How to work and behave on a set

Come on, you know how! Just like any other work environment – be on time, be professional, be courteous, and remember you’re there to work, not to hang out.

The last part for me was the most important thing to learn and to adjust to. When you’re on set it can be a lot of fun, and when the shot is being set up and when you’re shooting you’re the centre of attention, which feels great. But remember, it’s the time to work, and these 1-3 takes are the ones that are going to be immortalized on screen. Do you want them to be reasonable, ok, adequate; or do you want them to sear themselves into people’s minds and be unforgettable images? If you want the latter then this is the only time to do it, and all your work and preparation should reflect that. Although of course beware of working or trying too hard, you may tense up and block yourself. Try to be appropriate to the scene you are shooting and what you want to come across should do so.

Don’t get distracted by everything that’s going on around you. If there are lights and cameras being moved, don’t try help out; they hired you for the acting, not for the heavy lifting – you’ll distract yourself and you don’t know where the lights are going anyway. They have their jobs to do and you have yours, it’s a collaborative process and it’s great to see each individual doing their job to the best of their ability for one goal, so stick to want you need to do, and let each job compliment each others.

Be on time. A no brainer. Well, when I say be on time, I mean be early, then you’ll have time to settle, get relaxed, get you’re bearings and get prepared for what you have to do, and you’ll be telling everyone that you’re reliable, and people will bear this in mind in the future. If you are late, you’ll annoy everyone, tighten the schedule so you’ll have less time, and so diminish the work. O, and people will bear this is mind too.

Know your lines cold. Know them like you know your own name. And do you’re preparation for the scene, all the homework you have to do, all the hours and hours of prep work, and make sure you’re ready to go on the first take. Don’t leave it until you get onto set until you’re working out what your character is doing in the scene, as it’s too late and it will not be as good as it can be. The reason you see a lot of Hollywood actors relaxed on set and comfortable with what’s going on is because of the weeks of rehearsal that’s been done and the months and months of preparation they’ve done on their own, analysing and thinking about every moment, word, beat, etc, so they are relaxed and comfortable to be free in the moment and let go. See Julia Roberts talking about Meryl Streep in the Hollywood Reporter Roundtable Actresses this year (YouTube) for some evidence of this. Hint: it ain’t natural unattainable talent…

Finally, be polite and nice to everyone. But of course why wouldn’t you be anyway?! They’ll know you are working and need to be in a certain headspace so can’t chat all the time and just hang out, but greetings and calling people by name goes a long way. They are filming you, lighting you, making you up, making you look good, and they of course can choose not to do this. You’ll be more communicative with each other, you’ll help each other out more, and you’ll get more from each other. Filming is collaborative by nature, so it pays to work together for the project. See paragraph three for an example of this: and remember that this is how the people at the top work. Good luck.