The call came in. Your audition was spectacular (or your friends just think you're awesome) and you've booked the gig. Ladies and gentlemen, you are going on set! But it's not just any film set! This? Is an independent movie!
Alright, so what can you expect when you are going to be working on an independent film? Well, there are no big budgets and you probably won't be meeting any celebrities once you get there. The crew will probably be small (maybe two guys with a camera and a boom mic?) and chances are the director is also the writer, the producer, the DOP, the camera operator, the wardrobe mistress, the craft services, and the person who drove you there (if you were even lucky enough to get a ride). Also, once your agent and the union get their pieces of the pie, fingers cross you might even have enough left for half your groceries this week. But we're not doing this for the money right? Right.
In all seriousness though, I'm at a point in my career where all I want is to work and this was a union shoot that gets me just one step closer to being a full member of ACTRA. Plus, it was for my friends.
Anyway, here are a few tips to help you make it through your independent film experience with your professionalism reinforced to such a degree that they will be begging to have you back for their next project. Remember, today's low-budget indie-film producer could be tomorrow's James Cameron... or maybe divorced to James Cameron.
Now, chances are your "wardrobe fitting" consisted of one phone call and maybe a request to "bring some pants". Do not be fooled by any kind of laissez-faire (that's French) attitude towards your outfit! Many years of on set experience has thought me that Murphy's Law is always in full effect. Only brought the clothes on your back? They will take one look at you and hate it. Brought a suitcase full of stuff? They will love what you have on.
That said, it is much better to ere on the side of caution. I have a small suitcase which I always fill with everything I need. That includes: 3 or 4 changes of clothing (depending on the part you will be playing, try and vary the styles and colours), a lint brush & Tide To Go pen, my own makeup & hair supplies (just in case there are no hair and makeup people present), a snack & a water bottle (in case they can't afford craft services), a book (being on set consists of a lot of "hurry up and wait") and, of course, the most important item: a positive attitude!
(Actually, I take that back. The most important thing, as your mother will tell you, is clean underwear. You have no idea where or in front of whom you might be changing your clothes. In the past, I've had to change behind dumpsters, in the back seat of a car, and in the middle of a crowded park. Trust me, you want to be wearing clean underwear - why I am assuming most of you don't wear clean underwear, I don't know - because you never know who might see it. Also, as you can see, the life of an actor is very glamorous.)
Corny, I know, but you'd be surprised how far a good attitude can take you. It's quite likely the people you are working for might be inexperienced, working on very little sleep and a bit stressed (Who am I kidding - a lot stressed), so you need to try and make things as easy as possible for them. That starts by not throwing any diva fits. You're also probably in for a long day so be patient with everyone.
The other thing you need to be prepared to do is repetition. And I'm not just talking lines here. I mean repeat every gesture you have just made at the same time every time. You see, the director/producer/camera guy might not know it now because he has got other things on his mind, but continuity is going to be incredibly important once he start editing. If you manage to repeat everything exactly the same way, you will give him a variety of shot options and make his life 20 times easier once he tries to put everything together. I once had a director/editor email me three months after a shoot to tell me how much he appreciates that I did all that repetition.
So be prepared, be professional, and be ready to have fun!
Now please excuse me as I geek out on pictures of myself in costume, on set for Gruppo Rubato's upcoming Airport Security. I had a blast and I can't wait for it to come out!
For a more behind the scenes look at that particular project, check out Kris Joseph's blog series here.