“We all know that people who’ve never been on a film set think it’s way more glamorous than the people who work on them.” – Martin Freeman
To the uninitiated, the film set is a place of glamour, luxury, champagne & caviar and every now and then, the occasional scene will be filmed.
The film set is certainly fun, but very often it’s a hub of organized chaos, where a cast and crew (often the size of a small city) are stuck together under pressure in the same space every day. There is often a lot of preparation and stress that goes into every little detail of the shoot.
Yet if you take adequate steps to prepare yourself, you will likely find the whole process extremely rewarding.
Know your role
You need to know your parts so well that if your director decides to make any changes, you can adapt without losing your lines or the fluidity of your performance.
Rehearse your role without speaking
Nail down the physical performance of your role by doing some of your rehearsals silently. Pay attention to your body language, but be careful not to overdo it – subtlety and nuance are your friends when in front of a camera.
First, rehearse your role with your own dialogues, then with script
Just see the mood of the scene (e.g. a friend insisting on going to dinner instead of a movie) and use your own dialogues instead of script. This will help you get in-the-character or feel-the-role with your own dialogues. Once you get the mood, then rehearse with script.
Act and react to every scene, even when you are not in the frame
Camera may focus only on certain people at a given time, but you should be aware of what is going on and react with your face-expressions and body language even when you are not in frame.
Remember your position, body gestures for retakes
As per industry average, 1-minute of film needs about 1-day of shooting time. Same scene has to be shot from several angles and several times. If you move, remember your starting and finishing position so you are in focus. If you use any gestures (like shaking head, or running your hand through your hair etc.) you need to be able to repeat them for retakes.
Remember, if you are an extra, you are not there to wow anybody with your acting skills. Your job is to help create context for the audience to understand the actions of the principal characters.
Look after yourself
All of us will be responsible for our own safety and well being, please be careful and keep yourself safe. If you are under 18, you must have a parent or guardian present on shoot. If you spot any unsafe working conditions move away, ask others to move away and let your agent/director know immediately.
Wear appropriate clothing
You need to consider what the day is going to require from you (eg. temperature, schedule, etc) and dress accordingly. For example, if hair/make-up is being done first, then wearing a pullover sweater is likely to smudge make-up or ruin the hair when you later change in costume.
Inform if you are late
If you have any unexpected problems or issues, handle this professionally by letting your agent know as soon as possible, so they can communicate this to the casting director where necessary.
Be friendly, patient and have cheerful attitude
A lack of rapport between actors can either translate poorly onscreen, or create a frosty working relationship. Grab every opportunity to create a rapport before the shoot even starts. Remember people’s names and familiarize yourself with their work. Go for drinks or dinner with cast and crew.
Remember that actors/models will need to spend good amount of time on waiting.
Rehearse with fellow actors
You’ll usually have a table read with your fellow cast members, but look out for other opportunities on the set to rehearse as a group. This helps everyone to be in-sync and make the on-screen dynamic look more natural.
Rehearse with shots in mind
Reflect what your character is doing in the script while rehearsing, as this helps it look less like ‘acting’ and more natural. For example, if your character is talking with a mouthful of food, then rehearse doing the same.
What to expect from the shoot
You will have been given a call time by your casting director or the relevant production assistant. Get there on time
Once on set, introduce yourself to the Assistant Director (AD) who will give you your call sheet. The AD is responsible for everything and everyone running smoothly so that the Director has everything they need to make the film.
This, for all intents and purposes, will be your Bible while on set. This tells you what scenes are being shot that day, where you need to be and when you need to get there. Do not lose this!
Depending on the size of the production, catering is provided – usually referred to as Craft Services. Be realistic, if you are part of a small-scale indie project, the catering may be either limited or chargeable.
Cast and crew meeting
At these morning meetings, the AD will give general and safety instructions as well as orientation advice. You’ll meet the production team here – think of them as Logistics, Human Resources and Finance rolled up into one.
If you have any HR/workplace concerns, you will need to discuss these verbally with the producer. Make sure you keep written notes of any such conversations with them afterwards.
Hair & make-up
Your role or the genre of film you are in (i.e. sci-fi) will dictate how much time you spend here.
Responsible for providing and fitting any on-set costume you may need for the role. They also carry out any repairs to torn or damaged costumes. You will be responsible for looking after the costume while in your possession.
Think of this more like a shot rehearsal than an acting rehearsal – director, cast and crew work the scene to make sure it works on camera. This can be long, so be ready to be flexible. Take note of instructions and markers you are given.
Now that blocking is done, the lighting crew will get the set ready and lit, according to the needs of the camera and the script. You will not be needed for this portion as stand-ins can be used in place of the cast.
This gives everyone a final chance to rehearse and check everything is working before committing it to film. This gives you the best opportunity to rehearse on set and in costume as well as opposite your fellow cast members.
Starts as soon as the director calls “Action” until he or she yells “Cut”. The length of the shooting process and number of takes are at the discretion of your director
Once the scene is completed, there may be a comfort break before blocking starts for the next scene on your call sheet. The scenes shot are organized according to time, budget and availability of the talent rather than script order.
Famous Hollywood actor Michael Caine has 1-hour of Masterclass on YouTube.