Last week I spent three days down in London volunteering as a production assistant on the short film The Door. This is only one in a whole series of films themed around the big smoke entitled, London, I Quite Like You. It was hard work, long hours and lots of fun!
My role as Production Assistant and Runner was basically to wait patiently until someone asked me to do something, and then do it. I did a lot of carrying bags and equipment, fetching things for people, and (most importantly) providing meals, drinks and snacks for the fifteen-plus cast and crew each day.
This was my first time working on a film set which wasn’t ‘my’ production and with people I didn’t know, so I thought I’d put together a few of my observations for any would-be runners out there.
- It’s not what you do, it’s what you learn.
In all honesty, when you work as a runner, production assistant or other helper, you’re probably not going to be doing anything really exciting. All the things I was doing on set was stuff I already knew how to do (like buying food and making tea). What I learned, I learned from observing. So if you are working on a film set, don’t switch off when no one’s given you a task to do; be watching the director, assistant director, DOP, camera operators etc to get a feel of the different roles on set and how they interact.
2. Ask questions!
Hopefully, you’ll be working on set with a lot of friendly (and knowledgeable) people like I was. Use your time effectively and mine the cast of the crew for stories, advice and hints. Obviously, don’t be annoying about this and ask the Director of Photography how to turn a camera on when he’s in the middle of setting up a shot in the rain and you’re running an hour behind schedule. But, most of the time, people are happy to answer polite and sensible questions, because it shows you think they’re smart.
3. The director is the most chill person on set…
They may be dying inside, but the director must stay calm at all times. Even when the production is running late, the camera’s just run out of battery and two of the actors have just fainted. The moment the crew sense a whiff of panic, there will be riots. Riots, I tell you.
4. …and the assistant director is the least chill person on set
It’s the job of the assistant director (or AD) to keep filming running to schedule and manage the organisation aspects of shooting. This is an impossible task. I have never been on a film set yet where filming ran to schedule (well, apart from Elinor and Marianne Take Barton and that was a very special production). Luckily, on The Door we had a very lovely and very capable AD who kept everything moving without needing to raise her voice too often.
5. Make good tea and coffee
This is a must for any wannabe runner. If, like me, you don’t drink tea and coffee, practice before the shoot. People who prove themselves capable of making good hot beverages will be beloved by everyone.
Pro tip – make sure the cup is at a reasonably drinkable temperature before you give it to them. On set, everyone is very busy, so if they can’t drink it straight away they will put it down somewhere and they will forget about it. And guess who’ll have to go around at the end of the shoot and pick up all those cold cups of tea? That’s right, you.
6. Bring something to do
It’s inevitable that at some points you’ll have to wait away from the set – at the production base, watching equipment or waiting to pick up a member of cast or crew. It’s vital to bring something light and portable to keep yourself entertained. I mean, you could just scroll mindlessly through Facebook, but how much more interesting would it be to teach yourself another language using a Duolingo app or read a book?
I can’t wait to go to the Wrap Party and watch the screening of the final film! If you have any tips or stories about being a runner on set, let me know in the comments below.
All images owned by me