Advice for Film Roles

The following is a list of helpful hints for people starting out in various film roles.

Assistant Director:

  • The assistant director oversees but doesn't have to have their hands in everything, their domain is the film set.
  • As the AD on any size shoot, your first objective is to ensure that everybody is clear on set etiquette and that they should come to you with any issues, not the diretor as your job is to ensure that the director can do what he/she needs to do.

Camera Operator:

  • Learn the Geared Head: The geared head offers an incredible amount of control over camera moves, especially dolly moves. For some reason it's very easy to match pan and tilt speeds to a dolly move by spinning wheels rather than moving a pan handle around. The wheels also offer a wide range of possibilities from very subtle adjustments to aggressive camera moves that stop on a dime.
  • When in Doubt, Keep Moving: There are times when responsiveness is the key to getting a shot, usually in a situation where you're shooting either very emotional or action-packed material. Keeping your hands moving a little bit on the wheels, in the case of a geared head, or keeping your hand in motion on the pan handle, in the case of a fluid head, can speed up your responsiveness. I learned this trick originally from a sound mixer, who always wiggled his hands on the mixer knobs during takes. I asked him why, and he told me that it is much easier to move your hands quickly in response to a loud noise if they are already moving. If your hands are standing still it can take longer to react. He never wiggled his hands on the knobs enough to affect sound levels, but if he had to turn them quickly his hands were already in motion. Later I saw camera operators on features and sitcoms doing the same thing: keeping their hands moving on the wheels just a little bit, so their hands were already in motion if they needed to make an adjustment. I've discovered the same trick works with fluid heads: by moving my hand around a little bit on the pan handle without moving the camera, my response times increase dramatically.

Craft Services:

  • Know if any of the cast or crew have food allergies or diet restrictions, such as vegetarians
  • know if any cast or crew have medical conditions such as diabetes or low blood sugar to need certain snacks or drinks on hand.

Director:

  • Have someone on a set to remind you to take breaks so you don't over-exert yourself.
  • Have an assistant director that has a temperament and personality that is helpful for both you and the film

Director of Photography (DOP):

  • Find good crew who can support you. Gaffers, camera assistants and key grips generally work more often than DOP's do and see a wide variety of situations sooner in their careers. Surround yourself with good people, tell them what you need and let them tell you how they would do it. There are times when you know better than they how achieve a specific effect, but that won't happen immediately.
  • Thank your crew often and sincerely. This goes a long way.

Gaffer:

  • The first thing to determine, on any shoot, is all the locations that you will be shooting at. Take a notebook with you and write down the locations, time of day the scene will be shot and any other observations you make about the setting. This is especially important when you are shooting outdoors, since controlling the environment with ultra-limited resources is next to impossible. That doesn't mean you can't use your ingenuity to work around many issues though. The Director of Photography (DP) will be relying on you to help him or her think ahead to identify difficulties you may encounter, so speak up if you notice obvious impediments that will affect how and where the scene is ultimately shot. For instance, the sun's location and intensity of the rays will change over the course of the day. So if you set up your equipment and stay in the same spot all day, you'll find there is a huge difference in the lighting you'll encounter when shooting at 12 noon versus 4 p.m. You must compensate for elements like this one that you have no control over. It is much less frustrating and time consuming to consider these in the pre-production stage than in the middle of a shoot day.

Production Manager:

  • GET IN AT THE BEGINNING OF PRE-PRODUCTION: There is nothing more important for any film production than to have a production manager in place at the very start of pre-production on a film. The PM's job is to help coordinate and organize all of the other film departments as set forth by the producer and director. If the PM isn't hired until actual principal photography, a lot of elements that would make the production run smoothly will not have already been set up and in place, which can cause problems during and possibly after principal photography. I recently came in as the PM at the last moment on the Unique Productions indie film Between Love & a Hard Place. Some of the major problems that occurred had to do with Call Sheets and Call Times and contacting the actors and crew when changes were made. On many occasions I could not get a hold of cast & crew simply because I was not their point of contact from the beginning of production. Because we live in an era where many people simply dismiss incoming phone numbers that they do not recognize, many of my phone calls and text messages were never answered. Another thing that happened is that since many of these very same cast & crew were in contact with different people throughout pre-production it made it very difficult for me to be in contact with cast & crew and not get second guessed all the time. By being on hand at the beginning of pre-production the cast & crew know the PM as their point of contact for both the director and producer and other important individuals on the production. The PM will also double check all paperwork before it is sent out to the rest of the cast & crew so that there are no confusions. Bringing the PM in at the pre-production stage just makes the film production go smoother, for everyone.
  • BE ORGANIZED: I cannot stress this enough. A PM must be extremely organized in order to juggle so many different aspects of a film's production. Since the PM is responsible for coordinating so many departments in order to create one cohesive vision from the director and producer, he must also be the most organized and know what is going on with every department so that communication between all departments is smoother. While working on the Southlan-Films' production Hell's End, we had a cast and crew of over 60 people (and this is on an indie production) and it was a period film that took place both during WWII and had many sequences that took place in the future. The film had a lot of art direction and make up effects and location requirements that required a lot of people coordinating together for the production's needs. I had multiple different notebooks on hand detailing all aspects of the production not only for principal photography (in which I carried around 3 separate notebooks) but also for pre-production (2 notebooks) and post production (2 notebooks). Because this was such an ambitious film for such a small budget I couldn't afford to be unorganized. Having all these different notebooks with different aspects of the production within arm's reach made production on this film go by extremely smoothly. Also, being able to coordinate so many different principal and supporting actors (all of the actors were required for the duration of the shoot. There were no "day players" on this film) became easy when all I had to do if an actor had a question about their character was to flip through a notebook and look their character up. My being able to solve all these actor problems and questions helped the director and producer do their jobs without being interrupted every five minutes by cast or crew. I was also able to answer and filter questions and problems through the crew and other departments fast and efficiently without any major problems because I had all the information right there with me at all times.

Set Photographer:
  • Get clear instructions from the director about you you can and can't stand when taking photos so you don't get in peoples way or block on set lighting.
  • Only take photos during rehearsals and between shoots if the came clicks when you take a shot.

Screenwriter: