THE HOBBIT BOOKS THE JOB
(YOU GOT THE JOB: NOW YOU CAN CHILL)
First of all, you got the job. Congratulations. Do a victory lap and give yourself a big psychic hug. Share with friends and loved ones. Take in your moment – you’ve worked hard for this and so enjoy the victorious sensation for a while, before you start worrying about your day or days on set.
Remember the following:
1/ They believe in you! They picked YOU over many others (sometimes 100+ people,) and YOU were the one they chose.
2/ They believe that you fit into the whole world vision of their show/ film. They put themselves on the line for you.
3/ They're going to pay you money for this. You are a working actor! So go to work and do your job.
There is nothing about this experience, that is, or should be causing you to feel anything other than fan-fucking-tastic! You're being paid for something you love to do. How amazing is that?!!!
The big day(s) approaches and you want to be ready.
Too often actors over prepare. They try and figure out how they're going play every moment and how to say everything in advance. They forget that there's going to be another actor or actors coming in with their own ideas. The director or showrunner might also have some ideas of their own…you can count on it. You must also be ready for last minute line changes. You must stay open and be ready to play. You're going to meet in a playground. It's a play date. A lot of supervising adults, but you are still on the playground.
WHERE DO YOU SIT ON THE FOOD CHAIN OR IN THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING?
It makes a difference if you are walking onto a set for an Actor role VS a Principal role VS a new Series Regular or Guest Lead. Know your place. Don’t over or undervalue yourself!
The culture of being on a long running series, a pilot or a feature is different. When you're on a TV series (whether it's for an episode, several episodes, or 3 seasons), understand that you're walking into a well-oiled machine.
DAY PLAYER (ACTOR ROLE, PRINCIPAL)
You’re a visitor entering their small town. Like any small town there will be a fair representation of all manner of people: kind and helpful ones as well as jerks and assholes. Don't expect to be greeted with open arms. This is particularly true if you are a day player. Quite frankly, you are sometimes just one more movable piece that separates them from their beds. People need to warm to you (this will happen quicker if you don’t act needy.) You're there to fit into their machine, not improve it or reinvent it. If someone tells you that you're doing it wrong or inappropriately they'll give a note, otherwise assume that you’re doing just fine. Do your day or days, say thank you and go home. You're going to go away but they're going to come back and do it again tomorrow. They've got a life together. You were a visitor. On sets, for the most part, they are good hosts, and they treat their guests well. Be a good guest and treat your hosts well.
Don't expect a lot of direction. TV is fast paced and for the most part, they cast you because you did what they wanted at the audition. So, do it again unless they tell you otherwise. The crew like to be treated like human beings and your shyness, your reticence to communicate, feeling like your stepping on toes could be perceived as being cold and disinterested. On the other hand, don’t be too chatty. Smile at people and speak when spoken to.
INDEPENDENT AND LOW BUDGET FEATURES AND SHORT FILMS
First, let me say bravo and huge respect to anyone who independently pulls together the human and financial resources to shoot a film. You are rock stars! However, if you are an actor who accepts these gigs there are a few things to keep in mind. Understand the speed and sometimes haste that goes into a shoot like this. Everyone has their own vested interest in the result. Everyone wants to showcase their work, from the director, writer, DOP to even art dec and sound. Your MO is to get great footage. Be attentive to the shooting schedule. Be honest with yourself whether you can feel confident that you can produce your best work under these conditions. You want great footage not half-assed footage. Be sure your interests are being attended to. It is important to remember why you are doing these “independents”. It is to get footage. It should be part of the agreement you make before signing on that they guarantee you the footage.
SERIES REGULAR OR GUEST LEAD
If you are going to become a series regular or a guest lead the climate and conditions change. You will more often than not be invited to a “table read” and will be given more direction. Depending on your resume and or size of the role you might even be given an opportunity to provide input. Table reads can be tricky. Some expect a performance of at least ½ speed. Note where the leads sit. Are they in close proximity to one another in order connect during the scene or scenes? Are they more aloof? Is the showrunner and creative team talking amongst themselves or engaged with the group of actors? As in all of my blogs: READING THE ROOM is essential. If you are going to be a Series Regular then ask your agent at the negotiation phase if there is a series bible for an outline of the trajectory of your character, nature of their relationships and if they have a history. The speed with which shows are picked up and force fed to market make some of the above spotty at best. Have your agent also request as many episodes in advance as possible. Unfortunately, they may not have been written yet. You will most likely be shooting out of sequence and/or block shooting. I have my own particular set of tools for the actor to be able to locate themselves quickly. You should have your own script compass to navigate the windy and twisted roads of Block shooting. Many actors who become Series Regulars work with a coach to help them arc their character and plot their trajectory. It is a great opportunity to get to explore and try things. On set, time for this will be limited.
TV SETS VS MOVIE SETS – DIFFERENT STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
In television the real power lies with the showrunner. They can often be seen in discussion with the Director, 1st AD or DOP. Crudely, there are 2 kinds of directors on a set “the shooters” and the “tone directors”. You can look on a series and see who the first directors were for the pilot and the first three, four episodes. If those names appear on the call sheet you can probably expect a little more direction than if it's a shooter. The tone directors helped set the tone of the show and they have a little more freedom than a shooter (who has to follow a pre-formed set of guidelines.) Sometimes, they're just there to babysit behind the camera, because all the all the shots, angles, lighting and pacing have been worked out already. The show is established. The showrunner knows what the network wants. There's not that much latitude.
If the TV director is often the babysitter, then a feature is the directors’ baby (obviously there are some exceptions to this.)
Almost everyone coming onto a feature is new. Some of the individuals in the creative or tech teams may be meeting for the first time. Perhaps they have met each other on other films or other projects. They may have had a few more days together on set before you arrive. However, people on a feature or MOW are still always moving in. On a TV set they are “townys”, on a film set they are "nomads".
Often on a TV show or film, they are shooting in a big warehouse where they have multiple sets strewn throughout the building. A precinct, a bedroom, a medical lab etc. Wherever possible, visit the set you will be shooting on in advance so that you can get the lay of the land. Art Dec and Props have gone to great lengths to create the environment for each set location. Remember you are on a set not in an acting class. Leave your imaginary circumstances and “creating your environment” back in the classroom where they belong. This is a real world not an imaginary one. So wherever possible, try to get to the set(s) and walk around them first. Stay out of people’s way but come to set and get the feel of the room(s) and the personalities that will inhabit them (this is more difficult now because of COVID restrictions and conditions as only so many people are allowed,) but when this passes - do it.
It seems so obvious, but actors who are accustomed to auditioning forget a set is in 3 dimensions. Try to three “dimensionalize” the sets for yourself while prepping. The major difference between an audition and the onset experience is the difference between working in two dimensions (ex: the reader, and your imaginary eyelines.) You have to use your imagination in an audition room but when you’re on set you don’t have to create it. All of the stuff that you were creating in the audition room is going to be there for you. You do not have to create your environment. You're going to be in that environment.
OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
1/ You don’t have to be perfect for every shot. Remember a film or TV show is edited together. Your performance will be a greatest hits package. Every now and again someone hits a hole in one, but the perfect take is rare.
2/ Pace yourself. Putting it all on the line for the master or establishing shot is a misuse of energy, particularly when it comes to tears. There are only so many tears in the tank.
3/ When watching TV or Films understand the different kinds of shots and how seasoned pro’s handle them. The shot can and often does determine the nature of your performance. The rudimentary shots to grasp are:
A/ The establishing shot
B/ The 2 shot
C/ Over the shoulder shot
D/ The reverse 2 shot
E/ The walk and talk - tracking shot
F/ Close up
See if you can take a peek at the shot-list in advance if the mood and timing is right. The DOP or a key grip may be feeling helpful. If this is not possible pay attention to when the director and DOP are discussing the set up. Learn from the best. It is important for actors to know what can or can’t be done in each kind of shot. There are hundreds of different shots being done from various angles, heights and tempos. Handheld, tracking shot, steady cam etc. Each one has a trick or two that can be gleaned to help guide your performance.
4/ Be ready for anything. A TV or Film set is a living breathing entity that like the weather it can go from a beautiful sunny day to a hurricane in a flash.
5/ Be clear about what your character wants/needs. Be clear about what your characters core thoughts are in any given scene. Do not decide in advance exactly how they will feel in the moment. Trying to define the moment is like sticking your finger in a moving stream and saying “I’m here!"
I’m sure I have not composed the definitive list of do’s and don’ts. Talk to friends and acquaintances about their experiences. Whoever you discuss the onset experience with be sure it’s based in fact not theory. Like any situation you go into, ALWAYS read the room. Never walk into a room wanting anything, always walk into a room with something to offer.
I've kept the above mantra pretty close to heart all my professional life. A lot of what people perceive to be my insight is really me just reading the room. The reality of the room is not seeing it through the filter of your own needs. I simply practice breathing into my empathy centers. When you are able to see who or what is really in front of you, rather than seeing everything through the filter of your own needs you will find more clarity. And when you're not looking for validation in anyone else, it's amazing what you can actually see. If you can embrace these principles it will go a long way towards you having a long, successful, and most importantly a fulfilling career. So, going back to the very beginning of this blog series, as per the subtitle of this novel “The Hobbit: THERE AND BACK AGAIN”
What tiny part of the human condition do I get to explore today?
Go forward with curiosity, empathy, courage and purity in your heart. This is the life you chose, so live it! Beware the hustlers and pick pockets. Find like-minded spirits along the way to share your burdens and your dreams. Join forces with them and grow together on your various journeys.
So…onto your next adventure!