The 5 Biggest Mistakes Actors Make on Set

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Being on set is always exciting. But for young actors and stage actors who are new to working on camera, expectations and ideas about how to work on a television set can collide with reality in a bad way. Here are five big mistakes you’ll want to avoid on your next shoot.

1. Acting like you’re “one of the guys.” There’s a hierarchy. In most cases, everyone else will have been working together for awhile and you’re the new kid in town. If it’s your first day, you’re not near the top of the food chain. Be yourself, but fly under the radar and don’t spend your energy trying to be liked. It seems obvious, but everyone on set is a working professional. They’re trying to do their best work in the short time they have. Don’t try to make friends with everyone. It’s a distraction for everyone. It’s more important that you do your job. Time is expensive. They’ll love you if you nail every take and don’t waste anyone’s time. That’s how you’ll earn respect and, hopefully, create another work opportunity for yourself.

2. Not knowing your lines cold. Writers are very good at choosing the words that tell the story and propel the action forward. They will likely not appreciate your paraphrasing or struggling to remember your lines. It’s the most basic part of an actor’s job. It’s what you’re paid to do! Not knowing your lines cold is like the camera operator showing up not knowing how the camera works.

3. Showing up without a performance. If you show up expecting to have a rehearsal, run your lines with your scene partner, and an opportunity discuss your role with the director, you’re making a big mistake. There just isn’t time. Actors are expected to show up with a great performance. It’s expected that you’ve read the script, made choices about your role in advance, and are ready to perform when “action” is called. Do your homework and be ready.

4. Not understanding continuity. When editing, directors assemble clips lasting a few seconds each from multiple takes. A sure way to limit their editing options is to hire an actor who’s continuity is all over the place. An actor’s larger physical choices like posture, hand gestures, and movements must be consistent from take to take so the director can choose clips from different takes when editing. Smaller gestures like eye movements, changes in facial expressions, head nodding, etc., don’t matter. If you take a drink in your scene, drink in the same place every take. If they want to use the first line from one take and another take for your second, they won’t be able to cut between takes if your movements don’t match. Your emotional continuity must also match. It’s difficult to get a useable edit when you’re trying to piece together an angry take with a remorseful one.

5. Forgetting that you’re wearing a mic. It’s easy to do and the consequences can be disastrous. Once your body mic is on, everyone with a headset can hear every frustration or complaint you utter. Stay positive and be kind, patient, and respectful to everyone. Remember, you’re in a professional setting. Don’t risk alienating someone by thoughtlessly blurting out something that is better left unsaid.

Bonus Mistake: Not knowing how to budget your time. My first shoot I arrived on set and warmed up in my dressing room. I was called to makeup, returned to my dressing room, got into costume and waited. Not knowing exactly when my scene would be shot, I stayed ready, warmed up, focused, and in costume all day which was completely unnecessary and exhausting. Had I not been too afraid to ask, I would’ve learned that my scene was re-scheduled to be shot later in the day to accommodate another actor (the star). By the time they called me to set, I had been working all day! The moral of the story is, if you’re not sure, ask, because you could end up waiting much longer or shooting much sooner than you expect.

If you have a big mistake of your own that you’d like to share, please leave it in the comments below. To learn how to nail your on-camera auditions so that you can work on set more often, download my free e-book “The 6 Secrets of a Working Actor.”

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Philip Hernández
Philip Hernández is an audition coach and working actor in New York City. He uses his 30 years experience on stage and on camera to teach the real world skills you need to book the jobs you want. His students appear on Broadway, in regional theaters, national tours, on television, and in film.
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