize before working, do that before call time, not after. Being half an hour early gives you enough to time to check in with your boss, get your coffee and doughnuts, exchange a few jokes, and still get all your tools ready for your job. Similarly, pay attention to your job at wrap time.

Don’t dawdle at wrap time just because it’s the end of the day, you’re getting paid the same amount you do for the rest of the day, and your performance should be consistent as well. Remember that “time is money” in the film industry; this applies at both arrival time and at the end of the day.

Part of being ready to work includes staying nearby during downtime. On set, you’ll find there are periods of nothing but waiting. This is not an invitation to disappear. You don’t want to be the one everyone’s waiting for when the wait time should be over, so if you do want to wander, let your co-workers know where you’ll be and when you’ll be back.

 

Offering Help and Advice

When you can offer to help out others in other departments, you can do so, under some conditions. Carrying equipment often requires permission, and dropping it will not be considered helpful, so consider before offering. Grips don’t usually appreciate having their flags set for them, either.

Offering to help can be a polite thing to do, but don’t offer unless you intend to carry through, don’t assume that someone will want help, and above all, be gracious if someone refuses your help. Receiving help from someone unfamiliar with the job often means instructing him or her, and not everyone has time available for that.

Never try to help another department without asking first. Instead, if you see something that needs doing and nobody is there who is supposed to do it, go find that person. It’s their responsibility and they’ll be the ones in trouble if your “help” turns out to be not so useful.

If you have expert knowledge on a subject and can put that knowledge to use on set, don’t be afraid to offer your advice – in a way that won’t look like bragging. Offer advice only to your supervisor, and let them know your expertise on the subject.
Say it softly and be ready to be ignored. If your supervisor agrees, he or she will then pass it on, hopefully giving you credit for the idea but certainly remembering that you’ve made them look good even if they don’t give you credit. When you are new on set, be especially humble when offering such advice.

Humility

Another important piece to remember when new is to allow your work to speak for itself rather than showing off your skills. Talking about what you know often implicates someone as a braggart, someone who pretends to know much more than they really do. When that happens people will often find themselves shunned or ignored as others begin to assume they have nothing to say that is actually of use.

Humility is particularly important when pointing out a mistake that someone else has made. A misspelling on a sign, for example, should not be pointed out to a group; simply bring your superior’s attention to it. If it’s an error that must be corrected, your boss will pass it up the chain. Not all mistakes need to be corrected, and publicly embarrassing someone for a sign that can’t even be read on screen can only bring you negative attention, not positive.

Making others look good is one more piece of humility while on set. Job titles are especially important for this. While many are secure in their positions and don’t particularly care whether their title is correct or not, those who have been working hard to move up and are less secure will appreciate you paying attention to their proper titles.

It costs you nothing, and the goodwill of others on set can only help you move upward and secure new positions. Pay attention to the titles others use to describe themselves, especially in cases where the title might change from set to set.

For example, cinematographer and prop master are generally preferred over cameraperson and prop person; stylist and lighting director are often more proper than wardrobe and gaffer. Try to use someone’s title when introducing them to others, as well.

 

What not to do

Keep it professional

Like most etiquette on set, there are some common faux pas from the general business world that also apply on set. Sexual harassment and sexist or sexual jokes are frowned upon, as are racial jokes and slurs or religious and political jokes. Clothing that may be offensive should be avoided as well. Keep your wardrobe professional – and appropriate, both for weather (even if created on set) and the amount of time you’ll spend on your feet.

Showing up hung over or too tired to perform your job is a major problem, as is alcohol or drug abuse. Avoid criticizing other crews or production houses, and certainly avoid bad mouthing anybody (or anything) when a client, visitor, cast member, or especially producer is within hearing range.

It’s also bad form to accept a conflicting job. It’s unlikely you’d be able to work through the conflicts, and at lest one of those jobs would suffer as a result. Replacing yourself with no warning is also not viewed well – if you cannot finish the job, give your supervisor some warning, and ask if they’d like you to find a replacement.

One mistake specific to film sets is loud talking. You’re helping to make a film; unless you’re the talent, don’t be a voice on camera. If you’re not the director, don’t be heard by other departments.

Try not to gawk at the talent, as well. Eye contact can be distracting for them, so keep your star-struck gaze to yourself.

Another mistake is not speaking up when you see something dangerous. This seems somewhat contrary to being humble when offering your opinion, but when there’s possible danger to someone, speaking up is more than appreciated.

Keep it professional

Like any job, you’ll have an easier time earning more work and moving up the chain if you stay professional at each job you do on set.  Keep these basic rules of etiquette in mind, and you’ll be on your way towards a rewarding career in film.