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:
- 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.
- When you break for lunch, let the crew eat first. They’re actually hungry. You spent half the morning in the craft truck.
- 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.
- Don’t ask people to get you things. If they offer, sure, why not? But be thankful.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t show up on set wrecked because you went out partying last night. You’re making everyone’s job harder, especially makeup.
- Say thank you to everything. EVERYTHING.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t fuck with set dressing. That “mess” has been positioned deliberately. That is someone’s work.
- In between takes, don’t fuck around. You might have a three-minute break but nobody else does. They’re busy resetting.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ask for another take ONLY if you know you can do better. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.