If you're straight out of drama school or perhaps you've been limited to working in theatre, then the idea of spending a day on set may seem somewhat daunting. Don't worry, I've had tonnes of experience filming, so here are some things you should know
Be on time
This was the first point that came to mind. Very rarely are people late, but when it happens, it's a nightmare. You have to consider that someone has scheduled the day specifically for reasons that probably haven't been explained (budget, availability of location, sunset hours etc.), and so, please make sure you turn up when you're told to. If you're going to be late, inform someone on the production straight away so adjustments can be made. Also, turning up on time also means don't be early. I am sure a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this one, but if I say 11am, I want you to turn up at 11am, not 15 minutes before. It's good to be early in most other situations, but having an actor turn up early can be very distracting especially as we'll likely be setting up or already filming, and suddenly I have so show them some attention or they'll feel ignored. But if you turn up at 11am (or the time you're told), I would immediately love you. So yeah, be on time!
Don't be scared by the technicals
For whatever reason, a lot of us are attracted to cameras and their dark-magic. As soon as it's out of the bag, everyone has a cheeky look, and often I am bombarded with questions about the quality or make of it. But the focus shouldn't be on the camera (pun intended) - it's what we're going to do with it that's important. Some people think (and I assume this has something to do with our social-media heavy culture) that once something has been recorded then everyone is going to see it - nerves immediately set in. I get a sense that people feel almost embarrassed by the idea of being filmed. But I'm sorry, if you intend to be an actor, this fear needs to be dealt with quickly, because how else are you going to do a good job? If you don't get used to being on camera, simply put, you'll never be a successful screen-actor. All the technicals can be interesting, but the work is more important. You've also got nothing to worry about - it's the DP's job to make you look good and to make sure you're in focus.
If you have time, prep for the next scene
If you haven't had time to rehearse with your scene partner, it can take a little while for you to get going - fair enough. But if you have to keep referring back to the script throughout the shoot, then it's only going to slow things down, and make everyone's life a lot harder. If you know the script frontwards, backwards and sidewards, then the day will probably be fun! You'll also be more confident with the material, which will only serve to improve your performance. I think what happens a lot is that people think they can do it the day before so it's fresh in their mind. This is almost never works well in my experience. You might be able to learn the words, but do you know the script? Have you thought about the sub-text, the motivation, an alternative way of doing something? When I write the script I am constantly thinking about interesting ways of doing something differently. For an actor, this also comes under 'character work', but if you've had time to learn the script and not just the words, your performance will be richer and more interesting, and not one-dimensional, I guarantee it.
This is something that can't really be taught, and it comes with being aware and experience. But there is a 'set etiquette' that you have to get used to. The unwritten rules come from years and years of people working on productions and bringing with them that knowledge and understanding on to their next set. For me, a huge bug-bear and one that doesn't seem to have fully caught on yet, is the use of mobile phones. They should be banned from set as they are highly distracting and not necessary. If you pull your phone out on set, perhaps ask yourself why? Do you need to? Is it an emergency? If no, then leave it in your pocket. Better yet, turn it off! The other main set etiquette to remember is when to talk. Sets shouldn't be tense or scary places, but sometimes, professionals need to concentrate, which means, sometimes you need to shut up. Most of the time there isn't a problem, but if you haven't had much experience on set, this is a huge thing to consider. It's not an opportunity to chat, network or boast, so just relax, be aware, and most importantly, don't talk too much or ask questions to someone who has an important job to do. That's what the pub is for afterwards.
You'll be knackered
Filming gives this weird adrenaline boost throughout the day which I never feel anywhere else. I think it's because you're aiming towards something important so your body is able to use hidden reserves you didn't know you had. It can feel great when things are going well, but disastrous when they're not. I like to work hard and fast because it means we won't miss an opportunity to do something good. I've been on relaxed sets before, and I always have a sense of disappointment knowing that we probably could have done more. You can sleep tomorrow, right? So I would suggest knowing that you're likely going to run a marathon, so be prepared. Filming is long days, switched on, doing stuff. There's no time to relax. If you're not needed, don't go and chat or take a break, learn the lines for the next scene. The production team work constantly throughout the day, so should you.
Lastly, enjoy it
It'll go fast. Probably too fast. You've been waiting weeks, if not months, to film and before you know it it'll be over, and then you're left wondering, "could I have done it better?" The only thing to know is that as long as you do the necessary prep work, whatever happens on the day is what happens. You can't do anything about it once it's over. This may give you a sense of anxiety, but don't worry, experienced crews are used to this. I am often asked why I don't look worried, getting everything in a day with no option of pushing it to tomorrow sounds like hell on earth, but I think, so what? If it rains, we'll reschedule. If we can't reschedule, we'll have to adapt. I once had an actor drop out on the day of filming because he was ill, we changed the script and actually made it better! So remember to enjoy the day, it's why you wanted to be an actor in the first place.
Thank you for reading 'Being On Set'
I've been making films for over ten years now, so my thoughts and opinions have formed from that practical experience. Therefore my biggest piece of advice is to go out there and try it for yourself - it's the best way to learn. If you agree or disagree with any of my points, I'd love to hear from you. Tweet @DHshowreels with your suggestions!