If you have never been to film school, you might have already been in this situation. The first time you arrive on an active movie set it seems like controlled chaos, with everyone running around knowing exactly what they have to do, but the overall order seems chaotic.
One of the first things you will start to notice when you are in this situation is that there are a lot of things people are yelling on a television or movie production set and it seems to signal a shift in what is happening on set to all of the crew members. These yells are often in a specific order but sometimes they are random. But everybody must know what these things mean because a crew needs to work coherently and verbalizing commands and situations loudly so that the whole crew and cast can hear is often the best way to get the information out.
My First Time
The first time I was on a production set, aside from a few small short films I did in college as an actor, was for an ABC sitcom with a lot of well-known actors and crew.
On a daily basis, I did my best to take in everything that was going on around me, but there was so much I didn’t understand that I felt it was best to just stand and observe before asking any questions or attempting to participate in all that was going on around me. I didn’t want to ask the crew too many questions because I was a total noob and I didn’t want everyone to know how much I didn’t know.
That was a long time ago and after working on numerous sets it has become natural communication.
But what about you? Have you ever been on a set before? Have you only been on set as an actor (and so probably listening to the Director for most of your communication) but are thinking about moving behind the camera into a crew position?
Well, then this blog post is for you…
Leading up to “Rolling” on the Scene
Here’s a quick succession of things you will hear called out when a scene is about to be shot.
If the term is in parentheses, then it only happens one some shots.
This is by no way an exhaustive list, but it will give you a good start.
If you think that I have left out something that should be here or you hear a term on set and are not sure what it means, let me know and I will add it to the list.
“Roll camera”: Tells the camera operator to hit the record button.
“Rolling” – The response of the camera operator after starting to record or roll film.
“Roll sound” – Tells the audio department to hit the record button.
“Rolling” – The response of the individual in the audio department controlling sound recording letting the crew know that sound is being recorded.
Slate: At this point, a person comes out in front of the camera (usually the 2nd Camera Assistant) with a clapboard (also referred to as a Slate) with the sticks open. The sticks are the two parts that, when open, look like an open mouth PacMan with striped lipstick.
The 2nd A.C. yells out the “Scene Number” and the “Take”. This will sound something like, “Scene 23D, Take 2”. After the Camera Assistant says that, the sticks of the clapboard are closed together firmly to make a noise.
This is done so that the audio and video can be synched more easily in post-production.
(I explain synch-sound in depth in my producing course but just know that this is important to do for each take.)
Then the 2nd A.C. moves off camera.
“Action” – Everybody knows this one. The Director calls “Action” when she is ready to start the scene. This not only signals the actors that it is time to start acting the scene, but also the crew that might be, for example, moving the camera.
Sometimes there are different “Action” calls for different things, like “Action background” might start the background actors moving and acting first and then the Director would call “Action” for the leads. Another example is if there is a practical (on set) effect of rain pouring outside the window, the Director might say “Action rain” before calling “Action” on the actors.
“Cut” – When the Director is ready to stop recording the scene she yells “Cut” and this signals the crew to stop recording or to stop doing whatever their job is in relation to recording the shot.
“Cut” can be yelled mid-scene if the Director is not happy about how the recording is going. This can be for a number of reasons such as an airplane overhead creating a lot of noise, an actor not arriving at his mark, a piece of production equipment showing in the background, a light that is not directly correctly, etc…
Most often, though, “Cut” is yelled at the end of the scene when the Director feels that the action of the scene is complete.
After The Take Has Ended
After the Director says “Cut” a number of different things can happen, based on whether the Director and crew (and actors) are happy with the shot/take.
While it is usually the Director that decides whether there will be another take (recording) of the shot, other crew members might spot a problem with the completed take and will let Director or Assistant Director know.
Here are some terms you may hear after the take has ended. Again, these are in parentheses because just like a Choose Your Own Adventure” book, there are numerous outcomes after the Director says “Cut”.
(“Print that”) – This is something that the Director says to the Script Supervisor or sometimes to the Cinematographer and/or Assistant Director to let them know she liked the take. Another take may be created (just in case) and so the Director may add, “I’d like to go again” or she may say “I’m ready to move on”.
(“Moving On”) – “Moving On” is usually yelled by the Assistant Director to let the crew know that this shot is complete and that we are moving on to the next shot in the list.
It will be said like this: (“Moving on. Shot 23E”)
If all of the shots for that scene are complete and there are more scenes in the schedule to shoot that day, the Assistant Director will say (“Moving On. Scene 56”), which, in this example, will move the work of the day to a completely different place in the script, but possibly the same location (For example, if Scene 23 was in a bar, it would make sense to shoot Scene 56 next if it is set in the bar, too.)
(“Going Again” or “Reset”) When the Assistant Director yells “Going again.” That means that everyone is going “Back to 1” (see below) or other instructions are mentioned if it is not back to 1. Essentially, there is another take for this scene.
(“Take 2,3,4,….”) This is yelled by the Script Supervisor to let everyone know what take is being shot. This may seem a bit redundant because the 2nd Assistant Camera is saying that in the slate, but really, the slate is for the camera recording and the Script Supervisor is making the announcement to inform the crew what take it is. If it is a new shot, the Script Supervisor will announce the shot number. If the production is moving on, the Script Supervisor will announce the scene number.
(“Back to 1”) – When the Assistant Director says “Back to 1” or “Reset” she is letting the cast and crew know that they should go back to the beginning of the shot. So if the actors were off camera ready to enter camera right at the beginning of the shot, then they return to off camera right and ready themselves to act in another take. A crew example would be if the camera was panning right to left in the scene, the camera would be reset to the original position so that it can move left in another take.
(“Play that back”) – Playback is a modern convenience for the cast and crew, especially the Director. Sometimes the director or other crew members (and sometimes high-level cast members) wants to see the take that was just recorded and they ask to “See it in playback” before moving on.
The upside about modern technology is that we can see the take that was recorded immediately and make sure it was good and that there were no mistakes. It is a terribly expensive mistake to arrive in Post-Production and realize that there is not enough of a scene to cut together in a coherent way or that there was a glaring mistake that ruined the scene. Watching a scene in playback can assure that the take was good.
The downside about playback is that it slows down the day immensely, which can be an expensive mistake, as well, if the production doesn’t get all of its scheduled scenes shot for the day.
My best advice is that in most cases it is better to do another take if you are not sure if the last one was good rather than payback the previous take, which seems to leave most people on set standing around and therefore harder to reset if another take is necessary. This is not the case in all instances, but when I am directing I prefer to get another take rather than to watch what I just shot.
If you are new to film production, the list above will give you a basic knowledge of the terms you frequently called out on a movie set or television production set. There are TONS of filmmaking terms and the more you are on set, the more you will learn, so that eventually you will know what a C47 is or why a shot is called as MOS.
But for now, you have the basics to get you through and the detail stuff is irrelevant to you if you are just starting out.
So that means that this is the end of this blog post and… “That’s A Wrap!”