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.

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