Working on a TV series over the last three months has reminded me how much knowledge actors need in order to work on a set effectively. Here are three must-know tips that even acting classes don’t often teach you.
1. Know your lines. You’d be surprised how many actors get hired and come to set without knowing their lines. If you don’t know your lines inside and out, you won’t be able to hear and implement the director’s notes, because you’ll be too busy trying to remember what to say. Be prepared for changes in the dialogue. In some situations, you will need to be word-perfect, sticking to the script exactly as written. In others, you may be encouraged to improvise or catch the “happy accidents” that may occur. I should also note that, unless otherwise requested, your performance on set should be exactly as it was in your audition and in rehearsal. Now is not the time to try out something new, because it’s not what you were hired for.
2. Prepare for your marking and blocking rehearsal. When you arrive on set, you will run through what’s called a marking or blocking rehearsal. This is when actors run through a scene with dialogue and, along with the director, sort out what the action is within the scene. For instance: You come into the room, say a line to your girlfriend, grab your keys and phone, and walk to the door; your girlfriend joins you there for a goodbye kiss, and then you exit. While you’re doing this, someone from the camera department is marking every place you go with tape or little beanbags on the ground. You’ve got to hit those marks consistently and without looking so that you’ll be in focus and well-lit when you’re performing the scene. You also must manage your continuity. Continuity is when you repeat actions in the exact same order, along with saying your lines in the same spot and making sure to have your phone and keys in the same hand for each take. The script supervisor is also tracking your continuity to make sure that all your takes are identical so the editor can cut them together for a realistic scene. You don’t want to be the actor who is a nightmare for the production because nothing cuts together.
3. Pace yourself. I think the biggest misconception about shooting is that it’s action-packed and fun-filled. When I say that there’s a lot of “hurry up and wait,” I’m being kind. You may find yourself with a 6 a.m. call time even though you only have one line in one scene that doesn’t shoot until 4 p.m. You have to learn to pace yourself so that you’re ready and fresh when they finally do get to your part. Have plenty to do—bring a book, a knitting kit, or whatever else you like to do to pass the time, but stay close by and alert. A production assistant will come get you when they’re ready to shoot your scene. If you leave for any reason, make sure you tell a PA where you’re going so they can find you at a moment’s notice.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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