Lights! Camera! Action!

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Lights! Camera! Action!

It’s a phrase that has become a part of the American English lexicon. And, for those looking to work in the film industry, it’s about 90 years out of date.

A little history. The film industry began in the 1890s when Thomas Edison introduced the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope in North America and the Lumière brothers introduced their Cinèmatograph in Europe. These were the first technologies to capture sequential images in real time and subsequently play them back – – moving pictures. As the industry developed, filmmakers found that they needed a lot of light to properly expose the film stock so very large, very hot lights were created for the blossoming Hollywood production system. Because the lights generated so much heat they were kept off until everyone was ready to shoot the scene. So the “rolling call” was lights, camera, action.

Sound for movies was experimented with as early as 1908 but really became part of the industry with the production of The Jazz Singer (1927). From that point on the rolling call has included the phrase “roll sound”. To save money on costly film stock it was necessary to roll the sound recording equipment first, waiting for the sound recordist to confirm that his machines were up to speed before rolling the camera. So the rolling call became – –

1st AD: “Quiet on the set!”

1st AD: “Sound Ready?”

Sound: “Ready”

1st AD: “Camera Ready?”

Camera Op: “Ready”

1st AD: “Lights”

(pause for lights to come on)

1st AD: “Roll Sound”

Sound: “Speed”

1st AD: “Roll Camera”

Camera Op: “Speed”

Asst Camera: “scene XX take X, marker” (then he/she claps the slate)

Camera Op: (after a moment to reframe & focus) “Camera set”

Director: “Action”

Eventually film lighting advanced enough that their heat was bearable and the need to call for lights was dropped from the call. Aside from that, the rolling call remained the same for decades, really only changing in the 21st century.

Today we often call “roll sound and camera” if we’re shooting with a digital camera because there’s no costly film stock to save. Ironically, even though digital cameras and digital sound recorders record almost instantly (some even have pre-record functions) the response to the 1st AD’s call is still “speed” or “sound speed” and “camera speed”.

With the proliferation of independent film and “film schools” in the 21st century and the comparable affordability of production equipment we encounter more and more people on our sets that haven’t been properly trained in the rolling call and the required actions of the crew. For example, almost everyone knows that the sound person isn’t actually recording until they call “speed” (unless they have pre-record) so inexperienced or improperly trained crew members don’t feel the need to be quiet until they hear “speed”. This is a serious mistake. From a practical perspective the sound recordist cannot know if the set is ready for recording sound unless there is a few moments of silence in which he/she can hear any subtle background noises that could compromise the “take”. From a protocol perspective everyone on the set needs to understand that filmmaking is a job and their supervisor, the 1st AD, has called for quiet. People don’t get to decide for themselves when to be quiet. When the 1st AD calls for quiet all sound and movement need to cease immediately. The only exceptions being responses to the 1st AD, such as when sound and camera respond with “ready” and “speed”, and responses to the Director, who often communicates with the DP and the actors.

As independent filmmakers it’s important that everyone understands the protocol of the rolling call. Our industry is collaborative and requires a lot of people to work together towards a common goal in an efficient manor. We can only do that if we all speak the same language and follow the same rules.

1st AD: “Lock it up, quiet all around”

(short pause for quiet)

1st AD: “Sound Ready?”

Sound: “Ready”

1st AD: “Camera Ready?”

Camera Op: “Ready”

1st AD: “Roll Sound and camera”

Sound: “Sound speed”

Camera Op: “Camera speed”

Asst Camera: “scene XX take X, marker” (then he/she claps the slate)

Camera Op: (after a moment to reframe & focus) “Camera set”

Director: “Action”

Categories: Career Building,Production

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