Get Your Project Done for Nothing and Your Actors for Free.( Read Part 1 Now )

I’m going to start this article out by stating, up front, for all to see, with no reservations, and only the best intentions, that actors are interesting cats.  Oh Crap… That’s how I started Part 1 of this!

Part 2 – PRODUCTION

Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a table read or two, but if you’re luckier, you’ll get your actors to show up to the first shoot date, on time, on the right day, and ready to go. Warning: on the first day, at least one actor will be late. You will be sitting at the meeting place or set/location with the other actors and the crew and the urgent need to have an aneurism just to relieve the tension.  Ten messages on their cell phone do not summon them to appear and you will start to completely melt down.

actress is hotI suggest you melt down later. You need to be calm, confident, and keep your cast and crew busy.  The crew can set up the first shot so it’s ready to go when your errant actor decides that fashion has been served and it is time to make that late appearance. You can also figure out which shots you can do quickly in the meantime without that actor and knock ‘em out ASAFP. Do not engage in the resentful bashing that will metastasize among the on-time actors. No one hates a late actor more than an on-time actor- not even you. Don’t stoke that fire or it will be acres wide by the time the late-boat shows up.

When the person does show up (most of the time they will unless there’s a total miscommunication or car accident- and then won’t YOU feel bad), as much as you want to ready the horses, whips, and ropes, do not release the Kraken. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but remember that they are there for free. Their excuse may be thin, ridiculous, or outright insulting, but you still have to work with this person. You still have to keep the vibe on the set positive. If everyone gangs up on them when they show up, they may just get right back into their beat up old red Honda and take the hell off. Then the set’s anger will turn and you will be the one who is drawn and quartered that day.

One shoot had myself and six actors heading out to the Mojave Desert from my apartment in West Hollywood early one Saturday morning. We were all to meet at 7:30am and leave at 8am to get out there and get the shots done. Everyone showed up at least by 8am… except for the lead actor who was scheduled to be in every shot. I called every number he had and left more messages than should be legal in the state of California. Before long it was 8:30, and then after that it was 9:00, and then we finally got a call.

It was 9:30 and he said his car broke down, but he would be right over.  By 10:30 the other actors were getting restless and starting to construction effigies of our missing actor to burn spitefully on the balcony.  I spent that time trying to put out the fires and calmly reassure everyone that he would appear at any minute with a really great story. Finally, at 11:30, our man showed up and said, “let’s go…can we stop for lunch on the way?” Everyone was pretty homicidal, but I quickly assign him to the least angry car to drive out there. A long car ride with a Burt Reynolds autobiography on cassette tape seemed to somehow calm the situation down.  I kept my cool and avoided asking him what really happened and got the shoot day done. About a week later he admitted that he had woken up on time, had a big long fight with his girlfriend, had a long drawn out session of makeup sex that involved choking (T.M.I.?),  and then had to take her to breakfast to make sure she stayed happy.  My instincts were right: I didn’t want to know.

So everyone is now here, the cameras are rolling, and you are in the moment. So when is lunch?  So can I wear sneakers instead? So how long is this going to take?  So can I eat the prop food? My same advice stands for the millions of questions that you will get right before takes, immediately after takes, and when you’re dangling upside down over a stairwell trying to rig a shot. Maintain the positivity until it hurts… physically, while you’re upside down facing immediate peril.  Even if their questions are related to their own personal comfort levels, listen to them and answer them as best you can.

And yes, I really actually had an actor ask if he could eat the prop food. There were plenty of snacks available ( ALWAYS provide lots of food and drink for cast, crew, and anyone else who walks by- this will save your shoot), but he wanted the friend chicken that another actor was supposed to be eating during a scene. I asked him not to leave the chicken be, but we did end up finding half a bucket worth of reserve prop chicken gone by the time we were on take ten and needed it for the shot. I guess take nine was ok after all and I learned to always bring food to match the prop food for the craft services table. I really should have known. Once you smell fried chicken or bacon- it’s all over.

A final word about actors and “high maintenance:” Many actors need a certain level of (reasonable) comfort to be able to get into the state of mind or mood to get their scene done. Many actors need a certain amount of attention paid to them so they feel like what they are doing for free is important and that you appreciate them (that goes for paid actors as well). You must go out of your way to appreciate. A little appreciation as you go smooth over most wrinkles or potential wrinkles. You shouldn’t faun over them or go completely overboard (you won’t have the energy to maintain it), but just do what you realistically can to make them feel needed and integral. If the experience of shooting with you is rewarding enough, they will often come back for more and help you out when they can… for free… again….

Actors are interesting cats, but then again so are you.

Vlad Peters – A DIY Filmmaker

Leave a Reply