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Hand-Ball! : A Day In The Life Of A New Actor

Hand-ball: [In soccer]:- touching of the ball with the hand or arm, constituting a foul. (Courtesy of trusty old Google)

I have received a couple of encouraging messages via inbox, text and verbally about this blog. Thank you. (But I wish you could type all these on the Comments tab.)

One such feedback that caught my attention was that of someone who said that the blog articles help her understand things about our (acting) world that she wouldn’t as a non-actor have known or bothered to find out about. She realizes how helpful this knowledge is while relating with a friend or family member who is in the acting business. It is this that inspired me to imagine myself as a tour guide for an ‘actor-tourist’ on set.

So this article today is very basic. Assume with me for a moment that you are a new actor going on set for your very first time in an East African country. Congratulations by the way; that is a BIG MOMENT!

Ok; it’s just before dawn and your pick- up time is 4a.m. Of course it’s your first day so you are either over-excited or plain nervous, having had nightmares that you might be late so you woke up at 2 a.m. A principled actor would have woken up at 3.30 a.m. to be ready by 4 a.m. However an experienced actor who has given into the syndrome would wake up at 4.30 a.m…You will soon gather why.

Your designated driver didn’t call you until 5 a.m. and arrived at 5.30 a.m., one and half hours later. You cannot be furious with him for two main reasons. Firstly, he probably went to bed at 3 a.m. since he had to transport people from Westlands to Eastlands, Kibra to Rongai, Athi River to Kikuyu. If his route was on a main road, he must have driven for about 200 km. Or perhaps he had a three hour drive like from Nairobi to Nakuru. Secondly, the dude earns much more than you! The van probably belongs to him and he hires it out to the production team for not less than 10k a day, assuming it’s a low-budget production. He also gets not less than 5k as labour, if it’s still the same said low-budget production. Be warned in advance that this is a salary that you as an actor will begin to see only in ‘high-budget’ productions.

Finally, you arrive on set. Some dread-locked neat guy or short haired neat guy (They are always neat) comes to you- furious. He is the 1st Assistant Director so try and swallow it up. He has to demonstrate control. His work is to schedule the filming and make sure the schedule is adhered to. Time is (supposed to be) his main concern. Someone else will come with a piece of paper and depending on how kind they are, you might get a copy .Of course the wardrobe and continuity people were too tired to take theirs last night so like a school girl trying to finish her homework in class, they will hurriedly go through it as they have breakfast. That document is the film call sheet and can be your best friend as an actor. We Kenyans as you know suck at verbal communication so you might as well read the program and find out what is supposed to be happening, yourself.

The sun is now up and you look forward to enjoying your first shoot. You are amazed that you have three scenes and you are happy that you will shoot all of them today and go back to your day job in the afternoon. Even though it’s now 9 .35 a.m. and you still haven’t started probably because:

 A star actor is late and they can’t reach him/her through the mobile phone;

 Your fellow actors don’t have their lines and are still cramming;

 KPLC is really enjoying the power monotony so you are waiting for someone to bring fuel to start the generator.


Just for kicks, let’s flow with one of those assumptions. The actors now have their lines and the director is ready for you. However the camera guys put a circle glass in front of their eyes and look straight at the sun. The director of photography (D.O.P, is what you will hear people call him. Act like you know) has refused to shoot because the shot is ‘hot’ and has to wait for a cloud to cover the sun.

Finally the weather is favorable and they call you on set. You are still cheerful and optimistic. Your few scenes were supposed to end at 9.30 a.m. but you calculate they will now end at 11.30 a.m. At least it’s still morning, you reason. You go on set and find them prepping for something completely different. You ask the AD about it and they tell you the actress (kumbe) who was late and had refused to pick up finally arrived and they have to finish with her since she has another production that needs her in two hours and she plays a main character. Breathe. It’s never that serious.

Now you have loosened up. You have probably recited the lines to yourself so many times- you hadn’t realized there were so many ways of saying it. You have dozed off and woken up a couple of times. You have noticed the ‘behind-camera’ drama. Someone was going out with someone but they just broke up. Someone in the crew has promised to give an attractive extra (back ground actor) a job so he is taking her home tonight. Someone is gossiping about the producer. She has worked with that production company the longest but she is encouraging the relatively new workers to protest on her behalf. Yawa, child, breathe.

The 1st AD is actually a nice guy when he is not yelling orders. He has somehow apologized for the delay and made you see the bigger picture. He has also promised that your scene will be shot immediately after lunch. You can see the director and producer catching up. You want to go over and say hi and introduce yourself but you are too timid. They seem so ‘up there’ and wouldn’t notice you. Well, I wish you had tried anyway as most directors are usually extra friendly to all actors- regardless of your big or small role.

You are finally on set. The camera assistant and editor come running to the director,D.O.P and 1st AD. They discuss for 15 minutes. You do not understand what they are saying. The most repeated word from their whispers is ‘hand-ball’ or slang it up to ‘handee’. The Director is now smoking openly. (He wasn’t supposed to do it on set but that’s the least of his worries). Another 20 minutes of running around. Tempers flaring. Actors who had left being recalled, then the previous scene is re-taken.

…To be continued.

About Aroji Otieno

Observing - LIVING - Feeling

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