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Saturday, October 1, 2016

DAY PLAYER: Set Etiquette for the Actor

Never be late. Be prepared to stay all day (10-12 hours), even if your part is small. I always pack extra food/ snacks and water-just in case.


Some scenes are filmed outside and some scenes are filmed inside. In a script, a scene will start with “ext.” for exterior or “int.” for interior.

Interior scenes may be shot on location in a private home or a space that belongs to a business. They may also be shot on a soundstage.


If you are outside a professional soundstage when shooting is going to begin inside, you will hear a bell and a red light outside the door will illuminate. This means do not enter.
The reason there are the three bells and the red light is because sound is being recorded. 

If you are on a set that has no red light or bells, it is just as important to stay silent from the time you hear "Quiet on set! Rolling!" to the time to hear "Cut!"

Even when sound is not being recorded, everyone involved in shooting needs their concentration. 

 It's really important to be aware of where the rehearsal or the shooting is going on, so you can keep your distance. If you get close or make noise, you will have broken a cardinal rule of on set etiquette and there can be consequences.

I suggest...

Going somewhere safe. Maybe in your honey wagon...

honey wagon
Or your car. Or just outside, away from the set. 

I try to park as close to the shoot as possible. Martin Scorsese has spoken about the shoot of 'Mean Streets' and how they used their cars for dressing rooms and everything else. I keep everything I need in my car, extra water and food. 

French actress Jeanne Moreau (right)  sleeping in her car with actress Silvana Mangano (left.)

However... You may have to leave your car in a designated parking lot and be driven to the set in a van. If you have no honey wagon, no trailer and no car, you can still identify safe places to be. There may be a space for people to be just outside the set, and if you are quiet when you hear the first assistant director call out, "Quiet on the set!" You will hear "Rolling sound!!!" then you can hang out there. I like to be close but not too close to the set. 

Determine who your point person is! Who are you supposed to check in with? It may be a 2nd Assistant Director or a production assistant. Learn their name and understand that they probably have a lot more to keep track of then just you. Pay attention to their instructions. Don't wander away very far at any time unless you have to. Since they are paying for you to be there, there shouldn't be any reason why you have to go very far. I will always let them know if I have to run to my car. That way, if the 1st A.D. asks for me, they know I am coming right back from my car. They know where I am and I haven't made the P.A. or 2nd A.D. look bad. 

On a set, things can change quickly. Scene order (shooting order) can change. It's best to keep close enough to hear when any changes happen at all. 


Craft Services is a communal food table provided by the production that may have fruit, veggies, bagels, candy, water bottles, etc. 
There is sometimes only on on set, which means there is a pecking order. If someone above you from the cast or crew comes over for food, I suggest stepping away until they have left. 

If you can find a seat where other people are and which is near craft services, then you are in a good place...for food. But not necessarily as far from the set as you need to be when there is rehearsal or shooting. 

It is not appropriate at the craft service table to start gushing to a celebrity actor or actress, and it is not the time to start telling them about your personal history or your resume. Or your second cousin who is related to the baby sitter the celebrity once had 15 years earlier. I am not being smug, this stuff happens. I mean, there is obviously a hierarchy on set, but I also think about the fact that the actors are at work, they have things on their minds, and they may be stressed. They aren't coming to craft service to have more thrown at them. Even if an actor is friendly, Suggest using common sense.


It's bad all around if your phone makes sounds 
while you are on or near the set.


While you are on the set, don't touch any equipment. 
You may see a person try to move a piece of sound equipment, lighting equipment, camera equipment, wardrobe, etc. 
Do not help them. 

On a professional set, these are professionals, possibly union members and there are rules that state that they can't get into your business and you cannot do any form of work or help that relates to any of their work or equipment. 
You may have a good intention, it's just that there are rules. 

If you don't follow these rules, it immediately 
denotes you as an amateur. 
If they ask you for help, that is different. 


If you are on an Indie, this may be closer to the crew size that you are working with:

crew of Mike McCarthy's Tupelove

Once you have figured out a safe place to hang, you muted your phone, found some water or snacks at craft service (or nibble on the food you brought for a full day's shoot), you will likely have some time to kill. This is where you can be proactive:  budget your time.
Keep your ears open about when you will be needed. People may not always tell you when you are about to be needed, even though it is their job to tell you. 
It's the actor's responsibility to be near set when needed, even if a P.A. (production assistant) forgets to come get you. 

If the seemingly strange use of time on a set doesn't make sense, I suggest turning the tables and imagining that you are making your own film. You may have a lot to do as director or producer, but when you need your actors, you need them  right at that moment, you don't want to hear that an actor is missing. The consequence for an actor being missing and unreachable may be replacement. There will always be someone else who is ready and willing to do your job. That's why I want you to be prepared not only to book a job but to maintain it. 

Once when I worked on a sit com, we did the obligatory table read on day 1 of rehearsals. An actor was literally fired after the first table read. I am not writing this to scare you, but to make you aware that booking a job is not the end of the audition process, it is the beginning of behaving professionally during your employment. 

By the same token, if your job suddenly changes in a way that does not feel appropriate for you- for example you are suddenly told that nudity or partial nudity (Bikini, lingerie, etc.) is now part of your role-you are allowed to notify them that you no longer feel comfortable with the changes. This gives the production time to bring in a replacement. You are the boss of you, of your body, but let them know. Avoid wasting time in your dressing room at a complete loss.  I have seen actresses do this without any warning. On a TV show, an actress was expected to appear in a bathrobe and take it off to reveal her near microscopic lingerie. It wasn't until rehearsal that she tried to take off her robe in front of everyone and collapsed in tears and ran off. Her character had been written that way, no character changes occurred. I think she felt willing to do whatever it took to make her career as an actress, until she suddenly realized that she was not. I'm glad she set a boundary but it was not the best moment. I saw a similar situation on a movie by Universal. We shot in St. Louis and the actress playing a stripper in a bar waited until the rehearsal to decide that she couldn't do it. Again, I support her boundaries in this patriarchy we live in, but there was no time to find another actress. The solution was the 1st A.D. calling out to the crew," Does anyone here have a girl friend who would do this scene?" Startlingly, a grip shouted out immediately. "Yes! My girlfriend will do it!!" And twenty minutes later we had the performance the scene required. 

When we book a job, there are a lot of other people that will rely on it. It's worth considering what your boundaries are, so you don't feel pressured otherwise and so you don't inconvenience a production will thousands or millions riding on us actors doing our jobs. 

When you are asked to step into rehearsal, you will first Block the scene, then the crew will Light the scene as it was blocked (the camera requires the added light), then you will come back to the set and Rehearse, small adjustments will be made by different departments, and then you will Shoot.


 These lights are needed by the camera. It is a limitation of the camera that it cannot see as the human eye does, and requires a great deal of additional light-whether you are shooting film or video. Accept that the lights are there to shine one you and your work. The lights are there to make sure that whatever is placed in front of the camera is seen, and that includes each actor. 

When on set, make sure that you don't trip over the light stands, don't touch them or move them in any way. Move slowly and carefully when near the lights. 

When you are on set, if the lights are bright while shining into your eyes, close your eyes and stare at the lights for about 15-30 seconds and then open your eyes. It allows your eyes to adjust incrementally. 

Lights are hot. If you are in front of the hot lights while shooting, drink water so you don't dehydrate, take a break from set if you have a chance. 

Once you have seen the Director of Photography, who is sometimes also the camera operator, work with his crew to light a scene, you want to be aware where those lights are. When you stand on your mark, you are lit for that position, if you venture off of your mark, you might not be properly lit. Also, if you are in a scene with someone else and you are both lit, you want to watch that you don't cause shadows on their face or body while the camera is rolling. Look at their key light, the main light that is hitting their face, and stay out of its beam. 


You may be placed to simply stand on your mark. But you may have to walk up to your mark and find it each time without looking at it. 
If you have to walk to your mark, practice this move! You can orient yourself by finding what is to your left when you are on your mark, and what is to your right. If I have to walk to my mark on camera without looking, I find something like a light stand, a door, a knob, any object that is in line with the mark. Then I practice and use peripheral vision to get there without looking down at the mark. 


If you are in a tight shot and have to walk into it, you need to hit the mark and you definitely can't look down at the mark. I suggest you practice the move a bunch of times and you ask them to place a sandbag where your tips of your toes are supposed to land. This way you approach and can gently let your toes touch the sandbag, which is where you need to be. This also takes practice and is not as easy as it sounds. You may want to walk backwards from your final mark to your opening mark and count the number of steps. If you walk backward 8 steps to your initial mark, that means you have 8 steps from your opening mark to your final mark. 

Once the initial camera set up is done, the lighting setup takes up some time. This is a good time to practice your movement in the scene. You don't want to walk under lights being mounted above you, so you can ask the Gaffer, the head lighting electrician, the Key Grip or the grips. They may be lighting your stand in, and in this event, I ask if I can be my own stand in so I can see where the camera is, the lights, the room, etc. Or you may not want to be stuck as a stand in, and then you can just ask when you can practice your move. It is no selfish to do this because if you practice your move, you are also helping the camera department by getting ready to move in a way that they can cover you or follow you. It's teamwork, just use common sense and ask for help when you need it. 

sandbag holds down C Stands with lights mounted on them.
sandbag can also help the actor when placed on final position in a medium or 
especially in a tight shot. 

Back to blocking light...

(see below) If Marcello Mastroianni were to kiss Anita Ekberg on her other cheek, his head would block her light. In addition, his head would block her face from camera. Movement in front of a camera must be choreographed (blocked) so actors do not obstruct the other actor, and everyone can be seen by the camera.  If you want to make sure you avoid doing this, stay aware of where the lens is pointing, what is in that frame and stay aware of where the key lights are for you and the other actor. 

If he kisses her on the other side of her face, his nose is blocking part of her face from the camera and from her light. This specific composition is clearly designed to allow her to be seen and to be lit. Once a composition is determined by the director and/ or the D.P.. there may be room to be human, you just don't want to block the other actor from their light and from the camera.

In this picture (above), there is light hitting the back of the couch, his forehead and his hat, her face and her hair.
You don't have to worry about all the lights, you just want to avoid blocking the light that is set to hit the other actor's face and head.  If you do it by accident, it isn't the end of the world. But learning this lets them know you are worth hiring and lets you avoid embarrassment of blocking someone's face multiple times. 

On a set, there are so many technical concerns that it is a boon to the crew and the director when an actor is hired who knows how to conduct him or herself on set. The set is a team of different departments, and you become a welcome member when you avoid inconveniencing other departments on a consistent basis.

The Bottom Line with lights: If you have ever walked into a room that is too dark to see, then you can understand the purpose of the entire lighting crew-to make sure there is enough light for the camera to see. 


You may start by 1) rehearsing the scene, then 2) the scene has to be lit. On an Indie, you may have to stand in your position while they light the scene. On a bigger production, they may have a "stand in." A 'stand in' simply stands in your position while the scene is lit.  Once the scene is lit, 3) the camera operator will come in and rehearse the camera moves in the scene. 

You are working with the camera. If the camera is on a tripod, on a dolly
camera dolly

 or is a 'steadicam' (below) 

 Pay attention to where the camera is seeing, what is in the frame? If the camera is not on you, it's doesn't see you. [But sound will still hear you.] Sometimes you have to take a cue off of the camera when it moves. Only do this if you are told to do it. You can ask the director or the camera operator if you have a question about when you are in the frame. Sometimes a director is grouchy and I don't want to ask my question about what I am doing in the upcoming shot. But if I don't ask and I get it wrong, I waste time and money. If I am not clear about what I am doing in the shot, I must ask! It is my job. I was hired to do it. If I am insecure and I don't want to upset anyone, and I don't get clarity on my job requirement in the scene, I am both being unprofessional and sabotaging myself. This is a team effort, we all rely on what the other is doing. I have to do my part as best I can. I suggest being flexible, open minded, positive and accountable for my job. 

Movement on camera

Avoid moving too fast on camera. Someone is behind the camera trying to follow you. And they are trying to keep the movement smooth. If you are fast and jerky, this is not possible. When we are given marks, we should avoid making the move as fast as we feel to move--we are probably anxious on set and we want to please, instead deliberately slow down your movement so it can be smooth and deliberate. The camera operator will tell you if you should speed up or slow down. But if you get on set and move fast in a medium shot, it will be obvious that you aren't experienced with the camera. The whole point is to work with the camera department and be a team with them. It's different in a master shot, you have more leeway, but keep this in mind because whatever you do in a  master shot will have to be matched in any tighter coverage. 

two cameras shooting at the same time. 


Measuring the distance from the lens to the actor 
so the actor will be in focus. 
If it is a tight shot and you move a whole lot, you may go out of focus. The measurement may also include the farthest forward you might move and the farthest back you might move in the shot, then the focus puller can keep you in focus as you move
In other words, if you tend to lean forward once you start talking, that movement needs to be seen when measurements are being taken. This ultimately gives you the freedom to keep that movement in the scene. 

Always be aware of where the camera is looking before you move in any direction while on set. Cross behind the camera unless you are in rehearsal or shooting. If someone is looking through the camera's viewfinder and/ or someone is looking at the monitor, they may be composing light or the visual composition.  Never cross the camera lens during those times. 


Master or Wide shot
Medium Shot
Over the Shoulder shot
tight shot

There are many variations, but basically the first shot captures the actors in their setting, possible full body shot. 

Medium is waist up or a little tighter.
Over the Shoulder is over the other actor's shoulder and over your shoulder onto the other actor. 
Tight shot can be shoulders up or tighter. 

'E.C.U.' is extra close up


Every shot will be slated either when the camera starts rolling or at the end of rolling for that set up. 

Sometimes they can come in very close to your face because that is the the focal point. The slate will be in focus that way. 

Sometimes the person doing the slate makes sure it snaps loudly so that the sound department can hear it on their sound track. This is one of the times when the actor can be forgotten, because they place it in front of your face and the slate snapping is so loud that it hurts your ears...right before you are to do your scene! If this happens, you can politely ask if "soft sticks" can be used since it is right in your face. None of this is personal. Other departments just have their job to do and none of these departments had a class in working with living actors. We actors have a lot to learn, but we have value and that is why they hired us.  We are about to shoot a scene and we are concentrating and preparing to do it. "Soft sticks" is a simple compromise that can work. 

I am sure this was not a loud snap of a slate.
Soft sticks is a good solution. 


Never stop a take because you made a mistake.  You may be focused on your own work, but there are many elements that have to work properly for every take. Always continue the scene until you hear cut. It is possible that no one noticed your mistake. It is possible that the director will edit around  the mistake. It is possible to print that take, use it for editing and get a "pick up," which means shoot the same scene but starting right where the mistake occurred. All the pieces will go together to make a whole. 

If they choose to shoot the whole scene in one piece, without edits, you must still not stop if you perceive a mistake. Afterward you can let the script supervisor know, since she is in charge of continuity. You might tell the director or first A.D.

Of course: if you are physically injured, STOP the take. I don't care what anybody says. 


When you film a scene and during that scene you pick up a cup of coffee and drink from it with your right hand, you have to remain consistent with that every single time you shoot. If you switch hands in later takes of the scene, the footage will not match when edited, you can't have the cup in one hand in a medium shot and then the other hand the very next moment in the over the shoulder shot. 

Of course it does happen, and there are 
lots of fun accounts on If you look up a film at IMDB.Com and look under "goofs," you can see the continuity mistakes in almost every film. 

The thing is, you may have shot the first frame size at 7am and the over shoulder after lunch. You forgot which hand you used and maybe you just didn't even think about this. The Script Supervisor carries a script and is meant to write down all the things actors do in the frame of each shot. Some Script supervisors are better than others. 
The actor can be a significant help by keeping track of what you do and how you do it. This may put you in your head to even think about, but in time it becomes second nature. Everything in this post can become second nature with time and practice. 


When you are off camera for another actor who is getting their side of the shot, you will be placed next to camera. Allow the Director of Photography, the camera operator or the director to place you in the correct position. If the other actor's 'eye line' is off, the scene won't edit well, one person may look like they are looking in the wrong direction. You are not expected to know the correct eye line for every shot. Just allow yourself to be placed where they need you.


One Rule about Lines: Do not step on the other actor's lines. This means speaking your line before the other actor has finished his or her lines. Always make sure you allow them to get their full line out before you speak. The take will not work if the sound dept. doesn't have the complete lines from each actor's tight shot. However, the director may decide he or she wants "overlaps," this means you can overlap each other. It depends on each production. You can always ask.


The long handled microphone is called a boom. A scene may be recorded with a boom.

You may also be recorded on a lavalier. This is a small microphone that attaches to your shirt or other clothing, and it requires a battery pack, which may be placed in your back pocket. Also called a 'body mic.'

The Bottom Line: If you have ever been somewhere where you can't hear the person you are talking to, then you can understand the purpose of the sound crew-to record all the sound necessary and to make sure the actors are clearly heard. 


A camera may be connected to a monitor for viewing. This is only for the Director, Producers, and other members of the cast and crew who are invited to watch. Avoid walking over to it and attempting to watch, unless you are invited. The crew has to see if the lighting is working, if the shot is working and all the elements involved. 

"video village"


A "Hot Set" sign means that everything on the set is exactly as it needs to be for shooting, in other words...don't touch anything on a 'hot set.'


Waiting is the name of the game on a set. Waiting for the lights to be set, for the camera moves to be worked out, for the scene to be shot, for the discussions that can happen on set, for the times you have no clue what you are waiting for. Be creative. You can easily zone out on your phone... I bring music, journal, books, etc. You may find some people to talk to. This can be good for connecting to someone, but talking can also get you in trouble. If you are singled out and asked to be quiet, it is a point against you. If the person you are talking to is singled out, you are guilty as well. You can go outside and talk, just stay close to someone with a walkie talkie so you can stay informed. 

Wait management

You are an actor. Stay in touch with your self. What do you need? Do you need to talk a bit with others who are there, so that you can feel connected in some way? Do you need to text the person you care about and feel connected in that way? Are you tense? Scared? Do you need to use your breathing app? [When we get tense or experience stress or anxiety, we may breathe in a more shallow manner, which deprives us of oxygen. Deep breathing is an antidote to anxiety, according to the MAYO Clinic, hospitals and every meditation and yoga practitioner for thousands of years.] This app is free and you can set the length of the breath, it can calm you down anytime you may need it. It can be set on silent.

Do you need to listen to your character playlist of music? I make a playlist on my iPhone for my characters and it helps me stay connected during the wait. 

The budgeting of time on set is strategic, because if you do your preparation and get ready to shoot hours before you actually shoot, you will be burnt out by the time you get to the set. If you neglect preparation, you may regret it. So I recommend finding your point person or someone with a walkie talkie that you can hear and periodically checking and listening to how long you have. And/ or stay close to set and you will hear more of whats going on. When they start shooting the scene before yours, start getting ready--if the scene they are shooting is a page or more long; however, if the scene they are shooting is 5/8 of a page or shorter, it may not take them long to shoot that. It may go quickly. You can get this information on the call sheet-scenes shooting, length of each scene.

It is possible that you can rehearse with another actor. You can ask, but some actors don't want to do it. Everyone works differently. 


Good manners are always in order on the set. You don't have to be a goody goody, just common sense polite. Our job is to retain dignity and professionalism, no matter what you hear from the other departments (cuss words, anger). 

A positive attitude also goes a long way. No one wants a complainer or whiner on their set. If you need something, you can ask. But no consistent negativity. Don't sit around the craft service telling sad stories about everyone you ever knew that died or the worst things you ever experienced. Just don't. When someone starts doing that, I will always walk away. 

In addition: If talking with an actor, avoid asking personal questions and avoid asking salary questions. Also avoid talking about yourself excessively, rattling off your career or the name dropping.


Call Sheet

Each day of shooting starts with a call sheet delivered the night before, which tells what is being shot, who is working, when, where, etc. Each actor is assigned a cast number. 

Now that I have said all of this...

I want you to be perfectly clear that when you are hired to be on a shoot, you belong there! You belong on that set. 

You still have to do your homework and make choices. If you don't know how to do that, ask for help. Find a teacher who has done what you want to do and who has taught people who are doing what you want to do. You can learn. 

With so much equipment and so many people on a set, there is a place for your acting. Just as we act on the stage when in a play, we do have a space on the set to do our work. It may seem narrow or contained at times, but if you want the camera to see your work you must understand what is required from you. Do your work, do what you love, and learn to allow the camera and sound to capture that work.

The director may be dictatorial, telling you every detail of what to do and how to do it or may be more creative and want to give you notes in hopes of you bringing your creativity to the process. I like to find a way to bring my creativity as best as I can, no matter what. Working on camera is juggling some of these things, but I see it as having an awareness. 

Watch your favorite actors and actresses and watch their concentration. Concentration was something Stanislavsky stressed for the actor, and shooting stories on film or video are the time and place to bring concentration.  Your creativity is what the camera wants, it wants you to bring the text to life.  Be patient with yourself and avoid perfectionism. Bring your talent, your enthusiasm, your inner light and...bring your work ethic.  Have fun! Have fun learning, have fun doing what you love to do. 

effects: a car splashes a puddle on the character

preparing for the shot


Director Federico Fellini


When you are finished on set, sign out!

"On set I’m an actor like every other actor. Most times, for every part I play, I can think of other actors who would be better. I worry from the moment I take a job. I worry about how I'm going to do it, if I can do it. I try to work out what I have to do on set and how I do that.

"I get extremely anxious. I panic. I can't get it. It happens every time, and I get myself into this state, and then I walk on set and the director says, 'Roll', and all of a sudden all of it disappears and it's all happening, and I relax and I'm doing what I do and I'm not even thinking about it. And I relax up until the moment they yell 'Cut'."

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