A man kissing a woman on a movie set sweats profusely while his scalp burns

Melanoma Movie Mind Game

Last updated: October 2019

EXT: the three letters that I did not want to see. In the film business, this means that the scene is an exterior shot. It’s filmed outside...in the sun. EXT is written on the script and signifies a long hot day baking and roasting. I just finished three days of exterior shooting in a feature film and the time leading up to this and the actual shoot days turned out to be a complete mind game for me. Here is how it went down.

Preparing for sun exposure

I was hired to work three days in a period piece (the movie was set nearly 100 years ago) and there was some debate about what my character would be wearing during those three thirteen-hour days in the sun. I get concerned about thirteen minutes in the sun and here I was about to stand out in it for hours. I lined up every sunscreen I could think of in preparation for this. I checked the forecast. It was going to be 90 degrees each day and mostly sunny. I knew one thing for certain. My face, ears, eyes and the back of my neck would be exposed. I could not wear sunglasses for obvious reasons. I was a mental mess.

Don’t forget to protect your scalp

But, what about my scalp? I began to be concerned about burning the top of my head. Most men wore a hat in those days and it seemed likely that I would wear a derby or some other cool cap of the day. At my wardrobe fitting, I tried on a nice bowler hat that was a distinct possibility. My follicly-challenged head would be just fine! A vintage wool hat would do the trick-or would it?

A bowler hat!

Fortunately, wardrobe decided that I would be completely covered in a nice, wool tweed jacket with a wool vest. Most of my body was protected and heatstroke would be my next worry, or so I thought. So, my first shoot day comes before I go to hair and makeup, I put on sunscreen on my face, neck, etc. I put on a 70 SPF lotion. Then I applied 30 SPF spray and to top it off, a different brand of 50 SPF lotion. I had 150 SPF of protection on me (I don’t think it works that way, but my new plastic face felt protected.) The makeup lady looked at me as if to say, “Why do you have a plastic ‘Ken Doll’ face”? I explained to her my melanoma worries and she applied makeup OVER the sunscreen encapsulation. So, I was good!!! Or was I?

Never that easy

On this movie, a legendary Academy Award winning costume designer had to give her final approval before I could be on camera. So, on set, she tells me to lose the hat!!! She told me to take it off for the one scene we would be shooting (from every angle possible) ALL day in the sun. My mind left me! I had no sunscreen on my head! I had to carry the hat in my hand.

Mind game at work

I spent the entire day shifting to find glimpses of shade between takes. I put the hat on and took it off just before the cameras rolled. At one point the First Assistant Director asked me how I was holding the hat at one point in the scene because they wanted to re-create it for the sake of continuity. I had no idea! All I could think about was little melanoma demon cells enjoying my baking skull. I was losing concentration and it was affecting my work. The melanoma mind game was in full effect and I was being played.

Be prepared for everything

I am proud of the great work that we all did in what will be a fantastic movie. I managed to find some scalp spray later in the day and used a handkerchief to protect myself. I survived the three days. I learned that I need to be better prepared for everything. You never know when someone will tell you to “lose the hat!”

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