Second only to Diet Coke as the drink of choice on set, bottled water keeps crews hydrated and on their feet at all times, especially in the hot, summer months. And, like anything on a film set, there’s a few unofficial “rules” of how to work with them.
So today I want to talk about the setiquette of water bottles on a film set as well as some overall tips for consuming enough water throughout your day of filming.
Important Reminder: Always Drink Water While Working!
First things first, I cannot overstate how important it is to drink plenty of water while working.
Even if you’re not outside and in the convenience of an air conditioned studio, drinking water is one of the best things you can do to keep your energy up. Over the course of a 12 hour (or more) day, that energy is valuable.
But especially when you’re working outside, having access to water and consuming enough of it will ensure you’re in it for the long haul.
It will minimize health risks associated with being in the sun (such as heat exhaustion) and it will provide you more energy to work faster, better, and harder. Plus, you’ll feel cooler, more relaxed, and more comfortable which will allow you to focus on your responsibilities.
So, one more time for emphasis: drink lots of water!
And if you’re working above-the-line or have a say in the matter, make sure the production supplies enough water for crew to drink. People may bitch and moan if you forget coffee, but they’ll suffer much more if you forget water.
Bottled water is preferred because open cups may spill on equipment, sets, or costumes. Still, some water is better than no water — and a production without any water isn’t taking the safety of its crew or their well being seriously enough.
Basically, crew are responsible for drinking enough water and the production is responsible for supplying it. If that deal breaks down, the lack of water could become a major health issue.
5 Tips for Proper Bottled Water Setiquette
That said, there’s a few “rules” you should adhere to when drinking, transporting, or working on a film set with bottled water. These may seem silly on the surface, but many of them only take a few moments to comply and provide benefits of convenience, efficiency, and gear safety.
1. Sharpie Your Initials on the Cap
One of the first things you should do when grabbing a water bottle is write your initials on the cap using a permanent marker. This shouldn’t be a problem because, as a proper camera assistant, you’ll always have a Sharpie on you at all times (right? right).
Tagging water bottles with initials is helpful for three reasons:
- Health factors: it helps make sure your mouth is the only one using your water bottle
- Accountability: you can quickly find out who’s been leaving water bottles all over the place
- Convenience: helpful in making sure someone else doesn’t accidentally finish your drink
In short, it keeps you and everyone else on the same page about whose is whose to drink.
It’s also smart to initial bottles for other crew members if you happen to grab one for them or notice they haven’t had a chance to do it themselves yet. It’s a habit of mine to write the initials of the director of photography (DP) on a water bottle before I hand it to them. If they somehow manage to grab a bottle on their own, I offer my Sharpie to them so they scribble their name on the cap.
2. Keep Your Bottles Dry
If adding your initials to the cap is the first thing you should do, drying it off is the second thing. Many productions keep bottled water in a cooler full of ice and, if you’ve ever attended a BBQ, you know that makes the bottles wet — if not immediately, then from condensation when sitting out in the sun.
When you’re working next to a camera that’s usually worth a couple thousand dollars in hard costs (and worth much more when you factor its necessity to the production), the last thing you want is to rub wet hands all over its sensitive parts. Especially with digital cinema cameras comprised of advanced electronics, water should be kept away from the camera as much as possible.
That’s why you should always dry the bottle of water with a towel or paper towel before you stick it in your pocket or hand it off to someone else on the crew. Camera operators especially don’t want to get their hands wet and then have to fuss with the camera. Neither do 1st AC’s. In fact, nobody really wants to have wet hands as it poses a risk to the equipment.
Don’t see any paper towels nearby when grabbing the bottled water? No problem — use your t-shirt, a towel, or whatever. I always keep a hankerchief in my pocket for various reasons and use that to give it a good wipe. It doesn’t have to be dry as a desert, but it shouldn’t feel like you spilled all over when bringing it back from crafty.
3. Don’t Crinkle or Crunch Your Bottle Between Takes
Water bottles, for all they’re good for, are very noisy.
So this tip is short: wait to drink from your bottled water between takes when sound isn’t rolling. In fact, don’t mess with them at all until you hear the words “Cut!”
I’m cringing now thinking of that crunchy plastic sound you get when squeezing one too hard. My experience has also been that cheaper bottles use cheaper plastic which makes even crunchier, noisier sounds. And you know if it’s cheaper, those are the ones production is going to buy.
You don’t want to be the person that messed up a good take with an accidental plastic crinkle because you couldn’t wait an extra 10 seconds to have a sip of water.
4. Leave Your Bottle Off the Camera Cart!
Keeping water near the sensitive electronics that live on a camera cart is not a good idea. Yes, even bottled water with the cap on. Setting the precedent that liquids are OK on the camera cart is opening up a Pandora’s box of potential spills and accidents.
Imagine what would happen if a bottle had a loose cap, spilled and came in contact with a Preston? Or a card reader? Or a laptop? Ignoring electronics, what would happen if it came in contact with a lens? Or a follow focus? Or any other specially machined part?
A lot of equipment, besides being electronically sensitive, have small nooks and crannies that would make it hard to dry completely. Would it be the end of the world? Probably not — but it could lead to lasting damage and very well be the end of your duties on that job.
If you want a convenient way to carry them on the cart, use a container that separates them from the rest of the gear. I made the bottle buddy that I made to hang from a gator clip on the side of the cart. That way I don’t worry about spills, but I also have a good spot to store bottled water during moves.
Accidents happen, sure, but water spills on camera carts are much less likely to happen if you just keep the bottles off the cart in the first place.
5. Don’t Be Wasteful
Finish what you drink, recycle when possible, and don’t leave bottles lying around the set.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s surprising how many people will fail to adhere to it. A good portion of those people don’t do it maliciously — sometimes you get called to do something and forget a bottle — but if everyone makes a more conscious effort, those cases can be minimized.
There’s many reasons why you shouldn’t be wasteful with bottled water:
- It’s bad for the environment. Crew go through dozens of bottles of water per hour and failure to recycle these and leaving them in the open can do real damage to the local environment. If you’re shooting on location, this is in poor taste for those areas that are welcoming you to film your production there. Respect their area in return.
- It’s frustrating for the art department. Often after a crew has left one setup, the art department comes in to clean it up or dress it for a new scene. They’re just as much craft persons as you are and having them clean up your mess is below what they’re being paid to do and annoying to them.
- It’s frustrating for the locations. Whether it’s someone’s house, a restaurant, a public park, or an office building, they’re opening up an area for you to use. Don’t make them do you another favor by cleaning up everything. Stuff like leaving trash makes all film crews look bad and makes it difficult for filmmakers to secure locations if another crew has spoiled the opportunity before.
- It costs the production money. Yeah it’s not your money, but I’ve always operated under the belief that crew should do what’s reasonable to save the production money when they can. That doesn’t mean I would drink less water, but it does mean I would make sure not to only drink half bottles and forget about them. You’re getting paid by these people (whether in money or other means), so you should do your part to help them in a minor way.
Even if you don’t care about the eco-green message that saving water promotes, expecting another human being to clean up trash your responsible for is an asshole move. It’s simply polite to clean up after yourself and be mindful of not wasting water. So: don’t be an asshole, don’t be wasteful.
Extra Advice for Camera Assistants
1. Hold Onto the DP or Camera Op’s Bottle for Them
The DP (or camera operator) is usually preoccupied as soon as “moving on!” is yelled. They’re ready to move on in an instant and trust their camera assistants to follow them with the right gear.
If they’re thirsty, they may grab their water bottle, but if they’re not, there’s a good chance they’ll simply forget it. My advice? Hold onto it for them. When you see them getting parched and you whip out their bottled water for them, they’ll be grateful — the little things matter, after all.
2. Always Offer to Grab Others Water If You Go Yourself
Crew are family and family help each other out. If you’re going to grab some water for yourself, ask other crew if they would also like some. Many times crew are too busy to step away from the set and they’ll appreciate your willingness to bring them something as small as water.
At the very least, ask your own department if they want some. Those above you in the department will appreciate your initiative, while those below you will appreciate your humility.
The only exception? Don’t take more orders than bottles you can carry.
3. Hoard Extras in Your Toolbag
Whether from a lack of planning or a sinister plot to limit the consumption of bottled water, there is going to be times that there is no more bottled water left.
Just like I sometimes do with snacks, I plan for this by hoarding a few extras in my toolbag or on my camera cart. Sure the water may not stay cold, but when your department is feeling thirsty and everyone else is clamoring over only a bottles left, you’ll be happy to have any water.
I do warn you, however, not to be greedy. It’s OK to save a few bottles of water here and there for emergencies, but it’s not fair to other crew or the production if you’re stocking an entire case of it in your truck or van (unless you request this first).
Extra Advice for Productions
1. Don’t Keep the Water Too Cold
Have you ever tired to chug an ice cold drink? As the chilled liquid shoots down your throat, it gets increasingly hard to sip more and more (trust me, I was in a fraternity).
For the most part, crew appreciate a water temperature colder than lukewarm, but warmer than freezing. Setting bottled water underneath bag of ice keeps it dry and also provides just the right amount of cool. Placing the bottles inside the ice may approach that unchuggable temperature.
It won’t be the end of the world, but crew who are thirsty and in a rush will appreciate being able to quench their thirst in the few moments they have between setups.
2. If You’re Going Green, Do It Smart
With climate change relentlessly pushing forward and an overall urge to be green regardless, many productions will want to carry that attitude onto their sets. And if not at the behest of the production itself, many crew will appreciate and respect efforts by a production to be environmentally friendly.
One big thing that a few productions have begun targeting is getting rid of disposable bottled water. Some ideas I’ve heard tossed around to replace the disposable bottle are:
- Canteens for crew
- Nice water bottles (made of heavy-duty materials)
- Offering to refill disposable bottles
The way these solutions work is by having a water cooler (or something similar) at craft services for crew to come refill their containers — just as they would come to get a new bottle of water.
I do want to point out, however, that portability is crucial if you are going to ditch the disposable water bottle. Replacing them with cups is not a good idea. Open cups have the potential to spill on equipment, sets, wardrobes, and locations. Plus it will make it difficult for crew to carry their drinks between setups. Portability without spilling is essential.
Beer is Better, But Water is Best
Bottled water is something we rarely associate directly with filmmaking, but it’s important to the process. In fact, it’s so ingrained in the process that we’ve developed little “rules” and setiquette around it (e.g. not drinking during a take because of sound issues).
To be honest, water is not the most important thing on a set. There are far more crucial aspects of filmmaking: camera, talent, lights, and more. But bottled water keeps everyone on a film set — above the line and below the line — healthy, enabling them to do their best work. Without a sufficient supply, crew get dog tired and slog slowly while the sun gets closer to setting.
What you’ll quickly discover is the key to a fruitful day/magic hour/location is a crew that’s hydrated.
And while they may try their best to convince you to do that with beer, water will do just fine.