Imagine you’ve never worked on a movie before and you step onto a film set for the first time. You may feel lost and unfamiliar with the traditions, language, and expectations of a film set. You may make mistakes that were accidental, but in the crew’s eyes were negligent.
As David Elkins says in his book, “you may feel like a stranger in a foreign land.”
In the film industry, there are a group of rules known as “setiquette” — or, set etiquette — that defines the appropriate and safe way you should act on a film set.
But with so many different crews in different countries, it can be difficult to grasp these rules and the details of them without logging hours of experience.
Luckily, Kim Gottlieb-Walker, a talented still photographer and member of the IATSE Local 600 International Cinematographer’s Guild, has made available a guide on setiquette written by several veteren crew of the camera union.
(Update: Gottlieb-Walker’s website no longer features the same setiquette guide this post originally discussed. I have made it available as a PDF download.)
The official name of the guide is “Setiquette: A Guide to Working Effectively on the Set” and it describes itself as:
The following are well-established production practices and are presented as guidelines in order to aid members of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, IATSE, to function more efficiently, effectively, productively and safely performing their crafts, during the collaborative process of film and video cinematic production.
While the guide is a good overview for anyone stepping on a film set, it is of particular interest to those who want a job in the camera department. The document takes each position in the department and lays out the responsibilities, duties, and expectations of each crew’s chosen role.
For example, in regards to camera assistants, contributor Mitch Block says:
The responsibilities of the Camera Assistant (AC) on any film set are numerous and seemingly never ending. Though separate titles, the First and Second Assistant work together as a team, along with the Camera Operator and the Director of Photography to keep the cameras running at peak performance, without jeopardizing any of the production schedule.
And while the camera assistant’s section doesn’t run as long as the director of photography, it is a great overview of what exactly an AC does and should do.
The guide is a relatively brief 33 pages and was last updated as recently as 2011. Though its presentation is very utilitarian (black text, white background, no pics), it does contain expert knowledge with contributions by:
- Charles L. Barbee – Director of Photography, Peabody and Emmy Award winner
- Bill Hines, S.O.C. – Camera Operator and Author of “Operating Cinematography”
- Kim Gottlieb-Walker – Still Photographer
- Mitch Block – First Camera Assistant
- Paul Basta – Camera Operator, Ped Operator
- Rudy Pahoyo – Camera Department, Paramount Pictures
- John D. O’Brien – Video Controller
- John Palacio, Video Controller
- Michelle Nobles – First Camera Assistant, Digital Imaging Technician
- Robert Zeigler, Digital Imaging Technician
- Tony Rivetti – Camera Assistant, Preview Technician, SOC Lifetime Achievement Award
- Gary Brainard – Chief Cameraman KCOP TV / UPN News
- Leonard Morpurgo – Publicist
And even if you think you know setiquette and camera department operations pretty well, this guide would be good to print out and hand to a Camera PA or trainee to read in between setups.
So head on over to Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s website and grab your PDF copy.
Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s website no longer has the same setiquette guide that was originally discussed in this post (it does feature one specifically for stills photographers), so I’ve made the PDF available for download here.