An Important Thing to Remember for an On-Set Novice

Image credit: DarkHorseInstitute.com

Image credit: DarkHorseInstitute.com

It was June in Alabama, which means that it was hot and humid. I was up before the sun that morning, on my way to work. I didn't mind the early start, or the long day that lay ahead of me, because I was excited about the opportunity that had been presented to me. I was 16 years old and would be working as a Production Assistant on a big-budget commercial campaign. The shoot was to last two weeks, and it was my first time to be on an actual set as a paid crew member.

That first morning the company made its way out to a barn where we would be shooting for the next several hours. I thought I would be helping to unload gear and set up lights, but that wasn't the job the Assistant Director had in mind for me. Instead, he gave me a rake, took me inside the barn, and showed me all the hay that was piled up inside.

"All of this needs to be raked out," he told me.

After I finally finished with the hay, the AD took me around to the back of the barn and showed me the old rusted out convertible that was going to be used in the first shot. Then he handed me an exact-o knife. 

"See all of the duct tape stuck to the headlights and the front grill? Well, all of that needs to come off."

So, there I was, a 16 year-old kid, scraping old duct tape off of a car in the blistering heat of an Alabama summer. This was my introduction to the world of film production. 

Everyone has to start somewhere, pay their dues, and work their way up the ladder. And as I think back to myself at that age, just starting out, trying to learn as much as possible about the industry, there's one thing that I would tell myself: don't be afraid to ask questions.

At that age I was too proud. I didn't want to seem less knowledgeable than anyone else on set. So, rather than ask, "What's a cube tap?" I would run off to the grip truck when told to get one and try to fake my way through it. I wish I would have swallowed my pride at that age and simply asked more questions.

So, to those who are first starting out in production, talk to as many people as you can. Ask them questions about they do on set. Learn about their backgrounds and what brought them to that point in their careers. Ask them everything about their jobs. Learn about each position. Don't be shy. Engage. Converse. Listen. Learn.

What advice would you give someone who is first starting out the production industry?