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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Location shoot etiquette!

You find yourself on a location shoot... long days... a long time away from home... lots of temptations in the form of never visited local bars/clubs/hotel mini bar/a member of the team... a sense of freedom you don't always have when in the office or on the 'regular job'. Boundaries between roles get blurred - the runners to the execs mingle freely. The 4 walls of your hotel room are claustrophobic and you want to escape. What can you and should you do? What are the 'do's' and 'don't s' of a location shoot?!

There are no fixed rules really. I feel that common sense should simply prevail. I have however been asked for some tips on a. what one should do as part of their role on location and b. how to deal with social and awkward situations when on location (although, one imagines they could crop up anywhere really) so - here goes...


It is easy to assume, on the road, that everyone knows what they are doing and what their purpose for being there is. Usually it is explicit - you are the locations manager or the cameraman 'on tour' or the team runner. You have a JD (job description - not Jack Daniels - that would not be appropriate during the working day...) and largely are simply expected to deliver it.

It is not however always that simple. A member of the team can often get taken along seemingly 'for the ride'. There doesn't appear to be a particular job for them - and they can end up feeling lost. If you find yourself in this position - thrown into the chaos of a locations shoot but without a role on the call sheet other than your job title - ask, and get proactive.

An example of someone who didn't - the 'researcher' who was taken on location and had never been so before. Nobody advised him what was required of him and he had no idea what he was expected to do. There was little 'research' work required (other than the post wrap coordinates for the closest pub). He spent his days 'hanging about' and occasionally made the odd cup of tea and booked some local cabs (having called back to the office to ask them to find numbers...). He had a nice time. He didn't upset anyone and he came back several days later having enjoyed some tasty evening meals and having gained the experience of watching a shoot take place.

WHAT A WASTE. He could have gained so much more. The more senior crew deemed him disinterested and the production office assumed him lazy when releases etc were not properly filled in.

What could he have done? This: 1. asked. Made it known to his Line Manger that he had never been away on a shoot before and therefore was uncertain what his role was and what was expected of him. 2. Been proactive - provided the services of a runner, helped with set up and de-rig of kit, taken over management of releases and offered to support with  directing.

You only take away from an experience what you aim to - and if you are too embarrassed to ask for help or direction, then you are in the wrong industry. Equally, if you are too lazy to create a useful role for yourself, you probably won't get asked along next time.

'So what' said the researcher - for he had been on location and seen what happens. Why did he need to go again? Did you know that it is a key skill of a good AP (the role post researching) to be able to self shoot? All those hours the researcher 'hung about' on location, he could have taken full advantage of familiarising himself with the camera, taken the responsibility for logging the tapes and asked to be shown how to data wrangle or even set up the camera itself etc. No. He just hung about. Useful that...

Senior staff - keep an eye out for your junior staff members - don't assume they are confident in their purpose. Equally just try and enable those that do show the will to learn to be able to do so. On a recent locations tour, I ensured each runner and Prod Sec/ Junior Researcher had the opportunity to go in and watch what was happening at each stage of the process we were touring with. They left with a full understanding of what happens on location - and an inspiration to continue working hard towards their goals. I left with no skin off my nose. It wasn't difficult to arrange - and I was happy to because they were genuinely interested.

I guess that the story here is to:
a. DO ensure you are clear on what your role is and then deliver not only to it but above it where possible
b. DO become invaluable and help out wherever possible - do not become defined by your job title
c. if you have expert knowledge and a bit of free time, and you notice a junior member of staff hanging about, DO offer them the opportunity to shadow/watch/help
d. DON'T sit back and watch and never muck in or offer to help
e. DON'T be confined by your own interpretation of your job title
f. DON'T be lazy - i.e. if you need a number look on your call sheet or google it

ALL STAFF: Social behaviour on location

I am more frequently asked about what is and isn't appropriate socially on location - and how to manage a situation if it feels uncomfortable...

Common sense must not go out of the window - it is vital that you remember that whilst you might be away, and everyone relaxes in the evenings, that you are still at work - and as such, must retain some degree of appropriate behaviour.

There are no hard fast rules of what is and isn't 'OK' socially (in the working environment). Generally speaking the following apply:

  • DON'T sleep with contributors, cast or crew
  • If you do sleep with one of the above - DON'T discuss it the next day 
  • DO NOT get drunk and then come to location the next day late/with a hangover/unable to deliver on your duties/smelling of alcohol
  • DO NOT get drunk and forget good manners (it isn't wise to tell the exec his shirt does not match his trousers...)
  • DO NOT join in with drinks and not pay your contribution of the bill
  • DON'T fell compelled to drink alcohol at all - some of us don't get out as much as we'd like to and definitely take advantage of the hotel bar on location - this isn't because this is the 'done' thing in TV, it's cos we (and by that I mean I) are getting older and still want to have as much fun as physically possible on those rare nights we are away and thus don't have to do everyday stuff such as to finish paperwork/do the housework/go to the gym/etc. It doesn't make you fit in. Only drink if you want to and enjoy to.
  • DON'T get caught up in gossip and back stabbing
  • DON'T exclude people from your peer group in a bid to impress your seniors
  • DON'T take stock/notes/releases/etc out on the town - always keep data safely stored in a confidential, lockable space
  • If someone has to stay in on 'data duty' or to look after kit, etc - DO offer to get them some food or a drink. It's just polite.
  • DO give people space - it is really easy to get excited about the opportunity to spend social time with someone you have been trying to impress (in a bid to get a foot up that ladder) but remember, they have had a long, hard day too - and if they appear to be having a in depth conversation with a glass of red and a peer at the bar, DO NOT go over and interrupt or hang about on the edge of their conversation
  • DO remember when you return from location that whilst you all spent a lot of time together in the evenings whilst away and probably had hoots of fun, it was mainly because you had no other option (unless you are a fan of room service and TV for one). That isn't to say the good times weren't real - but remember when back on home turf, that people have partners, non work friends and families - and it isn't the done thing to suggest team drinks Every. Single. Day.
The 'awkward' scenario on location -  tale of two sides...

Recently I spoke to an old Exec who I got on famously with - he was so much fun and very inspirational in his work -  I was lucky that he quite liked me too! The wine was flowing and we were having a good old natter about our time away on location for a show we had both formerly been away on location for. He asked me how I 'tolerated' all the runners inviting themselves along to drinks in the evenings. He said it drove him insane. I remembered feeling really awkward on that job - because I like to be inclusive and welcome all, however I appreciate after a long day, staff often just want a quiet drink with close peers. At first I assumed that he was saying the runners joining us drove him insane because of a hierarchy thing - you know, he was very senior, they were very junior... but actually it tuned out that it had nothing to do with that at all (and I was a fool to even think it - he was after all a bloody legend); it was actually that their motivation to talk to him was the kind that was really keen to impress him and network, and to hopefully secure a future role on his shows, rather than for general chat and banter. Fine - I do get this craving from a junior point of view - but as he very rightly pointed out, this was his 'free time' and he did not want to network. Understandably. It made it really awkward to the extent that a staff group meal on the final night of our time on location ended up being cancelled due to 'team exhaustion' but actually, in reality as I subsequently found out, it was because the whole thing had snowballed and all the crew involved ended up wanting to come - and the exec could think of nothing worse than having to make small talk about a career in TV to a group of junior staff desperate to secure their next position. He just wanted to get shit faced and have a giggle (as did most of us).

The 'awkward' situation we were discussing is what is one to do in that scenario? He pointed out that he felt awful about it all and at no point wanted to generalise the group and say 'no runners allowed' on socials; but equally, it was only the runners that were approaching him about his career and work after shoot hours (the rest of us I am sure were interested but too busy propping up the bar - we were after all, secure - at that point - in our jobs!).

I think he makes a really valid point when he said to me, quite simply, 'I love my job and I love those with a passion to learn - but I love my down time on location and enjoy nothing better than a good old show biz gossip, or a politics debate with a large glass of red. If anyone hassles me with work questions I just want to tell them to bugger off'. 

I don't think anyone should have to feel awkward in a social situation when 'stuck' away on location with colleagues. I would recommend this:
  • If you are a more junior member of staff invited along - or just in the same bar/restaurant - to an evening with the rest of the crew, do not talk shop. Smile, be friendly and be remembered for knowing how to switch off. Yes, by all means, join in with tales of funny things that occurred throughout the day - but do not try and pass your CV across the dinner table or follow a shot of tequila with the dreaded words 'have you got any jobs?'
  • If you are someone with experience who has had a long day and post wrap just wants to sink a cold beer or a large glass of red, then upon arriving in the bar where all crew are hanging out, make it clear at the first mention of future work that for tonight you are simply here 'to relax'. A quick, firm indicator that you are not open to talking careers should nip any such conversation in the bud.
This of course works on all fronts, as in the junior staff being made to feel 'awkward' by the senior too - I recently heard about a poor young lady who was on location in the ass end of nowhere, with some more senior members of the crew. There was literally nowhere to go but this one pub they found themselves in about twenty mins away from their dwellings. Keen to make a good impression the next day on the shoot this wise owl kept off the booze. The same could not be said of the more senior staff, who guzzled down the beers like a pair of schoolboys on their first trip to Kavos. The conversation she found herself in quickly turned to 'memorable shags' and 'fittest bird you've f***ed'. Not being hugely comfortable with joining in on this banter, she sat and patiently sipped her juice. She felt she couldn't leave as she didn't want to be impolite - plus it was a tenner in a cab back to their hotel, and on a runners wage, that was too much. She nodded and smiled and giggled along (nervously), and secretly wished the ground would swallow her up. She asked me retrospectively what she should have done in that scenario. I have two hats: Lou - just me and Lou the giver of (personal but professional) advice. My answer was this...
  • Lou the giver of (personal but professional) advice would have made a firm but polite comment along the lines of 'right gents, I am off to the loo, when I get back I hope we can talk about something a little more inclusive?'. If they didn't take the hint and continued to be crude I would have said goodnight, taken a taxi and claimed it from petty cash the next day. You would be absolutely entitled to given the circumstances. I would not for second worried about seeming rude - as I said above, at night time people just want to chill and wind down (and sometimes tell dirty tales), nobody will be offended if you choose not to join in
  • Lou - just me would have said something much stronger along the lines of 'listen you pair of dirt bags - you are both on the wrong side of 40, overweight and drunk. You are clearly reminiscing about former best shags cos you don't get much now. Put the beer down, do some sit ups and wash your filthy mouths out. Then maybe the talk of memorable (i.e. yonks ago) sexual activity will have a chance of ever becoming current activity.' PLEASE NOTE - I do not recommend this line of chat - I just thought I would let you all know what I would have secretly been thinking...
So anyway... there you have it... common sense prevails and all that.

I wonder why anyone finds themselves in a situation where: they don't know what do, come across as off the mark, feel out of their depth, behave inappropriately, annoy others or just make people feel uncomfortable. If you find yourself in one of the above situations - which hopefully you won't as they are rare, speak up. Ask. Say no. Say yes. Watch. Listen. Learn. Drink. Don't drink. Be inclusive. Smile - when all else fails a smile goes a long way!

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