5 LESSONS I LEARNT FROM WORKING ON FILM SETS
June 2021 | Amy Clarke
In my mind getting a full time job and settling down was not an option. This was one of the main reasons why I studied film production at university, I wanted to do something creative, something different - to work in an industry that does not survive on the 9-5 cycle.
Working in film was not what I expected. Honestly I did not know what to expect when I graduated, university did little to prepare me for the real working world. My naivety and ambition got me far but I made too many mistakes along the way. So here are a few of things I wish I had known before embarking on a career in the film industry.
Until you have worked in the film industry for a number of years you won’t have the contacts or connections to make regular work. It was only 12 months after working on feature film that people started to call me up with job offers. Until then I had to rely on the internet for finding work. It was tough to find those first few paid gigs – expect to get 1 out of every 10 jobs you apply for online.
Work came in with no consistency. During the winter months I was told it would be quiet but I worked full time from Dec to May. If anything it was the summer months that I found to be quite. One month I made just enough to pay the rent!
There is this myth in the creative industries of paying your dues by doing years of free work. I did my first few jobs for free during university but when I graduated I had to make money. By looking online and applying vigorously I was able to find paid work. Even so the work was not consistent and I wish I had saved more from the start. When you work as a freelancer you need to get in the habit of saving money after every job you do. I wish I had saved some money before I began working in film.
I live in Northwest England. There is this belief that all jobs in the film industry come from London, they might come from London but the filming takes place everywhere in between. I have worked all over the UK, I even got shipped off to Dubai for couple of weeks. I believe the main reason I found work straight after graduation was my I will work ANYWHERE attitude.
On the top of my CV it says – Based London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff – and willing to travel anywhere else. I am not based in London but if I found paid work I would move, even if that meant sleeping on a friends couch for a couple of months. I didn’t even have a car, so if I had to travel for an hour to set each day I would. When the film sets got bigger and my job became more defined (from Runner to Script Supervisor) accommodation was always provided.
When I first started out looking for film work I was in my early twenties, so sleeping rough and overworking was fine. I’m 25 now and even being this little bit older I like my bed and comfort. After graduation however, taking that risk and saying yes to filming up a mountain, inside of a coal mine, in the middle of a desert – my can do attitude helped get me those first jobs and contacts.
Working on film sets is hard work. It gets more organised when you are on bigger shoots but on the lower independent productions the schedule can be everywhere. So expect 5am starts, expect a rushed dinner and expect no sleep ins. As soon as the alarm clock goes off it’s time for work. On one set I used to sacrifice an hours sleep at the end of each day so that I could spend some time alone.
Whilst on set don’t criticise the producer or doubt the director. It’s easy to have opinions especially if the production is badly organised, but you are there to learn as much as you can. Film sets do get boring, there is a lot of standing around waiting for filming to begin. Bored people like to gossip, and rumours spread fast on film sets – so stay professional at all times.
The first few shoots can be low budget and push you to your limits. As much as I have issues with the long hours of film set work, long hours are real and to be expected. If you work hard then people will notice and ask you back on more productions.
Be prepared and organised for every shoot. I am not great with fashion and don’t care for labels, but if you wander around a film set and you will notice it seems to be sponsored by Northface. There is definitely a fashion style to film sets, but it is all for practicality. Film set work is physical and you need to make sure you’re dressed correctly for every shoot.
Read up on the location before hand, if you’re shooting outside at winter expect it to be very cold especially if you’re working night shoots. I froze on one night shoot in London because I wasn’t wearing the right shoes. I didn’t have any money saved when I first started working so I just wore what I had; jeans, t-shirts, trainers.
On a desert shoot the same happened again, I had no idea what to expect and no money invested into the right gear. I wish I had slowed down going from set to set and been more prepared. Good waterproof shoes and a warm rain coat are needed for most location shoots in the UK.
It take a years to make it in the film industry. By ‘make it’ I mean have the contacts and experience to be working enough to make a good living from film set work. Most people I know who graduated from film school or university only started to find good work when they reached their thirties.
I rushed in too quickly, I was too eager to make money (I was too proud to get a normal job). In some ways this is a good attitude to have, but I really ought to have slowed down and enjoyed the process more. Success is not a race. As hard as it can be, don’t compare yourself to other people. If you do things in your own time you can never lose.
Would you like to share your set stories, write reviews or blog about your journey into the industry? MFJF would love to hear from you!