Filmmaking Rule 239: Dress in Layers

The holidays mean different things for different people. For filmmakers, it means you are going to freeze your ass off at some point – several weeks in a row if you’re lucky. And for many newbies (and a couple veterans), it means there will be a split second where you question why you ever decided to pursue this career in the first place. That moment of doubt passes quickly, and for people like myself, it also acts as a moment of reflection. In this instance, it causes me to reflect on how I can prevent my toes from ever getting that cold again.

In short, the answer to my problem was thick socks and foot powder. Powder you ask? Well, feet can sweat, and you don’t want to sweat in the cold. So, foot powder. And not the cooling kind either, that does you no good in this situation. Wear a shoe with a thick sole as well. I once worked on a shoot where we were standing on frozen grass and dirt for about 8 hours. When it gets cold enough outside, standing on frozen dirt is almost the equivalent of standing on ice. So, the thicker the sole in your shoe, the farther away you are from that evil frozen dirt. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

On sets, you’ll generally see people dressed the same, with jackets over fleeces over multiple layers (usually with a hoodie somewhere in the mix). And there’s a reason for that. Look at how construction workers and hunters dress. Think that but much, much more muted colors.

The most difficult thing to keep warm this time of year is probably the fingers and by extension the hands, though this varies greatly from job to job too. For example, gaffers and grips generally wear gloves for safety and some of those gloves are not only comfortable, but pretty good at keeping the heat in. It really depends on the work glove you’re using. For those who are doing something precise, like manually pulling focus or quickly scrawling down the director’s notes, you’re going to have to either find some kick-ass fingerless gloves or be prepared to put on and take off your gloves quite a bit.

The most recent example I can think of as to why you need to wear layers came about a month ago, when I was ADing a short film by the production company I co-founded, Reckless Amnesiac. We were shooting in the basement of an old police station from the early 1900s, and it was an unseasonably warm day in November. The basement was an old jail cell and the cement walls and floor offered little to no protection from the outdoors. Some of the crew arrived in shorts. However, they were smart enough to pack pants. While it was in the 60s to start the day, it was well into the 30s to end it. It was snowing the following morning. I went from wearing a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and jacket, to wearing just a t-shirt if I was by one of the scorching hot tungsten lights.

My advice for wearing layers is this: if you’re in a position of responsibility on a movie, such as being a producer, director or AD, it’s your obligation to make sure everyone is reminded to wear layers. It’s easy to say they should know better, and they should. But people can be forgetful and well, quite frankly stupid. But just because they’re dumb, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your care. After all, it is the holidays!

So, happy holidays and make sure you wear layers. Or don’t, I don’t care. Just don’t complain about being cold if you didn’t bring a jacket.

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