Why volunteer on a film set?

When you go to film school or have friends in film school, why should you volunteer your time? I mean, they're not paying you...

Here's why:

1. The People

Every set brings a new group of filmmakers who love movies just as much as you do. This is where you get to discuss movies until you're exhausted without boring non-film people.

Personalities tend to be incredibly different but most have a sense of humor you can relate to. My last set was called "The Case of the Missing Garden Gnome." Throughout our first day of shooting, we tried to come up with other names for the film. I came up with "Sherlock Gnomes." Someone else said, "No Country for Old Gnome." You get the point...

USC sets tend to have a good combination of work and play. I'd rather be on a USC set than in an office!

2. Your Job

You may just be a Production Assistant (PA) but you are just as valuable as the main crew...if not more! On my last set, it was incredibly hot outside, so one of the PA's would continuously run to the store for ice. He didn't have the most glamorous job, but he kept the entire crew from heat stroke. Definitely a very valuable person!

You may be a grip with grip & electric. These are the people who light a set. I frequently worked as a grip in my early film years and had to learn the gear real fast. Ask questions. If you come across as someone who wants to learn, then the crew will be accommodating. Don't ask too many questions, though, try to learn by watching. Once you have a handle on the names of gear (most grip truck equipment has a food name), offer to go to the grip truck to get the gear. That way, the G&E crew knows they can trust and rely on you. They may even bring you back on future gigs...and those future gigs may pay!

3. The Food

It's free and there's a lot of it. I am a master at peeling tangerine's thanks to film sets. You have to be smart, though, and pick the tangerine and water over the abundant chips, Twizzlers and soda. I rarely drink Coca-Cola; but, when I'm on a set, it's a must have!

4. The Lunch Break

Usually the food is fantastic. Producers know that a happy crew is a hard-working crew, and all we need is good food (well...and money but we're talking about volunteering for your friends here).

The lunch break is where everyone jokes about the morning 6 hours of shooting and prepares themselves for the other 6 hours of shooting.

**Did the director pronounce a word wrong? This is a great time to make fun of them. Try to incorporate that word into conversation as much as possible. A crew bonds better when they know they can tease the director. But not too much, the director still needs to feel supported by their crew!

**Did an actor interpret a direction entirely wrong? This is a great opportunity to act it out while eating that plate of fajitas; but not in front of the actor, they need to keep thinking they are perfect!

This is the best time to get to know everyone on set. The grip kids tend to eat in their grip trucks. So hang out there or at the lunch tables, depending on who you want to get to know.

5. The Final Shooting Day

First of all, wear a tie. I have a necklace tie, so that goes with the tradition and it's pretty! When the Assistant Director yells out "That's a Wrap!" the whole crew screams and hugs. It's like graduation from high school or college. You're saying goodbye to people you got incredibly close to for 2 weeks to 3 months, and the thought of not seeing them everyday is pretty sad. My crew on "Crushing Violet" was hands down the best set I have ever been on. We always had a blast and we were a family.

6. The Wrap Party

This is when the director gets super sentimental and thanks his or her crew for all of their hard work on the film's vision. Usually the production or director pays for the wrap party. USC films are tough, though, because the director has most likely spent all of their money on the movie.

Everyone comes showered and in clean clothes (unlike production) and we drink to our set days. This is a perfect time to act out funny events from the shoot, or show a talent you couldn't show on set. For example, your magic skills. See below at our "Gnome" wrap party.


2nd Assistant Director: Samm Schectman
1st Assistant Director: Matt Breault
1st Assistant Camera: Lance Kuhns
Wardrobe Assistant: Chin Onglatco

So -- VOLUNTEER your time and take it seriously. These people will hire you in the future if you prove to be a great asset on set.

2 Responses

  1. Hi! i’m currently a highschool senior getting ready to apply to USC’s school of cinematics! I was feeling really overwhelmed with the whole application process, but I read your blog and you inspired me! I cant wait to make my application film and hopefully i’ll get in! Any tips for a young beginner like me? Any tips will be helpful! I’ll be sure to come back and visit!

    (: Thanks! and goodluck with everything!

  2. So great to hear, Jackie! I’m glad you want to join the SCA crew.

    Any tips? Be truthful. None of us really know what they look for in an application. So just be yourself! Why do you really want to be in the film industry? Why do you want to tell stories? I have a few blog posts about applying, so check those out.

    Good luck!