Sweet! You've booked a job. All of your hard work is about to be paid off with one of the coolest, most fascinating, difficult, nerve-wracking, fun experiences you could ever have. The best advice I can pass along from working actors is to get a good night's sleep. The day starts early and goes on forever.
Every commercial shoot takes on a life of its own, so I'm not going to take up much space here attempting to describe all the nuances. Besides, this is a book about auditioning, and hopefully it's helped you get this far.
Nonetheless, here are a few things that should be helpful:
Most commercial shoots take only one day, maybe two, to complete.
When you're notified that you've been booked, you'll be given directions to the studio or the location and the phone number of someone from the production company. If you're running late or have an emergency on shoot day, let your agent handle it first. In the event of a genuine screaming emergency, call the production-company number.
When you arrive, don't look for the director. He or she's too busy and will rarely come to greet you. Today, you are only one cog in a giant machine the director is trying to run. Ask for the first-assistant director (the first-AD), or the production company or agency producer. One of them will help you get situated and most likely take you to the wardrobe/stylist people.
Since I'm a former actor, I always try to make a point of seeking out the talent to say "hi" and fill them in about what's going on with the shoot and make them feel at ease. Personally, I'm genuinely happy to finally meet the people we've hired 'cause I know how much they've had to go through to get here. I'm a nice guy, but don't expect this kind of welcome wagon from everybody.
Maybe it comes from nerves, but every once in awhile an actor will say, "Y'know, they call me 'One-Take Johnson,'" or, '"One-Take Gina.'"You shouldn't worry about being one-take anybody because that's just going to put too much pressure on yourself. Relax.They've got a lot of film, an infinite amount of pixels, the director's got some ideas, and you don't have to worry about nailing it in one take. Unless you're the stuntperson.
Directors have their own unique ways of running things on their set. They each have a style that they believe helps them handle the mayhem and do better work. For instance, before he became an incredible still photographer and later a fine director, Norman Seeff was a surgeon in South Africa. When shooting intimate one-on-one dialogue scenes I've seen him seal off the shooting area with drapes to create the atmosphere of an operating room. It's quite effective. Stu Hagman got so tired of shouting over the din of his crew that he got one of those "Mr. Microphones" with the remote speaker. His disembodied voice of God emanates from the middle of his set, and you have to get used to it.
Remember that you were hired because you were already 75 percent "there" with your performance at the callback, so don't change anything unless you're told to do so. Have your lines memorized but don't lock yourself in too much because, believe me, the script probably changed once again. The director will probably have some different ideas up his sleeve, too, and they may be 180 degrees counter to your expectations. Anything can happen. Do everything you can to stay loose but stay focused, because I'm telling you, even if you have a teeny tiny part, once you get in front of the camera, you'll quickly discover that it's like trying to assemble a fine Swiss watch in the middle of a tornado.
Here's one director's advice: "If it's a storytelling commercial that has no dialogue, there's almost no way to be prepared for that. (We're going to shoot in such little snippets that it's easier to have instantaneous motivation from somebody who's probably more physical than anything else.) But when it comes to dialogue, learning a script is a dangerous thing to do before a shoot day, because, invariably, it's going to change. So just get a good night's sleep or whatever. You should always ask if you can take the script, [and if you do] don't over-study it because the likelihood is that you're going to show up the next morning and in makeup they're going to show you a script that's got juuust enough different stuff that it's going to make you crazy.
"We generally don't shoot anything all the way through the script, anyway. But if we do try to do that and have trouble, we always know where we can pick up sections of it. I like to put giant cue cards all around the set, near camera, so that in between takes actors can check the script. And what it helps me do is that I can point to a line or a section [and we'll work on it]. If it's possible—and this might be asking too much, but you could feel this out with the AD when you get there in the morning—ask if there's a way to get a big script up somewhere. I think that's very helpful."
There're two main people you should listen to when you're in front of the camera. The director of photography (the DP) has positioned the camera, lit the scene, and framed the shot so he may give you information about your body position and framing. The director will tell you everything else. If you have any questions about anything ask him or her. Don't listen to comments from strange voices behind the camera over in a place called "video village." That's the area in front of the playback monitors set aside for the agency and the client to park their butts.
Danny Levinson has some suggestions on how to get along on a set. "Just be normal. Be yourself. A lot of times you're not going to see the director greet you on the set because either the director is busy, or he has no confidence so he doesn't want to come talk to you, or you're a good-looking girl and he may start sweating if he talks to you, or you're a guy and he gets upset by good-looking guys—who knows! Or, he may come right up to you in the morning. It's really hard for actors because you come on, you're the star of the show, and you get all the attention that day from somebody that you don't even know. It's a weird thing. That's why you have to be yourself, so you can roll and be fluid. Keep your ears open, keep your eyes open. If you don't know something, ask. They may think you're just charmingly naive.
"You'll find that the most successful commercial actors, for the most part, are the ones who can have a normal conversation away from the camera. They're just people."
Well, you finally made it. The DP barks a final order to the grips about adjusting a light and tells you that the camera is going to swing towards you just so and then stop. He holds a light meter under your chin and checks his exposure. The camera operator runs a measuring tape out to double-check his focal length. A girl with purple hair leans in and dusts more powder on your face. The director kneels down next to you and gives you a reassuring word or two.
"Just focus on what you have to do and listen to me. Ready?"
The room settles down.
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