Hurry Up and Wait
A lot of time spent on Film and Television sets involves waiting. It’s similar to the time an Actor spends waiting to hear if they’ve booked a job after auditioning, only it’s a bit easier when you’re waiting on a set because you’ve actually got the role. It’s just a matter of when you’ll get to perform.
I can only remember one time in my thirty-plus years of being on sets when I didn’t have to wait. I was working on The West Wing. A Production Assistant handed me a brand new scene while I was sitting in the make-up chair. It was a long, heart-wrenching monologue. I’d already learned the script they’d sent me days before, but this was completely different. “They’ll have cue cards on set for you,” the PA told me when she saw my eyes go wide with panic. But moments later, I was taken right from the chair to the set, and there were no cue cards. It would have been highly unusual if there were, but still, I was told they’d have them for me. I did the best I could, but the Script Supervisor corrected me in-between takes, wanting the words verbatim. In the end, the scene didn’t make it on the air, which was really disappointing since The West Wing was one of my favorite shows. It would have been nice to have been given the time to sit in my trailer and go over the new dialogue. Waiting would have been wonderful.
Most Actors are frustrated by the amount of time they spend waiting. Mostly because they come prepared to work and often have to sit around for 4 to 8 hours before having that opportunity. It’s important to get good at waiting. And I don’t mean waiting on tables, although it’s a great way to supplement your income when you’re starting out. I mean waiting, and waiting, and well . . . waiting.
You don’t want to expend all your energy before you get in front of the camera. When I worked on the Adam Sandler film, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, my call time was 9pm and I wasn’t called to the set until 3am. When the PA’s gave me notice that we were hours away from my scene, I slept in my trailer. Adam commented on how much energy I had at 3am, but I had been sleeping while they’d already worked a 10-hour day with hours left to go.
The only time I haven’t had to wait to hear if I booked a role was when I auditioned for John Carpenter. I got the call on my drive home that I’d booked the role of Susan in the film, Prince Of Darkness. I read for the role of Lisa so it was a bit strange when my manager kept calling me Susan, thinking I’d understand that this meant I booked the job. Normally it will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after you’ve auditioned to hear if you’ve booked the role.
I waited 3 months before hearing that I’d booked the role of Bryant Gumbel’s ‘Hello, America’ Co-Host in the Nicolas Cage film, The Weather Man. I thought they’d shot the film and edited it by then. I was thrilled to find out that the shooting schedule had simply been delayed, and that I would be flying to Chicago to work on the film for 3 weeks.
Right now I’m waiting to shoot a scene in the Lifetime Movie-Of-the-Week, Killing Mr. Wright. I’m playing a Legal Expert. I didn’t have to wait to hear if I’d gotten this role because I didn’t have to audition. It was a direct Booking. The Casting Director called my Agent and offered me the role. I love when this happens, and it’s happening a lot more often these days. This particular scene that I’m waiting to shoot is the last scene of the day. It’s 9pm and I’ve been here since 5pm. The Crew and other Cast Members have been working since 10am.
Male actors are often given later call times because they require less time in hair and make-up. I’ll be working with an actual news reporter who I won’t meet ahead of time.
I’ve been to wardrobe, had my hair and make-up done, signed my contracts, gone over my lines numerous times, studied the call sheet, read the script again, and gotten brief updates from PA’s on where they’re at in the shooting schedule. I’m comfortable, relaxed, and well prepared. I brought my laptop and am working on my blog. I visited the set to watch a scene being shot and met some of the Crew Members. Back in my trailer, I return my agent’s call, read a bit, go over my lines a few more times, and stay focused.
‘Hurry up’ is due to the fact that the schedule can change at any moment, and scenes often get shuffled around. The PA’s get in trouble if they don’t have the Actors ready to go to set when called, so they usually get them ready early. So I’m waiting, in my wardrobe, with full hair and make-up, trying not to wrinkle my blouse and slacks. I want to look fresh when I arrive on the set.
Then, suddenly, with no warning, I’m called to work. And I’m ready. I meet my fellow Actor, who plays the Pundit in the scene, as we’re walked from our trailers to the set. The 2nd AD introduces us to the Director. We shake hands and get to work. The Crew has had a long day and they’re anxious to film the final scene and go home. The very last shot of the day is called the Martini shot. Apparently the final shot acquired its name because after the last shot of the day “the next shot is out of a glass.” A Martini is always well deserved after a long 10-14 hour day of shooting.
We rehearse the scene with the Director in a quiet area while the Crew adjusts the lighting on set. Stand-ins are brought in to take the Actors positions, which helps the process go faster. Meanwhile, at our rehearsal, the Director offers his notes and suggestions, and encourages improvisation and ad-libbing. Actors aren’t always allowed to improvise, but it’s really fun to do. I always read the entire script, not just my part, and I read it more than once. I have a lot of ideas about what I’ll talk about and what other questions I want to ask the Pundit. Next, the Sound Mixer wires us. In this case, the microphones don’t have to be hidden because we’re on a television talk show. Since we’re shooting in front of a green screen and much of the lighting was preset, the Crew is ready to go in ten minutes, which is pretty miraculous on a film set. Lighting design often takes hours. The Editors will plug in the Virtual Set later, when they get to the Editing Room. Who knows what they’ll choose for the background. I won’t know until I see the movie.
It’s over in less than an hour. Four hours of waiting and forty-five minutes of actual filming, to be exact. It went well and I had a great time. Back in my trailer, I pack up my things. A PA stops by to have me sign the time sheet. I scribble my initials next to the hours worked. I got a lot done while I was waiting, and I got paid while doing it. Hurry up and wait. That’s Hollywood, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!