“On the day” in filmmaking lingo means when you’re at the location with all the elements present, actually set up and shooting, or in the immediate process of setting up to shoot. On the day is a special place. It’s the proving ground where everything meets and must bow down in subservience to reality. Unimagined opportunities will emerge and things thought to be a slam dunk will either fail to come off properly or prove altogether impossible.
Here are four things to keep in mind when you’re “on the day.”
1. Make it work. Because of the unforeseen contingencies and constant pressure to get it done quickly, one of the most useful talents an actor can develop is the ability to adapt on the fly. You may be asked to walk over and stand by the window so they can establish its raining so they can go for an effect, and it doesn’t matter if it makes sense to you for your character at that moment. They need you to do it and you have to find a way to make it work. In coming up with the best solution, you’ll need to overcome your clingy affection for what you thought was going to be the case, and have a willingness to “murder your darlings.”
2. Don’t bother getting bugged. One thing you can be certain won’t help the process of thinking on your feet is getting tormented and upset about your need to deal with these things at all. You have to think outside the box with a clear head and a philosophy of flexibility, knowing this is a constant reality that comes with the undertaking you’ve chosen.
3. Ignore the sighs. An actor is not a light bulb…regardless of how nice that would be for everybody. I’m not suggesting you be indulgently introspective or a dithering fool, but if someone on the set is bothered by the time it takes you to make a quality adjustment, don’t give one single damn about them. Make a deal you won’t stand over their shoulders annoyed by the pace of their work, and you’ll in turn dismiss any opinions they have about your creative process.
(To be clear, I’m talking about the requirements of your creativity, not the comfort—and don’t you dare confuse the two.)
4. Just do it. Having said this bit about being self-possessed, you need to be realistic about the constraints of your production and, appreciating that a lot of filmmaking is what’s created in post, sometimes you have to just do the thing and trust it will work out. Maybe you don’t have a solid, conscious, imaginative connection to what’s being required of you on the day, but that’s not to say your deeper inventiveness isn’t working to fill the gap. So, even though your talent isn’t making you aware of how it’s using this moment, that doesn’t mean it isn’t pulling it off beautifully. Maybe with even more genius than your original plan.
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