On Set Etiquette

This article was originally part of the Insider Cinema guide to Hollywood, a website from the mid-2000s. We are reposting it here as both a writing sample and a guide for those seeking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood.

The main thing to remember onset is that everyone is tired, uncomfortable, and stressed.

Know how to get coffee

As stereotypical and petty as it sounds, the one thing that everyone on set requires is coffee.

Why? See the above paragraph.

While it is the duty of the P.A. to get coffee, menial tasks like this can fall on anyone in the crew. I was on set once, and there was no P.A.’s around to help give out breakfast snacks, so the producer of the film went around handing out Egg McMuffins. Another producer I know had rented a special trailer for an actor on a feature, and one of the provisions was that the toilet had to be cleaned before it was returned. At the end of the last day, there were no P.A.’s available, so she was down on her knees at 3 in the morning, scrubbing the toilet and cleaning the septic tank (OK, this is an extreme example, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a funny one).

The night before the shoot, just for your own sake, look up the location, and where the nearest Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Hospital, and any other important landmarks are in relation to you. Although sets often have a rigid infrastructure to them, you never know when a major cluster-f*** will occur (internet connection in the production office going down, temperamental actress, fire, the plague of locusts), and the entire production will grind to a halt unless somebody knows where the nearest delicatessen is.

Also for this purpose, carry a pad with you. It sounds simple, but writing down these notes could mean the difference between you getting another job after this one or not. Even if you have a photographic memory, just showing people that you are taking notes shows your supervisors that you take this job seriously. Plus, you will at one point be given a difficult order, be it what kind of coffee to get, or an important piece of camera equipment to pick up from Panavision, and you don’t want to come back with the wrong order.

Introduce yourself in the morning.


Don’t criticize anyone unless you are their superior.

Always have a good pair of grip gloves.

If you’ve been given a walkie-talkie, do not use it for personal jokes.

I was on set one time, and the scene called for an exotic dancer. Well, she showed up, the producer greeted her, and casually and nonchalantly mentioned that at first, he did not recognize her with her clothes on. An awkward comment to be sure, but that was then compounded by the fact that the nearest P.A. felt obliged to tell everyone over the walkie system what had just been saying. Needless to say, he was asked not to come back the second day.

Another important thing to note is the problem of KEYING. Keying is when a walkie-talkie will malfunction, and start broadcasting from your microphone without knowing it. Many people have been fired over keying. I myself was on set, and I did not even have my walkie headset on, it was around my neck. I was upset and talking with myself (using several expletives) because we were not given breakfast that morning and had to work in the rain. It was not until I turned the corner that I saw the look on my boss’ face.

Some walkie-talkies will start ringing or beeping if you’re keying, others will not. The only way to guard against this is to periodically turn your walkie off and on again. When you get your walkie in the morning, make sure you ask how to stop it notifies you about keying, and how to stop it.

Do you have your own thoughts?

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