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Do Actors Need to Stay On Set When Not Shooting Their Scenes?

Do Actors Need to Stay On Set When Not Shooting Their Scenes?

Film sets are glamorous places to be. Or that is the impression we get. The reality is quite far from that: a set is a busy, sometimes crowded place. Actors come and go for individual shots or whole scenes. It really is a very ‘bitty’ process for screen actors, who need to be on call just about all the time during their shooting sessions.

Do Actors Have to Stay on Set When Not Shooting Their Scenes?

Screen actors are required to be on set when their scenes are being shot, whether it’s in a studio or on location. The set is the whole space in which a program, film, or commercial is shot. Actors are not busy in front of the camera all the time and stay in their trailers or the green room between scenes or shots, so they don’t have to stay on set between scenes. It is only when the director wraps the shoot for the day that the actors leave the studio or location.

Understanding ‘Set’

Film set with green screen scene.

A film or television program is either shot in a studio or on location. A studio is, essentially, a controlled, indoor environment that can be controlled and rearranged. Walls can be built, spaceships created or rooms recreated. Where the program or film is being shot in the studio is the ‘set’.

Shot of Studio Set

Production team crew filming outdoors.

Shooting ‘on location’ means to shoot the program or film at a place that is outside the studio, in the real world, and which usually has a function other than being used for a film. This may be a public park or a palace. Sections of the location are arranged so that the cameras, lights, crew, and actors can move about and shoot different scenes.

This area, where the action takes place, is called the ‘set’. Not everyone can be on the set at the same time, because it is often just not big enough.

Scheduling Movies Shoots

The most expensive stage of making a movie is shooting. To keep costs down as much as possible, the production companies organize their shooting in the most cost-efficient way possible.

Shot of Shooting Schedule

Actress and production team filming outdoors.

If a location costs a lot of money to hire, for example, then they will try to pack in as much shooting in the place in as short a time as possible. If an actor’s fee is high, then her scenes will be scheduled as close together as possible.

Another problem is that not all locations or sets are used all at once in a film. Often, the action begins at one location, moves away, then comes back again. Similarly, it is unlikely that one actor will be in every single scene in a film.

To accommodate locations and actors, a film is not shot in consecutive order of the story of the film. Rather than begin with shot 1, then go on to shot 2 and shot 3, etc., shots 1,3,22-30 and 65 may be shot at one time. Films are shot in chunks out of sequence. This means that actors are required on set for ‘bits’ of time and not consistently.

Acting for Soaps

Behind the scene of a soap film.

Actors in a soap opera have a different pattern of shooting from many other actors, especially film actors. A soap actor will go to work just about every day, arriving at the studio, or on location, early in the morning. Their scenes will usually be shot in the afternoon, but the morning will be spent preparing, rehearsing, and doing technical runs.

This means that an actor in a soap opera doesn’t have a chance to leave the set when their scenes are finished, because they are busy the whole day. For them, it is either a full day on set or a full day off.


Production team setting up a scene in Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Actors in a movie have a much more ‘on-and-off’ role in shooting than soap opera actors. They will be called onto the set for a certain period. During that time, their various scenes will be shot. Sometimes, bits of one scene and a whole other scene may be shot on one day.

You may think that an actor arrives on set, puts on some make-up and a costume, shoots a few scenes, and is then done. The role is actually a bit more complicated.

Actor in Front of Camera

Director explaining scene to actor in a suit.

An actor cannot just go straight into shooting a scene. They will need to rehearse at least, which may even begin with learning lines. The director may need an actor to walk through a scene, then make some adjustments. Between all of this, the actor will not need to be on set but must be on call for when the crew is ready to shoot again.

Even after shooting the last scene for the day, an actor will need to stay on set for at least a short time, in case the director wants to shoot another take. Sometimes, the director may want to add something to a scene, or even another scene.

Because of the possible variations, an actor can usually only leave the set when the director calls it a wrap for the day.


A screen actor needs to be on set when individual shots from their scenes are shot. In between takes, or if adjustments are made, they will need to be close on hand. This means that an actor is not on the shooting set all the time, but can only leave the set for the day when the director calls a wrap.