It’s a normal day. You’re out doing some grocery shopping. Maybe you’re walking your dog. You pull out your phone and open your email, and the first thing you read is an email with a subject line that says “BOOKED”. You’ve been cast in your first role. You’ve spent so much time looking forward to this day. Dreaming about it. Picturing it as you fall asleep. It’s a big first step towards your dream coming true.
As an actor, you live for the day someone will finally say “Yes”, and bring you on board to their project, be it a film, series, commercial, you name it. The bottom line is that you finally made it to set! With that, a huge congratulations is in order. This is no easy feat. The odds were stacked against you and you beat them. Pour yourself a drink, pat yourself on the back, call your family and friends (unless you signed a NDA), and enjoy this moment of sweet, wondrous victory before the hard work starts!
Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. You have a LOT of work to do between now and your first day of set, which could be the day after you found out you’ve booked it, or months down the road. That will all depend on the type of project, the scale of the project, and various other factors. The bottom line is that you need to use your time wisely, whether you have 24 hours or two whole months to go. You don’t want a moment to go to waste.
SET LIFE PREP:
Assuming you’ve already done your research on the producers, director, writer(s), etc. (hey, that audition prep came in handy didn’t it?), now you’ll want to dive deeply into the script, your character, and really invest some time in the other works of the creatives behind this project. This will give you a great advantage, because most filmmakers have a specific style they tend to stick with, for example Darren Arronofsky, David Lynch, Ryan Murphy, Martin Scorcese, to name a few. Figure out the specific styles that set the filmmaker apart, if they already have a body of work behind them. This will give you something to latch onto and will inform your performance.
If you’ve never been on a set before, I implore you to invest time in learning set lingo. There are articles upon articles, guides, hundreds of resources at our fingertips. This is a no-brainer, and it is imperative you have a good understanding of what to expect. This is a professional setting, and it will only aid you as a professional to know the environment, the do’s and don’ts, and the lingo. Apart from basic professional manners and etiquette, spend some time learning the terms. Make flashcards if you can. It seems silly, I know. However, do not underestimate the power of being prepared and knowing your sh*t. If a producer or director, or someone on the crew sparks a conversation with you, don’t you want them to be shocked, and say “I cannot believe this is your first gig”? The goal in this is for them to see you as an experienced, professional actor who will undoubtedly deliver the “goods”. After all, this is a business, and they don’t want any risks in their investment.
LIVE ON SET:
Read your emails. Know your call time and present yourself early. Do not, and I repeat do not make the crew chase you around trying to figure out where you are when it is your time. If you are running late, communicate that to the point of contact, as well as your agent, if you have one. However, it is incredibly important that you are on time, so don’t let it come to that.
Set your ego to the side. When the camera is on you and the director says “action”, you want to blow everyone away. You want the director to grab you and sing your praises for how beautiful of a performance you gave and nail it on the first take. Well….. I hate to tell you this, but that rarely happens. If it does, that’s amazing, but don’t count on it or expect it to happen. There are a million moving parts to a set, and typically things are running behind schedule. If you go in and do your scene, hit your marks within a few takes, and the director doesn’t utter a word after that, take that as a sign that you went in there and delivered the goods. Do not rely on them, or anyone else to give you the type of feedback your acting coach gives you, or your peers. Usually if they are giving you feedback on your performance, it’s because they want you to make some sort of change. So no feedback = positive feedback.
If they want you to make changes, make sure you have clarity on what that change is, how you’re going to make it, and then commit to the change before going into the next take. Do not fall victim to your ego, and do not get defensive. If you disagree with the direction, keep it to yourself. You are there to do a job. Be clear about what you need. If the director wants you to be more plugged into the emotions of the scene, make sure you communicate that you need time to get to that emotional state, within reason. Don’t request a half-hour. Tell them “I need a minute or two to get there” and then go in there and work your magic. Know what you need and don’t shy away from communicating that. They will thank you for it once you give them exactly what they want.
Be intentional. When listening to direction, make sure your intent is to take what they’re telling you and infuse that into your performance. Sometimes there tends to be a bit of a disconnect between the actor and the director when it comes to taking direction and giving it. If you’re really lucky, the director you’re working with is also an actor, or at least spent some time taking acting classes. However, you won’t always be that lucky, so be very intentional about how to apply the direction they are giving you. It may be up to you to bridge that gap, so if you need clarification, ask clarifying questions. Don’t say “I don’t get it”, or “huh” and then expect them to break it down in a way that is tailored to what you need. Instead say, “Can you clarify what you meant when you said I needed to be more ____?” or rephrase what they are saying in a way that makes more sense to you and ask them if that’s what they meant. The more accommodating you are, the more clear you are, the easier it’ll be for them to do their job. They may not thank you for it, they may not notice it right away, but they will remember how easy and professional you were, and it will have made a difference, and could help establish a positive contact in the industry for the future. Always keep the future in mind and act accordingly. It will pay off.
Last of all, enjoy this special moment. After you’ve shown up and nailed your scene(s), congratulate yourself for this accomplishment. Feel and express the gratitude you have for those who helped you get to this moment, with the hope and expectation that this is just the beginning.