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Set Etiquette

Whilst on the set of “Pop Rocket,” we had the pleasure of working alongside this great guy. His name is Justin Robinson . . . remember it. Someday you’ll be hearing it more often, no doubt. An aspiring filmmaker from South Carolina with an impressive repertoire of experiences under his belt already for such a young fellow, Justin has a great eye for photography and a natural vision for film. He was an invaluable asset to set production; constantly finding ways to improve the scene, the attitudes of those around him, alleviate stress and workload on the director and PAs alike, and just being an overall gofer. The following is a blog post from his personal website, which he allowed us to share with all of you. Enjoy, and make sure you follow the link at the bottom to check out his work!

Set Etiquette by Justin Robinson
Here is my two cents, along with a nickel and some thoughts on what I believe you should pack into your knapsack of on set behavior. By all means, my name isn’t Steven Spielberg, nor is it Rustin Jobinson. I just want to share the little knowledge that I have on this beautiful topic. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities to serve on the few sets that I have! I look forward to the next one(s).

As the Joker says, “. . . and here we go!”

Have a Servant’s Heart

Ladies first, dude. Leave your pride and insecurities at the door. Be willing to be the guy who makes the pizza run on set. Forget credit. Be there for the right reasons. Serve others, serve the story, and serve the project any way you can. Be the best coffee-pourer in the world, and wrap cords like a champ. The level of your work ethic shouldn’t change when people are in the same room as you or not. Make a fool of yourself, and make people laugh. Laughter is a healthy recipe for a set. Lift burdens of work off others’ shoulders.

Think like MacGyver

Make things out of nothing! So many times on set, I’ve been in a pickle trying to rig up some lights or something, and out of no where, someone will come up with a simple but brilliant idea of how to rig it. I’m not saying just throw duct tape on everything, but make things work. Don’t bring more problems to the set, bring solutions. Things will break, learn how to deal with it. Think like a filmmaker—be creative.

Be Alert

Listen, listen, listen, and take initiative! If you see something that needs to be done, don’t look around to see if anyone else sees it, go do it. Know where everything is on set, so that when you’re asked, you’re not like, “Where is that?” If you see that someone is having a headache, pop out some Advil. In between takes, bring some water to the crew and cast members. A little drink of water can brighten someone’s day. If you see the director carrying things that he shouldn’t have to, jump to it. Most of the time, especially on indie sets, most PAs sit around during takes instead being one step ahead of the game. Keep your eyes out for when someone isn’t feeling well, or when you can tell they’re dealing with some crap off set. Be sensitive to those things and fill in the gap. Do things without being asked to. Be alert.

Don’t Complain

Having a bad attitude on set can be contagious. It’s unhealthy and it’s hard to cure. No one likes a complainer, stop it. Filmmaking is some of the hardest work out there, so you need to absolutely love it. The hours fluctuate like an emotional girl. Sometimes you work 15-18 hour days! If you’re reliable and work your butt off, they’ll call you back. Keep your mindset away from self and turn it to others.


Long story short, don’t walk! Obviously, running saves tons of time and it shows that you care. When you’re asked to grab something from the other side of the set, run. If you walk, you’ll probably end up wasting precious daylight on your facial-book or texting the girlfriend you don’t have.

Don’t Take Things Personally

Don’t expect everyone to act like Jesus. Shooting schedules, deadlines, weather, tempers, and egos . . . what a combination for the self-esteem of the American 20th century male. Filmmaking is so frustrating at times. Long hours and the lack of food and sleep deprivation don’t help, either. If people saw the amount of work that went into that 3 second shot, they’d be amazed. When you’re not paying attention and the crew is breaking down a scene, and one of the gaffers yells at you to get out of the way, don’t take it personal. Just stay out of the way and/or lend a helping hand. He’s got things to do and deadlines to meet, just like you. I’m not saying it’s okay for people to go David O’ Russell on people, but begin to grow some tough skin. Situations like this will help you deal with people in similar situations. Your feelings will get hurt at some point so take some advice from my speech teacher, Rocky Balboa:

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a mean and nasty place and it’ll beat you to your knees if you let it.”

Have Endless Energy (if possible)

Be the guy encouraging people on set at 5 a.m. If your energy level sucks, the whole atmosphere of the set comes right down with it. Spread joy instead of complaints. Another secret weapon on a set is saying, “thank you”. When I worked on Olan Rogers’ web series, “Pop Rocket,” I heard “thanks man” so many times from Olan and Brett Driver, the DP. It wasn’t even really necessary for them to say it, but it encouraged me to work even harder. “Thank you” is like an energy drink.

Remember, it’s the little things on set that go a long way. Treat everyone with respect, whether they’re the PA or the director. I’m sure these are things that you already know, but sometimes we need reminding. I hope this encourages you and energizes you to work like an animal on your next project.

Back to one!


18 thoughts on “Set Etiquette”

    1. Glad to hear that, Lane! Thanks for reading it!

  1. I think this is a great post but I’d like to add something. I’ve heard (and had a little experience) with how ungrateful and cruel people can be in the business.

    If you are doing all of the above and still getting treated like crap, my advice to you would be to either stick with it if it’s a project and a story you love… or move on to a new project. Humility is great but don’t forget that it’s OK to demand a little respect if you’ve earned it and you’re not getting it. (That part about EARNING it is very important).

    Lastly, you can’t put out fire with more fire. If you’re going to demand some respect, do it calmly and like an adult. Take whoever it is aside and just tell them that you feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve.

    Above all, listen to the post. Have tough skin, try not to let it bug you. Remember that they could have some tough things going on off set.

    1. I think in most other situations you would be correct. However in some fields, such as filmmaking, things are a little less black and white.

      If you are a PA or a first timer on set you are there to EARN that respect. Taking someone aside and having a chat with one of your superiors isn’t always conducive to the fast-paced time sensitive atmosphere of the film set. In fact you may end up getting “let-go” in favor of someone who will deal with it.

      I’m not saying you should accept downright abuse. However one huge problem our generation has to deal with are these “entitlement issues.” Many of us feel entitled to things that we really aren’t owed. The film business is a harsh one. It’s full of stressed out, rude and harsh people. You have to learn to not take it personally and to do what you are there to do with excellence.

      You have to understand it from the point of those overseeing the project. If everyone is not doing their job thoughtfully and quickly, shots can be ruined, money and time lost, people get hurt and the movie grinds to a halt. It’s imperative that every one is working 100%, and when every one is at full rev 100% of the time, they tend to get a little stressed and snappy.

      If you’re not getting the respect you think you deserve, maybe you aren’t working as hard as you think you are. If you really are, then it maybe time to consider if this is really the type of atmosphere you want to work in for the rest of your life. And that’s not to sound condescending. It’s an honest question we all need to ask ourselves often.

      If you are doing your job the best you can and you are on top of things… it’s possible you may never hear a compliment or a thanks while on set but, you will be asked back for the next shoot.

      If you not doing your job and complaining. You may or may not hear about it, and you won’t be asked back.

    2. … and I’m not saying you have entitlement issues. Just that our generation as a whole tends to have them. It’s a side effect of the age we grew up in. Everything is instantly at our fingertips and when it’s not we think it should be because we deserve it.

      I know I personally catch myself thinking this way sometimes and have to purposely remind myself that I may not actually have earned the right to complain about this yet.

    3. I agree with you mostly, my point is I don’t think anyone earns the right to be disrespectful, even the director. Good leadership comes in the form of setting an example. That’s not to say you should quit as soon as someone ‘hurts your feelings’. But I think everyone has a right to be treated fairly and with respect unless they prove otherwise. Innocent until proven guilty.

      PS I didn’t know this was only about the perspective of the PA or First Timer. It’s called “set etiquette” so I figured it was referring to everyone.

    4. To sum it up, respect is a two way street. But then like you and I both said, I think it has to be earned (by both parties).

      The PA and the crew can earn it by being diligent, hard-working, etc and the director (in my opinion) should earn it from the crew by being a kind and compassionate leader.

      Above all, I think everyone involved should try to put the story first and leave all ego out of it, which in a lot of cases I’m sure, means putting the director first.

    5. Agreed!
      I think we are pretty much on the same page.
      And you are totally right, your experience doesn’t earn you the right to be a jerk.

  2. I appreciate this post O’Ryan and Andy. You guys are great! Thanks again! Keep it up! I can’t wait to work together again.

  3. Gah, I’ve already read this on Justin’s blog!…eh, it’s still great. Good job Justin/Andy/O’Ryan.

    1. Thanks Kyle! You were an encouragement on set, dude!

  4. A great read the third time around! Seeing Justin on set really got me to pick my rear-end up on set as well. Everything he did was exceptional…even the death of the bat. I would also like to chime in, in saying, from my experience, respect in the film world isn’t necessarily a two-way street. O’Ryan nailed it by saying that as a first timer, you have to earn the respect and prove you are not only useful, but needed. That first day on Pop Rocket I was a lost pup. Thanks again to Andy and O’Ryan for taking me aside and helping me out. I didn’t feel any sort of disrespect on set…more of a “you should know what you’re doing, don’t get in the way, be alert at all times.” I think that first day I was more in the way than not, but I caught on :)

    1. I didn’t mean that it is -going- to be a two way street in the film world. I just meant that it should be, in -every- world.

      I envy you guys getting to work on this project !

  5. That really is great advice. I’ve been on many professional productions. Most recently was “Ender’s Game.” Gavin Hood and the 1st AD were like Olan, but a hand full of the other crew members gave off a bad aura and it was easy put spread to people under them. I know they had a ton of stress on them, but if Gavin can do what he did then no one else should be like that. And one other thing. I know of two guys who lost there jobs on that set. One person who was a main part of the costume dept. He was always a complete dick to everyone…gone…he didn’t mess anything up, just was a bother to the production. He was not helping the shoot run smoothly when it came to him. The other guy was the 1st camera operator, he seemed okay, but he wasn’t doing what the director wanted him to do and argued with the Gavin’s and the DP’s vision for each shot frequently…gone. Smile, do your best, always be prepared, try to be one or two steps ahead of what’s going on, don’t be rude to anyone…ANYONE, even extras. They are really there to help and if you piss them off, they will make the shoot miserable. I know it’s stressful, but think of Christopher Nolan, no one on set has EVER heard him raise his voice to someone even under the most stress. Create together and enjoy it.

  6. Great article! It has opened my eyes to more than just film making, but to other things I’ve been dealing with! Thanks for that!

  7. This is really great advice– sounds like a stand up guy with just the right attitude.

    Per @Jonathan Shank’s post about wanting some level of respect on set and knowing when to move on, here’s a great article by Gavin Polone, a bigshot movie producer about the grueling hours of filmmaking:

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