I have had the pleasure of working on some wonderful film and television sets over the past decade and a half as an on-set acting coach. I often compare my job to that of an on-set medic; I’m there for general acting wellness and any acting emergency that may arise. Each production teaches me something new about the process and about actors, but over time, I find that many of the same and most important lessons repeat themselves on every job.
1. You have a lot of first impressions to make. A lot of people are meeting and working together for the first time. Many times, the interactions are very personal. Actors especially are being asked to have emotional experiences with people they have no previous history with. They must also remain open and available to a new director each job or each episode of a show. They are asked to deliver vulnerable moments in response to different directors’ approaches and styles. Be trained, be prepared, and be available to manage these perspectives.
2. You have to find your time to do your work. Shooting schedules are no joke, particularly in television. Actors need to have a flexible process that can be adjusted to fit the work of the day. I always recommend creating a rich preparation process that you can pare down, restructure, and switch up depending on the day’s demands.
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3. Nobody works in a bubble. A shooting day’s success is earned by an entire cast and crew, not just one hero. An actor who arrives to shoot their scene determined to stay married to only their way of doing something, is taking an irresponsible approach to the work. Everyone is hired to do the thing they do best to tell the story. The moment of your performance is what the team has worked for, but the day did not begin with you and it will not end with you.
4. Take the time to rehearse. Give an actor an opportunity to work through her beats and they will be eternally grateful. They will use that time to discover anything they can before reporting to set. Shooting schedules sometimes limit the amount of discovery time on set. Finding the nuances, the imaginative beat, the core of the character’s emotional life, and the active actions to play can be discovered by a physical rehearsal process. On screen actors can do a lot with very little rehearsal time.
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5. Remember who’s on your side. Sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s worth repeating. It is so crucial that actors understand that everyone in every department is truly on their side. Everyone from the writers to the camera operators to the on set dresser wants to be available to the actors however they can. The entire company at the heart of it makes movies and TV shows because they are thrilled at the thought of the result of their hard work. They love the show. They can’t wait for it all to come together.
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