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Things Not to Do on a(n Indie) Film Set

January 18th, 2009 by Sean Beattie

This past August, I had the film-geeky pleasure of working on my first legitimate television or film property; I mean “legitimate” in that we had a real crew of professionals, near-top-notch equipment, had casting sessions, etc. I was personally involved from pre-production (casting, script reviews, etc.) on through the final day of shooting (when I touch film editing programs, computers stop liking me).

The project is a webseries called “Issues: The Series”, and the first episode debuted on January 7th of this New Year. The director, Scott Napolitano, is a high school buddy of mine who brought this idea to fruition in the wildly successful wake of other webseries such as “The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. The basic premise surrounds the customers and employees of a NJ comic shop. We tried to create an image of a comic book fan (or “bookie” as we call them) that wasn’t the Comic Book Nerd from the Simpsons, as funny as that stereotype was. The cast and crew are mostly comic fans ourselves in one way or another, so this was a labor of love and an expression of our interests coming together.

Give the site a look, www.issuestheseries.com, email the production crew if you like. And come February, we’ll be the only webseries represented at New York’s Comic Con ’09, so stop by our booth if you’re there, tell us where you found out about our lil’ webshow that could, and have a laugh. Tell ’em “Ennis” sent you.

Since it was my first professional gig, there were some ropes to be shown and basics to be learned. The list below is what I was told not to do while working on the set.

1.  Don’t talk while the camera is rolling. You went to college for film; you should know this already.

2. If you’re sitting on the floor to avoid being in a shot, and realize you’re still on the edge of the frame, shuffling out of frame while still on the floor will ruin the shot. Just stay still.

3.  When standing around on-set, treat the cables on the floor the way the crews from Deadliest Catch treat the lines to the crab traps; keep your feet out of them, or be dragged along with what they lead to.

4.  “Set crushes” happen; this is unavoidable.

5.  Acting on “set crushes” while in production is a no-no. The actors bring the drama; we don’t need anymore.

6. Keep property destruction to a minimum.

7. The owner didn’t appreciate what happened to the front window.

8. You know what happened to the window, stop playing like you don’t.

9. Stay away from the damn window.

10. If you’re breaking in new shoes while on-set and in costume, do it far enough away that the “farting shoes” don’t disrupt the female leads in the middle of a line.

11. If the director/cast member/crew person is freaking out, mimicking their exaggerated movements in a mocking way will only exacerbate the problem.

12. It will also result in an amusing set photo being posted to Facebook.

13.  There is a difference between being an asshole who’s doing it for a laugh and just being an asshole.

14.  Quit being an asshole.

15. If the director is off-set for a day of pickup shots, that DOES give you license to screw with him. Text message, voicemail, etc. are all fair game.

16. Doing so when it happens to be the director’s anniversary will not end well. For anyone.

17. Make sure to show all new crew members the comics in the store that shouldn’t exist, children shouldn’t see, or the ones you don’t want to see purchased.

18. Do not rearrange the shelves so that the comics that should not be within sight of a child are now within physical reach of a child.

19. That boy’s mother is not happy with you.

20. That boy looks pretty happy, though.

21. If you know that a cast member reads a particular comic, do not buy up the only copy of the next issue she needs to read to follow the story.

22. Twice.

23. There is a thin line between “blue humor” and sexual harassment. Just because we’re indie doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to sue.

24. Starting a “poke war” with on-set props counts.

25. So does incessantly saying “That’s what she said”.

26. Just because they laugh doesn’t make it smart to do repeatedly.

27.  Smacking the boom mic while the mic operator has his headphones plugged into said mic, will not win anyone friends (or listening tests).

28.  If an actor is discussing the latest episode of Robot Chicken instead of running lines in their downtime, it will inevitably sneak its way into the next scene.

29. The comic shop is open while we shoot our scenes; let the customers do their own thing.

30.  If the customer is an older woman, asking you for help as if you were the clerk, the correct answer is “I’m not the clerk”, not “Let me show you what we’ve got on the top shelf” (see #17)

31. If there is a technical problem while shooting, keep the mood light and keep the actors running lines and comfortable.

32.  Telling “The Aristocrats” joke will not help.

33.  Even if you do the Drew Carey “finger snap” from the movie.

34. Purposely trying to fuck up the actors in mid-line when you know your face isn’t on camera is funny.

35. But only the first five times.

36.  Just because your lines are non-sequiturs doesn’t mean you have free license to insinuate a pickup line.

37.  If your direction for a scene is to walk past the main actors and into the background of a frame, do not assume you are out of frame by a certain point and then do your own version of the “stairs to nowhere” to get out of it.

38. Sean is no longer allowed to speak within ten feet of the camera.

39. That doesn’t mean you get to stand just off camera, staring silently. That’s creepy.

40. Asking for issues of comics that you know aren’t in stock will only piss off Bryan, the comic shop clerk. He’s a busy guy.

41. Asking Bryan for suggestions based on your interests is fine; don’t screw with him by pointing to the top shelf, though. He won’t get the joke, and will honestly answer you. (Tentacle porn….*shudder*)

42.  If there is a scene in which a cast member’s character gets harassed and assaulted with produce, the idea is to NOT hit him on purpose.

43. Giving inspirational speeches to people who don’t need them at the time is counter-productive, and will make them leery.

44. Starting any sentence with “So, yeah..about that (insert thing that needed to get done)” will not help.

45.  When making sure a camera flash works for an effect after it doesn’t during a scene, point it AWAY from the eyes of those around you.

46. Including your own. That was just stupid.

47.  Making a Ghostbusters reference will save face, however: “I looked at the trap, Ray!”

48. When shooting outside at night: asking cast members if it’s cold, and pointing to their chests is a no-no. (See # 22)

49.  When a mother and her screaming child come into the comic shop while filming, remain calm and quiet. Wait ’til after she leaves without buying anything to comment on what Protective Services should do.

50. Discussing the group’s cheesy 80’s group dynamic possibilities is fine; rationalizing every dick move by screaming “Wild Card, baby!” is not.

51. You are not the group’s Venkman.

52. You are not the group’s Murdock.

53. You are not Mr. T. Stop pitying fools.

54. When filming a riot scene, do not assume that the extras are professional actors. They will take it seriously if you tell them “On my signal, unleash Hell.”

55. If you yourself are an extra in the riot scene, expect retribution for starting the “Poke War” from #23. You kinda pissed her off doing that.

56. One of our cast members is gluten-intolerant. Don’t eat all of her diet-specific cookies and then taunt her about it. She will end you.

57. Joking around with like-minded cast members is fine, between the two of you. Focusing that on someone else who is not like-minded is bad.

58. Especially the customers of the open-while-filming comic shop.

59. Trying to diffuse a situation by starting an impromptu game of Patty Cake will not help.

60. It will, however, result in an amusing photo being posted on Facebook.

61. The person running Camera B is meant to get interviews with cast and crew in downtime; purposefully hijacking, interrupting, sabotaging or otherwise ruining these interviews is a no-no.

62. The front window was broken earlier today; just because it is still in place does not mean it is stable.

63. Do not poke at the spider crack of the window to test its stability.

64. What’d I tell you about the damn window?

65.  Just because there is a film camera present in the store, does not mean that people will not be startled to see a gun being waved around.

66.  Trying to allay fears of a gun by saying “It’s not a real one. I’ll show you!” and pointing at them is not going to do much.

67.   Stop whistling catchy TV theme songs; it gets in people’s heads and they really don’t want to keep thinking about the Song That Doesn’t End.

68.  If you screw up a line, we’ll just re-shoot the scene. No need to do the Truffle Shuffle as penance.

69. Insisting on doing the Truffle Shuffle is neither necessary nor welcome.

70.  If the director is having trouble with his “cursed” car, and he gets the car started, do not tell him to “gun it” if you see blue smoke pour out the exhaust. That’s bad.

71. Make sure the director is okay when a tow truck comes to take his truck away. That’s good.

72. Making Helen Keller jokes……that’s bad.

73. Making Helen Keller jokes around a special ed teacher who specializes in educating the hearing impaired….just don’t.

74. However, when she joins in, it’s fair game.

75.  If there is a Christian in the group, referencing and explaining plot points from BattlePope will not go over well.

76. Yes, it’s a show involving comic books. Yes, it’s in NJ. No, it’s not fucking Clerks or Mallrats. Stop asking or expect that “prop” broadsword to be put to use.

77. If a cast member should make a reference to an incident involving wrestling in a kiddie pool filled with a dessert treat, you are well within your rights to make references to it yourself as a joke later on.

78. When the tech loving editor admits that her computer is her prized possession, don’t joke about dropping soda on it. Hell hath no fury like a Mac user without laptop.

79. Spandex: perfectly effective for superheroes, not so great on cold nights for filming.

80. Comic Relief is next to a pizza place and an ice cream parlor. That’s like Temptation Island for actors…

81. Everyone who drives by/walks by/skates by during filming knows how to stop in frame. This is called “gawker GPS”.

82. When you need quiet, inevitably, small children will scream and ruin the take.

83. When a small child runs screaming into your shot and bouncing off the glass door of the shop, it’s funny.

84. Never, EVER trust shifty customers-turned-extras with your own cash, even if the scene will take five minutes to film.

85. Telling the director he looks like Grizzly Adams during a long shoot: not funny.

86. Watching the director get the sombrero treatment on his “birthday” at a Mexican restaurant? Fucking hilarious.

87. Drinking on the set is limited to non-alcoholic substances. However, it IS nice to have a bar within a two minute walk across the parking lot for long days…

88. When you’re an indie crew, “dolly shot” = “shopping cart” and “stuntman” = you better hope there’s bandages nearby.

89.  Customers recognizing the production and buying more stuff at the store as a result? Awesome!

90. Customers stopping to browse in the middle of the shot: not so awesome.

91. Just because you buy a comic does not mean you’re no longer part of the crew. These rules still apply.

92. Gumballs will entertain you while on-set even more so than when they were actually edible.

93. Know what else is fun? Making fun of politicians who repeat words to the point of creating a drinking game for press conferences.

94. Repeating that phrase over and over for weeks: not so fun.

95. When someone says “we only have one shot at this”, retakes are not an option.

96. That’s not the time to be doing the whole making-faces-off-camera thing again.

97. Cut it out.

98.  Do your best to alleviate the trauma of watching someone buy a “top shelf” comic for the cast. They will need the help.

99. The heating and air conditioning units make noise that can ruin the sound of scenes. They will be shut off during filming, so prepare to suffer and curse anyone who opens the door of the store.

100. Stop cursing those who open the door of the store.

101. What’d I tell you about the freakin’ window?

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20 Responses to “Things Not to Do on a(n Indie) Film Set”

  1. Stickfodder Says:

    What the hell did you do to the window? And in #48 I think that you meant to reference #23.

    Damn you captcha! Normal people don’t know how to make the British pound sigh!


    Tzanti reply on January 19th, 2009 1:49 am:

    Fortunately, you do have some British readers, though at this rate will be looking for the euro symbol pretty soon.


    KoutetsuKaigun reply on January 19th, 2009 2:05 am:

    The British Pound has a hard enough time screaming. Sighing is just too much for the little fellow.


    Andy reply on January 19th, 2009 3:55 am:

    nope i think he did mean #22


    MikeSierraOscar reply on January 19th, 2009 4:44 am:

    Even if it was a mistake, it’s still funny as hell.

    captcha: Vote Frapped – twice!


  2. Tzanti Says:

    I had about ten years working on MoCap and VFX crew jobs. Some of this list sounds worryingly familiar. Particularly the part about cables.

    I feel a MoCap and VFX list coming on.

    captcha: old Sofia – ought to some kind of Bulgarian spirit


  3. Scott Nap Says:

    I’m Scott, the director of the show, and let me tell you…the story of the window? Oh. Oh the humanity. We’ll be telling the full story in a blog on the site after episode 5. Let’s just say, that was a very interesting day. Glad you guys are enjoying the list- episode 2 drops on Wednesday, and anyone who wants to meet Sean and the gang? Come to NY ComicCon in February! We’re at booth 2366.

    Sorry, I just flashed on the freakin window. I need a drink…


  4. Stonewolf Says:

    Oh the flashbacks. I used to boss the light crew for my HS Drama group. So, a brief list of things you cannot do in theater.

    1. Its “That Scottish Play” damnit!
    2. Dressing up prop dummies as freshmen, screaming & throwing them off the 100 foot catwalk is not funny.
    3. No creating religious around the light booth.
    4. We are not at war with the sound crew.
    5. The spot light is not a toy.
    6. There is absolutely no reason why a hatchet should be standard issue for the light crew.
    7. Actors in costume and paintball guns should not mix.
    8. The light crew are not my “Minions”.
    9. Stage crews are supposed to be unruly. There is no reason for me to be “running drills” with them.
    10. I am not allowed to kill freshmen when they electrocute me. Even if it happens more than once.

    Also, I just watched the first episode of “Issues”. Very funny.


    David B reply on March 3rd, 2014 3:26 pm:

    Why is That Scottish Play considered cursed?


    SteinUlf reply on March 3rd, 2014 4:54 pm:

    It was rumored that some of the spells used in the play were real, so witches cursed the play.


  5. Sean Beattie Says:

    Glad that this is getting a positive response…and you were right, Stickfodder, I did mean to reference #23. It does work either way, though, doesn’t it? lol.


  6. ViperChief Says:

    Back in the day, we used to knock people with the cable if they repeatedly stood over them for no good reason. Now that I’m an Air Force crew chief, Ive been instructed that if I ever do that to another load toad or egg head again, I’ll be working in the tool room until I retire.

    Yes, that applies to the Lockheed tech rep’s too.

    You know what, just go report to the tool room now, and let them know you’ll be pulling weekend duty for a while.


  7. Pander Says:

    Here’s one: No flash photography – ESPECIALLY while the film camera is turning over!!

    Captcha: female vond


    Sean Beattie reply on February 23rd, 2009 1:29 am:

    Luckily we shot on HD cards, so no real need to worry about film getting spoiled by an overzealous documentarian. Heads would have rolled if it had actually happened.


    David B reply on March 19th, 2014 10:03 am:

    I like the part about looking at the camera with the flash and the resulting “I looked at the trap Ray!”

    Is there a blooper of #37?


    Sean Beattie reply on March 19th, 2014 10:40 am:

    Thankfully for my sake, we weren’t filming when #37 happened.

    David B reply on March 19th, 2014 11:29 am:

    I take it that #37 had a lot of corpsing after the fact, since it sounds like you would be MAJORLY embarrassed if a tape came to light.


    Sean Beattie reply on March 19th, 2014 11:32 am:

    Well I certainly wouldn’t be proud of it. And we all definitely cracked in the next few takes.

    David B reply on March 19th, 2014 11:34 am:

    Nice. Is the blog still up so I can read about the window incident?


    Sean Beattie reply on March 19th, 2014 11:41 am:

    I don’t believe so. We wrapped production in 2010, and cast and crew alike have scattered to their own lives and careers since. In short: we filmed what was supposed to be kind of a riot scene, but ended up being like five people from the crew who didn’t mind acting as though there were bedlam about. In the fake melee, our lead actor got shoved quite masterfully into the comic shop’s front window. Which looked great. Until we realized that the spider crack his shoulder blade caused could not, in fact, be “fixed in post.” So our fearless lea—I mean director, was quite skittish about anyone going within a country mile of that window.

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