because i could use that animated gif today.
Sound effect. If the physical actor does not need to come to set at all during production, then it’s labeled as a sound effect. But check with the producer first to make sure they are doing that voice over in post production. Sometimes they do want to capture the sound in production and will ask you to bring in the actor (in which case, it’s labeled as cast).
I like to indicate implied props in my breakdowns, but your art department will have a more detailed breakdown that you can also utilize to fill out your own.
As stated, film has its own terminologies and “roger” (and “wilco” for that matter) are just not used on film production walkie channels except for veeeerrrrry rarely. Again, this is regional. I’m sure there’s a few sets out there that use “roger” way more. But I just think it’s an archaic term the kids these days just are not using.
Setiquette. It’s fucking important. Not knowing the most minor details of how a set runs means you can be pissing someone off and not even be aware that you’re doing anything wrong. The good news is that there’s a grace period for that. The bad news is that sometimes crew don’t know if you’re in your grace period and they could be putting you on their shitlist mentally before you can even explain that you’re a total n00b to the film industry.
Setiquette reaches critical mass when it comes to dealing with walkie talkies. Understanding the way walkies work and the way we communicate through them is one of the most important things you learn early on in your professional production career. Crew with poor walkie etiquette often get blacklisted faster than just being a jerk on set. On the flip side, ADs can tell if new PAs “get it” by seeing how fast a new PA gets walkie etiquette. I know for me personally, if a PA can’t be bothered to copy me half the time over walkie, I’m most likely not going to hire them again.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of etiquette, we should talk a little bit about the importance of walkies. I consider it a red flag when a production doesn’t think to budget properly for walkies. They are the single most important (and yet obnoxious) tool the production department will pay for. Without walkies, your set will have delays on conveying important information, which can cause confusion and problems with shooting. Always budget for proper production walkies. Consider them as important as your camera. Your PAs, ADs, and department heads are almost useless without them. Walkies enables production to communicate quickly over large and/or remote sets. You can quiet down extras holding, tell your PAs to lock up doorways, tell set dressers to move a couch, and call for snacks from crafty all without leaving your current position.
This should be obvious, but you’d be shocked by the amount of shows that try to get away with not having real production walkies on set. It really won’t save you any money when you are wasting time trying to find actors/crew members/equipment, etc.
What’s a proper production walkie? They are usually of this type:
Note the multiple channels (very important for normal to large sized crews so different departments can have their own channel and not clog up the walkie). The batteries are rechargable and have a clip on them to easily attach to belts/clothing. They’re made of durable plastics to sustain the rigors of any production environment and not overheat/freeze up or die in humid conditions.
These particular walkies (model shown is a Motorola CP200) also have a push-to-talk adapter built in so you can use a headpiece on your walkie. This is ESSENTIAL. Almost every set I’ve been on has required what is known as a “closed walkie”, which means all crew members have their headsets plugged in. This makes it so walkie noise isn’t all over the set and crew can press a button on the headset to talk into the walkie quickly without having to unclip the physical walkie and hold it to your mouth.
The most common headsets are known as surveillance sets. They look like this:
But you may also see D-ring headsets (the earpiece is a D-shaped piece of plastic that rests over the ear) or what we like to call “burger king sets” which are the traditional headpiece that goes over the head with a headphone on one side and a microphone that sits in front of your mouth. These are the dumbest type of headset and really cumbersome. Most production walkie rental places will not give you these unless you specifically request them.
Whatever you do, if you’re a producer and you’re budgeting for walkies - don’t buy the AA Battery plastic walkies from radioshack or walmart. These are not built for a production environment and break easily. They also have difficulties with multiple channels being used. I’ve heard other channels over walkie channel 1 or just plain static over channel 1 when crew members were using other channels. It’s frustrating and not worth having them. Don’t waste your money. Rent professional walkies with headsets.
Once you’ve received your walkies from the production house, you’ll want to go through them and make sure batteries are fully charged, especially the spare batteries. Spares are referred to as “bricks” and it’s customary to have the PAs and even ADs wear one or two spare bricks just in case a crew member needs to switch out their dying brick. This way the crew member can stay on set and not go in search of the walkie chargers.
You’ll most likely need to assemble them by putting batteries and antennae on the walkies and also labeling them. You’ll want to make a sheet denoting who is assigned what walkies. Here’s an example of who gets walkies and who often doesn’t get walkies on standard indie sets:
Always assigned a walkie if they are on set:
- 1st AD
- 2nd AD
- 2nd 2nd AD
- ALL PAs. A PA without a walkie is pretty much useless unless they are a runner or belong to another department.
- Basecamp PA or Production Coordinator/Office PA
- Art Director
- Set Dresser(s)
- Prop Master
- Props Assistant
- Key Costumer
- Set Wardrobe Assistant(s)
- Best Boy Electric
- Set Electrics
- Key Grip
- Best Boy Grip
- Set Grips
- Stunt Coordinator
- Stunt personnel
- SFX Technician(s)
- SFX Assistant(s)
- Transportation - Coordinator, Dispatch, Drivers all get one
- Location Manager
- Location PA(s)
- Camera Operator
- 1st Assistant Camera
- 2nd Assistant Camera
- Camera PA(s)
Additional Labor that may need walkies for the days they are on:
- Animal Wrangler(s)
- Fire Department
- Art Department Personnel
- Greens personnel
- Location scout(s)
If you have walkies available after the above positions receive walkies:
- Craft Services
- VFX Technician(s)
- DIT/Data wrangler
- Director of Photography/Cinematographer
- Production Runner(s)
- Production Designer
- Production Manager
Positions that do not get assigned walkies unless specifically requested by production:
- Actors (1st Team)
- Stand Ins/Photo Doubles (2nd Team)
It’s real important not to put producer or director on the walkie. Walkies are distracting and often filled with information and shorthand that can be easily misunderstood by producers and directors and cause problems on set. Directors occasionally request a walkie for specific situations like communicating directly to an actor that is remotely removed from the rest of set. Which is totally fine, just don’t leave the walkie with them. And remind production channel 1 that a director is on walkie for that moment. You can assign an open walkie channel to the director and actor if that helps for that time.
So now you know what a walkie is, what it does, and how to assign them. Now your crew have sorted themselves over walkie to different channels based on their department. You often see walkie channels are laid out like such:
- Channel 1: General Production
- Channel 2: Open channel for longer conversations
- Channel 3: Transportation
- Channel 4: Open channel for longer conversations
- Channel 5: Open channel for longer conversations
- Channel 6: Camera Team
- Channel 7: Grip
- Channel 8: Electric
- Channels 9-16 (most standard walkies offer up to 16 separate channels) - various special departments such as SFX, Stunts, Police, etc.
You will find this varies based on location/size of crew/etc. Always check in with your first AD or communicate to everyone if you are the first AD what channels are what.
Most departments, especially if small, stay on channel 1. Grip and Electric are always on a separate channel even on smaller shows. You do not want them spending 5 minutes on channel 1 instructing an electric on which way the light needs to pan. I’ve been subjected to a DP who accidentally went to channel 1 and started yelling at electrics to move lights. He only got more agitated when they clearly weren’t listening to him because, you know, they were on a different channel. The 1st AD on that show kept yelling at him to get off channel 1. Moral of this story? MAKE SURE YOU ARE ON THE RIGHT CHANNEL FOR THE PERSON YOU WANT TO TALK TO/INFORMATION YOU WANT TO RELAY.
It’s also really important to put your walkie on before crew call. If you’re a PA or AD, it’s essential. Don’t be that guy not on walkie at crew call and everyone’s yelling for you. Get your walkie on as soon as you land at location.
Now you’re on walkie, you know what channels everyone is on. Now how the hell do you use this thing? That large button attached to the headset is your push to talk device. It’s the microphone that goes out over the walkies. When you talk into it, hold it near your mouth, press down, wait a beat, and then start talking. Do not let go of button until you are clearly finished speaking. Crew will tell you “copy that” or respond in some fashion if they heard you. If someone calls for you or a general announcement, let them finish speaking, wait a beat, and then respond. This is important if it’s a general question because a bunch of people will try to answer back. When crew all answer at once, their responses will often be cut off or “stepped on”, meaning the original speaker did not hear any response. Nothing drives a 1st AD crazier than hearing a bunch of cut off/static-y responses because all the PAs tried to answer at once. You can’t avoid being stepped on at times, it happens to everyone, but you can reduce this by giving a pause before responding to make sure someone isn’t clicking in.
Your walkie is not a complicated piece of equipment even if it looks like it. But it is expensive. Take care of it. Don’t throw it around like a rag doll, try not to get it soaked, and keep your earpiece and mouthpiece clean. A lot of crew buy their own headsets to use on the walkies so they don’t have to worry about germs/ear infections (this absolutely does happen when earpieces are shared). If an earpiece needs to be shared/passed to another crew member, always clean it with an alcohol wipe.
Be careful of your push to talk button, and the transmitter button on the side of the walkie unit. When these buttons are accidentally pressed, the rest of the crew will hear your walkie “keying”. Keying means nothing is going out over the walkie/the walkie is not being used properly. Sometimes you’ll just hear a light static, other times you’ll hear clothing rubbing against the microphone or a faint conversation. I’ve heard toilet flushes over channel 1 from folks keying while in the bathroom. Be cognizant of your walkie buttons and make sure they aren’t easily pressed when not in use.
You’ll hear a lot of lingo that doesn’t at first make any sense. A lot of walkie lingo comes from the military, but a lot of it is specific to film production.
Standard walkie lingo:
- "Walkie Check" - this is said when a crew member first turns on their walkie. You will respond with “good check” if it came through or “go again” if it did not come through properly/was cut off.
- "10-1" or "10-100" means pee break. Or quick break (but we all associate it with pee break).
- "Copy that" or simply, "Copy" - Crew say this after information was relayed so that the original speaker knows the information was heard, and understood. Do not say this if you didn’t actually hear it. Which leads to:
- "Go again" or "Come back on that" - means the crew member did not understand what was being said or would like it restated to make sure they understood. Say this if you missed information that was aimed at your department, if a transmission is static-y, stepped on, or just hard to hear in general or if you don’t understand the information itself and would like it repeated/clarified.
- "On it" - Crew member not only understands the information, but is actively working on whatever task was asked for. IE, “Copy that, Mary, I’m on it.” Do not say this if you are not working on that task. This drives ADs nuts.
- "[John] for [Mary]" - You say this when you are specifically requesting a crew member over the walkie, putting your name where [John] is and the crew member’s name where [Mary] is. IE, “Michelle for Diann”. This leads to:
- “Go for [Diann]” or “[Diann] copies” - this is how you tell the crew member asking for you that you heard them and are ready to hear whatever they have to say.
- "Standby" - this is said if the crew member being called for is busy at that moment and needs a minute before they can chat. Usually the response to this is “Copy that, standing by.”
- "Switch to 2" - Use this when you want to have a longer conversation with a crew member over channel 2. Never ever chatter on and on over channel 1. I’ve heard more than once an angry 1st or 2nd AD yelling at crew members to “take it to 2”. Before you switch to channel 2, announce on channel 1 that you’re switching to 2.
- "On 2" - announce this when you switch to channel 2 to let the other person know you have switched.
- "Back to 1" - Use this when you are on channel 2 and are done with the conversation and switching back to channel 1 so the other person knows you are leaving that channel.
- "Back on 1" - Some crew members like to announce when they are back on general production.
- "Spin that, please" - This is requested after information has been stated over channel 1 that needs to be relayed to other channels. Usually this is a pre-assigned job to the key set PA or 2nd 2nd.
- "Eyes on…" "Keep eyes" and "I’ve got eyes" - If an AD is asking for someone to have eyes on someone or something, it means they want the PAs find that person or thing and annouce where it is. “keeping eyes” means you stay near a situation or person to know what’s happening and be able to report back to the ADs when asked. “Keep eyes on first team, please.”
This is just a smattering of phrases/terms you’ll hear frequently over the walkie. And every production has its own lingo, so don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand what is being said. Asking the person to go to channel 2 and asking them to clarify is better than saying copy and not getting the task done because you didn’t understand the lingo being used.
Remember to keep non-production chatter, jokes, and personal commentary off channel 1. Sometimes crew will crack a joke over the walkies, this is ok, but it’s frowned down upon if it happens a lot. Refrain from saying anything on the walkie unless it’s specifically production related. If you notice that the show you’re on is ok with a little bit of chatter/humor, feel free to engage, but keep it minimal, clean, and don’t say anything that can piss off any crew members.
Once the shoot is wrapping up, you do not take your walkie off until you are dismissed for the day. Some PAs think that once wrap is called, they can pull the walkie. A PA’s job is never done until they are dismissed by the ADs.
Most productions do not ask for the walkie back at the end of each day. If you are on the show for several days back to back, you will most likely keep your walkie and headset with you. Be sure to shut off the unit and put it next to your car keys/bus pass/house keys so you do not forget it when you head to set the next day.
If your walkie unit is having issues, make sure you report this to the PA in charge of walkies. They can advise you on cleaning the unit or headset properly or replace the broken part quickly to keep you on walkie. Do not try to fix it yourself.
Your walkie is your number one tool as a PA or AD. Without it, everyone is shouting across set, information can be misconstrued, and crew will get frustrated. Understanding the walkie and how to properly communicate over it is one of the essential skills to have on a film set.
And whatever you do, don’t say “roger.”
If it feels like a waste of time, then it’s probably a waste of time. But understand you have now learned the valuable lesson of being an AD on a project that does not need an AD at all.
Mileage is mileage. It should be based on the amount of miles traveled as opposed to how much gas is used. You still need to maintain the car and the amount of miles you put on it directly affects the value of the car. So you should be paid the same regardless. I don’t drive, so I can’t give specific examples, but it doesn’t make sense to be paid less if you’re using your own vehicle to get to and from locations.
I would AD smaller projects first to get comfortable with the process. Its really difficult jumping right into ADing a feature… and it’s exhausting.
My advice to babies/children on set: don’t have babies/children on set.
HA, I know that’s not always doable. The less idealistic answer would be this: Kids can only take so much. And labor laws protect that. Learn the legal amounts of time and legal terms around having children on a set. Consult your state’s child labor laws in regards to performance (you can find this online or a call to the state labor office will do too). Your producer may even have the perimeters printed out already.
Different ages have different set times/rules, so be very aware of your child actor’s age so you know how long you can have them on set and under what conditions.
If it’s a feature/long term project and it takes place during the school year, you will need to schedule them off times during the school week so they can do tutoring. Talk to your producer about the child’s needs during production.
In terms of handling kids once they are on set: kids are kids. Some are better trained than others. All of them have a limit and will inevitably reach it. Some kids get really tired. Some get really rambunctious and act out when they’re done with being on set. Some will just cry and hide. When you start seeing the signs of a tired child, it’s time to give the kid a break period. Never schedule your child to act a lot all at once. Spread their shots/scenes throughout the day so they can have breaks and stay fresh/excited for being on set.
Kids come with parents too. And in my opinion, you cast the kid, you cast the parent. If a parent is overbearing/difficult, immediately bring this to the producer to handle. Do not try to handle it yourself. Difficult parents will throw everyone on set under the bus the first moment they can and you don’t want that kind of negative energy on set. If the parents start acting up, get your producer on the situation, give the kid a break time, and push forward with non-child actor shots until things settle.
Kids are not all problems though. Most of them come to set super excited. it’s either their first time ever and they want to know every thing that’s going on or they’re already old pros who are excited to give a good performance. Never be negative with the child. Always encourage them. I like giving them high fives and talking about things they like in between takes (I’m still a child at heart). Whatever it is, you want to encourage the crew to have fun with the kids. They’re kids! Don’t rain on their parade.
Hope this all helps!
Oh man. It’s a lot faster paced. And you have to keep an eye on everything like a vulture circling a carcass. You’re always on your feet and actively discouraged from talking to different departments unless you are relaying information from production (crew will end up talking to you though as they get bored with chatting with each other). It’s a lot of locking up for hours, walking actors to and fro, and “keeping eyes” on everything. It’s also a lot of guessing in regards to the set protocol. Crews on bigger shows have a way of doing things differently from show to show and you’re not going to understand that until you do it wrong and someone corrects you.
When I PA’d on a big show, I made the mistake of making excuses when I fucked up. I was terrified pretty much the entire time. If I could go back and do it all again, I would as I know much more now and feel a lot more comfortable with how everything runs on that level (and I feel more comfortable admitting to being a fuck up too). So yeah, own up to your shit because you’re going to fuck up and that’s just a fact.
Other bits of advice/differences from indies: always be positive. Even when you know the shit’s going down. On indies, it’s easier to be honest because everyone’s expecting shit to go down. But on shows with actual money, everyone expects the producers to throw money at the problems. They don’t like seeing anyone with constant frowns/negative attitudes. It brings the rest of the crew down really fast and there’s plenty of people in line to replace you if you upset the wrong person. So always just keep posi and cry when you get home.
Never assume a damned thing. You know nothing. In fact, wiping the slate clean in terms of set knowledge may actually benefit you.
Never touch any equipment without asking the department head. Unions have rules on non-union folks handling equipment. You don’t want to be reliable for something you can’t afford to fix so don’t touch even a sandbag without permission.
You won’t be asked to do anything for any department except your own outside of fetching snacks/water/coffee. Unless your 2nd 2nd or Key Set tells your to help other departments. In which case, you will be flying in to help.
If you’re told to stay on your lock up, stay on your lock up. Even if you’re asked to go elsewhere by someone. Stay on your lock up.
There’s a lot of crazy paperwork on union shows and TV shows that are not utilized on smaller sets. You will learn how to do this paperwork really fast. Ask as many questions as possible to make sure this stuff is properly filled out.
Learn how to report everything in military/tenths of an hour (although some accounting departments do 15ths, but that’s not as precise and more utilized on commercials). You will be chastised for putting down a normal time on your time sheet. 4:45PM translates to 16.8 using military tenths of an hour. There’s charts you can find. This system is also referred to as “clicks”, ie, “give yourself another click” which means +0.1 to the time. Sounds confusing? It’s actually much easier than you think.
Good luck and have fun!
Never have I ever been asked for a demo reel. It means nothing in the AD department.
at least a month before a production. Ideally, two months so they can help with preliminary schedules and scouts, but that’s almost never possible in indie film budget wise. And you should always pay for pre-pro. Never assume your 1st is going to do that for free. Scheduling, creating breakdowns, meeting with the department heads, all of that takes a lot of time and you want your first committed to your project’s pre-pro for maximum efficiency in production.
This is a great question. I had a debate the other night with an AC who said that if everyone likes the AD, that generally means that the AD is pretty crappy at their job. He said that there are exceptions. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think it’s important to garner the respect of your crew if you ever want to be taken seriously as an AD. While you may not personally be everyone’s friend, being a person on set that doesn’t make everyone cringe is an important trait of a solid 1st AD.
I haven’t seen much success in being a total asshole on set. Perhaps there was a time when that was expected of being an AD, but when it’s indie film especially and your crews are smaller and things are all around tougher to handle, being a compassionate 1st goes a long way.
I find that the first step in getting respect and being a generally liked 1st is understanding your departments beyond just their basic jobs and what that means in regards to scheduling. Get to know your crew, learn their names outside of “that girl on art department who shows up once in a while”. Understand their background, find some common ground, and go from there. Also, getting to know what each department likes from the ADs helps in getting a lot of respect. You’d be surprised at how many folks just ignore the requests of each department. Everyone understands if something can’t happen the way they want it to, but they really appreciate you at least trying to make something work for them. It can be something as simple as always giving a last looks call for ward, hair & makeup (and art) even if everything looks great on the monitor, or even not pestering the AC team about where video village goes. It could even be something personal like knowing the DP’s favorite snack and the gaffer’s favorite wrap beers.
It’s hard sometimes to remember that you are working with humans. Every AD gets into a state where they call for things and expect a robotic response back. It’s ideal, but not logical. Taking your time to understand the set you’re working with and the quirks of your crew goes a long way to being a likable AD that can also get shit done because the crew respects them.
Whatever you do, don’t be a total asshole. It gets you nowhere.
OMG IT'S A FILM PRODUCTION BLOG
Assistant Directors don't always yell. Sometimes we write about stuff. Because I'm a workaholic, I sometimes feel the need to document the things I see and the questions that are raised while going through the most insane process of making a director's dreams come true. About me: My name is Michelle. I am a (currently) non-union First Assistant Director working out of Austin, TX. I hope to one day join the DGA and direct my own scripts on the side, but until that time comes... Got questions? Comments? Complaints? A project you want me to AD? (I'm cheap!) Email me at - firstname.lastname@example.org You can also find me on the good ol' twitter - twitter.com/m0thra
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