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.

Houston Relief Effort

All hands on deck! We need your help for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Here’s a note from The Teamsters and Joint Council 42.

The Locals of our Joint Council 42 are spearheading a Houston Relief Effort!

Our Teamster multi-truck convoy is slated to depart Southern California under CHP escort Thursday, September 7th from Rialto. Below is a list of all items that we are seeking to collect to give to the victims of the devastating Hurricane Harvey.

Items Needed: 

  • Clothing, socks, underwear, diapers, adult diapers
  • Food: canned goods, nonperishable foods
  • Bottle Water
  • Baby Formula
  • Ensure
  • Dog & Pet Food
  • Work Gloves and boots
  • Shovels, Racks, Tarps, plastic sheeting, disinfectant wipes
  • Batteries (All Sizes)
If you’re in Los Angeles you can drop off your donations to these locations below.
Donations (of goods) must be received by 5pm PST on Wednesday Sept 6

Steve Dayan, Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer, will accept JC 42 Relief Effort donations at the Local Union office.

The Local’s address is:

4747 Vineland Avenue

No. Hollywood CA 91602

Office Hours:  Tuesday & Wednesday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Donations can also be dropped off at Joint Council:

981 Corporate Center Drive

Suite 200

Pomona CA 91768

Office Hours:  Tuesday & Wednesday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Please direct any questions on logistics to Robert Turner cell: 323-394-1910 or email Chris Mihalow:

If you are unable to donate goods to the Joint Council 42 Relief Effort — considering making a monetary contribution to the IBT Disaster Relief Fund for Hurricane Harvey. 

Click here to Donate to the IBT Disaster Relief Fund.

Checks can be mailed here:
Teamsters Joint Council 42
981 Corporate Center Drive
Suite 200
Pomona CA 91768
Make check out to: JC 42 Charity, Memo: ‘Harvey Relief’

Thank you!!

The Secret To Staying In The Moment

10.22.2015_NickBertozzi_NoteCD.jpeg.644x650_q100Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

Any good actor knows he needs to prepare the “moment before” any scene. Often forgotten is the “moment after.”

When I’m holding auditions for my projects, I see so many actors who have done their research on the project, made character choices, and are off-book. Yet when the scene starts, I see them turn on their “acting switch” and start acting, rather than just leaning back into the character and the scene at hand.

You have to know what happened leading into the scene you’re reading (whether it’s an audition or on set). Many times, you’ve only received a set of sides, no script, and a minimal character description with no way of knowing what just happened. Guess what? You have to make it up and flesh it out. Find clues within the material and come up with your own “moment before” so that you have an organic place from which to come.

The action and emotional moments don’t just come with your first line. They come from the second the scene starts, even before the camera is rolling. There are golden moments before the first line is delivered.

I always ask my camera person to shoot plenty of “heads and tails” to catch this magic. “Heads” (what we get on tape) refers to the specific choices that a smart actor does to set the scene before the first line. “Tails” is the amazing emotion we see at the end of the scene when most people are so into the role that they unconsciously show us something about the character we didn’t even know. Remember not to stop the scene and turn off when the scene ends. Stay in the moment and continue your emotions until you hear “cut” or the creative team comments on your performance.

I coach my clients to create a short sentence of a main objective to trigger their emotions going into a scene. Keep the stakes high for your objectives and the scene will have a deeper emotional life; “I have to get this information from her or I’ll lose her/I’ll die/she will leave me.” Along with this, you can create a visual “flash memory” of photos of what led up to this event. You have to be able to smell it and feel it as well.

The moment before isn’t what just happened. It’s what your character did that morning. Did you have a rough night sleeping? Did your car crap out on you on the way to meeting your boss in the scene? All of these things can play into your moment before and give you a richer performance.

If you’re auditioning for a very emotionally raw or intense role, protect your audition. You’ve probably spent the last 20 minutes or so in the waiting room amping up and zoning into your character. Then you come into the room and the director wants to chitchat with you or the introductions might distract you. A good casting director will instruct her team to start the scene and save the conversation for later. You can be proactive and politely say, “Let’s jump into the scene and I’d love to talk after.”

That said, if you have one or two lines such as “Here’s your coffee, sir,” you don’t want to do anything other than walk up and deliver the coffee. Adding too much “business” at the top (or end of a scene) is distracting and calls attention to what should be a simple action of moving the plot forward.

Have you had these experiences before? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment and get into the conversation!

Make sure to check out my new 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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