Feeling Nervous on Day One? 5 Steps to Curb Your Anxiety

Feeling Nervous on Day One? 5 Steps to Curb Your Anxiety

I, too, still get nervous before gigs -- sometimes for no good reason at all! It's something I've learned to get used to and part of dealing with it is a process I go through when I arrive on set. If you follow these 5 steps, you'll be ready to kick ass when the sticks clap on take one.

Are you feeling nervous about a shoot coming up? Do you lie awake at night thinking of all the ways you could mess up and never end up working in the film industry again?

If so, you’re not alone — many crew members get anxious before a shoot. Yesterday on Twitter I asked my followers if they got nervous before a shoot and here’s what some had to say:

  • “I used to get nightmares before going on set” – @david_charry
  • “The answer is definitely YES” – @FB_ac
  • “Everytime, even if I know it’s an easy one” – @mariofeil

I, too, still get nervous before gigs — sometimes for no good reason at all!

It’s something I’ve learned to get used to and part of dealing with it is a process I go through when I arrive on set. If you follow these 5 steps, you’ll be ready to kick ass when the sticks clap on take one.

1. Leave Early and Arrive Early

One major factor in driving stress or anxiety through the roof is feeling rushed. That’s why it’s important to leave early for the location you’re shooting at with the expectation of arriving early as well.

Basically, give yourself enough time to be on time.

As a general rule, give yourself twice as much time to drive to the location as you expect to account for traffic or unexpected detours. So if Google Maps says it will take you 15 minutes to get there, then plan for 30 minutes of commute time. If it’s a really far location — an hour or more — then one and a half times the normal commute time is enough.

But this rule takes only the commute into account — you should also arrive around 30 minutes before the actual crew call time.

Why? Because crew call is the time when you have to start working not when you show up to have a chat and some donuts.

So leave early, get there early, and you’ll be able to relax before diving into the craziness of the day. This will also give you enough time to eat a healthy breakfast (a very important part of the day, more on this next month) and drink some coffee if that’s your thing.

This self-enforced policy will mean that sometimes, yes, you have to wake up super early and you’ll end up arriving super early if there are no traffic holdups.

But trust me, arriving an hour before you’re supposed to with enough time to eat breakfast is better than arriving 5 minutes before crew call and rushing to acclimate yourself with a location you’ve never been to before.

2. Introduce Yourself to Other Crew

Feelings of nervousness are often amplified when you’re working with people you have never worked with before. You’re afraid that your style of work won’t meld with theirs or that their expectations for your quality of work will be beyond what you can actually achieve.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to quell those fears when you simply introduce yourself to the crew and realize they’re human beings and not the judgmental monsters your brain makes them out to be in your nightmares.

Introducing yourself also starts the process of friendship. And when you become friendly with them, you become more comfortable and capable with your job. Humans are just more comfortable when we feel like people trust us and like us — would you rather sing karaoke in front of a room full of strangers or a room full of friends?

You will have more freedom to perform when you feel like the crew are on your side.

While you won’t become BFF’s with the sound guy instantly over a muffin at breakfast on day one, it will be a step in a positive direction.

And, as a bonus, if things start to go wrong, the crew you have met and taken the time to introduce yourself to will be much more likely to help you.

3. Get Familiar with Your Gear

Maybe you’re nervous because you’re working with equipment you’ve never used before. I guarantee that on every shoot there will be at least one piece of gear you’ve never worked with before. Camera packages are rarely the same. That’s just the way it goes.

It could be an advanced digital cinema camera like the ARRI Alexa. Maybe it’s your first time ever touching 35mm film. Perhaps you’re new to pulling focus with a wireless follow focus mechanism.

Even if its technically the same equipment, each camera, lens, and accessory has its own quirks and obstacles unique from what the manufacturer intended across the product line.

Performing a proper camera prep makes this step less important, but you aren’t always given that opportunity. For instance, if you’re day-playing on a shoot or filling in for a friend, the first time you touch the camera will probably be when you build it in the morning.

So take the time to inspect the gear, make sure it is fitting as it should, and even practice using it if you think it will help.

Even if you’ve had a long camera prep and you know every nook and cranny of every piece of gear, it’s good to do one last organizational sweep of your equipment. In the mornings on day one, I like to pack my AC pouch, make sure my toolkit is properly organized, and account for everything that I expect to need.

Familiarizing yourself with gear will help calm your nervousness because you’ll feel like if when something goes wrong, you’ll know where to go, what to do, and how to fix it.

4. Review the Plan for the Day

On a well-run production, you will have received a call sheet the night before. Maybe you glanced at it or maybe you read it three times.

Either way, it’s a good idea to look over it again and get an idea for what scenes are being shot, how many actors are in them, and how long the scenes are. The call sheet will give you a nice snapshot for what the day entails.

If you can, link up the the director of photography (DP) or assistant director (AD) and have them briefly explain how the day is supposed to go. They may not always have the time to give you an in-depth walkthrough, but any hint of information for what you have coming up helps you mentally prepare so there are no surprises when you drag the camera to set.

I find that DP’s are very busy first thing in the morning, but sometimes have a few moments of free time after they give instructions to the grip and electric departments. As an AC, I take this opportunity to bring them some breakfast and innocently ask, “So how’s the day going to pan out?”

Often, you can find out what camera moves are in the pipeline, get a general idea for blocking, and maybe even specifics like lens preference.

Good DP’s and production personnel know that a crew that is informed is a crew that can stay one step ahead and work efficiently. And when you’re informed, you will feel much more relaxed about the day instead of waiting on edge for whatever comes up next.

5. Stay Busy Until You Start Rolling

A lot of times, especially on day one, you’ll have a few hours of setup time before the first shot starts rolling while the grips unpack the trucks and start rigging, the juicers test lights and pull lamps the gaffer prefers, and, in general, everyone develops their sea legs.

This is the time in which you are most vulnerable to your anxieties because your mind can start wandering.

Just like when you lay in bed at night, you can get sucked into a world of negative thoughts looking at all the commotion on set and wondering how you might screw it up. But don’t fall into this trap!

The easiest way to avoid thinking those thoughts is to keep yourself busy.

Mark cases, tab tape, clean lenses — do whatever you can to keep yourself focused on a new task. And then, when it’s finally time to roll on the first shot, you’ll have no choice but to get your ass to set and perform.

Prepare Yourself Before You Ever Step on Set

While this process will help you mitigate feelings of nervousness on set, none of these steps are as important as the preparation you do before day one.

Let me repeat this: the amount of anxiety you feel towards a shoot is directly related to how prepared you feel you are.

If you read the camera manuals, learn the techniques necessary, and take the time during a camera prep to account for all possible scenarios, you will be much more confident when you arrive in the morning.

Still — even with the most hardcore preparation — you may feel a few butterflies float around your stomach, but that’s OK. I promise after the first shot gets in the can, you’ll forget you were ever nervous at all and you’ll be feeling energized for a long day of moviemaking.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Evan.
    If it’s your first day at a low level position, just remember that there’ll be no shortage of jobs for you to do and no shortage of people to tell you to do them. So just show up ready to dive into the work and you’ll be way too busy to be nervous!
    I can see how it’d be very nerve-racking if it was your first gig as a DP or similar as you’re expected to give orders, people are looking to you and expect you to know your stuff!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Thomas! Good thoughts — that’s the general idea behind this post, keep your mind busy and not thinking about your nerves.

  • http://twitter.com/jaminconn jamin

    bring the DP breakfast – nice one!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Its the little things that make a difference!

  • HumanGobo

    Since I’m more used to documentary or lifestyle gigs, and have really only delved into commercials/dramatic the last 2-3 years (and not as often as I’d like), I’m always a bit nervous stepping onto one of the latter on the first (or only) day…

    Prime example was this past Monday… had to be up at 5, but my anxiety kept me up til 12ish, so I already started the day without enough sleep!

    Turned out pretty well though. Only downside is for the most part, I don’t get a chance to get marks, so I’m winging the pulls most of the time. At least it’s a 2/3″ chip cam.. but we’re using a ridiculous zoom (7.5-158), so not all the distance markings I’d like are there :p

    Talk about a rough week!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Ah I know how that goes — the anxious sleep the night before. I get so paranoid about being up to wake up for call times that early that I’ll sometimes sleep with my lights on and a bazillion different alarms set.

      Sounds like a rough week of focus pulling though! Get used to that on the dramatic stuff… they don’t got time for us 1st ACs :(

  • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

    I still get nervous before starting a gig and I’ve been at this a while. I can review the day’s schedule/call sheet/plan as much as I want but it still doesn’t quell the jitters. So, I take melatonin before going to bed and once I’m on set and can see where the action’s going to take place, I become reacquainted with the skills I have as a producer/AD and knock it out of the park.

    PS – arriving early is something that’s incredibly important, especially if you’re near the top of the “above the line” crew. I’m sure you’ll agree that you’d never want to arrive on set and wait for the director, AD or producer (if the producer is hands-on with a project).