Things I've Learned on Set - Part 1: Communication

Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity of being on a few sets for feature films, commercials, and television series. And there are a few things that have stood out to me. While some of these things were to be expected from watching behind the scenes features of DVDs and Blu Rays, there's a lot that doesn't get put into special features. The first of those observations was how the crew communicates, and what bad communication can do to the shoot overall.

The Director Sets the Tone

On any set, someone has to be in the driver's seat, but just because someone has great vision doesn't mean that they can be a great director. The director needs to be able to communicate. However, communication isn't just limited to telling people what to do. It's also about setting the general atmosphere for the shoot. I've seen plenty of shoots crumble into situations where everyone is yelling, people are saying things like, "I'll never work with them again...", and the general attitude is pretty negative. On  the other hand, I've seen shoots where the time has gone by so quickly, because everyone was having fun, invested, felt respected and like their contribution mattered. The main difference here is the ability of the director to set the tone of the shoot. There are two ways to address the tone on a shoot that I think work best:

  • Pre-shoot meeting:  Let as many people in the crew (and obviously the cast) see the script as possible. Let them know what to expect, and why things are happening. The more they see how each piece of what is filmed will affect the outcome of the final piece, the more they'll understand direction you give. This also gives you the opportunity to tell everyone involved that their safety is your main concern, stay hydrated, don't get hurt, and other important notes.
  • During the shoot: Don't yell, don't raise your voice, don't be disrespectful. These kinds of actions trickle down from the top, and you set a precedence for how others should act. This can make things get ugly really fast. Keep your calm, and no matter how frustrated you get, don't raise your voice or belittle anyone on set, cast or crew. That's an easy way to make sure these people don't appear for your next shoot. 

Share the Praise

Another great way to communicate is at the end of a shoot. I know, I know. You're tired, you want to look at your footage, you want to have that martini. But take a moment to get together with your cast and (especially) your crew and go over what went well. Communicate what worked, and what didn't, and anything that needs to be done for the next time, (especially if it's there is another shoot day coming soon. Pick out a few people who did especially well, and give them some praise.

While one person has to drive the bus, it's always helpful to have everyone feel like they're included. Communicating with your cast and crew about what you're hoping to achieve, what you expect, and giving them praise afterwards will keep your shoots fun and productive, and it will keep people coming back. Remember to have a clear vision of what you want and be able to vocalize it. Also, remember to keep a cool head in the face of frustration, and keep everyone involved as much as you can.  

Have you been on a film/commercial/video set? How has communication impacted the flow of work?