Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
One of my favourite sayings. Along with: “This item is half price today!”. However, only one of these will actually help you with your acting career. So let’s talk a bit about preparation.
PERSONAL PREPARATION + PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION = 100%
I know every actor has his or her own approach and while that’s all fine and dandy and terribly democratic, I’ll tell you what isn’t: turning up unprepared and making everybody else’s day more difficult. No matter if you’re on a film set or in a rehearsal room or a voice over studio. Preparation is key! So what exactly counts as preparation? For me, it’s more than just knowing your lines. That’s like a chef in a restaurant simply knowing what a steak is. That’s a given. It’s not preparation! I’ll come to that later, but for now: that’s not enough.
SLEEP & THE MORNING OF THE JOB
I think preparation starts way before that. YOUR PERSONAL PREPARATION. It starts with making sure you’re READY – for whatever awaits. Mentally, physically, emotionally. It starts with not going out the night before and getting drunk with your pals. Go to bed early, set multiple alarms, ask the hotel reception for a wake up call, get up early, and give yourself time to wake up fully. If you haven’t got a morning routine, start creating one. It will really help you get ready and give you the focus you need to sustain a long day on set and hours on end in a rehearsal room. It will also relax you and make you feel more prepared and ready, rather than jumping out of bed in a hotel somewhere before you get picked up for a shoot. There are a number of websites you can visit that offer advice on morning routines and explain the advantages of them. Google is your friend. MAKE SURE YOU’RE READY.
Do you know how to get to where you need to be? Check this the night before or on the morning at the very latest (!). If you’re going somewhere for the first time, arrive early and walk to EXACTLY to where you need to be. Then there might still be time to grab a coffee elsewhere and refocus. Don’t leave it last minute and rush through the door. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Are you being picked up? Who is picking you up? Do they have your number? Do you have theirs? Are they aware of when you’re going to be where? People make mistakes. Call sheets aren’t always perfect. Make sure you double check information. BE ON TIME.
Make sure you’ve eaten and have energy! Don’t rely on the catering on set, as more often than not it doesn’t offer you the kind of food you should be consuming to make sure you can rock the show. Yes, we all love rehearsal room biscuits & cake, but you don’t really want to be filming or rehearsing with lumps of chocolate cake in your belly. Stick to the healthy stuff and bring some nuts. That’s not a euphemism. I mean: nuts. Almonds, Peanuts, Walnuts etc… not the sugary ones. Plain, healthy, energy boosters for in between. I like to bring a cooked lunch with me on set. Just so I know I’ve got a healthy meal lined up that will boost my energy levels rather than cause them to plummet. BE ENERGISED.
Arrive on set or in the rehearsal room and be PRESENT. Of course, it’s exciting to meet everyone for the first time and enjoy some banter. But don’t forget: you’re there to work. You’ve been booked to do a job. I don’t mean sit in a corner and be a zen monk in deep meditation, but have a sensitivity and feeling for the room. Who’s in charge and when are you starting? Do you need the toilet? Is there time to go? Dying to grab a coffee before everything kicks off? Get it sooner rather than later. Want to be in that room and show it. BE FULL OF ENERGY AND BE PRESENT.
Know your lines. Right, here we go. It’s not cool to not know your lines! Guessing is not an acting technique! It doesn’t make you edgy, different and more “in the moment” if you don’t know them. Don’t waste a take by drying. Don’t waste rehearsal time by not knowing the scene. Don’t make the casting director / director / your co-actors nervous by not knowing what you’re doing / saying. You’ve been booked as a professional actor. You’ve been invited to a casting? IT’S A JOB! You’ve been booked to be a professional actor for 30 minutes or however long your casting might last. The point is not to show that you *could* be a pro and *could* be right for the part IF they cast you. Show them: you’re it. You’re ready. You’re not a risk. Be professional. It all starts with you. So just KNOW YOUR LINES. Know everyone else’s lines, too! Be a safety net for others! BEING PROFESSIONAL IS NOT A STATE OF FINANCE, IT’S A STATE OF MIND. YOUR MIND.
BRING IDEAS + STAY FLEXIBLE
AND: bring ideas to the table. It’s not enough to know your lines and rely on the director to do the rest. Come loaded with creative ideas. Different approaches, ideas for the scene, different rhythms for your character, different takes on the scenes. Be a source of creative power. It shows those around you that you care about what you’re doing and that you WANT TO BE THERE. Don’t rock up with one single idea and be too stubborn to change it. By all means, argue your corner and stand your ground, but be creatively flexible enough to adapt, take direction and give it a different flavour. You have no idea why you might be asked to shake it up a little. It doesn’t mean: You’re rubbish, do what I say. It can mean a million other things, so just go with it. Offer a director slight nuances so he/she has something to choose from in the edit. A casting director might just want to see how well you take direction. The client might not know for sure what they’re after and have asked for a range of options / performances. It’s part of your job. BRING IDEAS!
DON’T BE NEGATIVE
You can’t spend weeks at home moaning about the lack of acting work and then when you book a job, not do the work and instead complain about the circumstances. “Gosh, the pick up is at 5am”, “The coffee tastes like crap”, “I don’t like my costume” etc … Nobody forced you to be an actor. You chose this career. You choose the good bits and the bad bits. It’s all part of the game. You can’t cherry pick. You want to be a working actor? Here’s your chance: start working. Focus on the things you can control and forget the rest. Lead by example. Treat everyone equal. Today’s assistant might be a BAFTA nominated director in 2 years time. One of the extras might be writing a screenplay with a part that’s perfect for you. This shouldn’t be your game plan, but rather something to be aware of. You’ve been booked to be there in a professional capacity and be part of a huge creative machine. So has everyone else. You’re not doing anyone a favour and there’s no need to be shy and subservient, but by the same token there’s no need to be rude, arrogant and gossip about others. Don’t be a diva. For the love of this industry – just be nice. BE GRATEFUL, DELIVER YOUR BEST WORK, BE HUMBLE.
WHO TO TALK TO AND WHEN
Of course you have every right to raise a concern or ask a question. Just don’t ask the director or producer when your pick up time is tomorrow morning. Know who to talk to and when. There are assistants running around. Check the call sheet. Ask a fellow actor who the right person to talk to is. Use your common sense when approaching someone. If they look insanely stressed and busy, maybe it’s not the right moment to ask for vegan almond milk. 8 out 10 times, common sense will save you. USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.
THE 3 P’s
If you’re coming onto set for a day or two, don’t forget that everyone has been there a lot longer than you. They’re a creative family and you’re a guest. How do you behave when you’re invited to someone’s house as a guest? You arrive on time? That’s called PUNCTUAL. You bring a present? That’s your PREP. You’re friendly and nice to the hosts and tell some entertaining stories/anecdotes throughout the evening? That’s being PLEASANT. You’re a guest. Behave in such a way that they’d gladly invite you back or recommend you to others. REMEMBER THE 3 P’s.
One of the best quotes I’ve heard about acting is: “Hit your mark, look the other guy in the eye and tell him the truth”. I’d add to that: Be punctual, be prepared, hit your mark, look the other guy in the eye and tell him the truth.
I hope you found this helpful. If so, share it! Not for my benefit, but for your pals & colleagues! If you have any questions, ping me an email.
I’ve added some horrific cheap graphics to get the message across: PREPARE!