Your agent calls, you booked the job, but did you know it was shooting in water? Well, now you know. Your mind starts racing, you’ve never worked in water. Is it in a lake? A tank? Are you going to have to act underwater? Here’s some information to make sure that you show up to the set ready for a safe day of shooting.
First off, the most important thing to know when dealing with water safety is to know yourself. If you have never been a strong swimmer and don’t feel very comfortable in water, perhaps, if time permits, you should take swim and/or scuba lessons so that you feel more comfortable. If you have a flat-out phobia of water, maybe this isn’t the role for you. The worst thing you can do is show up to the set thinking you’ll just get over it and then not. Not only are you risking your safety and the safety of others around you, but you are hurting the production. You should always be honest with yourself and the people hiring you. They might be able to work around it, but if they can’t, they are more likely to work with you in the future if you let them know, rather than hiding it until you get to the set.
But that’s not you. You’re a child of the water. (You used to be a mermaid/Aquaman when you were a kid.) Other than waterproof sunscreen, how should you prepare for your day of shooting? The most common safety concern when spending long hours in the water is hypothermia. Even if the water is warm, you could be losing heat. If your wardrobe doesn’t permit you to be wearing the proper wet or dry suit, you need to pay attention to how you feel. When you start to feel a little cold, get out of the water, dry off and put on something that keeps your body heat in. The best is a dive jacket; it goes head to foot and keeps any wind out. If you’re only working one day and don’t want to invest in the jacket, a wool blanket works well. If they keep asking for one more shot and you start shivering, get out of the water immediately. Shivering is a warning that you are about to go into hypothermia, and it should not be taken lightly.
Another concern in water is dehydration. Yes, you heard me right. You can be sweating in water and not even know it. To avoid dehydration, you can “water load” by drinking large amounts of water for the 24 hours before shooting, and continue to drink water normally while shooting.
The final way that you can prepare for your shoot in water concerns your eyes. If you are opening your eyes underwater, they can dry out, especially if you are in a chlorinated tank. Hydrate your eyes with natural tear drops. Stay away from drops that “get the red out.” There might be a shot where you need that after a long day of shooting underwater but wait until you absolutely need it, then go back to using the natural tears.
As with all hazardous working conditions, the producers are required to research the conditions and provide all the information to whoever requests it. If you are curious as to what marine life is in the lake, or what the water quality statistics are, you can ask for the report. As always, the producers are required to let you know ahead of time that you will be working in water and what you will be doing in it. If for any reason the plan changes and you don’t feel comfortable with what you are being asked to do, speak to the stunt coordinator and/or the first assistant director. The most important thing for you to consider is your safety.