Welcome To Set: Actors Edition

July 15, 2014


Congrats, you just got cast! Now what? The acting part you have down cold hopefully… but what about set behavior? As we tackled in Part One earlier, here are some DO’s and DON’T’s to make your time on set more fun and fruitful.


DON’T Be Late or Complain About The Call Time


Making a movie or TV show takes time. LOTS of time. Hours upon hours of time. Between setting up the shots, rehearsals, makeup, set dressing, it’s usually a good few hours between call time and the first actual shot of the day. Just because you aren’t directly involved in some of these processes does not mean you can waltz in when you feel like it. Nothing kills a day’s momentum and hard work more than an actor who is late. The Crew usually have to be there several hours before the “Talent” anyway, so by the time your day is starting, they’ve been on the clock working already. They want you to succeed and will do their job to their best ability but when an actor shows up late, it shows a disregard for other people’s time and energy.


Hand in hand with that, never EVER complain about how early or late a call time is. As mentioned, you are almost never the first person on set. By complaining that you didn’t get a good night’s sleep to a bunch of sleep deprived, overworked crew members is just asking a world of pain and negative karma. Be on time, even early if you can. Show that you’re a part of the team, not above it.


DO Be Honest If You’re Uncomfortable


A large part of acting is about putting yourself in a vulnerable state to trigger emotions or to go on a journey that we often keep hidden from sight. This is a very personal thing and it can sometimes feel like an actor is on display in a zoo. In an intimate love scene or even emotional scene, it is ok to go to the director and tell them you are not feeling comfortable with so many people around. Some directors of course are HOPING for this as the awkwardness can lend itself to more realism but most will be accommodating and will have only the essential crew stay on set as they shoot. This can relieve the pressure on the actors involved and also, frankly, helps the crew as the sooner a great take is in the can, the sooner everyone can move on to the next set-up. Spending hours agonizing over a scene or a moment because you are not feeling safe or too exposed can be fatal to a performance.


Likewise, if there is a bit of blocking or a tough physical scene upcoming and you don’t quite feel ready or sure, SPEAK up. The Crew would much rather go through endless rehearsals until everyone is comfortable than just wing it and get someone injured or blow a big part of the budget on a take that doesn’t work.


This sort of honesty, it should be noted is very different from what an actor should already be comfortable with, namely, the script and their preparations. If you don’t have lines memorized, GET THEM MEMORIZED. If you aren’t feeling sure about a character moment, talk it through with the director or a coach beforehand. The last thing you should do is come on set unprepared because you’ll end up wasting time and looking supremely unprofessional. Blowing a line or flubbing a scene from nerves is fine but doing it because you didn’t do your own homework is a one way ticket off set.


DON’T Mistake “Talent” with “Diva”


There are countless stories of actors who believe they are the most important part of an production and a lot of that is due to two things: Face time and money. Actors are often the highest profile people on set and usually the highest paid because the producers and or studios are banking on that star power to get ratings. This can very quickly turn in to a “Diva” fest where an actor believes they deserve more than the next person on set. Part of that stems from the age old practice of calling the on camera people the “Talent”. Obviously, you need talent to be a successful actor but beware if you start letting it go to your head.


Of course you’ll get special treatment but don’t EVER act like you’re entitled to it. On any production, it’s important to remember the team aspect, that everyone there is doing a job together. Be very gracious if you are given a private trailer or dressing room or even a chair and don’t be afraid to spread the wealth. You got extra snacks? Give some to the crew, who are probably starving. A great many celebrities end up living in a bubble of “Yes” men and hangers on who make them feel like they are the main attraction but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. No movie or TV show gets made with just a pretty face.


Some of the most talented DP’s, camera operators, sound designers, makeup artists and the like get overlooked on set because they don’t have a Q rating, but their “talent” is just as essential to the project. Without them, you have no project to show your ability off anyway. You might also be shocked by the amount of Oscars, Emmy’s and the like that they have. They just might be as prestigious as anyone else in the production.


DO Learn People’s Names


A fairly simple one but so often overlooked. Take the time to get to know the crew. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone and honestly, you don’t have the time if you are really preparing as an actor. However, a set can be so impersonal if there is a wall between the actors and the crew. It makes a real difference to make eye contact with someone, to say good morning or how’s it going. To just generally be a decent human being.


The difference between saying, “Hey you” Or “That grip over there” and “Derek” or “My guy Devin” is immense. As several of the podcasts guests have discussed too, by getting the crew on your side, it can save you from some really big gaffes such as….


DON’T Forget When You are Mic’d up or On Camera


Actors love to talk. We just do. As performers, we have the urge and need to communicate. Just, be aware of who can hear you.


A seemingly private conversation about a scene or who you slept with last night or how annoying the second assistant is just might be heard throughout the set if you don’t remember when you are mic’d or on camera. From personal experience, I cannot tell you have many times this has happened to people I know and work with. Most of the time it’s good for a laugh or two but one story in particular essentially ended in a fistfight between a stunt man and another actor when he was gossiping about sleeping with the stunt man’s sister. This is where it is essential to have the crew on your side. They’ll mute you or remind you at first gently and then blatantly that you are wearing a Mic which can save blushes as well as black eyes.


Likewise, being on camera is not always the best time to pop a pimple, pick your nose or do any number of other personal grooming. Seeing yourself on camera means others are seeing you too and unless you WANT that being broadcast, save it for the restroom or dressing room.


DO The Little Things


Want to really stand out as an actor and get asked back or cast in the next project too? Do the subtle but important things:


Hit your marks, for one thing. After you’ve done the blocking, make sure you hit your marks. The little X that gets put there, land right on it. Otherwise, guess what? You’re not in focus and you’ll have to go again and again. It sounds easy but how often can you walk without looking down and end up at the exact same spot repeatedly? It’s definitely something to practice.


Don’t look in the camera. It’s another obvious one but hard to resist. When the camera is close on you, you’ll feel this urge for your eyes to flicker at the lens, but unless you are told to do so, stay in the moment. The hardest part of acting on set is staying in the moment. You’ll have a lot of breaks and downtime and then BOOM, you have to go, go go. Try not to get too excited or relaxed, which is easier said than done but just remember you have a job to do like everyone else.


If it isn’t specified, ask for your framing. Some shots are tight, some are medium, some are super wide and all are different. Yes, you want to give the same performance no matter what but some things do in fact change from frame to frame. The tighter you are, the less “business” you want on your face. Otherwise, you’ll appear to be mugging for the camera. Also, knowing your framing allows you to know if any bit of extra movement will be seen. Have a great idea for a hand gesture to punctuate a line? Well, if it’s not framed, it won’t ever been seen. Just don’t be obnoxious about it. If they keep doing the same shot, you don’t have to keep checking in.


Finally, act like you’ve been there before and will be there again. When you do a good take, allow a moment of joy but you don’t have to celebrate or look for high-fives. Likewise, if a take sucked, just let it go. Making a big deal either way will only waste time and make you look like you’ve never done this before. Even if it IS your first time, wait until the day is done to celebrate or beat yourself up.


Who knows, you just might be invited to the local bar with the gang to grab drinks! And instead of being another “Actor Asshole Story” they tell, you’ll be one of the good ones, one that gets called back again and again and again.




Photo Credits: http://317am.org/2011/12/why-good-critics-sometimes-love-bad-movies/crit-jon-l/,https://thefifthpercentile.wordpress.com/tag/late/,http://www.aoltv.com/2010/01/13/richard-simmons-and-william-shatners-uncomfortable-encounter-on/, http://forcoloredgurls.com/2012/08/visit-our-fab-sponsor-mind-of-a-diva/, http://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/17w7y0/sam_rockwell_at_his_best_in_seven_psychopaths/, http://www.gizmag.com/smartlav-professional-lavalier-microphone-iphone/26167/, http://www.howcast.com/guides/1-How-to-Be-an-Actor

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