By Allen Levin
If you aren’t booking the good sets yet do not be an extra. You are far better off volunteering to be a PA (production assistant). You’ll likely be assigned grunt work, but you’ll learn. You’ll get to be near the action. You’ll meet people. Volunteering because you love this industry can be a very wise use of your time. Hard work is good for all of us. If you don’t think there will be hard work involved in the acting trade you’ll have another thought coming! It’s not just a stroll down Easy Street.
Work, particularly work that you are unfamiliar with will expand your own capabilities. PA work is work you’ll need to get done yourselves on your sets many times. It also might be work that you delegate to others. It’s absolutely best if you know how to do as much as possible, so that when someone skips out on your shoot, you can be their back up. The buck will always stop with you. Don’t worry about “reputation” if you don’t yet have a reputation. Go be a volunteer PA. Carry boxes. Help with whatever they need. Deliver coffee. Who cares? Meet people. If you have the day off, you might as well have a day on.
The more people you meet (in the right light…. not as an extra!) in the industry, the more chances you’ll be thought of when the right role comes up. You’ll be shocked how certain roles come to you. It’ll seem absurd! Make the right impression. Help people. Remember: It’s not what you can get but what you can give that will set you apart. So give generously what you can give. Protect yourselves from being exploited, however.
Do not allow producers to put you in danger (they will if you give them the chance). Always stand up for your own safety. If someone is asking you to do something that could have you end up getting physically hurt, it’s important that you pass that project on to someone that knows how to do it. If no one knows, walk away. Do not allow yourselves to be hurt. Safety should always be on our minds.
(Aside: as an actor never do a stunt that someone can’t show you it being done fully first). Giving generously is important, but we must keep our brains turned on. People die on sets. It’s terribly sad but true. Do not be one.
Learn all you can. Don’t get in people’s way, but when there is downtime, talk to people. Learn about them personally. Become a friend. Get people talking. When you see them in the future ask them about details you’ve learned about them. “How is Samantha doing? And the kids? How are they?” People will warm up to you quickly when it shows that you care about them. Don’t worry about speaking. Listen. Get them talking. This is how to truly make friends.
When you are on set you are there to make some connections and learn about how productions are run from the other side of the camera. You can also (as much as possible) watch and learn from the acting that is going (hopefully the acting and the directing are decent, but you can learn from the bad as well). Volunteering to do jobs other people don’t have time to do can be heroic to a small production. The very small productions typically have their actors doing PA work. You might even end up with a line or two because they are so thankful. They need all the help they can get.
Look for opportunities to give. Look for opportunities to volunteer. Look for opportunities to meet and connect with people that are moving up. It’s a great way to move up as well. When you are in these situations be selective over whom you allow your ear. Too many complainers will be there. Get away from these folks. Do not let the jaded poison your ears. You are looking for people that are loving their lives. Learn from people that are living their dreams. You are looking for positive happy people. Don’t get lost in the “set drama.” See the movie “Living In Oblivion.”
Whenever your friends are asking for volunteers, be the first one with your hand raised high. Get in there and help. Do not ask for anything. Let them ask you if you’d like to be in the project. If they don’t, be happy to help. Just know the more you give, it comes back around. Be a helper. That will set you apart immediately. Most actors aren’t concerned with anyone but themselves. That’s not a happy life. That doesn’t lead to creative satisfaction and happiness. That’s a lonely superficial path to be avoided.
Be the person who smiles first, arrives early, and leaves late. Be the volunteer that people can’t believe exists and they don’t know how they could have accomplished their shoot without you. Your hard work will pay off in many ways that we haven’t covered today. Don’t fear hard work. Learn to embrace it. Let’s work smartly. Let’s meet people that are positive and moving up. Let’s move up with them. “Work begets work.” Actors who are already busy, book the good jobs. Go get busy.
I’m looking forward to you apologizing to a producer you were going to help, “I’m so sorry I can’t be on your set today. I’ll make it up to you. I just booked a network national commercial and I need to be on another set acting today. I’ll be free tomorrow and I’ll see you then. Bright and early!”
That is that voice of an actor that is going places. Use your time wisely. Create and build a life with good people. Give generously. Be helpful. Take part in this industry. Learn and gain valuable experience on set (not as an extra).
Onward and UP.