How to take care of yourself when working on a film or TV set and get the most out of the experience as an actor
by Sam Otto
Embarking on a long-term film or TV shoot can be one of the most exhilarating experiences for an actor – particularly if it takes us overseas or to remote locations.
Long hours, days, weeks and even months spent with an often brand-new group of people, in a new setting, crafting a series or film from beginning to end is undoubtedly an incredibly rewarding and thrilling privilege that few get to experience. It can, however, also be very gruelling and demanding on our physical and mental health.
To stay on top of your game for the duration of the shoot, it’s important to plan ahead. From managing energy levels to fostering positive relationships, here are some fine-tuned tips to ensure you’ll be waxing lyrical to your families and partners on your return – rather than your therapist.
Time is money in the world of film and television and from the moment your first shot is captured on camera, you (except in exceptional circumstances) are irreplaceable. Studios and networks simply can’t afford for you to not be available or ready. Therefore, maintaining your health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance and it’s important to put self-care at the top of your list of priorities when starting.
Take Care of Your Body
Your body is your instrument so make sure you’re eating well, getting in your regular Pilates or gym sesh, and even though it may be tempting, don’t spend every night out partying with your fat, series-regular pay packet.
Make sure you factor in lifestyle changes – if you’re spending a lot of time in a car travelling to and from set, it may be very different to your lifestyle back home. My life in London is spent mostly on foot or a bike, however, when I started working on Snowpiercer in Vancouver, driving an hour and a half every day and hopping in cabs around the city, I noticed I simply couldn’t maintain the same diet I had back home. I just didn’t have the same energy expenditure each day.
Look After Your Mind
When you’re displaced in a foreign country or city without your supportive circle of friends or family – and with a whole new set of responsibilities and pressures – it’s vital to keep on top of your inner peace.
Practise mindfulness and meditation or get involved with local people and activities to get your feet on the ground in your new space.
Allow yourself to relax and recharge. Don’t rely on the job to fulfil you in every aspect, because often it won’t.
Establish a New Routine
Your day to day will inevitably be dictated by the filming schedule, but when you’re not on set, try and stick to a fairly regular daily structure that includes time for rest, meals and personal activities and projects.
Keeping yourself organised when your time isn’t prescribed for you helps to manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Your days off offer you the chance to essentially holiday in the place that you’re living in for the duration – so make the most of them.
Explore, adventure and get out into the environment. This career is fickle, so if you’re in a place you never expected to visit, maximise the opportunity while you have it. Who knows if you’ll be back for the sequel…
Build Relationships with the Cast and Crew
Filmmaking is a truly collaborative process. Make sure you build strong relationships with your co-stars, your director and the crew members, right down to the runners and catering assistants.
These are your peers for the coming weeks and months and potentially, for years to come. Some of them may even become friends for life, so don’t skimp on them. Get to know them – prepare and execute your scenes with your scene partners, but don’t hierarchise your social circle. Treat everyone with love and respect and the rewards will be boundless.
It’s also particularly important to spend time together off set out of the workplace. That’s when you really get to know what others are really like and vice versa. It’s in those moments that genuine closeness is created, which is also what will foster the best work when back on set.
Be Prepared but Flexible
As actors, we each have our own ways of preparing for a role but on a set where things can shift at a moment’s notice, it pays to be so well prepared that you can move along with the set around you. Each of us has a personal process but coming on set with in-depth knowledge of the story and the characters outside of your own arc will enable a deeper collaborative ability.
It’ll allow you to make suggestions and respond to new ideas and contradictions with passion and creativity – as well as fostering a closer connection with your director. This is one of the most crucial relationships you’ll have on set. If you can truly be seen by your director as a collaborator and fellow creator, the satisfaction you’ll get from the job will grow tenfold.
While you’re not actively on the set itself but waiting in the trailer, expect the unexpected – and don’t be ruffled by dramatic schedule shifts or being introduced to a brand-new scene the day it’s meant to be shot. Be ready to wait around for hours on end if you’re asked to. Bring a book, or a laptop, or learn to juggle, but do your best to keep your concentration in check; you need to be prepared to head back on set at the drop of a hat.
Landing a role in a long-running series or a big budget film that shoots for months is a complete dream for an actor – this is why it’s so important to make sure it’s a positive experience.
If you’re about to head out to Prague or Cape Town, or even Liverpool for a few weeks, look after yourself, keep a semblance of routine, learn to love your fellow collaborators and smash your prep to ensure you can handle a very flexible but deeply intense process.
From here, you’ll be more than ready to navigate the challenges of a gruelling shoot while preserving your health and happiness, creating some incredible work and having the absolute time of your life.
From us at Spotlight, a big thank you to Sam for his helpful tips on how to survive on set long-term!
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Actor, singer and writer Sam Otto made his television debut as the male lead in Peter Kosminsky’s explosive BAFTA nominated drama ‘The State’, just out of drama school, leading to recognition by Screen International as one of their ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ for 2017, before undertaking a series regular role in TNT and Netflix’s Emmy-nominated ‘Snowpiercer’. Sam will next be seen on stage in James Graham’s Olivier-nominated play ‘Best of Enemies’ at the Noel Coward Theatre, after a sold-out run at The Young Vic. Alongside acting, Sam can often be found singing original and adapted songs on his Instagram @_samotto.
Image credit: Joanna Nicole Photography
Headshot credit: Jack Alexander