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5 Reasons Why You Should Not Chat on a Film Set

A film set can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to run per day; so there is never really time to chit-chat
A film set can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to run per day; so there is never really time to chit-chat.

For those who are just starting their film careers, getting your first booking can take a lot of time and effort. As such, the last thing you want are costly mistakes that will make it your last. The rule of thumb with directors, cinematographers, casting agents and pretty much anyone else on set is that they would always rather mitigate risk by using someone they already know than someone they don’t. As such, whether it’s your first job, your first time working with that particular crew, or your 100th job, the challenge is always the same; to be one of the people they call back, and not one of the people they would rather not. While film sets have a lot of unspoken rules rules of etiquette, (which I will explore in subsequent blogs), one of the big ones is that silence is golden. Let me explain why.

why silence is golden on film sets

Once on set, we all want (and need) to network, and we all want to enjoy the working day as well. But there is a time and a place for conversation, and generally it’s not while on set. There are a myriad of reasons for that but they all lead back to one central reason. Time is money. The film that I most recently produced, Eastbound Traffic, had a principle photography budget of about $150,000US. In the scale of films, that counts as “micro-budget” but even so, that still meant we were spending about  $10,000 a day. Breaking it down hourly that comes down to about $840 an hour or $14 a minute. And this is for a MICRO-BUDGET film. A “small” budget film of $1,000,000 costs 5 times that. ($70 a minute). A bigger budget film (for example $50 million) costs 50 times  that. ($3500 a minute). 

This is where talking becomes troublesome. It can problems in the following 4 areas:


If you or your conversation partner’s voice end up in being picked up by the mics, it can mean another take is required, a reshoot of the scene, or worse, additional costs in post-production when they have to go back and fix it. The mics used on film sets are, by design, extremely sensitive, and you'd be surprised how well they can pick up even distant sounds. There's a reason you always hear "Quiet on the set!" before the cameras start to roll.

missing directions & instructions

Getting caught up in conversations on set can also cause you or your conversation partner to miss directions or instructions on blocking that are crucial to getting the shot. In post-production, one of the most frustrating things in the world, is when you see a scene beautifully acted, but the actor is simply standing in the wrong place. If it's too big of a problem, sometimes this means cutting part of all of the scene entirely. While that may be a drastic example, in the least, this can slow the shooting process, require more takes than necessary or worse case scenario, cause the need of a reshoot that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. 

director's concentration

Keep in mind that directors are under an extreme amount of pressure to succeed. While both watching the scene and watching the playbacks of those scenes, there are a million details that they have to keep in mind. Blocking, lighting, the dialog's delivery, the characters' interaction as it pertains to the scene, and the story as a whole, etc, the list goes on and on. As such, they really really don't like distractions. To give you an example, on the first big film I did in the states, I was actually fired for eating potato chips behind the director while he was watching the playback. Later on in my career, I was doing motion capture for a video game and I saw the director scream across the studio at two actors who were talking in a corner because it was distracting him while he was watching playback. Not only did that mean the director will never forget those two people; most likely will neither anyone else on set. 

actor's concentration

Again, the number one thing every production wants is to minimize takes and reshoots. As an actor this means getting into your zone before the cameras are rolling, so that once they are, you can nail it on the first go. This is already hard enough to do if you have a lot of dialog, and/or complex blocking; but if you have to act in scenes requiring intense emotion, the last thing you want is to have someone directly or indirectly pull you out of that place. Or even worse, to not be able to get into that place to begin with because the people around you won’t give you the space and concentration you need. For those who haven't seen it, the source of Christian Bale's rant on the set of Terminator Salvation is a prime example of this feeling.

While Bale (rightfully) went back and apologized for it, most actors also know exactly how he feels. Given that the budget was around $200 Million for a 77 day shoot, they were probably spending over $1 million US a day ($83,000 an hour or $1400 per minute). That alone is a lot of pressure to perform; but that doesn't even count in to the fact that as an actor, if your acting is subpar, you are going to be the one criticized for it, regardless of whether other people were distracting you or not.

For these reasons, personally, as an actor on set, I generally don’t speak at all, unless 1) I have questions or 2) unless I’m spoken to. I just run lines, scenes or blocking by myself and under my breath until it's time to shoot. I do try to be as friendly as possible, but in general I just don’t want the distractions; or to distract anyone else. I’m sure there are those who would argue that I’m losing out on networking, but I’ve always felt that the best way to network is to quietly show up, absolutely crush the job, and then silently walk away afterwards. That leaves a far better and stronger impression than someone who is chatting and joking a lot. 

Having earned a reputation for this, I had a video game production actually reach out to me to help with casting for exactly this reason. When I suggested a friend who we also had mutually worked with before, they told me point-blank, “No. He jokes around too much on set.” Even though he played his character well, that particular production never wanted to use that actor again purely because they thought he was too distracting for everyone else, and didn't take his job seriously.

In summary

Again, all of this isn’t to say that you can’t have a good time and enjoy your time on set. But it’s very important to realize the stakes and the pressure that the production is up against. 90+% of people who produce a feature film never get to do it again, because the product simply isn't good enough to sell it; and as a director, no cares if a film is on your resume, if that film never got distributed. It might as well have not existed. If you want to get call backs, you need to be one of the positive players who contributes to the success of the film; not one of the troublesome people who caused it to fail. We’ve all heard stories about actors acting like divas; but only high profile actors who can sell a film by name alone can do that; and even then, they can’t do it for very long before no one wants to work with them anymore. The key is to be a team player and that means letting everyone focus on doing their jobs so the production does well. If the film is a success, then you will be a part of that success; and everyone involved (and watching!) will remember you for it.  #filmsets, #becominganactor, #filmettiquette #makingmovies, #understandingfilmsets

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