Back in 2016, I had the incredible opportunity to work on an episode of The Vampire Diaries during its final season. To date, it’s still one of the most interesting on set experiences I’ve ever had. In this post, I want to share with you a few lessons that I learned while working on The Vampire Diaries.
This is probably the most popular show I’ve ever worked on. It’s definitely the longest running show I’ve ever worked on. I appeared in Season 8 Episode 12. Prior to that, this show had already been running for nine and a half years and 166 episodes. It really felt like the cast and crew worked together like a well oiled machine because they had been doing it for so long. I do think the longevity of the show did contribute to a couple of the lessons that I learned which I’ll get to later. The first lesson, though, has to do with my audition.
When I got the audition, it was for a police officer who was interviewing a little girl about her missing mother. Since the audition was a self tape and I had the freedom to record it however I wanted, my first instinct was to do the audition sitting down at a desk. I’ve seen enough movies and tv shows, and I’m sure you have too, to know how a scene like this looks. A cop or a detective sitting across a desk from someone and having a conversation. We’ve all seen this a million times in movies and tv shows. So my instinct was to sit down, lean forward onto my desk, and talk to the little girl like this. Well, let me show you a screenshot from my audition video next to a screenshot from the show. My positioning is exactly the same. The framing is exactly the same.
My point here isn’t to tell you how much of a genius I am; I’ll save that for another video. My point is to tell you to follow your instincts. We’ve all seen enough content to know how a lot of these scenes should look. Especially these smaller scenes that move the story along. The co-star roles, the supporting roles.
But here’s the $10,000 question, if I had done the audition standing up rather than sitting, would I still have booked it? Who knows? There’s no way to go back in time and find out. Some people will tell you that standing or sitting makes no difference because what happens here is most important. Well, I sort of agree with that. Yes, what’s happening in your face and especially your eyes is the most important part of an audition. But I would argue that body language is a huge part of how we communicate as human beings and thus should also be a huge part of our characters and our acting. Sitting up conveys a different message than leaning forward. So was learning forward on a desk what got me the part in The Vampire Diaries? Probably not. But it might have helped. And it definitely didn’t hurt.
Some shows will feel much faster paced compared to others. And I’m not talking about the pace of the story when you’re watching the show. I’m talking about when you’re a member of the cast or crew on set. The pace of the production and how quickly they got scenes set up and shot was faster on The Vampire Diaries than any other show that I’ve worked on to date. As an actor, I was a little caught off guard by it and if I wasn’t as prepared as I was, it definitely would have thrown me off.
So here’s what happened. They put us in a production van to bring us to set. As soon as the van pulled up, I think it was the first AD that greeted us at the curb. He introduced himself and told us to follow him inside the building where we would be shooting. Once we got inside, he had a sit in the chairs that we would be sitting in for out scene. And what felt like milliseconds after we sat down, I heard him say “Okay, first team rehearsal! Rehearsal’s up! And ACTION!”
I was definitely a little caught off guard because I was still taking in the scenery, looking at my desk and the police station set that we were in. It took me a second to gather myself and remember what my line was. But of course I did and we got through the rehearsal. The point is that because they were running at such a high pace and so efficiently, I, as an actor, needed to make sure that I was ready to perform at all times.
Time is money on a movie or television set and when your number is called you better be ready to perform immediately.
The last lesson I learned that day came from watching Paul Wesley and Candice King who play Stefan and Caroline on the show. It was interesting to see how loose and relaxed they were on set. They would be joking around and laughing with each other in between takes. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of other actors do that, I’ve done that myself. But for me, when I see the crew getting close to being ready to shoot, I kind of get myself out of the joking around headspace and try to put myself into the scene and prepare a little bit before we start shooting.
With Paul and Candice, they would be joking around with each other until the very moment before the director called action. There was one particular take where they were getting ready to shoot and I was sitting there already focused and ready to go. Candace and Paul were standing on their marks joking and laughing. The first AD yells out “Roll camera roll sound!” They’re still laughing with each other. They do the slate: Scene 15 Take 1 A mark. Still laughing. “Camera set.” Still laughing. “Aaaannnnndd. ACTION!”. Somewhere in between “And” and “Action”, Paul and Candice instantly got into character. And then did the scene perfectly. Their transition from joking around to complete focus was seamless and perfect and looked so effortless. It’s as if they’d been doing it for years. :) Which is exactly the point.
They’ve been doing this show for eight seasons, over 160 episodes. Of course they’re comfortable and relaxed and can get into character quickly. It probably feels like tying their shoes to them. This is just another example of something, like anything else in life, that gets easier the more and more that you do it. So if you’re a newer actor who still gets nervous in front of a camera, what’s the solution? Do more of it. Keep going to class. Start recording yourself with a camera at home. Whatever you can do to make the feeling of being in front of a camera feel normal.