Horror stories abound in Hollywood of a fresh new PA being fired for talking to the wrong person…
So it’s your first day on set? There’s a lot more people than on your college production right? Well don’t worry! We’re here to tell you who to ignore, who to approach, and who to avoid at all costs! Let’s make sure you talk to the right people and know what to expect going into each interaction in your first day on set.
1) Producer: Always working. In charge of making sure everything is ready for the next day of shooting as the shooting is happening. Not always on set but when on set it is usually to see that everything is running smoothly and to order around the Director and 1st AD. They’re worth more than you will ever be. I don’t see why you would ever need to approach this person. So don’t! Leave this very serious 80’s power suit-wearing business professional alone.
2) Director: In charge of the creative vision of the film. They vary in forms of control depending on their style of direction but usually makes sure that everything in front of the camera is exactly what they are looking for. They will always be around the DoP, Key Grip, Electrician, or Art Department Head. Unless explicitly instructed to, do not EVER approach this person with your script ideas, suggestions, or personal anecdotes. They don’t care. They can and will get you fired if they’re having a bad day and someone needs to suffer for it.
3) Director of Photography (DoP): In charge of executing the visual direction of the film. Takes orders from the Director and translates them to the Camera and G&E team’s language; a proto-speech from days gone by consisting of a rudimentary series of grunts, shouts, and opening of La Croix cans. The DoP spends time running between the monitor and camera and leads a stressful time on set. Unless you are on the camera team or bringing them water or cigarettes, leave them alone they are very busy.
4) Assistant Director: In charge of keeping everyone on schedule. Rules the set with an iron fist and usually has no issues making enemies with everything that doesn’t move when they tell it to. One of the most important roles in actually getting the production finished. If you’re doing things right you won’t have to deal directly with this person, if you’re not however…be afraid. The AD is the apex predator in the environment on set, give them the wide berth they deserve.
5) Scripty (Script Supervisor): Makes sure that everything stays the same between takes. Meticulously taking notes all the time, and one of the most important positions on set. A bad Scripty can cause so many headaches whereas a good one can make everything easier. Please leave this person alone, their job is very stressful, and they are usually crammed for time. They may look like the 2nd AD but they aren’t, please just be nice to the Scripty and leave them be. That said, I have never met a Scripty that wasn’t absolutely pleasant so maybe you can talk to them at lunch.
6) 1st AC: The focus puller. One of the most difficult jobs on set. Without them all the footage is ruined so they are under a lot of stress. Especially on night shoots and shoots with a lot of action/movement. Or shoots in vehicles, or inclement weather. Or just any shoot in general. DON’T TALK TO THEM UNLESS INSTRUCTED TO. THEY GET YELLED AT A LOT.
7) Cam Op: Operates the camera. Sometimes taken by a hands-on DoP but usually works the camera and thus makes sure the camera is working properly at the direction of the DoP. Just leave the camera team alone, kapisch? They don’t need to hear what you have to say. Save it for lunch.
8) 2nd AC: Also known as slate person. The 2nd AC will also help by grabbing lenses and materials for the camera team. Not edible things though, that is for the PA to get. They also record info on takes between slates for future reference, much like the Scripty. How many times do I have to say leave the camera team alone? Jeez.
9) Talent: Actors and Actresses. Pretty self-explanatory what they do. Don’t approach them unless allowed to or asked to. They don’t want to give autographs. Also refrain from following on Instagram until after they’re wrapped. They have the widest range of emotions of anyone on set except for maybe the director. So steer clear and if approached, play dead because they respond to movement.
10) Sound: The proverbial, “if a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it say, ‘quiet for room tone’?” Technically they should be ruling the set, but as most Sound Techs know, they’re rarely listened to. They Sound Tech is in charge of making sure only the things that need to be heard are heard. Thus they have to keep in mind all of the things that can make noise on set, which is usually grips or art department…occasionally a soon-to-be-dead PA. Usually they are very nice people but in a weird kind of way. If you must approach them do so in hushed tones because they’re very sensitive and can be startled by loud noises or sudden movements.
11) Grip & Electric (G&E): The muscles, bone, and sinews of the film set. Without them the set does not move. They are in charge of moving lights, laying dolly tracks, and smoking every cigarette in sight. Generally you can approach the grips and they actually do enjoy conversation. They’ll be running around constantly though so you may have to keep things brief. G&E are also the most approachable at the lunch break! They are PA friendly for the most part but will often play extreme and semi-cruel practical jokes.
12) Art Department: In charge of props, paints, and getting as dirty as possible. They manage a lot of things and generally have a basecamp entirely to themselves. They vary from the silent and intimidating Armourer to the boisterous Interior Designer. Usually they’re the loudest people on set and sworn enemies of the Sound Department and AD. They’re approachable but be prepared to not understand what they are talking about, the 4-part-named indie bands they listen to, or the niche animated shows they watch. However engage at your own risk. Their confidence and disregard for “quiet on set” can be gauged by the amount of color in their plumages.
13) Digital Image Technician (DIT): Very few know what the DIT does at their station, even less what DIT stands for. I believe it is known as “data-management” but who knows what dark magics they deal with in their secluded corners. They sit there illuminated by their screens and talk mostly in numbers and disjointed letters. They seem to be long-time friends with every camera crew they encounter but no-one else knows them. You do know one thing though, do not…EVER…touch their station if you value your livelihood. They can be talked to, but I wouldn’t. Let them do their job, it’s very important.
Hair & Makeup (HMU): These people reside in a realm of their own, banished long ago for “being too loud”. Very rarely seen on set unless called upon, Hair and Makeup professionals are usually content to sit in their own space and gossip. Gossip about other sets, the drama of on-set relationships, the most recent episode of Drag Race, anything really. They may seem aloof but do not worry they’re very approachable if you can keep up. If you do become friendly with them they can be some of the most fun on and off-set! If not then don’t worry, they’re talking about you.
PA’s: The PA’s are obviously the most approachable on set. They just want someone to acknowledge them. Be prepared to hear some hot-takes about new films, some “too-loud” opinions on how the director is doing, and a premature exchanging of contact info/Vistaprint business cards. They mean well and everyone has been a PA at least once so it’s usually not cool to beat up on them too much…unless you’re the AD in which case you can churn through them like Kleenex wipes in flu season. Look for the person that acts like they don’t belong and you’ll most likely find a PA…or the writer visiting set to steal crafty.
Security: I’ve never met a security person who wasn’t well liked. It’s not a large group in the industry so they’re also frequently well known around larger sets. They have great stories that you hope you’re never a part of someday and are generally nice people. Don’t expect to have long conversations with them but they’re great in a pinch!