Tips for Supporting Artists on their first day at school
So you've signed up to Norf and the next thing you know you've been booked on to a popular television drama to play the role of a nurse, your blood is pumping because you know nothing about being a nurse and you're pretty sure you just missed your exit on the motorway.
Not to worry... This quick start guide will prepare you for your first day on telly.
1. Tick Tock
The old saying, 'Time is Money' is never more relevant than in the television and film industry. An hours delay to a production can cost thousands in the long run. If you have been booked onto a production by our team, be sure to plan your route effectively, be aware of peak traffic times and try to add a buffer so that you get there early.
Reliable SA's get more work, especially on continuing dramas such as Hollyoaks or Coronation Street where 2nd AD's like to repeatedly use artists for certain roles.
If you are ever delayed for reasons beyond your control it is always good to let either Norf or your 2nd AD know what is going on.
2. Unit Base
Each production has a different type of unit base. A unit base is where you will be dressed and glammed up with makeup before being shipped off to set.
Some productions run out of buildings and predominantly film on constructed sets that are attached to the premises whereas some productions run from a moving unit base which is made up of different types of trailers and trucks that help facilitate the production.
When you arrive at your designated unit base you will have to sign in. This is very important, you will usually be given the name of a 2nd AD (Assistant Director) or 3rd AD/Runner with whom you should sign in before attempting to jump in the breakfast queue.
3. The lingo
You will hear a variety of new words during your first day on set, most of these will be abbreviations, some will refer to people and others to requirements or actions.
Know your Lingo:
Stand by: Get ready...
Turn over: Start the camera and sound recording.
Action: An instruction for you and the artists to start doing whatever is scripted or you have been told to do in the scene.
Cue: A separate instruction designed to let someone know to begin their action, this is used when your action is supposed to come later in the scene and not on action. Sometimes the 1st AD will want you to start walking before action and therefore will use the cue; 'Background Action'. Not all cues are given audibly, some cues are taken from what other people are doing and some are a simple waving of the hand.
Going again/First Positions: we're trying the take again, please go back to where you started...quickly.
Lunch! Remember your positions/continuity: Make sure you are listening during takes! listen to the dialogue, know when you crossed camera or behind/in front of an artist and where you started from. Sometimes the scenes will break over lunch and they'll mention to remember your spot, make sure you do, if you know where you were and what you did after lunch the 3rd AD will love you and good feedback means more work.
Cut: End of take, stop action.
Step Off/Relax Off: A 3rd AD will usually ask you to step off, don't worry they aren't being abrasive, they just want you to exit set so the crew can re-position.
Cross: An instruction to cross behind or in front of the camera or action, for example, please cross Jon Snow to the right as he exits the castle.
Wrap: Thats it, end of the day, time to go de-robe, sign out and drive home. Always sign out before you leave.
Chit: A slip of paper detailing the role you played and what hours you worked. your copy is usually coloured pink like a receipt copy. Some productions now operate chit-less systems but if they don't, make sure you leave with your pink copy.
Ten-One: Arguably the most important of all, "I need to go Ten-One", is the industry adopted, polite way, of saying "I need a wee" (Don't worry, it's a blanket term for the other thing too.).
4 . The Roles
The most important roles you need to know are that of the people on the Assistant Directors team, contrary to popular belief, you will have more interaction with the AD's than you will the Director and sometimes even the Artists themselves. The roles are as follows:
1st AD: First Assistant Director, responsible for scheduling, keeping the production on time and assisting the director in achieving his vision.
2nd AD: Second Assistant Director, responsible writing the call sheet, managing the artists at unit base, booking SA's, managing logistics for the artists and assisting the 1st AD on keeping the production on time. (This role is not for the faint hearted).
3rd AD: Third Assistant Director, responsible for managing you, telling you where to be and what action to take in the scene, managing the runners with the help of the 2nd and generally being the 1st AD's right hand.
Runners: The runners will more often than not be your heroes, they will tell you where to go in the morning, they will help you with any issues you might have on set and they will make sure you don't commit any 'Faux Pas' on your first day like joining the lunch queue before crew. (We'll get to this later)
DOP - Director of Photography
PA - Continuity (Sometimes called Script Supervisor)
Design - Sometimes called Art Department, responsible for set dressing.
Makeup - They make you look good or awful, when required.
Costume - They are in charge of your swag, they say what to wear, how to wear it and when to take it off.
Camera Op - Operates the Camera.
Focus Puller - Makes sure you all aren't blurry, unless the director wants you to be.
Clapper Loader - One take two b only... SNAP! He's in charge of loading the camera with cards and maintaining a record of the shots with the clapper board.
Boom Op - Responsible for holding a microphone attached to a long metal pole (Boom) as close to an artists face as possible without getting in the way of a light.
Mixer - Responsible for making sure whatever the boom op is doing is correct and that the sound is recorded at the right level.
Sparks - Electricians, responsible for lighting the scene.
Gaffer - Responsible for achieving the look the director wants with the lighting, leader of the sparks.
Best Boy- Gaffers best and most accomplished spark.
Producer - The Boss
Line Producer - The Other Boss
Executive Producer - Their Boss
5. What to take
Costume - It is not uncommon to be asked to provide your own clothes or costume, especially on modern day continuing dramas. Sometimes it can even be beneficial to buy a specific costume like say a set of scrubs or a paramedics outfit online as every-time you wear it on set, you will be paid a fee. Usually you will be directed on what to take. You will not usually be paid for wearing your own clothes.
Details - Make sure you take a copy of your bank details and national insurance number. Only give these to the people who are helping you sign out/sign your chit.
Travel Mug: Take a travel mug, most productions are trying to go green and do not provide disposable cups like the old days.
Warm Coat: As an SA you can be subjected to the elements for long periods of time. be sure to take fit for purpose clothing to suit the weather conditions, always check the forecast and take a safe set of footwear on wet days.
Umbrella: Always handy...
Drivers License: You can earn a special skills fee for driving, but if you don't have your license details, they won't be able to insure you, so make sure you do.
Snacks: Again, long days waiting around for two minutes on set are not uncommon, you can help keep up your energy levels with a good snack. (Be Aware: It is always best practice not to take Nuts or products containing nuts to a set)
5. Do's and Don'ts
Be nice and polite to members of the crew, conditions can be laborious on a set crew members they work long hours and will appreciate an SA who isn't giving them lip.
Be visible to the AD's, nothing annoys runners more than having to scan a big field of cars for you because you decided it was more comfortable than the dining bus.
Be quiet, if you are caught chatting near set whilst a 1st AD is running lines with the main artists you are likely to be asked very loudly and publicly to be quiet. Best to be aware of what is going on and be quiet when near the set or when they are filming.
Be heard, if you haven't understood your action or cue, let the 3rd AD know.
Be respectful of others.
Have fun, most of all enjoy it, being on set is more often than not a very pleasurable experience, make the most of it and try to do a good job.
Don't take photos on set, especially when the crew are filming. If you manage to sneak a picture of yourself because you have been given an amazing period costume, you must keep it on your phone and away from social media until the release of the show or film. Taking pictures without permission can have you thrown off the set, never to be hired again by some productions.
Don't just walk up to the main artists and start blabbing about your life, most of them won't appreciate it, especially if they are on set. As strange as it seems it's generally considered a 'Faux Pas'. Most Main artists will talk to you anyway but on set they usually are rehearsing to themselves or with others, in other words they are working.
Don't wander off, if you delay the shot because you wanted to explore the location, you will not be forgiven easily.
Don't actually talk. When your told to talk to another SA in a scene, unless you are given lines best practice is to mime.
Don't expect too much, sometime you will turn up to a job and spend 6 hours on a dining bus, go to set, walk back and forth past some actors and go home. If you are chosen to interact it is a bonus, but you will not be credited unless it is a special part.
Don't turn your nose up at a long day, overtime is a good thing in a precarious role such as this, you never know when the next days work is coming from in most cases. It's best to earn what you can whilst you are there.
So there you have it, this is a quick guide to your first day on the job, the rest will come naturally through experienced SA's and more time on set. Keep your phones on and keep in contact with us at Norf. To stay up to date at all times you can join our mailing list here.
One of the most important tips you can get is to know the difference between the pay rates.
It is a very different amount of money if you are given a WO (walk on) role as opposed to a standard SA role, so make sure you don't miss out and learn the differences here.