Set Etiquette

Most people in the entertainment business at one time or another have a problem with set etiquette. For a newcomer on a set it's like being dumped in a foreign country. The language alone is a struggle. For people moving up the ladder there are problems and even for old timers it's possible to loose ones bearings.

These are not elaborate theories, but are observations and opinions from many years working in the business. There are definitely different ways that things are done on the different sizeand types of shoots. Without a carefully defined structure a large shoot would be absolute chaos. On small shoots departmental lines can become blurred, but certain rules of etiquette still apply. A newcomer should consider all the rules until he is sure which ones apply.

Here are a dozen universal rules for any set:

1. Show up a bit early for the call.

2. Be polite. Use please and thanks.

3. Let people do their job.

4. Be humble.

5. Ask questions about assignments if in doubt.

6. Watch what's going on in YOUR department.

7. Make your superior look good.

8. Don't embarrass anyone.

9. Don't be a "hero".

10.Listen very carefully before you leap.

11.Learn and use peoples names.

12.Work hard and willingly.

Where Ron Dexter is coming from: Cameraman since 1962. NABET E Board member, union negotiator, TV Commercial director since 1972. (DGA), owner TV commercial production company since 1977. Equipment designer. Mechanic. Teacher. Has shot commercials in 20 foreign countries and 35 US states.
Business philosophy: Actually my dad's. He said to give people more than you bargained for and they will be so relieved of not being robbed, that they will gladly pay the bill and not question it the next time. It works much of the time.

Always Out of Line for Crews

Sexual jokes and talk around the ladies.

Political, religious or racial jokes and slurs

Having such a good time at night on location that safety and performance are compromised the next day.

Evidence of booze and drug abuse.

Negative criticism of anything or anybody within the hearing of clients, producers, visitors, cast, and locals. Keep your opinions to your self.

Bad mouthing other production companies, equipment houses, crews.

Loud talk on the set.

Radical wardrobe on location. Make your personal statements in your own neighborhood.

Accepting conflicting jobs that you will some how "work out".

Replacing yourself on a job without warning the production co.

Not saying anything when you see a dangerous situation evolving. Even if people are dumb enough to take unnecessary risks, if you see danger evolving, you are morally obliged to say something. Often people are relying on others as a measure of how safe something is. Your concern may make people think twice. In our business there are a lot of ways to make things look exciting that are not as dangerous.


Booking crews when a job is not yet firm.

Not sharing cancellation fees with canceled crews.

Holding checks or time cards.


Uniform deals for the whole crew.

Per Diem paid promptly.

Production picking up a wrap dinner.

Prompt equipment rental checks.

Keeping crews informed about job scheduling.


If you are new on a job or production, it's best to let your knowledge be discovered slowly as you work with people. They will be more impressed if you don't try to show them everything that you know right away. Some outspoken people really do know a lot, but it's the big mouths that make the truly knowledgeable ones suspect. For every outspoken knowledgeable one there are 10 full of boloney.


If you have experience in a special skill, offering advice can be tricky, especially if you are new on a set. Humbly offer your advice to your immediate superior and let him offer it to the group. It will be more likely heeded. If he gives you credit, good. If he takes the credit he will remember that you made him look good. Try "I worked construction for a few years and we used to..., you know it might work here." (Very softly).


When can you offer to give someone outside your department a hand? Generally if it doesn't threaten their job and your helping can't do more damage than good. Often helping carry someone's equipment cases is OK, IF PERMISSION IS GIVEN. Spilling stuff on the ground is not appreciated help. Setting a flag for a grip is usually not appreciated. If a camera assistant builds a good relationship with the grip department they may allow him to adjust a flag as the sun moves IF they know he is not trying to make them look bad, eliminate their job and KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING. Getting a feel of what is appreciated and not is the key. Don't assume that people want help and respect their refusal. Maybe they just don't have time to explain how to do it right just then.


For every mistake a hero discovers, there is someone who made that mistake. Don't let them be blamed publicly. If you see something that APPEARS TO YOU to be a mistake, say something quietly and HUMBLY to your immediate superior. "This may sound stupid, but is the "stupip" on that sign spelled wrong?" Let your boss go to his boss so he can quietly say something to the next person up the ladder. The sign might be out of frame or be so small it won't make any difference or it may have already have been decided that it's really OK.

If you run out and yell something "being a hero" you are taking a big risk. The person at fault will remember for a long time the public embarrassment created by the young "hero" on the set. The worst thing would be to go over your immediate boss's head to the director, AD or into a different department. You won't hear, "Who is that smart _ _ _ kid."


We are never the cause of unpleasant events on the job. It's always the other guy with "personality problems".

In most disagreements, both parties are usually right to some extent. Usually the rightness or wrongness has little to do with the job and a lot to do with our egos. Winning an argument can lead to losing a war. If two people who don't get along have to be kept separate, one or both will lose work. If one of the persons has anything to do with hiring, it can be disaster for the other.

Don't risk your future over making a personal statement. Tempers cool off after a job and pressures are gone. Then it's wise to be humble and apologize even if you are sure that you were right. Sometimes two combatants will fall all over each other claiming who was more at fault.

Good friends will not blindly support everything that we do. They should whisper in our ear that maybe we are possibly out of line. Advice on the spot in the heat of anger is sure to be rejected. If you see a coworker that is loosing perspective, think about it a bit and even write down what you think. Making it clear on paper may make it more understandable. Even if you don't show them the paper, look at it at a later date after the job and see if you still agree with your observations. If it still seems good you might show it to them or talk about it.

Cautiously approach a discussion about behavior, LISTEN FIRST. You will be much more able to tailor your questions or comments to what they already feel. Often just their telling you about something, with a few questions from you, will help them understand a problem.

Sometimes we all have personal problems that are difficult to leave at home. Both production and fellow crew members should take this into consideration. There is an intimate relationship between work and personal life. If someone is unhappy on the job it's hard to not take it home and visa-versa.


Demanding Hertz rental rates for your 10-year-old car.

Demanding full-bore equipment rental rates for your side line rentals. Negotiate, ask, "What's fair."

Putting more on your time card than the rest of the crew without approval.

Bumping your rate and not telling production at the time you are booked. No "By the way my new rate is...." during the job.

Obviously having just come off another job at call time.

On the phone too much.

Not watching what's going on in your department.

Fraternizing above or out of your category.

Out of line behavior. See beginning.

Bugging the company about your equipment rental checks. Most rental companies DON'T get paid on time either.

Whining about anything.


Have a positive attitude especially when things are not going well.

Show up a little early for the call, ready to work.

Give %110 effort.

Be honest and straightforward.

Treat people as honest until you personally are not treated so. You probably only heard one side of the derogatory gossip.

Cheerfully help others if asked.

Cover your immediate superior's interests.

Make your immediate superior look good.


Treat company or rental vehicle with respect. These hints apply to any vehicle, even your own.

If you hear strange sounds, find out what they are. Occasionally turn the radio down so that you can listen for knocks and grinds.

If you suspect a problem, tell some one in production or transportation so things can be fixed. On the road, stop and get it checked. Call production. Don't drive it until it dies.

When you get gas, check the oil and radiator fluid. Engines die for the lack of either one. Check the tires for proper inflation.

If the radiator needs a lot of water, there is a problem and the antifreeze mixture should be checked. Engines rust up with too little antifreeze. Let someone know.

Watch the gages and warning lights.

If a vehicle steers strange or shimmies, keep it below the shimmy speed and tell production or transportation about it.

Protect good vehicles from damage by props and equipment. Protect the floor, roof and upholstery.

If a vehicle just clicks when you try to start it, check or have someone check the battery cables. Sometimes just tapping them will fix it. It is often the problem. Push or jump-start only if you know what you are doing. Many new automatics will not push-start.

Lock it up if you are not in it. Cover up tempting stuff.

Props, tools or anything stolen at night can mean a disaster on the next day's shoot. Remove things at night if your driveway or parking is not perfectly safe.

Gas a vehicle if needed for the next person, he may be your boss.


"Don't ever hire Fred again!" "Why?" someone asks. "He pads his time card". What really happened: The crew went into meal penalty by 20 minutes. The production manager went to three "almost staff" people and asked them to wave meal penalty. With that concession he went to the rest of the crew with "everyone is waving meal penalty" and got concessions from every body but Fred who was in the dark room. Fred feels that rules are rules and he was the only one who put in for meal penalty and got black balled for it.

Yes, this happens, too often. Filling out the time card if the rules are being bent in any way has to be a group effort so that no person puts down something different than the rest. Production will use all kind of reasons to keep the hours down. If the department heads as a group talks to their contact with the producer and settle "what's fair", fewer problems will arise.

Some producers have no idea how many extra hours camera assistants, prop persons and PAs put in. (That's why PAs with no clout often have to work flat rate.) Warning your contact with production that there will be extra hours will take the burden off your back. If you don't clear putting in extra hours, it might be wise to "eat" some of those extra hours.

For example let's say you find out that it's going to require that you go into turn-a-round to complete a job for tomorrow's shoot. You had best get permission to do so. Putting on another person to finish the job might solve the problem. You should have some idea of how long it should take to do a job.

Turn-a-round is not a device to pad your time card. It's a device to prevent producers from working people so long that it becomes dangerous. You need your sleep. It's your responsibility to get enough rest and to plan your work to avoid too many hours. (These are my opinions!)


Buying equipment to supplement one's income can be wise, but don't assume that it will help you get work. Would your employers be glad to rent from you AND would you then become competition to YOUR own regular suppliers? If a camera assistant buys filters and batteries to rent he is cutting into one of the moneymakers for the camera rental house. Rental house loose money on camera body rentals, but makes it up on accessories such as batteries and filters. You might be jeopardizing your own standing with the rental houses.

It's tough deciding how to charge for equipment that you happen to bring along to the job. If something is requested, a rental price should be agreed upon. If you happened to bring along something that saved the day, be careful about how you collect for it. Some producers are fair and some not; no matter how much time and money you might have just saved them. Sometimes your future job may be at risk. It can be assumed that because you are not in the rental equipment business, what you bring along might be regular tools of the trade.

Asking for a little something is better than demanding it. First save the day, then humbly ask for compensation. Try, "What's fair?" I know, production rarely scrimps on their own comforts. It's your job to make good film, their job to save money.

In collecting for your equipment, don't "nickel and dime". Let people feel they are getting a bargain. "Give me regular rates for X and Y and I will throw in Z." "As use" deals are generally welcome, if you can live with it.

Remember that your garage operation is in competition with the established businesses with more overhead to support; insurance, rent, employees etc. In short, be cautious with your side line business. Don't let it interfere with your job that is your major source of income. It's better to give something away than to lose work. If your toys make you a better technician, they are worth the cost even if you don' make a lot on them.

Your job performance should in no way be compromised by your equipment rentals. You should deliver your equipment as any other rental house would do and not get paid also to deliver it. You can't spend all your efforts on the set just watching out for your equipment. It's there just like anyone else's stuff. Everyone's equipment should be taken care of. If you show concern for everyone's equipment maybe others will respect yours too.

Don't bug a company about equipment checks. Many rental companies have to wait for money too. Commercial producers also have to wait for checks too.


There is a good reason to use "Professional" looking tools and equipment to protect yourself if things go wrong. You can always blame the equipment if you have the standard accepted equipment. If things look home made, it can become your fault for not ordering the right thing. While jury-rigged things thrown together on the set that save the day can be heroic, the same things brought to the set look unprofessional.

I have watched crews with a lot of chrome plated tools in fancy cases make major expensive mistakes and then charge the client an arm and a leg with a smile. I have also seen some bare bones riggers do wonders with surplus junk for peanuts and watched them have to argue about a few real dollars of extras after saving the client thousands. Yes, the impression is important. A coat of paint and some painted boxes might be a compromise.

Your knowing how to make your rigs work will cover for some lack of flash, but do consider the impression. People are fooled by fancy looking equipment even if it doesn't work very well. People are impressed with technology and fancy packaging.


Think about how a local person may view someone in the TEE VEE or movie business. You may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to fame or an Emissary from Hell. Your success on a location and the success of future crews on that location depend on your behavior. Everywhere you are treading on someone's turf. Tread lightly. Their opinion of you will determine how cooperative they are. The first impression is the most important.

Send in your most diplomatic person with the most in common with the area to make that first contact. Maybe...."Hello, how are you...You might be able to help us.....We are trying to find out who owns...." NOT. "We're from Hollywood and we're going to......" They may see Hollywood, TV and movies and the big cities as the reasons that their children are tempted by drugs and sin. Or you might be the first convenient person to vent anger upon about misfortune that you have nothing to do with. To a shopkeeper, you could be a potential customer or shoplifter. Appropriate clothes make you stand out less as a city slicker.

Start any conversation with a perturbed local with "I'm sorry, let me get these people out of your way" NOT," we'll just be a minute..." Being LEGAL or having permission from a higher authority may not apply locally. They may have some battle going on with that same higher authority.

Drivers should park out of people's driveways and parking spaces. Get permission. Keep traffic flowing. When about to leave, find out the direction of the next location, get vehicles turned around and ready to roll.

Treat Motels etc. with respect. Use heating, cooling and lights as needed. Towels are for your body and not windshields. Close the door, and turn off lights etc. when you leave. Be quiet, especially early and late. Park in stalls. Keep a low profile with the camera gear. Don't tempt. Word gets around a small town about your behavior.

An obvious effort to protect people's property will soften the blow when the unavoidable damage does occur. Make a vocal effort to remind your crew to be careful. Cover floors and ask people put away their valuables. Your crew is probably very honest, but bystanders may not be and use the opportunity.


Say "hello", introduce yourself and get to know people a bit before you give orders. Ask about the families of people you know.

Use names. (Make a list) We forget under pressure.

Thank people. "Yes Sir." and " Thank you Sir." (or Ma'am) implies respect. Try it. (Works when you have forgotten a name.)

Appreciate people's efforts EVEN if they make mistakes. If they are trying, give them credit for trying. Maybe your instructions were vague, inadequate or confusing.

Assume that people are trying to do a good job and that they are trying to please you. Even if you think that your instructions were clear, it is wise for you to take the blame for the not communicating. The person who messed up will not feel bad and grumble the rest of the day.

In any conversation, listen first. Try to understand their side first. It will give you time to plan your own approach. Your ideas will be better accepted if people were given a chance to contribute.

Let's say a director has very carefully researched and planned how to do something mechanical. Instead of telling the crew exactly what to do, he might start with, "I'm sure that you have a better way of doing this, but I had to plan this before you were on the job" or "I didn't get a chance to ask you about this, let's go through it and see if my idea will work at all". You can reduce their resistance to your offering expert information by being humble. Even if your way is best, a crew may be able to add shortcuts and insure safety. Do listen and let them do their job.

For runners and assistants, make sure that they understand instructions. Instruct them to call back if there are problems finding something or if things cost a lot more than expected. Sometimes the limited availability of things will require finding substitutes. Often suppliers or unexpected things found out there will offer better solutions. Tell them to call in repeatedly as things change. Take the time to explain what something is for, it will give the runner some idea of whether something will work. But warn them to not make major changes unless they call. Giving a priority to items can help. Some simple things can seem insignificant, but can be crucial for the first shot.

Ask for forgiveness if you have to repeat things or explain things they may already know. Some egos are easily insulted. I'm sure that you already know... forgive me for repeating myself...


Unfortunately some people exaggerate on their resumes what their experience really is. That makes all resumes suspect. I personally throw most of them away. Most of my hiring is based on personal recommendations. It's much easier to bring in a person known by at least part of the crew. Most of my crews are hired by the department keys and the rest by availability by the AD, producer or coordinator.


The call time means time to go to work or be ready to travel. It's not time to pour a cup of coffee and catch up on the gossip. If you want to socialize, come a bit early. Coffee and donuts are usually there early.


Just what it says. Wrap it up. Not time to break out the beer and slow down. The pay is the same (more if into OT) and the performance should be the same. While beer is a nice touch, it or drugs invalidates most company insurance policies on the set and on the way home.


Acting eager to work is not only a sign of a kid fresh out of film school. It says that work is a two way deal. Willing effort for good pay. But some time old timers think it's not cool to look eager. It really makes a difference when a crew seems eager: "what can we do for you" "yes sir!", "we're on it", "you got it", etc.


Many jobs come from recommendations from established crewmembers. They know better when someone is ready to "move up". They also know when a certain project is over your head and when someone else with a bit more experience is needed.


A "my crew", "my set", "my shoot" attitude by a production manager or production coordinator, rubs most people the wrong way. Often along with the "my crew" attitude is an attitude that jobs are dependent upon making that production person happy. "Do things MY way, treat ME right and I will see that you work in this town again."

First of all, people are very uncomfortable working under such a condition. A director, producer, DP, key grip, gaffer etc. can call their crew "my crew", but not the AD or production coordinator who only puts out the work calls. The crew is usually selected by the director, DP, etc. The coordinator is just making the calls.

Often along with this ME, MY, I attitude is never making a mistake. A scapegoat for any mistake must be found and admonished, often along with a job security threat. "If you want to work for me you must make me look good in the boss's eyes."

For a DP or department head to talk affectionately about "my crew", he is saying "you had better take care of them", "don't abuse them" "talk to me before you try take advantage of them".


People are often very concerned about their job title. It is an objective measure of success. Respect people's titles. People very secure with what they are doing usually care less about titles. But for others it costs nothing to call a prop person a prop master, if they prefer. Take a cue from what a person calls themselves as to what they want to be called. You might give a person a boost by using a title when introducing them, even if they don't seem to care about their title.

Some examples:

Cinematographer = cameraperson

Prop Master = prop person

Lighting Director = gaffer

Script Supervisor = script clerk

Stylist = wardrobe

Associate Producer = someone's friend

If people congratulate you on doing a good job, give your crew credit for making it possible. Credit every good idea and effort so that people hear it, it costs nothing.


Most people are preparing and waiting for the chance to move up the ladder. Often that next chance is just a trial step to see if you are ready. Usually that chance is given when the opportunity giver thinks you are about ready, not when you think that you are ready. Your talking about moving up may be taken as normal ambition or a swelled head.

Once given a chance, don't assume that you have made it too soon. You may have to step back down to your old job for a little longer because of not being quite ready or just because there is no need for you in that new position at the moment. Breaks are often given on less demanding jobs so that you will have a better chance of succeeding.

Too often a break goes to people's heads and they think they are an old pro in just three weeks.

Knowing the mechanical skills of a job is only part of the job. Every advancement requires additional communications and management skills. This is where people often have trouble at the next level. Sometimes both the mechanical and people skills suffer for a while. Running a crew is a skill that takes time to learn. How orders are given is very important.

Taking on smaller challenges at first is wise before tackling the big ones. Getting the best help is wise and asking for help for the more seasoned crew is wise.

Often the next step up the ladder is not from the boss for whom you have tried to make a good showing for, but from some coworker who has noticed your honest effort and hard work. A recommendation from a coworker who has credibility is worth more than observations of bosses who don't have time to notice much of the working situation.


Success in the entertainment business can be rocket-propelled. But DP's and directors often don't know how to handle success any better than a rock star, politician or other whiz kid. Making big bucks and having everyone desiring one's services goes to most people's heads. Ghandi kept his humble by doing humble things every day. We often don't have the time or inclination to practice being humble. It's human nature, power corrupts. We have all seen the formerly humble worker become a tyrant in his new job with a little power. One of the casualties of the demise of the studio training system is the progressive rise of people through the ranks. Now people can move too fast, sometimes from bottom to top in one or two steps.

A little advice other than, be humble. Don't be a threat to people. Let them feel worthwhile. Let them succeed too. Give them plenty of credit for their efforts.


One measure of success is the ability to buy things that we couldn't afford on the way up. All the goodies out there to buy sometimes straps the technician, camera-assistant or budding director with payments that can be chain around his neck when the "real break" arrives. One often has to work for a lot less money or none at all when making that next big step up the ladder.

Lots of vans, boats, and even houses are lost for payments when the economy gets a little slow. Loosing hard-earned things is blow to one's self esteem. You can blame the economy, some union out on strike, or changes in the business, but how far one extends oneself financially is one's own decision.


To survive in a world full of germs and viruses that we have to build an immunity to them. If we were raised in a perfectly sterile environment, we would die from contact with the first germ. Less sanitized societies have a stronger resistance to germs than we do. Some even suggest that our over purified food and water increases our susceptibility to sickness.

We are a society obsessed by cleanliness, but with the spread of such new wonderful diseases, people's concerns about their health should be everyone's concern. Cleanliness should be at a level that the most fastidious should feel comfortable.

Some situations:

For soft drink casting, every actor should have his own bottle. During the shoot with "hero" bottles or glasses each actor should have his own bottle or glass that is refilled or one washed in a sanitary washing system. Restaurant supplies sell disinfectant washes.

Steaming coffee is always a problem. Liquid hot enough to steam is too hot to drink. A-B smoke is pretty strong to sniff. Adding steam in postproduction is not difficult now days.

Kissing. How do you cast and shoot a "Close-Up" commercial?

Check with SAG about rules and don't push actors to do something they aren't comfortable with.

Greeting old friends, how much spit do we swap?

Colds and flu (what's the difference?). Infecting a crew is somewhere between careless and criminal. In Japan, masks are worn when people have a cold. It's a badge of concern for even a stranger's health. We have magic medicines to hide cold symptoms, but we are no less infectious. Keep your distance if you have a bug or think you might be getting one, Some say that colds are more infectious when you first get them. The flu??? Many people find that vitamin C helps prevent colds, but doesn't do much after you have one. Do keep warm. Cold bugs don't grow in hot weather or a warm body.

Smoke masks. There is much debate about smoke on the set. If masks are used, everyone should be provided one if they request. Problems arise when one grip has his own Darth Vader type industrial strength mask and makes a big deal about his health. It looks like everyone else is less protected. We have been lied to so much about health safety that it's difficult to draw a line. Some crew people are more fatalistic about their safety and ignore the concern of the more sensitive.

Spray paints. The smell is strong and efforts should be taken to protect people from having to breathe it. Outside with a little breeze an actor can hold his breath if just a little dulling needs to be done. Ask if it is OK. Don't tell him it's OK.

The camera eyepiece. We do catch bugs through the eyes. Some people have very sensitive eyes. Assistants should be very protective of the operator or DP who says he has a problem. A separate cup or cover should be standard procedure if requested. Eye problems can put people out of work.

Hot weather. People often don't drink enough water. Sipping cold water may not be good for us. Lots of slightly cool or air temperature water is good for us. If we don't urinate, we are not drinking enough. Personal plastic jugs with a name on each are wise on hot shoots for the crew. Some one should remind people to drink water.

Cold weather. Any day can turn cold and wet. It's smart to bring clothes for a wet, cold or even hot day. Get in the habit of bringing your own comfort bag.

Heat and cold. Be considerate of others comfort. Maybe you sleep with the windows open, but others may not like the car windows open or the air conditioning on full blast. Ask.

Bees. Many people are allergic to stings. Parks are particularly bad. The food table, especially meat, can attract wasps. Cover the meat. A can of stinky cat food some distance away will attract them away.

The DGA and SAG have rules covering many of the make-up, hair and pyrotechinques procedures.


For some reason people don't want callers to know whom they have reached on an answering machine. Often a cryptic or incomplete, but usually cute message greets the caller. For friends who recognize the voice it is entertaining. For the stranger who wants to leave an important message, it creates distress. Is that him? Was that the right number? Should I look for another number? Is he in town? Will he show up on the set at call time? Is that a nickname? Is that kid his kid, wife or dog?

Try this: You have reached 123-4567 this is William known as Will. I will return your call if you leave your name and number. If you need me immediately, page me at 234-5678. Dial in your phone number after the machine beeps. (Or I am out of town until the 16th. Call 456-7890 for my availability.) Thanks.


Like almost every seasoned person in the business I am happy and feel obliged to pass on what I know to the younger generation. When there is time I like to explain not only how to do something, but also the principles. Sometimes people are insulted when told something that they already know. That's unfortunate. Maybe I forgot that I told them the same thing before or have no way of knowing what they already know. The intent is to pass along useful information. If we teachers preface something with, "you probably already know", it will help avoid the insult. I start a job with a new crew with "forgive me if I repeat myself or tell you things that you already know".

On the other side, I never expect people to know more than what I already know they should know. Asking me how to do something or how to approach a problem or situation only makes me, the teacher, feel better in passing along my infinite wisdom. I am never bothered by being asked again how to do something even if I have already explained how to do before. But, if someone doesn't ask the second time and does something wrong, I am perturbed. I know that people can't absorb all the information that is thrown at them. When things are not understood, I give people the benefit of doubt and assume that I was the one who failed to make myself clear.

There is so much to learn about our business that there are few on-the-job situations that will teach us all that we have to know. One has to eat, sleep, and live the film business, to keep ahead of the competition, the grip learning mechanics, the electrician learning the theory of light and the equipment, camera people learning photography and operating besides all of the equipment. Our business always has someone waiting in the wings for us to falter if we do not keep up with the times. Feeling secure that we have it made is when the competition catches up.


Our business is not an exact science and there are often many ways to do things. A wise boss will listen, but some bosses especially directors, are not secure enough to solicit help when they should. Afraid to look dumb and they blunder ahead trying to be "the director". Crews have to be careful how they offer help. If they ask, "What are you trying to do and can we help?" it sometimes breaks the ice and opens up a dialogue when things have stalled. Sometimes it is taken as doubting the director's ability.



He appreciates everyone's efforts because he assumes they are trying to please him and do the job right.

He shows appreciation for their hard work no matter how far off track that they may be.

Even if they are off track, he doesn't say so until he listens to their whole presentation.

He doesn't point out flaws as he sees them, but asks for clarification with non-critical questions to help people discover the flaws themselves. Many flaws become apparent while someone is trying to explain something to someone else. It is better for someone to discover their own flaws.

If the facilitator fails at first to see the merits of a great idea, he readily admits it. He has also avoided looking like a fool himself not seeing its merits.

He give his people credit for good work in public.

He uses "we" and "our' and not "me" and "mine", except to admit a mistake.

He gives people enough time to work on a project and keeps them updated to avoid unnecessary work.

He lets people finish one project before adding another.

He makes himself available.

He makes allowances for personal ups and downs and evaluates people on their long-term performance.

He uses praises, raises and titles as rewards for good work.


He never finds anyone's work satisfactory.

He approves nothing because he might be held responsible if the project doesn't turn out well.

He must improve everyone's work with corrections, whether the work is perfect or flawed.

He will start "improvements" on someone's work as soon as he starts hearing it.

His "improvements" will assure his taking credit for "saving" the project.

His contributions must look good in the eyes of his superiors no matter what the effect on the project is.

He uses "I" and "mine", not "we" or "our".

Any mistakes have to be covered up to avoid embarrassment, even if the results hurt a project.

He doesn't give examples of what he wants and avoids commitments by saying he will know

when it is right "when he sees it".

He never shows up on time to a meeting of inferiors. He must appear always busy to justify his lofty position.

He schedules extra and inconvenient meetings to make his people work harder.

He is never available to approve work in progress, (it might save people some work.)

He never informs people about possible problems. He has to save the problems as ammunition to criticize their work.

He never blames outsiders for problems. "You should know better" will keep the blame at home.

He never gives praises, raises or titles, they build too much confidence.

He uses the threat of firing to keep people in line.

On the set there isn't often time to be this diplomatic, but when there is time as in pre-production and creative meetings this may be applicable.

Issues to Address

Film Students and Relatives on the set.

Renting every new toy to try it out. Or "making do".

"Old Pros" rationing efforts. Teaching younger people not to hustle and make "every one" look bad.

There is definitely a balance between abuse by management and featherbedding by crews.

Who is responsible for safety?

Turn around, meal penalty, OT, kit rentals, travel pay.

Who looks out for the crew?

Flat rates.

Keys picking seconds. Also Producers, coordinators, PAs.

Loyalty: "You paid me peanuts when you didn't have money. Now that you have a big budget you are hiring all expensive professionals."

Crews always want more help.

Unqualified assistants hired by production.

More about selling ways of doing things. (By director or DP)

Crew invited to dailies.

The PA who is asked about his aspirations by a Director he is driving home one night is ignored the rest of the shoot.

"It's not in the budget"

We need a glossary: Call time, Wrap, Kit Rental, Booking a job, Replacing yourself, Flat rate, Union, P and W, OT, Turn around, meal penalty, etc. Mostly terms that a new on the set person would need to know.

"All producers care about is money"

"Well take care of you next time."

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.