Life on a Hollywood movie set:
People imagine the Hollywood movie machine as everything being glitz and glam 24/7, and don’t get me wrong, there’s no other industry who knows how to celebrate itself quite like Hollywood does, but behind all that there’s so much more to the whole movie making process. There are hundreds of people who we never get see, sometimes we read their names if we stay long enough after the credits start rolling - but that doesn’t happen very often - or ever. I’m talking about the people who make it possible…besides Harvey Weinstein & co. - the crew, made up of hopefuls who want to be part of the dream, who rather be contributing even if it’s in a small way as long as that makes them be part of it. You have your PD’s, AD’s, DP’s, AC’s, gaffers, best boys, etc etc. It’s crazy that in the same room there’s someone who’s making 1 million for the film while there’s another person standing right next to them making $130/12 hours. But hey, that’s life.
Actors and crew often work in horrible locations, with bipolar weather conditions, and extremely long hours - but have craft services, better known as “crafty”, to keep them well fed and sane. But to be honest, working long hours doesn’t matter when you love what you do and seriously the people you meet on set are the best.
A huge misconception that drives me insane is the whole “lights, camera, action” that people believe is how movies start rolling. If this is what you think, well you’re wrong, and if you say this to someone, you will get laughed at.
Set terminology is like learning a new language, an exiting new language, so below are some terms you should know before stepping foot on set (FYI, these terms are literally yelled on set):
Call Sheet - this sheet lists who works the next day and their call times. This is distributed the night before. It shows the time you’re expected to show up to set.
Sides - when you get to set you get “sides”. These show the scenes being shot and the script that goes with them.
"Blocking"/"Rehearsal" - actors show up first thing in the morning or whenever their call time is wearing whatever - typically it’s Uggs paired with sweatpants/yoga pants and whatever huge sweater they have (see actors are just like everyone else) - but very important, they either have coffee on hand or their assistant is making the run to the closest Starbucks to get their order. Rehearsals can last from 15 minutes to 30. Actors run through lines and talk with the director about how the scene will play and practice the shot. After this is done, everyone flees to the trailer camp for hair and makeup. And second team is called to replace the actors.
"Second team" - basically, the casting department casts actor’s doppelgängers and they substitute the actors on set while they get hair and makeup. Second team watches closely during rehearsal to be ready to “imitate” actors movements. The camera and lighting crew can set up the shot without the actors having to be there so this saves time and energy. The grip boy goes around checking microphones making sure how they’re going to be positioned so they don’t make a shadow or are seen on film, and tape is set for actors to know where to stand, known as marking.
"First team" - once lighting is set and cameras are ready, "first team" is called a.k.a the actors. They emerge with their entourage, escorted by their assistant and get ready to take their place while "second team" either watches the scene play out on the monitors or relax elsewhere until they are called again.
"Last looks": hair and makeup department rushes to the actors to fix any flaws they might have before the scene is shot.
"Picture is up": this let’s everyone know we’re going to shoot the shot on film soon.
"Lock it up": indicates all traffic, noise, activity should be halted as shooting will commence shortly.
"Rolling": the assistant director will call this out when cast and crew are ready to film and the camera department starts “rolling” film through the camera. After the assistant director calls it, seriously, every person with a walkie-talkie yells “rolling” to make sure the cue is heard all throughout the set for everyone to shut up and no noise is to be heard.
"Marker": assistant stands in front of the camera with the clapper-thingy called a slate and they slam the sticks and calls out the scene designation. This is used to identify the shots for editing purposes
"Background": once the film is rolling and the camera is set, the assistant director calls this and it’s the cue for the extras to start doing whatever the AD staff has directed them to do.
"Action": the director calls this and it’s obviously the cue for the cast to start.
"Cut"/“Still rolling”: the director calls "cut" when the shot is done and rolling stops. But if he wants to just make minor adjustments he says "still rolling", to keep everyone in place but directs his actors to a different motion.
"Back to one"/"reset"/"going again": code for doing the scene from the top again.
FYI - second team is called in between shots when the cameras have to be readjusted for different angles.
"Checking the gate": this is what you want to hear - it means the director was happy with the shot and we’re moving to something different. Literally translated, the camera assistant is checking the gate in the camera where the film passes through to make sure there aren’t any hairs, dirt, etc. therefore making sure the gate is “clean”. Once the AD calls “the gate is good”, setup begins for the next shot.
"Martini shot": called to announce that the last shot of the day is about to be filmed. My favorite. After this one, it’s a wrap.
"Wrap": after a long day nothing better than time to go home, take the makeup off and prep for the next day - the crew stays 1-2 hours extra to clean everything up. They work harder than anyone. For example, PD’s - they are the first ones who get to set and the last ones to leave. And guess what, they don’t even get overtime like normal people do, they get overtime after 12 hours, not 8. Crazy, right? But all for the love of making art.
Life on set is a party, and not everyone is invited.