When it comes to working on set, there are a few things actors need to keep in mind to help set run smoothly. One thing I’ve noticed about actors, especially those who are just getting their start in film, is they want to help the crew. While on the surface this is great, it can be confusing and often result in bigger issues later.
Here are a few tips to help actors understand set etiquette.
Leave the gear to the crew.
One way to get the crew to love you is to leave the gear alone. Even the apple boxes. I know it’s hard to watch other people carry equipment while you do nothing, but it’s their job. If you help and accidentally drop something it can cause delays, not to mention some pretty awkward moments. And if you move something and no one saw you do it, the crew can spend a lot of valuable time looking for something you should never have touched.
If you still feel like you should do something when you’re waiting around set, a simple solution is to move away from the chaos.
An exception to the rule is props. Obviously, you’re going to be handling props, but as soon as you know there’s going to be a long setup, pass the props back to a props assistant or communicate beforehand where you’re going to leave it so it’s easier to find later.
Don’t ask the crew what they thought about your performance.
As an actress, this is one area where I struggle. I’ve learned I need to stop doing this because it can have an adverse affect on my acting. The same can happen to you.
I worked on one feature where someone told the actor their character was like a specific comedian. While on the surface this was harmless, it actually damaged the performance. No matter what the director said, the actor kept going back to this idea of his character being like the comedian. In the end, the character was severely cut from the film and the story lost out. You don’t want this to happen to you, but it affects the crew, too.
Most of them have been trained not to talk about an actor's performance. If you go around asking them what they thought, it’ll confuse them and create an unnecessary tension between you and them.
Avoid unnecessary noise on set.
I’ve been on several sets where the main actors have decided to break into song between longer setups. While on the surface there’s nothing wrong with this, it made it difficult for the crew to hear each other over the noise (and they can’t really come up and ask you to be quiet). Even the ADs and director don’t like to do this.
If you know a setup is going to take a while, do yourself and the crew a favor by leaving the area and moving to a more comfortable place. An AD will come and take you to the green room, invite you to take a break at Craft Services, or will find a place just outside of the chaos where you can sit and reflect on what’s coming next.
It’s best to do this so the crew can work freely and not have to tiptoe around you. Otherwise you'll end up with grips and camera assistants trying not to hit you with their gear as they move to the next setup.
Learn their names.
One of the biggest things you can do to endear yourself to the crew is to see them. To learn who they are and say hello.
I remember one actor telling me he makes it his goal to learn the names of the entire crew for every film he’s a part of. While this may be a bit extreme for you, the principle is a good one. If you’re bad at remembering names, at least smile and say hi. Ask them how their day is or try to recall a previous conversation and ask follow-up questions.
This will make them feel heard and valued. It’ll also create a more relaxed atmosphere when you’re on set.
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