By Melissa Center
As actors, we daydream (and night dream) about WORKING on set. We study. We coach. We audition. And audition again. And again. And again. We perfect our marketing materials and network and create our own content and put time, energy, effort, prayers, love, magic, and money into landing a role. But what happens when we book that role? Then what?
We arrive on set. We are thrust into chaos. We feel excited and blessed to be there, but often lost, anxious, confused, and nervous. What the heck (and where) is “basecamp?” How do I find my trailer? When do I actually get called to set? Do I put on my costume right away? If I have a question, who do I ask? What happens if I mess up my take? AAAAAAAHHHH!!!!
Firstly, know you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed. Every job you book means a new set of rules, dynamics, and personalities. You constantly have to adjust to changing environments, last-minute script changes, schedule changes, and more. However, do not fret! Like anything in life, if you take the time to educate and prepare yourself, you can walk on set feeling secure, confident, and focus on what you have spent so much time, money, and energy preparing for – ACTING!
Here are some tips that can alleviate stress & empower you to walk on set like a PRO:
BUDGET PLENTY OF TIME FOR TRANSPORTATION
Whether you live in LA or NYC, you always want to arrive on set calm, collected, and ready to perform at your peak. The day before you are scheduled to shoot, you will receive a call and email with your call time, location, parking info, & a map. Confirm receipt of this. The last thing you want is for your Second AD to be worried that you might not show up! Then, have a good look at your call sheet:
There are clues on your call sheet that can give you a sense of how much time you need to get from the parking area (basecamp) to your trailer (usually in the same vicinity) to set. Sometimes you will be shuttled in a golf cart to set (usually when shooting on a studio lot). Sometimes you will hop in a van with fellow cast mates and/or crew (think indie film shooting in the woods). When in doubt or confused, look for a crew person holding a walkie-talkie who seems to be hanging around the periphery. This usually designates PAs (Production Assistants) who can help point you in the right direction.
PRO TIP – BE NICE to PAs! (Be nice to everyone) PAs are on set all day, paid the least, and ofttimes under-appreciated. Though PAs today, they will be Producers and Directors tomorrow!
You’ll want to allow yourself enough time to not only arrive on set on time (early is better), but also to nourish yourself & mentally prepare before you’ll be called to block your first scene.
BRING WHATEVER YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Ever heard the phrase “hurry up and wait?” A day on set is a masterclass in energy management. Depending on how on-schedule or far behind the team is, you may spend hours waiting in your trailer only to be rushed to set to block your scene before the sun sets and light is lost. Alternatively, you might arrive on set and be rushed to get into hair & makeup, rushed to set to block your scene, sent back to your trailer to get into costume, and wait over an hour to be called back to set to shoot your scene.
To set yourself up for success, arrive in clothing that is comfortable and easy to change in/out of. Pack yourself HEALTHY snacks. Usually, there are healthy options at “crafty” (craft services), but sometimes not. Stuffing your face with bagels and a handful of M&Ms is a recipe for disaster. A bag of almonds, an apple, and carrots and hummus are easy snacks to throw into your bag in the event the crafty table is filled with crap, or in case you have no time to eat!
Bring a book, meditation tape, or a nourishing activity to do while waiting to work. This will help you stay open and connected, but won’t deplete you. Remember – you will have large chunks of time before you hear the word, “Action.” Trying to sustain performance energy for hours on end is too exhausting, and your performance will suffer. Don’t forget – you’ll have to execute multiple takes of the same scene.
PRO TIP – Emotional prep can wait! When first called to set, the purpose is not for performance, but to block your scene FOR THE CREW! They need to understand where to place and move the camera and where to place lights in order to bring your scene to life visually. Paying attention to the crew’s directions will help you understand how much work they have to do and how much time that may take. (Once everything is set up, it’s YOUR turn to shine!)
GO THE EXTRA MILE
What does it take to be the best actor possible? Among other things, you must become an expert in observation, in listening, & develop a deep understanding of the human condition. How does one become an expert? Education and practice! The same applies to “set life.” If you take the time to educate yourself on all the elements of a set – from understanding the function of each department to differentiating different members of the crew to knowing the purpose of each piece of equipment, you will be better equipped for success.
Please read it, digest it, use it, and let me know what you learn!
As an added bonus & way to honor our community, I commit to contributing a portion of all proceeds to The Actor’s Fund, a wonderful organization that also provides resources to professionals in the Entertainment Industry.
Melissa Center is a working actor, teacher, and filmmaker. TV credits: Grimm, True Detective, Masters of Sex & Grey’s Anatomy. She is on faculty at the SAG Conservatory & teaches on-going craft at About The Work Actor’s Studio. As a filmmaker, she produced, co-wrote & stars in the feature film All I Want, newly released on Amazon. She also wrote, co-directed and stars in the short film R.V., which premiered at ARULA Short Film Festival in partnership with Planned Parenthood & next screens at Dances with Films Festival. She is a proud Northwestern grad & a mom to a pup named Scout. www.melissacenter.com