Vol III: Production Terminology

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This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Production Entry-Level Guide

Up till now we’ve focused entirely on the necessary qualities and skills that you already possess. While those will set you up for success, you will need to start actively educating yourself on your new role.

As with any industry, production is full of nuances that are specific to it. One of the less subtle differences is the lexicon. While on set, you’ll hear words and phrases that will make you question your understanding of the English language.

Don’t fret! This article will define and translate some of the basic terms and phrases heard on any set and give you a leg up on your first few productions.

Pro Tip: Like learning any foreign language, repetition and immersion are essential to fluency. Feel free to bookmark this page and test yourself regularly.

Walkie Lingo

Anyone can walk the walk, but can you talk the walk? See what I did there?

One of the first items you'll receive on set is your walkie talkie. This is your lifeline; your communications device to your boss and colleagues. It's a simple enough device. So, you just press the button and talk, right? Kind of...

While it's true that you press the big button on the side to talk, what you say into that microphone dangling from your earpiece is very important.

Walkie language is code-based and very specific. Take some time to learn the most common phrases and don't sound like a total newb!

  • "Walkie Check"

Translation: "Can anyone hear me?"

When to use: This is the first thing you'll say after you receive your walkie.

Why: This tests to make sure your walkie is both transmitting and receiving a signal.

  • "Good Check"

Translation: "I hear you loud and clear."

When to use: When responding to a request for walkie check.

Why: This lets everyone know they have a working walkie.

  • "[Name] to [Name]"

Translation: "[Name], this message is for you."

When to use: When calling to a specific person.

Why: This let's the receiver know to listen and also identifies who is calling them.

  • "Go for [Name]."

Translation: "I'm ready to hear the message."

When to use: In response to being called on in the previous command.

Why: Sometimes we get busy on set and can't listen to a message. This lets them know that you are available to receive the info.

  • "Standby"

Translation: "I'm busy. Please hold."

When to use: When you are busy with another task and cannot listen to a message.

Why: This lets the sender know you are currently preoccupied, but will let them know when you are available.

  • "Standing By"

Translation: "Ok - I'll hold." or "Waiting for further instruction."

When to use: When responding to a "Stand By" command.

Why: It's simply good walkie etiquette to let the sender know you heard the message.

  • "10-1"

Translation: "I have to pee."

When to use: When you are taking a bathroom break for number 1.

Why: The production manager should always know where you are and what you are doing in case he needs to find a replacement while you're in the bathroom.

  • "10-2"

Translation: "I have to poop."

When to use: When you are taking a bathroom break for number 2.

Why: This might seem like a TMI situation, but it helps the PM gauge how long you will be and whether or not he needs a replacement for your post.

  • "10-4" or "Copy"

Translation: "I understand what you said."

When to use: After any instruction or command given to you.

Why: Acknowledgement of information received is proper walkie etiquette.

  • "20"

Translation: "Location."

When to use: Used when asking for someone's location. (i.e. "Matty, what's your 20?")

Why: This is just standard radio code that all industries have adopted to shorten communication.

  • "Go Again"

Translation: "Can you repeat, please?"

When to use: When you didn't hear something fully and need the message to be repeated. Use this sparingly. PMs hate having to repeat themselves.

Why: So, why not "10-9"? No reason. You can say either. In my experience, "go again" is more widely used in production than "10-9."

  • "On It."

Translation: "I'm working on it currently."

When to use: Only use this response when you are actually working on your directive (not as you're walking towards your task or when you've merely added it to your list).

Why: When you say "on it," it sets the expectation that the task will be completed shortly.

  • "Eye on..."

Translation: "Do you see...?"

When to use: When asking if anyone sees something or someone.

Why: It's just standard shorthand that simplifies communications.

  • "Take it to [channel]."

Translation: "Switch to [specific] channel."

When to use: When you need to give long or need-to-know instructions to specific people only.

Why: No one likes a long message buzzing in their ear, especially when it's not for them.

  • "Flying In."

Translation: "I'm coming in with what you requested."

When to use: When you've been asked to bring something and you have it ready. Only use when appropriate. For example, don't fly into set while filming is happening!

Why: This lets everyone know that someone will be entering an area with the requested item.

  • "Spin That."

Translation: "Tell the crew on all channels."

When to use: Usually reserved for the Production Coordinator or Key PA who will communicate a message to all production staff on all channels.

Why: Some production staff will communicate on different channels, since their functions are specific to the department.

  • "Lock It Up."

Translation: "Don't let anyone through."

When to use: When you are about to film or shoot and need to close entrances to any foot traffic.

Why: As a PA, you may sometimes be stationed at entrances to set and will be in charge of regulating foot traffic during filming.

  • "Kill..."

Translation: "Turn [it] off."

When to use: When turning off machinery, lights, etc.

Why: Again, this is just production walkie shorthand to simplify communications.

Production Talk

Like walkie lingo, production terminology is a language all its own and must be learned by any aspiring production professional. Take a look at some of the most important and commonly used words and phrases heard on set below!

  • Abby

Translation: Second to last shot of the day.

Description: Named after famed 1st AD, Abner E. "Abby" Singer, who famously called the second to last shot to give his crews ample time to start breaking down. (Source: Wikipedia Abby Singer).

  • Base Camp

Translation: An area where all of the trailers and staging areas are.

Description: Some shoot locations have capacity limits that require base camps to be located remotely and accessed via shuttle. Sometimes base camps can be located in a central area on location, as well and will be where all departments are set up and staged throughout the day.

  • Bogies

Translation: Unwanted people in the shot (typically pedestrians).

Description: When shooting in public spaces, this is a common occurrence. Some productions do pay for traffic control by off-duty police officers, but many will simply wait until the bogie is out of frame or use PAs to regulate pedestrian traffic.

  • Call Sheet

Translation: Your Production Bible.

Description: This sheet (often many sheets) will contain everything you need to know about that day's shoot, including call times, shoot location, base camp location, parking information, schedules and rosters. If shooting multiple days, it's typical for a new call sheet to be created for each day.

  • Crafty

Translation: Snacks and non-catering food items on set.

Description: Depending on the scope of the shoot, crafty will be handled by a dedicated craft services professional or by a PA. When choosing snacks and drinks for the day, it's very important to consider your crew's needs. For example, make sure you have enough water to account for 5 bottles per person (7, if a warm day). Also, consider any food allergies or dietary preferences (i.e. gluten-free, vegan, etc).

  • Fire Watch

Translation: Keep an eye on a piece of equipment temporarily for the crew member normally tasked with watching it.

Description: This is generally for gennys and lights. You'll only be asked to do this if the crew member needs to break for a meal or bathroom break.

If you are unsure about how something works or what the procedure is in case of fire, ask the designated tech or your production manager. Safety first!

  • Hold Time

Translation: Reservation time without confirming.

Description: As you start to get on more and more Production Manager radars, you will be asked to hold specific dates for possible productions. This simply means the PM would like to make a soft reservation on those dates with the option to cancel without penalty.

NOTE: If you are confirmed for a shoot and it gets cancelled, you may be entitled to recoup a portion of your day rate multiplied by the number of days confirmed.

  • Hot Points

Translation: "I'm carrying something long and pointy. Watch out!"

Description: Always use this when carrying long and dangerous items on set to avoid injury. If you hear this behind you, move out of the way!

  • Load-in / Load-out

Translation: Load-in occurs at the start of the day and load-out is at the end.

Description: This is crunch time on set. Any delays during load-in can set the shoot back irreversibly, leading to OT (overtime). Similarly, load-out time can be affected by whether or not there were delays during load-in or the shoot itself. Load-out time shortages can easily be mitigated, however, with careful planning.

For example, when you hear the 1st AD or Producer yell "We're on the Abby!" you know you can start gathering up and breaking down non-essential items to stack neatly for load-out. NOTE: Do get approval from your PM on which items to start prepping. You don't want to accidentally pack something that is still needed!

  • Martini Shot

Translation: The last shot of the day!

Description: Appropriately named as the completion of a shoot is often marked by celebratory drinks afterwards! This is when you should really kick your load-out prep into high gear. Most items will no longer be needed, especially at base camp. Feel free to start tearing down all tables, chairs, EZ Ups, racks, etc.

  • Props

Translation: Short for "Property," these are physical items used in shots and can be anything from a table to a person!

Description: Except for any living props, the Art Department has full control over the staging and management of Props, but you may be asked to help out if needed.

  • Tail Lights

Translation: Everyone and everything must be gone at this time.

Description: This means the last tail light of the last person must be leaving at this moment. Some locations have strict time restrictions on shooting. It's important that everyone is off property at this time, as they can result in financial penalties.

  • Talent

Translation: Any person on set who will be on camera.

Description: Talent are treated like VIP on set because it's very important that they look good and perform well on set.

Talent can be anyone from actors, models and sometimes celebrities.

It's important to use discretion around these people and refrain from taking any candid photos of them on set, especially if they are with or are wearing product!

  • Transpo

Translation: Short for transportation.

Description: As a PA, you may be asked to transpo equipment or people to and from a location. This is generally done by van or sprinter.

If you are shuttling people, your personal car can be used, but it's important to be comfortable driving larger vehicles.

Remember some states require additional licensing for certain vehicle sizes and truck loads. Check with your local DMV for more information on this.

Gear List

In this section we're going to talk about the gear list on a typical set. Before we begin, I need you to relax. I'm not going to go through every piece of equipment on set. That would be nuts. I just want to familiarize you with some of the basic items that you are likely to encounter.

Remember, if you are on set and charged with transporting or operating any of these items and are unsure of how to safely do so, consult with either the Best Boy, Gaffer, Key Grip or Production Manager. Safety is first on EVERY set.

A-Clamp

These are handy-dandy clamps that are often used by the Grip department to keep builds together. They are also used often in production to bind V-Flats and other items.

A-Clamps come in various sizes.

Apple Box

An apple box is a wooden box that is used to give gear a slight lift, to sit on or anything else you can think of. Although they are very sturdy, I wouldn't recommend standing on them.

They generally come in five sizes: Full, 1/2, 1/4 and pancake.

Walkies

Bricks are another word for walkie talkies.

Hot Brick: walkie that is charging.

Cold Brick: walkie that is dead / not working.

“B-Roll”

B-Roll video footage is secondary to the principal photography or video being shot. It's often run by a second B-Roll crew.

This footage used to be reserved for behind the scenes shots, but has since expanded into carefully plotted stories for various promotional activities.

C-Stands

Stands that support lights or other equipment on set that are adjustable in height. The legs spread apart and collapse for easy transpo.

If mounting a heavy light on a C-Stand, it's important to weigh the base down with sand bags.

Cube Truck

Cube is a nickname for a box truck that transpos equipment, gear and props to and from set.

Generally each department will have its own cube depending on the size and scope. As a PA, you may be asked to drive one of these as long as it's within the scope of your state-issued driver's license.

Cyclorama

Short for cyclorama. These are generally white stages with curved walls that give the appearance of an infinite background.

Cycs are expensive to repair, so be careful while on one. Because they are white, footprints and scuffs are very visible. Be sure to wear protective booties on set to avoid this.

Director's Chair

These are collapsible chairs with cloth seating and backing. Don't let the name fool you, these are not reserved for Directors only!

They are ideal because they come in both a low and high sizes. Departments like hair and digital prefer high chairs, while makeup prefers low.

EZ Up

These are collapsible canopy tents that are generally fairly easy to assemble. They may come with or without wall flap attachments as well.

Because of their lightweight construction, it's important to weigh these down on the cross beams with sandbags. Watch out for those pinch points as well!

Genny

Genny is short for generator. Generators come in a variety of sizes and outputs, from small handheld putt-putts to huge, tractor trailer ones.

Gennys typically run on gasoline and produce both noise and fumes. Therefore they often require special care and permitting.

Honeywagon

Don't let the name fool you, these are not "sweet and delicious" wagons. These are portable restrooms. Honeywagons typically refer to large, semi-truck driven restroom units.

Depending on the size of the crew and location restrictions, a honeywagon might be mandatory on set.

Layout Board

Layout Board is the biggest pain in the butt you'll face on set. It's large, rectangular pieces of cardboard that are used to cover and protect delicate flooring.

Seems simple, but they're a pain to carry and even harder to lay flat. Be prepared to actually tape the ends to each other to prevent slipping and sliding.

MoHo

Moho is short for Motorhome. Neat, right? Mohos are usually stationed at base camp and provide a staging area for hair, makeup and wardrobe (inside), as well as catering, craft and production (outside).

Mohos will always come with their own driver and operator, so don't worry about having to drive one of these beasts.

Rollers

Rollers come in various sizes and are wheeled, adjustable stands used by both the Grip and Gaffer to modify lights and other related builds.

Depending on the size, these can be extremely heavy and have serious pinch points. Be careful when operating and moving. And don't forget to set the brakes on those wheels!

Rolling Rack

These are collapsible wardrobe racks on wheels used by wardrobe and art department to store and transport their respective props.

Be careful here too. These have even more pinch points than rollers AND EZ Ups.

Seamless

Seamless is paper that comes on a long roll, often suspended on a pole and two rollers to produce the same effect as a cyc. Sometimes studio-type shots need to be done on location. Seamless is used as a makeshift studio.

Just like a cyc, it's good to follow best practices and wear booties when stepping on the paper.

Sprinter

Sprinter is a nickname for a passenger or cargo van. They typically fit 12 to 15 passengers and / or gear and are much easier to drive than a cube.

You should be very comfortable driving a larger vehicle like this, as this is the most commonly driven vehicle by PAs.

Steamers

This is a simple wardrobe steamer that requires water and electricity and typically used by both the wardrobe and art departments.

These take a lot of juice and have been known to blow circuits in the past. It's probably good practice to not have too many steamers running continuously on one breaker. Spread the love!

Stinger

Stinger is a nickname for an extension cord.

On set you'll typically see 25- or 50-foot stingers being used.

Stingers can create dangerous trip points. Be sure to properly secure and cover any stingers that cross defined walkways.

Strip

Strip is short for power strip.

These are a hot-ticket item as everyone is always looking for a little recharge on their personal electronics. Make sure to have a few handy and spread out on set for people to use.

V Flat

These are essentially two foam core boards (black and white sides) that are bound together like a book. They are used to block and reflect light, depending on which side is visible.

They have a million other uses though, including creating makeshift changing rooms, posting shot lists and acting as shot backgrounds.

Roles

Everyone on set has a specific function, including you. Knowing your role as well as where you fit into the overall structure is very important.

It is also important to note that not every production will have the same hierarchy, which will become more apparent as you gain more experience on set.

Typically, however, you'll see something along the lines of this structure:

As you may have guessed, Clients are absolutely at the top of the food chain on any set. They override the Producer, Production Manager and Photographer. We are all there to bring their vision to life.

The term "Clients" is an all encompassing word for anyone who works for the company that is financing and directing the shoot. There are definitely different roles with the client's ranks that you should be aware of as well.

The highest in command I've seen on a commercial shoot was the Vice President in charge of Marketing.

This is the person who essentially manages all marketing activities and likely plays the largest role in the implementation and financing of the project. This person is production royalty!

Next in line is the Creative Director. This person is likely the brains and vision behind the theme and feel of the production. They have spent hours creating inspiration boards and are expecting the team to exactly replicate the thoughts in their head.

The CD will also work closely with the VP of Marketing with regards to branding strategies and campaign feasibility within the scope of the business context.

This person tends to fall on the creative spectrum of the board and therefore will have little interest in logistics or financing, unless it directly relates to the workability of their vision.

This person is also in charge of the creative aesthetics, but that's it.

Sometimes there is no AD and only a CD. Sometimes vice versa. Either way, this person is ALSO production royalty.

A little lower down the list is the Marketing Manager who is likely the manager of the particular brand being shot. This person has the most intimate understanding of the particular brand, especially with regard to overall company strategy.

Lowest on the totem pole is the Marketing Coordinator, but make no mistake: this person won't be there for long. Marketing Coordinators tend to climb the ranks quite quickly, so don't be surprised if this person becomes the head honcho in a few years!

Sometimes the longevity of your relationship with a brand depends on your ability to continually foster relationships with the lowest ranking members of the organization (especially the ambitious and talented ones).

The Photographer's job is to translate the clients' vision into a finished product by blending technical skill with an artistic eye. Careful consideration goes into selecting a photographer for a project and is heavily dependent on her/his portfolio and experience.

The Photog is directly responsible for managing his team, including assistants, grip, gaffer and digital.

The Digi Tech is directly tethered (by wire or wirelessly) to the photog and produces real-time edits to images being streamed to the station. The Digi Tech is also in charge of accurately filing images, per the clients' file naming convention.

This is an extremely technical position. This person will be highly specialized in digital photography, digital manipulation, file formats and hardware troubleshooting.

Not all Photo Assistants are equal. There is a hierarchy within the assistant ranks.

The First Assistant is the photog's right-hand and will generally have a lot of experience working with the photog. He / she is usually directly responsible for lighting set ups and managing the other photo assistants.

This position requires a high-level understanding of digital photography, lighting and grip set ups. First Assistants are likely up-and-coming photographers themselves.

2nd and 3rd (and even 4th) assistants are generally less experienced but may also have a desire to eventually become photographers as well.

This role is the chief electrician on set. She / he will be responsible for executing and even planning lighting set ups for the entire shoot. This role generally requires the person to be a licensed electrician due to the high-risk nature of the job.

The Best Boy is the Gaffer's assistant. The Best Boy will take over a lot of the operational and day-to-day management, including the hiring, scheduling and management of the electrical crew. This person will also ensure that all safety protocols are followed.

This person is in charge of supporting the camera department by building mounts and rigs for non-electrical equipment (union jobs). In non-union jobs, the lines definitely get blurred a little and there might be one person that fulfills both Gaffer and Grip.

Like the Best Boy for the Gaffer, this one supports the Key Grip with operational management of day-to-day activities. This person manages all grip PAs, as well as the suppliers and ensures safety at all times.

This is the head honcho of your department, Mr. or Ms./Mrs. PA. The PM's job includes planning and organizing production schedules, negotiating rates and hiring crew, estimating costs and overseeing the overall production process.

Everyone in the production department is essentially under the PM's direct supervision.

The location manager has likely been a part of the scouting process from day 1 and will be in charge of managing logistics on property, including site reps, deliveries and enforcing property rules.

The site rep is the location manager's direct enforcer of property rules. Sometimes the Site Rep is an employee of the LM and sometimes an employee of the property itself. Other times, the rep could be from a permitting agency or even a government office.

The Production Coordinator is the right-hand of the PM. This person runs the day-to-day operations, coordinating with the crew, locations, permitting offices and suppliers. The PC will also manage daily budgets and production schedules.

On some sets you will report directly to the PC.

Just as it is in the photography department, there is a hierarchy with PAs. The Key PA will likely be the one to receive direct instructions from the PM or PC, who will then spin it to the remaining PAs. This person likely has a lot of experience on set and is gearing up for a transition to a PC role.

Crafty is a role that could be fulfilled by a PA or hired out to a third party vendor. This person is in charge of supplying all non-catering food and drink on set.

This person must take special care to ensure the needs of the crew are met. For example, on a hot day, an average crew member might consume 7-10 bottles of water or a large percent of the crew is vegan or gluten-free. The snacks must reflect these needs without going over budget.

Runners could be designated PAs or a third party vendor. This person will run errands for supply, crafty replenishments and will typically do the coffee run.

These are vendors that provide services like catering, couriers, production equipment rentals, etc. It's likely they will not be on set for the entirety of the day - just load-in and load-out. These activities are carefully managed by the PM and PC.

This role, sometimes called Prop or Set Stylist, is in charge of procuring all the sets and non-wearable props for a production. They have to have a strong eye for interior and exterior designs, colors and textures.

The Set Dec, short for Set Decorator, is the key's main assistant and will be in charge of actually styling live sets. In some cases, the Set Dec will be delegated the responsibility of sourcing and renting scenery and props for a production.

The builders are generally skilled craftsman who are hired to build sets, backdrops and stages for a production. They must be very experienced with both wood and metalwork, as well as the safety protocols for each.

Art PAs are like any other PA, except for the art department specifically. They will assist with prepping props and scenery for shots, building and running errands for the Key Stylist or Set Dec.

The Key Wardrobe Stylist is in charge or sourcing all wearable props through a mixture of rentals and purchases / returns. This person must have a keen sense of fashion and the ability to manifest a clients' vision through proper wardrobe selections.

If required, a Key Wardrobe Stylist will hire a tailor to perform any last minute alterations to clothing based on the Talent's sizing.

Wardrobe PAs are there to support the Key Wardrobe Stylist. Duties may include steaming / ironing clothing, cataloging items by shot, unpacking and packing props and running errands as needed.

This is the main hair artist on set. Usually he or she will receive directives from the client on the look and feel of the shoot. Hair artists are carefully scrutinized prior to hiring for any shoot based on portfolio and experience.

If the Talent list is large enough, the hair stylist may be permitted to hire one or more assistants to help him/her on set.

Like the hair artist, the Makeup Artist is carefully selected based on portfolio and experience. He / she will also receive instructions from the client on what they're looking for.

If the Talent is large enough, the makeup artist may be permitted to hire one or more assistants to help him / her on set.


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