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How To Make A Short Film - Part 4: Running A Film Set

On set rules for a successful shoot, with tips on film set etiquette for the indie and low budget film producer.

Your script is ready, you’ve completed your pre-production checklist. It‘s happening! You are going on set! Next on the list? Get some clear film set rules down.

It takes an incredible amount of time, work, and perseverance to get to the actual shooting of a film. So you should enjoy every second. But, it’s also important to make sure the tone is still professional. Especially on low budget sets. Why? Because a smooth, well-run production is the best way to avoid any crucial miscommunication. Or major mistakes. Or, those night shoots that run way over into the morning...!

As a producer, you play a vital role in the on set protocols for the film. A director often sets the tone with their behaviour, but it's you put that puts film set etiquette into action. So here are the rules for a fantastic first day of filming!

No 1: Safety First

No 2: Make Money Matter

  • Successfully crowdfunded your film? Amazing. Congrats! If you are self-employed then you might be taking these funds. If so, make sure that you keep this money in a separate account, and if you can get a separate card for it. This way all expenses related to the film are in one place. This will make your tax return a hell of a lot easier (your future self thanks you.) You should be able to easily balance the books this way. Showing all the money went on the project itself, and you won't get hit with a huge tax bill.

  • Make sure that all receipts are handed to you for safekeeping. You can reimburse people later on. Or, even better, make sure the film card is used in the first place.

No 3: Paper The Walls!

  • Write up call sheets for every day of the shoot. Daily call sheets provide more detailed information about the day ahead. Like the weather, specific call times, location addresses and the like. It's great for everyone to have access to this information freely. It means they know the best time to get themselves a well-earned cup of tea without disrupting the schedule. Plus the actors know when they are needed, so they can peak at the right time.

Here's a template call sheet that we used.
  • Place the shot list somewhere visible too. The director will usually create this in pre-production for you. It's also a good idea to send this list out to the cast and crew. Especially your 1st AD and cinematographer if you have them. It lets them know what to aim for and to keep on target.

Here's a resource to help you create and organise your shot list, if you need it.
  • Sometimes directors like to have storyboards and mood-boards up too. Go wild!

No 4: Know your people

  • Get contact information. Have everyone's numbers, names and roles placed somewhere visible. Like the green room (see below), so that you aren't held up by someone going for a walk... (it happens). It's best to have some WhatsApp groups set up - separate ones! One for your crew and one for your cast. Actors don't want the constant chatter of production clogging up their heads - especially while they are trying to focus.

  • Catering requirements - make sure you know if there are vegans or veggies amongst you. Food is the best way to a crew's heart and it can be discouraging if you only have a banana for lunch!

  • Have clear film set chain of command. Work with the director to make sure everyone knows their specific job. Do your best to avoid situations in which crew members have to wear several different hats. Not only will this slow down your shooting day, but it also means that details could get overlooked.

  • Let everyone know what's expected of them. Every director is different, but most need to know they will be listened too. Make sure commands on film set are clear for all. If the Director calls for silence, help them enforce it. It could help the shoot stay on target, which is so important in low budget work. Your cast and crew will appreciate having a clear code of conduct, I promise!

No 5: Keep them happy

  • Create a green room - people need somewhere to get away. A set is an incredibly rewarding experience and has a real sense of community. But everyone needs breaks. So find a comfortable area for people to get a breather. Try and ask the crew to give actors some space in here too. It can be difficult to maintain focus or get into character if people are bothering you!

  • Take breaks - it can be tempting to burn the midnight oil. But make sure everyone has a chance to eat and drink properly, it will fuel them for success! Make sure to build meal times into the call list for the day and try your best to stick to them.

  • Catering - whilst it's tempting to buy a 40 pack of white rolls and be done with it, bear in mind that a crew needs energy and brainpower to sustain them! That means good quality food is the way to go. Yes everyone wants a chocolate bar at 4 pm and a few treats here and there! But try and make the meals balanced and mostly healthy. I used this article as a guide for our set food. This is also a great resource with some super ideas.

  • Everyone is valuable - take the time to compliment everyone for their time and effort. Thank them for their dedication. Tell them how important they are to the overall success of the film, because they are! But also remind yourself. Because you are killing it!

No 6: Don't forget your supporters

  • Have people supported your film? With money, equipment or kindness? Then send them a little update and some behind the scenes photos. It's a lovely gesture and people love it. Plus don't forget, if you sold perks on your crowdfunding don't forget them! If your cast needs to sign the script get them to do it now! Don't do what I did and forget this, meaning you then have to then stalk your cast around London...!

Bonus Points:

If you really want to go the extra mile try these on for size...

  • The Producers Bum Bag - Every producer worth their salt has a bum bag. On a serious note, it's so handy to have one. You can stuff it with batteries, scissors, tape, pain killers, paperwork. All the essentials! This is a great list of things you need on a film set. Bin bags...always bin bags.

  • Know the chat - If it’s your first film, film set lingo can be a bit confusing. Check out this guide to film set terminology. This way you can keep up with a crew who might be more experienced than you are. Fake it till you make it!

  • And finally - “Never try and guess your wrap time, You’re just jinxing yourself.” – Paul Raymond. He knew that that comes top of any on set rules...

This is a series on the film production process, with filmmaking tips for beginners.

Part 1: The Introduction

Part 2: The Script

Part 3: The Pre Production Checklist

Part 4: How To Run A Film Set

Part 5: What Now? Post production Tips For First Time Indie Producers

Author: Olivia Foan