“If you’re on time, you’re late.” I had this saying drilled into me early in my film career. The saying raises an interesting question: if on-time is late, then how early is on-time? You can be anything you want in the film industry, as long as you’re not late. Showing up to set late is a cardinal sin, more so than in most other industries.
Film work differs from other professions in its emphasis on teamwork. You’re not showing up to an office, doing your work, and going home independently. When you’re on set, everybody there is working toward the goal of getting the day’s work finished so you can all go home. With the exception of a few positions, nobody leaves until all the work is completed and production calls wrap. If you aren’t pulling your weight, you’re slowing down the day and delaying the end of the day.
Think about how that delay effects your fellow crewmembers. Think about the electrician who desperately wants to be home in time to tuck his kids in before they fall asleep. Think about the costumer who’s running on two hours of sleep because of a last-minute wardrobe change. If you’re late and slowing down production, you’re making their lives more difficult. The only way to keep production moving in your absence is for someone else in your department to pick up the slack. Now that person is doing two jobs, theirs and yours.
Being late is a surefire way to ensure you don’t get called back on a project. So, you may be asking, how early should you get to set in order to maximize your productivity? In my experience, you should aim to land at crew parking forty-five minutes before your call. Forty-five minutes may sound aggressively early but, especially if you’re day-playing, you’ll need all of that time at the beginning of your day.
The first and most obvious reason to show up so early is to negate the variable of traffic. Commute times vary wildly depending on call time, time of day, location, and other variables. If you don’t build that variance into your drive time, you leave yourself at the mercy of the traffic gods. Living in a major metropolitan area like LA, you’ll sometimes find yourself extremely delayed. If you’ve built in a time buffer to ensure you arrive at set on time, you’ll save yourself an incredibly stressful morning in the car.
The second reason to arrive to set forty-five minutes early is so you can have your morning on-set routine. You’ll have time to eat breakfast (provided production actually brought breakfast), have a coffee, use the bathroom, whatever you need to do in the morning to feel comfortable for the next six hours. Do you want to delay the first shot of the day because you got to set two minutes before call, drank a coffee, and are now stuck on the toilet? Do you want to spend the entire morning running around on an empty stomach because you came to set too late? Probably not. Build time to take care of yourself into your morning.
The last reason to make sure you’re at set forty-five minutes early is to make sure all of your gear is ready for the day. You’re not technically supposed to touch any of your gear before call, especially without a precall, but everybody does. Directors and DPs want to start shooting right at call time, but how can they start shooting if you’re still building your gear? Depending on your show, you’ll have certain tasks you need to complete before you’re ready to shoot. Finish those tasks before call. Getting to set early gives you a chance to get the correct headspace to begin the workday. Without the chance to get in that headspace, you’ll be scrambling to start the day, putting yourself behind.