Locking Up the Unlockable

Brett asks:

What’s a good line to give someone during lock up and they’ve just asked what authority you have to keep them from walking into your shot?

For the uninitiated (which is most of you; why else are you reading the blog?)– “lock up” is when you stand guard blocking some strategic pathway that would otherwise lead the pedestrian (or, occasionally, car) through the background, foreground, or ground ground of the scene.

This is most often necessary when shooting in public, but some sets are built in such a way that the crew cuts through them when there’s no shooting going on, on that particular set. Then, a PA is stationed there to prevent anyone from walking past the backdrop and appearing to fly across the New York City skyline.

This obviously comes up more for set PAs than office PAs, but I’ve done enough of both to give you some ideas.1

The answer depends on A) who’s asking and B) what kind of permit you have.

If you’re talking to a crew member, the best2 answer is, “Hey, dickhead, we’re rolling. Have you ever been on a set before?”

Since that probably won’t win you any friends, a more diplomatic answer would be: “The AD asked me to lock up down here. The camera’s looking right this way.” If you can, offer an alternate route to their destination.

If a civilian is asking the question, hopefully you know what kind of permit you have. It’s possible to get permission to film without permission to block traffic. (For instance, you can shoot in someone’s front yard, but not block the sidewalk.) If your permit does specify closing down the alleyway, dirt path, velodrome, or whatever, go ahead and tell them so.

If that were the case, your location department would probably have posted signs everywhere, too, and so I’m guessing that’s not what prompted Brett’s question.

Sometimes your AD will tell you to block foot traffic (even traffic traffic) when you have no right to do so. They’ll usually tell you to just order people to stop, because to an AD, nothing is more important than the show.3

This is a mistake. While some people will blindly follow anyone with (perceived) authority,4 you’ll likely anger anybody who works in the industry and knows you’re bullshitting them.

Instead, the best way to go about it is to be apologetic and deferential. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all.

“Hi, I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, but would you mind waiting until we finish this next take?”

Sometimes that doesn’t work, so you’ll have to go for the guilt trip:

“Who are you to tell me I can’t walk on a public sidewalk?”

“I can’t actually stop you, you’re right. But listen, if you walk through the shot, my boss is going to get mad at me, maybe even fire me. It’s totally unfair, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re on the bottom rung of the ladder. You understand right? Look, if you have an emergency, I totally get it, don’t worry about me. But if it’s at all possible to wait, it would really help me out.”

Nobody gives a shit about big, faceless corporations making shitty television shows or even shittier movies. But a poor kid who’s just trying to make his way in the world? That’s somebody they can sympathize with.

Sometimes, though even if you follow my amazing advice, some jerk will just keep on walking. In that case, the best you can do is radio ahead with a warning that a bogie is flying in and hope you have an understanding AD.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Once, I was told to stop a photographer from taking pictures, despite that fact that he was in a public area, had a clear line of site to our set, and there was nothing even remotely spoilerish going on.
  2. Worst.
  3. In reality, nearly everything is more important than your show. It’s a fucking TV show. Calm down.
  4. God, if they only knew how little authority you really have.
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4 Comments

  1. Or my favorite, “It’s a safety issue,” which usually works with pedestrians who A) want to see the action, and B) don’t want to get creamed, but generally doesnt work with say, dickhead federal employees. “You don’t have the right to stop traffic out of this deck, this is a federal building.” “Sir, there’s a stunt car about to blow by here at a high rate of speed. Do you *really* want to pull out into the street as he comes screeching around the corner?” He either waits, or it’s “abort.”

    And yeah, don’t say “shooting.” Definitely freaks out those whose first language is not English.

  2. I totally agree with this… When my AD asked me to block out traffic, especially without permit, there are times in which I would pretend I fail to see the traffic and they happen to walk into frame “accidentally”. When someone look at me, I would shrug or just pretend they didn’t want to listen. But from the few shoots I went on, people were mostly kind and was fine waiting unless they are in a rush. Other than that, it was just thankful. But the best way to block traffic is to have a hot sexy female actress or a handsome charismatic male actor on set, best to be famous, so that even when we as the lower rung need to block traffic, it won’t be that bad… 😀

  3. Another advice when talking to civilians… use the word “filming” instead of “shooting”. I gave some woman a near heartattack when I told her we were “shooting in the hallway”.

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