The Very First Thing You Should Do on Set

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What do you do first when you arrive on set? Find the assistant director. They are the timekeepers, and you always want to let the timekeeper know you’re on set and on time. And by on time, I mean 15 minutes early. The very first job I ever booked in college (an in-house industrial film for a car company) I woke up 30 minutes after my call time. Yes, I can hear your gasp from here. And I can assure you that has never happened again. I now set my phone, set an alarm clock and have a good close accountable friend give me a call to make sure I am awake and ready long before I am supposed to be on set.

The next thing you should do is make yourself comfortable in your trailer or holding area and lay out the essentials you should bring with you to every shoot:

  • Your phone and phone charger: I always bring my technology. My phone is indispensable because it holds my agent’s number and address, the SAG/AFTRA hotline number, etc. Plus, my phone is surgically attached to my hip so I have to bring it anyway.
  • Laptop and laptop charger: I always bring my laptop so I can read the news, catch up on emails, and any other office related stuff. There’s nothing like getting paid by someone to pay your bills online!
  • A newspaper or magazine: Bring something to read; sets are excruciatingly boring.
  • Lip balm: Because, you know, lip balm.
  • Passport/license: Always bring an actual form of ID for your W-2, they may not always accept a photocopy.
  • A pen: Because, you know, a pen.
  • A small secret thing: For me, it’s a small rock or nick knack my daughter has chosen from one of our nature walks. I love having a secret thing on set with me as it reminds me whats’s important and real.

READ: Who’s Who on Set? A Guide for Every Actor

The third thing you should do is get some breakfast. Delicious, free breakfast. However, this comes with a caveat. Never eat anything that could’ve have been left out and give you food poisoning. Today’s the day to go vegetarian. Today is the day to take your coffee black.

A student of mine worked with an actor who got food poisoning on set and was vomiting in between each take. They had to reapply makeup each time and the production went two hours overtime, so the clients were obviously not happy. For those eight glorious set hours, go vegan. And if you’re addicted to the sweet caffeine like myself, don’t over-caffeinate out of fear. Go up to the point you need, then stay with water for the day so you’re not crashing by 2 p.m. Same with the sugar. Wait until you hear your name “is wrapped,” then get crazy with the craft service candy.

So remember, as soon as you show up on set, the first thing you do is ask for the AD. Introduce yourself and ask what you should do next. It may be to sign contracts, it may be to go immediately to hair and makeup or wardrobe, or it may be just hanging out in your trailer.

Now you know you’re ready to start the day on-set in the good graces of the production team. Then go get some pancakes. Delicious, free, vegan pancakes.

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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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Bill Coelius
Bill Coelius has been in numerous television, movies, and over 50 national commercials. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit.
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