9 Valuable Set Etiquette Tips for Background Actors to Make You Look Professional
Background actors, this post is for you. I’ve worked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of you during the decades I’ve worked in the film industry.
Some of you were outstanding professionals I’d be happy to work with on any show. Some of you were not. Some of you were working on your first job and had never been on a set before.
I understand. My first time working on set was as a background actor; the pay was awful, and we were treated poorly.
I wrote this post so you can look like a pro and help the day go smoothly for everyone.
Here are my nine main set etiquette tips for background actors:
- Check in with an a.d. when you arrive on set.
Experienced actors and background actors know that you always check in with an a.d. when you get to set. You’ll start the day off looking unprofessional if you don’t bother to let us know you’re here.
If you’re arrived more than ten or fifteen minutes early, great. But please don’t expect anyone to check you in until your call time.
We’re busy doing other things and aren’t ready for you yet.
- Bring whatever wardrobe you were told to bring when you were booked.
Unless your agent or the casting company told you you’d be wearing a uniform, expect to bring your own wardrobe.
The on set wardrobe department is not prepared to provide wardrobe for you and expects to choose from clothes you’ve brought with you. If you’ve brought nothing, they have nothing to work with.
I’ll be telling your agent you came to set unprepared, which made more work for everyone.
And please leave the clothes with big brand logos at home. Brand logos can’t be seen on camera, so those clothes are unwearable.
- Don’t leave the set without telling an a.d. where you’re going.
I’ve had to track down many background actors who wandered away from the extras holding area without telling anyone, and it’s very annoying.
The a.d.s need to know where you are at all times so we can find you when you’re needed on set.
I’m sure you would never wander off. You’re far too professional for that.
But it never hurts to have a reminder.
- Bring your own pen and all necessary documents.
In the COVID era, we’ve all become more aware of health and sanitation on set, so I no longer carry a bag of pens for you to complete paperwork.
As a background actor or day player, you know you’ll be filling out paperwork, so bring a pen, driver’s license, and your agent’s address and phone number.
Parents, if you have children working on set, you’ll need their social security number and work permit.
You make more work for the a.d.s if you can’t complete your paperwork because you forgot to bring the necessary information.
And we don’t like that.
- If your call is ‘having had,’ please don’t expect breakfast or lunch.
Your call time may be at a time past when the crew has had breakfast or lunch. That means our meal time is over, and you shouldn’t expect to be fed.
If you arrive at our lunchtime, your official call time is usually after the crew meal, and you shouldn’t expect lunch. We’ll be checking you in after lunch.
Your agent should tell you the call is ‘having had,’ so you’ll know to have a meal before you arrive.
- Stay away from video village.
Yes, you want to see what the shot looks like on camera, but video village is off limits.
Video village is for the director, producers, DP, and if it’s a commercial, agency, and clients to watch playback, and that area is only for them.
Avoid ruffling any feathers and stay away from video village.
The a.d.s will give you any information you need to know about the shot.
- If the wardrobe or props department has given you any items to use in a scene, return them.
When you receive an item of clothing or a prop, you’re responsible for taking care of it and returning it.
Sometimes the wardrobe department will hold your voucher until you return what they’ve given you, as they have to account for each item at the end of the day.
You’ll be told where to return your props before you leave the set.
The props department has one of the busiest jobs on set, so don’t make their job harder by wandering off with your props.
Both departments appreciate you helping them by taking, using, and promptly returning the items they’ve given you.
- Keep it orderly at check-out time.
We’re all ready to leave as soon as possible after a long day, but I can only check you out one at a time.
There’s nothing that will piss off both the a.d.checking you out and your fellow background actors as someone trying to jostle their way to the front of the line so they can be the first to leave.
If you need to return wardrobe, hang it neatly on a hanger when you return it.
I’ll usually announce the out time and the lunchtime to put on your voucher. Have your voucher filled out (using that pen you brought with you), and checkout will go smoothly and efficiently.
- Be pleasant and easy to work with.
Yes, things can get hectic, and tempers can be short at the end of a long, difficult day. However, I always note the background actors who’ve listened to instructions and been easy to work with throughout the day.
You’re the pros I want back on future jobs.
If you have other ambitions in the industry, having a great attitude makes other people want to help you get there.
Thank you to all the professional background actors who show up on time with a great attitude and help make the day go smoothly on set. The industry needs more people like you.
If you’ve worked on a show with me, I’ve remembered you and used you again when I could.
If you’re starting out, practice the set etiquette tips here, and you’ll look your professional best. The film industry can never have too many background actors like that.