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Titles

There’s a curious inconsistency I’ve noticed in the way film industry address each other.

No one is ever called “Mr. Spielberg,” or “Ms. Ephron.”  It’s “Steve” and “Nora.”  Even if you’ve just met the person, you’re instantly on a first-name basis.  This is particularly hard to get used to for a polite boy from the midwest who was always taught to address his elders and superiors as “Mister.”

However, on set, everyone calls each other “sir,” especially among the G&E, production, and camera crews.  And I don’t mean just the peons calling the department heads “sir.”  The 2nd AC hands the first a filter, the first will say, “Thank you, sir.”

I’ve actually had a director call me “sir,” when I brought him his coffee.  His coffee!

The Mr/Mrs thing I kinda get.  It makes you feel old, and no collection of people is more vain than Hollywood.  But what’s with this “sir” being thrown about?  It’s confusing.

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11 Responses

  1. From my understanding, at least here in Toronto, the camera dept, grips and electrics always use ‘Sir’ as a force of habit and its learned as a standard part of set etiquette. Mainly because if you don’t know the persons name or forget it, as often happens in the beginning of a production, then using ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ implies respect whereas saying Mr or Ms without a last name sounds odd but also can be offensive to some women. A lot of women (including myself) get really annoyed when called ‘Miss’.

  2. i’d say “thank you sir” is akin to “thanks dude” and not an approximation of formality.

  3. I grew up in the South, so that “sir” thing has always been sort of ingrained. I never even noticed that it shows up on set, but you’re entirely right.

    Now we expect a rational explanation Sir-Smarty-Pants.

  4. It`s funny, I work in Chile, and here we also use that form… not sir but señor, and especially the camera crew and grip’s.

  5. what always annoys the hell out of me is using a title (mr or mrs) and then a first name. i don’t know when this started but i never did this as a kid but i grew up in surburban pennsylvania and now live in the south and have been told its a southern thing.

    it combines formality and informality which is just insane.

  6. I personally say “sir” for the novelty of it. I guess it’s kind of like a random, unexplainable joke to myself and interestingly enough, I only say it to those I’m on a first name basis with anyway.

    Some people don’t like it though. I was on a shoot once where I kept answering “Yes sir?” out of habit when the director called for me from across the room, and every time, he’d answer back annoyed, “No. It’s ‘Joe”‘.

  7. That’s a really good question — one I can’t answer despite having been saying “Thank you , sir” to my fellow work-bots on set for as long as I can remember.

    Maybe it’s just a slightly absurd touch of formality in an otherwise ridiculously informal workplace, where most of us wear shorts and T-shirts and sweat like wild beasts while doing the very heavy lifting that comes with the job. Maybe it’s a hint of unconscious irony used to distance ourselves from all that, and thus impose a little theoretical order on the otherwise ego-and-whim-driven chaos that so often rules our work lives.

    Or maybe working below the line is a bit like prison life, where the slightest intimation of disrespect can bring out the razor-blade shanks.

    Maybe it’s all three — I really don’t know. But you’ve hit on something I’d never even considered before.

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