Film sets can be a pretty unwelcoming place for a naive photographer especially when the photographer puts a foot wrong. You may not always be so lucky as to work with crew patient enough to impart to you the meanings or implications of the strange language that the crew speak. Here’s a few useful bits of on set jargon and their implications for the stills photographer.
I’ve written this list alphabetically not in order that you’d hear them on set.
- Action – is called by the director and in some cases the first assistant director. Quite obviously it is the moment when a stills photographer is shooting without a blimp they must have stopped. Once Action is called, you should also remain as still as possible for the duration of the take. I use the take to compose shots and to plan in my head staged shots I plan to capture.
- Apple Box – this is a sturdy timber box that is used for a range of purposes including makeshift seat, stable stand for raising the height of cast, crew or kit and sometimes even for holding back doors. As a photographer angle is crucial to composition and sometimes the versatile Apple Box will get you the shot when you’d otherwise be blocked. Now, if only there was a portable ditch for those of us sometimes too tall for a position!
- Barney – A sound muffling device for cameras (usually 16mm or 35mm motion cameras). This is often used by crew to refer to a stills camera blimp (see “Blimp” below).
- Blocking – is the actors running a scene through prior to filming or rehearsing. Most of the crew involved in recording sound and motion pictures will be present as they plan their part in shooting the takes. Its a great opportunity for the stills photographer to capture images of the Director working with the Actors (which are excellent publicity material), and if you’re lucky the Actors will be in costume making the images you capture useful for publicity purposes. In many cases blocking is done prior to lighting the set however, so the lighting can be less than optimal.
- Blimp – sound proof enclosure for an SLR stills camera to enable the stills photographer to shoot silently. For more information see and TT 15 and TT 26.
- Camera Rehearsal – is what it indicates, and is usually the best opportunity for the stills photographer who is without a sound blimp to get great shots. Camera rehearsals (often shortened on set to Rehearsals) precede shooting the takes and after the scene has been blocked. Usually by the time the camera rehearsal are being done the set is fairly well finalised in so far as lighting and dressing is concerned, so its the opportunity the stills photographer absolutely does not want to miss.
- Crew Show (AKA Technical Rehearsal, Stop Start Rehearsal) – This is an early rehearsal of a scene for the benefit of the crew. If you’re lucky the scene will be lit and actors in costume allowing you to get useable shots. Otherwise, its great way to see how the actors will utilise the space so you understand the action and determine your best position for the camera rehearsals and takes.
- Crossing camera – often shortened to simply “Crossing”. All crew should call this phrase when crossing in front of the motion camera. Often even between takes camera the Cinematographer, Director or the camera crew will be looking through the viewfinder of the camera planning the next shot or angle. Its distracting and rude to block the motion camera for any longer than necessary and when you’re going to even momentarily interrupt the camera’s view, it is proper film set etiquette to make it known using this phrase. As a stills photographer you’ll often find yourself calling this phrase as you move in and out of position near the motion camera.
- Final Checks – is called by the First Assistant Director and is an indication that all crew, but particularly hair, makeup and wardrobe should perform any finishing touches on the actors prior to shooting. It can be a great opportunity to capture crew at their most focused moments.
- Hold Fire – you’ll often hear this one called on set. Its meaning is the same as on the battlefield “Not just yet, but stay ready”.
- Hold for stills – This is music to a stills photographer’s ears. This is usually after gently pestering the First AD for the opportunity to capture a still image at the end of a take.
- MOS – is thought to be “mit out sound” (without sounds), “mit out sprechen” (without speaking) or possibly even “motor only sync”. If you hear this called in relation to a take no sound is being recorded and that means that you should be able to shoot through the take. Clapper boards are marked as such for a MOS take, but you’ll often hear it specifically called by the clapper loader, the sound recordist or the First Assistant Director.
- Quiet on Set – this is called to all crew and is usually to indicate filming will soon start, but often also so that key crew can hold an important conversation. Its usually called by the First Assistant Director and they really mean it! If your mobile phone is on, it should be turned to silent at the very least. On many sets “Quiet on Set” means to go so far as to turn mobile phones off to eliminate interference with microphones. Usually, when this is the case it will be made very clear that silent is not enough.
My good friend and awesome TV Producer David Fedirchuk (of Mum’s Spaghetti) reminded me that for each mobile phone offense on an Australian film set the perpetrator owes the crew a slab of beer by way of punishment. Its a pretty effective deterrent, I can assure you!
- Sound speed – this is called by the sound recordist after the Director or First Assistant Director has called Turn over it indicates that sound is recording. Its another good indication that the take will include synced sound and that if the photographer’s camera is not blimped that they’ll not be able to shoot through the take.
- Turn over – this is usually called by the first assistant director and it is an indication to the camera and sound crew to start recording. When this is called, if your camera is not blimped you should know that your window for shooting is coming to a rapid end. Its the time you should use to find a comfortable position to stay still for the duration of the take.
I know there’s other production stills photographers and also film crew regularly read this blog – I’d love to hear and include the film set jargon you think should be included in this list.