Episode 10 – The art of directing Background Actors with Alexander Salazar

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In this episode we talk with Alexander Salazar about the role of the 2nd 2nd AD and the art of directing Background Actors.
Alexander Salazar (@directedbysalazar on instagram) is a filmmaker and Assistant Director from Washington state, who graduated with a Bachelors in Film & Television Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles before moving to New Orleans to work on a wide range of independent and studio films. After working on numerous shows as a Production Assistant, Alex soon joined the Directors Guild and began working as a 2nd 2nd AD and Key 2nd AD. Some of his credits include Happy Death Day 2U, The Highwaymen, Yellowstone: Season 2, Queen of the South: Season 4, as well as the upcoming films Power and Bill & Ted: Face The Music. In addition to his work as an AD, Alex has directed two feature films, including the award-winning Amazon film “Danger, Dames & Dangerous Games” and “A Lesson In Cruelty”.

Apps mentioned in the podcast

Weather

Group Text

Books Mentioned in the podcast

What to include in your speech to Background Actors

Whenever you have a day in your production that involves Background Actors or “BG” one of the things the AD staff may handle is giving a speech to this group of people. Typically this speech is given by a 2nd 2nd AD or Background PA and is helpful so that things run smoothly and the BG know what to expect and where to go.

Below I have listed 10 things to include in your speech to Background Actors:

  1. Read or Summarize the scene(s) that the BG will be involved in. Background Actors are there to “ACT” and while they may not need the sides/script knowing the motivation of the main characters around them can be helpful on certain occasions. Let the BG know if and when they should react or respond to the main action.
  2. Explain continuity and starting positions. If you have a long complicated scene that involves a lot of coverage this will be especially important. Stress the importance of going back to your one when the ADs say back to one when a scene has cut. There may be occasions that BG need to start or stop their action by the cue of an AD or by listening/watching the action in front of them.
  3. Explain how to pantomime. Believe it or not most beginning BG will not get this right off the bat. Explain that whispering can be picked up by the sound mixer and it is not the same thing. Watermelon, Watermelon, Watermelon…. always does the trick for realistic pantomiming.
  4. Discuss any safety concerns. Remind the BG that they are on a film set and there is lots of heavy equipment spread throughout. If someone says points they should pay attention and watch their head. If there is a stunt sequence or road work this is a good opportunity to stress where they can and can not stand and how important that is to their safety.
  5. Discuss noise levels. If your BG are working close to set or the set is inside its good to remind them to keep their talking to a minimal and silent when rolling.
  6. Explain where things are. Show the BG where crafty, bathrooms, holding and set are. Be careful to use film terms such as the technical names of the trailers as that may confuse some. Stress the importance of remaining in holding and not wondering off.
  7. Talk about crafty. Once you have shown the BG where crafty is its a good idea to lay some ground rules….especially if they are sharing crafty with the cast/crew. They should not be filling their pockets to take stuff home and be respectful of the area.
  8. Give instructions regarding paperwork. Remind the BG that they may need to give their payroll sheet sometimes called a skin to another dept if they are borrowing wardrobe or props. This is a way to make sure these items are returned to the proper dept. Explain to the BG that they need to sign out with a designated AD or PA with that paperwork. This is especially helpful for new BG who may not understand the drill just yet.
  9. Discuss meals. Depending on when the BG arrived and how long they are planning to be shot will be part of the determining factors if and when your production plans to feed them. It is a good idea to let the BG know the approx time they will eat, that they will eat after the crew and where they can sit. While the breakfast or first meal may be available to the crew are you going to allow BG to participate?
  10. Talk about set etiquette. There may be occasions where the actors on set are famous. This will be a good time to talk about the importance of BG to not talk to the Actors or ask for a picture or autograph.

The Role of the 2nd 2nd AD

The 2nd 2nd AD (sometimes called 3rd AD outside the US) is primarily responsible for being the extension to the 1st AD on set. In general a 2nd 2nd AD works with background actors, supervises production assistants and sometimes wrangles talent.

The thing I love about a good 2nd 2nd AD is that they can really help the 1st AD with very complicated scenes that involve stunts, mass amounts of extras or scenes that take place in difficult shooting conditions.

Below are 5 things to consider when working as a 2nd 2nd AD:

  1. Setting background actors is an art form. This is one of your main areas of responsibility so take it and run with it. Make it the most believable scene of extras crossing the street anyone has ever seen. When you are giving background actors direction…. consider giving them a storyline so they can get into character and come up with creative crosses that reflect everyday life.
  2. Delegate lock-ups to PAs and the Key Set PA. Think about how you can work with the Key Set PA to determine the best possible lock-ups at least 10-15 minutes before the lock-up occurs. Its too late to think about lock-ups once the camera is rolling…so always be thinking about this ahead of time.
  3. Accurate Production Reports are a must. As a 2nd 2nd AD you will most likely be responsible for filling out the Production Report or PR or at the very least managing parts of the PR. These documents can look different on various sets but the main thing to note is LUNCH TIMES and OUT TIMES of the crew. While it can be overwhelming to collect out times of a large crew, this can be made easier though using dept sign out sheets.  Many PRs have a place to put important notes like if someone got hurt or if a scene was missed. Throughout your day it is a good idea to keep track of important things like this so you can add them to the PR later in the day.
  4. Work as an extension to the 1st AD. The 2nd 2nd AD is oftentimes the only person other than the 1st AD on set that really knows what is going on in terms of “making the day”. If you want to really excel at this job always be anticipating what the 1st AD needs and delegate information to the PAs. You can ask dept heads if they are ready for the next scene, shot or day and even advance to various sets to keep an eye on the art department.   If the 1st AD is having to put out 10 different fires…then consider yourself as someone who is helping to put out those fires and lighten the load a little bit.
  5.  Backup the Key 2nd AD when available. There may be days with no background and one or two talent. Use this as an opportunity to help the Key 2nd with any work that may be piling up with future days coming up.

Software to manage extras from skin to wrap

Managing extras can be one of the most challenging things for any production. Its one thing to deal with a few extras on an occasional basis, however when you are on a show that is having to manage hundreds or in some cases thousands of extras…you want a system that can run smoothly and effectively. For decades productions have relied on antiquated technology using carbon copy skins that really make the process all the more challenging. Having to track paperwork, props and dealing with out times has been a source of pain and frustration for both extras and production.

Current problems of the typical paper system:
*Extends Late Nights
*Slows Call Times
*Long Check-Out Lines
*Missing, Incomplete, Sloppy Documents
*Invalid Tax Incentive Info
*Causes Grievances
*Messy for Payroll and Accounting
*Extra’s Complaints
*P.A. and A.D. Time, Effort Wasted
*Poor Communication
*No Oversight
*Morale Killing
*Limiting Legal & Payroll Compliance

RABS is the only app to manage extras from Skin to Wrap. 
*You can onboard extras in seconds.
*You can wrap instantly, all documents completed, costumes and props returned with an automatic breakdown
*Hot-cost savings, vouchers, docs, tax incentives, digitally delivered to accounting.
*Cost $600 per week and $3 per extra.

Schedule a Demo: runabetterset.com/demo

7 reasons why your Low Budget film should go DGA Signatory

I often get asked to create schedules and budgets for films in development and one of the questions I will often ask the producer(s) is what unions they want to budget for. Many times SAG is a no brainer no matter the budget but often times convincing producers to budget for IATSE, DGA, TEAMSTERS and WGA can be a challenge. Many times the reasons producers don’t want to join these unions is because of paperwork, limited finances and having to be under the scrutiny of a union. I put together a list of reasons why producers might want to reconsider….

7 reasons why your Low Budget Film show should go DGA Signatory:

1. Choosing to make your project DGA signatory will allow your Director the ability to Join the DGA if they are not currently a member.

2. Your film will be eligible to be entered into the DGA Awards.

3. You will be required to hire DGA UPMs and ADs (1st, 2nd and 2nd 2nd) thus ensuring an experienced AD staff. Now yes you can (might be able to) find experienced Non-Union ADs and UPMs however it is possible that they may or may not be as experienced as someone in the union and this could potentially lead to problems.

Example: You hire a Non-Union 1st AD who has only done one or two features and they may or may not not know how to keep your set safe or on schedule and you end up needing to shoot more days thus causing you to spend thousands of dollars.

4. If a movie is over a million dollars, some financiers will prefer that your movie is bonded. Some bond companies will require that your film join certain unions such as IATSE and DGA to limit the risk involved in making the picture.

5. You have access to a vast network of possible DGA Directors, ADs and UPMS around the United States to employ. Check out the list(s) HERE.

6. It may not be as expensive as you thought. For films under $500K the rates are negotiable. Essentially you would be paying the fringes (pension and health etc) on 3-4 crew members in addition to your cast. Check out the rates HERE.

7. It may not be as difficult as you thought. Yes you have to fill out an application and submit information about the film…but you are most likely doing this for SAG etc. What’s one more application?

Curious about making your project DGA Signatory? Follow these simple steps…

Step 1.
Visit the Employers section of the DGA website.


Step 3.
Download the appropriate signatory package on the right hand side.
You may need the following documents
  • Name of Producer Company (company info, llc etc)
  • Project Title
  • Type of project (Theatrical Feature, Movie for Television, Television Series, etc.)
  • Name of Director
  • Principal Photography Start Date
  • Project location
  • Budget
  • Intended Initial Release
  • Company contact information: Name, Title, telephone, email, website

Note:
There is a section on the DGA Application where you will list the Director, UPM and ADs. Its important to note that for most applications you will need to hire members in good standing who are listed on the perspective Qualification List. There are some project types where you may be eligible to hire someone who is not listed in a certain category etc. You can always fill out the crew you know for now ie… (Director and UPM) and then submit the AD names at a later time once it gets closer to filming. If you have any questions about the application don’t be afraid to call the DGA and ask.

Step 4.
Email the packet to signatories@dga.org.

Once your signatory application has been received, a signatory rep will be able to review and let you know what additional items are needed for the signatory process. Should you have questions about the signatory application’s status once sent, contact a Signatories Assistant, at (310) 289-2094.

Step 5.
Upon return of the completed and signed signatory application and forms, the Guild will determine if the producer company presented is the appropriate signatory entity, based on the information provided. Further information may be required.

Step 6.
Signatory status will be given to the Producer at the time the Guild is confident that the necessary signatory and financial assurances’ documents have been provided. The signatory and financial assurances documents will be circulated to the appropriate parties, signed by the authorized representative of the signatory Producer, and delivered to the Guild prior to the commencement of Principal Photography. A payroll deposit is required. It is important to discuss the delivery of the payroll deposit with the Signatory Representative early in the signatory process.

Filling out “The Exhibit G”

When working on a film set and working with actors using a SAG agreement you will be required to fill out an Exhibit G each day of filming. This form can be intimidating if you have never filled out one before but once you get the hang of it, its not that difficult.  Follow this is easy-to-use guide below.

Steps to filling out the “G”:

  1. Fill in necessary information.
    Picture Title
    Company
    Shooting Location (Today’s shooting address)
    Production # (SAG will assign you one)
    Date (Today’s Date)
    Phone Number (A Producer or person responsible for the SAG contracts)
    Is Today a day off (yes or no)
    Production Type (MP = Motion Picture, TV = Television, MOW = Movie of the Week, Industrial = Corporate, Other = Commercial etc) write this info to the right of this section,
  2. Fill in information for each actor / stunt person
    # – Cast ID
    Cast – Actor’s full name
    Minor? – Are they a minor. Write Y for yes
    Character – The name of the role for the actor.Note the above information can be pre-filled out the day before to make the process run smoother on the actual filming day.

3. Fill in what the actor is doing in the Status section

Status – This is the column where you indicate what the actors are doing.
R = Rehearsal / FT = Fitting / TR = Travel Day / H = Hold / T = Test / SW = Start Work / W = Work / WF = Work Finish / SWF = Start Work Finish

4. Fill in the times, allowances and penalties for each actor / stunt person

****All times can be inputted using regular time or military time.****

Report Makeup Wardrobe – This is the time the actor arrived for HMU & wardrobe. If the actor arrived earlier than their call time you would simply list their call time from the call sheet, however if they arrived later than their call time this is important to note.

Report on Set – This is the time the actor arrived on set.

Dismiss on Set – This is the time the actor was wrapped on set.

Dismiss Make Up Wardrobe – This is typically 15 minutes after the actor has wrapped on set. If for some reason the actor takes longer to get out of HMU and Wardrobe you can adjust this time, however 15 minutes is always given.

ND Meal – This is an abbreviation for Non Deductible and it means that the actor will not receive a meal penalty if they take a breakfast when called in before the main call time.

ND meal in – The time the actor begin their ND Meal

ND meal out – The time the actor finished their ND Meal

1st meal – This refers to Lunch and is due six hours after the general call time.

1st meal In – The official time lunch was called

1st meal out – Typically 30 minutes after “last man” was called

2nd meal In – The official time 2nd meal was called

2nd meal out – Typically 30 minutes after “last man” was called

*Note 2nd meal is typically something that only happens a few times on a project and not every day.

Travel time – This is the section that is primarily used if the shooting location is outside the studio zone or if you have flown an actor from out of state. You do NOT need to fill this section out if the actors are local and shooting within the Zone you are allotted.

Leave for location – The time the actor left their house or hotel to the location.

Arrive at location – The time the actor got to location that day.

Leave location – The time the actor left the location that day.

Arrive at studio – The time the actor arrived at their house or hotel.

Stunt Adj. – This section is primarily used for stunt performers, however it can be used for actors as well. The rates are variable depending the contract.

Minors tutoring time – This is the total number of hours a Minor spent in school. This may not be necessary if filming during the summer etc.

No. Outfits Provided – Did the actor provide any wardrobe and bring them to set? Use a number value in this column.1, 2 etc

Forced Call -This is a very expensive column so beware. Checking this box means that you violated an Actor’s turnaround time. Make sure to consult the Jefford Rules or Sag’s website for proper turnaround times.

MPVs – Was the lunch or 2nd meal late or non-existent. Refer to the SAG contract to see how to rate this. Use a number value in this column 1, 2, etc

Performers signature – At the end of the day you will collect the Actor’s signature. This is the hardest part of filling out the G. Make sure actors (especially beginning actors) know to find you before leaving so they can sign out with you.

Download this handy XLS editable Exhibit G.