OnFilm Set

SET LIFE – Tips & Tricks from the Pros

By Katie Northlich

It is no secret that being on a film or television set for an actor is, well, pretty magical. An actor has so many close calls, so many hours training, so many auditions and callbacks until suddenly: POOF!  A job is booked!  O happy day!, the actor thinks, as she skips her way to a fitting, and then, ultimately, set. I get to work, she thinks. On a real SET.  ACTING. Next stop: the OSCARS!

The thing is, there’s a whole lotta information coming at you at warp speed when you get to that set.  How the day’s going to go.  The names of your co-workers.  Who you’re working with and when.  Potential last minute changes to the script.  On-the-fly direction.  It can go from exciting to pressure-filled in a matter of seconds.  Once we get that oh-so-coveted job on set, how do we keep our calm, no matter what the circumstances?

Take a look at the following tips, straight from New York City working actors, on how to get through your gig seamlessly, feel confident in your work and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!


“Memorize your lines to the point where they become boring to you.  Prepare everything that you are going to say in the scene to a T- and then be prepared to throw it all away, depending on what you’re getting from the other actor.  You need to start with a strong foundation.”  –Happy Anderson, The Knick, Blue Bloods, Law and Order.

“Always bring reading material because you may have to wait in your trailer a very long time- and don’t get carried away with Kraft services!  You need to stay mentally and physically prepared!”Victor Verhaeghe, Bridge of Spies, Boardwalk Empire

“When you are hired to be a costar, or guest star even… you are there to “serve” the director’s vision. You are not there to win an Emmy or produce any “creative” performances. You are essentially doing what you did in the call back or the initial audition. Too many actors try to be creative when they’re hired for a day or a few days… that can leave a bad taste in the director and producers’ mouths.  You are there to serve them- their vision- not yours!  –Dave Shalansky, Gilmore Girls, Vinyl on HBO and the upcoming Sarah Jessica Parker comedy, Divorce. For full list of credits and such: www.daveshalansky.com

“Know your lines inside out and backwards, because rehearsals are virtually non-existent.  Know your props and familiarize yourself with the set before the director calls ‘Action!’  Always be as prepared as possible so that you can remain calm when everyone else is going cray-cray all around you.”Paul Pryce, Jessica Jones, Unforgettable

“When you’re on set, on location or otherwise in the throes of a collaborative adventure, there’s only so much that you can control… so release the things you can’t. Remember you’re working because of your talent. So take a deep breath, stick your chest out and deliver… cause when you feel good about what you’re doing, you’re going to have a lot more fun doing it!”Jerry Miller, CBS Sports Host, Tailgate Fan; The Knick

“While you are waiting around on a set (and we know there’s lots of this), don’t be in your own little actor bubble, on your phone and such. Watch. Listen. Learn. From the make-up and hair people to the costumers to the director of photography, there are working professionals who are constantly solving problems on the spot with their knowledge and creativity. And if those areas don’t interest you, watch the actors.

I had a bit part in Doubt. My scene wasn’t supposed to shoot until in the afternoon but they thought they could use me in an earlier scene with Meryl Streep. Then they changed their minds and told me I could go back to my trailer and hang out. I asked if I could stay and watch the star work with Amy Adams. Sure, they said. So I sat for two hours and had a Master Class. Meryl was gracious and steadfast and funny and aware and forthright and amazing.

Get out and be a part of it all.”Suzanne Hevner, The Sopranos, Orange Is The New Black

“My rule of thumb is to be prepared and not try to be the “funny guy” all the time. I’m there as an actor and I want the director to trust that. Even if it’s a comedy I do what’s on the script and I’ve found if you don’t push it most directors and your fellow actors will give you the opportunity to improvise and try something you think could make the scene even funnier.”  –Chris Griggs, Bravo, Starz, www.chrisgriggscomedy.com

“I recently auditioned for a commercial with my almost 2 year old son. I thought it went horribly. We were supposed to be grocery shopping, looking at fruits and vegetables, and deciding which ones to put in our cart. My son did the exact opposite. He grabbed a tomato and threw it on the floor. Then he grabbed another one and took a huge bite out of it. I responded by running around the room after him, picking up tomatoes, and putting them in our cart. I left the room thinking that it had all been a complete waste of time. I found out a few days later that we not only booked the job, but that they created a new spot for us, inspired by what happened in the audition room. It was a great reminder to stay in the moment and respond to what’s really happening in front of you, both in the audition room and on set. The trick is to bring that level of spontaneity and sense of play to all of your work. We never know what the people on the other side of the table are thinking.”Kim McKean, Blue Bloods, Private Practice

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