Here We Go

They say this on set all the time.

“Here we go!”

Over and over.

“Here we go!”

The first assistant director shouts it into his microphone.

“Here we go!”

The production assistants repeat it.

“Here we go!”

An echo, bouncing around the set, coming from anyone wearing a walkie-talkie.

“Here we go!  Here we go!  Here we go!”

Then nothing happens.  Nothing.  No one starts filming.  No one records.  No one acts.  Nothing, in fact, transpires at all.  Why not?  It’s simple.  “Here we go” means nothing.  It’s not a recognized cue.

In the theatre, a stage manager gives the actors “Five minutes!” before calling “Places!”  If the stage manager calls places too soon before the curtain rises, some actors will get angry.  Waiting to go on can be a nerve wracking ordeal for those performers who get jittery before a show.  I am not one of them.  To look at me backstage, you would never guess I was about to go on.  You might find me having a political discussion with another actor in the wings.  When I hear my cue, I’ll say “Hold on, I’m in this” and rush on to the stage.

By the way, missing an entrance is a surprisingly easy thing to do.  Once while in an Agatha Christie play, I was at the back of the house watching the performance.  It’s something we often do.  Actors.  We like to watch scenes that we are not in, particularly if there is a talented actor whose work we admire, or if it’s an especially good scene.  That’s how I first began to study Hamlet.  I was cast in a smaller role, and would stand in the wings watching the guy playing Hamlet.  I saw how he was sculpting the character.  I could tell what he was doing, and why.  It made the role less daunting, and I began to think that perhaps I could play Hamlet myself one day.  Just by watching someone else do it.

The Agatha Christie play was engrossing.  I was curious about the scene I was watching.  Even though I knew the show, I found myself wondering what would happen next.  Then the door bell rang, and I realized the character on the other side of the door was mine!  I turned to the actress watching the play next to me and said “That’s my entrance!” and bolted around the back of the theatre.  Fortunately, there were a few lines of dialogue before the doorbell was answered, so I was able to fly there just in the nick of time.

On a set, when the sound person starts recording, the call is usually “Rolling!”  When the cameras start filming, the call is usually “Picture’s up!”  When the director wants the actors to begin, the call is usually “Action!”  No one says rolling or picture’s up or action until the sound person is actually recording, the cameras are actually filming, or the director wants the actors to begin.

“Action!” is said only once, and when it is heard, people listen.  They know that action means action.

“Rolling!” and “Picture’s up!” are often repeated by all the production assistants with walkie-talkies.  Sometimes a set includes people outside, across the street, or in cars a block away, so the repetition is helpful.  When everyone hears the relayed “Rolling!” or “Picture’s up!” they listen.  They know what those calls mean.

There are other calls which command attention.  “Quiet on the set!” is self explanatory.  “Stand by!” as well.

It is only the ubiquitous “Here we go!” which people ignore.  For good reason.  Because it means nothing.  It is regularly shouted several times, each time being echoed by various crew members.  After five or six repetitions of “Here we go!” there is often some delay while they reload the film or adjust the lights or change some piece of action they are about to film.  Then the whole process begins anew.  Hollow cries of “Wolf!” disguised as here-we-gos reverberate around the attention-less set.  No one takes it seriously, because they know it has no meaning.

So, why does everyone say it?  Why does everyone repeat it?  It’s a perfect example of people mindlessly doing something for no apparent reason.  They hear other people on other sets saying it, so they pick up the habit of saying it themselves, without ever stopping to analyze why.

What could be the harm?  Well, aside from it being annoying, it can cost a production a great deal of money.  Every second on a film or tv set costs thousands of dollars.  Budgets can expand ridiculously through delays.  It is usually on the less organized sets where the here-we-gos are out of control.  Filling the air with static.  Creating a casual, laid back atmosphere, where the cast and crew fall into the attitude that nothing is ready to happen yet, so they keep socializing.  They joke around.  Pull out their smart phones.  Allow their attention to drift.  It takes longer and longer to get them focused.  More and more cries of “Here we go!” before anyone actually does anything.

The job I worked on two days ago brought this to mind.  The director was a somewhat famous actor.  I’ve watched him on Thirtysomething and The West Wing.  Now he is directing a new tv show, or at least an episode of a new tv show.  He has an old-fashioned style of directing, which l loved, but which the crew was apparently not too crazy about.

Normally, the director is invisible.  He is off in some other room watching the actors on a monitor.  So much time is wasted with all the long distance communication.  Plus, there are so many union rules, and so many people standing around doing nothing.  The one guy has a job to move a certain cable.  No one else can touch the cable.  Only him.  For the rest of the time, when the cable does not need to be moved, he is standing around doing nothing.  Or joking with the other guys who are waiting for the one special light to be focused, or the one particular button to be pressed, or the one specific mic stand to be adjusted.  It’s madness, and no wonder it costs millions to make a movie.

There is a set procedure that these guys are used to.  Lots of delays while all the channels are cleared before anything can be done.  So, a crew is not likely to be happy when a somewhat famous actor who has been hired to direct an episode of the show they are working on has an old-fashioned directorial style.

In this case, he was yelling “Action!” himself.  Yes, I know.  Shocking.  What’s more, he wasn’t waiting for all the channels to be cleared before each take.  He was actually standing right there, watching the actors act in person.  Then he was changing the scheduled shots, based on what he was seeing happening right in front of him.  You know, like a director would.

I loved it.  It was so nice to hear a loud, clear voice issuing commands which were unquestionable.  We background actors knew exactly what he wanted from us, because he told us!  I know, crazy, right?

There was a wonderful moment when a small co-star actress had a little exchange with the two leading ladies.  After one take, the director jumped in and told the cameraman to focus on this little co-star actress.  To film her in close-up while she repeated something he saw her do in the take.  Something he liked.  He gave this girl a close-up, based solely on something she showed him in her performance.  That’s the kind of thing that makes an actor very happy indeed.

If only the first assistant wasn’t stubbornly clinging to the all-too-familiar un-rallying cry of “Here we go!”

Something happened to me on this job which might be a bit hard to believe, but true all the same.  While preparing for an upcoming audition,  I thought of using a clown routine I do with 4’ balloons, but realized the pump I use for that is in NY.  It’s the kind of pump which is meant for inflatable mattresses or pools or floating chairs which go in the pools.  I made a note to check the price and then maybe pick up a new one.

Well, the scene in this tv show I’ve been describing took place in a large home and garden store.  For the very first shot, the production assistant in charge of setting the background had me walk down one aisle, turn down another, and end up shopping in the pool section.

“Here, pick up a box.  Like you are looking for something.”

So I do, and the box I pick up holds the pump.  It’s on sale for $2.74.  Clearance.

Now if only finding an agent could be that easy.

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About anunperfectactor

Actor performer storyteller.
This entry was posted in Acting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Here We Go

  1. Clay says:

    Great observational talent. Perhaps start writing a humor column in one of the industry rags?

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