10 Tips For Running a Smooth Commercial Film Shoot
When running an independent film production, producers often need to get scrappy and creative with budgets to ensure the project happens on time and fulfills the creative expectations set out from the brief. But how do we do that and keep a smooth set experience, keeping our clients, crew, and talent happy and coming back for more?
In this Q&A we break down the top 10 tips from our experience on making smooth film sets for commercials, music videos, and long form productions too!
While we're doing our best to include reasons for why these roles help make a production roll smoothly, we acknowledge that these roles are all very multi-faceted and involve more than what is written in this little article!
How do you keep a shoot schedule on time?
A great 1st AD and 2nd AD will keep your production running on time and efficiently. Their focus (among so many things) is to manage the schedule of the day, coordinate processing of talent prior to going on camera.
You will definitely want to give your AD enough prep time to scout the locations, build a shooting schedule, and consult with the department heads and director to get them well-acquainted with the project.
How do you keep crew happy on a film set?
Just kidding, it depends on the project - but there's truth in humour. If it's a hot day, think of ways to keep your team cool in the sun, or conversely if it's going to be wet and cold, find ways to ensure they can be as dry and warm as possible.
Every project is different, but sometimes all you need to keep people happy is a smile and a calm & caring attitude.
What crew roles do you need to run a smooth commercial film production?
Besides the usual suspects: Director, DOP, and Producer, a 1st AD is vital for projects with lots of moving parts. They will likely bring on a 2nd AD and sometimes a 3rd or a TAD (Trailer AD) to manage the flow of talent, crew, and departments to and from a hot set.
A robust production team will involve a PM (Production Manager) whose job is to oversee the details of a line-item budget. They will be directly involved in hiring crew and vendors, and ensuring their quotes, rates, and scope stay on track with what was estimated.
A PC (Production Coordinator) will take on the monumental task of "paperwork" for the production. This can involve everything from sending out start packs, crew deal memos, talent agreements, and organizing payroll timesheets, invoices, and POs for various vendors.
A Locations team is a game changer for those who've never worked with one before. From a Locations Manager who will help you at the bid stage of a job to think of reasonable locations and manage budget expectations early on. The LM will also manage flow of vehicles, parking, and map out spots to stash trucks, catering and crafty at each location. A Location Scout will help give you lists and lists of possible locations to film at. There are hundreds in your city or region and many scouts share resources and work together to pool huge libraries of all sizes. Never forget if you are filming near a road, with the possibility of bleeding onto the street with your gear or crew, that Traffic Control is key. These are licensed, dedicated people who keep your team safe on the road. Every role counts towards making a set run smooth on the day.
FACS or First Aid / Craft Service is invaluable and often under-celebrated. They are one of the first on site, and one of the last to leave. Their role is to keep your crew safe in the event of an emergency or medical situation. They're also some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. And you better treat them well! Craft Service will often spread out hot and cold snacks for everyone to keep the energy up. Look out for FACS workers who promote a balance of healthy and indulgent snacks - something for everyone.
What's the secret to good crafty on a film set?
As mentioned above, good crafty is a balance of healthy and indulgent. But here are some essentials that we think work universally:
- Water - the most important aspect of any crafty table. Big or small, your crew will thank you for supplying hydration for a hard day's work. We're firm believers in supplying eco-friendly solutions on set, and try to provide clean refillable water sources as opposed to disposable bottles; as long as you make sure to have enough for a whole crew for the whole day. *TIP: in your call sheet and email, remind the crew to bring their own reusable, refillable water and coffee containers.
- Soap / Hand Sanitizer / Hand Washing - To help prevent the spread of illnesses, having hand washing stations is very important to any shoot. If you can't afford to rent, it's best to at least designate a nearby location where folks can wash up and make sure they have soap.
- Fruit / Veggies - whether in individual packs to keep hands clean or otherwise - these little treats are healthy and refreshing for anyone and help abide by most dietary restrictions.
- Candy - though it's not always healthy, it does provide a kick for those who need it.
How do you prepare a location for a shoot?
Locations are tough. If it's a heritage site, there's lots of fragile walls and artifacts; if it's someone's home, there can be irreplaceable and sentimental items everywhere; and if it's a large spread-out area, then it can be a task just to get from one end to the other and keep your production contained.
A great locations team will have a prep day at each location to clear out fragile & valuable items, lay down locations mats, and run cardboard around all the walls, stairs, countertops, and anything else that may be easily scratched by moving crew.
There is special care taken when moving people in and out of a location - a circus is where vehicles and trailers are parked, creating a mini village for production. This avoids having everything cluttering up valuable shooting space, as well as potentially damaging locations. ADs will often ask crew to stay clear of filming areas when not immediately needed; less bodies = less chances of breakage. Those who are on set may wear booties or boot coverings to avoid tracking dirt into locations. And again, ample hand washing stations means fewer fingerprints left behind.
Grip & Lighting teams will usually use tennis balls or "smileys" on delicate locations - covering sharp points of light stands and grip gear so they don't dent floors, walls, or furniture.
A good cleaning team will also work wonders to return your location to better than before condition after your shoot. Some cleaning companies even specialize in film production!
How to anticipate problems on a film set?
Your best bet to anticipate problems is a mix of experience and thoughtfulness. Sounds like a non-answer, we know, but there are some ways you can set yourself up for success:
- Give yourself enough time to prep the project. Short timelines can be a fun challenge, but not at the expense of safety or a good experience on set.
- Surround yourself with smart people. A good team around you will bring up concerns ahead of time, and work through solutions with you to get it managed.
- Create clear communication structures - this is a big one! Set expectations and open the dialogue for transparency. The more communication you can have with your team to spot problems early, the better.
- Lead by doing - Set the tone in prep, on set, and through to the finish line. It's up to you as the producer to keep the ship afloat!
What is the role of a Producer on set?
By the time you get on set as a Producer, your role should be to really do nothing. For real! Good producers have set the project up for success such that on the shoot day they can focus on helping the director realize their vision. It's not exactly a vacation, but surrounded by a solid team means the Producer can respond to new tasks as they come up and oversee the big picture as opposed to the little details.
Speaking from experience, we've been in almost every role on set, and care deeply for each and every one. Producers who focus on the big picture and enable their team to succeed are the ones that get it done and keep getting hired.
What equipment do you need to have a smooth on-set experience?
Every project is different, however some key items can be useful on almost any set.
- Walkie Talkies - enabling clear and efficient communication on set will speed up your workflow.
- Printer & office supplies - for those in the production office, these basics from any Staples location can make or break your production: contracts, printing scripts, signage, timesheets, and so on all gotta come from somewhere!
- Generator and/or work lights - if you're out in the wild, something like this can make your end of day a breeze. Everyone shows up on set to a bright and sunny day, but don't forget you might be wrapping in the dark if you don't have light.
How to keep clients happy on a commercial film set?
Just kidding, but it's up to you to anticipate their needs, right? There are some basics you can cover to keep them happy: keep them hydrated & snack-fuelled; make sure you've worked with them early in prep to establish all the elements you're bringing into each scene; and most importantly: listen to their feedback.
Just a basic understanding of their needs and where their creative minds are coming from can set you apart from the pack by relating every creative choice back to the brand and what their goals are. Wardrobe, Hair & Makeup, Casting, Locations, Set Dec, and so on all revolve around the brand or the message they're trying to convey. If the client looks hesitant about something but is afraid to speak up, it's your job to ask and find out what is worrysome.
Thanks for reading!
If you liked these tips, let us know, and feel free to share this page with others in your producer network to help them on indie film sets, too.
And if you have any tips or other questions you'd like to add or have answered here, leave us a comment below and we'll include it in our list.