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August 2017 | Georgie McGahey

If you want to work on set as a runner, then you will be looking to become part of the AD team. The days can be long but you will be in the thick of the action from the get go!

If you like the idea of starting a career in the Assistant Directors Department, your first step is learning how to become a floor runner.

Floor runners - or set PAs if you are working on a big budget studio production - are team players, people movers, direction givers, information providers, tea makers and the foot soldiers of any film set. Great runners are never short of work, and in a small industry, your reputation can allow you to jump seamlessly from production to production.  

So here are MFJF top ten tips for working as a floor runner …

1. If you don’t understand ask. Being a PA means you are new to the world of filmmaking, no one will mind if you seek clarification. This advice is particularly relevant when you first start out. Jargon will be bandied about and it's easy to feel self conscious when you don't know what's being asked of you. An AD’s bark will be worse than their bite but  make sure you are not asking the same thing over and over again - they will be less tolerant.

2. Write everything down. You can also be swamped with requests, each as vital as the other and if you drop the ball the AD’s will not be happy. Take a notepad a pencil, do not write these actions on your phone, it will look like you’re texting - a major no-no.

3. Always be ready. Listen to conversations from senior crew members on the production channel (don’t be tempted to click over to the private channel) of the walkie or on set. You need to be prepared to move or lend a hand when the crew are setting up or breaking down the next set up.

4. Turn off your phone as soon as you get to set … but don’t forget to turn it on again if you are sent on an errand. Make sure your phone is off, not on silent or vibrate as it can mess with the audio if the Sound Department are using radio mics. One of the most frequent criticisms of new runners is their reluctance to leave their phones in their bags, don't let this scorn be directed at you!

5. Get a PA kit. Most PA’s who have worked on a variety of jobs carry a basic kit with them of things they may need on set or on location. These consist of:

  • Policeman's notebook (perfect for the back pocket).
  • Sharpie. The industries favourite permanent marker, to be fair any permanent marker would do.
  • Biro and pencil.
  • Mobile phone charger.
  • If you are wearing clothes that make it hard to carry a walkie, carry a belt in you bag for these situations.
  • When you collect your walkie take a spare battery also. Having a spare battery on you at all times is essential, either for you or another crew member whose walkie dies.
  • Light waterproofs that you can stuff into your bag.
  • Multitool, such as a Gerber or Leatherman.
  • Hand Wipes/Hand Sanitiser.
  • Masking tape.
  • Gaffa tape.
  • Torch.
  • Tray - to keep in the back of the car for carrying multiple drinks.  

6. Learn how to correctly wrap a cable. If you are unsure how to wrap a cable correctly ask the camera trainee/assistant, or a member of the lighting or sound department. Make sure you have been asked first and if you are using your elbow, then you are doing it wrong!

7. Deal with members of the public. If you are working on location and locking off an area, you may meet members of the public who are unwilling to stop their activities for filming. Remember to be polite even if they are forcibly rude. If you have permission for filming and production have provided alternative means of access, then there is not much else you can do, sadly this can be part of the job.

8. Learn names and more importantly learn what the owners of those names do. Know the job titles, and their nicknames. This is where your coffee runs can come in handy, you will be connecting names and faces and if you’re lucky a few people may learn yours too.

9. Be busy. The sad truth is no one likes to see a PA sitting down whilst other people are working. Even if it is a break, you should be providing drinks and passing around the biscuits. Always ask if you can help but also take the initiative when it comes to making work for yourself. If in doubt tidy something up, or rearrange the craft services/snack table.

10. Clothes. Always make sure you are wearing clothing you can attach your walkie to, dresses or jumpsuits may pose a problem. Make sure you have a belt in your kit or in the back of the car. You may notice crew clothes seem to favour certain brands but don’t feel you have to have that particular brand of fleece to keep warm.

You will often be at the mercy of the elements on location so make sure you have some study waterproof shoes and a coat to keep you dry and warm. That works for summer also, sunscreen and a hat are vital. It won't take you long to realise that working a studio doesn't exactly offer comfort. Some studios can be glacial during the winter and hotter than the sun over summer. So make sure you are prepared for all eventualities!

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