Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Errors to Avoid on Set

There's an old army saying that assumption is the mother of all screw ups, and it's as true on set as it is on base.  This week I came across a terrific article by Casting Director Lana Veenker on errors to avoid on set.  I've copied them below, but here's the link to her original article.  Lots of good advice here.  

From "12 Major Faux Pas to Avoid on Set," Backstage magazine, January 13, 2014:

1. Working with cameras and mics. “One of my most embarrassing acting memories was forgetting I was miked.” Between takes, the crew can hear your every word. Never make fun of, hit on, gossip, or gripe about your colleagues. This is one of the most common on-set blunders. (See also: looking into the camera; not being off book.)  Kay: I would add to turn off the mic before heading for the restroom.

2. Handling food and drink. “During the lunch break, I dipped my tie into the BBQ sauce and soiled my white shirt.” Protect your wardrobe from spills and stains. Also avoid overeating—or eating the wrong foods—on a shoot day, otherwise, as one actress put it, “your stomach may improvise its own lines.”  (See also: pocketing craft service items for later; chewing gum on camera.)

3. Blocking and moving around. “Once I walked into the lead actor’s line of sight during a take, and let me tell you, he was furious.” Similarly, if you fail to watch your back-to-one, you just might kick your “unconscious” co-star in the head, not realizing how close they are to your feet. There’s a lot happening on set, so be hyper-aware of your surroundings. (See also: missing your mark, tripping on cables; bumping into lighting instruments and set decoration.)

4. Interacting with the set and props. “I peed into a toilet that was actually part of the set.” Know what you’re allowed to use and not use on a set. If unsure, ask!  (See also: taking a bite out of waxed fruit they were going to use later as a prop.)

5. Negotiating hair, make-up, and wardrobe. “I thought I blew my audition for a guest role, so I cut my hair very short the next day. When I booked it, they freaked.” Ask before changing your look whenever you’re up for—or have booked—a role. (See also: shaving your beard after your character has been established; forgetting sunscreen and getting sunburned on set; not bringing everything Wardrobe has requested or not wearing exactly what they asked you to wear.)

6. Making people wait. “I had to pee for at least an hour, and when I finally did jump off set, I failed to tell the AD. When I returned, I got the ‘Where the hell were you?’ vibe and they never hired me again.” Relieve yourself before being called to set. Always inform the first or second AD if you need to leave for any reason, and pay attention in case your name is called. Everyone’s tired; they don’t want to wait for you. (See also: wandering to craft service for a latte without telling anyone; heading to base camp when everyone else is returning to set.)

7. Losing focus. “Don't listen to the lead who tells you funny anecdotes and keeps at it until you break. SHE gets away with it because she is a mega star. You are not going to get out of it unscathed.” We all like to have a good time on set, but remember that production is on the clock, and every minute costs money. Be friendly, but don’t allow others—including the names—to distract you too far from the task at hand. (See also: freaking out, swearing, or having a meltdown after blowing a line.)

8. Knowing your place. “I sat in the star’s chair for 10 minutes before the director approached and sent me to base camp. I recall a group staring at me, including the lead actor, who was very tired.” Set regulars may seethe when actors or background usurp their assigned chairs. Don’t do it, unless you’ve been expressly invited. (See also: announcing impatiently to the director after a take, "We got the shot, we're moving on!")

9. Behaving awkwardly or unprofessionally. “I once stared straight at the lead actor when I was an extra. Like, intensely staring. I thought we were having a moment. We were told the next day that we were not allowed to make eye contact with the actors.” Everyone gets a little star-struck at times, but try not to unnerve co-workers by gawking, blurting out how much you love their work, or otherwise acting weird. (See also: cracking insensitive jokes; blatantly hitting on someone; being intoxicated on set.)

10. Knowing with whom you are working. “I asked the lead where the coffee cups were, because I thought she was Craft Service.” Another actor nearly scolded a famous director for calling “Cut!” not knowing that the director was playing a small cameo opposite him. Read the call sheet, and if necessary, research the VIPs you’ll be working with prior to arrival, so that you recognize them. (See also: initiating small talk with a crew member about a celebrity who committed suicide, only to find out it was his father; raving about a famous actor to his ex-flame, then discovering Make-Up has been instructed to make you “look ugly.”)

11. Being upfront about your abilities. “I was asked to force the lead actor to the ground, handcuff him, pick him up, and slam him on the police car hood. Instead of admitting this was incredibly intimidating, I tried to pick the handcuffed star off the ground, and accidentally dropped him.” Speak up if you’re nervous about doing something, and don’t pretend to know a skill that you don’t. Otherwise, you’re inviting disaster.  (See also: volunteering to jump over a stair rail in a chase scene and then eating it; not mentioning you’ve lost your voice until you’re on set and have to be replaced.)

12. Maintaining confidentiality. “I posted a photo of myself in the make-up chair of a TV series. I was then told that was a career-ender.” Networks and studios are paranoid about plot points and casting choices being disclosed prematurely, so photos on set are a no-no. The same goes for commercial shoots: products and marketing strategies are confidential prior to release. Do yourself a favor and put the smartphone away. (See also: spoiling the season finale of a TV series on Twitter, invoking not only the rage of fans, but a public lambasting by the executive producer. )

POSTSCRIPT:  Most of Lana Veenker's points ought to be common sense, but large productions bring a lot of confusion on set and - knowing that - some of the reactions from leading actors strike me as a bit over the top. He stared at me? She sat in my chair? He walked through my line of sight? She gushed over the famous actor, whom I'm not dating anymore? (Like she's supposed to know?)

A-list actors get a huge amount of deference on set. In contrast, non-union background are often people who have never been on a set before, are frequently treated badly, and are working a 10-hour day for $70, which is less than minimum wage. Dayplayers struggle to make a "character" out of three lines, may drive hundreds of miles to get to a location, or come in the day before and stay at a cheap hotel on their own dime to make an early morning casting call. So their career is "ended" because they took a selfie in the make-up chair? Really?

On a crowded set, it is easy have a passing comment mis-heard or misconstrued or to momentarily fail to recognize a leading actor or the director. (Most will introduce themselves.) I was told of a background actor who had the temerity to say a few words to a big star during a lunch break, only to find himself summarily fired and escorted off the set. It's hard to believe that anyone's ego is so fragile they must exert their enormous power on set to destroy the defenseless. But some do. 

So leave your mobile phone in your car, use a little common sense in your words and actions, and do the best you can. And if one day you become a big star, remember the words of Jack Lemmon's character C.C. Baxter in the Billy Wilder film The Apartment: be a mensch. "You know what that is?" he says. "A human being."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hit a Slump in your Acting Career? Watch This.

There aren't many films about the acting experience that I would recommend, but this one is pure gold and no one seems to be promoting it. In That Guy...Who Was in That Thing, a 2012 film from #NewWaveEntertainment, serious (and recognizable) supporting actors talk about the ups and downs of their careers in Hollywood. If you've hit a slump, this film will help you get your head on straight. Stream it off of Netflix as I did or, if you can find one, buy a copy on DVD.

Why is it so good and so useful?  Because it's about the struggle to succeed.  Human beings like stories about struggle.  That's why star autobiographies are often so inspirational and a treasure trove of good advice; they tell us how hard and long the road can be, and that it's still possible to survive and succeed. 

Now if they'd just follow up with That Gal....Who was in That Thing....  #KathrynBrowning #ThatGuyWhoWasInThatThing

Editors...one of the hazards of the business

Slowly easing back into the saddle after 3 months of near total focus on home repair and remodeling. Getting the manse in shape for an eventual (sooner than later, I hope) move to Los Angeles and, yes, it’s a nightmare. Fortunately, the activity has moved to the exterior, so I don’t have to spend my days wiping drywall dust off the furniture (plates, food, pets, etc.).

Came up for air in time to book a speaking role on a national TV series. I had two scenes in this same show last year only to lose them to editing and rewrites. (Bah!) It’s one of the hazards of acting. You struggle to get into a hit show, get all excited when you do, and then have your hopes dashed. Losing the whole scene isn’t the worst-case scenario, however. Some of my actor friends have landed speaking roles and then had just their lines cut. That means their character is reduced to "featured background" and they can’t get a different role on that same show for years.

I must say though that when I watched the episodes from which I was cut I had to agree with the editor. It’s a business. Nothing personal. 

An actor needs to have clear-cut goals to deal with such disappointments. It’s the biggest problem I see in actors starting out, regardless of when and at what age they start. They just want to act (because they love it) or make money at it (because they need to eat), so they’ll take any vehicle and any role. The result is that their focus is scattered in a dozen directions….commercials, re-enactments, stage, live promotions, drama, comedy, background, even print ads and runway modeling. 

I think an actor can be open to all of those things, but 90 percent of his or her effort should be on the acting they want most. For me it’s film and TV drama, so I’m focused on trying to improve my reel and credits, and assessing each role as to what it might add to the mix. (I don’t think an actor needs to do more than one zombie film, for example.)

Actors also need to be clear as to what they bring to the table. Most actors are typed, even big stars, so it’s important to know what your type is and to be able to express it in three words. Mine is “forceful, intelligent, pragmatic,” which offers up a wide range of meaty possibilities. Most of them are reserved for male actors unfortunately, but when I do get one I’m terrific.

So, slow progress, but progress. With this most recent booking I had to survive three levels of casting and then the director made the final choice (he picked me).  Now my "Senator" just needs to get past those editors…….