How to Survive on Set Without Looking Like an Asshole

Callam Rodya as Roddy with 3rd AD Alex Pitzel slating the shot on the set of "Stalking by Numbers".

Callam Rodya as Roddy with 3rd AD Alex Pitzel slating the shot on the set of “Stalking by Numbers”.

When it comes to film work, actors have it the easiest. Don’t argue. You know it’s true.

In case you need a bit more convincing, consider this:

  • We’re the last ones called and the first ones wrapped.
  • There is a team on set whose sole job is to make us look beautiful.
  • They tell us where to stand, where to walk, and what to say, and they even put down little pieces of tape for us and print out our lines on little pocket-sized sheets to make it extra easy.
  • We get to stay warm in the trailer while they’re out there in a snow storm setting up the shot.
  • We usually get paid better.
  • We get all the credit.

Don’t get me wrong, acting is extremely difficult (especially when you try to do it well), and it’s important to respect that. But when you look around at everyone else on set, you have to admit, we’ve got a pretty good gig most of the time.

So, with that in mind, it’s especially important for us actors not be assholes. Chances are good that when you show up on the day, your approval rating among the crew is already pretty low. After all, they’ve been there for two hours already.

To improve your chances of surviving the day without coming across as spoiled, pampered, pretentious talent, here are some tips I have learned to follow religiously:

  1. If you have an early call time in the morning, set 14 alarms. Request a wakeup call. Drink 18 litres of water so you wake up early to take a piss. The worst thing an actor can do is put everyone behind schedule by arriving late on set. I know, because I’ve done it.
  2. When you break for lunch, let the crew eat first. They’re actually hungry. You spent half the morning in the craft truck.
  3. Some actors like to hang out on set even when it’s not their scene to shoot. That’s okay, but stay the fuck out of everyone’s way.
  4. Don’t ask people to get you things. If they offer, sure, why not? But be thankful.
  5. Police your own continuity and remember exactly what you did in the master when it comes time to shoot the closeups. Continuity on set, especially on small projects, can easily get overlooked and it’s a bitch for the editor to create a seamless cut when that glass you’re holding keeps switching hands or moving around the table.
  6. Try to learn everyone’s name as quickly as possible, especially the departments you’re going to be working closest with (hair/makeup, wardrobe, ADs, camera, audio). You’ll come across much more as a decent human being when you can say “Hey, [correct name], the mic pack is digging into my spine. Would you mind repositioning it?”
  7. Hit your marks like a precision airstrike. You’re just wasting a take if you and that focus point the camera assistant marked aren’t going to align.
  8. Learn your lines and be able to do the entire scene in one take. Sure, you might not need to run the whole thing in one shot, but editors usually prefer long takes to 1000 cuts in a scene. Give them the option.
  9. Don’t show up on set wrecked because you went out partying last night. You’re making everyone’s job harder, especially makeup.
  10. Say thank you to everything. EVERYTHING.
  11. Don’t ask the director questions that you could direct to someone else. They are very busy and don’t need to choose which hand you should hold the prop phone in.
  12. Put your cigarettes out in the butt can. Otherwise, some poor locations PA has to pick them up while you’re heading back to your hotel or wherever.
  13. Don’t be a critic. Your makeup is fine. Your hair is fine. Your wardrobe is fine. The camera position is fine. If you don’t like something, respectfully suggest a different option or shut the hell up.
  14. A good director will allow you freedom to massage your lines to make them more natural. But don’t alter the story. Or the character. And don’t go overboard. And don’t add lines just to try and increase your screen time.
  15. Don’t make extra work. There are exactly the right number of people on set and they each have a critical job to do that will keep them busy all day. They’re not bored.
  16. Don’t fuck with set dressing. That “mess” has been positioned deliberately. That is someone’s work.
  17. In between takes, don’t fuck around. You might have a three-minute break but nobody else does. They’re busy resetting.
  18. If you’re one of those “method” or “internal” types, stay in your trailer until you’re called on set. If you can’t do that, don’t snap at the friendly boom op for “pulling you out of your zone” because he asked you if you’ve seen the “Breaking Bad” finale.
  19. Know what the shot is. And if the camera isn’t on you, your performance isn’t important to anyone else except your scene partners. So don’t milk it.
  20. Don’t ask for notes after every take. If the director has one, he/she will tell you. Otherwise, do the same exact thing again.
  21. Ask for another take ONLY if you know you can do better. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
  22. After you’ve shot the master, and the wide, and the mediums, and are setting up for the closeups is NOT the time to “try something”.
  23. Don’t touch ANYTHING. Not the camera, not the lights, not the props, not the mics, not the storyboards, not the monitor, not the cables. Nothing.
  24. Don’t try to do anyone else’s job. You’re the talent, not the DOP, not the key grip, and certainly not the director. Do YOUR job and your job alone.
  25. Don’t tell the crew that “they are the real stars”. It’s just a stupid fucking thing to say and nobody believes you believe it anyway.
  26. Compliment other people’s work. The lighting is great. That focus pull was unreal. That set looks insane. Yes, you’re good too, but people will be telling you that for months, if not years, after this thing wraps. The others, not so much.
  27. When you’re wrapped, don’t do a blanket “great day, everyone! Thank you!” Go up to each person individually and thank them sincerely for their contribution to a project that, ultimately, will be more about you than them.

The people who work behind the scenes are the most important, the least recognized, and the most shit on in the entire industry. So treat them with respect and try to make their jobs easier.

Do you have other tips to add? Share them in the comments!

Follow me @callamrodya.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an acting coach, nor am I a veteran of the stage and screen. Just look at my IMDB profile and you will see that. I am simply a young actor at the foot of his career mountain with a few insights to share. Take ’em or leave ’em.

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122 thoughts on “How to Survive on Set Without Looking Like an Asshole

  1. All great rules I agree, as a sound mixer I would like to add. If you are that method actor and the sound mixer asks you ‘to pitch up a little’ don’t question it. The only reason he/she would ask is because they can’t hear you not because they want to change the performance. We know the level of background noise that will be added in post. On set we get as much as we can muted to get the dialogue as clean as possible. Also if you are wearing a radio mic, remember that will be about £1000 of sound equipment you have so don’t just rip it off yourself. Let the sound crew take it off because it will be securely fixed.

    1. Great message and spot on. Some folks weren’t “raised right” as we say in the South and just don’t have good manners. Great reminders to always appreciate everyone on set and personally thank them for their efforts. And as an actor, this means no matter how large or small the project you’re shooting.

    2. It’s just that when a movie and a 100 jobs are only there because that high paid actor signed on, and the studio is thinking about millions plus in profit… Well, then they can destroy equipment if they want to. It’ll be replaced. This blog only applies to low budgets film making. Economics and respect will never mix.

      1. What are you talking about – ‘they’ should not destroy equipment if they ‘want’ to!! that is ridiculous and a complete disrespect to everyone and everything.

  2. A number of years ago I did a film with David Strathairn as the lead. Not only did he greet everybody by name on day 2, on day 3 he carried a pair of 1000′ magazine cases up a 1/3 mile trail in the woods because we needed them and his hands were free. Being the sound mixer he went out of his way to let us know if he was changing his performance in any major way.
    Bring me more Davids!

  3. This is great… if you presume actors give a shit about how they come off to the crew. For the most part, they don’t and never will. They also don’t think about or give a shit about how much extra & unnecessary work they’re creating for post both picture & sound by not doing their jobs! This is a systemic & cultural problem that I don’t see getting fixed unless producers & directors really step up and lay down the law.
    But I wish every actor would follow your advice!!!

  4. This post is everything. I really love it. Great advice for actors, and from it, I can see you’d be a pleasure to work with.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂 🙂

  5. I’ve only acted in one fanfilm and done data pulling and dailies on another, but what you say goes a long way to keeping the production going along smoothly, and in getting invited back to do the next one. I’m sure there are differences in the fully-paid professional set, but people are still people. If you’re hard to work with, you’ll be harder to hire on the next film.

  6. GREAT LIST! I want to add on for #2 – remember that it’s everyone’s meal. Don’t be a pig! I once saw a crew member take 3 helpings of everything while a bunch of waiting, hungry actors anxiously wondered if there would be any fod left for them when it came their turn. Not nice!

  7. Reblogged this on Acting Networks – Film TV Ads And Entertainment Creatives and commented:
    Surviving On-Set !!!

    Welcome to [ACTNET] The Film, TV, Ads & Entertainment Group on LinkedIn for Directors, Musicians, Comedians, Presenters, producers, script writers, set designers, prop people, actors, studio execs, and other entertainment related talents…

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  8. As an actor, I can totally appreciate this article. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working of many sets, of many sizes; as well as many different actor ‘types’, and can tell you with certainty that when the diva/divo walks on set, the anxiety and frustration can be felt rising.
    The best acting advice I’ve learned over the years is this: If you were born to be an actor and have no choice, except that you MUST act….then go act. Otherwise, do something else.

    It’s a job that requires a professional and friendly attitude, the greatest appreciation for all the others that do ten times the work of you with a fraction of the ‘spotlight’, and is badly hurting for humble individuals who WANT to be there.
    Working night shoots and being on set for 12+ hours can be demanding, but I do my best to maintain a smile and good attitude, have fun with all that I can, and most importantly (like the article says) stay the fuck out of the way of others.
    Acting is tricky. You’ve got to be a soft hearted, steel thick skinned person, who can stand a million slammed doors for every yes; but, if you can move beyond that, you might just make a movie one day.

    Kudos to the OP!

    1. rule number 2
      If you pay your actors, pay your crew!
      My experience is that the crew are likely to be the last to be paid or at the lowest rates

      1. As someone who has done a fair share of crew work, but is mainly an actor, I can safely say that I would much rather the money go towards crew.
        They get there first, leave last, and work the hardest.
        They are the ones that make us actors look good.
        If you’re acting because of the money, then I suggest finding a different career field. Actor act because they have to act…it’s in their blood.
        In the past, I’ve done tons of non-paid gigs, as an actor, and I imagine I will do plenty more. But that’s the name of the game! I just love doing it. 🙂

  9. I would add – remember that the mic is often on between takes and the sound person hears everything you say. Not a good time to talk shit about people/set/etc. Keeping a positive attitude between takes will seamlessly take care of you.

    1. This is very good advice. The entire sound department — and many of those involved in post-production — hear everything that goes on out there under those hot lights. Loose lips can and do sink ships…

    2. What a funny and profoundly true statement that is! People forget that they might be mic’d up and, even when it’s not recording, it’s hot.
      Of course, I always enjoy whispering sweet nothings into the headphones of the sound guys and girls. I’m very skilled at recreating numerous animal sounds. The looks on their faces are awesome.

  10. Even though many extras are not “real actors” and are referred to only as numbers or “cop #2”, some of them are. Some of them just wanted to be in a real set to learn a few things a make a few extra bucks while auditioning and when they end up as a co-star in a film with you down the road, you better believe they’ll remember what a dick you were and how you made them feel so far beneath you. Some extras have more training and experience than you. You just got lucky first.

    1. You do understand that the article isn’t written with the idea that the extras are beneath the crew, right? This is about actors who treat everybody else on set like garbage. Which happens far, far more often than crew treating extras badly. In fact, the only people I’ve ever seen treat extras badly, were the big-name actors. (One bigger-than-her-britches diva referred to them as “cockroaches.” In front of them.) And I kinda wanted to bitch-slap her at the time too.

      1. “when they end up as a co-star in a film with you”
        Daniel was talking about actors treating extras badly, not crew treating extras badly.

  11. Do your work to the absolute best of your ability, say thank you to everyone, and feel grateful you’ve been given the opportunity to be yourself, because you have. Survival comes from the heart..

  12. I heard a chick once bitch about this and that (she was doing background) and I gave her a piece of my mind. I also emailed this amazing woman after a week long shoot who did everything in the craft truck and she said no one had ever said anything nice to her before me and I was stunned.

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