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.
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?”
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.