You Have a Recurring Role on a TV Show, Now What?! PART 1

photo by The Bui Brothers
photo by The Bui Brothers

Wanting to switch gears from my regular existential style of post, I asked our talented founder and editor Helenna if there was a topic she’d like me to explore. She wondered if I would write about being a recurring character on the TV show I shoot in Utah. My instinct was a self conscious ‘no’ as I felt it would be too self promotional — but in thinking on it, I realized how much I have learned over the last year (and how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know) so I figured it could be helpful to share with you my experiences!

In a nutshell I play the recurring role of June Sanders (wife of the fictional town’s Chief of Police and mother to 5!) on the BYUTV family drama GRANITE FLATS. We are currently shooting season 2 in Salt Lake City. I was in 6 of the 8 episodes in Season 1 and have shot 3 out of 4 episodes this season. I usually shoot 1-3 days on an episode though currently I’m here in Salt Lake for 9 days as my character has a lot of scenes (and they are meaty, yay!)

This first post will be dedicated to a typical day on a TV set, knowing that you will be returning as you booked a recurring role. If you’re like me, you’ve acted in a bunch of different type of productions, from student ones, to commercials, digital series and to indie films, maybe even a few big budget TV/ Studio films but not on a regular basis. I’ve worked on a handful of network shows but only for a day at a time and I find it nerve wracking to jump into an already moving ship. I always wished that there was a step by step guide as to what I should expect on set. So here it is.

But instead of talking about my experiences as ‘June’, let’s pretend YOU’VE been cast as JANE, the recurring quirky Office Assistant to one of the lead characters. Here’s what a typical day on set for you as Jane might be like, including some tips:

— Your alarm goes off.  If set is 30 minutes away and your call time is 7am, get up at 5:30. That way you’ve given yourself enough time to be able to wake up, look presentable and not be rushed. (*Tip: Just because you’ve booked the job doesn’t mean that you should get to set looking like a slob.)

— *Tip: leave 10 minutes early so you can dash into Starbucks for a latte as the coffee on set is meh and your call time may be before the catering gets there (since us gals need so much time to be put through ‘the works’).

— When you arrive on set, you look for the 2nd AD who checks you in and points you to your trailer.

— In your trailer the wardrobe department has probably hung up what you are wearing for the scene. Depending on the outfit, it’s best to change into it so hair and makeup can see what you are wearing. If you don’t want to get changed yet, make sure you are wearing things that you can easily pull off without messing your hair. (*Tip: I always bring a cozy cardigan with me to wear over my wardrobe to keep me warm and protect it from coffee).

— Go to make up and hair. They are always in the same trailer. Know which person is from which department (study the call sheet) – you will ultimately be spending a lot of time with these people! There will usually be the department head and then one or two other stylists. This is where you have a chance to meet or reconnect with the other actors on your show. (This is also where gossip happens but more on that in the next post!)

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— A PA will probably pop in and ask you if you want breakfast. Say YES. You need energy. I always get oatmeal with berries and a side of egg whites. Protein and carbs.  It will keep your energy up and help you stay away from the craft service table later 🙂

— The 2nd AD or a PA will probably keep checking on how soon you will be done. (*Tip: Both hair and makeup will get annoyed by this as they are never given enough time, don’t let it rattle you. Focus on becoming ‘Jane’ and going over your scenes.)

— *Tip: Even though you know your face and hair better than anyone, let the hair and makeup department do their job. Don’t suggest any changes unless you feel really uncomfortable with what they’ve done. If they ask for your opinion, give it to them in the most polite way possible!

— Even if you are not 100% (meaning 100% ready), a PA will call you to set for a rehearsal. It’s time to act! This is where you will rehearse the scene with the other actors in front of the director (who you probably just met) and the DP to decide how and where it is going to play out. Once the director is satisfied, he will invite the rest of the crew in to watch.

— *Tip: the DP/ crew and ADs will be working on all the episodes, the director is only working on that one episode. Know names!

— Then you are sent away to finish getting ready while the camera, electric and art department stage & light the set and place the camera.

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— Go directly back to Hair and Makeup so they can finish their work and then go back to your trailer (if there is time) to focus. You’ve run the scene a few times now so you know if there is something you want to work on.

— A PA will then bring you back to set where they will take you to the Audio Department to get mic’d up (that is if they are putting an individual mic on you).

— Then it’s time for the Camera Rehearsal for the first shot, usually the MASTER. This is where you act the scene again in front of the camera – where they will ‘set your marks’ with pieces of colored tape on the floor. You need to hit those marks or your lighting will be off and the take will be unusable. Rehearse this ‘dance’ a few times so that it doesn’t overtake the real work you need to be doing — ACTING!

— Once they are ready to roll, ‘LAST LOOKS’ will be called so on set hair and makeup (who have been watching the monitor) will rush over and touch you up.

— The set will be cleared and the AD will call ROLLING, you’ll hear the different departments confirm they are ready, ‘sticks’ (the clapboard with the scene info on it) will clap in front of the camera, then the 1st AC will say ‘Camera Set’, and either the 1st AD or the director will call ACTION.

— ACT THE SCENE.  Never break character until the director calls CUT. Hair and Makeup will usually come in to touch you up at the same time as the Script Supervisor is talking to you about a piece of missed dialogue and the Director is giving you a note. Stay focused.

— They will do another take. Maybe four.

— Then you will go in for coverage and repeat process again, adjusting for the new size of frame. This will repeat until the scene is done. You will need to remember what actions and moves you made on your different pieces of dialogue so that the takes will ‘match’. *Tip: The script supervisor is there to help with that – they write everything down, and are the ones to call out to if you blank on a line.

— Then if you have another scene, the beginning of this process starts again, depending on where in the script the scene is — it could take place on another day in the script thus a wardrobe and hair and makeup change.

Aren’t you glad you had breakfast? (Lunch is 6 hours from crew call)

— When you finish your last scene, you are WRAPPED. Once you clear out of your trailer, you will see the 2ND AD to sign out.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of your day playing JANE — but guess what, you’re coming back again in a week to film another few scenes as your character recurs. So next week, I’ll dive into both set and acting advice on navigating the chaotic, exciting waters of being a recurring part of the cast.

Feel free to ask me any questions! Being comfortable and confident on set is a big step towards doing great work.

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