Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Set Etiquette & Professional Conduct

Through pure luck (or should I say through a friend) I ended up on set with George Billinger, his recent work includes The Terminal, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Spanglish, and I understand he is working on a new Spielberg movie.

I was a set P.A. on the project we were working on, yes four years of film school and a resume with everything from grip, 2nd A.D. to 2nd A.C and I still do P.A. work, I just love being on set in any capacity and of course any paying gig is nice. While on set, as much as I could ( and still following directions by the 1st and 2nd A.D.) I tried to position myself to be able to watch and listen to Mr. Billinger (camera operator and steadicam) the D.P. and the 1st and 2nd A.C. Which included trying to run water bottles out to them while shooting long hours in the hot sun, however I was working and trying to do my job as well as possible (every job is just one long interview for the next).

We were shooting on a very tight schedule, many different locations and when we were in the studio the director wanted a very, very quiet set. So there was really no good opportunity to try to talk to George, lunch would have been good, but the camera department kind of sat at a table of there own. I was assigned to get the "out times" of the camera dept a few times but they always seemed very busy and George and the D.P. bailed almost immediately after we wrapped every day. So on to my question, the film has wrapped, who knows the next time I will be sharing the same space with someone that is at that level in their career, and any opportunity I had to talk to George is over. I feel that I missed out on a great opportunity to maybe network, get some career advice and after watching him I had a million technical and technique questions. But I am just a bit shy at times, however, I've seen the annoying overly anxious networkers and that are shameless and do not want to be one of them.

So what is the proper set etiquette?

I felt bothering him at lunch, one of the very few breaks we got was wrong, grabbing him while he is trying to leave after a very long day did not seem right either. And who really wants some P.A. bugging them? How does one network which is key in this industry? Is there a certain set etiquette for situations like this?

Shawn Elizabeth Curtis ...

> Is there a certain set etiquette for situations like this?

Seasoned DP'd, cam ops and the like are usually very busy on the set and I believe it is inappropriate and can be a distraction to chat with them while they work. The best is to wait for a more opportune time and if it're in luck. But I wouldn't push too hard to make it happen.

Sometimes meeting someone from the camera department like a loader or such can lead to an introduction when there is time or if you nicely ask. That will make it more comfortable for everyone.

Best to chat before the day begins or at a break but most often their ears are taken with the film. The end of the day is not good as they are often running out to view dailies or go home. It gets much easier if you are on the set day after day on a long gig and the crew begins to recognize you, and you are most appreciatively noticed if you are a hard-working PA or crew member. That gains the most respect of the crew and the production.

IMHO it will lead to networking more than anything else as most people recognise a hard-working asset to a production and will soon want you back on set.

So be quiet, work hard, and stay cool.

Jim Sofranko

Shawn wrote:

> How does one network which is key in this industry? Is there a certain >set etiquette for situations like this?

Based on your description, I would guess you made the right choice not to do you "networking" on that particular set. A set which is not as quiet and where people are joking around is probably a better choice for approaching people while they are "working". Where I in your shoes, I would have walked up the lunch table and simply asked if you could join them for lunch. Only the biggest moron in the industry would fault you for that. If refused, then you probably don't want to talk to the people in question anyway... that said most people are not that cold, so they will probably say "sure, pull up a seat". Once seated, if you find that you can join the conversation, at some point there will be probably be a lull at which point you can start firing off questions.

Otherwise, you could always approach the person in question at wrap and say : "Hi, I'm a PA and was wondering if I could call you sometime to ask you some general questions about (insert what it is you are trying to learn)". If they say yes, get their number and call them up sometime. If you call and they are busy, ask them when you could call again. When that time comes around, call them again and remind them that they said you could call them about this time. That way they only have themselves to blame if you keep reaching them at a bad time. If they reschedule once again, keep calling and rescheduling until they speak to you or ask you to stop calling. Remember, it was they who said you could call!

That said, other than getting general information from them, it is doubtful that they are going to get you work. Most people work their way "up" in the film industry. It is unlikely that someone at the "top" is going to hire someone with little to no experience. Let me give you an example. You want to be a DP. But you have no real knowledge of the job and no contacts. Professional Producers and Directors, that is people who can actually hire a "professional" DP, are going to want to see your reel. No reel, no work. End of story.

However, if you are willing to "work your way up", you might be able to get work at a lower level... perhaps as the clapper/loader. To get this job, you will need to seek work from 1st and 2nd Assistant Cameramen, but you have no contacts and no experience with this, or very little.

Or, and this is the part that really matters, you have none at a "professional" level. So calling top tier AC's in the hopes of getting some paid work is not going to get you very far... basically they want people with experience and whom they know personally, or who have been referred to them by people they trust. But they may know of someone who does low budget jobs (where you may NOT get paid) and where the luxury of having totally experienced people in not an option.

If you call THOSE people, you might get to work as the clapper/loader and gain some experience. Also, you could ask top tier AC's if they would allow you to go to camera checkouts with them, solely to learn about cameras and how they work. If you get to do that, you are now unofficially working with them... in this fuzzy capacity they can see how smart, funny or fun to be with you are and maybe, just maybe they might go out of their way to help you find some work. If not, you will have learned some stuff about camera's which can come in handy on one of those low budget jobs I spoke of earlier.

Sorry for rambling on.

Good luck.

Piotr Jagninski
Gaffer (and an Assistant Cameraman a long time ago)/ New York City

> Otherwise, you could always approach the person in question at wrap >and say: "Hi, I'm a PA and was wondering if I could call you sometime to >ask you some general questions about [insert what it is you are trying to >learn]"

----Previous post had the very best your butt off, keep your head down, stay quiet and be on time (READ: EARLY). Overworked fellow professionals absolutely LOVE IT when they see someone busting their nut to make everyone's life a little easier, and it earns respect. Also, veteran crew members have most likely run across every permutation of extrovert there is, and while a person might think that they "talk a good game", it's all been heard before, so actions speak much louder than words.

There, I've managed to use six times as many words to say what the previous poster said much more eloquently, sorry to waste all the bandwidth!

P.S : No matter HOW tempting it is.....NEVER...EVER take part in ANY "hijinx" or "practical jokes" being carried out by the other crew members. I learned this the HARD WAY on one of my first shoots.

No matter how relaxed the set might appear to be, if the shite hits the fan you will definitely be the one singled out.

Jeffery Haas
freelance shooter and editor
Dallas, Texas

Dear PA,

The wrap party is an excellent time to network at. Everybody is doing that great sigh of relief, that the project is in the can, and they are in a jovial mood, so that is a good time to ask tech questions and more, maybe even buy the person that you are networking a drink. Also make business cards so that you can hand them out.

Debra Hurd
makeup artist
Studio: 954-981-3510
Cell: 954-980-6596


Hi everyone!

My question is more about set behaviour than any technique.

Last November I was working as a 2ndAC on a short film, now they are doing some re-shoots and because the original DP is not available, the director asked ME (!!!!) to help him out. The shots are easy - all sunshine exterior, so that’s not a big problem.

What I'm nervous about is that so far I have shot only small Indie and student films and I have never been put in such position before. I am extremely flattered that the director asked me for help and I don’t want to show up on set looking like a schoolgirl. So I am trying to be as prepared as possible.

On any other school set I wouldn’t think much about equipment - because its always about using what you do have, not about choosing anything. But here I can bring anything I want and do anything that comes to my head - and that’s actually harder. Plus I have to deal with the whole crew who used to look at me as a loader ....

You see, I cant even form the question right.....I'm just a little bit confused about how I should handle this whole situation. Any advice?

Mariya Prokopenko
AC, Student DP


Don't worry about being nervous, its normal. Remember less is more, do the shots with gear your familiar with and keep it simple. Have confidence in yourself and your ability - the director must of noted your past work on the project or he wouldn't of asked you.

Speak to the original DP for advise, it will make you more comfortable and it's professional courtesy. And remember everyone had a first day. Good luck and try to enjoy yourself.

Phil Savoie
Producer / Cameraman
BBC Natural History Unit

Hi Mariya..

Can understand your predicament.. I would suggest that you have a talk with your DP before starting.. If he forgets to wish you luck, demand it from him..! Since you mentioned that most of the work is outdoors you need lots of luck to get the right weather..

Be cool. The very fact that you are nervous ensures your concentration on your work..

Good Luck…Mind you every Cameraman has a first day…!

Dinesh Baboo

Director / Cinematographer

Mariya Prokopenko wrote:

> Last November I was working as a 2ndAC on a short film, now they are >doing some re-shoots and because the original DP is not available, the >director asked ME (!!!!) to help him out.

Contact the primary D.P., discuss the situation with him/her.

They may be willing to give you some help.

Steven Gladstone
New York Based Cinematographer
Gladstone Films
CML East Coast List Administrator

Mariya Prokopenko wrote :

> What I’m nervous about is that so far I have shot only small Indie and >student films and I have never been put in such position before.

My advice would be to find an 1st and 2nd AC who are good and you trust. Speak to your first AC before the day to make sure you haven't left anything obvious out, Then on the shoot day they will take care gear leaving you free to concentrate on making the pictures. When I did my first S16 shoot, I did exactly that and it was one of the best decisions I ever made –

Thanks Rory!

Michael Sanders
DP/Lighting Cameraman London.

Mariya Prokopenko wrote:

>Plus I have to deal with the whole crew who used to look at me as a >loader


If the "whole crew" is professional, dealing with them may well be a very pleasant experience. They will probably look down on you with a warm fuzzy feeling and want to help you as much as they can. I once saw a PA become an overnight second unit DP on a big budget music video... everyone on the crew liked and remembered her from previous jobs and bent over backwards to make her feel comfortable.

The first unit DP-- a man who traditionally rules his sets by fear and intimidation-- saw she was making some big mistakes and came over and explained to her in the nicest, sweetest way what she was doing wrong and told her in crystal clear terms what she should do to correct the situation. The one thing she never did, to her credit, was pretend to know things she didn't.

In my view, if you do your best with what you know, try and find out those things you know you don't, and ask for help with the rest (from crew, other DP's, Producer's and the like) you should do just fine.

If you have the chance to hire your own lighting and camera crew, hire the best you can. I have seen many DP's, who have no idea how to light, get by very well with a good Gaffer and Key Grip.

All the best,

Piotr Jagninski
Gaffer / New York City

>You see, I cant even form the question right.....I’m just a little bit >confused about how I should handle this whole situation.

Any advice?

Aside from all the great advice already provided I would add.... handle the situation gracefully. Sounds like a great opportunity!

Think about what is the task at hand and approach it in the simplest way
you can. That's usually the best approach to day exteriors anyway.

Another thought may be to be sure the DP knows what you are doing as it is always good form to notify the DP when you are asked to fill in for them. Then ask for his/her consent along with advice and suggestions to maintain the look of the project.

Hope this helps.

Jim Sofranko

The best thing you need to remember is that you are shooting footage that has to match and integrate with that from the principal photography. For this reason you absolutely must consult with the DP with regards to filtration, rating the stock at a certain ASA, angles of light in relation to certain actors as determined by the story, working T-Stop, etc, so that the Director and Producer (and also just as important: the DP - whose work you will be supplementing) will be happy with the results. It's probable that as the loader you would know quite of few of these things from the sheets you probably filled out and from watching what was going on, but asking the DP will make it totally concrete.

Matching the previous footage will be their expectation, and if you can do that, while being exceptionally polite and patient with your crew, then you will have done a very good job that people will respect you for.

Aside from that, you are DP for this shoot, so if you have a crew that is going to behave professionally, then you shouldn't have a problem. And like others have said, get the absolute best camera assistants you can. It will save you because they can concentrate on setting the camera up and leave you free to hear what the director is saying and see the actors rehearsals.

If you have done your research for the scene beforehand, watched the other footage (and possibly a rough cut of the film) to get a feel for it and consulted with the director and principal DP, then you will be totally kosher. I think the key thing is that prep because you will go on set knowing what to do and be calm and decisive and your crew will take note

Good luck!

Benjamin Gregory Rood

Re-reading that last post of mine makes me think it comes across with a hint of "fear-mongering" which was not the intention! Just relax and do the prep and you will kick some ass.

I wish you very well and I'm sure you will be great and will have a fun time!

Benjamin G Rood

Copyright © CML. All rights reserved.