“We Are Family – Part II”

The ability to make a set efficient, respectful to all of the production crafts, and most of all (given the magazine’s focus this month on large-budget, action moviemaking) safe for every single person, is a theme I’d like to continue from my previous editorial.

A safe, communicative set is an achievable goal to which every member of this Guild (indeed, our entire industry) must strive. The ideas of set etiquette and a set hierarchy have a definitive purpose beyond what the words themselves convey: making entertainment is a dangerous business, particularly with anything that involves “action cinematography.”

The tools we use are heavy (even the small ones), and the control that we require of an environment to achieve our filmmaking goals is extraordinary. That goes for small productions, as well as the obvious demands of a large studio franchise or TV pilot/series filled with stunts and VFX. I can’t imagine any dedicated production team that does not, in all of the important ways, consider themselves filmmakers, not wanting to put out the very best effort to achieve the creative goals of the director and cinematographer. That’s why the set hierarchy I mentioned last month is vital. Especially on a project where the stakes are often raised with action photography, the chain of communication must be crystal clear and all must understand the line of information on a daily basis. Everybody must be conscious of their surroundings and the people around them. These are the ways we become a cohesive unit; these are the ways we become a family.

It’s simple to identify the set hierarchy, given the job classifications to which our industry adheres. To our directors of photography members I would add that one of our most important responsibilities is to keep the camera team safe and support them in every possible way. The pressure to move quickly – on a big or small show – escalates with each passing day. That’s why the way a set is run, which is the responsibility of the first assistant director, is such an important part of how we all unite as a production family.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to have worked with the same assistant director – Brian Frankish – on seven consecutive features. Brian, who was either the unit manager or 1st AD on many of these projects, helped create a rhythm that can only come with consistency and familiarity. It was a joy, really from the first time on the set, to work with Brian because the level of trust was absolute. The instinctive understanding Brian and I developed became invaluable, and that should be developed throughout the production team, at every level. If I don’t have that kind of communication with the camera operator, camera assistant, DIT, gaffer and key grip, then my ability to realize the director’s vision (and keep my crew safe) will be compromised.

One way to secure this level of communication and trust is for the director of photography and the assistant director to speak with the entire crew about safety protocol before production begins. The dangers I mentioned earlier in our profession can also be present in even the most innocent ways. For example, I often tell the make-up, hair and wardrobe, costume and art departments (who are not typically dealing with heavy equipment) to be mindful of cables around the set. I ask the electric team to make sure dark areas around and near the set are lit, so everyone can be safe.

Everyone should have a voice in “caution.” If you see something unsafe, do not be silent. Let someone in your department know. Anything of an inherently dangerous nature – stunt, action, working with special tools – has established industry guidelines that are readily available through your smartphone and Local 600’s recently introduced Safety App, which makes reporting an unsafe set as simple as sending a text. For example, working with explosives and gunfire has clearly mapped-out procedures. If you see those procedures not being followed, for whatever reason, speak up!

We are all one family – never more so than when lives are literally on the line.


Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600