There are different methods of traffic control. Use this one as a guide to develop one for yourself. Traffic control is one of the last places for "I assumed" or "I thought they knew....". Your method has to be fool proof. A written method is in order. Be pessimistic, be firm and listen to everyone's concerns because lives are in danger.

Avoid "movie language" when regular English will do. Say" to your left instead of "camera right". Say, "rehearse the shot" instead of "block the shot". Avoid "follow van", "wrap shot" etc. These things may mean different things to a local policeman acquainted with non-movie traffic control.

Learn and use names to avoid confusion on the radio; Officer Bob, Camera assistant Bob, driver Bob.

Minimum needs for traffic control for blocking traffic and shooting on a public road:

1. Two uniformed officers acquainted with traffic control with jurisdiction of the area that you are working in at each end.

2. Radios for each officer on the production company's frequency. Spare batteries for those radios. They will also probably have their own radios too.

3. Turnouts with good visibility for regular traffic for each end of the shot. You need room to turn your group around.

4. An AD (assistant director) VERY acquainted with shooting under these conditions. This is the last place for on-the-job training.

5. Radios in picture and camera vehicles. A radio at "Base Camp". Tell the base camp people to stay off the radio unless absolutely necessary.

6. The required or needed safety signs.

7. Required permits.

8. Enough people at every driveway and secondary road not requiring traffic officers. Each needs a radio in case a driver won't stop.

9. Radios powerful enough to reach all elements.

A movie shoot is interesting to passing drivers. Even if they don't get angry about being delayed, they become distracted, and can cause an accident. They will watch you when they should be watching where they are going. It is safest to block all traffic from a road that you are working on, especially if there is parallel running with a camera car shooting another car, even if there are 4 lanes, the people going the other way can be distracted and your shooting can cause an accident. Even if you are not legally or technically responsible, you are morally responsible if your shoot contributes to an accident.

Police traffic control is a must under almost all conditions. One, they reduce your liability; two, people are more likely to stop for an uniformed person; and third, they are usually, but not always, used to this kind of traffic control. I have had a few times when the traffic control method of some officers was not up to our safety standards. Some are, as are many "civilians", distracted by "show biz". Many people lose what good sense that they have around a movie shoot.

Before a stretch of road is considered it must be scouted for driveways and side roads which could allow an unexpected vehicle on a road that you are shooting on. I have had a tractor come out of a gate in a farmer's fence. Leave someone at every small side road or driveway to prevent a vehicle getting on the road that you are using. PA's can often do this. Put officers at all main roads.

PA's should not fill in for traffic officers on the road. Many people will drive around some kid with a flag. Some people will even drive around uniformed movie cops in areas with too much disruptive movie shooting.

The road should be selected considering lighting, side roads, backgrounds, turnarounds, smoothness, and noise if shooting sound, and length. Sometimes two or more takes are possible if the stretch is long enough. Turnarounds take time.

The radios should be checked. Usually the police radios are more reliable between their cars with one end using the production company's radio. Always wait for a confirmation of any message before sending the vehicles out onto the road. A 10 watt radio, magnetic antennae, or linear amplifiers might be considered if long distances are expected. I have had local conditions that make 2 and 5-watt units almost useless: the Mojave Desert near Red Mountain and Mt. Tamalpias in Marin County.

Many officers describe the last two cars let through before they hold traffic. If traffic is light it is safest to hold all traffic until you get back to #1 ("base camp" or "start")

Most traffic officers are quite pleasant to delayed drivers and can back their request up with their authority. A PA might not get as much cooperation especially in an area where movie production often holds up traffic. I feel that "I'm sorry sir" works better than "you're going to have to wait".

Keeping a road open whenever possible will keep shooting possible in areas that we use a lot. Don't abuse your ability to close a road. Keep the road open and get off the road whenever possible.


After police are in position and people are stationed in every drive way and side road AND camera and everything else is absolutely ready, the AD asks the officers to hold traffic. After they confirm that the run is clear by describing the last two cars let through, you can, with permission of the officer on your end, start your run. Caution: two cars traveling faster than a slow car could both have passed a slow car that is still on the way. After your vehicles get to #2 (end of run) and are turned around you can wait until traffic is released and held again. If you are not shooting and are in a single line you can follow the traffic back to #1 (start), with permission of the traffic control officers. Let them make the final decisions to go. The AD should reaffirm any doubts.

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