Whether you're an intern about to work on set for the first time or a production veteran, acting well on set is the easiest way to move up in the world, learn more quickly and be asked back on more shoots. In this primer, we'll cover some simple do's and don'ts that should be able to get anyone through his or her first production.
Arrive Early, Stay Late
Showing up a bit before the call and making yourself available for the odd jobs that always seem to pile up at the least opportune times will make you invaluable to your DP, producer, etc., and will set you apart from the less dedicated help. Similarly, staying after the wrap can be a huge help: an extra set of hands makes tear-down faster, easier, and safer for everyone. But also make sure not to overstay your welcome. After wrap and tear-down, ask your boss if there's anything further to be done, and when he or she says, "No," head out.
Don't Get in the Way
Let people do their jobs. It's possible to be "too" helpful. Don't breathe down people's necks and don't step on anyone's toes. Depending on the size and scope of the production and your position in it, you may want to keep your focus on "your" department (i.e. lighting, sound, etc.). Try to always be aware of how what you're doing is impacting the set and people working (don't change lights while people are shooting, try not to walk around too loudly while audio is recording).
Make Your Boss(es) Look Good [Full Stop]
This is the single easiest way to get asked back to the next shoot. Again, depending on the size and type of the shoot, there may be a couple different people you're working under. For example, if you're working on a film production as a lighting assistant, you'll answer to the gaffer and best boy. Always try to keep in mind your boss' goals and what they are trying to accomplish. Try to anticipate their needs (as noted below) while keeping an eye on equipment. Be ready to provide a new battery, card, lamp, lens, etc., at a moment's notice. Finally, never go over your boss' head: if there's an issue, make sure he's the first person aware of it.
It's more than okay to let some personality sneak into your work. If they wanted to use a robot they would have bought one. One of the best things to do to quickly get in with the crew is to learn (and use) people's names. Calling someone by name is, first, less awkward, and second, gives them a reason to learn yours. Be polite (see below). Don't embarrass anyone. If you see something dangerous, it's important to fix it right away. If you see something technical being done less-than-perfectly, mention it to your boss and let him or her decide if it's worth fixing right away.
Take the temperature of the shoot. It's always safest to avoid profane, sexual, political, racial, or religious jokes entirely. If you wouldn't say it to the Queen, maybe keep it to yourself. Don't badmouth. "So-and-so didn't show up last time, so-and-so has terrible work," aren't appropriate on set -- plus, you never know who is best friends with the guy or crew you're talking about. Turn off your phone. Only take pictures if appropriate: most high-end productions will be copyrighted materials, so taking photos (even of behind-the-scenes action) without permission may result in you getting the boot or at least getting yelled at for sharing before everyone else.
If you see something potentially dangerous or unexpected happening, make sure to inform someone right away. Offering expert advice, when applicable, can be a little tough — especially when you're new on set. If you see something going poorly that you're confident you can fix, quietly (and humbly) make a suggestion to your superior or to the person to whom it's applicable. If the change is made, awesome! If not, no sweat, either.
Handle Equipment Responsibly
Cars, cameras, and lights are all expensive investments -- treat them with care. A good rule of thumb is to leave everything better than you found it. When grabbing or handing off anything expensive, make sure to ask, "Got it?" Keep an eye on guages, battery levels and warning lights, and always be ready with a spare if possible. It can be easy to get caught up in big-picture aspects of the production and let little things like a battery at 3% and a full hard drive sneak up on you.