From theatre actor to screen actor – a quick tip

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Photo Credit: Vancouver Film School via cc
Are you a “theatre actor”?
Have you historically worked on the stage? Do you find yourself getting auditions and castings for tv, film but never getting the gig? Could be that you just haven’t taken the time to tweak and mould your art to fit the medium?
Acting on screen is a precise art and one that can often be seen ‘as not acting’ to the outside eye. I have worked on television a lot and often been told that my performances ‘are just like I am in real life’ and ‘well, you were just being yourself’ …. Its hard to hear sometimes after all the effort I put in! Then again, to someone who doesn’t know me, haven’t I done what should be done, I played a character and made it completely realistic, and it is often the hardest thing in the world to be relaxed and real on a film set.
A close-up on screen can say all a song can.
Stephen Sondheim
The simplest advice I can offer is to start practising.
First you don’t need to go for screen acting lessons, you don’t need to sign up with a coach all you need to do is start to practice on your own. Once you feel you are getting there then I think going to see a coach is a great idea to really begin to hone your skills.
Get yourself a cheap video camera, I use the Kodak PlayFull and it does the job perfectly. if you can’t afford a little camera then use your phone, most phones nowadays have a video camera which will be more than adequate for this acting lesson.
Here’s what you need to do:
Frame up a good medium shot of a chair.
Then sit in that chair.
Record yourself doing a contemporary monologue.
Well, all of that was really easy wasn’t it …. now comes the hard part …. watch the video.
You are going to be your toughest critic, but what you need to do is ‘get over yourself’ quickly, you will look fatter, thinner, balder, more tired, older than you imagined and your voice will sound different to you. What you need to do is concentrate on the acting and on how you are coming across.
Chances are it will be terrible! That’s because you are used to ‘Acting – with a capital A’ you are used to enunciating so that even the cheap seats can get every word, you are used to projecting to the gods. Also look at how much work your face is doing, and what the hell is with those eyebrows!
It has taken me a lot of practice to tame my eyebrows and I don’t mean plucking! When we ‘act’ we can easily overcompensate with expressing emotions, on screen you don’t need to. Watch movies and look at movie star’s eyebrows – weird request, huh! Once you do it, you will notice that their eyebrows hardly move at all, and yet they still express emotion, if they feel it so will you, its in their eyes, the camera picks everything up and audience’s project emotion onto what they are watching. You don’t need to do all the work, you really need to do a lot less work!
Try it again, set up the camera and chair and record the speech again.
Watch it back.
Repeat as necessary!
A lot of people tend to chew up the scenery. I’m a firm believer in less is more, especially on the big screen.
Mark Wahlberg
This process will not transform you into a film star, but it will put you on the right path and also help you to start to shed some of your nerves and anxiety about acting on camera.
When you feel comfortable and if you have a patient partner, get them to read some scenes with you on camera. They don’t need to be on camera, they don’t even need to act, I’ve read with some really under-enthusiastic casting assistants in my time! Just get yourself used to performing with a ‘character’ off camera. Watch it back, and try again.
Commercial acting is sometimes easier for theatre actor’s because commercials often have that ‘reality plus 10%’ thing going on, expressions are bigger and emotions more expressive in adverts. But in order to pitch right for any campaign or casting you first need to have taken everything right back to reality so you can add to a performance if the director requires it.
Acting on camera is an art, but you have the raw talent already you just need to start relaxing and practicing and building a self-coach is the first step you need to take.
Screen Acting Tips
Here’s some fun acting tips from Ellen DeGeneres and the screen queen herself Meryl Streep!