Everything You'll Ever Need to Know About Film Crews and Bottled Water

Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know About Film Crews and Bottled Water

As the summer sun shines bright and brings productions heavy on exteriors and in desperate need of a longer magic hour, film crews come from all corners of the world to swelter in the heat -- some shirtless -- and hustle below the line. All will suffer. Many will sweat. Most will thirst. It is within this context that we take a look at a crucial aspect of filmmaking: bottled water.

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:

  1. Health factors: it helps make sure your mouth is the only one using your water bottle
  2. Accountability: you can quickly find out who’s been leaving water bottles all over the place
  3. 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.

Bottled Water on the Camera Cart

Don’t do this!

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

Most of the advice above is for anyone working on a film set, but these tips are geared more towards my camera assisting brethren who spend their days close to the lens or clapping a slate.

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.

  • Productive

    Who would’ve thought a post about water could be so interesting.

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

      haha :) I wanted to write this as a short post and wound up with a novel on my hands. I had no idea there was so much to be said about water until I started.

  • FB

    Perfect timing for this excellent post, Evan! We hit 35°C here in Rome today (95°F). Luckily we’re shooting on a soundstage, but we’re going back on location in a month or so, and it’s obviously going to be hotter.

    I want to share with you what the production company I’m working for at the moment has been doing for a while to solve the problem of waste and the dozens of empty (or half empty) plastic bottles laying around on location at the end of every shooting day. As much as I’d love to see all those “rules” respected, I’ve almost never seen it happen in the real world. Everyone has a sharpie, still very few think about putting their names on bottles. And I’m pretty sure you can find plastic bottles on camera carts on every set in the world.
    But what *really* bothers me is point #5. The truth is that when you have what seems to be an unlimited supply of bottled water, most people just don’t care. You see people grabbing a bottle, open it, take one or two sips from it, and then simply “forget it”. At the end of the day you see so much water wasted and so much plastic to dispose of, it’s just plainly crazy.

    So, mostly for economic reasons, i suspect, the production company I’m working for at the moment has bought two office-style water tanks and we only use those, on the soundstage and on location. No bottled water. The problem is that very few use re-usable bottles, so the plastic cup waste is still significant, but at least you don’t see empty plastic cups laying everywhere, because usually crew members fill their cup at the water tank, drink it, and then throw it away in the garbage bag right there, instead of putting it on camera carts or leaving it pretty much everywhere on set. The 2 or 3 people (in a crew of 50) who have re-usable bottles just refill theirs at the same water tanks.

    The best situation, IMHO, would be for production companies, especially on longer jobs like the one I’m on (8/9 months), to give the crew nice, heavy-duty, metal re-usable bottles, but I understand that would be quite expensive if the crew is large or if the shoot lasts for only a few days.

    Still, if we collectively decided to convince production companies to move toward water tanks on set, then everyone could just go and pick their favourite re-usable bottle and we could make our industry a little bit greener. It’s really a small thing, but it could dramatically reduce the amount of plastic and water wasted on film sets.


  • http://emiliomejia.tumblr.com Emilio Mejia

    I’ve worked on sets in Arizona with crew from LA that got or nearly got heat exhaustion because they wouldn’t listen to me that they needed to drink more water. They lose color, move sluggishly, and when I offer a water they say, “oh, I’m not thirsty.” “That’s because your body is shutting down. Just drink it.” Then they do and realize how quickly it replenishes their energy. The local Arizona crews know this and usually hydrate with the efficiency of farmhands with wet bandanas on their necks and a nice big hat on their heads.

  • Kevin

    I like that every good camera assistant needs to bring a sharpie. In the Marine Corps they always told us that every good Marine has a pen and one senior marine told me that they only tell you that because they forgot theirs

  • Dana Kupper

    This reminds me of a funny story. We were shooting in a store, and they wouldn’t let us keep drinks or food on set, but you know camera assistants, we don’t get a nice break to wander over to craftie, so I kept a cup of water hidden for myself. Being the dork that I am, I put my name on the cup. so when it inevitably got spilled I was so busted! Learned from that to just put a symbol on my cup…impossible to trace, ha!

  • Jesse M

    If there’s one thing I hate it’s stray, partially drunk water bottles laying around set. As a PA (often the only PA) it typically falls to me to clear the mess up. I now use extreme prejudice when it comes to dealing with them – if I see a partially full bottle with no initials sitting in a corner the first time I go by, it better be gone the next time I pass or it’s going in the bin. No exceptions.

    On the other hand, I discovered these handy water bottle clips (bit.ly/1859zn7) and began giving them away on film sets. Now I sell them. They do wonders to keep the amount of bottles down.

  • joelmielle

    I was working in China on a 80% humid 38 degree Celsius day and drank gallons of water all day. That same evening (14 hours later) I was sweating profusely working indoors next to swampland which felt like there was no air, stuck with my RED camera in an old stinking kitchen with turtles running on the floor and very hot lights. I was sweating like a water feature. My concern was for my camera but without thinking, I stopped drinking water for 30 minutes and then felt dizzy, walked outside and blacked out. So you’re right, drink plenty of water. If you ever get a queasy feeling, don’t ignore it. Drink up plenty! oh and the camera soldiered through without one hiccup.

  • Angel Navarro

    On the contrary, at one point when I was a 2nd, the 1st told me to never ever put initials on any of the camera teams water bottles. He said,”If ever someone move our bottles and end up getting in the shot or someone just messed them up, our names arent in it.” and I was my face was just like.. ya ok (O.o)

  • Richy lacey

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone drinking Diet Coke on an Irish
    film set. Tea and water are the dominant force. Coffee too, if there’s a
    Nespresso machine.

  • Belle

    This is so true lol. EVERYTHING lol.

  • Chase Daseler

    So true… I discovered how useful it is to label your water bottle when I was on set. Can’t even remember how many times an actor would walk up to the table littered with water bottles and look confused until I tell them “I wrote your name on it.”

  • Zachary Zaza

    what this really should say is that people need to buy their own reusable water bottles and fill it at water stations on set or from a tap. the obvious/numerous benefits that come from this are incredibly effective.

  • Zachary Zaza

    what this really should say is that people need to buy their own reusable water bottles and fill it at water stations on set or from a tap. the obvious/numerous benefits that come from this are incredibly effective.

  • Nick Montgomery

    What a novel idea! Get production canteens for the crew, that would boost morale so much. And you could easily slap a movie logo/website on that sucker to make them feel more special and get some advertisement out of it.

  • http://142productions.com/ Jessica Moore

    Also, NEVER assume the gig you’re working on will provide water. I always bring 1 warm bottle in my gig bag just in case some jackass assumed we didn’t need refreshments on a 15 hour day. :D Cheers! :D

  • brett mayfield

    i got a great canteen from a production company years ago who brought on http://ecosetconsulting.com/. I threw some decals on it so its clearly mine. The screw top is big enough to slip your fingers and a carabiner through, so now it is attached to my kit belt all the time, even when im not on set. that way when i go on set, its already there, no excuse. i havent drank out of a plastic water bottle, on set or elsewhere, in over a year now. i have sorta trained myself by having a canteen that goes with me everywhere else in life, so it has become second nature to fill it up at the airport, at home, wherever.