Are you great on set?
Acclaimed Film Director/Master Teacher KATT SHEA
Shifting from Being Great in Class To Being Great On Set

"Acting is...a wild ride that should
never be tamed."

Film Acting is not like other arts or other disciplines, it’s a bit of a wild ride in that it doesn’t always get better with more and more practice or rehearsal, as a rule it doesn’t get better with specific criticism. It soars when the actor is truly free. Interesting, because we wouldn’t tell a gymnast, a violinist, a singer – ‘just be free and you will soar’. No they need those hours of repetitive practice. And the actor needs h/er set of skills too, but they are different than these other disciplines and it can be quite tricky to manage something with such a quicksilver quality.

In this article, I’m going to assume that you, as an actor, are at a point where you’re very free, alive, spontaneous and commanding in whatever class you are in. You are not going to be great on set unless you’re great in class on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, you can’t assume you will be great on the set even if you ARE great in class – Why? Fear. Self Sabotage.

As a director, I teach a class called Bring It! that is as close to being on an actual movie set as you can get. The actors do an entire script, they learn to prepare their parts from beginning to end, and then, we shoot it. The actors hit marks and even take ‘dumbass’ direction. In fact, Dumbass direction abounds and the scenes keep getting better -- AND YET these same actors can get a starring movie role and freeze up.

So many things come into play when you get a starring role. Your mind throws all kinds of crap at you – Who are you to be starring in a movie? - You think you’re THAT interesting, that charming? etc. Suddenly you doubt your skills and feel unworthy.
Guess what?  -- Most people feel that way, not just actors but directors, writers, cinematographers, all of us in the ‘glory professions’ feel we aren’t really up to the task. And once you receive acclaim it gets even worse - you feel like you can never repeat it, never live up to that level again. I know many other directors, writers, cinematographers, actors who admit to feeling this way.

What’s the answer? – Well, one thing that can help is to say to your sabotaging mind, ‘Okay go ahead. Have at it! Go for it; give me all you’ve got!’ Then let loose on yourself with all the crap, every fear, every self loathing thing, until it’s actually funny and when you’re done, say okay, I’m just going to have fun, not try too hard and stay in the moment, listening. Let yourself do a take where you don’t give a crap, just dare to suck – Trust that you did your homework, you know this character and let it fly.  

So what happens when that works and then the director comes over and gives you some direction? – That ruins everything doesn’t it? – Because then you start to ACT the adjustment and you do that because you feel you MUST deliver what was asked for. The way to effectively handle this is to simply listen to the direction, trust the work that you did on the character before you got to the set, and just allow the adjustment to come through the character in the moment. You don’t need to add anything, just let your subconscious mind take care of it. Your mind heard the direction, you agree in your mind to let it flow through you – now just don’t try too hard, and let it fly.

Acting is a most unusual art - A wild ride that should never be tamed.
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