This article is all about eavesdropping.
‘Wait, did you say eavesdropping?’
‘Yes, I did’
‘But isn’t that morally wrong?’
Ok. So sometimes (most of the time) this is actually frowned upon in many cultures, especially in western society. On set, however, this can be a different story, and sometimes it is actually essential to getting the job done.
On a film set there are many little things going on at once. Usually the line of communication starts with the director and eventually trickles down the pipes to the necessary parties.
If you have been on set you would know it’s important to keep quiet, stick to your role and do what you have to do to get your job done, and get it done well.
I would like to let you in on a little secret. You can make your supervisors think you are a mind reader.
Here is a step by step process on how to eavesdrop and in turn, convince your superiors that you are actually taking initiative. (I mean you are, but…)
Picture this: You’re a camera operator. You are on your way to set. You have 10 minutes to spare (or 20, plan for 20). You stop by a local cafe - not McCafe because their coffee tastes like charcoal and blood. You get a coffee for yourself and maybe one for the DP because then he is sure to be impressed with your initiative skills. Drink your coffee. Give the other cup to your DP.
This is an obvious step. BUT. Stay in ear-shot of the DP and/or Director. Pretend you’re focussing on setting up - which you are - but use your ears at the same time. Listen to what they are saying about the shots of the day.
As soon as you hear something along the lines of: “*mumble* *mumble* ....poolside…. *mumble* …. wide…east” You have a pretty good idea of the spot in which you are filming as well as the type of shot that it is. Meanwhile you can let your AC know what type of lens you are using and how to set up the shot etc.
The DP will come to you and ask you to set up a Wide Shot of the pool facing the east and then realise you’ve already done it. He will either clap twice or three times depending on his personality.
The less you talk, the more you can concentrate on eavesdropping on your superiors. You may not be a part of their conversation but unless they’ve purposely hidden themselves from everyone for a private conversation you’ve got the inside scoop. It’s like gossip, but not destructive.
Besides step 1. You shouldn’t have to drink a cup of coffee before every shot as you might have a heart attack and be dead by lunch time.
If you have an AC that likes to ask all the obvious questions, then maybe it’s about time you tell him to follow your example and open his ears instead of his mouth.
...and mail it to JJ Abrams.