Essential Setiquette Rules That You Needed to Know Yesterday
Posted on: Dec 19, 2023
Media production is a highly collaborative process. While many folks in the industry are friendly, it’s important to understand boundaries and proper etiquette to ensure smooth operations between departments and individuals.
Think of everyone on-set as colleagues. Professional behavior helps maintain focus, provides an example to newer crew members and contributes to a more harmonious environment.
Know Your Role
Everyone on a film set is there to ensure specific tasks are accomplished, so be clear on your role on-set, who you answer to and have a general idea of who is in other roles.
Knowing who you answer to will help in situations where others may ask you to do something outside of your assigned work. For example, someone may ask you to assist with a random task, but your priority is the work assigned to you by your superior.
If you’re busy, it’s okay to say so or let them know that you need to ask your superior first.
Every production should provide crew lists and call sheets with contact information so you know how to contact others as necessary. Be aware of who to contact when you need to report being late or being sick, as well as who to call when you need to know when a prop will be ready.
Communications to the right crew members or department heads help ensure the appropriate flow of information and avoid unnecessary distractions. For example, bugging the director for a question you should be asking wardrobe can be a sure sign of inexperience.
Be Prepared and Follow Directions
A good production team will spend countless hours putting together call sheets, directions and information or signage.
Park, eat and stay where they tell you. Show up earlier than they say, as arriving early allows ample time to hit craft services or prepare your department.
That being said, being prepared requires more than showing up on time—it involves being familiar with the script, the day’s schedule and what one’s responsibilities and expectations may be. Know when to be quiet on-set and when to stay out of shots, and remember your personal deadlines.
You should also be aware of proper walkie-talkie communications, since many productions use them to communicate on-set. Restricting walkie communications to necessary information keeps them open for important conversations. Longer conversations meant for one person should ask the person you are calling to switch to a different channel to keep the main channel open for crew-wide information.
Focus on Your Tasks
Although it’s good to be aware of everyone’s role on-set and what each day holds, it’s important to focus on tasks assigned to you.
As a producer and director, it really puts me in an awkward position to have to reprimand an actor, extra or craft services person when they start sharing their random ideas or try telling me how to do something I already know how to do, or start making creative suggestions.
The production team has usually spent days, weeks, months or even years planning the project, and coming in with an “I just arrived but…” suggestion is not helpful.
If there is a problem that pops up and you believe you may have a suggestion, talk with your superior and let them help make the call on whether it should be shared or not.
If it’s a situation without a solution, you could try asking politely, “I’ve come across this before. I have an idea that may or may not be helpful. May I share it?”
Don’t assume you know better than a crew member in another role, or the ones calling the shots.
Film sets can be melting pots of race, gender, sexual preferences, beliefs, neurodivergence or even visible or invisible disabilities. Try to be respectful in your conversations around and to others, and avoid conversations or humor that may be offensive.
I once worked on a production with several respect issues. An executive producer flew a political candidate flag from his grip truck, putting the entire crew into disarray and defensive mindset. It made for a hostile work environment. Some even feared for their safety as minorities. Several members quit.
The same production had a crew member quit because people they worked with closely couldn’t respect and use their pronouns. It was one more fire for production to put out with a snowball effect that resulted in battles between crew members, perpetual loss of crew, day-to-day chaos and tarnished reputations.
Boundaries of Socialization
Building respectful relationships can lead to future opportunities, but be mindful of the right place and time to chat socially or be more playful.
Everyone on-set is under pressure to perform well and on time. Chatting with them about yourself or other topics unrelated to the work at hand can be terribly distracting. Some may be nice and want to avoid having to tell you they need to focus, but constant chattiness is sure to be on their minds when hiring again.
While there are proper channels for communication with other crew members, keep in mind that non-work communications with talent may be completely off limits. Some talent may be nice and speak to you, but it’s probably best to follow the “don’t speak unless spoken to” rule.
If you do find yourself in a situation with friendly talent, remain within polite boundaries. Don’t assume you are now their friend or that you have more access to them outside of the conversation you’ve had unless they’ve invited you to engage beyond.
When working with a background casting agency, we received news that one of the extras was on thin ice. One of the primary actors had been friendly to him. Later, the extra heard the actor mention his wedding and then asked if he could come. The actor was put in a really awkward place to refuse the request.
Be Mindful On-Set
Set life can be stressful, and we all have ways to vent. Some forms of expression can lead to a hostile or disruptive environment or termination of employment.
Complaining or criticizing the director or other crew members just makes everyone miserable. Despite administrative choices you may not agree with, you signed on to do your job. Gossip can divide the crew.
Sometimes there is room for fun or laughs on-set, but it is a really fine line. You really have to know your co-workers and respect that humor can be taken many different ways.
Whether a part of the crew, cast or background talent, each individual’s behavior on-set can greatly influence the positivity and productivity of the overall environment and workflow. With these tips, you should contribute to an enjoyable work environment and increase your chances of being hired again.
Jessica Mathis (AKA Divinity Rose) is an award winning screenwriter/performer/producer from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the CEO of She Dreams Content Development and Production, which focuses on female-forward projects in comedy, docustyle and genre entertainment.
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