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Hey, clearly, I am Mister down and dirty when it comes to production, I believe in doing whatever you gotta do to get the shot, and finish a project but I draw a clear, and distinct line when it comes to safety on set. Stealing a location or risking arrest is one thing, but risking your own or anyone else's personal safety for the sake of a short film or even a very well paying feature or commercial. Is just plain dumb, and when serious accidents happen, it's never worth the shot.
So I want to give you my tips to stay clear of this scenario, and always practice safe sense. Tip number one, think it through. A fan once sent me a picture of some gorilla filmmakers she saw on the side of the road. That are the very essence of what I don't believe in. These film making fools were 100 feet off the ground on the wrong side of the highway overpass, and completely unsecured by a tether, safety chain, and apparently also unsecured by common sense. Let me be clear here.
This type of stuff is not down and dirty, it's just plain dumb. I really can't put it any other way. Your camera, and your brain should always be fully engaged at the same time when it comes to film making. So tip number one is think it through. Tip number two, is slow it down. The pressure on a film set can be tremendous when the dollars are ticking away or an expensive piece of equipment is due back at the rental house, you're about to lose that last bit of golden sunlight, or the lead actor has to leave in two hours to catch a plane.
These are the panic times. Bad things are more likely to happen when everyone is tense and rushing to get things done. The best film makers panic only on the inside. So take a deep breath, and mentally, if not physically slow down the pace long enough to make sure that everyone, and everything is still safe. Because if they aren't, you still won't get the shot. Plus you'll have a whole new set of problems to deal with. So slow it down. Tip number three, always keep a first aid kit on set.
Even in the safest of environments, little accidents can, and will happen, cuts, bruises, burns and such. When these things do happen, be prepared with the basic supplies to take care of the people who take care of you, your talent and crew. When a gaffer slices his palm trying to set up a light for your scene, it's so much classier and caring to have a large band-aid and some neosporin on hand than to have the poor girl walking around the rest of the shoot with a blood-soaked paper towel held on by a piece of gaffer's tape. Apart from bandages and standard medical supplies like rubbing alcohol to clean, and treat basic wounds, you'll also want to stock things like instant hot and cold packs.
Bengay, tweezers, gauze, aspirin or ibuprofen lots of it, cold and allergy medicine and relief for upset stomaches. Basically, anything you keep in your medicine cabinet, you'll probably also want to get in your First Aid Kit. You can get a fully stocked first aid kit from any drug store or pharmacy, and they don't cost that much. So have a first aid kit is tip number three. Tip number four, put up signs, rope it off, and mark the danger spots.
Another simple thing you can do is to put up signs in big, bold print on bright colored paper. On and around everything on set that's a potential danger. Warning, do not plug lights into this outlet. Watch your step. Please stay off balcony. Do not cover generator with anything. Any sign like this is perfect. A safety sign can not be big, and obnoxious enough in my opinion. Although they went out of fashion in the' 80s,. Neon colors are always in fashion when it comes to safety.
Use bright, obnoxious neon pink, yellow, and green tape, and paper signs to clearly note areas of caution, and to catch people's eye. Similarly, from any big box hardware store, you can purchase some iconic yellow caution tape, that has the word caution printed on every inch to rope off areas of the set that you want to keep people away from. If a potentially dangerous area does need to be accessed, limit access only to those crew members who need to deal with it directly, such as grips or gaffers.
So that's tip number four. Tip number five, Know where the nearest hospital is. The producer or AD on set is normally responsible for this standard precaution. Knowing how to get to the nearest hospital or emergency room, is as simple as doing a Google Map search. Equally important is knowing the fastest route to get there. For a serious emergency, you may have to decide which is faster, driving versus calling an ambulance. Having the hospital's address already punched into your production vehicle's GPS unit.
Or having a driver that already knows their way will save you those extra excruciating minutes of trying to punch in the address, and make navigation decisions while someone in your passenger seat needs urgent medical care. So that's tip number five. Know where the hospital is. Tip number six, is make sure you have phone service. While we're speaking of hospitals and ambulances, you should be very wary and extra cautious of shooting at any remote location with no phone service at all. The ability to be able to call 911 and get emergency medical help on set within minutes is not one that you want to ever be without.
In the very worse case accident scenarios, the inability to make a quick phone call can become a life or death situation. You need to have a full medical emergency plan, and know all the nearest emergency healthcare providers, and the hours of operation when you're shooting in remote and isolated places. It would also be wise to let those emergency care providers, i.e, paramedics, fire department, et cetera. Know exactly where you'll be shooting before hand, so they can quickly get to your remote location if there is an unexpected emergency.
And all film set emergencies are always unexpected, but they should never be unprepared for. Tip number seven, secure everything. Wherever possible all heavy equipment should be safely secured in place, so that it does not fall over or onto someone. Securing things is not only a safety issue. But also an equipment issue. Equipment that's not held in place is more prone to getting dropped, broken, or knocked over accidentally. By secure everything, I mean put sandbags on lights and c-stands.
Always double check the security of your tripod and tripod plate. Make sure any overhead lights are securely fastened down, or have safety chains or wires as well. If your tripod has spreader legs at the bottom, sandbag those too. If someone needs to climb a ladder, the ladder should be secured in place by another crew member. In other words I mean secure everything. Tip number eight, have a safety briefing. Whenever you shoot, whatever you shoot, you should take a few minutes to make sure that the entire crew, from the bottom to the top, has been briefed on basic safety concerns for the day.
This doesn't have to be a special safety meeting, per se, you can just set aside a few minutes during your normal pre-shoot briefing with the talent and crew. You do normally do a pre-shoot briefing with the talent and crew, right? Well the AD producer, or director during this meeting should brief everyone on safety concerns with any specific props scenes or vehicles. How to navigate or avoid any dangerous areas on location. And we should talk about any dangerous equipment lights or rigging on set. And similarly, tip number nine, is make sure that everybody knows what's up.
If you're doing a stunt or dealing with any unusual scenario, prop or vehicle, such as using a helicopter, staging a Samurai sword fight or a gun battle, shooting on a boat or rigging a camera car. Or anything else out of the norm with potential safety implications. Make sure that everyone on set, from the production assistant, to the talent, to the trash service people know exactly what the screen is going to entail. Who will be involved. When it will happen. And, how everyone else can stay out of harms way.
Tip number 10, avoid the untrained, inexperienced, and incompetent. When it comes to dangerous equipment and activities on set, there should always be an experienced professional, who routinely deals with any of those types of props. Equipment, vehicles or stunts on set, whenever these riskier scenes are scheduled. People who are untrained, inexperienced and incompetent with specialty props equipment, vehicles or physical stunts are a big potential liability for injury. And even lawsuits when all the dust clears.
If you feel like you have no choice but to have someone with little or no experience handle something on set that is potentially dangerous. I strongly recommend that you both do as much homework as possible on the subject matter, and try to get some sort of training session with a professional before hand. If you can't arrange for some one on one guidance by a professional. At least make sure you've taken the time to consult someone with previous experience in the issues at hand. Even a 20 minute phone consultation with someone who's already been there and done that successfully could save you immeasurable amounts of unforseen.
An unfamiliar trouble on set, and help to protect your crew from potential danger. Also, be honest and straight forward with everyone on set about any possible risks that you think they could incur. Everyone needs to be 100% comfortable and OK with anything they're asked to do on set. And if they aren't, it's a clear indication that what you're asking for probably shouldn't be done or should be completely rethought, replanned, or reconceived instead. Trust your instincts. If it doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't right.
So go back to the drawing board until you can figure out how to do it safely or if it should even be attempted at all. Many times there are simple solutions involving editing, sound effects and camera angles that can be used to great effect to sell a shot visually without incurring any real risk physically. So those are my top 10 safety tips. Remember, no shot is worth your physical safety. Above all, we want to get the shot, but we also want to keep it safe.
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