The first thing you need to know about being an actor working on a film set is that the mornings are early. My first day I had to be in Johannesburg, on set, at 05:30. This was already half an hour later then the extras who had to be on set at 05:00. I’m one of those people who would prefer to be awake until the early hours of the morning rather than waking up then. But none the less I was fresh clean, showered and shaved for the first day, and arrived about 15 minutes early. Once on set a security guard walking me from the parking garage where my car was to remain for the entire day to where we would be shooting. I’m not sure if the presence of the guard made me feel safer or more afraid, considering that his presence seemed to be required.
One of the perks of being awake so early, if you find that you cannot otherwise do so, is seeing the sunrise. And I watched the sunrise that morning perched as we were on a bit of hill over the Johannesburg skyline. And it was a sight to behold.
This brought me to the coffee pot. I am not a coffee drinker myself. At all, but having a warm cup of predawn tea did seem to help. Then it was off to wardrobe. You know that you’re working professionally when a gay European called Mariano is hitching up and choosing your skirts. As the advert was set in an Eastern bloc village in the eighteen hundreds us ladies were in full skirts, full petticoats and full sleeves. Which is all very well in Eastern bloc Europe, but we were shooting in South Africa, in 30 degree heat in the sun in the middle of the day. Adding to this was the fact that a number of fires were lit all around the set to create a smoky effect for the outdoor scenes.
Just before we started filming one of the scenes the director asked one of the technicians for 10% less smoke. Literally. One of the younger technicians ran passed, me swearing under his breath. All I could make out was 10%. Adding to the smoke and heat in our full period costumes were the animals. To protect us actors from the heat, in between the takes while we were waiting for odds and ends to be set up some of the technical assistants would stand between us with umbrellas. I think this was less to do with looking after our skins and more to do with continuity. This courtesy was also extended to the donkey. In between sets an umbrella was held over the donkey’s head so that it too could be shielded from the sun.
And let’s not forget the goat. There’s always a goat somehow. The goat was tethered to a large wagon wheel, and the director wanted the goat to stand at a specific angle when the camera passes. Time after time the goat would stand still and move as soon as the camera was close by. With the exception of the goat climbing onto the highest point of the wheel and bleating at full volume until someone coaxed it down with some bread. Of which there was an abundance as the advert we were filming was about two bakeries.
What followed was a strange day. I suppose mostly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. As featured ‘talent’ we got to, or should I say had to, eat before the extras so that we could have our make and costume touched up again before we started shooting before lunch. And as a stage lets not mention the lack of preparation. You get to told what to do and go with it. The other side of the coin to this is the fact that I felt the only think I did for myself that day was feed myself. I was dressed, to the point that my shoes were laced for me. My hair was done for me, and so was my makeup. I literally didn’t do anything for myself. What I had to carry was handed to me, and I was told exactly where to walk and how and when to do it. At one point I had to enter the shot from a passage carrying a basket of bread. As I was standing in the passage waiting for my moment the assistant director walked passed me. I had small splinter which I couldn’t remove myself as I was holding my basket of bread and was too afraid to put it down in case someone might pick it up for me again. As the assistant director walked passed me asked him to quickly pull the splinter out of my hand. He looked at me with genuine concern: “It’s ok. We’ve got a medic. I”ll get him”. I pulled the splinter out with my teeth before we did the take.
Being on set for an advert consists basically of pitching up on time, doing exactly what you’re told, and not fiddling too much with your make up or costume. After a 14 hour day of shooting I climbed into my car for the hour journey back home.