First Time On Set – Part 2 of 3

You made it past the audition and callback, you’re booked on your first TV show or film and you’re excited! You know exactly what you want to do with your role, but because since this is your first booking on a big time project, you’re a little worried about what to expect on set. This is part 2 of a 3 part video series on what to expect the first time you’re booked as a principal actor on a TV or film set. If you haven’t read part 1, find it here. The video of this post is here:

In the last post we talked about your fitting, arriving early, finding your AD and dropping off your stuff in your trailer. Hopefully it’s not a honey wagon, which are the tiny little boxes the size of a closet located in the same trailer as the bathrooms. But if it is, you’re ok with that because you’re working in the big time! Be grateful you’re there!

In your trailer, you should find a copy of the day’s sides, or scenes that are being shot that day. Double check your scene and look for script changes. This does happen. I shot over 20 episodes of Chicago PD on NBC and one day I showed up to find one of my scenes had been altered. Luckily they deleted a few things and I didn’t have to cram new words into my head, but sometimes you’ll have new lines.

Actor's trailers have everything they need for a short stay on location.
Inside a larger trailer.

Your next stop will probably be the hair and makeup trailer, where you’ll be spruced up by some of the industry’s best artists and stylists. If your role requires any special work, like wounds, scars or tattoos, you’ll have to come in early since that takes more time than a role without them. You may get a light haircut out of the deal. The free haircuts really are one of the best things about working in TV.

It’s back to your trailer where your costume will be waiting for you. You may be tempted to change and get ready to shoot, but check with your AD before you do that. You don’t want to get dressed too early. If it’s going to be a while, hanging out in your costume will scrunch up the clothes, and the costume assistants will get testy if you wrinkle their work.

When they’re on the last shot of the scene before yours, your AD will come get you and either walk you to set or pass you off to a production assistant who will get you there. ADs and PAs have to maintain a chain of possession. Someone must know where you are at all times. So if you need to hit the bathroom, tell someone because if you’re needed on set and no one has eyes on you, someone’s in trouble.

Once you’re on set, you may be shown to the cast chairs where you can hang out and wait for rehearsal to begin. While you wait, the crew will be getting things ready to shoot your scene. If you’re shooting on the stage at Cinespace, they may be changing the exterior lighting from day to night, or moving furniture around to accommodate anticipated camera positions. You may be introduced to the director at this point, or you might not meet him or her until the rehearsal actually begins.

You’ll also probably notice the show’s series regulars hanging around, too. With a cast as large as Chicago PD’s, it’s likely that most of them will be somewhere nearby even if they’re not written into the next scene. However if they’re not scheduled to shoot anything that day, they won’t be there.

When I’m working a show for the first time, here’s my protocol when it comes to being around the series regulars: I don’t approach anyone who’s not in my scene, but do I introduce myself to those who are. I figure if we’re going to be working together, might as well say hello. However, I wait until rehearsal to do that. As long as you don’t bother anyone while they’re obviously involved with something, like on their phone or memorizing lines, nine times out of ten you’ll be ok approaching them. You just have to read people. If I get the vibe someone doesn’t want to chat, I talk to them only when they speak to me first.

The first assistant director (1st AD) will call for a 1st team rehearsal. The 1st team refers to the cast, the 2nd team are the stand-ins who help the crew light each shot. You’re 1st team, and you have a stand-in. Say hello to them and thank them for being there. They’re making way less money than you are, and they make your life easier since they stand on your marks so you don’t have to.

Back to rehearsal. You’ll be asked to come to wherever the first shot is. There, all the actors in the scene, the director, director of photography (DP), script supervisor, technical advisor, 1st AD and sometimes the episode’s writer will listen to the cast read through it to get an idea of what’s to be done.

This isn’t the time to act, exactly. Read throughs are more for hearing the words and working out script issues. Anyone with questions or problems with the scene will bring them up. Discussion ensues, decisions are made, then it’s time to block the scene and figure out where everyone’s going to physically be.

After that, there’s a camera rehearsal for the camera and lighting folks. The director and DP talk camera positions, then it’s time for a marking rehearsal, which is a rehearsal with all the blocking. Camera PAs will put marks down on the floor at every actor’s feet so they can hit them consistently, and camera operators know where they need to land focus. The 2nd team will be watching, too.

When it’s over, 1st team will be dismissed and the 2nd team will come in and go through the cast’s motions to help light the shot. You can go relax for a bit. Have a snack!

Craft service on set includes snacks
Plenty of junk food on set.

In part 3, I’ll shed light on the process of actually shooting the scene.