Supporting Artiste

A Day in the Life of a Supporting Artiste – Part 1

22nd July 2015


As I am booked onto a major TV production which looks to be quite a regular role for me, I am putting the music on a temporary hiatus and thought I would do a post for each day on set as a guide if you will drawing upon my past experiences and how they compared to the events of the day. Also this would give an informative insight to the procedures, how to conduct yourself on a film set a generally what to expect. As the first day for myself was a costume fit which is quite short and fairly painless, I’ll cover a few do’s and don’ts some of which sound obvious, but you’ll be surprised…

You – The Supporting Artiste

Different productions may alternate the terms but the abbreviation SA is most commonplace. Supporting Artiste, Extra, Background, are all the same thing, followed swiftly by Living Props (by fellow SA’s) and Food Hoovers (by disgruntled crew). Whatever you’re called on the day, take it with a pinch of salt. I remember vividly doing a production before where this older gentleman snapped at another SA for referring to him as an Extra with the retort YOU might be an Extra, but I am a Supporting Ariste!” Said gentleman then spent an hour rehearsing his line, which was the singular word: “okay”, repeatedly in different mannerisms. Long story short, he kept messing up his one-word line so much the director cut him completely. Lesson one in life: don’t be a dick.

Also I think it’s worth mentioning how manners go a long way. It is commonplace for sets to have a cast and crew first policy when it comes to drinks, tea table and most importantly lunch. Now this does seem rather harsh, even degrading to be treated lesser than our colleagues and I cannot count the number of productions I have done where people have complained about this. But it is worth mentioning that they are there before the SA’s, work harder whereas we have a lot of downtime, they are still there working/packing up/preparing for tomorrow when we’re leaving and some of them end up getting paid LESS than the SA’s for the day in some cases. They work hard, they deserve it.

Runners / 3rd A.D.

The runners and the 3rd A.D. (Assistant Director) are your main point of contacts for the day. They are very busy dealing with 101 things let alone the numerous SA’s on set. Every production, even day, will differ but the one constant is that you should heed their instructions, pay attention if/when they enter the room and most importantly: let them know if you need the loo. Now this may sound ridiculous, which to a certain extent, is. I mean we’re grown adults, why do we have to ask for permission to go to the toilet like a child? Well the main answer is you might be needed. A scene for a Disney production I did last year was completely ruined when a gentleman wandered off without telling anyone where he was going. The runners searched desperately for him but schedules are tight and they had to move on. Seriously though, it doesn’t hurt just to grab a Runner and say “Have I got time to nip to the loo?” Worst case scenario they say “Hurry, we’re on in two minutes.” or even the dreaded “You’re needed on set now, please follow me.” The horror.

Principles and Social Media

Easy one this but my god the amount of times people don’t understand this, it’s embarrassing. If you see your famous celeb crush on set, don’t approach them expressing how much of a fan you are ask for a photo with them. They are professionals; they are there to do a job, do it well and go home and you should act accordingly. Also it makes you look like a massive twat. And will get you thrown off set. And thrown off your agents books. But don’t get me wrong, they are people too, saying hello whilst casually walking past if you made eye contact is considered good manners in today’s society, and if they engage in conversation it’s fine to natter friendly back.

Onto social media the general rule-of-thumb is if it isn’t aired yet, don’t post it. You want to have a photo taken in your costume? That’s fine, it’s material for your portfolio. Changing your profile picture on twitter to said photo with all the hash-tags under the sun before the show has aired is a MASSIVE NO-NO. Again, this is down to your are a professional so act like it mentality and not snapping everything in your sight like a tourist. Due to the social-media policy, I shall not be name dropping within these posts as you may or may not have noticed as I like my job and don’t want to be fired any time soon. Now that’s the basics covered, lets move onto my first day on this new production…

Day 1 – The Costume Fit

Costume fits are a strange necessity in the filming world, even though all your measurements have been forwarded to production well in advance they still need to bring you in and dress you up to double-check that it does all fit and make any amendments so they don’t faff on the day.

Now two things are imperative on any shoot: thick socks and thermals. Admittedly thermals are a situational item which are dependant on the weather on the day but thick socks have saved my life more than I care to count. 90% of the period dramas I have done my boots have not fitted me, this is where the socks come in to make them fit. Again, this was one of those days. God bless those rotten things.

Oh, and I’m just going to leave this one here: Guys, a vast majority of costume assistants are ladies and will be present when you get undressed/dressed to make sure that the items are correct (especially chain-mail). So with that, may I suggest you wear tight fitting boxers. This is so you do not get any… Ahem… “Great Escapes” whilst lifting your leg out of your trousers. Just saying. Oh and always wear underwear. Yes, some people in the past have turned up commando and no, I am not going into details. *shudders*

Once costume is on and feeling over-encumbered, a quick waddle to hair/make-up dept. who will assess your personal looks and make a inclined suggestion accordingly. For example being asked to shave beard off, whether a complete new hairstyle is needed (which incurs a change of appearance fee, KA-CHING!) etc. Today it was no haircut for me as I had a chain-mail coif but I was asked to keep my beard, although asked not to shave the irritable scruffy bits underneath my chin so now I itch like a dog with flees whenever I wear a collar.

So with that, the day (if you want to call it that) was over all ready for tomorrow. Whatever it may bring…

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