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.

You can find me via Twitter here - @amyclarkefilms