10 On-Set Tips From Michaela Watkins

When Backstage asked me what I would want to tell my younger self about “the biz,” I couldn’t narrow it down to any one, earth-shattering revelation. Most things you can only know in hindsight. I guess there are a few observations I can pass on. Let’s make a list. I love lists. I’ll click on any list. I even clicked on a link for “10 Celebrities With Disabilities” the other day. Then I felt disgusted with myself. What the hell kind of list is that? Is that helpful? No. Is it “entertaining”? I sincerely hope not. So here is a list of tips for when you land a job that I hope just might be a little helpful or, if nothing else, a reminder.

1. Be polite. This one is a no-brainer. You may not be remembered for saying “thank you,” but you will be remembered if you don’t. You’re finally getting paid to do what you love. Relish it. Even if they say, “We’re cutting your line(s).” You’re working. Work begets work. This goes both ways, by the way. You may be in a position one day to hire people. Trust me. You’ll remember if someone was a dick. I watched someone publicly eviscerate an assistant. Not cool. Thus: Not hired.

2. The wardrobe department isn’t a bunch of elves there to serve you; they’re artists with vision. Honor them. I assumed everyone knew this, but I know a sweet working actor who genuinely didn’t know to always hang up his clothes—be it at the wardrobe fitting or in your trailer. Which brings me to:

3. Don’t complain. What’s wrong? You changed your schedule to come in early and they pushed your scene to the end of the day? Ya know who has to be there even longer than you? Everyone. You know who’s getting paid less than you? Everyone.

4. Pay attention to the names of the people who are looking after you. Hair, makeup, the P.A. who tells you they need you on set, etc. Everyone’s job is invaluable. Film and TV production is collaboration. Join the party. Even if you think your part is minor, you’re a part of the family.

5. Don’t eat anything that requires you to put your hand in a bowl where other hands have been. I’m no germaphobe (in fact, I might be the grossest person you know), but I have heard too many horror stories about entire crews getting some nasty stomach thing because Joe from transpo didn’t wash his hands before shoving them in the corn chips.

6. If you flub a line, take a breath and do it again. Don’t make a movie of the week out of it. Everyone screws up. Everyone. Feel better? But they all know not to waste time because it’s not interesting to anyone but you. Just move on. And don’t waste your time beating yourself up. That’s the biggest waste of all.

7. Pin your wedding band to your underwear. If I brought a fridge to set I’d forget it, so you know a ring will be lost.

8. Some people like to improvise (like me). My rule of thumb is to always do what’s on the page first. Then you can talk to your director about playing with it. Improv frees me up in a character, but I would be mortified if the writers who agonized over their words assumed I thought my improv was more valuable. So feel it out.

9. If your shoes hurt in the fitting room, they will destroy your being when you’re working. Speak up.

10. Go to bed early.

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