LeadershipStarting a Career

Clear Communication 101 for Movie Set Life

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A lot of things are going wrong on set usually. I think most of these happen because of unclear communication.

But fortunately an easy solution was already taught to us, we just need to use it.
For the first-aid part of the drivers’ license training, we learned about clear communication. (I think at least they teach the same stuff everywhere)

I mean the part when we were told how to act in case of an emergency.

We can’t just shout “someone call an ambulance”, because everyone will be just standing there thinking that someone else is doing that already. This way we would lose precious time to save a life.

What they teach you instead is something like this. You point at someone and say: “You call an ambulance now”.

Why does this work better?
1. Names the responsible person clearly – “YOU”

In an emergency, you point at someone, so the person knows that she/he’s responsible for that task from now. This way we are avoiding the above-mentioned effect where everyone thinks that someone else is already doing that task.
Or the other extreme, where multiple people start doing the task and we don’t have helping hands left for other important tasks.

Of course in an emergency, you might not know the other people, so you point at them. On a set, you probably will know the other person, so please don’t point and call anyone “you”. It is an absolutely arrogant thing to do and will bring you disrespect.

Call the person’s name. Dot use their positions (“Hey AD!” or “Hey Focuspuller”) or character names of the actors.

Say their names. If you forgot? Say sorry and ask again.

2. Specifies the task – “CALL AN AMBULANCE”

Often we think the task is obvious from the context. But even more often it is actually not.

State the task with some specific details so it is clear.

Where we usually screw this up is that the task is just too vivid and clear in our head, we don’t realize, it is only in our head.

If someone is bleeding and you yell “You help me”. It might be obvious for you that the task is to call an ambulance, but the other person brings you the first-aid kit, the medics now have less time for saving that life.
(Actually, I think in some cases you need the first aid kit first 😀 but you know what I mean.)

3. Gives the timeframe for executing the task – “NOW”

I think this is the missing part most of the times.

In an emergency, saying “now” will specify that the person can’t finish posting on Instagram first and then call the ambulance, but has to do it now.

On set, usually, the opposite is the problem. We, humans, tend to react immediately to the things coming at us. If you say a new task, it automatically means that it is more important than the last one, even if it is unfinished yet.

The human brain is reacting to this new impulse, and a lot of the times even if it would be logical from the task, that it is not urgent, the mind jumps onto it. Without control.

So you can save a lot of frustration for everyone if you state the timeframe.
“Do it now. This is the most urgent” “Do it the next time you’re on the truck but not later than in an hour” “Finish it please by wrap time”

Great, but what if no one is doing this around you?

You can reverse it.

Ask back for the same information.

1. Who?
“Was it me you said?”
“Did you mean me?”
Or if you see that the task is for someone else but he/she’s not reacting, you can say loudly: “Did you mean George?”

2. Task and details.

“Did you mean the green one” “What do you mean by the word “that”?” “You mean to bring the whole thing?”
“What would be the biggest help for you right now?”

Feel free to ask. If someone is ridiculing you for asking back, have a private chat with that person. It’s just not working that way.
If private chat about the topic doesn’t help, it might be a sign of that you two should not be working together.

It doesn’t mean necessarily that the other person is an a__hole. (but it sometimes does :D)
It might be for example because there is just too big of a skill level difference between you, and the other person does not have the patience at this stage to teach someone. You can look for lower budget/lower pressure productions where you can get better first at basic stuff.

3. By when?

“Is this the most urgent task?” “Is it okay the next time I’m there or should I do it now?”

Since time is usually missing from tasks we get, this is the most frequent thing we have to ask back about. And it’s okay. Do it frequently.

Of course as you get better at focusing on the task at hand, and get used to the usual time frames of certain tasks your brain won’t jump automatically to the newest task anymore. But this is where we all start from.

Is that all?

To finish, it’s well worth repeating the task and details back so both parties know they are on the same page.

Of course, there are times when it would feel weird to stick strictly with this framework, but it still does worth going by it. If there is no chance, at least do it in your head, and only say/ask what’s not obvious. But most of the times even if something seems obvious, it will not be for another human being that is separate from you 🙂 and that’s natural. It’s not something we should change.



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