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Come to Set with Your Best Foot Forward


Jessica SonnebornI’m an actress and a filmmaker. I understand both how hard it is to be an actress and how hard it is to get a movie made. In this article I want to talk to you about coming to set prepared, and I don’t mean just having your lines memorized or shot lists ready.

1) Medical conditions and allergies.

ALWAYS communicate ahead of time any medical conditions and allergies you have with your producer. Pack your medication with you, in case of emergency. If you are going on a location shoot where you will be away from home, make sure you check out the local area. Do they have a pharmacy close by? Does your Dr. approve of you going away, and would they recommend someone in that area, just in case you need to stop in? If you have a serious allergy, do you carry an EpiPen? Are you shooting in a place that may expose you to the allergy you have? Communicate AHEAD OF TIME, so that you aren’t suddenly putting the issue in front of producers or ADs on the day of the shoot. (Example: shooting in a apple orchard and telling the AD on the day of the shoot, “I’m deathly allergic to bees and I can’t shoot here”.) It can be nerve wracking to tell your producer or assistant director your issues, but I assure you. They would rather know with a very nice email or phone call a few weeks before the shoot, than have the issues come up in an emergency situation. Producers, assistant directors, filmmakers, always ask your cast and crew of medical and allergy issues before your shoot, so that you can help keep everyone safe and comfortable.

2) Dietary Restrictions.

“But there is Craft Service and Catering, I should be able to find something…” Famous last words for a hungry actress, who suddenly cannot find anything that meets her dietary restrictions. Every set is different, and some aren’t going to be catered with an array of food options.

I have had celiac disease for over 15 years. It’s technically a medical condition, but the cure is illuminating gluten from your diet. So that wonderful gluten free fad that’s going around has both helped my cause, and also made me feel “quite trendy”, but gluten is not a trend for me. I can’t have anything with a crumb of gluten, or I will get sick and lethargic. When I go to set for a day shoot, I always bring gluten free snacks for myself, just in case. If you have a dietary restriction, I recommend bringing snacks. You’d rather be safe, than left with nothing to eat. You need to fuel your brain for your performance.

For location shoots, it’s a bit of a different story. If you are a vegetarian, vegan, allergic to a particular food or have any other dietary restraint, I highly recommend you plan ahead. Talk to the producer and/or AD and let them know of your dietary restriction. Get on your computer and check out the area you are filming in. Is there a grocery store or natural food store nearby, so you can get yourself food while away? Will there be someone that can bring you there, or can you get yourself there?   Is there a functioning kitchen in the location you are staying, or a refrigerator? You don’t want to bring a bunch of perishables, and then not have access to a refrigerator.

Communication is key. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with the ADS or producers ahead of time. Let them know you want to plan ahead, so that there are no issues while filming. Filmmakers, ASK your actors and crew about their dietary restrictions. You may eat anything and everything, but some people can’t for medical, religious or personal reasons. Sometimes people don’t eat particular food because it makes them feel bloated or gross.   We are all different… and I can assure you, actors and crew are not going to feel great if they don’t have access to fresh vegetables and fruit … so think ahead. We are a team, all trying to make our performances and projects the best they can be. Filmmakers, as much work as it takes getting your movie made, I ASSURE YOU… having a happily fed cast and crew is going to make your shoot go a lot smoother, so add this to the list in your pre-production planning.

3) What are the expectations of your character?

Being comfortable with the character you are playing, and the expectations the filmmakers have of you playing that particular person, is very important. If you haven’t had a wardrobe fitting ahead of time, do you know what you are expected to wear? Communicate ahead of time these expectations so that you don’t arrive on set, and SURPRISE! You’re in a string bikini and rollerblades!

Make sure you read the entire script and not just the dialogue… Look at the action lines. What is your character doing? Are there any stunts, sexual content, or altering of your looks? If you have questions or concerns, bring it up before you get to set.

Filmmakers, if you expect an actor to do something above the normal, I would highly recommend communicating with them ahead of time. Actors don’t always read the entire script and they may have missed something, so keep a line of communication open. You may think something isn’t a big deal, like a character driving a car… but what if the actor comes to set and they don’t drive? It’s always better to have a chat ahead of time and make sure everyone is on the same page.

4) What to wear in between takes?

Some of my coldest and hottest moments have been on set, sometimes in the same day. In Los Angeles you can have a moment in the afternoon when the sun in frying you and then four hours later the sun goes down and you are shivering. Make sure you plan for the elements and bring extra stuff. Filmmakers, I always think it’s a good idea to communicate with the cast and crew what the expected weather of the day will be, so everyone can plan accordingly. Also if there are any particular hazards where you are shooting, ie. Rattle Snakes, a steep cliff, high winds… I would also bring some extra warming coats, sunscreen, etc., so that if someone didn’t come prepared, they are covered.

Remember, coming to set isn’t all about having your lines memorized or having all your shot lists ready. We are all in this to make the best product possible, so that what stands are actors performances and a beautifully crafted moving picture. So make sure you plan ahead, so that everyone is able to do his or her job, on the day.

Jessica Sonneborn

About Jessica Sonneborn

Jessica Sonneborn grew up in Connecticut and earned a BA in Anthropology from Wheaton College and a graduate teaching degree from Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. After teaching in Boston for a couple of years she turned her attention to acting in Independent movies, eventually deciding to make a serious try in the film industry by moving to Los Angeles in 2005. Jessica has had leads in a variety of genres from thrillers: "Lure", which she also wrote and produced, Sci-Fi: "The Witches of Oz" (Christopher Lloyd, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin), comedy: Kevin Smith’s Movie Club presents: "Money Shot" (Jason Mewes), which she also wrote and produced, Horror: "Alice D." (Kane Hodder, Al Snow), which she also wrote and directed, "Bloody Bloody Bible Camp" (Reggie Bannister and Tim Sullivan) and just released: Leigh Scott's, "Piranha Sharks" (Kevin Sorbo). She is in numerous other independent productions including: "American Girls" (Bai Ling), "Rabid Love", "Alpha House", "Never Open the Door", "Red Sleep", "Love Squared" and also had guest stars on Stephen Merchants', "Hello Ladies", Diablo Cody's, "United States of Tara", and Charles Shyers, "Him and Us" (pilot). Most recently she plays the lead in dramatic thrillers, "Silence", written and directed by Nelson Reis and produced by Carlyne Fournier, and "The House Across the Street", surrounded by Eric Roberts, Alex Rocco, Ethan Embry, and Courtney Gains, directed by Arthur Luhn and in the up coming Leigh Scott comedy, "Extra Curricular Activities". Jessica has several movies lined up for 2014 and early 2015, including the horror remake: Psycho a Go Go, mutant horror, Contaminated, and was just cast in the military drama, based on a true story: "Light Wounds" and horror: "One Night of Fear".