Last week I scored a really sweet booking for a TV show off of a self tape that I did in my living room. Self tapes have of course become the norm, and every single job that I’ve booked in the last two years has been from a self tape.
The show that I was working on is a brand new one that hasn’t aired yet and everything is hush-hush, with all cast and crew having to sign NDAs. While I can’t tell you anything about the actual booking, I started looking at everything I had to bring to set – and spoiler alert, none of it was wardrobe!
Even on really big budget union productions you can’t just show up empty-handed. There are a few things that you need to bring, and a few more that are just going to make the day a whole lot easier and more comfortable.
Here is my list of top 12 must haves actors need to bring to set when they book a job.
Passport + Important Identification
This may seem obvious, but I’m putting it first because without it you literally can’t work on any set in the United States. Production has to verify not only your identity but your eligibility to work in the U.S.
The first thing you do when you get to the set, is fill out your contract, work authorization and union documents. Production companies generally won’t allow you to work or do anything else until it’s filled out.
Chances are you had to drive to set so you’ll have your drivers license with you anyway, but you’ll also need your Social Security card, and if you are here on a work visa you’ll need documentation related to that, including your passport and I-94. For actors who are incorporated, you’ll also need your articles of incorporation.
With ID I normally bring everything, because if you are missing something it could put the whole day in jeopardy. And FYI, you need your originals, no copies.
Neutral Undergarments (especially for women!)
This one is easy to overlook, but wardrobe is going to hate you, and you might leave them in a real bind if you show up wearing your favorite red lace lucky bra that shows through the white blouse they put you in. While it’s less important for underwear, obviously make sure it’s comfortable, but also that you can put anything at all over top of it and nothing is going to show because of bright colors or elastic that is too high or pinching in.
Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Usually gum and mints are plentiful on the snack table, but nothing gives you the same fresh clean feeling as brushing your teeth after you’ve eaten or had a cup of coffee. This is more than just good oral hygiene, it would be horrifying if after shooting your big scene you noticed you had food stuck in your teeth. Brushing your teeth throughout the day not only feels great but it ensures you look your best, and your co-stars will be much happier with you too!
Days on set tend to be very long and it can be quite a distance from base camp to where you’re shooting, or even just walking around set for normal activities. The shoes that your character is wearing may be perfect for the part, but many times they aren’t the most comfortable thing to have on your feet all day.
On the last movie I was shooting, I was extremely grateful to a wonderful and thoughtful wardrobe stylist who bought slippers for all of the key cast members. This allowed us to comfortably move around set until just moments before we started shooting, then she would magically whisk in, collecting the slippers and handing us our shoes.
For day players, this isn’t going to happen, so you need to take care of yourself. Slippers are okay for an enclosed set, but easy-on, easy-off running shoes do the trick just as well.
You already know the days can be long, and unless your character calls for it, you don’t want to do your close-up with red eyes. Dry and tired eyes can also really pull your energy down. Eyedrops can also help just freshen up your overall feeling and wake you up a bit during a long shoot.
Phone Charger / Power Bank
You’ll probably be spending a lot more time than usual on your phone while you are on set. There a long wait times when we love to scroll through social media, listen to podcast, or maybe even pulling up information for your contracts. I always find that my phone battery drains a lot quicker when I’m on set than usual days. If your phone dies halfway through the day it’s going to make life a little bit miserable. A wall charger is a must have, but a portable power bank (Amazon has great selection for under $20) can come in handy when there are no electrical outlets around or everyone on set is trying to charge their phone as well.
IMPORTANT NOTE: No pictures before asking for permission, and definitely no posting! What you think is an innocent picture could be giving away the plot twist or surprise wardrobe.
Music, audiobooks and even TikTok are great ways to pass the time while you’re on set. Although you may be a principal actor, you might not have your own private dressing room or trailer that day and find yourself waiting in a holding area. This happens especially when you’re shooting on location at a private residence or venue where they don’t have space for trailers. Since noise is a major no-no during shooting so you want to have a way to listen silently. AirPods or a similar headset can also be a great way to tune out the chaos around you and preserve your energy.
Something to Do
Anytime you think you are only going to be on a set for a few hours and don’t bring something to do, you will probably end up being there all day! This happened to me a couple of years ago when I was called in as a hand model – usually it’s quick, concise takes and I’m done in a couple of hours. Instead I found myself sitting for a full six hours on location with no trailer or dressing room and nothing at all to do. There was no other cast, except for the leads, one of whom I was hand-doubling for, so there wasn’t even anyone else to talk to. Needless to say, that was a very long day!
Other times I’ve gone to set with a great book that I hope to dive into, and never get a chance to touch it at all. You just don’t know. Either way, it is so much better to be safe than tired, bored and really sorry!
Bring something to do that keeps you in the zone of what you showed up to do, yet still occupies your mind and keeps you relaxed.
Reading Glasses (if you need them)
This isn’t just for reading a book or scrolling through your phone. The contracts and the amount of paperwork you have to fill out for one days work can be extensive. If you need glasses to read the tiny fine print, and you don’t have them you’re going to spend a lot of time fiddling around with the magnifier on your phone. If you need reading glasses at all, bring them just in case.
Warm and Loose Sweater or Jacket
In LA temperatures can vary widely from on area of the city to another. There can be as much as a 10 degree difference in fewer than 10 miles distance. But no matter where you live there are lots of factors to consider that can affect widely changing temperatures – whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors, are you crossing from day to night, and sounds stages are often kept cold due to all of the hot lights. When they finally call rehearsal, you want to be relaxed and focused while running your scenes, not tense and shivering.
Hand Lotion + Lip Balm
These are just nice to have for a little extra comfort, ad of course to make sure you’re lips aren’t cracked or peeling for your close-up. Travel sizes are great to keep in your to-go bag.
This one is a no brainer. But seriously… just make sure you have it with you.
Bonus: A Great Attitude! (Gratitude)
A great attitude radiates outward! There is a lot of movement and working parts on any tv show or film set. Combine this with long hours and high pressure, and attitude can make or break the day. Your attitude will determine not only how you manage your energy, but also affects the people around you. Everyone wants to work with positive, happy, cooperative people, especially when they have so many responsibilities they are trying to juggle in what never seems like enough time.
But a great attitude isn’t just about how you treat others, it’s how you treat yourself. So many actors belittle their own part because “it’s just a co-star” or “just a day player” or “just…..” Keep in mind, you beat out a lot of other actors to book this job. It’s not a booby prize you get instead of stardom, it’s a victory; a milestone and a stepping stone. If this feels like “it’s not enough” or “you’re not enough”, acknowledge the feeling and then do your best to let it go. That’s pure ego.
They say there are no spare parts in the universe, and there are certainly no spare parts on a television shoot or a movie set! You are there because they hired you and they want you to play that part. A production company wouldn’t waste the time and money going through the casting process, contracts, hiring and shooting the actual scene if it wasn’t critical… Even if it’s only one line. You are mission critical to this wonderful creative collaboration that you get to take part in, so enjoy it and make the most of your day!
So that’s my list of the top 12 essential items all actors would bring to a day on set. Follow this as a guideline and you’ll find that when you arrive on set, you’ll feel more confident and be well-prepared for anything that is thrown your way that day. And when you head home exhausted 10 – 12 hours later, you’ll do so knowing that you took care of yourself, you gave it your best, and that your time and presence was truly appreciated.
Was this list helpful to you? Do you have an favs or must have that you always bring to set? Would love to hear from you in the comments below.
And remember to …. Like. Share. Post. Tweet. Send this to an actor friend! Creativity is never about competition and always about community. #payitforward 😊