Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

A mild disappointment with bonus re-run

Although I swore up and down that I’d have to work the day of the unemployment hearing, no dice. The hearing’s tomorrow and still no work (well, I have to shoot The Blonde doing something at Fashion Week tomorrow night, but that’s not technically work. There’s no paycheck involved and it’s mostly just me directing traffic and hoping there will be some decent food in whatever passes for a green room at a fashion show). I’m hearing rumors of something next week-ish. We’ll see.

Although it feels like forever, tomorrow will be one month since the end of the strike.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I wrote a guest post for Assistant Atlas where I dished out some friendly advice for people who visit movie sets and figured since life is still boring I’d do the blogger cop-out and re-run it here (although since I’m not sure it was ever posted on my blog it’s technically not a re-run. Plus, it’s still relevant. Print out and use as a reference if you don’t get to set that often and get the urge to see how we’re spending your cash. Please).



Welcome to our happy little film set! Ignore the swearing and dirty jokes – the crew are really nice folks, but we do have a generally misunderstood job to do, and you can make it much harder for us if you don’t pay attention. Normally when “tourists” or “suits” are on set we roll our eyes and groan, but if you just remember the following things, we’ll love you forever:

1. Never set any liquid on an HMI ballast – they’re the square silver things in the photo, and what they are is a computerized control system for that big huge light. Unless you’re the producer, I’ll bet they cost more than your car, and spilled liquid will ruin them. Don’t sit on them, either. You’ll get the ass rot.


2. Please, please, PLEASE pay attention to what’s going on around you. Film sets are dark (especially if they’re on a stage), and confusing- and as you can see from the photo, there’s all kinds of cable and construction waste on the ground. People are also in a hurry and rushing while they’re carrying hot, heavy and/or pointy things. If you’re not paying attention, you could be seriously injured. Don’t wear open toed shoes or flip flops, either. 3/4 ” drywall screws have ways of finding your toes.

3. If you take a picture and are using the flash on your camera, please say “Flashing” loudly – before you take the picture. A camera flash looks exactly like a light bulb blowing out, and if the electricians see the flash of white light and don’t know that’s what it is, they’ll go batty trying to find the blown out globe when it was your camera. This is funny, but very, very mean.

4. When the AD says “Quiet” – this means you. “Quiet” does NOT mean ‘continue your conversation in a whisper’. “Quiet” means shut up while we’re rolling. The microphones that are used can pick up a whispered conversation from a surprisingly long way away.

6. If you see crew running in and out of a doorway, please don’t block that doorway while you have a conversation. We might accidentally hit you in the back with something pointy. On a related note, the phrase “Watch your back” means move right now. If you’re in a doorway and you hear the phrase “Watch your back”, move AWAY from the doorway. Do not attempt to go back through it. Remember, pointy object = pain.

7. Whoever’s carrying the heavier load gets right of way. If I’m carrying a 40 lb light, and you’re carrying a 10 oz. cell phone or two sheets of paper – You are the one who needs to yield. I don’t care who you are. Neither does my spine.

8. When craft service puts food out, let the folks who’ve been there longer get to the food first.

9. We are happy to answer questions and chit chat when we’re not busy. If we are busy (and you can tell), please let us work. We get yelled at if we don’t.

10. Ladders are for climbing, not for setting drinks on.

11. If you ask really nicely, the grips might let you sit on an apple box (but know that it can be taken from you at any time), but NEVER EVER for any reason sit or stand on camera cases.

12. Don’t stand in front of a light. Feel that heat on your back? It means you’re casting a shadow onto the set. Don’t walk in front of a light, either. On a related note.. if you can look into the camera lens, you’re in the shot.

13. If folks are working over your head, you might want to move. We try not to drop things, but accidents do happen. If a crew member asks you to move, please do so immediately and don’t argue.

14. If you don’t know what something is, don’t touch it.
14a. Don’t plug anything in ANYWHERE without asking first. DC power (which some stages still have) will do a number on your cell phone charger, and if you didn’t ask before plugging it in, we’ll laugh at you.

15. Please don’t wear perfume. Even air conditioned sets are hotter than hell under the lights, and you wouldn’t believe how bad your “Obsession” smells after it’s been hanging in the air for a while and has bred with someone else’s “Opium”. Speaking of bad smells, if you have to fart, please step off the set – off the stage if you can. Thanks.

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13 Responses

  1. Meg says:

    Nice rules for the set. Everybody should print them out and post them prominently. Not that anybody would -read- them, mind you (grin.) That sign on the door that reads “CLOSED SET” well, that certainly doesn’t apply to ME. Or the flashing red light-isn’t that an invitation to mosey on into the stage, slamming the door? As for non-crew people not getting out of the way-one time my husband the grip said in a firm tone “you may not want to be standing there” to some random suits chatting up some actresses on a set that was being struck. They ignored him, and shortly thereafter a wall fell down, just missing said suits and actresses. “Headache” indeed.

  2. JCW says:

    We were working with 1000+ volunteer extras this past Sunday on MILK.

    Although their participation was certainly needed and appreciated, it’s a shame they didn’t get to read this entry before they came to the set.

    And so many don’t understand why we don’t “bother” the principals between shots…. they take it as a “class” issue instead of realizing that you leave people alone to focus on the job they’re trying to do.

    Besides… I’ve no more interest in starting up a conversation with James Franco or Sean Penn than they do with me… I’d much rather spend the time chatting with fellow extras and crew members who aren’t busy – but the public doesn’t seem to get that.

    All that said, I DO wear my Egyptian Musk every day, and to date, no complaints. Of course, we’ve largely been outdoors.

  3. Dave2 says:

    What few times I’ve been on-set, I’ve come through it okay. I just live by the rules to stay out of the way and don’t touch anything. :-)

  4. JPD says:

    What happened to number 5?

    Peggy sez: Not sure. Atlas may have cut it out when he ran it on his blog, and I no longer have the original draft so I can’t go back and check it. Good catch, though.

  5. Meg says:

    Number 5 is never feed the grips. They’ll keep coming back to you for food, and you don’t want that responsibility.

  6. geekhiker says:

    LOL – Number 11: one of the things I don’t miss about working in camera. Course, 7 applies in any job, even mine; those lead-acid batteries in back up power supplies are damn heavy…

  7. boskolives says:

    A voice from the sound cart:

    To the crew and cast about your phones….

    Since you’re here, you already have a job so be nice and try to remember to put your phones on silent, or at least vibrate. That being said, if you have an Apple or Nextel phone, please shut it all the way off or leave it in your car. I understand that the Apple phone has a setting called “airport” or “airplane”, this may get you a pass to keep it on but all the results aren’t in yet on this.

    Many phones send out a signal to the tower to let the carrier know where they are for the walkie-talkie function to work. And no, you can’t hear that signal with your ears, but it is picked up by some of our equipment and it produces a Morse Code sounding noise on the sound track. I guess you’ll have to trust me, it does.

    If you have a pager, I’d like to alert you to the fact that we are now in the 21st century, and the Smithsonian wants you to return it as soon as possible.

    Guests visiting the set, see the information in the main list above. We really can hear every one of your words, and we will send a copy to law enforcement or whoever would give us the biggest laugh if they heard your secrets.

    P.S., when we say “speed”, it’s just an archaic left over from early film days, now it’s only to let everyone know we are ready to record sound.

    P.P.S. my favorite “get out of the way” chant now used by some grips running into the set with dolly track is:

    “Free prostate exam”

  8. Meg says:

    re: sound dept and the stuff they get to hear. Actors who talk dirty to each other-the location stuff from the movie where Alec Baldwin met Kim Basinger was supposedly XXX. They were filming driving scenes and they were in separate cars, but carried on conversations as if nobody else could hear them.

  9. Caryn says:

    Have been thinking of you for the past few days as the campus I work on is being taken over by The Day the Earth Stood Still. Tonight the actual shooting starts and I don’t think I’ve ever seen no many lights and crew. Part of the shoot is outdoors, part indoors, and I pity the person sitting up on the arm/lifter (about 50′ in the air just outside my office windows) with two huge lights and a blue tarp in freezing temperature and a wind off the ocean hitting them in the face. And they’ll be shooting until dawn. Brrr.

    I’ve been careful to follow the rules and watch where I’m going and listen for footsteps behind me carrying stuff.

    Oh, another helicopter arrived. That’s the third one, two with the big cameras on the front. I don’t know why this is so cool to watch, but it is.

  10. Cat says:

    How about #11 – Please be sure to make yourself at home on the set. Why yes, we in the Art Department do think that those studio chairs (be they canvas, plastic, or metal) are too hard for your sensitive ass. Put your feet up – that upholstery may clean right up (or not, who cares – it’s not coming our of your budget!) Oh, and please put your coffee down where ever you like – the coffee table, edge of the sofa, perhaps inside a drawer or armoire? And let’s not forget your script (or notes, or today’s newspaper) – why should you have to keep track of it? Just leave it here (try tucking into the upholstery!) – that way, when it shows up in the shot, the on-set can get another reaming! Have a nice day!
    Your Art Department

  11. danielle says:

    this is funny. so true. thanks for re-posting.

    btw, here’s a link for those keeping tabs on axium.
    it’s a case management site.

    i know you will be working soon. i’m seeing more
    and more art department trucks zigging-zagging around town. . .and it’s a welcome sight.

  12. Peter says:

    Have been thinking of you for the past few days as the campus I work on is being taken over by The Day the Earth Stood Still.

    Oh, no! That was one of the classics of 1950’s sci-fi. The whole idea of a remake is just wrong!

  13. Lee says:

    That was the best and funniest guide to film sets for the visitor or the “above the line” folks who have so much cash and clout that apparently they don’t realize or don’t care that by breaking the rules they may be costing themselves money
    I have enjoyed your blog for a couple of years, and you are the inspiration for my blog “Abbey Singer Blues” on blogger. Hope you check it out. I know you’ll be working soon. Hang in there.

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