Saturday, January 7, 2012

Soap Me Up: Working Soapy

The third in a four-part series about background work on daytime soap operas. Read Part 1 or Part 2 here.

So you’ve submitted for background work on a soap opera and received a call to work. Now what?

Here’s the typical process I’ve experienced:
Step 1: I get a call from the background casting director asking if I’m available for work on a particular day – sometimes the following week, sometimes the very next day. I check my schedule carefully – if there’s any chance of a conflict, I turn it down. (You never want to be seen as the one who always cancels last minute – you’ll never get called again.) If I’m free to work, I’m given a call time and wardrobe requirements.

Step 2: On the day, I show up early and find the sign in sheet, which is either posted or with the stage manager. I sign in and grab a schedule for the day, which outlines the scenes being shot that day. These are always several pages long – much more comprehensive than a standard call sheet.

Step 3: I head for the extras dressing room, where someone from the show’s wardrobe department will come and choose what I’m going to wear. One of the reasons I love playing a nurse is that the show provides hospital scrubs. All I have to do is bring white sneakers – easy peasy!

Step 4: I get breakfast at the studio’s commissary. Soap production never provides craft services, so you’re on your own. Many will have coffee & tea, but that’s it. Bring your own snacks if you don’t want to pay commissary prices.

Step 5: Wait. And wait some more. Background call times are always earlier than you’re needed – I’ll often wait two or three hours before being called to set. I use the time to do my hair and makeup, get some writing done, or gossip about whose evil twin had a baby with who on the show. Background dressing rooms are nicer than typical background holding areas – there’s usually a TV, a giant stack of magazines, and sofas for napping.

Step 6: I always head to set a scene earlier than I’m needed, making sure I don’t enter while the shooting light is on. I’ll hover nearby, making sure the stage manager knows I’m there. The director is focused on the principal actors, cameras, and lights – not you. It’s the stage manager’s job to place the background – they’re your point person at all times.

Step 7: I watch and learn! Like I mentioned a few days ago, the main reason I do soap background is to absorb how the main actors work. I watch them rehearse, take note of the way they collaborate with the director and other actors, and marvel at how their commitment and skill. I never approach with questions – even if one of them approaches me to chat, I never talk acting. They could be called back any second – they don’t have time to get into a conversation.

Step 8: Once my scenes are wrapped, I double check with the stage manager to make sure I’m dismissed. If I am, I thank him/her and go home. No hovering to speak to actors or the director. They’re moving on, so I do too.
One final note that may perhaps be controversial, but it must be said. In my opinion, working background on a soap opera isn’t an acting job. When I do one of these jobs, I’m under no delusions that I’m there to act – I’m there to be breathing, moving furniture. Unlike films & TV shows, the focus of every scene is ALWAYS the main actors. There are no reaction close ups of the bystanders, no wide shots where they capture the crowd. I’m hired to walk around in the background. That’s it.

Still, it’s fun work if you can get it.

Any questions? Post them below!

1 comment:

  1. Hello. I appreciate your post. I have done background numerous times through Central Casting. Now that I'm SAG, I would like to do it more (the pay for Union is bumped up almost 3x that of non-union background).

    I recently submitted to do background for Days of Our Lives, and in the breakdown it mentions "Background for soaps is different than regular background." That confused me. Why is that? Is it because of the high-speed shooting structure of soap operas?

    Thank you for any further insight you can add.