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How to Be Superstar on Set

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

Working on a tv series over the last three months has reminded me how much knowledge actors need to work on a set effectively. From what I can see, most acting classes don’t teach this.

Know your lines: You’d be surprised how many actors get hired and come to set without knowing their lines. If you don’t know your lines inside and out, you won’t be able to hear and institute the director’s direction because you’ll be too busy trying to remember what to say. Be prepared for changes in the dialogue. In some situations you will stick to the script exactly. In others, you may be encouraged to improvise or to catch the “happy accidents” that may occur. That “lightning in a bottle” may slightly change the dialogue and you have to be on your toes to fold in those lines into the scene with ease. Also know that your performance should be exactly as it was on your audition and rehearsal. Now is not the time to try out something new.

The marking/blocking rehearsal: When you arrive on set you will run through what’s called a “marking” or “blocking” rehearsal. In this rehearsal, the actors run through the scene with dialogue and, along with the director, sort out what the action is within the scene. For instance, you come into the room, say a line to your girlfriend, grab your keys and phone, walk to the door, your girlfriend joins you there for a goodbye kiss, and then you exit. While you’re doing this, someone from the camera department is marking every place you go with tape or little bean bags on the ground. You’ve got to hit those marks consistently and without looking so that you’ll be in focus and lit well when doing your scene. You also must manage your continuity. Continuity is when you repeat actions in the exact same order, along with saying your lines in the same spot and making sure to have your phone and keys in the same hand for each take. The script supervisor is also tracking your continuity to make sure that all your takes are identical so the editor can cut them together for a realistic scene. You don’t want to be the actor who is a nightmare for the production because nothing cuts together.

Pace yourself:

I think the biggest misconception about shooting is that it’s action-packed and fun filled.

When I say that there’s a lot of hurry up and wait, I’m being kind. You will often find yourself with a call time of 6am and only have one scene and one line that doesn’t shoot until 4pm. You have to learn to pace yourself so that you’re ready and fresh when they finally do get to your scene. Have plenty to do – you can bring a book, knitting, or whatever you like to do to pass the time but stay close by and alert. A production assistant will come get you from your trailer when they’re ready to shoot your scene. If you leave your trailer for any reason, or walk off the set, make sure you tell a P.A. where you’re going so they can find you at a moment’s notice.

Know the lingo: As I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve worked on a set, there’s a very specific language used on set that can make you feel like you’ve walked into a foreign country. Once we’re shooting, things are very fast paced so it’s crucial to understand this lingo so as not to slow things down. I created a list of some of the most common words I hear on a set, along with some oldies but goodies!

Some new terms you’ll hear on set these days are:

“Take your masks off/on” – while acting on set you are required to wear a mask at all times except when you’re shooting. The A.D.s will tell you when to remove your mask and when to put it back on.

Zone A and testing – because of the virulent spread of the Covid-19 virus, production has taken great pains to keep everyone healthy. If you’re in Zone A (an actor or anyone who works in close proximity) there will be lots of testing if you’re working regularly on a show (I get tested every other day because I’m in Zone A).

Gone are the days of feasting on the table at craft services. Now, you’ll order your meal from a menu ahead of time and all food is individually packed and no touching the craft services table. Someone from that department will hand you what food you request.

Make sure to check out my online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

My Life as an Intimacy Coordinator on “Hightown”

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

I’ve always reveled in being a multihyphenate. In addition to casting, producing, coaching actors, and designing jewelry, I recently added another feather to my cap: I’m now a certified Intimacy Coordinator for film and television.

I started working in this field at the end of 2018, and (miraculously) got a job during the pandemic working on a television series called “Hightown” for Starz. When a scene calls for nudity or simulated sex, it’s my job to make sure that the actors are safe in all scenes and have clearly given enthusiastic consent. Collaborating with the actors and filmmakers to help bring their vision to the screen is truly gratifying.

Without an intimacy coordinator, actors are often left to their own devices to map out how an intimate scene should go.

There is a high risk of blurred lines and abuse in a workplace where workers are required to kiss and simulate sex.

To combat this, it’s becoming best practice to have a coordinator on set. In fact, HBO has made it mandatory that one is hired for all of its shows that include this content.

Think about it: When a production executes a stunt, it hires a stunt coordinator who makes sure that every member of the crew remains safe, is educated, and has given consent to perform the task at hand. This requires interviews with the production team to determine exactly what is called for in the scene down to the smallest detail. It also requires extensive choreography, planning, and safety meetings. Now, with intimate scenes, the same thoughtful attention to detail can be given to create a safe environment for the actors involved, as well to ensure that the vision of the director and producers is met, thereby saving the production time and money.

In a nutshell, here’s what I do: During pre-production, I meet with the production team to determine what is called for in the scene. I then meet with the actors one-on-one to discuss ideas for the scene. During this time, we confirm what areas of their body, in line with their nudity rider, they are comfortable revealing. In addition, we discuss consent for potential choreography for intimate scenes, and I invite any concerns to be raised.

I find that most actors are hard-wired to say “yes.” Not just “yes,” but “yes, and….” You are trained to jump into most circumstances with trust and an open heart. But you should know that your “No” is very powerful. For instance, there’s a clause in your SAG-AFTRA contract stipulating that you have the right to say no to a scene while you’re in the middle of shooting, even if you’ve agreed to it and have signed a nudity rider. We can then compromise on the scene and continue shooting, or we can employ a double for you. The double can only do what’s in your nudity rider, and the production can use the takes you’ve already shot. The new SAG-AFTRA 2020 agreement also affords you several other rights where this content is involved; it was written with the help of the industry’s leading intimacy coordinators.

Make sure to check out my online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

How To Get on the Emerging Talent List

By Marci Liroff

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

We’ve become a society of lists. We’ve had David Letterman’s Top 10 lists, to-do lists, and myriad year-end best-of lists. As an actor, some of the most coveted to appear on are “emerging talent” lists. You might ask: How do I land a spot on one of these much-sought-after rosters?

Of course, you know me: I’m always bucking the system. Should it really be your goal to get on these lists? I don’t think so. If that’s the case, you may be traveling down the wrong path. I’d rather see you expend your energy and talents on creating and maintaining a solid foundation in which to be a versatile performer. Chasing the red carpet life or striving for the A-list is an invitation to a hamster wheel you’ll never get off.

What I’ve seen in the last several years is that these lists are somewhat bogus in the way they characterize “new” and “upcoming” talent. As a longtime casting director, I’ve got to be plugged into who is new and hot on the scene. They may appear new to you, but my colleagues and I have been tracking (and hiring) these actors for years before they even get mentioned on such a list. 

It’s important to ask yourself: Do I want to be famous, or do I want to be working with amazing filmmakers and turning out rich and authentic work?

Both paths take a lot of effort and tenacity. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will get plucked out of obscurity and be an overnight success. I would wager that most, if not all, of the actors on these lists have been banging the drum for several years before you ever hear about them. 

These performers have been taking classes for years, working on short films for free, appearing in Off-Off-Off-Broadway plays, doing one-line day player gigs, working several jobs to pay the rent, creating their own content, and networking to build relationships within the industry. There have been sleepless nights spent wondering how they’ll pay their bills and take care of their family, and missed holidays and birthdays because they’re on location doing a bit part in what could be their “big break.” Lots of sacrifices happen that go unnoticed by the general public. It all looks so easy and simple when you finally become aware of someone for their amazing work on screen or stage, but the work that went into it is never mentioned. 

These lists are designed to make it look like a discovery story, but if you look closely, you’ll see that path is not paved with 100% success stories. The odds are stacked against you in your pursuit of movie star dreams. 

My hope is that you’ll take this time to reflect on why you’ve chosen this career in the first place. That simple act can help you manage your expectations and goals. 

I like to ask the kids I audition why they want to be an actor. If they say, “Because I have to,” I know they’re on the right path.

Make sure to check out my online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

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