Your First day on a Film Job: Dealing with Nerves

first day on a film job

“The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”

Working on a film for the first time can be terrifying for some, and one of our lovely readers asked me to talk more about dealing with nerves when working on-set for the first time. So let’s walk you through your first day on a film job. It can be scary but rewarding, and you only have a ‘first day’ once. Everything after that gets easier!

‘When I was shown around a makeup truck on my first day at a job for the BBC in 1987, I died and went heaven. I was in complete awe of how the makeup department ran.’ – Sharon Robbins, Hair & Makeup Artist

First Day Etiquette – Making the Best Possible Impression

A call sheet will be your best friend. Read and analyse the call sheet and movement order thoroughly the night before. It will tell you when to arrive and where you need to be. Your first day working on-set or in the department will be overwhelming. There is so much to take in and learn, and good etiquette (combined with common sense) will get you through the day safely. Although it will be tempting to try and gain the attention and favour of the artists you’re working with, the ultimate goal on your first day should simply be to OBSERVE.

Film sets exhibit an endless collection of personality types. This is your introduction to people reading. By keeping out of the way and observing, you can gauge the team and environment you’re surrounded by. Reading your environment is so important in helping you to adapt to its needs. A mild personality on your first few days is best until you can see how the senior artists like to interact. Be friendly of course, but never too chatty. Chatting relentlessly on-set or bothering your team constantly with small talk when they are busy will earn you a less than preferable mark to your name. Always be professional in your communication, and make sure your listening skills are in tip-top shape. ~Finally, don’t talk to the actors unless they talk to you.

Look for opportunities to assist and always offer to help, but also know the time to step back when your help isn’t needed. Be willing to do anything and everything, but be smart about it. Awareness is your best friend.

‘It’s easy to get sucked in by the awe of being on a set. After all, you’re given a behind-the-scenes look at something just a fraction of society gets to see – but you have to fight the urge to gawk. Standing around is the job of the executives, not yours.’Needle Girl Haystack World

Once you make it to set, scope out what’s going on, and where crew are located. It can be hard to situate yourself somewhere that’s out of the way. ~And trust me, you always want to be out of the way. Walking through the shot, or standing in the actor’s eyeline is not a great way to make an impression on your first day. Your best bet is to stay close to the makeup department, who will often have an area set up near the monitor. Otherwise, aim for the equipment trolleys as they are often in a safe zone.

Becoming knowledgeable about the other departments

Communicating with other departments is an extremely important part of the job. You cannot sustain a career in this industry if you are clueless about who does what, and because of that, your first days on a film set are a great opportunity to ask about the other departments and familiarise yourself. Everyone has a part to play and building a good rapport with the crew will mean they will be happy to help you out of a jam. Also, if you have the chance, ask for a call sheet and learn the names of the crew!

‘No one will remember your name but don’t let that be an excuse to forget theirs. It’s great if you can remember as many names as possible on your first day on a film set, at least those in your department.’Matt Webb

My advice if you are introverted or extremely shy

I’m going to be straight up with you. Most days in this industry will feel like your first day of school, and you will constantly have to work with new people and new environments. This is the REALITY of the job. Our job requires us to not only be skilled in our profession but also be good with people. You need to exude positive energy, you need to be calm, and you need to be in a good mood. If you are extremely shy, a film set (although terrifying) is the best place to fix that. But it requires you to take a step out of your comfort zone first. Trust me, I know the experience well. Up until about four years ago, I was so shy and introverted that I could barely handle answering the phone at work. When I went to makeup school, I was so eager to learn and absorb everything which meant I would have to interact with my peers and build relationships. I forced myself to make friends and talk to people, which in turn made it easier during work experience.

When I worked as a makeup assistant on-set for the first time, I was truly tested. Much of my job required communicating with other departments, calling suppliers and occasionally dealing with cast and extras. I felt a world away from the scared person I once was. It only gets easier, but it won’t become easy until you clench your teeth and take the first step. Stop being comfortable and introduce yourself to people. Department heads will not take notice of someone who hides, acts meekly or is afraid to ask questions.

‘The first lesson I learned on-set was to understand what the other departments did. I stuck with my team, did exactly what I was told and asked a lot of questions.’ – Lindy Hartley, Hair & Makeup Artist

Your first day on a film set is always going to be scary, but it can be fun and eye-opening as well. As you take on more days, you’ll slowly become familiar with the customs and processes, not to mention correct etiquette. In the end, the most important things to remember are: listen to your boss, learn about the departments and be enthusiastic! You got this!


That’s all she wrote,