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Lights, Camera, Action… What it’s Really Like Working on a Movie Set in Hollywood!

Glamour, red carpet premieres, million dollar endorsement deals, private jets, getting up at noon everyday and being worshipped by millions…is that your dream of what “show business” is? Because if it is…keep dreaming!


Most people don’t have a clue what it’s really like to make movie magic and really do believe getting an agent and a job is their ticket to “easy street”. I’m a veteran of 40 plus major productions for both film and television. I’ve worked for HBO, Netflix, Paramount, Apple TV and that’s just the few I can think of off the top of my head. I’m saying that to say this…I think my experience in film and television on that level gives me more than enough knowledge to share with and hopefully give you the reality of what to expect when you do get your name on the call sheet!



Step One. Be Willing to Start at the Bottom…Background:

Some people hear that title and automatically think “that’s beneath me”. If you’re one of those stop reading this now and go back to dreaming because those REM cycles are as close to the big time as you will ever get.

Background actors have been and always will be essential to EVERY professional production ever made! They are professional actors because they are paid to perform and they are some of the hardest working people on any set! Carry that title as a badge of honor and take it seriously. Respect it.

Remember the “getting up at noon” I mentioned in the open…that was jokes! The reality is your call time most assuredly will be well before the sun comes up on almost every project you’re cast for as you build your name and reputation!

I worked on 40 plus jobs in a year, the number of call times I had AFTER the sun woke up? ONE! But don’t lt that scare you! On the contrary, to the people that matter your having the conviction and professionalism to show up for that 5am start will go a long way in building your rep…and in this business REP is EVERYTHING!

“Hollywood” is glitz and glamor yes but it’s also reputation, branding and relationship building. One thing to remember on that point…always work like you are being watched…because you are. You’re on a soundstage with 60 other people, 100 other people and you don’t think anyone will notice if you come back from lunch late or try and sneak away before wrapping for the day? WRONG. People get kicked off projects all the time for that kind of behavior and once that is BRANDED with your name you’re done.

Negative work performance and bad attitudes spread faster than wildfire in this industry and I can promise you before you wake up the next morning every agency in town knows about it and will not work with you. So PROTECT your name above all else by showing up clean (you would be surprised by the number that don’t) awake and ready to work. You do that consistently and you’ll get more offers than you can handle.




Step Two. Once you Commit…Follow Through:

This is crucial. Agencies put their names on the line by promising casting directors that you (their client) will be ready to work when contracted. Again, at this point you’re a paid professional so walk into the door with that attitude. Not cocky but confident that not only are you good enough to be there but that you care enough to be there! It has to mean something to you and when it does it shows and people pick up on it! The right people.

I was in HBO’s “Barry” last summer. I played a college student at a seminar where Henry Winklers character was giving a lecture. The director noticed me out of a room full of people “taking it seriously” and had the assistant director ask me to move into frame for the next shot and be just as enthusiastic. I did. I heard the director yell, “cut, great job” …The director of that episode was Bill Hader…the shows star! I had no knowledge of who was directing until that very moment, I was just doing what I was paid to do. Later that week I got a call from my agency asking if I was available for 4 days in the California mountains for another episode of “Barry” all expenses paid at double my rate. That one day shoot turned into 4 extra days and more on screen time and reputation building by my “being a professional” and working like “someone was watching me”… because they were!


 

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Step Three. IMDb - If You Work It, Post It:

I know a lot of people say don’t do it but I’m not one of those people. You’re on these sets for 12,13,14 hours. You’re in the heat, the cold, the rain, the fake snow (it is Hollywood). You’re working just as hard if not harder than anyone on that production and just because you don’t have a line you don’t get a credit? Not in my book shotgun! Post that credit! In my opinion it shows producers that you have experience and commitment. Some might not take it seriously but many will.

Step Four. The Stars are There for You to Work With, Not Gaze At:

There is nothing that will stop you from having that “Holy Cow” smile on your face when you see someone famous walk on to the set for the first time. You’ve watched that person and been a fan, sometimes for years, so that initial “Holy Cow” moment is human BUT leave it at that and put it away as soon as possible! The reason is they are there working just like you. You both have jobs to do so respect that and be the pro you’re being paid to be.


One major tip…If you’re ever caught asking for an autograph or trying to start a conversation with the principals that’s it for you in LA. Find another job or buy a really good iPhone and move to another city and pray your Youtube channel catches fire because you will not work in this city with that (tried to talk to insert stars name) blemish on your record. Its not ego tripping by the big name, not at all, it’s that they are there to do a job and make a movie not get your resume. If you want to be noticed to your benefit …re read “Part Two” of this article !

As I wrap it up I sincerely hope what I’ve said today helps! if this business of show is something you’ve always dreamed of then working as background will prove it’s something

you actually want.



Work through the fear of that first day. Work through the subconscious effort to keep yourself in bed when the alarm goes off at 3am and don’t let anyone deflate your high by saying you’re “just background”. As a matter of fact if anyone does say that to you just laugh because the truth is they are just talking and you just made a piece of art that will last forever…glad you got out of bed now right?!


Now go get that close up!


 

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The views, information, and opinions published in this magazine or our blog are the sole responsibility of our contributors or interview subjects. Heart of Hollywood Magazine is not liable for any statements made, or information provided, by its contributors or sources.



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Dec 14, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I worked background for seven years and as Dempsey says "There is no better way to acclimate on working sets as you become a progressive part of the story" . Because of my focus, I was asked many times to perform specialty characters. The amount of time and patience can be excruciating as the camera has it's own mind and priorities. Take 22... Nicky Shane

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