THE ETERNAL COMMANDMENTS
THE CARDINAL LAWS
KNOW THAT AS A PROFESSIONAL ACTOR,
YOU ARE OWED SAFE SET PRACTICE, SAFE THEATRE PRACTISE
AND INTIMACY GUIDELINES.
It is a real delight to pen this paragraph and place it as the first cardinal law in The Eternal Commandants. Due to the effectiveness of various industry movements and the rigorous push for accountability, transparency and individual boundaries in this sector, there are now more safeguards than ever before to eliminate sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination from all aspects of our work. With the advent of the Safe Theatres Australia Forum, the implementation of intimacy directors, intimacy guidelines and whistle-blowing frameworks actors now have a swathe of different precautions that are there specifically to protect you as a professional. All of us are entitled to a safe and respectful workplace where we can do our thing without fear of sexual harassment or workplace bullying in all its guises; regardless of our culture, religion, ethnicity, gender or age. Be sure to talk to your agent to ensure that such safeguards have been implemented on each project you work on and maintain an ongoing dialogue to ensure that they are remaining effective. Many film and television sets have these guidelines placed in highly visible locations and production coordinators should be able to provide you with a copy of them without question. You should never feel like you’re being pressured into accepting something in a contract OR on set that makes you feel uncomfortable. Also, it is now a given that intimacy guidelines form part of a safe theatre/safe set practise for any sex scene, nudity or kissing. Always confirm with your agent and director if these guidelines are in place prior to any work being done. If you sense that something has contravened these guidelines, speak up immediately.
REALISE THAT A COMPLAINT IS NOT BITCHING
BITCHING ISN'T A COMPLAINT.
This is a bit of a toughy as we have to make a very firm distinction between outright bitching and serious situations which require formal investigation. When it comes to a quick whinge, whatever you whisper to the lowliest runner in the morning will be in the ears of the director by the afternoon, guaranteed. Bitching is a widespread industry phenomenon and has seemingly become its default- and perhaps, beloved- past time. In my humble opinion, bitching smacks of insecurity, pettiness and bitterness. If you see it or hear it occurring, dodge it like the plague. Even if you know exactly what and who the people are bitching about and genuinely agree with them, feign ignorance and disengage. Remember: if you do genuinely dislike something about the production with good reason, know that every director would prefer to cast an actor who really does love the role, the play or the film. I’ll let you do the math.
HOWEVER, if there is something BADLY wrong going on the set like sexual harassment, bullying, fraud or a major safety concern DO NOT MISCONSTRUE your personal misgivings as a case of you just having to suck it up. Clearly there is a massive difference between bitching and a genuine concern for your safety or individual rights. If something like this is occurring, this is an issue that is far bigger than you remaining employed so do not let that become a deterrent. A wish to ‘remain employed’ or ‘liked’ can be abused by unscrupulous individuals as a way to manipulate or hurt you. As per the Safe Set and Safe Theatre policies and practices mentioned previously, everybody on set should already be aware that there is no tolerance for bullying or inappropriate behaviour. Each theatre company or production office should have a clear process in place on how to report incidents- no matter how large or small.
If something occurs on set or in rehearsal that you know you must address, DO NOT resort to calling people out publicly as your first option. This will instantly burn bridges, make you enemies and can even lead to full-blown court cases. Taking measured and methodical steps will always be the safest approach. Always show grace (which can be damn hard) and start the dialogue as a quiet aside with the person involved. If after that they refuse to address your concerns, head straight to your agent. They are your first point of contact and confidant, so tell them everything. They can give advocate for you, give you advice or refer issues to the appropriate legal authorities (police/solicitors) or industry representatives (unions).
- Don’t bitch about previous or current productions that your colleagues were / are involved in. It sounds illogical, but people do it… sometimes right within earshot of the very person they’re talking about. I’ve watched it happen! No wonder whole careers have been sunk by bitching and whinging. By all means, find a way of healthily venting to your career mentors, your agent (r.e. professional issues) and your most trustworthy friends. But in any other case, remember that we are a tiny industry and what goes around always comes around.
- The longer you work with people (theatre, film or TV) the more likely it will be that small gifts (and sometimes large ones) will be exchanged during significant times (last day of shooting, opening night, etc…) . Don’t make it a pissing contest. Only purchase what you can within your own means and don’t worry about trying to outdo people. Even a small, handmade card can go a long way.
- Never turn up to auditions or work drunk or under the influence of drugs. Yup, you’d think that’d be a ‘Life 101’ kinda thing. It may sound silly, but having heard the horror stories of many CD’s and directors, I owe it to them to add this in as well. An instance like this will see your reputation irreparably damaged. For a newer actor, this could mean a death blow to your career before it even got off the ground. There are also serious safety ramifications that can arise from such poor decisions.
- Don’t reply with a flat out “NO” if people approach you with work opportunities. No one likes to extend a hand and have it bitten off and it’s for this reason that people tend to remember a NO a lot longer than a YES. Even if you know that a project isn’t your cup of tea, just mention that you want to run the idea past your agent first to make sure that there isn’t a project clash or double booking. That way everybody’s feelings are left intact and you won’t become one of the people who is remembered for negativity.
- Always reply. Don’t leave people hanging. You will be surprised to see how much respect this can get you.
- DO NOT BE LATE. For rehearsals, shooting, auditions. Anything. Ever. And if you are, just own it, apologise properly (once) and get on with whatever it was you came to do. Excuses are never welcome and very rarely original.
- There ain’t no room for a rookie in the rehearsal room or on set. It’s not just about turning up on time. It also about turning up ready to deliver the goods, with your entire instrument (voice, body, imagination) tuned to the n’th degree; ready to be moulded and re-moulded by whomever is directing you the moment you walk in the door (see Your Creative Growth).
- DON’T BE AN ARSEHOLE. Arrogance, rudeness and self-centredness are massive turn-offs to the people who matter and smack of insecurity. Maybe consider being a prima donna when you know your name can net a guaranteed 300 million dollar box office return. Actually, even then, don’t. You are there to provide a service, not to be serviced. As Damien Garvey quips so wonderfully, “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being, what I call, a wanker.”
- It’s never a good idea to talk about future projects or possibilities in the pipeline. It will hurt if they don’t come off and well-meaning people ask about them. This is a big one for newer actors. Remember, you ain’t done it until you watch your name scroll up in the credits or get printed on that high-gloss program paper.
NEVER DIRECT ANOTHER ACTOR.
Please please pleeeeeeeeeeease don’t do this. Imagine how you would feel if some random you’ve only just met began to tell you that you weren’t doing your job well enough for their liking? Directing your fellow actors in any medium is the height of unprofessionalism and exceedingly rude. Not to mention the fact that in doing this you have happily plunked yourself directly into the director’s chair- a position and role that you have not been contracted to fulfil. So you can be sure that the REAL director will not appreciate an arrogant actor barging in and doing their job for them. By all means, share ideas with the director and be open if you’re invited to. If the case is that you’re in a long term tour where you know that you will inevitably have to touch base with your cast mates about ‘dropped lines’ or ‘bad runs’, initiate the idea of a debrief or an open dialogue before the tour starts. That way, you have created a contract with your fellow actors and won’t be stepping out of place. Also, encourage the use of reflective practice with your own work so you can be the one to initiate a change ‘on your own behalf’.
- Never talk pay with anyone apart from your agent or MEAA.
- Cover your yawns when someone is talking to you. Body language is everything. It may sound silly, but it helps professional relationships if people think you care about what’s going on!
- Never talk more than you listen, unless your view is actively being sought.
- Pay attention to any obvious ‘gaps in information’ when scoping out a new project that you’re on the fence about. If you cannot get solid answers to your queries about missing information, give the project a pass.
THE LAWS OF FILM & THEATRE
- No social media posts or pics of production. Just don’t. It’s makes things too complicated. The horror stories and legal cases regarding social media gaffes are prolific. Google ‘social media actor legal problems’ and you’ll see what I mean.
- Whilst you’re on Google, research film set roles/jobs and what responsibilities they entail. This is your world now, so educate yourself on who does what.
- If you know if you have to sign in when you arrive at the theatre/set/rehearsal, do it straight away. Stage Managers and Assistant Directors get mighty peeved if they have to waste precious time and go off searching for you with the sign-in sheet.
- You will assist wardrobe and make-up if you wear loose-fitting clothes to set that can be removed with minimal disturbance to face, hair and body.
- When you’re getting changed out of a costume, hang it back up and don’t leave it crushed on the floor. Put anything that needs to be washed straight into the washing basket. Wardrobe will really appreciate it.
- If you’re in a position to see how a scene looks on a monitor, gauge whether or not it is appropriate for you to be close to one. It isn’t always appreciated if you lurk where someone else should be standing. As for the monitors that are being monitored by technical personnel like focus pullers? Forget it. Imagine having some jube actor gawking over your shoulder while you’re trying to carefully monitor the scene for tiny inconsistencies in focus.
- When you are asked to head to set, leave your phone in a secure area/trailer. You are at work and are, therefore, unavailable. Once you are on set, your phone is off and away from you. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, a phone going off in the middle of a rehearsal/show/take carries the universal industry-wide fine of a case of beer (or 5). There can be exceptions for contracted publicity opportunities where members of the principal cast may use their social media accounts to publicise certain scenes, cool moments, etc… But we’d wait until you’re THAT person.
- If you need to leave set or even just the holding area to go to the loo, let either the stage manager, or 2nd / 3rd AD know. Things can change in an instant and if nobody knows where you are, you’ll cause delays and won’t do yourself any favours with production.
- Bring a toothbrush to set so you can clean your teeth after meals. Fresh breath and the lack of half-chewed food between your teeth will do much to endear you to both cast mates, sound, make up and anybody else who has to remain in the firing line of your chronic halitosis.
- If stunties (stunt professionals)/fight directors lend you any of their gear, rigs or gels to use during a shoot treat this gear as if it were your own. They’re not cheap to get and stunties don’t like having their gear trodden on and generally treated like crap. Handle generous loans carefully and respectfully. And just because it’s laying on the ground doesn’t mean it should be stepped on.
- Once you are bugged up (mic’d) by the sound department, consider every word you say on public broadcast across the set via massive concert-sized speakers. ‘Cause, essentially, you are.
- Unless you are an expert with extensive experience in the application of film make-up, let the experts decide what looks best. As the classy Laura Cayouette writes in her book ‘Know Small Parts’ : “It’s not your hair and make-up, it’s your character’s hair and make up. It’s not your job to like it, it’s your job to own it.”
- Know your lines inside out and back to front before turning up on set. Once you’re inside a studio or on location surrounded by grips, lighting, producers, yelling, mud, animals, etc… you will realise very quickly that everyone is getting paid by the hour and lines can fade pretty quickly if you’ve crammed them the night before.
- Know people’s roles on the set and in the theatre. This will mean reading up on some quality resources and asking friendly questions at appropriate times. If you are aware of somebody’s role, you will have made yourself aware of their individual contribution to the project. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a runner, a focus-puller or a stuntie, if people know that you respect their roles, they will respect you. We at thelonghaul.coom.au even recommend that you go one step further: know people’s names! It is such a simple step to take, but will prove to be incredibly valuable. When you’re addressed by name by someone you’ve only dealt with fleetingly, it immediately gets your attention. If you go the extra mile with this kind of stuff, you will make a big impression on people. Even more so if it’s a big production with a lot of crew.
- Always take notes from a director no matter what. Defensive behaviour is a disease. Director’s notes are never personal attacks, though there are always unfortunate exceptions. Even if you think the director is speaking to you in some long-lost dialect from Ancient Sumeria and you haven’t got a dang clue what they’re on about, just do something different anyway! At the very least, it shows the director that you’re listening to them and trying to take their thoughts on board. Who knows, you may even hit the nail on the head in your next take. Don’t forget also that it’s perfectly acceptable for a director to change their mind for any variety of reasons. Sure, that may be frustrating for you. Nevertheless, they’re still the director and that is their prerogative. Don’t be the person who accuses them of malicious deception by wagging your finger: “But you said…”. Notes are never just about the actor. Think of them as a verbal currency that you and the director develop so you can work together to make the most kick ass product you can. Your part in that is to listen to what the director wants to try and show them how that looks in terms of your own thoughts and feelings. We reference here again the ‘soul pancaking’ that we talked about in the introduction. This is the coal face of that, so you can do no better than interpret as best you can.
- Never sign any contracts on set or in rehearsals, no matter how pushy the person holding it. Contrary to what may be said, there is no time limit and it won’t be scrunched up and binned if you don’t sign it immediately. If you are put in this situation, let your agent be the bad guy for you. Say something like: “No worries, I’ll get that sorted for you ASAP. I’ll just need to run that by my agent first to confirm a few things.” It’s polite, it’s succinct and it gets your message across without stomping on any toes. It is much easier for your agent to run through some fine print than completely renegotiate a contract because you’ve unwittingly signed your life away.
- DO NOT HIT PEOPLE or TELL PEOPLE TO HIT YOU in fight choreography. The former does not impress anyone and the latter is self-indulgent. There are legal ramifications here and you’re putting the jobs and responsibilities of the fight choreographer, director and producers at risk. The job of the fight choreographer and the stunties is to make fight scenes safe and look damn good at the same time. That’s the wonder of film making. You get to act and a whole bunch of other professionals make you look as bad-arse as possible. There should NEVER be any reason to take or deliver a punch.
- Maintain a nice balance of inquisitiveness and reservation if you want to learn from other professionals whilst on set or in rehearsals. Involvement with any project is a brilliant opportunity to watch the crème de la crème of our industry do their thing. But don’t hover around so much that you become a serial set pest.
- Understand that rehearsals and shooting take time. If it’s large ensemble cast, this can entail running things many MANY times. Everyone is doing the hard yards, not just you. So be a pro and deal with your boredom quietly.