The Importance of Communication on a Film Set

Production crew on a film set.

Ever been on a set that was silent? No? That is because good communication on a film set keeps everyone informed and on their mark. When everyone knows their job and communicates effectively, the day’s filming moves faster, and there’s a festive atmosphere. When there’s been a rocky start with imperfect communication, more mistakes happen, and there’s an overall dispirited mood.

Everyone needs to communicate well. A misunderstood request can put the whole day’s production in jeopardy. A crucial part of communication is good listening. Know precisely what is being asked of you, and if you are unsure, you need to ask for clarification. You also need to communicate directly with the other PAs, crew members, and talent. To do your job, you must speak concisely and clearly. You have to be confident when speaking to assistant directors and escorting talent. Avoid all non-essential chatter. Clear communication helps the film set run smoothly.

What is Good Communication?

Good communication happens when everyone is on the same page. If you are on a film set and everyone is communicating well, the filming goes smoothly, less time is wasted on mistakes, and time flies by. Good communication happens when each person on the film crew knows what their job will be that day. If you are prepared for the day, you can be a productive team member.

Why is Communication so Important, Especially on a Film Set?

Communication is vitally important on a film set for several reasons. Time is money, literally. Effective communication is vital. Effective communication also creates a fun and engaging workplace.

Time is Money

In addition to location costs and equipment rental, the set of a film usually has a lot of people getting paid on the crew. From the director, producers, actors, lighting engineers, sound engineers, other production assistants, grips, and camera operators. Each production has a considerable staffing commitment. Communication errors waste time and can cost the production budget a significant amount of money.

Communication Makes a Fun, Engaging Workplace

Have you been on sets where there’s a positive tone, and everyone is having fun? Conversely, if there’s a negative tone, the day can drag on, and mistakes set in, making the day even longer. Positive, preemptive communication can make the difference between a positive and negative experience.

How Do People on Set Communicate with Each Other?

There are a few different ways people communicate on a film set. They communicate verbally, in writing and through body language. All of these types of communication are important.

Verbal Communication

On a set, constant communication is vital. Usually, the day begins with an all-hands production meeting to go over the day’s scene list and the goals for that day. This is the most essential piece of communication you will receive. You should always be vigilant during this meeting. It’s a great way to get an overview of the day’s run down and understand the goals for the day. If you begin the day with the end goal in mind, you can make sure that everything you do during the day supports that goal.

If you have any questions, always check with your department head. Time is money, so it’s much better to ask clarification questions before filming starts than risk making a mistake that would set the whole production back.

You will use a radio throughout the day. Make sure to keep transmissions short and clear, use terminology correctly, and ask for confirmation that the recipient has heard and understood you. When you respond to requests over the radio, let the other person know you have understood by repeating the request back. For instance, “PA Fred, take the A/V cart to position 3.” “I understand. I will take the A/V cart to position 3.” When you repeat the request back, it lets the requester know that you have correctly heard and understood the request and that you will complete it.

Written Communication

You don’t always get to see a copy of the script and production notes. However, it is beneficial when you do. This gives you a clear idea of the overall direction of the filming. When you begin your day with the end product in mind, all the moving pieces make more sense. The call sheet is also beneficial to review prior to each day. This will detail the schedule to show who is needed where on each day and what time to arrive by.

Body Language

Body language is one of the least talked about, but most important ways people communicate. Keep your body language positive: shoulders squared, eyes alert, always ready to hustle. Keep an eye out for other’s body language. It helps you know who is available for questions, who is busy, and who could use an extra coffee.

What Happens if Communication Breaks Down?

A communication breakdown is bound to happen sooner or later. On a film set, there are so many different moving parts, and everything moves fast. When you misunderstand a request, it is best to apologize quickly and move forward. Spending 25 minutes in despair doesn’t help the crew achieve their goals. Apologize, make sure you have understood the instructions, and carry out the mission.

These communication breakdowns are often good learning experiences. Why did you misunderstand? Should you be asking more follow-up questions? If a coworker misunderstood you, what can you do in the future to communicate more clearly?

What are Some Barriers to Good Communication?

The best communication style on a set is upfront and to the point. There are a few different communication styles that make life on a film set challenging. Passive-aggressive crew members make clear and concise communication challenging. There are certainly occasions when it’s tempting to be passive-aggressive, but remember, time is finite, and the best communication style is straightforward and quick. Passive-aggressive comments add confusion and slow things down. If you are dealing with a passive-aggressive coworker, don’t get angry or defensive. Try and understand the content of the request or direction and repeat the content back to the coworker in a non-aggressive way.

Shyness is another problematic trait on set. When you battle shyness, you know it’s essential to keep practicing being confident. Fake it until you make it. Again, Keep the end goal in mind. If you have a shy coworker, make sure to build them up and let them know they are a rock star.

If you are too talkative, remind yourself of the day’s goals. You don’t want a director or talent to see you wasting time chatting. Since time is fleeting on a film set, keep your communications about work until after the filming is done for the day.

Interruptions happen all the time on a film set. From phones ringing to crewmembers talking all at once, it can be tough to stay focused. If you are interrupted while receiving instruction, get clarification. Pay attention to your surroundings and read body language to make sure you are not causing an interruption.

Tips for Good Communication on a Film Set

Here are a few tips for good communication on a film set.

Tip #1: Introductions are Important

Whenever possible, start each new interaction by introducing yourself. Quickly share your name, followed by a “nice to meet you.”

Tip #2: Be Polite

It is important to be clear and concise, but politeness is important too. Saying “please,” “thank you,” and be careful not to interrupt, it goes a long way to creating good working relationships.

Tip #3: Understand Silence

Before the cameras roll, the film set can feel chaotic. When the cameras are rolling, respect the rule for silence on set. It would be embarrassing to laugh, talk, or have a phone buzzing after the call for silence has gone out.

Tip #4: Understand Your Role

If you don’t like the costume designer’s work, it’s not for you to complain about or bring it up.  Always think through your questions to make sure that it’s appropriate for you to ask them. Don’t waste time by asking unnecessary questions.

Every person on a film set should contribute to the overall safety, so if you see that the talent is about to be hauled on a fraying line, speak up.

Tip #5: Be Honest

Be honest if an assistant director asks you to do something that is simply beyond your ability. It’s better to be honest upfront than risk not completing the task or causing a delay. If you make a mistake, apologize and try and make it right.

Final Thoughts

On a film set, good communication helps filming stay on schedule. Understand your role and duties for the day. The best method of communication is always to be clear and concise. Ask for clarification as needed. Begin your day and perform each task with the end goal in mind. You want the day’s filming to be successful. When everyone on the film set is communicating effectively and professionally, it is like a well-oiled machine.

Film and Sound Design Program

Ready to work on a film set? The Film and Sound Design program offers an occupational degree that immerses college students in the world and industry of film and sound design. IPR’s condensed program allows students to earn a multi-skill, multi-functional Occupational Associate of Applied Science Degree in as little as two years.  Students learn hands-on, entry-level skills in every aspect of the film business: story, preproduction, production, and post-production for video and audio. Work as a part of a team to produce your own film- from concept and storyboard, to production and editing – you’ll graduate with a portfolio of work to showcase your creativity and launch your career in the exciting Film Industry.

If you are interested in a career in film and sound design you should tour our Minneapolis creative arts college, see the labs and meet our staff. Call 1-612-351-0631 or contact admissions to make arrangements.