Acting for film and television is a skill set separate from the theatre. In addition to all of the challenges faced when acting in a theatrical context, Screen Acting has its own unique set of technical, logistical, and creative obstacles (and opportunities), and is a skill set honed over time through training and experience in front of the camera. The great screen actors have these techniques mastered.
Here are our top 5 screen acting tips that will help you deliver the performance you need on camera:
1. Your eyes are the window into your soul
The camera captures every moment; what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, your internal conflicts, and your physical impulses. What’s more, it can get all of this through your eyes. Treat them like magnets. They pull the viewer into the soul of the person you’re portraying. Imagine a rectangle around the lens, and when in thoughts or transitions between lines, allow the lens to see what you’re thinking and feeling by giving the camera your eyes. The closer the frame, the tighter the rectangle for you.
2. Treat the silences as lines and be the editor’s friend
No moment should be missed, no emotional stone unturned. Emotional investment in only your lines are not enough. Every moment and beat needs to be considered. What is the other character saying to you, and how is it affecting you? Film and television editing requires reaction shots; they are integral to the flow of the narrative and character development. The editor will be looking for those reactions in post production. By treating the pauses and silences in the script as lines themselves, imbued with intention and thought, you will find a greater depth to your performance and connection with the other character(s) in the scene. You’ll probably bag more screen time because of it!
3. Know your audience
Unlike the theatre, there is no live audience. There is a lengthy and important post production process that happens between your performance and the viewing public. Your audience is not present when you film, and this needs to be remembered when you are on set. The director isn’t the audience, the crew aren’t the audience, the camera operator isn’t the audience, the camera isn’t your audience, the only audience you have are within the fictional realms of the narrative, and the other characters that inhabit it. Resist, at all costs, to perform for the crew.
4. Be Prepared and Flexible
You will film out of sequence on set. Schedules change all the time. Not only do you have to be prepared in terms of your character journey at every moment in the story, but also for last minute changes to the plan of the filming process. There are so many varying factors; weather, daylight hours, transportation issues, technical glitches, that you do not want to be one of them. Be prepared to step on set and only get two or three takes to get it right. Don’t let your first take be a rehearsal or a warm up. Full character preparation will assist you in getting in getting it right first time. It will also help you to change your performance in the ways that the director wants in the next takes. By fluid and flexible, and in doing so you won’t only give a more nuanced performance, but you’ll also have a much better working relationship with the director and the crew.
5. Learn the jargon and who’s on set
Be versed in the technical language of the film set. Know which person does which job on set, the jargon that they use, and how they operate. Know the shot sizes and the intended camera movement from on set discussions, so you don’t have to ask the DOP or director all the time. Film and television requires many different departments working simultaneously to produce a final product. You are a piece of that jigsaw puzzle, no more or less important than all the rest of the pieces. By knowing your way round a film set you are instantly respectful of everyone’s important job within the process, and as a result you will be painless to work with. Don’t underestimate the power of being polite and easy to work with, repeat work will come your way because of the positive way you conduct yourself.