Tips for the Trailer: Keeping Occupied on Set

George Sear offers his insight into making the most of every job on set....

Acting can be a sporadic profession and by using your time on set as a sort of film school, you’re squeezing the most experience you can out of your precious time on the job.
George Sear

Since I began acting, I have quickly realised it’s a profession that involves a lot of waiting around! I figured if I was going to continue it, I’d better find some good ways to entertain myself. I’m leaving things like ‘read a book’ and ‘watch a movie’ off the list. They are good ways to keep busy - I actually found my favourite book series browsing in a local store near a filming location - but they’re typical choices. So, with that in mind, here are a few things to make the most of your downtime on set:

Take Up Meditation

Now before the image of an airy-fairy hippy springs to mind, let me tell you some of the benefits of meditation for a (sometimes) mentally draining job. Short meditation sessions have really helped me prepare for a scene by feeling much more present and able to concentrate. Creative people are notorious for having racing minds; a few deep breaths, or ‘seven-eleven breathing’ (i.e. focusing on the inhale for seven seconds followed by a longer exhale) can have a calming and powerful effect.

There was one instance where the first AD basically implied he needed me to get this crucial paragraph of dialogue bang on in one take. By doing a spot of mediation before leaving the trailer, I not only was able to concentrate and do the best job I could, but it also kept me from feeling the knock-on effect of everyone’s soaring stress levels.

If you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of good apps and guided mediations online to help you… Namaste!

Practice writing

A large majority of actors I’ve come across have a natural tendency to write. Whether it’s song lyrics or poems or writing your own script, it’s a great skill to develop. Especially when you’ve often got a few hours of uninterrupted time in the trailer. The story goes that Sylvester Stallone was rushing back to his trailer in between takes to finish ‘Rocky II’. So who knows, you may by jotting down the foundations of a hit!

Using your time to write not only expands your horizons, career wise. I’ve found that when it comes to scripts it also gives you an insight into a writer’s intentions and another perspective on what ‘beats’ they might have wanted the actor to perform to move the plot along and show the character’s arc.

Be curious about other departments

Like most actors wanting to have a go behind the camera, I once shadowed the director of a production I was working on. I ventured out of the trailer to join him at the monitors in video village when I wasn’t actually required in front of the lens. After shooting finished, I ended up in the editing suite, soaking up the next part of the process and becoming ‘tea boy’ for the duration of the lesson. A good swap if you ask me.

I realised how much it benefited me in my job when I took an interest in learning a little bit about some of the other departments, like lighting and sound, e.g. favouring certain lights in a natural setting and being aware of my volume level – things that actually help me in the auditioning process too. Especially now that many auditions come in the form of a self-tape, you’re left to your own devices to make the ‘production value’ stand out!

Acting can be a sporadic profession and by using your time on set as a sort of film school, you’re squeezing the most experience you can out of your precious time on the job. Obviously you don’t want to overstep the boundaries and ask the sound guy what the fluffy thing does on top of the boom when he’s critically trying to balance it, but if someone has a few minutes, they’re usually more than happy to show you the basics of their craft.

Learn some games and extra skills

Actors are all in the same boat when on set, meaning that many are probably up for a bit of variation from the usual waiting around, so will gladly take part in some type of game. Whilst spending a couple of weeks in a slightly remote hotel on tour, Patrick Stewart taught me how to play backgammon on a day off. He probably let me win that first round in hindsight, but it was a great, social way to do something fun with another cast member.

When I was being chaperoned by my dad, we would play hand after hand of rummy on our long train journeys, something that coincidently pushed me towards my interest in card magic, which in turn led to a future job. You never know where a new skill might take you!

In conclusion…

It feels great to be productive and make the most of your downtime, but I can’t pretend I haven’t spent a lot of hours napping in the trailer to recuperate from those early pick up times. I always think it’s best to be well rested. At least that’s how I justify it. Apart from my examples I’m sure you’ll find a few of your own favourite hobbies, but if all else fails, bring a book.

After landing his first part at the age of ten on The Bill, George has worked as an actor and presenter on shows like CBBC’s Friday Download, Disney’s Evermoor and more recently TNT’s new series Will. Now 19, he reflects on his experiences as a young working actor for Spotlight. Get in touch with George via Twitter