Are You New to the Filmmaking World? Here Are 20 Things You Should Know Before Walking on Set for the First Time

Are you fresh into the film and production industry and want to learn the most amount of information in the quickest amount of time? Get on a film set. But, before doing so, be sure to familiarize yourself with the top 20 things you'll be sure to hear on set. 

In any industry you get into, there is going to be a whole new set of terms and lingo that are tossed around, and it's crucial that you familiarize yourself with them before jumping in. When it comes to the film and production industry, the easiest way to learn is to get on a set, but with that comes a lot of expensive equipment and a long list of set language that you should get accustomed to. That's where this video comes into play. 

In this informative video from YouTuber and professional Director of Photography Danny Gevirtz, he runs through a jam-packed list of the top things you should know before walking onto a film set for the first time. Although the list is lengthy, it is extremely accurate and insightful.

Of the things he mentions, though, the biggest one I can attest to from experience on working on dozens of film sets in the last years is that when starting out, you must be flexible and attentive on set. Typically, when starting out, you'll be asked to be the production assistant, which consists of long days and tedious work, but as he says, it's a blessing to be on a film set and learn from the top industry professionals, so take advantage of it. Don't be on your phone or complain; just show up and work hard, and you'll make it far. 

What's your favorite tip that Danny mentioned? Leave it in the comments below. 

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Sanket Khuntale's picture

This is really helpful and kind. Thank you!

Lee Christiansen's picture

This was an interesting video, (although why we can't have a written summary beats me...)

BUT, as a time served DoP, I do feel it is worth mentioning a few things if this article is truly aimed at people walking on a set for the first time...

Maybe the article should've been re-titled as "Interesting things to know about working on a set"

I get it, you've been working hard getting a media degree, or qualifying in a great film school and your portfolio is bristling with all sorts of exciting stuff... but on a set with lots of experienced people around you, most likely your main qualification is the ability to make tea, (or coffee if you're in the US - ha), and carry boxes.

So, know your place in the scheme of things. First time on a set means you are at the bottom of the food chain. No one is asking you to set up lights or go to the grip truck. Certainly no one is handing you an expensive camera. Whilst all the stuff in the video is great info - don't expect to be doing any of this soon.

I remember in my youthful exuberance, I didn't get the etiquette of things. I managed to get myself invited to a recording session and plonked myself down at the mixing desk to get a good view. Wow, I wish I could go back and slap myself, and reming young me that I should have been at the back of the room out of everyone's way. :)

Be alert. Be very alert. No one will want to call you twice for something. If you're not in eyesight you're not available enough. No one wants to find you. But at the same time ensure you're giving the main crew lots of space. This is their work environment and you should enter their space when asked, after which stay far enough away so as not to bug them.

Watch every single nuance and detail of what people are doing. It may seem that they're just pointing a light or setting a C-stand, but there will be devil in the detail, and everything is a learning opportunity - albeit frustratingly so because you're not standing by their side when they do it much of the time - blast all that tea making...

There is often a hierarchy on set as to who talks to who. Popping over to say hello to the director or DoP can get you exiting that set pretty darn fast. It is why there are 1st, 2nd and 3rd ADs, and why some people are allowed closer to the action than others. So learn who is directly in charge of your job and report to them. If you are new to this game, (professionally speaking - film school doesn't count), tenth crew immediately involved with production are focussed on their jobs - so whilst asking questions is a great idea - probably best to ask assistants about stuff. (Don't want you going home early do we...)

I remember when I started, I had lots of ideas. And of course they were all better than the director's. I happily volunteered my helpful suggestions - oops... that wasn't so good. Remember, no one is really interested in your ideas or thoughts, so don't voice them. There is a bigger picture out there and in the scheme of things your opinion doesn't matter.

And don't voice your opinion to people around you. And that counts whether it is good or bad. It is a small world in media, you'd be amazed what can bite you later down the road. Do your job, do it well and don't pass comment on things.

As to your job - stick to your job. ONLY venture outside that realm if specifically asked, and don't assume that is your new job after the task is done.

Be VERY careful when handing out your details to other people. Touting for work is often frowned upon on a busy set, and it rarely gets results anyway. There are better ways to move up the ladder, and being amazingly good at your lowly job may not seem much, but it works. I've had runners who are so on the ball and have brought me such amazing cups of tea that when asked if there were people for slightly more technical roles, I've mentioned their names.

Smile... No one likes a grump. Fake it if you need to. Remember you are super keen about everything and get along with everyone - even if they drive you mad. NEVER bad mouth anyone - even if they're from a previous meeting.

I tend to cal almost everyone "Sir" (although that doesn't work so well with the ladies), and this is partly a respect thing and partly because I don't remember everyone's names. But it works. It shows respect and soon becomes second nature.

Bearing in mind the "stick to your job" thing, be proactive. Don't wait to be asked.

Although when we start off we are proud of what we've learned to date and the things / show reel we've accomplished - remember that much of this counts for very little in the pro world. Experience counts more than head-knowledge, and if you think you know how to do something, most likely you've just not grasped how much you don't know yet. I nearly swiped one film school leaver when he told me "oh I know all about lighting," so assume you only know the tip of a very large iceberg.

Unless you are very lucky indeed, (and amazingly talented), progressing in film and TV is a long slow burn. I requires patience, unbelievable amounts of dedication and a level of tact that goes beyond what seems reasonable. Baby steps all the way and oodles of hard work - but bear in mind on a set, you are replaceable in a heartbeat - so soak it up, work your socks off, but remember that you are at the start of a long path and act accordingly.

I do remember one time when filming a corporate at at university, one young man had been watching us for a while from a discreet distance. During a short break he approached our small team and asked me if we wanted any help. (Turned out he was just completing his film degree math that university). I replied positively and said we had lots of cases that needed moving and if he was available for the day he could help with that as we moved from location to location. "Oh no," he replied... "I meant directing...!" To which I told him to come back in 20 years and he got no further with us.

I write all his not to be a manly old bloke or to discourage, but I come across too many people starting off in this game who want to run before they can walk, and it inevitably harms their career in the long run.