ACTION

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By Sean Dietrich

I am on camera. There is a film crew standing around me. They are all wearing surgical masks. This is my first day out of quarantine, and we are shooting a screen test for a commercial. Each member of the crew is holding important equipment like cameras, light reflectors, enormous microphones, boom stands, chocolate glazed donuts, etc.

The first thing they tell you when you’re on TV is that you have to “act naturally.” No matter what kinds of off-the-wall things a director tells you to do, no matter what kinds of skimpy clothes they make you wear, acting naturally is key.

But otherwise, when you’re on a video shoot, basically all you do is say the same line all day until the words are floating in your subconscious and you aren’t sure how to say them anymore. The sentences get jumbled in your mind and start coming out wrong.

For example, there are 39,021 wrong ways to say these six words: “Call for a free quote today!”

DIRECTOR: Aaannnddd… Action!”

ME: Call quotes for today!

DIRECTOR: [bad word].

Also, the director is always giving explicit instructions for my facial movements. “Gimme that wide SMILE!” “No not THAT smile! The other smile! Show me all your teeth!” “Raise your eyebrows!” “We’re selling insurance, not caskets!”

In a lot of ways, being on TV is like being in the third-grade musical from hell. You know how at school performances parents are always frantically whispering from their seats in the audience, reminding their children to smile, stand up straight, and quit digging in their underpants? Well, it’s the same way on camera, only the person reminding me not to dig in my pants is a man in a safari shirt who deeply respects Sidney Pollack.

“Don’t walk so stiff!” says the director. “And try to sorta swoop your head when you say, ‘auto insurance.’ Is that food on your shirt? For crying out loud, CUT!”

But hey, this is all just part of being an actor. It goes with the territory.

Until today, my most major dramatic role was in a middle school musical. I was the lead character. In the second act—this is true—I completely forgot my lines. Not just some of my lines, all my lines.

Since I was the main character, the show could not go on. The whole middle-school play was essentially over. They brought the house lights up, and the parents had to go home. The auditorium emptied and I could hear my aunt cussing at my uncle for laughing.

Anyway, today nobody’s laughing because I’m a true pro. On the set, for instance, there are many high-tech electronics that cost more than the International Space Station, and I haven’t tried to chew any of them.

Like the little flying drone camera that captures shots while flying in the air. It looks like a miniature assault helicopter with a camera lens mounted on the front.

The drone follows me wherever I go. Its propellers are so sharp they could turn a watermelon into pink-colored humidity. If the man operating the drone’s remote control wanted to kill me, he could simply fly the drone into my neck, and the last thought to ever go through my head would be about incredible savings on auto insurance.

When you’re on camera, you’ll also overhear the crew constantly analyzing each tiny thing about you, it’s part of their job. You hear things about yourself that you’d never expect to hear.

“Why is he hunching his shoulders?” “What’s up with his hair?” “Hey, what if we get him to take his clothes off and ride naked on a tire swing?”

My wife is in the background trying to remind me to stay calm and relaxed. But I can tell, deep down, she is excited about this camera crew business. Right now she is filming the whole thing with her cell phone camera.

Behind her is my mother-in-law, who is also watching, since we are filming in her backyard. Each new pair of eyes adds a little bit of added pressure, so that whenever I give a smile, I look like I’ve just escaped from a penal institution.

“Act natural, Sean!”

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do when you’re being filmed is to walk naturally. Directors love to see you walk. This really gets them going. They wake up in the mornings thinking about all the classic Hollywood walking styles out there.

The problem is, I am not widely known for my walking. So the director has to keep reminding me to loosen up. But this is very hard for me because I come from evangelical people with a long history of constipation.

“What’s wrong with him?” a crew member says.

“Act natural!”

“Loosen up!”

“Is that how you walk?”

“SMILE!”

So here I am, trying my best to walk without having seizures, mid-stride, while carrying a prop guitar over my shoulder, wearing “hair product” and listening for the director’s instructions such as: “NO! NO! DON’T LOOK AT THE DRONE, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” Not even when the drone is flying with its propellers a few inches from my jugular.

Another thing about being on camera is that between shots, people on the set are always adjusting your clothing and talking about you like you’re not there.

“His jacket is all screwed up.”

“It’s not his jacket, he just has lopsided shoulders.”

“What’s up with that hair? Did he sleep underneath a rug last night?”

“Okay, Sean, let’s take it from the top one more time. Ready? Aaannnddd… Action!”

Call free today for quote a. I need a beer.

 Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South.

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