Important Lessons Learned About Acting on Screen

Photo courtesy of Motion Arc Studios.

Scene from “Revisions”. Photo courtesy of Motion Arc Studios.

Acting on screen is a completely different world from the stage and, especially if you went to theatre school and have little film experience, it can be a bit of an adjustment.

Here are some important lessons I learned very quickly from working on film sets. Feel free to post your own in the comments.

1. If the director requests a playback of the previous take, try not to watch it. Unless he/she makes you watch it. Otherwise, it’s just bad for your self-esteem.

2. Don’t deviate from your blocking. In theatre, you can kind of get away with it (to a point). In film, the camera expects you to be exactly where you’re supposed to be. And if you’re not, you have to do it again, and again, and again if you have to.

3. Don’t steamroll over the lines of your fellow actors. It’s an editor’s nightmare. They say theirs and then you say yours. You’d be amazed what they can do with the pace of a scene in post.

4. Don’t wander off. Even if it seems like you’ve got five minutes to duck out for a smoke while they reset the scene, ALWAYS ASK your AD before you step off set.

5. Be nice to makeup. They can make you look beautiful. They can also make you look ugly. And nobody else will notice until post-production.

6. Ditto for wardrobe.

7. Don’t unexpectedly yell, scream, sneeze, cough, or make any other loud noises if you’re mic’d. And never, ever bitch about anything or anyone when you’re wired. Remember Christian Bale? You never know when they’re speeding.

8. Talk like a normal human being when you’re acting on screen. You are not in a 1500 seat auditorium.

9. Always keep your head down when you’re stepping on and off set. There are fucking cables EVERYWHERE.

10. More often than not (especially if you only have a couple of lines), you’re going to be talking to the 1st or 2nd AD more than the director. Treat them with equal respect. Sometimes, they’re the ones who actually determine whether you’ll be seen on screen or not and if you get a shuttle home or not.

11. Check your teeth after every visit to the craft truck.

12. Avoid the natural impulse to overdose on free espresso all day on set. It’s okay for the grips to be a little shaky. You, not so much. Plus, you can’t delay the shot to go pee every eight minutes.

13. Be prepared to have your lines rewritten, flipped, punched up, or cut on the day. Happens in every scene.

14. Learn your sides as quickly as possible, but also give yourself a bit of freedom to “make them your own”. In theatre, that’s forbidden. On screen, it’s usually allowed.

15. Having said that, don’t think you can just drop an F-bomb where it isn’t written.

16. Be patient. Bring a book or something to keep yourself from going completely insane while you wait for your scene. And yes, you can usually hang out on set and watch, but stay the fuck out of everyone else’s way.

17. If you are hanging out on set, DO NOT crowd the monitor. Unless you’re the star, you’re probably the least important person watching it right now.

18. Always be aware of what the current shot is. And if you’re not sure, ask an A.D. Trust me when I tell you, you want to know when it’s your closeup.

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