It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the business, there are probably a few things you still need to know before the next time you step into base camp. Things you’re not likely to know unless someone’s bothered to take the time to tell you. If you’re a seasoned pro it’s likely that most people think you already know what you need to know and therefore would never presume to offer you advice. And if you’re a first timer just breaking into the biz, then it may be a case of people believing it’s just best if you learn things for yourself. But I figure if someone shares this information ahead of time it will save many people a lot of hassle, frustration, embarrassment, and possibly even someone their job.
1) How to Up Your Rate: If you’ve already booked the job and someone is calling to check your rate, don’t be afraid to ask for more than you usually get. Granted, this rarely happens. Someone should have already taken care of this bit of business, and usually through your agent. However, just know that if they have already booked you they aren’t going to even consider replacing you unless you ask for something outrageously different from your usual quote. And even then they’re going to counter offer first. This is particularly important to know for day players (that’s cast members that are not contracted for the run of the show). This happened to my brother-in-law and he was able to establish a higher rate that he then used for all future bookings. His agent was grateful.
2) Sign Out for Your Fitting: If you have a fitting for your wardrobe you should sign out on an Exhibit G form with an Assistant Director (AD). If you are not a regular cast member and this takes more than two hours you are suppose to receive additional pay. But no one will know how long you’ve been there if you haven’t signed out, and be sure to check the in and out times for accuracy. This is your money, so you should look out for it. People make mistakes all the time. It doesn’t hurt to take a picture with your phone either. Sounds extreme, but it’s not really. In fact it’s very common to do so, especially in the world of Stunts. If you’re embarrassed just roll your eyes and say it’s for your agent.
3) Bring Your Identification: Be sure to bring either your Passport, or a Driver’s License and Social Security Card. The AD needs to check them for the paper work. If you don’t like to carry your Social Security card with you, a copy you possess (and keep) is acceptable, and you may not know it but an expired Passport is considered a valid form of ID, and a safe option to carry around that you don’t have to worry about losing. A Passport is especially useful for children who seldom have anything more than a birth certificate and Social Security card (both items fall under the same category on the work form, and so do not sufficiently fulfill the requirement of two forms of ID).
4) Check In: As soon as you arrive in base camp, whether on location or at the studio lot, make sure an Assistant Director (AD) knows you are there. If you are dropped off by a shuttle ask the driver to call the AD on the walkie. Do not assume the AD will somehow know that you are there, or come looking for you. While I was working on a show at the Warner Bros. lot a shuttle from parking brought an actor from parking. He found a trailer with his name on it and went inside to wait. After he had been late for over an hour it was discovered that he had taken the wrong shuttle that had delivered him to the wrong show’s base camp that just happened to have a character’s name the same as his own. If he had bothered to check in with someone (anyone) he would have discovered his mistake, and there would not have been a need to rush him through the works (hair, makeup and wardrobe) in order to get him ready in time. He was rattled which led to a less than pleasant acting experience on his part.
5) Check Your Contract: Once you are in your room take a look at your contract. If there are any mistakes be sure to let the AD know right away so they can be fixed before any shooting begins. Honestly, it’s not a big deal to take care of, but it is a big deal to find out after you’ve been shot on film that you haven’t signed something because you think it needs to be changed. A big problem can be a little one as long as production knows about it, but a little problem can become a big one if the higher ups find out about it later. The AD can get fired for this even if it turns out not to be a big deal for the production. I know. I was when an actor didn’t like the wording of a confidentiality clause on the last page of his contract. However, he didn’t say anything until hours after telling me he had signed his contract I noticed the missing signature. Unfortunately, this was after he had been shooting in picture. He didn’t think it was a big deal, and still has no idea I was let go the next day.
6) Check Your Wardrobe. Even if you don’t like to wear it until after Hair and Makeup or after rehearsal, it’s a good thing to know that it fits and is in fact the wardrobe you are suppose to be wearing. Again, things can be fixed during your prep time if need be, rather than holding up the works for every body because you didn’t try on your wardrobe. This caused a massive delay on one of the shows I was working on. The actress didn’t want to wear her dress to rehearsal, and through the proper channels was given permission not to do so. However, because of that no one noticed the bits of green in her dress until everyone was all ready to shoot Green Screen (whatever was to be projected on the background would have bled through the green parts of the dress). Wardrobe searched frantically to find an alternate that was appropriate for the scene while production tried to shoot something else. No one was happy.
7) Holler for Help: Don’t assume the AD will be checking in on you soon enough. If you need something and the AD isn’t around don’t be afraid to stick your head out of your dressing room door and call for them. That’s what they’re there for; to make sure you have what you need to get ready for shooting. And it can be anything, big or small. It’s not a big deal to get you a cup of tea. It is a big deal to wait, as you swing by crafty to get your own tea once you’ve been called to set. Even if you just want an update. Remember there are only so many ADs on and around set, so they may not check on you immediately unless they know you need something. Help us help you.
8 ) Be Sure an AD Knows Where You Are: Whether you’re on the set or off the set, the ADs needs to know where you are in case you’re suddenly needed for shooting. Whether you’re going off stage for a smoke or back to your room for your cell phone let an AD know. It’s especially useful for them to know where you’ll be at lunch in case they have to bring you back early, and useful for you to know when lunch is scheduled and where it’s supposed to be. If it’s getting close to lunch and you’re not needed an AD can break you early, but don’t sit around waiting to hear about lunch, check. And once you’ve had lunch and find yourself sitting around at catering while everyone else has gone find a teamster (driver) and ask them to call an AD to find out how soon you’re needed in touch ups. There’s always a teamster nearby wherever there are vehicles, from semi-trucks to picture cars. They may not have a walkie-talkie, but they have a cell phone and can get a hold of another teamster who does.
9) Tell Someone If You Nap: This may sound a bit silly, but if you decide to take a nap be sure to let the AD know. We’re not trying to be your mom, but think about it. It just makes sense. Depending on how long you end up resting as you wait to be called, Hair, Makeup and Wardrobe may all need to see you again. In which case the AD will need to let the 1st AD on set know to allow for extra time when anticipating the need for you on set. It’s certainly no big deal – if you need to rest then you need to rest. The AD just needs to know what could effect your appearance so they can prepare properly so that you and everyone else won’t end up being on set any longer than necessary. The same goes if you decide to pick up a game of basketball or do anything else that might cause you to perspire. Makeup and Hair can probably fix you in a jiffy as long as they know what they’re dealing with. The same goes for the AD.
10) Sign Out. Once you’ve wrapped, be sure to change out of your wardrobe first, and then go to the Hair and Makeup trailer for any clean up, but most importantly be sure to sign out with the AD. Remember that your final out time is based on your set dismissal. So regardless of how long it takes for you to say goodbye, you only get an added fifteen minutes added to your out time. That is unless there’s specialty makeup involved in which case you get an exact, to-the-minute dismissal when you step out of your trailer to leave. These times only really matter if you’ve worked longer than 8 hours. Then you go into overtime and that can make a substantial difference to your paycheck. Once gain, it’s a good idea to take note, if not a picture of your in and out times. And save a Call Sheet from the day. Not only will you have a list of all the names of the people you worked with during the day, but you’ll have all the necessary contact information (usually listed on the front, upper right hand corner) in case you need to get a hold of the production later on.
There’s probably a million and one other things that could be good to know for working on a film set, but that’s where your own experience will come in. That and a healthy dose of humility, meaning if you don’t know something just ask about it. It’s never a bad thing to admit you’re still learning about being on set. Things change all the time, so no matter how long you’ve been at your career it’s important to understand that there’s likely always something to be learned every time you book a gig. If you’re lucky, and talented, then you’ll be spending a lifetime at it, and more than likely you’ll pass along some much needed information to an AD or two along the way.