February has started off with a bang, so happy accidents are always, very welcome.
My phone went off at 7am, unexpectedly, my mind trying to adjust to this intrusion into my dreams. On the other end, a voice, announcing itself as someone from a casting agency, and whether I was available to take over for an actor on a commercial.
“Can you be to the location in an hour?”
My mind was not registering, so I had to ask again if this was for sure. I checked my calendar, and said yes. And without really realizing it, I had just booked my first commercial job of the year, doing background work. For what product, I didn’t know. But I had to jump up and focus on getting ready to get to the location on time. Luckily, I only had to walk a short distance away to get to the meeting point.
Once I was settled in to the location, and had met the PA and 1st AD, I learned that I was working on a major campaign with a major star. And it turned into a two-day job. And while I admire the work of this star – nothing prepared me for how focused and free-spirited he seemed. The group of background actors was small enough that I wasn’t really concerned whether I got on-camera or not. What was really exciting for me was to work with the 1st AD and get to do things like know where the frame was, how was my movement – and, most of all – how I was doing.
There was a sequence we shot where I was positioned to start next to camera frame and walk directly in front of the star as he walked in a forward direction. So, with the director, DP and 1st AD all assembled to choreograph the movement, I was able to briefly check-in with the star and have quick chats. While I didn’t want to break his focus, it became a lesson of how to know myself on a set.
- Listening and observing. I can’t say enough how important it is to not let myself be distracted by major stars. They’re regular people too, just doing their job. My job is to support their work. It’s also important to be mindful or the crew and not let myself drop focus, because things can happen instantly on-set. There might be a major lull between takes, or they may do a take and quickly reset and do it again. The important thing is to stay frosty, and alert.
- Don’t let my ego get the best of me. There are a lot of things to think about on a set, the least of which is whether I should be sharing anything on my social networks or not. There’s not time for that or better yet – I don’t even make that a priority or a “must-do.” The worst thing to do is to be standing next to a major star and be thinking about how I could get a picture of me and him out there. Also: when shooting outdoors with a major star, to not let the passer-by and curious onlookers get the best of me. It’s great to even have the chance to work on a set, and it’s great fun to have other people watch us work, but that is the least of my worries. AND, if the star talks to me: That did happen, and again, not to let awe creep in (which did), but to be polite and respectful, and try to keep the interaction to the point. I wouldn’t want to break focus and quote a famous line from a certain film. No, no, no, no. But since he seemed to be in a jovial mood, and talkative with everyone around him, he was quite easy to talk to. And I think that’s just to relieve the pressure, too. I always appreciate an actor who doesn’t take himself very seriously.
- Pace myself. Keep water and food nearby, if possible. It’s often not possible to hop over to craft services when on set.
- Understand how the camera sees me. I’m a fairly physical actor, so it’s not difficult to use all of my body. Great for the stage. For film, it’s a lot different. All sorts of different angles were used: wide shots that took in the entire scene to close-up shots on the star. Getting a close-up of your face doesn’t mean to leave the rest of your instrument hanging; it all comes into play, no matter what the camera wants to see. The star had the hang of it (of course), and it was great to see how he handled the challenge. He gave each take a different choice – whether it was head down or eyes up, or it was an angle to the left or right; I kept hearing the director give him options for his character, and that goes back to how to listen when on the set. Making adjustments to the camera on a dime can either hurt or help, depending on your confidence. In the end, the director will tell you what works or doesn’t.
- Enjoy myself and learn from the experience. Being on a set is always a great experience. Meeting other actors; getting to know some of the crew and watching the machine of filmmaking. Something I want more of. I love working under SAG/AFTRA contracts and find it so exciting to learn about the filmmaking process. This was my first on-set experience in nearly 5 years. And it’s re-awakened my love of making movies.SO, in less than two weeks, I begin shooting “Beacon.” This is gearing up to be one of the most exciting months ever, in terms of acting work that I’m doing. There will be much more to come about this project, soon.