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If the director is in front of the camera, who will say those words to start a movie shot?

Who will say "start camera action" when the director casts himself in the main role?

  • 18
    The traditional phrase is "lights, camera, action"... and, honestly, no one says this phrase any more. – Catija Nov 9 '15 at 2:53
  • 2
    If anyone ever did - I can find no evidence to suggest it was ever anything other than a Hollywood 'abbreviation' used in 'movie within a movie' scenarios to show an otherwise naive audience that a scene was about to be shot. – disassociated Nov 9 '15 at 12:40
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    @Tetsujin it seems that, if it were ever used, it would have been during the silent era when sound wasn't recorded. – Catija Nov 9 '15 at 14:06
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+100

No one says the phrase "Lights, Camera, Action" any more. But, to answer your question, the First Assistant Director (1st AD) is in charge of the set when the Director is otherwise occupied and, in fact, is usually the one who calls the shot to order (other than calling "action").

One of the 1st AD's most important responsibilities is to "call the roll" — that is, call out a series of specific cues for each take to ensure that all cast and crew on set are aware of exactly what is going on so they can perform their particular role at the appropriate moment.

The minimum commonly used set of phrases for "calling the roll" is generally called as follows (a longer list is available on the linked Wikipedia article):

  • 1st Assistant Director: Quiet on Set! Roll sound.

  • Sound Recordist: Sound speeds./Speeding.

  • 1st AD: Roll camera.

  • Camera Operator/s or Cinematographer: Camera speeds./Rolling.

Then the 2nd Assistant Camera (2nd AC) will slate with the clapper board and call out the current scene and take numbers eg: Scene 45 take 5.

[clapper is clapped to allow the syncing of the audio and video media]

Camera Op/s Cinematographer will say "Set" when their camera is in position and focused properly.

  • Director or 1st AD: Action.

After the take is complete

  • Director or 1st AD (or possibly camera op): Cut.
  • 2
    & just to add, right at the end, a cynical '& "cut" is echoed by every 3rd AD & runner with a radio, except for very large scenes where the SAs (extras) are too far away to hear the 1st, when they usually remain silent, for reasons known only to themselves' ;) – disassociated Nov 9 '15 at 8:24
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    +1 for the purpose of the clapper, it's so obvious now that you say it, but I never knew why they did that. – Joseph Rogers Nov 9 '15 at 14:06
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    I'm sure it's already true that sound recordists entering the industry wonder why they say "speed" to confirm their digital recorder is running. – Todd Wilcox Nov 9 '15 at 16:54
  • re the clapper, indeed, and I was already formulating a "wait, how do they sync the video and audio?" question before I reached that part of the answer :D – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 9 '15 at 16:57
  • Depending on the budget and sophistication of the equipment, the clapper may no longer be used for the technical aspects of audio/video sync, as this can be done either by pre-synchronizing the SMTPE clocks on the camera(s), recorder(s) and slate(s), or by synchronizing in real-time over radio during production. In post, the software automagically lines up video and audio based on the timecode. The slate/clapper does help with marking project, reel, take, and time in a visual way that can be seen even in a file system thumbnail - great for finding the right file. – Todd Wilcox Nov 9 '15 at 19:03

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