Welcome to PART TWO of this series! Part one covered what to expect as an actor on an average day on set, a breakdown of a typical schedule and terms. I’m excited it connected with so many of you!
I received a lot of great questions on twitter and here on Ms. in the Biz… many of them to do with how ‘styled’ one should be when arriving to set. People have different opinions, but mine (especially when new to a set) is to look as put together as possible. This definitely applies to something I neglected to mention – the WARDROBE FITTING – usually a few days before the shoot.
I made the mistake of showing up to a commercial fitting from a flight with my hair in a ponytail and looking tired. I was completely caught off guard when I was brought in front of the powers that be and the director seemed flustered by my HAIR — he kept promising the agency that I would look like I did at the audition, with my hair curled and pretty. EEP!
This also makes me remember an old acting coach describing how she was fired from a TV gig when she showed up to the table read (you’ll have one of those if it’s a comedy half hour) looking completely different than the character she had been hired to play, and ended up being replaced before she even made it to set.
Much of Hollywood operates on fear so it’s examples like these that remind me to make choices to make the powers that be around me as happy and empowered with their choice of hiring me as possible.
Now on to the good bits:
Your agent called you to tell you that the character JANE will be in 3 more episodes this season! There will be celebration but there may also be nerves… How did you play Jane before? Will you be in a scene with an actor you haven’t worked with? Will it be the same director? Will you be treated differently now that you’re back and a more important member of the cast?
In having experienced of few of these questions myself over the past year, here are a few of my takeaways, some even a little frank:
1. Jane is Not a Series Regular.
Even if your character is in the pilot, your place in the hierarchy of the cast is 3rd tier. There are the series regulars, the ‘name’ guest stars, then you the re-currings, the one episode guest stars, then the day player/ co-stars. This isn’t to sour your accomplishment of having booked the part, it’s just a reminder of the pecking order so you can make your experience as Jane a smooth and productive one.
What does ‘not being a series regular’ mean? Well, the crew and production staff won’t be as familiar with you right off the bat, they probably won’t even remember your name. I remember walking into the production office for episode 2 of Granite Flats and no one had any idea who I was! Given my character looks very different with her coiffed hair and 60s style outfit than I do in real life, but it reminded me that I wasn’t the star and it was up to me to know who everyone was, not the other way around. So before you hit set, get the Production contact list and then the call sheet (for all the crew) and start studying before you arrive to the sea of white trailers.
(And be comfortable with the fact that much of the camera crew will call you by your character’s name until you become more familiar to them.)
2. Just because you are acting together doesn’t mean that you are best friends.
Acting is a job and as such, your co-stars are your coworkers. Yes, people become besties (and sometimes more) on set, but don’t expect to be close with your fellow actors, especially not right away. They might not want to rehearse or run lines before you shoot, you may only see them when you get to set for blocking rehearsal. Be professional and polite up until the camera rolls. Thank them for working with them in the scene once it is done.
3. Be more prepared than you think you need to be.
Again, you are not a series regular. Does Max, the series regular who plays your boss Lonn Laper not know his lines perfectly during the blocking rehearsal? So what. You need to. You need to be totally off book with choices the first moment you step on set. Max probably works everyday, he has to learn 10X the amount of material you do. He is more familiar and comfortable on set, knows the crew and director better. He can afford to stumble. If you want your role to grow and thrive, you need to be at the top of your game. That doesn’t mean you need to be panicked about dropping a line… everyone does it, that’s what the script supervisor is there for. But you need to have put the work into prepping and rehearsing the scene before you arrive on set.
4. Social Media is awesome but don’t let it bite you in the ass!
Let’s be honest, one of the cool things about being on set is that you get to tweet an Instagrammed pic of it! Our actor egos like to pat themselves on the back and celebrate our little victories. And it’s great to both highlight your career and support the show you are on. But remember: you don’t have carte blanche to be posting pics from the set. Be VERY careful what and when you publish – always ask co-stars if it is ok to post a pic of them and if the picture gives something away plot-wise – don’t publish it! This is doubly so for commercial sets where Agencies make you sign non disclosure forms… so legally, they could come after you if you revealed the content of the spot before it aired!
(In the makeup trailer with Troy and Summer Sloan, who plays one of my kids on the show),
4. The Work is King.
There are a lot of things that can distract you on set as an actor. For one, you don’t act in a bubble, there are a ton of people involved in making television and a busy set can be very overwhelming with everyone trying to do their job (remember when I described the makeup artist, hairstylist, script supervisor and director all converging on you between takes? I forgot to mention that the DP will probably give you a note about finding your light better and the sound guy wants you to adjust your mic). This is where you put your years of training to work and FOCUS. Filter out what isn’t important and focus on the acting and owning the moment. Unlike theater or film, a TV director often won’t be as concerned with your performance as she is with the 30 other things she has to worry about to make the scene useable. So you have to be more responsible for your character’s portrayal and arc than you think. I found it overwhelmingly informative (and frustrating) to watch my work from last season. I could see where my character of June came to life and where I was just ‘acting’ the idea of her. Only inhabiting her every week or so made me realize that I had to do more solid character preparation for Season 2 and not rely on a director to coax it out of me.
5. Your Reputation is Queen.
Television is dramatic storytelling so there is no surprise that when you throw dozens of creative people together on a set that there will be drama. Each set has it’s own unique vibe, and sometimes demanding behavior gets overlooked or even rewarded (not that that happens on Granite Flats, everyone is amazing!). If the drama is there, don’t get sucked in — It’s not summer camp, this is your job… that you also want to extend for as long as possible! Be polite and gracious as best you can. But don’t feel the need to be everyone’s best friend. It’s better to be respected than liked.
6. Friggin’ Enjoy!
You are working regularly on a TV show! This is what you have wanted. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, the hours can be ungodly long, but it is awesome. And as you are not a series regular (exclusive to the show), you can potentially translate this gig into jobs on other shows also shooting!
And then when you get on that set, you’ll be a seasoned pro.
Hope Part 2 was helpful and gave you food for thought. Feel free to ask me any questions you have regarding this topic — and if there are any insights you have. Maybe I’ll even come up with a Part 3!
Until then… Happy Acting.