Monday, November 28, 2016

HOLAwave: What To Do When On Location

[HOLAwave represents a series of guest blogs by industry insiders giving informative and educational tidbits for the Latino performer. They can range from acting and auditioning advice, tech tips, legal advice, marketing, producing tips, and so on. Get caught up in the wave– the HOLAwave.]

What To Do When On Location

At 5am, the alarm clock buzzes. It’s November in NYC and starting to get colder, so I snuggle closer to my girlfriend, trying to feed off her body heat and steal a couple of extra minutes in bed. Finally, I gather the nerve to kick off the blankets and get up. I’m all packed (did it the night before) and I’m just waiting for the car that has been hired to pick me up. At 6am on the nose, it’s there. Traffic's not bad, it only takes a few minutes get to the airport. I drop off my suitcase at the curbside check-in and I’m off to the gate. My seat is in the very first row, Business Class. There is a lot of leg room and the seat is large so I don’t feel like I’m sitting on top of the gentleman next to me. The flight attendant asks if I’d like to hang my jacket in the closet (I didn’t even know airplanes had closets) and what I’d like to drink.  She hangs my coat and returns with a cup of coffee. For breakfast, I’ve been given a choice between a hot Monte Cristo sandwich and a cold dish that I don’t recall (I fight back the urge to instinctively ask “is it free?”). 

When we land, there’s another driver waiting at the baggage claim for me with my name prominently displayed on his iPad (it always makes me feel important for about an instant when I see that). Then, with baggage in tow, we head for the car and he takes directly to the production office. At production, everyone is very nice, lots of “welcome aboard," and “happy to have you here.” I’m handed a stack of scripts and introduced to the costume designer. I follow her to the fitting room and for the next hour we play dress-up, determining how my character likes to look. She’s wonderful and very collaborative. I’m feeling excited, inspired and looking forward to reading the script for my first episode, which shoots tomorrow.

Thus ends day one of the 25 that I will spend on location filming the new Netflix series "Ozark". I’ve been cast in a fair-sized recurring role (due to legal constraints, I can’t say much more about the show). 

As El León in Netflix's
"Orange is the New Black".
Shooting today was tough though. It was a night shoot and production began at 5pm. We didn't even start shooting until about 8pm. Film and TV sets are notorious for rushing around to be ready to hold. (I like calling it, "Hurry up and wait"). It was an intricate shot, some special effects and special effect make-up for actors who were supposed to appear burned. We were shooting all night on a lake dock. By 10pm, the temperature had dropped to about 20 degrees and a biting wind was coming off the water. I was wrapped at 4am, but they kept shooting until 6am. We were all sore the next day from shivering in the cold. I’m told that we'll be picking up that scene in January (this makes me chuckle). 

One of the major differences of working on film rather than theater is the lack of rehearsal. For the most part, "rehearsal" on a film or TV series set consists of: “start here, dialogue, dialogue, end here”.  Therefore, most of the character discoveries one would make during a rehearsal process must be done before you arrive on set. Decisions on how your character walks, talks, reacts and their likes and dislikes must be specific and detailed. Most importantly, you must be confident in your choices. My acting teacher, Fred Kareman, always instilled in us the following: "Plan your work and work your plan.”  If you follow this simple rule, you will avoid a lot of stress.

In my down time, I try to develop my character as specifically as possible.  I ask the same questions we all do when creating a role:

Who am I?
Where am I?
Where did I just come from?
What do I want?  
Why do I want it?
What will happen if I don’t get it?
What must I overcome?

The more precisely I answer this questions, the more confident I'll feel when I step on set. Because I have made specific choices, it will give me the freedom to adjust any of my choices to fit what the director needs to fulfill the scene.

As Rafael in Fox's "Prison Break".
It’s always difficult being away from home for extended periods of time. We all have our lives back home that are upended when we leave. I miss my girlfriend, my dogs, my students, my stuff. Yet, these are the challenges that we need to be aware of when embarking on journeys in this industry.  

No matter how you put it, 25 days on location is a long time! I’m only scheduled to actually shoot five of those days, the rest is holding. It’s much safer and cost effective for production to put me up in a hotel (a very nice hotel, by the way, with a beautiful view of the city) than to fly me back and forth to NYC. We all know how airlines can be affected but the weather, so why risk it? This means there is quite a lot of down time.

On long location stays like this, I try to fill some of that time exploring the city and talking to locals (with the recent election, this has been even more interesting). For me, I find scheduling my time during the day helps me stay productive. I make a point of creating daily schedules for myself: gym, writing, reading, and a few hours to walk around town. The trick is to mitigate your free time so as not to get bored. Drinking helps too, haha. That being said, I’m off to the bar.

I hope you’ve found this informative and entertaining, and helpful for when you find yourself on tour or on location. 

Joseph Meléndez began his career on the stage performing on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and stages around the world before transitioning to on-camera work. He’s been seen on major television networks, from his recurring role on Fox’s "Prison Break", to guest star roles on CBS’s "Person of Interest", "Elementary" and "Blue Bloods"; NBC’s "The Blacklist", ABC’s "Pan Am", and Netflix’s "Orange is the New Black". His films include the blockbuster hit Fast Five, The Brave One, the award-winning independent films Runoff and Akron, and The Dark RiteHe has been teaching Meisner and On-Camera technique classes in New York and Los Angeles since 2010 and opened the Joseph Melendez Acting Studio in New York City. He is currently filming a recurring role in the upcoming Netflix series "Ozark". For more information, click here.

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