How to Speak Like a TV Actor

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Photo Source: Netflix – Pictured: Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson in Sex Education

Every profession has its own language and television is no exception. If you’re new to working in British TV, the sheer amount of insider terminology can seem intimidating at first – as if everyone except you knows what everyone else is talking about. But fear not: just like locals anywhere, telly people like to hear their own language being used – and using the odd bit of jargon can really help you fit in. Here’s Backstage’s brief and slightly random guide to some key telly lingo.

TX means transmission and is usually used to refer to the TX date: the day and time when the programme is actually being broadcast. Sometimes it’s used in a panicky way: “I can’t believe our lead actor has broken her leg this near TX!!!” On the whole, the nearer to TX, the busier and more stressed everyone will seem.      

The call sheet is the document listing all crew, on-screen and off, who work on the production. As a junior member of staff, the call sheet is your friend – it has everyone’s telephone number, the filming schedule, the nearest hospital and crucially, lists all staff in order of importance. So, direct most of your sucking-up time towards people at the top of the call sheet. 

What time you’re due on set. Pro tip: Do not be late. It shows a lack of responsibility, not to mention a disregard to everyone else you work with who may be waiting for you. 

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Unlike in film, the TV producer deals with much more than just the money side of the production. In telly, the producer is usually the creative boss – writing scripts, casting, deciding on the visuals, dealing with talent and so on. TV budgets are mainly dealt with by the production manager – so if you want to be paid, they’re the ones to be nice to!      

These are the names of common camera shots and are used mainly by camera ops and directors. CU is close up, MCU is medium close up and a wide is a big, wide shot taken of the whole scene. There are loads more terms – Dirty Two shot, anyone? – but these three will get you through most scenarios. P.S. If you are at all technical, any chat about the latest kit always goes down well in the camera department.

As in “Have we got enough coverage?!” Coverage is making sure a scene has been filmed from enough angles to work in the edit. A cover shot is usually a wide which takes in all of the scene you are filming – it lets the viewer know where everything is and can be handy to cover any mistakes.

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Pick ups are the shots that may have been missed when filming was done the first time around – or they’re shots that the director suddenly realises they needed when they started editing. Pick ups are basically like reshoots.

“Speed!” is what’s sometimes shouted just before someone shouts action. It just lets everyone know the camera is rolling. So, if you were about to charm your colleagues with a very loud rendition of a Backstreet Boys classic and you hear “SPEED!”, it might be best to shut up.

Headphones and microphones.   

As in “she missed her cue” – a presenter’s or actor’s prompt to start talking or acting. See also autocue – a rolling script read by some presenters; and cue cards – what low-budget productions use instead of autocue. 

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FM and AFM
In a studio show, the FM is the floor manager and the AFM is the assistant floor manager. They’re in charge of the studio floor, giving presenters cues and whipping up the audience into a wild clapping frenzy.

A cutaway is a shot usually used to cover an edit. So, if a speech is rambling on, an editor might chop a chunk out and cover the join with shots of something else so the audience doesn’t notice there has been a cut. Bad, unimaginative cutaways of the speaker’s knuckles or a random pot plant are often seen on TV news pieces.  

Per diems are the money allowances crew members are given every day to cover expenses like food. 

The on-screen graphic that lists a contributor’s name. By the way, contributors are always known as “contribs.” Just think of all that time you’ll save not saying those tricky extra syllables. 

The green room is where the “talent” socialise and make small-talk after and sometimes before the show. Usually the better the catering, the worse the programme. BBC Green Rooms are known for their terrible spreads – expect soft nuts and warm white wine, if you’re lucky. Badly paid junior members of staff often rely on these nuts for sustenance.

So, there you have it: you now know your cues from your cans and your PDs from your CUs – everything you need to sound like a seasoned pro on your first day on set.

Want to get on set? Check out our UK audition listings now!