First 100 Days: Navigating Set
This article is the second part of a four-part series that aims to provide a basic understanding of the procedures and etiquette of the television and film industry to those who have fewer than 100 days of professional experience on a film set. The article covers common locations, lunch etiquette, general tips as a production assistant, and how to ensure you get paid correctly and on time. The article also provides definitions of common terms used in the industry, such as "base camp," "crafty," "company move," "hotel," and "mileage." The six-hour rule, maximum spend, and other pro tips are discussed.
This is the second part of a 4-part series that is designed to provide a jump start to those with fewer than 100 days on a professional set. It is important in any industry to understand the procedures and etiquette of the greater workflow so that you can immerse yourself in any department you choose. In the television and film industry, in particular, you will be a fish out of water without the basic knowledge of how things work on set. We will work to define some common terms, the rules of the trade and some tips to help give you the edge to navigate your next professional film set and get that call back for the next one.
In this part, we will dive into navigating common locations, how lunch works (there’s a method to the madness), some general tips as a PA, and how to make sure you get paid correctly and on time. These might seem like basic things, but there often isn’t anyone available to give you all of this in one place. Let’s start with the Production department. If you’re a PA or just getting started, expect these terms to fly around on walkie (see Part 1).
This is the primary place most crew will report to and work from. Detailed logistics info as it relates to your department will be given from here. It’s also where you can expect to pickup a walkie, find crafty and things of that nature.
Speaking of crafty…this is what we call all the snacks and drinks that you’ll find on set. It is typically both a place and a thing. Think of it as the equivalent of a break room in the real world.
Location 1, 2, etc.
Universal designations for shooting locations and always in the order of shooting at the start of the day. Location 2 may switch with Location 3, for example, and will most likely then be referred to as “Old Location 2” or “New Location 3”. This might be an address or a specific room, but it typically involves a company move.
Anytime you have to pack up your stuff and travel to a new location, be it across the building to a new floor or transport in vehicles, it’s referred to as a company move.
If a shoot is outside your local zone then Production is expected to provide travel accommodations, including a hotel, per diem and mileage if you’re driving or airline ticket if you’re flying.
When you use your personal vehicle for business use, you should be reimbursed for that. This is measured by mileage, which is calculated by using the amount of miles you drive for business use and multiplying it by the current mileage rate. The IRS sets this rate based on the current economic cost of owning and operating a personal vehicle at a federal level which includes insurance, maintenance and the cost of fuel and is considered the industry standard mileage rate. Some companies will try to pay a lower rate for whatever reason, so beware. Be sure to track mileage and/or locations throughout the day along with the cost of any tolls. It should be noted that if you’re local to the area you’re working, you are probably expected to report to that location on your own accord thereby not accumulating mileage. However, if you have a company move or run errands for Production, you will log mileage. And when you wrap and drive home, that is also on your own accord.
Portal To Portal
Certain segments of Production, like broadcast news for example, will allow you to log mileage from the time you leave home to the time you return home and this is called portal to portal. When a shoot is portal to portal, your clock also begins when you leave your home.
Own a location
When you own a location, then Production has complete control of the environment; who is allowed in the space, what happens in the environment, etc. This allows Production to control the flow of pedestrians, traffic, etc. If shooting in a restaurant and we own the location, this means that no other patrons will be dining in while we’re shooting, for example.
Cool down/warm up vehicles for crew
We’re a very wasteful industry as a whole and this includes energy consumption. Crews expect vehicles to be cooled down (summer) or warmed up (winter) prior to loading or wheels up. Camera ops are shouldered up for long periods without breaks so it’s important to keep everyone as comfortable as possible when the situation allows for it…like traveling in vehicles.
A debit card issued by the Payroll company that is used for Petty Cash (P-card stands for Petty Cash Card hence the abbreviation). This will be used for lunch and other errands. This has to be funded by productions, so it’s possible it will run out of funds if it isn’t being tracked carefully.
Due to a constant change of shooting locations that are beyond the control of the crew, all productions are responsible for feeding the crew lunch. This is typically provided on set by ordering in the morning from a PA or caterering is brought in, but can also be scheduled at a restaurant if the schedule allows for it. Here are a few general rules when it comes to lunch on set.
Six Hour Rule
A meal is provided every 6 hours, otherwise you will charge a Meal Penalty (calculation varies, but expect 1 hour of your hourly base rate). If this policy wasn’t in place, who knows when you’d ever have time to eat!?!
Generally speaking, you can expect a $15-20 limit when ordering, but this will vary from production to production.
If you’re a PA, here is an important tip. Each cast/crew member’s name should be on their meal to identify it. If you are the one “in charge of lunch” then you should have the restaurant do it or you will have to. VERIFY the orders are correct before leaving the restaurant!
A production manager or AD might ask for Grace, which means that you won’t charge a meal penalty for going over by a couple minutes. This is usually used to finish up a shot or interview question in progress. Crew has the right to decline, as this can be easily abused if not held in check.
Do not expect to be reimbursed for something you buy personally without a receipt. And when you do have to purchase something on the production’s P-card, make sure it is itemized; it must show the item or service purchased. If it’s fuel for a vehicle, for example, the receipt should show the price per gallon and how many gallons were purchased as opposed to a credit card receipt that just shows the total of the transaction.
Typically, you can’t buy alcohol unless it’s for cast and is specifically requested by someone with the authority to request it like a producer, production manager or line producer.
Write what the purchase is for on the receipt with your initials and date when submitting a personal receipt for reimbursement.
This is a gross overview of what to expect on a timecard. There are more details on the calculations, labor laws, etc. but to get started, this is what you need to know.
Call time is when you’re told to report to set.
The time you enter here should be when you have your food, or actively getting food. With a large crew specifically, the AD will note when last man is. This is the time that the last person in line eats and guarantees that everyone gets a full break for lunch, including the last person in line.
The end of lunch is the Lunch In time. If you have a 30 minute break, then it will be 30 minutes after the Lunch Out time. This also starts a new 6-hour clock until the next meal is due.
2nd Meal In/Out
Same rules as lunch, but this is for the next meal if you are owed one.
This is when you’re all packed up and hit the road to go home.
1.5x or 2x after 8, 10 or 12-hours (depends what you negotiate)
6th day is 1.5x all day, then 2x after 10- or 12-hours
7th day is 2x all day
Proper turnaround refers to having a minimum of 10 hours of rest between the time you wrap and your call time. If not, it’s called a forced call and liability and safety issues will arise if that happens. It’s also important to consider the crew’s drive time home when approaching tight turnaround times. No one will look after you better than yourself. If you don’t feel safe driving home after a long day and tight turnaround, please do everyone a favor and speak up to the Production Manager or Line Producer. We’re only making television and your life is not worth a minute of it.
While not exclusive to Union sets, this is hard to find in the non-union world. If you work on a federal holiday, the whole day is treated as if it is a 6th day.
Sometimes a production will ask for an invoice instead of a timecard, and sometimes both. If you send an invoice, send a PDF invoice with a line for each separate charge (e.g. day rate, kit rental, overtime, mileage, reimbursements, etc.). Don’t be that person that sends an editable spreadsheet.
There is, of course, much more to know than these tips but with this real-world information in hand you should have a leg up on the other rookies on set so that you can get that call back for another day on set.