Protecting Yourself On Set

Your on set prep between shots makes the difference in your performance when camera rolls.

This weekend, I had the honor of directing some extremely talented actors in an intense indie drama. These actors really know how to “bring it” with every take – I felt completely secure with their abilities.

I knew that I could count on my talented actors 100% to deliver what I needed for every scene.

This is not always the case. But YOU don’t want to be the exception to that experience.

Every director wants to feel confident that no matter how stressful the situation of getting the shot may be, that the actor will be able to rise to the challenge with each take, each situation. Some directors are even so distracted by the technical needs of the shot, that they forget to give the actors a single bit of direction!

Directors need the Actor to take care of her/his own internal actor prep between the shots.

Most directors are pulled in many directions with each shot and might not be able to help you in your hour of (emotional) need. So don’t count on the attention and support. And do what you gotta do to get your best acting on screen.

How will you, dear actor, handle the situation when you have to sustain an emotional scene while filming for hours/days/weeks?

Here’s the scenario. (Mine this past weekend!)

It’s the final emotional scene of the film.  The scene has a ton of detailed blocking for an actor.  The Master Shot is done first (this is the wide shot that establishes the blocking of the scene before you do the Close Ups).  The actors totally find their groove and are really warmed up with emotional nuances.

Then, the Assistant Director yells: Lunch Break!

Oh crap.

Now the actors who are totally warmed up are forced to take a break and have to keep their focus until we come back from break and shoot their emotional close ups!

Actors need to know how to sustain an emotional life in between shots on set…amidst all of the distractions.

Here are my top tips that I observed my actors doing, as well as a few extras for your toolbox.

Please care for yourself and protect your most valuable asset: your emotional interior life of the character.


1. Throw on a headset to block out the crew noises. Use ear pieces so your hair doesn’t get messed up. Create a playset of music that inspires your character or world that your character is living inside.

2. Find a private corner nearby the set to retreat to for the longer resets of camera.  There is always a corner in the room to retreat to. But do let the Assistant Director know where you are!:)

3. Don’t worry about offending people by choosing not to chat with them between takes.  They will quickly get the idea that you are in character and understand.

4. Use your wardrobe and makeup prep time to be quiet and still and ponder the levels of your character and the scene. Usually the Hair and Makeup chairs are in a more secluded area so you can meditate and center yourself in that time.

5. Ignore the crew’s stress of time constraints and ONLY listen to the Director. The Director wants you to block that noise out so that you can give a performance with ease.  The Director will tell you when you “need to get this perfect on one shot because that is all I have time for!”

May you have a shoot day that feels full of all the potential in the world.

May you have a shoot day that feels like you have space to dig deep into your character.

SHARE below your additional ideas and tricks!



  1. Polly says

    LOVE this Heidi. Sound advice, as ever.
    I also take Austin Pendleton’s advice to every situation. Distractions, tiredness, etc. happen to us all. USE it. I was recently irritated by a crew member and I channeled it in the scene and it was the best take of the day! 😉

  2. Lisann says

    These are really some great tips, especially about not worrying about offending those by not chatting and instead allowing yourself the quiet time. That self-permission is so important and the advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks for posting!

  3. Donnell E. Smith says

    I whole-heartedly agree! Sometimes, external factors can dilute the intensity of the Actor’s focus and sustainability. It’s even worse when the Actor gets in his/her own way. I am thankful that, so far, I have found ways to maintain, while on set for long periods of time. This article confirms that I have the right idea and gives me more to build on, in “set layovers.” Thank you for sharing this, Heidi!

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