There's a saying, possibly apocryphal, that actors act for free, but get paid to wait. If you've ever spent any time on a set, this will probably make a lot of sense to you; a day on the set usually features extended periods of boredom, punctuated by brief moments of terror — oh, wait, that's something else. My bad. Let me try again: filming a television show or movie usually long hours of inaction, broken up by all-too brief moments of actually working. Contrary to popular belief, film sets just aren't that exciting (unless we're blowing something up), and though a job where you clock in for 12 hours but actually "work" for 5 probably sounds awesome, most actors I know (including myself) would rather work straight through and perform all day, if given the option.
Different actors do different things during these breaks in filming. Depending on how long they are, some of us will go to our dressing rooms to relax or learn lines. Others will go to our cast chairs to read a book or learn lines. There's always the trip to craft service to graze while we learn lines, too.
My time on Eureka this season didn't feature that many extended breaks, because the assistant directors did a pretty great job building a schedule that was efficient and focused. There were only a couple days where I had long hours of waiting (which I put to questionably good use), but I pretty much went to work, worked, and went home.
Most of my scenes this season were with Neil Grayston and Felicia Day because [SPOILER]. The three of us are, as the kids say, wired, so during our breaks in filming, it was pretty common for us to retire to our cast chairs with our phones, where we'd sit together and read amusing twitter messages to each other, reference each other in our simultweets, and do other activities that, to an untrained observer, appeared solitary, when they actually weren't. (Erica Cerra was constantly teasing us about sitting within a few feet of each other and talking without ever making eye contact.) It was all amusing and fun, especially when we made stupid cell phone videos together.
One day, though, we worked at a location where there was no internet or cell coverage. As it happened, it was also a day where pretty much everyone in the cast was filming the same scene. During our breaks, we all hung out together and, unable to connect to the Internet, had actual face to face conversations that didn't involve LOLCats or some funny comment on Twitter.
It was, in other words, just like the old days, and … well, I really liked it. I felt a connection to my friends and fellow actors that was stronger than usual, that I didn't even realize I'd been missing. I recall wonderful conversations with Joe Morton about going to see the movies in an actual theater versus watching them at home, and fascinating conversations with Niall Matter about his time working on oil rigs in Edmonton. It was one of my favorite days on the set this past season.
Since that day, about a month ago, I've made conscious efforts to turn off my cell phone, get offline, and spend more time back in the analog world. The first few weeks of this were tough, because I kept feeling like I was missing something important (and there have been countless times I've thought, "Oh! I have to Twitter that!" only to realize that I can't. This is not a bad thing.) I have to tell you, I'm happier for it. It's really nice and quite convenient to be plugged in all the time, but, for me at least, it comes at a price that I wasn't even aware of until I wasn't paying it. If you can handle going offline, even if it's only for an afternoon, I highly recommend it; there's a lot of people and world out there that you don't even know you're missing.