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Advice on working on a set (1 reply and 3 comments)

8 months ago
RonanMcAuley 8 months ago

Hi Roger,

You've been a huge inspiration for me, I'm currently studying film-making in Brighton and I'm excited to become a cinematographer myself. 

You've already provided so many excellent resources on theory and composition but there's a few things that I'm unsure of about how things work on a shoot.

I would be so grateful if you could shed some light on any of these questions (you don't need to answer all of them!). Any help is much appreciated.


  • Is there a particular set etiquette people going into cinematography should be aware of? 


  • What communication skills does a cinematographer need? Do you have any advice on how to make sure that there’s good communication on set? 


  • How interconnected are the camera, grip, & lighting departments? Do they all work independently and communicate with each other when necessary or do they act together as one big department?


  • How important is the relationship between the camera, grip and lighting departments? Does it have an impact on the final result that the audience sees or does it just make things easier behind the scenes?


  • What’s your relationship to the gaffer like? Do you like them to have a lot of creative input or do you prefer them to focus on practicalities?


  • What role does health & safety play in your decision-making? Is there a particular health and safety process associated with a studio environment vs on location?


  • Do you have a process of evaluating your past work / reflecting on what you achieved and what you might do differently? Or do you prefer to focus on what’s coming next?


  • What, in your view, is the role of a DOP?


Thank you for your time 🙂

Roger Deakins
8 months ago
Roger Deakins 8 months ago

The important etiquette is to work as silently as possible. Chatter can be as distracting to a technician as it can be for an actor.

You want your crew to feel included in what you are trying to achieve. To that end it helps to ask your team members for ideas even when you feel you know exactly what and how to do something.

Be prepared and try to make clear and timely decisions. A director or cinematographer can quickly loose a crew by seeming to be unprepared. I will sometimes suggest a shot that I am unhappy with just to get going in the morning while hoping/knowing that I will find something better by the time the crew gets ready. Like any team sport, you want to keep the momentum flowing!

I have a very close relationship with my Gaffer, Key Grip and Camera crew. I have known and worked with most of them for many years. I think those relationships do have an impact on the resultant imagery but how much and what that might be is hard to quantify. Whatever, it makes for a more pleasant shoot!

I don't bother 'evaluating' my work as I might not react in the same way today as I did yesterday!


8 months ago

Hi Roger,

This is a follow up question on an answer you gave: 

"I have a very close relationship with my Gaffer, Key Grip and Camera crew. I have known and worked with most of them for many years."

As I am early on in my career, I attempt to stay close and keep working with my preferred Key grips and Gaffers, but in the event that you would have to work with a completely new Key technician, are there certain prerequisites you look for in a new collaborator? If so, what are some of them? 

8 months ago

Thank you for your reply Roger, that's very useful information to keep in mind, particularly what you said about making your team feel included. I'll take that advice on board

The Byre
8 months ago

Tips for grips - have a small table ready that clamps onto something and has a hole for securely holding a coffee and a space for a laptop.

Tip for anybody on set - never come back with an excellent reason why something did not get done. Just do it!

Keep opinions to yourself unless asked for! And when you see that mic pole go up, no talking for any reason (unless you are the director!)

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