November 29, 2009

10 tips for being a great supporting artiste

Film crew and equipment on a location shoot.Image via Wikipedia
Having spent the last couple of years doing supporting artiste work in films and television the one thing I have discovered is that there are two types of folks who do this: The first is the one who really enjoys the job and looks forward to working on a set with other folks. The second is the one who see's this as a pain in the neck and merely a way to make some money without a lot of effort. If you're one of the second group of folks then I suggest you read this post and hope it can change your attitude a bit. If you're one of the first group I hope you get something useful out of these tips.

I have put together a list of the ten things to remember to help make you a great supporting artiste.

1) Be Punctual
Making a film or shooting television is long, boring work. (See my post on ‘A day in the life of an extra’). You will spend many hours sitting around and waiting. But this is no excuse for not being on time. A call time will vary from early (I’ve had 6am call times) to late (I’ve had 12pm call times) but regardless of this you should always plan to turn up 15 minutes before your time. This means checking the best way of getting there, checking for potential delays (on the road if you’re driving, or on public transport if that’s your method of transportation) and making sure you have contingency plans for any emergency that may arise. On early calls if you arrive late you will not get paid the full amount if indeed they let you stay). Don't let the fact that you may be one of 300 people called for that days work. If you are late you may affect the whole days filming.

2) Listen
Usually there are a lot of people on sets telling you what to do. I had one show where I was told 5 different things from 5 different AD’s (assistant directors). But nevertheless the trick is to make sure you listen to what you're being told. It’s all too easy to get into a conversation with your fellow supporting artiste and not hear what a specific instruction was. This could be a vital instruction which is made for safety reasons (“In this take DO NOT walk out in front of the horses - they will be coming at full speed”) or it could be a logistical comment (“The filming for tomorrow has been delayed for 24 hours”). If you don’t listen, you won’t know. Plus AD’s hate having to repeat themselves because you weren’t paying attention.

3) Make friends with the AD’s
The 2nd and 3rd AD’s are your best friends. In the UK at least there are a reasonably small number of AD’s. They tend to work their way around all the different productions. This means that you will often end up working with the same ones a number of times. If you are good (and follow the tips detailed here) you will be seen as having the right ethic to work in the industry and particular AD’s will start to ask for you in their future shoots. I know for a fact that two jobs I have been offered recently were a direct result of being an first-name terms with the AD’s. When my picture came across their desk as a potential for a role, they recognised me and gave me the work.

4) Remember where you are and what you did
Shooting is often a process of repetition. You will rehearse a scene a couple of times then shoot it a couple of times (or more). Then the camera will be moved around to a different location and the same shot will be done again (I once spent 2 whole days shooting the same 25 seconds of footage from all the different angles. It is vitally important that you remember where you were in a given scene as well as what you did at any given point in a take. That way when the camera moves and you have to do another take you can replicate this perfectly. A large number of the goofs in movies (See IMDB) are caused because of continuity issues such as this.

5) Keep your ID, NI and documentation with you.
Nobody on a film crew is going to pay you unless you can prove that you are who you say you are.
More importantly (in the UK at a least) they will also not pay you unless you can furnish proof of your right to work in this country. It is important therefore to always have your identification with you. This is usually a passport or other form of ID, your National Insurance number (in the UK) and any other documentation needed for the shoot (I shot recently in a royal palace in London and had to undergo security checks as a result of this.)

6) Don’t complain
Supporting Artiste work can be long, long hours of boredom in sometimes unpleasant conditions (Try shooting a summer scene in the middle of winter, or - worse - try shooting a winter scene, wrapped up in 6 layers of clothing, while the ambient air temperatures is up in the mid 90’s!). It is very easy to get discouraged and start to complain - especially if there are more than about 10 of you. I don’t know why the numbers have anything to do with it, but they do - larger crowds tend to complain more. Avoid the temptation to complain. In most cases you will be paid for the work you are doing and in most cases you will have been told in advance of the situation (“This shoot will occur with simulated rain. You WILL get wet”). If there is a genuine issue (such as the time on a large hollywood blockbuster when 300 supporting artistes were left outside all day with no food and water) it is worth having a quick word with the AD’s to see if anything can be done. If not speak to your agency. They are the main conduit to the production company. It is in their interests to sort out the problems. If you complain to the production company yourself you may end up being asked to leave the set. This will jeopardize your chance of future work. Don’t do it

7) Check your chit
At the end of every day you will hand in a chit/document which will be signed by the AD in charge. This will detail the payment you can expect the production company to make for your services that day. Check this to make sure you are completely happy with the figure that is there. Remember (At least under FAA/PACT and Equity contracts) you should be offered additional money for doing things such as driving a car, riding a bicycle, shooting a gun, bringing your own clothes and changing into them for a shot, starting early, working overtime, working in inclement weather, or missing lunch to name but a few (I received a nice bit of extra money for carrying a flaming torch around for a couple of weeks on one shoot). The longer you are in the business the more you will understand what is permitted. If you don’t see something that should be there query it with the AD signing the paper. If you can’t come to an agreement write ‘Under dispute’ on the document and let the production company and your agency sort it out. That’s what the agency takes a commission for!

8) Don’t hassle your agency
Agencies are usually very busy places. They can be trying to sort out new productions, new artistes, placing people with productions, dealing with billing issues, providing call sheet details etc. The last thing the want is everyone on their books ringing them regularly checking on the status of jobs. It is always worth giving your agency a call if you haven’t heard from them for quite a while though. This is especially useful if you have changed something about your appearance (such as grown a beard or had your lovely long locks shorn short). But other than that DON'T HASSLE THEM. They will mark you down in their books and the work will start to dry up

9) Takes names and numbers
It’s always good to take names and phone numbers on set. I always take business cards when I’m there and hand them out. You are then in a great position to be able to keep in contact with folks you have worked with. This is useful because it means you have your own network to help discover what’s happening in the casting world. At the last production fitting I was in I ran into three other people I had worked with recently, all of whom I’ve kept in touch with. Plus if you get put forward for something and can't make it, you can then always tell one of your colleagues who may be suitable. They will return the favour at some point in the future.

10) Have fun
Remember that the best way to really dislike your job is to not have fun doing it. if you can keep your spirits high - especially in the long, boring hours whilst waiting for a complicated set-up to be completed - it will make your life a lot more tolerable.

If you want to read more about being a supporting artiste then check out the related posts below.

Oh and if you have 25 seconds please answer my one question, one answer poll on commuting. Thank you.

0 comments (See Policy

Post a Comment