10 lessons I learnt from working on film sets

careers in film

Tips for beginner Filmmakers – 10 lessons I learnt from working on film sets. Working on film sets gives you a the chance to see how others organise and navigate a film set and crew ( I tend to be the judgmental type so I learn more from observing mistakes than successes). Below are Ten tips to heed in mind if you are making your own films these can be applied to both student and professional film sets.

1. Don't go over 12 hours of work a day

12 hours should be the most anyone should have to work per day, creative work does not excuse this. Keep in mind that your job may be less physical than others, your film crew may have just come off from working on another film set. If you have to go over the set wrap time, let it be a one off, apologise and thank everyone  for staying after hours to finish the film.

2. Provide good food

Like an army a film crew also marches on it stomach. I remember on one film set we were shooting outside in the winter snow, when lunch time came all we got was a cold sandwich that we had to eat standing up before carrying on with the next 6hr of work outside. You can see how in this scenario the crew where not too happy with the producers. Try to have warm food as an option, make sure there are snacks and healthy food. Make sure your crew have access to water at all times and stay hydrated. Good food and a Full stomach will make a film crew happy, and happy crew will work harder.

3. Filming on location is hard

Especially in England with our ever changing weather, but I am sure it is the same all over the world rain or shine. I have found myself standing in snowy fields for a few weeks. A night shoot in london destroyed my feet I only had leather boots on, snow boots and a very good waterproof coat was needed. Check the weather in advance get the right clothing for outdoor work. Working outside all day can be exhausting. Especially if it's indoor work you are used to, or cold blooded like me.

4. Health and safety matters

You might want to be like Werner Herzog running In the mountains, shooting carefree. But you do need to care about your crew's health and safety in the real world, you don't want someone to get injured on your own film set. I have heard many stories of guerilla filmmaking gone wrong. Take safety seriously the Key Grip and the 1st AD usually have a keen understanding of safety on set. 

5. Film sets are social places and not always great for introverts

I had several reasons for leaving film set work, and this was one. I could not handle the social aspect of filmmaking. After a 12 hour plus working day it is typical to have end of night drinks with the crew, another hour or so social session before bedtime. I would be fine with this for a few nights, but I remember one night I choose to sit by myself in the hotel foyer and read a book to have some alone time. Only for the 1st AD of that set to inform me it was too weird to sit on my own and that I would have to join the rest of the crew that night. 

 The social aspect of film set work can be diluted with freelance or online work, when off set and of course you can always say no social gatherings. But I felt obliged to take part in far too much social interaction on film sets.

6. Listen to the script supervisor

A personal frustration of mine seeing as I was a Script supervisor for a few years. A Script Supervisor's job is to make sure that the footage cuts together in the editing room. There is no point for an actor to do different actions with every shot giving the editor nothing to cut back to, continuity is making sure the viewers attention is kept on the story and not distracted by mistakes. Actors hair tends to blow in different directions, a black eye appearing and disappearing throughout takes, film is made out of sequence, you don’t have to do everything a Script Supervisor says but listen and see that they are only trying to help makes things easier and not stifling your creativity.

7. There is a strong chain of command

On professional sets there will be a strong chain of command, everyone has a superior, as a camera assistant it's your job to listen to the DOP, you don’t talk to the director during filming hours, atleast not to give input to their job. Its hard at first to get into the flow of how a film's sets hierarchy works, only this can come with practice. Most film schools do not stress on this ladder to climb, but try to be humble.

 8. The more prep, the easier and cheaper everything will be later.

Your pre production time should be the longest segment of the filmmaking process. Its cheaper to plan and requires less crew, the more you prep the easier things will be during the shoot.  Your plan is to make the shoot go as smooth as possible. For example a year of work on a feature film would go as follows - 6 months of pre-production, 2 months production and 4 months post production.

9. You learn how to do your job on the job

No one knows exactly how to do their jobs during every task, every day is different the more experience you have the better you will be at  planning ahead but every day is different. I feel this advice is more for assistants worrying that they dont know how to do their jobs you will learn how to do your on the job. You will only get better with practice. If you feel less confident in your job role work a few low budget sets at first.

10. The script is everything!

It doesn't matter how much money you have, what special visual effects and known actors appear in the film - the money hose can not turn a bad script into a good film. The script is everything to a film,  It is difficult to work on a bad script and have your cast and crew know it  won't be a good film, the moral will starts to sink half way through the film shoot. A good story is all you need.

How To work in film when you have a full time job

how to work in film

Most of us filmmakers dream about turning our passion into our full time job. This post will look at the steps you can take to start taking your ambitions in film seriously.

Although I do come with a heed of warning, when you turn something you love into a job it becomes just that – a job. All work comes with its highs and lows, sometimes it is best to enjoy doing something as a hobby. Filmmaking for profit will not always be fun. Turning filmmaking into a career will mean getting up every day and working on your goal.

This post has been especially written for those who have day jobs. Some of you may be in a lucky position to not have to make money in film right now and you can spend longer practicing and gaining work experience. I have written a 10 step cheat sheet along with this post, a list of questions to keep in mind if you are turning making a turning filmmaking into your job – The take the leap cheat sheet

Step #1 Become Focused

Make sure you fully understand what job you want in film. You can stick to your full time job for now if you have not worked this one out yet. There are hundreds of jobs in film, not just the popular ones, analyse your skills, what job would be a good fit for you. Research your job position, understand the work requirements for each role, do you need to begin at an entry level position, how much do people get paid for this position? Do your research.

I wrote a detailed post on finding your niche here.

Step #2 Become Educated

So you have an idea of what job you want in the film industry. You have reached this job role and its requirements. Are you feeling confident enough to apply for this job? If not don’t worry, keep your day job for now and educate yourself in your spare time. Education can begin by reading articles online, books and YouTube Videos. Do what you can for free, then consider training. Some Film schools do short online courses, there may also be apprenticeships within your desired job role that are paid.

Find out what the best film school is near you here

Step #3 Get Experienced

Try to place 5 credits onto your CV within the same job role. Student films can count for this too when it comes to entry level positions. If you find you lack real life experience within your job role consider working on low budget films or making your own productions for practice.

No doubt that this step will take time and be hard to navigate through a full time job. I shot a short film when I worked full time last year, this was hard work and I don’t wish to do this again (If I did I would book a week or two off work). Have a search online to see what type of local productions are happening and gain some experience within your focused job role.

Step #4 Find your route

Decide upon a work route in film. There are plenty to choose from, and you can change your mind and mix jobs up as you go along. Do you need a full time job, or will you be working freelance and be self employed. Will you climb the ladder in film or will you start your own company. Set yourself a realistic goal ‘I want to become self employed in 2 years time’ ‘I want a full time job in film by new year’. It has taken me 18 months to leave my full time job and blog full time as I had no knowledge or experience, I started from scratch.

Step #5 What’s stopping you

Understand what it is exactly that is stopping you from taking the leap. Is it money, location, family pressure. Work out exactly how much money you need to bring in every month (can you get out of debt, will you need a location change). A few years ago I was struggling with money, as well as having no idea what to do with my career. I feel a lot more confident with a plan, a route a goal in mind. Working on this goal every day made me feel less depressed and more in control with my life. It is better to have a plan and change it than to have no plan at all.

Career Planning examples: 

  • Camera Assistant – Apply for paid apprenticeships, gain 5 credits of experience on local low budget film sets, take part in a camera masterclass, Create a freelancing CV, Save up 3 months of bills before leaving job, Plan to be working freelance in 1 years time.
  • Film Director – Carry on with independent film research, gain 3 credits work experience as an assistant director, take part in a short directing course, complete own short film, Create a director's show reel, Meet local producers, Attend networking meetings, Plan to have a feature film project going in 2 years time.
  • Assistant Producer – Create an AP CV, Gain 3 credits working on low budget productions, create business cards, take part in 2 television networking events, Get out of debt, Save up for location move, apply for full time jobs in new chosen location.

Film work is a cycle of experience, education and analysing your current skills. I don’t believe any job is out of reach for anyone, of course you have to be realistic based on your current needs to plan out that next step. I feel that if you are doing something, moving forwards in some way, you are not doing anything wrong.

What is stopping you from working in film, do you have any ideas of what your plan is, let me know below?

Careers in film, how to pick your film job niche

careers in film

Careers in film, How to pick your film job niche – with a list of 10 questions to help with choosing the right film job for you.  When you are unsure of what job you want in the film industry start out as a runner or production assistant, these are the most basic entry level job roles that will allow you to see all departments before deciding which road to go down.

However the runner job role is most often advertised for low or no pay, you will not want to be a runner forever and soon you will have to choose a niche job in film. It was only when I narrowed down my job position from Runner to Script Supervisor that I started to get paid well for film work.

You want to have a specific skill, a specific job in the film industry that people know you for. It is hard to gain film work as a jack of all trades, someone with more than two credits on their CV title looks unprofessional, ideally you need to focus your job role.  Your dream job may be producer or director, but do you have the experience to gain paid work in that role straight away or will you work your way up to that title? Deciding on a specific niche job role is the first step to making money in film. 

The checklist download below has 10 questions to go through to help you narrow down your film niche -

#1Pick a department

There are many departments in film from Makeup and camera to less known positions in location scouting and distribution (You can download a crew glossary here). Make sure to research the different departments and what skills and experience are required for each one. For example - If you are not very creative or good with your hands – the art dept would not be a good fit for you. 

Alternatively choose a stage in film and start exploring. The stages of filmmaking are – script development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution, throughout these stages there are hundreds of film jobs. Creative Skillset is a great website for doing research into careers in film.

#2 Skills, hobbies, interests

Make a list of your interests and hobbies. Do you like technology, are you good at working with other people. Are you physically fit for a job in light rigging and grip work. Personally my skills of organising, and my ability to work alone helped with my continuity job role. 

Also consider what type of job would be best for you – self employment or a full time film job. The reality is most production crew jobs will be self employed. For more security and full time careers in film consider post production and distribution (Full time film jobs can be found at TV Stations, Creative agencies and within post production houses). What responsibilities you have in your own life will depend on whether self employment can be on option. 

#3 Search for jobs

Have a search online to see what jobs are frequently being advertised in your area. If you are after a full time job what full time job positions keep showing up online? You will start to notice that a lot of camera and crew work will be advertised on a job by job basis. You can find a list of film jobs sites here. Search for film jobs within your nearest city to see what work keeps appearing. Perhaps look at the job descriptions to see of these are jobs that would interest you. 

#4 List your Credits

When you where studying film what job role did you mostly end up doing? Are you more prone to Editing, Organizing, Camera work.  You can place student credits onto your CV as experience, perhaps you already have a few credits to your name. I found that when you have 5+ credits within one job role you are much more likely to start getting paid film work. 

#5 Work experience

If you are unsure if the job you have in mind is a good fit for you, try out the position for free as work experience. It will be easier to find your job role within a low paid position. Even if this is only for the weekend, you can place this work experience onto your CV as a credit. If you are unsure of what work to do - any assistant , entry level or runner role will give you insight into all departments and careers in film.  

You are also allowed to change your job position throughout the years in film. It is typical for anyone starting out looking for film work to have a mixed first few years before choosing a road to go down and focus on work within. What job role will you be applying for, Have you decided yet or do you need the extra help?

Location scouting for film. Tips on finding and prepping your film location

location scouting for film

Location scouting for film , tips on how to find locations for your films and what to keep in mind whilst sourcing them. This post also comes with a free location scouting checklist which you can download below.

I am guilty of limiting myself whilst writing film scripts, deliberately downplaying a scene as I write to make them easier to film later on. In many ways this is good practice for student productions, as tempting as it is to go full out, why not make it easier for yourself, shooting on location (especially exteriors) can be very hard. Location changes take up a lot of time, In my last short film one location change took  3hrs out of the shooting day, Which is why you should ideally shoot one location per day. It takes a lot of time to move people around, it takes time to re-set up equipment, even a short drive from A-B can easily cut hours out of your filming day.

Whether you choose to keep things simple, or be more daring there are still guidelines you should follow when location scouting for film. These guidelines are not there to stifle creativity but to help you make the most out of you pre-production time to make it easier to film later on.

You can download a helpful checklist below with ideas to keep in mind during the location scouting of your next production -

How to find your location

1. Needs vS Wishes

When searching for a location keep in mind your scenes needs. It is unlikely you will find the ‘ideal’ location you have in your minds eye (that is to say don’t shun a location just because the wall is painted the wrong colour you imagined it to be). Consider what is vital for the location to have for the scene to be carried out. Filmmaking especially when the budget is not there to build sets from scratch is about compromise.

2. Where to look

Your local film office might have advice and help for scouring locations, they may also have a list of locations you can use. Google maps is also a simple tool that makes things easier – you can check out your location with a 360 degree view straight from your home. I usually find a few locations online them check them out in person. I found these sites which could also be helpful Creative England Locations , Locations Hub

3. Permission for locations

It can be very expensive to acquire locations. High budgeted productions pay thousands to use locations (as these films are being made for guaranteed profit). For private property a fee may be agreed upon between the producer and owner. For low budgets sets we are lucky to even pay our crew let alone pay for locations. Public land such as streets, beaches, some parks are classed as public property and you will be able to film here for free. With persistence you may get permission - on one of my student short films I had access to the underground train stations in Liverpool – Thanks to my brilliant producer.

3.5 Shooting without permission

If you don’t get permission you will be shooting guerilla style, in which it is best to keep crew minimal. You may be asked to move even on public land (usually by the police, security or busy bodies) – at this point explain that the film is non profit, that no one is getting paid. Saying you are student can also help, claiming the film is a student production or personal project stresses the low budget nature of the film. Be friendly with anyone who challenges your right to film at your location, likely they are just curious. Filmmaking is more accepted in the world these days, people are not as intimidated by a camera as they once where. Its is good to have a friendly, chatty producer or AD with you to explain the situation. 

4. Location Recce

The act of going to a location to see of it is suitable for filming is called a Location recce. The first recce may be done alone by the location manager, The next by the director and DOP. A group recce may also be done with all heads of department so that every dept can foresee any problems that may come up during filming. This will save you time, money and surprises during production.

5. Public Liability Insurance

'Public liability insurance protects you if clients or members of the public suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business. It can pay for the costs of subsequent legal expenses or compensation claims and is an integral cover for businesses that interact regularly with customers.' - I copied that straight from Google, having PLI can also give you peace of mind and it need not cost a lot of money for an business or individual. For the UK I recommend BECTU PLI 


During Location scouting for film there are questions to keep in mind during recce - 

  1. Is there power - Do you need power for your equipment and lights. Are there enough plug sockets for indoor locations will you need to hire out a generator.
  2. How is the ambient sound – Especially if there is dialogue in your scene, is there any distracting noises to be heard such as traffic.  It is best to have a quiet location and place background sounds in later than have unclean dialogue. 
  3. Is there a nearby bathroom – where will the cast and crew go to the bathroom. Is there a nearby, pub, hotel, restaurant, inform the owners - ask nicely if your crew can use the restrooms for the day. Return the favor by ordering food from them, or come up with a deal. 
  4. How is the lighting – consider how the light changes throughout the day. Weather can be unpredictable, shadows can change throughout the day, check to see which way the sun is going down.
  5. Is there a car park – you need a space for the cars and vans to be parked, can you park close to set, do you need to pay for car parking
  6. Is there space for a Green room – Is there a quiet area for actors to wait and for costume and makeup to be carried out
  7. Safety – is the location a safe place to film within and what can be done to ensure that cast and crew are safe during the filming

During the location recce take many photographs to remind yourself of the location later. Also consider taking video footage of the scene.

If you have any advice for others on location scouting for film please let us all know below -