Full Frame: Set jobs help freshmen Film students see the big picture

Freshmen Film students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts crew—or work—on film sets as a way to get hands-on conservatory experience. As they move through the Film program, they gain opportunities to be in key crew positions on third- and fourth-year thesis films.

Freshmen, who are called first-years at UNCSA, may not be doing the glamorous jobs or ones that have high responsibilities, but they are nonetheless essential for the production. Crewing allows students to experience different areas of film as they determine which of the seven undergraduate concentrations they'd like to pursue.

I was surprised at the sophistication of the set. They run it like a high-quality film set. Not only are we in academic classrooms, but we’re working on actual sets.

Kayana Waller, Freshman Film Student

“I was surprised at the sophistication of the set,” Kayana Waller says of her experience working as a Crafty, “They run it like a high-quality film set. Not only are we in academic classrooms, but we’re working on actual sets.”

There are multiple roles on a film set and the hands-on set experience that UNCSA provides allows the first-years to learn and to experience what it’s like to work in the film industry. Here are some opportunities first-year film students can experience, along with a bit of the industry jargon that you’ll pick up on a set:

Production Assistant (PA)

Production Assistants are part of the Production Team and help with miscellaneous tasks that can vary daily. They are an extra set of hands. First-year film student Gillian Skipper was a PA day player for “Blitz.” A day player means you just work for one day on a production as opposed to having a job for the entire shoot.

“It’s like a gopher,” Skipper says.

Camera PA

The Camera PA accompanies the camera team and offers assistance with miscellaneous tasks in order to make sure the team can function properly. This job gives first-year students a close-up look at how much time it takes to set up to film, as well as the opportunity to learn how the camera crew tackles various unpredictable problems. Those who are interested in cinematography also would gain experience being a Grip or an Electric.

Sound PA

This job provides first-year students an opportunity to observe and assist the sound mixer and boom operator and to be a part of the sound team. They work closely with experienced sound students, which allows interested first-years to gain extensive amount of information, even just by crewing in this role on one production.

Crafty (Craft Services)

This position is more than on-set food service. It’s the hub of the film set, since everyone has to eat at some point or several times during the day. Crafty sets the tone, feeding both body and soul. Work on film sets is highly physical and the long hours can be grueling. Those assigned to craft services find ways to keep all happy.

“I have a budget and I plan the menu for each day,” Waller explains. “I try to figure out what I have to do to keep the crew up and going.”

Wardrobe Assistant

In the process of making a fourth-year film, the School of Filmmaking collaborates with other schools on campus. Students in the School of Design & Production join the key crew of each film production as Wardrobe and Hair & Make-up designers.

On the set of “Polo Rainbow,” a fourth-year film, Aliyah Bryant worked as a wardrobe assistant, helping in implementing the designer’s vision. This experience she had early on, combined with her general interest and passion towards the wardrobe department, allowed her to get a rare opportunity and design the wardrobe herself for “Bareface.”

She met with the film’s Production Designer to review the lookbooks, a collection of photographs, images that express the vision for the look and feel of the film. She dressed the actors and took pictures to ensure the actors were “fit for scenes” and that there was continuity, which is especially important in the post-production editing phase.

“I always take pictures to ensure that the actors are dressed the same so in editing you don’t have one shot when they are wearing a necklace and then not wearing one in another,” Bryant explains.

Set Dresser in Art Department

As in the Wardrobe Department, the Art Department on a production has a leader, the production designer, and a crew to help bring the production designer’s vision to reality. One of the crew positions in the Art Department is a set dresser, who works closely with the set decorator and is focused on dressing the set or placing the props in the scenes. If you’ve ever binged on a long-running television series you can see how even something like a phone evolves from a landline to a flip-phone to a smartphone. A set dresser places the proper phone prop in the scene.

2nd 2nd Assistant Director (AD)

A 2nd 2nd AD helps the assistant director’s team by distributing communication and taking care of the actors. The most fun Skipper says she’s experienced on a set was working on “Tethered” as a 2nd 2nd AD.

“It was shot on a sound stage at the school and there was just so much positive energy,” Skippers says. “Working as a 2nd 2nd AD is a good way to learn if you want to work yourself up the AD chain. It is getting and building trust on the sets.”

First-year students can expect to be out of the classrooms not only working on first-year productions, but serving on upperclassmen film productions.

Skipper smiles and says, “You learn how to do it all!”

by Elizabeth White

February 9, 2017