I’ve been thinking about some small (but very valuable) lessons I’ve learned while working on set. The following list is in no particular order, however, I will say that the very first item of business in any shoot should be deciding where the camera goes. After that decision has been made, everything else falls into place.
- There’s cable wrangling and data wrangling and, with regard to hierarchy, there’s a big difference between the two. The digital imaging technician (DIT) does a lot more than just data wrangling. He needs a deep knowledge of cameras, monitor calibration, RAW workflows, backup strategies, and more.
- Film sets closely mimic an army unit performing maneuvers. Things need to get done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and the chain of command should always be clearly established. Some resources may be, and often are, underutilized but it’s important for everybody to know their place and responsibilities.
- It’s not a bad thing to change your regular schedule. If you normally wake up at 7 a.m., try waking up at 4:30 a.m. for a couple of days. It will seem like a totally different world when you step outside for a shoot.
- “Continental Breakfast” often means mediocre lukewarm coffee and bagels drier than sand. Have a good breakfast at home.
- The days are long. Sometimes lasting 12 hours on average with “Crew Calls” at 6:30 a.m. and “Wrap Ups” at 7 or 8 p.m. Be prepared for this and know that, in the end, it will be worth it.
- “Quiet on the set,” really means “shut up right now and don’t even think about moving so much as a finger.”
- Sound is crucial. Wireless sets for the director, AD, producer, and other key people should be used. Or, fork up the money for an excellent sound engineer you can trust.
- The producer performs a lot of work before the shoot. She scouts locations; acquires permits and insurance; and consults with law enforcement officials, neighbors, landlords, and others. Please give her the respect and appreciation she deserves.
- If you are the producer, be mindful of other people’s schedules, especially if they are volunteering their time. Don’t wait until the day before a shoot to let people know their schedules. Respect breeds respect.
- Nice people get more help. Be courteous and friendly, regardless of your job title. Over time I’ve become good friends with strangers I met on set, only because I was honestly interested in knowing more about them.
- Specify camera right/left or monitor right/left. Good, large reference monitors with a split screen for both cameras are paramount. Many critical decisions, like focus, framing, and exposure are made by looking at these monitors.
- Working (and standing) all day does not burn all the extra calories you ingest at the crafty station. Watch what you eat.
- Watch the clocks! When doing multiple takes—which always happens—you could have editing issues if the time on the subject’s watch (or the clock on the wall) appears to fluctuate. Not that I learned this the hard way…
- It is much easier to control one light at a time. Start small, adding light sources as needed. When possible, try to include practicals. Keep it simple.
Feel free to share any lessons you’ve learned on set in the comments section below.
Eduardo Angel is an independent Technology Consultant, Educator, and Visual Storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
He is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com.