THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF THE SET
I recently had the pleasure of attending the auditions for a local TV Series, Higher Learning and had the good fortune of landing a role in the series. Shooting begins in the next four days and in light of this, all the cast had to attend a meeting to introduce the new members of the cast to everyone else, and to set the pace for the upcoming shoot. Most of the talk the producers gave us though was dominated by tips and (not so veiled) warnings concerning etiquette on set and during shooting. Apparently, Kenyan behavior knows no boundaries and the list of transgressions we received caution about ranged from the usual "Don't be late" to the more exotic “Do not date other crew/cast members or their boyfriends/girlfriends and cause unnecessary tension on set”, imagine that!!
Being a forum that seeks to help those interested in Film and TV careers to start and succeed at what they love(and also because one of our fans requested it), I thought it was about time I put together a list of 6 things to do (or not to do) if you ever land a gig and would like to establish a good reputation as a professional in the TV/Film industry:
Always be early:
For acting, auditions, production meetings, and possibly every other meeting you ever schedule in your private life, be on time or even better, early. In the film/TV industry, the phrase is known as “call time”. A call time is the time that an actor/actress is due on set to perform. When you receive a role, you will be given your call times defining what times you are needed on set everyday. Plan well in advance how to make it there early. A late actor is an unprepared actor not to mention the inconvenience it gives the other actors who were participating in the scene that you were supposed to be in, the set-up and lighting department, and the fact that you cost the production money by making them wait thus prolonging the shoot. If you live in a place where traffic is always heavy(I believe Nairobi qualifies), give yourself plenty of extra time to get there on time. Traffic is not a valid excuse to be late since everyone on-set has to deal with the same traffic. It cannot be stressed enough, always be early.
Working on a TV/Film production is not all fun and games despite what most people imagine. It seems so easy, just show up and act, right? Wrong! Sorry to burst your bubble but it is work just like any other profession. Read your scripts, learn your lines and do your job well. Mostly though, learn your lines.
Every time you walk onto that set, there are other people who are involved in the same scene who must work with you and have prepared well in advance for it; Do not be the weak link. Do not be the one who everyone must wait for as you hurriedly run over the pages of your script because you did not learn it earlier(that pool party was awesome by the way) or the sound person who left an important piece of equipment at home or even the cameraman who forgot to charge a battery. That person gets fired, or as it usually is with actors in TV, they get written out of the series.
Stay on the set:
Once you arrive on set, check in with production and report to whatever location they recommend to wait for hair and make up.The idea is to make sure someone in charge knows where you are at all times that you are on the set. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to track down an actor. Holding up the entire production because you stepped out without informing anyone is not recommended. Productions almost always run on very tight schedules that are meticulously planned out. Given the fact that you may be dealing with a lot of invested money, rented equipment that needs to be returned after a certain deadline, and scenes that may require a certain amount of sunlight, the last thing you want to do is be the one who causes a delay. Usually a mistake like that is enough to cost you not just that job with the company, but any other job with them after that as well.
Keep your cool:
Actors and filmmakers can be very famous and popular and every once in a while, you will find yourself working with a star on some level or the other on a production. However much of a fan you consider yourself, do not behave like a fan on the set. Never approach a lead actor on any set and ask for their autograph or a photo with them. They are on the set to do a job and any distraction from that will only hurt the production. The set is a place where they(and yourself) need to relax and concentrate on the current job. Imagine if someone kept taking your photograph and asking for your autograph while you were in the midst of typing up a report for your boss or in the middle of a lecture while you are trying to pay attention to the lecturer. If you are truly interested in succeeding at the craft, you should be more interested in watching and learning from them, not interfering.
Respect the hierarchy of the set:
The director is the number one person on set, and whatever he or she wants is mandatory. But there are also a lot of other people who work on a set and have important responsibilities that you must also pay attention to. They include the assistant director, production assistants, hair and make-up specialists, lighting and sound crew, and costume specialists. Trust that these people are paid to know what they are doing and questioning why they are giving you an instruction will only aggravate them and slow down everything as you are possibly not the only person they are dealing with. If you are requested not to wear blue for example, do not wear blue.
Let me give you an example: I work at NTV on the morning show and we always request guests to not wear blue when they are invited for interviews because we use a blue-screen in studio. Some wear it anyway and it gives us nightmares since the studio software automatically keys out the color blue from the footage so they look like floating heads with no body. I once had to lend a lady my jacket since she obstinately showed up in blue and she had to conduct the interview in a jacket that did not match the rest of her outfit(My jacket is not very pretty by the way, its for warmth, not beauty). I will bet she did not tell many of her friends to watch the repeat of that interview.
You will spend a considerable amount of time on set with your co-actors and the crew during a production and at the very least, you are expected to show common courtesy and decency while on set. Be nice, say please and thank you, and avoid doing or saying things that may be considered to be inconsiderate and even worse, offensive. Actresses are pretty people and actors can be very dashing too but do not be inappropriate, sexual harassment is an offense anywhere, even on set. Avoid starting relationships with members of the cast or crew and if you do(if love conquers all as it sometimes does), keep private issues private and do not let the relationship spill over to the set.
Another aspect of this that I suppose may be even trickier concerns pay and remuneration. Make sure that before you ever step on the set to work, you have read and understood your contract and are aware of both your and the producers expectations. Of all the crimes an actor/actress could commit, the one producers spit out with the most venom is mid-production demands for more money. Some actors/actresses go as far as blackmailing the production with threats not to show up if they are not paid. Ensure that the terms of your contract are understood and agreed on by both parties and if complaints arise that you feel are legitimate, pursue a more diplomatic way of settling the matter without inconveniencing the producers and your fellow cast/crew members.
In a nutshell, avoid any behavior that can be considered as inappropriate in any way and concentrate on your work.
As artists, actors and actresses hate rules and are given to letting their personalities shine in-spite of the rules(I am guilty of this one). However, following the unwritten rules of the set is by far the best way to promote yourself and get yourself asked to join future productions. The essence of having a sustainable TV/film industry career is not impressing new people all the time. It is making a good enough impression that you get to work with the same people over and over again, and that they recommend you to their friends. In doing so, you can build long term relationships with them and build a career that is not just more lucrative, but more fulfilling as well.
Written by FilmKenya (Alexander Ikawah )