thoughts on acting (and a few fun stories)
I actually started drafting this post several weeks ago while I was still in Vancouver, but then with all the craziness of the final days of shooting, then the travel home, then the getting-back-into-my-regular-life-in-LALAland, then the travel for the holidays... well, you get the idea: it was a bit busy and I never finished writing it. But here I am now, and the time off in between when I first started it (12/8) and today (12/27) has actually been good for a bit of reflection on my chosen subject matter: Acting.
I realized that I'd written quite a lot about being a creator, EP, and writer on this show... but not as much about being an actor. And I also realized that if you're not an actor or friends with an actor (kudos to you - you're among the sane), then you may wonder what actors do other than memorize lines, get Botox injections, and spill their innermost thoughts and feelings on national television as they sob uncontrollably into their slightly-chilled bottles of Evian.
Well, obviously, I can't speak for all actors, but I can share with you some of my experiences while shooting "Exes & Ohs." And just to clarify, none of those experiences involved Botox or telling Oprah about my 27 stints in rehab (though I did drink a bottle of slightly-chilled Evian one time).
Okay, so let's explore the "color" option of this blogger dashboard as you put yourself in my size 10s and we walk through what it's like to be an actor:
You wake up early and get home late:
Most mornings, the van picked us up anywhere between 5:30am and 7:00am (my earliest pickup was 5:24am). Most evenings, my fellow actors would be back to the hotel around 7:00pm-ish (though I'd stay in the office after shooting doing other work for the show). Of course, if you were only in a few scenes, you'd be be picked up later in the morning or taken home earlier in the day or evening. But if you were in all - or most - of the scenes, you'd be on set for the day. On a sidenote, I just have to add that this schedule was absolutely lovely for the actors because we only did 10 hour shooting days. On an hour-long show (ours is 1/2 hour), actors are on set sometimes 16 or more hours in a day! Not to mention how long the crew is there! Whew...
If you're sick, you don't call in sick... unless you're practically dead:
Production schedules are tight, as are production budgets. Schedules are made in advance, so by the time you're ready to shoot an episode, you know exactly what scenes will be shooting on what days for the entire episode (1/2 hour shows might take 4-5 days per episode; hour-long shows around 8 days per episode). You also know what camera equipment will be used on what days, what actors will have to come in on what days, what props will be needed when, etc. All of which is to say that any last-minute changes to the production schedule (such as an actor calling in sick) are a BIG deal... and can cost the production a lot of money, as you might imagine. So, you go to work no matter what.
For example, about halfway through shooting, I got a nasty (and coughy) cold. So I spent an entire weekend holed up in my hotel room with lozenges, tea, and no talking allowed. The day I went back to work, I was in absolutely every single scene we were shooting that day. But thankfully, the fact that I spent almost the whole weekend not-talking saved my voice for the most part. Then, on set, one of our fantastic ADs followed me around with a pot of tea the entire day so I could sip it in between takes and not lose my voice mid-shooting. Thank you Tingey!! (Tingey is his nickname) I also spent the following weekend in my hotel room as well, since my cold was still lingering. That's when I splurged on the aforementioned slightly-chilled bottle of Evian...
You do the same thing, in basically the same way, many, many times:
One day, I did a scene where I had to run into an office. The first take, I missed my mark (by an inch or two) where I was supposed to stop... plus, my scarf accidentally fell on the ground. The second take, something happened with the camera. The third take, we got an odd shadow on my face and it took a few minutes for our DP and camera gurus to make the appropriate adjustments. The fourth and fifth takes were good, but the director was making adjustments to the reaction given by the other person in the scene. The sixth and seventh takes were also good. So, of seven takes, the director probably had three or four to choose from in the editing room. BUT, that was just from one angle - then you often have to turn around and do it all over again from another angle! Which is exactly what we did... :-)
Or, you do the same thing, with adjustments, just once or twice:
The same day as the office scene, I had a short scene with Marnie (Sam) and the director was using two cameras to shoot from different angles at the same time. We did one take and the director loved it, so she gave us some slight performance adjustments, which we did in the second take. And that was it! Two takes and we were on to the next scene!
You may have just enough time to learn someone's name before doing a love scene with them:
"Hello, I'm Michelle Paradise. And you are? Great, nice to meet you. Okay, well, there's the bed... guess we'd better take our robes off and get in." Yep, that's about as sexy as a love scene gets (fortunately for me, my scene was with an actress I'd already worked with several times, so I didn't have to ask her name before hopping in the sack). And if you think I'm kidding, let me just walk you through the behind-the-scenes of a love scene. It starts in your trailer, where you look at your "wardrobe," which consists of a flesh-colored tube top and tiny flesh-colored biker shorts. After giggling at the thought of wearing a tube top, you put it and the shorts on and then spend a few moments staring at yourself in the mirror thinking things like "No one should ever have to be seen in this outfit" and "Ah, this is why tube tops went out of style." Then you tie your robe around you, put your feet into some cozy shoes, and walk to set hoping that the breeze beneath the robe won't be too cold. You walk onto set, where you and your scene partner (in her robe as well) wait for the set to be cleared so you can rehearse (robes on - no actual kissing) with the director. Once the director is happy, she calls in the DP and camera and lighting folks to watch the rehearsal. Then you leave set for 20 minutes or so while they get everything ready. When they're ready to shoot, you come back on set, take off your robe, and you and your tube top and your biker shorts climb into bed with your scene partner and her tube top and her biker shorts. Oooh, sexy! ;-)
[On a sidenote, love scenes are so "sexy" that in between takes and setups, one of the camera guys was actually reading a magazine in the room! Two women are practically naked in bed together and he's reading a magazine... and it's not because he's gay, folks! Now that's saying something! ;-) ]
Love scenes are typically shot on what's called a "closed" set, which means that the only people in the room with the actors are the people who have to be there in order to get the shots: camera, sound, etc. There are maybe 5 people in the room instead of the usual 15 or so. Anyhow, so then from the monitors, which are in another room, you hear the director yell action... at which point you do the scene (kissing, cavorting, and all) while trying to ensure that the sheets are covering the tube tops (more challenging than it may sound), that you're not blocking the camera with your head (also more challenging than it sounds), that you're respecting your own space and that of your scene partner's (you're not actually having sex, after all), and - above all - that it looks and feels realistic on camera so that the audience will believe what they're seeing. After the take, the director yells cut and comes in to give direction. That's usually when she also tells you that despite your best efforts, one of the tube top corners was showing... and, guess what, the audience doesn't want to see the back of your head when they could be looking at your scene partner's face. Oops.
So that's take 1. Please refer to the section above entitled "You do the same thing, in basically the same way, many, many times" for an idea of takes 2 and beyond. Needless to say, it helps tremendously to have a fantastic scene partner, a thoughtful director, and a respectful crew. Fortunately, I was blessed with all of that... :-)
You get to explore a range of emotions in the course of a day:
On the day we shot the aforementioned love scene we also shot another scene that, emotionally, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. There were also days where one scene would require anger or hurt and the next scene would require laughter and fun. Remember earlier when I complimented your sanity at choosing to NOT be an actor? Now you understand why... ;-) But as an actor, I have to say there's nothing more challenging - and more exhilarating - than getting to run the gamut of emotions. It's one of the reasons we do what we do. Or at least, one of the reasons I do what I do. I love it!
You get to play characters that are really like you, or sort of like you, or nothing at all like you:
Fairly self-explanatory... please see the challenging/exhilarating/fun comment in the previous section.
Well, I think I've rambled on long enough for one post. Stay tuned for more updates in the new year as we move through post-production, into publicity, and then onto the airwaves!
Thanks for continuing to read and comment... Have a happy ending to 2006 everyone!