Monday, 28 April 2008


Some of the vernacular from film, television and theatre explained.

The Martini  The last shot of the day. Traditionally accompanied by feelings of great joy or panic. The Assistant Director/Production Executive Abby Singer named this shot after the sound of the Director mixing cocktails in anticipation of the end of the filming day. Hence:

The Abby Singer  The second-to-last shot of the day. 

MOS Without synchronised sound. Literally, Mit Out Sound, possibly from the German speaking directors who worked in Hollywood such as Lubitsch, Lang or von Stroheim. A liberating experience for an actor, to be paid for later in post-synching. 
Alternatively, Minus Optical Stripe.

Post-Synch Also, Dubbing. Recording dialogue in a studio and matching it to the lip movements of the actor in the original scene. Usage, "We can fix it in the dub."  

Dirty Shot  A close-up with a bit of the other actor in it (usually the shoulder, it's not that kind of dirty). 

Flats The flat backdrops that are raised and lowered on to the stage from the flies.

Flies The gantries at the sides of the stage where the ropes for the flats are controlled by the flymen.

Flymen Men who can see down your dress. 

Prompt Corner The side of the stage from which the Stage Manager calls the show. Prompt Corner, PS or Prompt Side, usually the left-hand side is Stage Left as the actor looks out at the audience. Thus, Stage Right is also known as OP, Opposite Prompt. However, Camera Left and Camera Right are situated from the point of view of the camera operator. No chance of confusion there, then. 

Blocking  The rehearsed movements of the actors on stage, after the practice of directors moving blocks on models of the set. It has been observed that some directors would wish the actors to be as amenable as the blocks. Usage, "The director told the actors that he wanted them off the book when they started blocking."

Off the Book The actors perform the play without the script in their hand. Usage, "I can never come off the book until I've finished blocking."

Dailies and Rushes The day's film footage. These used to be a positive print of the daily negative screened by projector for viewing by the director, camera and other crew, usually in the evening after the next day's filming. On some films, the watching of the dailies was an event and the entire company would attend. With the advent of video, it is no longer necessary for many people to see the footage projected, they can watch it on DVD. Also, with some films now shot entirely on digital video, the footage is instantly accessible. This has the unexpected effect of slowing filming down, while actors watch their performance on playback and rally themselves to do it better.

Eyeline The specific point, on stage or set, upon which the actor gazes. Some actors dislike seeing people in their eyeline when they are filming. Usage, "Bob requested another take because the crowd was in his eyeline."
In film close-ups it is often impossible for actors to actually look at the face of another actor and the eyeline will be a piece of tape stuck to the camera. If the director is in love with the other actress and cannot bear to film you without some piece of her in the shot, he may request that she stands nearby in order that her reflection appears in the window behind you. In this instance, you will have to address the moving speech about the death of your mother to a tennis ball stuck on top of a lighting stand. For example. 

DCOL  Doesn't count on location. A state of denial which exists until the +1s arrive.

+1s Wives, husbands or partners.

Alan Smithee A pseudonym for a director who has taken his name off a film. Usage, "The director said it DCOL but his +1 was the producer and now it's an Alan Smithee."

Practical A prop which can actually be used, such as a light switch. Usage, "The pay was terrible but there was a practical pie in the Third Act."

Pickfords After the British removal company. Additional money when an actor moves furniture on stage for technical rather than performance purposes. Usage, "Everybody had to bring their own chair on and off stage with them but it was a creative decision so none of the actors got any Pickfords."

Craft Services Catering on American productions involves a large trestle table permanently displaying food and drink. Bagels, cream cheese, doughnuts, red vines, fruit, potato chips, candy, juice, tea, coffee and peanut butter are the mainstay of the table. Usage, "Ever since rehab, Bob clung to craft services."

Honeywagon A type of trailer. Sometimes refers to the actor's mobile dressing rooms but more often describing the unit's location toilets. Usage, "Bob gained so much weight from craft services he had to meet his dealer in the honeywagon."

The Wrap Party The last night of the gig that goes on just long enough to make sure everyone is too ill to panic.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


Sorry for the delay in posting this month. Easter holidays and working on the BBC television series 'Holby City' have meant time away. Normal service will be resumed shortly. Hope you are all well,

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Improvisation is the art of making things up as you go along. Since this is something we all do every day and is often just called 'living', improvised performances have been accused of cheating. 'What is wrong with getting an author to write a play/film and having actors learn the lines?' some people ask. 'We like it when actors learn lines, it shows they are doing some work for the vast quantities of money they earn.' But of course, there is more to it than that. 
Actors who improvise are not making things up as themselves, they are making things up as someone else. To do this, an actor must have developed an intimate knowledge of the character they are playing. This sort of knowledge is very helpful as an actor even when you are working on scripted material, which is why improvisation is often used as a rehearsal exercise. If the director suddenly screams 'Where have you been?' as you step on to the set, they are probably not interested in the cup of herbal tea you brewed in the office while chatting with another actor about your respective agents. They are asking what you think your character has been doing during the time you were offstage. This is a good moment to improvise.
Directors might also want the actors to have improvised conversations in character. If the writer has referred to the time the lovers in the play first met in prison ten years ago, the actors could improvise the scene as a way of making  a 'real' memory. There is not usually enough rehearsal time to spend on improvisation; learning what to say in addition to how, where and most importantly when to say it, takes up the larger portion of the commonly allocated three weeks. If your fellow actor's prison antics are not conducive to the happy love affair you imagined, you may be glad that the improvisation exercises had to be squeezed into an afternoon between costume fittings.
Where whole plays or films are constructed from actors improvising scenes, you might think that the actors also receive writing credits/payment. This is not the case. The improvisation is seen as an extension of the actor's normal range of duties. It does not work the other way round. David Hare is paid to perform and if Richard Curtis wanted to serenade Laura Linney under a Fig Tree in his next Romantic Comedy, I'm sure he could command a small fee. However, since actors often develop characters with writers, frequently work on scripts with directors and request line changes all the time, I suspect that this is a Can of Worms.
  One of the first plays I was in was directed by an enthusiastic improvisor. That is, he told us to improvise and we did it. The atmosphere was quite intimidating. We were not allowed to bring anything in to the rehearsal room that did not pertain to the play or the time period (1940's). We had a lot of character 'homework' to do and there was plenty of shouting. One day, the director told everyone to leave the room so that I could work on a private improvisation with one of the other actors. It was to be an intimate moment in our affair that would lend some truth to our relationship history. The other actor was not from the improvisation school of acting and was reluctant to take part. I was from a school that only used improvisation and particularly wanted to avoid more shouting. I'm not sure what Terrence Rattigan would have written had he included the scene, but as soon as the director asked us to start my co-star turned to me with a look of fury and said 'Why do you have be such a bitch?'. It went downhill from there. 
The play, however, was a hit.