Tips From Tom

All of our tutors have extensive experience as professionals in the industry. Tutor Tom Sawyer regularly works on screen as an actor and this coupled with being the Co Founder of Screen Actors London with fellow Temple alumni Phil Woolf is well equipped to give us some handy tips for on set etiquette…
1, Be “Professional”
Day 1 of the shoot is not the time to learn your lines. The crew are gathered, locations booked and everything has been prepared for you to step onto set and do your work so…
Prepare yourself! Mentally and Physically: Filmmaking can be a tiring business so get enough rest. Pack things you may need – if you know you get grumpy when peckish (like me) pack your chosen snacks, If you have hayfever and there are scenes in a field, take your tablets/eyedrops etc, Bring thermals if you think you will get cold on the night shoot.Imagine yourself in each set up and think about what might help you be at your best.Make some character choices, be bold with your decisions and put them to the Director (preferably before the cameras are rolling) without being precious about them, flexibility is a must, come with an open mind and positive attitude.The script is your bible, it has all the clues you need, use it as much as you can.
Viola Davis wrote a 50 page biography for her character in “Doubt”, hear her talk about it here.
2, Communicate with clarity
Usually the Assistant Director (AD) is the person who can get you any thing or any information you will need on set. If they don’t know they will know who does and try to sort it for you (a good AD is priceless).The Director is the person to speak to with any “performance” based questions/suggestion etc. Remember the Director will have many things to think about and most of it is technical (Sound, lighting, Camera) but ultimately all technical departments have a Head (HOD) whereas the “Acting” department only have the Director to turn to. It is this collaboration that is critical to achieving the best possible story with a clear vision of the final film.Respect your Director, respect your crew, they work very hard to make you look good.Never be afraid to ask for the frame: the size of the shot will determine the size of your performance. If the Director seems busy establish a relationship with the Director of Photography (DOP) where you can check if you are in a close up/medium shot etc, its not always obvious by the camera’s position.The other person on set who will be spending a lot of time watching you is the Continuity person, they will be taking notes of every time you stand, sit, drink, punch, kick etc. Be kind to them as they can remind you of what you did in the last take and that can save a lot of time wasting and a frustrating job for the Editor.A good habit to get into is make sure you have been introduced to the whole crew or at least the HOD’s. It makes for a happy set when (for example) the Focus puller can just ask you to take your first position without having to go through the Director and you can personally thank the runner that has been fetching you hot tea all evening.On a low budget shoot you may not have the luxury of a big team of people but take a second before just firing out a question to think ‘who is the best person to ask here?’ When in doubt I always turn to the AD.
An example of poor communication on set is the infamous clip of Christian Bale having a bad day here:
3, Be a “Team player”
Filmmaking is a group effort; everyone has a role and has been specifically selected to work on the project because of the skills they possess, same goes with actors.Have the awareness to understand what is happening around you without letting it affect your work.There will be times when there is a camera right against your nose, a light in your eye, a microphone under your chin and it is your job to find the truth of the scenes while all this is going on. Stay calm, breathe and take a second to block out all the exterior gadgets so you can focus on your job.Of course we all want to be helpful but let other people do their job. Often it can be more disruptive for the actor to move from the first position and get some water/ replace a prop/ move a cable etc while everything is being set for you in that one spot. If you see something out of place mention it (to who it concerns).There’s usually no need to be lifting things (especially when in costume) but remember to conserve your energy for that big emotional scene later that day, no one wants to see an actor breaking an expensive light. You will be pampered as an actor, enjoy it, but realise the logic behind why: The production needs the “talent’ to be happy as much as they need the camera lens free from dust and hair, it is important that the hair/ make up and costume department (always a source of great comfort in my experience) can make you look pretty so the shot looks pretty so in that sense you are “dressed” as the set is dressed. So don’t be embarrassed by the attention, it is necessary.However, don’t allow this attention to feed the ego. Too many times before a take I’ve heard an actor ask the director “are you sure about this scarf/line/move?” Assume when ready to roll everything is how it should be otherwise someone would have flagged it to the Director.Personal hygiene! For everyone’s sake, have mints and deodorant on hand.There will be hundreds of other actors who would love to be on set working on a film at any level, remember this.
Watch Steven Spielberg talk about collaborating with actors in here:
Next Core Training with Tom Sawyer April 26th: Mondays & Fridays 6 – 10pm. Call the studio to discuss your space today!
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