This article looks at radio etiquette on film sets and includes a cheat sheet for walkie talkie lingo.
Film sets are fast-moving and busy workplaces. Because unclear communication can easily lead to costly mistakes and delays, film professionals have developed specialized walkie talkie lingo for conversations between departments. Using some of the insider “lingo” makes discussions on walkies much faster and clearer!
However, getting the hang of walkie talkie lingo can be complicated at first. There isn’t much training out there, and you are going to need to acquire this skill before working professionally. To make things easier, we have broken down everything you need to know about using walkie talkies on film sets.
Why Use Walkie Talkies
On a film set, you have many people working together in different departments. Each department will need to communicate clearly to one another throughout production. By using a walkie talkie, you can dedicate a channel to each department so all the members of that department can talk to one another. In other words, walkie talkies are more efficient, reliable, and quieter to use than mobile phones.
It’s the AD department that uses walkie talkies the most (typically working on channel 1). Each AD will have a walkie talkie, from the production assistants to the 1st assistant director. And even though the Production Assistant role is an entry-level position, knowing how to use walkie talkies is still a necessity. Many people learn this skill the hard way through trial and error on their first film set. However, if you can practice the lingo beforehand, you’ll be much better prepared to pick up the skill quickly and easily.
Walkie Talkie Etiquette
Like all equipment in filmmaking, there is a specific industry-standard way to use walkie talkies. Firstly, make sure to treat the walkies themselves with care and respect (they are expensive). Some have a clip on the back that can attach to your belt. Others have earpieces that clip to your shirt. Make sure to tuck any wires safely away. For hygiene reasons, it can be useful to purchase your own earpiece (here’s an example).
When you speak into your walkie talkie, press down on the receiver and hold the microphone a few inches away from your face. Make sure to speak clearly and avoid muffling your voice. Speak at an average conversational volume and don’t shout.
Make sure to start by clearly saying your name followed by the name of the person you wish to contact (for example, “Chris for Ben”). Use your words carefully, get to the point quickly, and be concise. A walkie talkie conversation should be quick, clear, and easy to understand.
Try not to banter and mess around with your walkie while filming. Remember that everyone on set will hear what you are saying. And importantly, respect the crew hierarchy. If someone higher up needs your walkie talkie, be prepared to give it to them.
- Respect walkie talkies, look after them as they are expensive
- Make sure your radio is fitted correctly to you
- Hold the microphone a few inches away from your face
- Speak clearly, know what you want to say before talking
- Don’t joke around with the radio, use it professionally
- Be willing to give up your radio to a higher-up crew member
If you are a PA, carry an extra walkie battery with you to swap out to crew members whose batteries have died.
Walkie Talkie Lingo
There are many reasons why people use jargon and short-code on film sets. Mainly this is to keep the conversation short and efficient. However, the lingo can also keep the context private. For example, “10-1” means you need the restroom. Furthermore, radios can let everyone know when the cameras are rolling without the need for excessive shouting.
- “Radio Check” – Check that your radio is working
- “10-4” or “Copy” – Used to confirm a transmission
- “Over” – End of a sentence, I have finished speaking
- “Go Again” / “Come Back On That” – Repeat the message
- “Chris for Sarah” – Chris being your name, Sarah being the person you want to reach.
- “Go for Sarah” – The response to being called. Another way to say “I heard you, what’s up?”
- “20” – Your Location
- “What’s Your 20” – Where are you?
- “On It” – I understand, I’m working on it
- “Eyes On” – Has anyone seen someone/something
- “Stand By” – Wait, I’m busy right now
- “Standing By” – I’m waiting for more instruction
- “Flying In” – When a person or object is on the way to set
- “Switching” – Switching a radio channel
- “Walkie Check” – Initial check when you first turn on your walkie talkie to make sure it’s working. Someone should reply with “Good Check” if they can hear you clearly.
- “Keying” – When someone is accidentally holding down the “talk” button on their walkie so that people can hear them. Someone will call this out by saying “keying!” or “someone’s keying.”
Taking a Break
- “10-1” – I need to go the bathroom / short break
- “10-2” – I need to go the bathroom / longer break
Recording a Shot
- “Final Checks” or “Last Looks” – Last chance to check the shot
- “Lock it Up” – Don’t let anyone through your location
- “Going For a Take” – Going to be recording soon
- “Roll Camera” / “Turnover” – Start recording the camera
- “Reset” or “Back to One” – Reset the scene / action / camera position back to the beginning position
- “First Team” – The principal actors
- “Second Team” – The stand-ins for the principal actors
- “Strike” / “86” – When something needs to be removed
- “Kill” – When something needs to be turned off
- “Traveling” – The person/thing you asked for is on its way
- “Stepping Off” – I’m leaving set / I’m going off the radio
- “ETA” – Estimated time of arrival
- “Bogies” – Unwanted people on set
- “Stinger” – An extension cord
- “Hot Brick” – A fully-charged battery
Standard Department Channels
While every set can create its own rules based on its needs, there are generally standard channel assignments for walkies on a film set. They are as follows:
- Channel 1 – Production
- Channel 2 – Open (for individual conversations)
- Channel 3 – Transportation
- Channel 4 – Open (for individual conversations)
- Channel 5 – Props / Art
- Channel 6 – Camera
- Channel 7 – Electric
- Channel 8 – Grip
- Channel 9 – Locations
- Channel 10-16 – Open (for individual conversations)
You will quickly pick up walkie talkie lingo when you start working on set. It might be worth memorizing some of these terms, especially if you are going to be working as a PA.
Hopefully, this article has answered your walkie talkie questions. Are there any other lingo terms that we should add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.