Trouble getting cast to focus

(Jaime Lancaster) #1

Hey everyone!

I’m working on a project right now that we’re filming a pilot for before maybe doing some crowdfunding or other financing and even though we went through a rigorous casting process and signed contracts (both of which courtesy of Stareable article help!!) we’ve been having trouble, for lack of a better word, “controlling” cast.

It’s been hard to, in no particular order:

  • Get cast on and off camera to quiet down for takes
  • Get actors to listen to the director (once an actor told the director she wasn’t going to do a particular nonverbal cue because “you’re going to use the close up for that and this is the medium shot”)
  • Get people to show up at their call times (instead of like 20-40 minutes late)

We’re not paying much (though we are paying SOMETHING! And feeding them/giving them IMDb credit/giving them footage!) and we obviously don’t want to just resort to yelling everything, but most of the cast is friends from something or other and it’s just really hard to get them to focused and we’re at a loss. Help??? Please!

(Bri Castellini) #2

Oof. That’s a hard one, because on small sets maintaining a fun atmosphere is super important especially at the pay rate you’re describing, but that means it’s all the more important to set expectations and boundaries early. Did you know many of the cast before casting them? You mentioned they all knew each other, so are you a part of that group outside of filming?

(Jaime Lancaster) #3

I knew two or three of them and met everyone else through those two or three. But I knowww :frowning: Our balance is ALL outta wack :frowning:

(Bri Castellini) #4

Calling in actors @HackettKate @microbrien @OSTSG @Marc @fengshuitara @hailstorm

As well as directors @ghettonerdgirl @DarekKowal @kmd

And of course anyone else with thoughts!!

(Bri Castellini) #5

I will say… sometimes being loud isn’t quite the same as yelling. Get an AD or encourage your director to, loudly yet politely, call “QUIET ON SET!” and then just start filming. Sometimes you just need to barrel on through in order to get people used to the pace you need to maintain on set. If they fuck up a take because they aren’t paying attention, make sure they know it (without being mean or passive aggressive) and hopefully they’ll pick up the cue.

I also encourage you to read through this post from @kmd last year!

(Erik Urtz) #6

Sounds indicative of a larger problem.

Either you are pulling from a pool of lesser actors, or you are not inspiring confidence as a director.

(Bri Castellini) #7

Any tips on either? :slight_smile:

(Erik Urtz) #8

I would say he should probably put his foot down with regards to the excessive talking on set. Stay calm, but be authoritative and clear, for everyone to hear.

For the late people, just start scheduling their call times earlier. :smiley:

(Ghetto Nerd Girl) #9

I would suggest one-on-one talks after wrap. Something along the lines of, “Hey I noticed you’re not focused or late and/or tend to lose focus. Can you tell me what’s going on and how we can make the situation better for you?”

Don’t place blame but phrase it more on how you can improve the overall environment to make it more effective for everyone. Teamwork!

(Kyla) #10

for getting cast to quiet down, I fall back on very loudly saying “QUIET ON SET”. disclaimer: this doesn’t always work because there will always be someone who wants to finish what they’re saying. just pointedly say their name, let them fall quiet because they were just called out, and then say what you need to say. or call “rolling” or “321 action” because that’ll shock people into paying attention.

for getting an actor to listen to the director, specifically for that example, just say you want to see it from different angles UNLESS the actor feels uncomfortable or unsafe doing the non-verbal cue, in which case you need to listen to them and not make them do it.

for getting people to show up at their call times, I FEEL YOU. make it earlier on the schedule.

(Herman Wang) #11

You mentioned you’re paying - is it hourly? If so, enforce that lateness means less pay, that might help. I make sure to record everyone’s arrival and wrap times during a shoot.

(Sally McLean) #12

Speaking as someone who has worked professionally as a director, producer, Production Coordinator and actor (and helped out on set for friends in a myriad of other crew roles, as well as making my own passion projects) here in Australia and in the UK, here’s my two cents.

First - is every cast member on set where you are filming (ie. Actually in the room where you’re shooting) at the same time, even if they’re not needed? If so, this isn’t great, because, as we know, filmmaking can be very boring and actors are only human and like to chat. My suggestion if its possible where you are filming, is to have a seperate room or enclosed space (to control sound transfer and distraction for those filming) away from where you are filming (the further the better) where cast can hang out and talk to their heart’s content until an AD calls them to set. This is called a “Green Room” in theatre and film and every production will have one to avoid this kind of problem (unless you have the big bucks and can give them their own trailers or dressing rooms!). That should remove excess people off set who don’t need to be present during filming and reduce the amount of chit chat as a result. Rule is: if they’re not in the scene - they stay in the Green Room until called in by a crew member. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just a room with some coffee and a few chairs. I put a craft table with snacks and water in mine when running set because food is a great draw and also helps to keep their blood sugar regulated and keeps them hydrated (this also means crew will drop by when they have a clear moment and makes cast feel like they haven’t been forgotten and are still part of it all). It also makes them feel special that they have their own area and are being looked after.

A lot of other people here have already mentioned the “Quiet On Set!” call - absolutely correct proceedure. Its done EVERYWHERE on every set and isn’t just said for the benefit of those in the room, but loudly enough for other crew and cast in the nearby area so they know that sound is running and to shut up so you can get the take.

Second: actors are known to question direction sometimes, particularly if they feel its a collaborative space (and you want them to in my opinion, because sometimes they come up with great stuff you haven’t thought of and it makes things more enjoyable). How I deal with this is to compromise. I ask them to do it the way I’m requesting and then we’ll do one take the way they want. It saves time arguing, they feel like they’ve been heard and then you have choices in the edit. Win/win. NEVER take it personally in the moment if an actor does this - even if it feels they are challenging your authority and vision. (You can complain about it when you’re off set, back at home to your flatmate/partner/dog/cat,etc but try to set the example and always be professional in your work when at work). If you can’t articulate why you need something a certain way clearly and respectfully, or they just won’t listen, then that’s also the solution in my experience (and then think carefully before having them back in set for other projects if they’ve been dismissive or rude in any way during this encounter, because that’s EXTREMELY unprofessional if they’re just pulling a power play for their own ego). Sometimes an actor just won’t do something and you have to think on your feet about how you’re going to work around it to make the scene work, but as long as they’ve had scripts in advance and know what’s meant to happen in a scene, they have no excuse to refuse to do something on the day. A rehearsal day also helps iron these issues out before the shoot (fyi for future reference) - that’s why network dramas and large feature films always schedule rehearsals as well - saves time on set.

Lastly - they shouldn’t be turning up late. That’s just not professional. You are paying them (doesn’t matter how much - you’re still paying them!!) Even if they were doing it for the love of it only, they should still be there on time. Are you staggering their call times? If an actor is being called to set and then finds out they’re not needed on set to work for another 4 or more hours, that will cause a feeling of resentment, particularly on low/no pay gigs. Usual rule of thumb is find out from your Make Up artist how long they need with each actor before they are needed on set, then add 45 minutes to that time for wardrobe and a chance to grab a coffee/tea/whatever. Average rule of thumb is a call time of no more than 2 hours before they’re needed on set (depending on make up requirements). You’re not running a social club, your making a web series/proof of concept/film/screen project of some description, so they don’t need socialising time. The wrap party is the social part of the process and they can socialise with whomever else is waiting to head to set in the Green Room or at lunch or other meal breaks.

If you are already doing this calculation of call times and still have a problem, then just schedule them half an hour earlier than they need to be there to ensure they’re on time, or only 10 mins late. Are you doing detailed call sheets? If not, then start. It engenders a sense of confidence in everyone that the production is organised if you do. Rule of thumb - Unit (known as Craft Services in the US) is on set first to set up coffee/breakfast and the cast/crew waiting area and then make up/wardrobe department half an hour later (if you have one) then cast on staggered call and camera/sound/everyone else. There are plenty of examples of call sheets online if you don’t already have one.

In regards to fun on set. Of course people should enjoy working on these things, BUT - it’s no longer fun if it starts to feel disorganised, if you’re not able to get the shots on time and on schedule and if people start feeling disrespected. Doing everything I’ve suggested will help build a framework so everyone CAN have fun and feel like they’re really achieving something :slight_smile:

Oh, and finally- NEVER yell at cast and crew (or anyone else). If you’re yelling, it shows you have lost control of the situation (and yourself) and things will just get worse (or people will leave, regardless of contracts and you don’t want that at this stage as it will totally disrupt filming!)

Hope that helps and good luck!


(Sally McLean) #13

Further to my essay above, to give you a sense on how I work when directing and running a set as producer, here’s a BTS video from my web series Shakespeare Republic (, that deals with the fun vs. professional thing and manages to do both (and we got this ep done in 6 hours on set, which runs nearly 7 mins on screen). It also shows you one of our “Green Room” set ups - :slight_smile:

(Laura Pepper) #14

A friend shared this article from a few years ago - it’s fantastic & on point with a lot of my experience.

(Melissa Malone) #15

I’m late to the game and feel like everyone has covered this with stuff I agree on. But, since I’ve been on both ends of the producer/actor spectrum here’s my two cents anyhow…

  • The “Quiet on Set!” call is always the go to. It’s also just nice for cast & crew that can’t see what’s happening to know it’s time to zip it. lol. We work with a lot of kids and teenagers and have only had this problem a handful of times. I find it’s mostly when they are restless. A few short breaks can help- maybe while the crew is resetting lights or in between shots. Make sure everyone is getting getting food and water. @SallyMcLean’s green room explanation is spot on! Make sure people have somewhere to go that is away from the action when not needed.

  • It’s part of an actor’s job to listen to the director. Literally. Especially with the technicalities of film. Unless of course it’s something that makes the actor feel unsafe or uncomfortable. That being said, I understand there are times there are discrepancies or differences of opinions. My wife is my director when on set of OSTSG so it’s safe to say I’ve had this experience. :wink: I think the best way to solve it for both parties is to come to an understanding- let the actor do it their way for a take or two- maybe you’ll be surprised and like the option later down the road when editing. But downright refusing a verbal cue at all seems completely unprofessional. However, QUESTIONING the director on occasion is pretty normal and conversation about certain things can lead to happy surprises. Do you guys rehearse at all? If so that would be a good time to ask if they have any questions and maybe get some of those things settled before you are on set.

  • Being 20-40 minutes late to a film set without an emergency or REALLY good reason (and even then it better be a rare occasion) is not only unprofessional, it’s disrespectful and unfair to literally everyone on your set. Make sure you have a call sheet in place and aren’t scheduling everyone to show up at the same time (especially if they aren’t needed until much much later). If an actor is showing up on time for call and then seeing consistently that they aren’t needed until MUCH LATER in the day than they might be feeling their time is being disrespected and returning the favor by not caring about the call time anymore.

It’s super important for us to keep things fun on set but never at the expense of getting things done. Maybe have a sit down meeting with everyone. Explain that the project is suffering from the lack of concentration. Be honest with everyone, in a calm professional way and see what happens! Hope you get it all sorted!!

(Jaime Lancaster) #16

WOW this was so helpful- thank you!!

(Jaime Lancaster) #17

@Bri_Castellini @SnobbyRobot @ghettonerdgirl @kmd @hermdelica @SallyMcLean @Peppered @OSTSG THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH! This has been very helpful! I think a lot of it is confidence that we as the crew need to do a better job conveying (and believing ourselves) :slight_smile:

(Laura Pepper) #18


I wanted to write more - but was on my way out the door for the day job. I’m interested in learning a bit more about your situation. I’ve worked with cast/crew as small as just myself, to a day on set with 20 supporting actors, plus extras & crew I was in charge of. The supporting crew you may or may not have makes a huge impact, as well as the communicated expectations with all involved. Please feel free to reply or PM. I’d love to try to help more specifically!

(Jaime Lancaster) #19

Oh wow we have only about 10 people total at a time on set. I’ve already tried some of the tips from this thread and they’ve really helped!! And I moved people’s call times back half an hour or so from when I actually want them to be there because at this point the path of least resistance is preferred (and working well enough haha)

Thank you! :heart:

(Laura Pepper) #20

Awesome! Glad the group is back on track. Feel free to reach out to bounce off ideas or any questions that come up. I’m lucky to have worked with some really experienced directors/cinematographers/multitalented superstars I can turn to even if I can’t answer from experience.

Keep up the great work!