On-Set Nightmares and Why Honesty is Important

When I was first starting out in film production, I got a job as a set PA for The Rosa Parks Story, a biopic starring Angela Bassett. One of my jobs was wrangling extras while shooting street scenes; placing them on sidewalks and street corners, showing them where to cross, etc.

Now, since this was a period piece, set during the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955, there were several vintage picture cars on set, most of which had to be driven up and down the streets in the background. The Picture Car Coordinator placed extras in each of the vehicles, instructing them on where to drive. Apparently there was a woman so eager to be in the film that she overstated how knowledgeable she was when it came to driving these vintage cars. You can probably guess what happened.

I was standing on a street corner, just out of frame as the cameras rolled. Then, from off to my left, I remember seeing one of these mid-1950s vehicles come speeding down the street, out of control. It screamed through the intersection right in front of me and sped off to my right where it veered off the road, plowing into a row of bushes. The Picture Car Coordinator and other crew members rushed over to check on the driver. The woman behind the wheel was shaken, but unhurt. However, the situation could have been far more serious.

That incident took place 18 years ago and it still pops into my mind from time to time as a lesson in the importance of being completely honest, not only while on set, but in whatever you do. Never be afraid to ask questions. Never be embarrassed to acknowledge your limitations. People always appreciate truthfulness and I’ve found that they are more than willing to help when you need further instruction. Even today, I’m never hesitant to seek out someone more knowledgeable than me when it comes to questions I have about any facet of film production. That’s how you grow. I’m reminded of a quote I heard recently from a writer and director. He said, “Always be the dumbest person on your team.”

What lessons have you learned while working on set? Leave them in the Comments.