For Actors

Loudplace.com Film and Television

 

I have spent the last 30 years working as a Director in film and TV delivering feature films, short films, cinema and TV commercials, dramas, live TV, documentaries and live events.

 

I am also especially passionate about passing on my training and experience to the younger generation and have held classes in screen acting and filmmaking as well as mentoring a number of students since 1993.  I was one of the organisers and jury member at the Kodak Student Film Awards, hve been a Visiting Lecturer at Universities and film schools throughout the UK as well as holding workshops at drama schools including Italia Conti, The Arts Institute, LAMDA, The Actor’s Temple, The Actor’s Centre, Central London School of Dramatic Art, International School of Screen Acting and Mountview, and IDSA.  I was also the first Director in the UK to hold workshops on screen acting for actors wishing to explore the Meisner Technique and am an active member of the Screen-Actor’s specialist tutor group “Acting2Camera”.


This blog is designed to pass on as many hints, tips, training and techniques as I can to any Actor wishing to better their on-screen performances.

I’ve held my own auditions for years now and yet it never ceases to amaze me how many mistakes are made by Actors are when it comes to self-tapes.  From time to time I hold workshops on Self-Taping for Actors just to try to help Actors not make these basic mistakes and get more confident and effective at self-taping.  Below are some hints for you.

Self-tapes are a necessary evil.  Like them or loath them, they are here to stay and have become a vital tool in the whole casting process.

Personally, I think they are an absolute gift for an Actor.

But there are fundamental problems with self-tapes from an Actor’s perspective:

  • The Actor is auditioning to a blank wall not a human (it’s considered standard practice for self-tapes NOT to be performed direct to camera) and so that actor is acting off into oblivion.
  • The Actor can’t judge how their performance is going across as walls don’t emotionally react!
  • The Actor doesn’t get to physically meet the Agent, Casting Director, Director, Producer, etc

So why do I think that self-tapes are a gift for Actors?

Well, you can’t redo a live audition but you can a taped one.  In fact, no Actor should be submitting a self-tape unless they are 100% happy with it.  This means that they’ve watched it back, analysed it, polished it, perfected it, re-recorded it over and over again until it’s the best performance that clearly showcases how right they are for the part they are auditioning for.


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TECHNICAL HINTS

Shoot “landscape” not “portrait” – i.e. make sure you’re shooting horizontal not vertical.  All film and TV screens are landscape so shoot for the format you’re going to be performing in.

Frame yourself in an MCU or Mid Shot, not a LS or a Wide (and if you don’t know what I mean by this image below demonstrates various frame sizes that you REALLY SHOULD KNOW for you).

Rule 1: Don’t waste your energy during the shoot and don’t be afraid of keeping yourself to yourself, quietly zoning out, in “pause mode” but ready to go at a moment’s notice.  You’re there to do a job but you’re likely to be kept hanging around for extended periods of time.  Consequently, be prepared for this.  The night before, make sure you pack a Grab Bag to take with you and include in that bag anything that will help you be both mentally and physically at your very best when called upon to perform.  This should include:

  • Whatever helps you to focus on your character including any research material, notes, anything that helps you stay ready…
  • Food, water, energy bars etc because no matter how good catering is, if your blood sugar drops, so does your performance!
  • Some comfortable and warm/cool clothing (depending on climate) so that you don’t freeze or swelter during those long pauses.
  • Breath mints.
  • Something to play music on.  Make a character playlist and/or a “downtime” playlist and take a pair of headphones
  • Powerbank for your phone but be prepared to have your phone taken off you at the start of the day if it’s a Closed Set.
  • (I also have a personal first aid and toiletries kit in my Grab Bag)

Be set aware at all times. I call this “setiquette”. Get good at this, fast!

A functional set is like an extended family.  Know the different roles everyone has on set and the importance of what they do.

Always smile at the Grips and the Sparks who may already be running on Red Bull having got up very early that morning to pre-light.

Be very lovely to the Hair and Makeup department. They are often the very first on set and usually put the most hours in with little thanks. They also will help you far more than you realise.  Same goes for Wardrobe.

Be aware of your own continuity. It will make the Script Supervisor’s life easier and really is your own responsibility.

Look after your props. Treat them as your own.

Be nice to the Runners when they bring you things. Most of the times they’ve put themselves through a great deal of university studies, are working their butts off for little or even no money and are desperate to learn.  All that effort and humility deserves respect!

Make friends with the Camera Operator. He’s likely to help you by telling you your frame size if no one else does, if you are nice.

Make friends with the Camera Operator. He’s likely to help you by telling you your frame size if no one ese does, if you are nice.

If they hate you, then it may well be your own fault. Everyone behind the camera wants the actors to shine and be utterly brilliant – that’s why we are here at the end of the day. But a crew can grow irritated with actors who Lord over them and once you lose the respect of a crew, it’s very hard to gain it back again. Filmmaking is team work as well as hard work. Just be mindful of this at all times. You may be “top billing” but you are no more or less of an artist than many other key crew members. Don’t be a Prima Donna and act like the “star” – it doesn’t do you any favours.

Don’t be obviously bored when waiting for your next setup that is being delayed, yet again.  Usually, some poor soul is rushing around trying to fix something whilst everyone else is looking at the clock.  He or she really doesn’t need the extra pressure of an actor with little set-awareness. Use that time to run some lines, check your costume and make up, go to the toilet, meditate.  At the end, if you’re bored between setups, you’re not doing your job!

Don’t blindly mess around with other actors between setups or even takes. Other actors, as well as those behind the camera, may not welcome the distraction.

Always listen to every single word a Stunt Coordinator says and if you don’t understand something, say so.  When it comes to stunts and set safety, there is no such thing as a stupid question.

 

If you EVER see someone bullying someone or making them feel uncomfortable, report it to the Producer.  He or she will know what to do.

Be VERY aware of Health and Safety on set.  f you’re being asked to do something that feels dangerous, or if you see any sort of risk on set, REPORT IT!  Any responsible member of Production will thank you.

Never walk onto an uninsured set.  EVER!

How the other cast and crew perceive your behaviour, professionalism and talent will be such an advertisement.  Producers are always risk adverse so if you shine at a shoot by being professional and constantly on point, the positive word of mouth that your behaviour will generate will really help your career.

IF YOU SIGN AN NDA, DO NOT POST ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT THE PROJECT ON ANY SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM OR TALK ABOUT THE PROJECT TO ANYONE.  It’s called a “non-disclosure agreement” for a reason and is legally binding.  If you break an NDA, first you’ll get fired, then sued and finally possibly never work as an actor again.  Confidentiality has never been more important than it is today and projects go to great lengths to protect this. This leads onto the next point…

If you do feel compelled to post something on Social Media about the project and haven’t signed an NDA, do yourself and the project a massive favour and double-check with Production before you post ANYTHING.  Better safe than sorry.

Always say thank you to the crew at the end of a long day/night shoot. ALWAYS.

If you can’t see the camera, it can’t see you.

Know how to find your light, even if it’s just daylight.  All those lights are there for a reason.  Find out which ones are dedicated to you and be aware of them.

Be aware of the importance of eye-lines and how you may be asked to perform to a spot on the wall.

You may be asked to “cheat” a shot by being far closer to your screen partner than you would normally be expected.  This is often because of the restrictions of various lenses and is commonplace.  (And never ever underestimate the value of having that pack of breath mints to hand).

Understand what depth of field is, how to use it and why this can be vital to you.  Inadvertently drifting out of focus or surprising the Focus Puller can really hurt you on set and can render your take useless in Edit later.

Know how to find your mark without looking down.

How to walk over camera tracks without looking like your stepping over a dead body.

How to wear a radio mic without letting it pick up the noise of your costume rustling.  And if you are wearing a radio mic, remember to check with someone in Sound before going to using the bathroom.  Many a sound recordist has grown tired of fishing radio packs out of toilet bowls!

Have a profound awareness of different frame sizes and how to adjust your performance accordingly.  Know your MLS from your MCU, your LS from your BCU.  (If you don’t know the terms, a simple set of drawings is included at the end of this handout).

Always listen to the other actors in a take and react accordingly, even when it’s not your shot.  Become the Editor’s best friend by giving all the extra material they can use.  (You’re also likely to end up with more screen time in the final edit if you do).

ALWAYS keep acting until after someone says “cut” and if someone or something makes a mistake in a take, even if that someone is you, stay in character and keep acting.  It may turn out to be the best take of the day.

Think twice before saying something like “I don’t think my character would say this/do this”.  Especially if you’re working with a Writer/Director.  You may have read the script a number of times over the last few weeks but chances are, someone took years to write it, sweating blood into every line.  Perhaps they know your character arc better than you?

Be aware that you may only be on the set for a day but for some this will be the culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears (and sometimes monstrous debt and ugly divorces).  A great deal of planning and preparation will have been (or at least should have been) carried out in the months (and even years) before you walk onto the set.  Think of yourself as being a guest in someone else’s home, even if you are in fact an extremely welcome guest.  Don’t act as if you own the place – you don’t.

You are being engaged as a professional from the moment you are cast until the film is on screen.  Spend all that time before the shoot in prep and do all the research you can.  When you arrive on set, be prepared and know your character and the narrative arc intimately.  Be so across your character arc that you can comfortably play an entirely different scene from the one scheduled without a problem.  Then pace yourself during the interminable delays all shoots have from an acting perspective.  Use that time.  Save your energy, you’re going to need it.  Be ready to perform whatever scene you’re asked to perform in an instant and spend that day in constant awareness.

Like in any other professional environment, ask when you don’t know, or are unsure: everyone is working hard to accomplish what the schedule requires and the budget caters for and deliver the best result possible, so consequently they’ll want you to do a very good job.  The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.

Finally, the first time you’re engaged as a professional actor, when someone else is paying you to act, you’ve made it.  From here on, it’s just a question of quality and frequency, factors that will be greatly influenced by your attitude, your approach and how much hard work you continue to put in…  You’ve been engaged as a professional.  Continue to be that professional at all times. In doing so, you make your own luck.

 

They say “Knowledge is Power”.   Well, the best way to stay up to date with what is happening in Film and TV is to read what is called the Trade Press.  These are publications that are specifically created for the industry and not targeted at the general public.

 

It never ceases to amaze me quite how many actors working so hard to establish themselves in this industry of ours know so little about what a production has to go through before they arrive on set and what has to happen afterwards in order to best position that production to return a profit for their investors.  Or even something as basic as which direction is the industry currently moving in?  And why should they, they are actors.  It’s all about the talent, isn’t it?

 

Well, the truth is that the film industry is a business first and an avenue for artistic expression second.  Let’s not forget that.

 

Did you know that the global box office revenue is forecast to increase from about 38 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 to nearly 50 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 and yet the U.S. is currently the third largest film market in the world in terms of tickets sold per year, ranking behind China and India and not the actual market leader any more, with China constantly having its eyes on the West and proving to be not shy of really big investments?  Why is this and why is it relevant to an actor wanting to build a career?  Do you know how many more projects Netflix are commissioning this year as opposed to Paramount and why and, more importantly, who are behind these projects and what are their contact details?  Where are the growth markets?  Which projects are likely to happen and which are not?  What is VOD and why should we all be excited by what Disney is doing in this space in 2019?  Who is the hottest Director on the planet and who is likely to take that crown this year?  Fancy yourself as a “Gary Oldman type?  Well, who are Gary Oldman’s agents and what are their contact details?

How can you best position yourself to be part of this industry if you don’t know what is going on beyond the set that you’re standing on?

 

You can learn so much more than you know already for free!  I do mean free.  No cost at all but your time.  Information that will prove vital to you as you try to move your career forward – stuff they don’t teach you at drama schools.

 

The film industry trade press (the “trades” as they are known by) are a series of publications, newspapers if you like, that are created for the industry by industry specialists.  There are basically three main players and each one of them offer free, daily emails with news breakdowns, analysis and discussion.  You can subscribe to get these emails sent to your inbox every single day for nothing.

 

These three leading players are, Screen Daily, Variety and Hollywood Reporter (with Hollywood Reporter also running an excellent YouTube channel).

Variety:

https://www.varietyinsight.com/free_news_alerts.php

 

Hollywood Reporter:

http://link.hollywoodreporter.com/join/38o/thr-signup

 

And the excellent Hollywood Reporter YouTube Channel is here:

https://www.youtube.com/hollywoodreporter

 

(Be advised that it costs money to get full access to all the various pages of some of these bodies but you can still get the daily newsletters for free).

 

There are two other online resources you ought to consider, one is free and one costs but is truly worth it (remember, the cost of subscribing should be a tax-deductible expense assuming your accountant knows what he or she is doing).

 

The free one is here:

https://www.the-numbers.com

It’s a breakdown of how much money projects are actually making and is core to the function of the industry.  A very well-known and extremely high profile Producer I used to work with once said to me “it’s ALL about the numbers” and the long line of awards he has proves that he’s 100% right here.

 

The one that costs is IMDb Pro, the link for which is here:

https://pro.imdb.com

It costs $149.99 a year to subscribe to this pro version of IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) but consider this: IMDb Pro is the number one resource that so many of us working in the industry use as a research tool.  It won’t get you cast in anything and for the love of God, please just ignore the “star ratings” as these are so easy to manipulate that no one ever bothers to take them seriously.  But if you’ve an audition coming up, you can find out what other projects the Director has done before, who the Production Company is, what source of financing they may or may not already have in place (that’s a REALLY good way of judging a project’s viability), who their lawyers are, who are the key Agents involved, who other Casting Directors may or may not be, who is already attached to the project, etc, etc.  You can also get direct contact details of pretty nearly every single player in the industry (this information isn’t available on the free version of this website) and SO much more.  Oh, and currently, you can get one month free if you sign up today.

 

I’m forever telling actors to be snipers not machine-gunners.  A sniper will do their research, stalk their “prey” and choose their moment very carefully having built up a complete picture of what they prey is doing at any moment and why.  So learn from this, do yourself a massive favour and start each and every day reading the trades.  EDUCATE YOURSELF.  No one else is likely to do that   foryou.

A really effective way of judging a performance to camera is to watch it with the sound turned down and ask yourself, “do I believe?”  In doing so, you remove the dialogue (and almost always the narrative as well) from the equation and instead you have no choice but to focus instead on just the body language.

Really effective acting to camera is all about internalisation because, as in life, it’s what we think rather than what we actually say that is the majority of the message that we communicate.  This is why we’re told by behavioural scientists that anything up to 80% of what we’re communicating is actually via body language.

If someone is “acting” then they will be forcing that body language and in doing so, their performance will appear forced or even fake.

In life, our emotions leak out of us in what are known as “micro-expressions”, tiny little expressions that dance across our face as we are talking and listening.  These micro-expressions come from a place of truth and it’s super, super hard for us to knowingly fake them.

(More about micro expressions here ).

Consider the camera as a mute, passive and intimate observer to social interaction.  It just sits there and watches….can’t add to the dialogue, can’t do anything, just watches and judges…  As an acting exercise, sit in a coffee shop or bar and watch the way people are communicating.  Don’t listen to what they are saying, just watch the body language. (You’re unlikely to be able to video these conversations but there are plenty of examples of documentaries on the internet of ordinary people taking without knowing that they are being filmed).  Now go and look at any screen acting that you like, from monologues and self-tapes to big budget films and watch the scene with the sound turned off.  As you watch, ask yourself, “do you believe?”

Self-tapes and monologues are nearly always performed to some eye-line off-camera, not direct down the barrel of the lens. So, before you submit that monologue or self-tape, watch it again with the sound turned off and ask yourself, “do you believe or is that person ACTING”.  If you see the “acting” (what old-school BBC-trained Directors like me call “the wheels turning”) then you watching someone “act” not “believe” what they are doing.  Re-shoot the monologue/self-tape and try to stop “acting” and start “believing” instead.  The end results will be far more effective at encouraging your audience to suspend disbelief.

Incidentally, I was taught this technique many years ago at the very start of my directing career when I was being formally trained by the BBC.  Back in those days, we shot on film (digital hadn’t been invented yet) and this meant that the sound was always recorded separately (shooting on film meant that the camera with the film in it wasn’t actually able to record sound at the same time.  So the sound was always recorded separately and that’s why we used clapperboards, even when shooting with just one camera, in order to provide a sync point for both sound and vision).  Each night, the film rushes (that’s the technical name for the exposed film that we’d shot during the day) would be sent away to the labs for overnight processing and the following morning, we’d start the day watching what were called “Dailies”.  In order to save time, it was standard practice NOT to dub the audio onto these dailies and so we’d be watching everything we’d shot the previous day mute (i.e. without any sound).  Now remember the whole video playback thing hadn’t also been invented yet so this would be the first time that you would actually see what the camera had seen.

By removing the sound, not only did we remove the dialogue but we also were able to focus completely on the physical performances of the actors and key to this was their body-language.

This technique worked so very well for years and years and kind of got forgotten when sync-sound became so readily available with digital playback.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: I travel a lot and not always do I speak the language of wherever it is I am.  However, I can function pretty well in nearly every social situation I find myself in, even if I don’t know what on earth is being said, just by watching the body language of those around me.

Animals can read body language really well too.  That’s why some dogs growl at a stranger who approaches you as you’re out walking your dog, or instead just wag their tail, even before that stranger has said a single word.

You can test out my theory by watching a foreign language film with the sound turned down.  I guarantee you that if the acting is any good, you’ll be able to make a good guess at the plot by just watching…

If you still don’t believe me, as an experiment, next time you’re asked to submit a self-tape, before you send it out, watch it back with the volume turned down and try REALLY hard to be objective.  Don’t see yourself on screen.  Instead, pretend you don’t know who is talking and what they are talking about.  Then ask yourself “do I believe ?” Can you figure out the core emotions behind what is being said?  Does the person talking express any micro-expressions or are the expressions forced or even unnatural?  Then show it to someone you trust, someone who doesn’t know the narrative of what you are performing, someone who hasn’t just watched you tape that self-tape.  Then ask them what do they think the core emotions of the performance are.  Does that trusted person tell you the emotional arc you were trying to perform or not?  Do they believe?

It’s perfectly fine for an actor to ask how big is the frame that they are in.   But often, the reply will be in some sort of jargon like an “MCU” or a “MLS”.   Here are some of the most common frame sizes you’ll encounter.

I do my own castings and have done for years. I recently put out a Cast Call for a project and got over 1000 submissions. The Cast Call was very specific with detailed instructions, including a request to submit with a self-tape of specific material I included in the Cast Call.

Of the 1000+ submissions, guess how many self-tapes of the specific material I got?

27.

So that is less than 3% of all the Actors who applied actually managed to get their application right.

If you don’t follow simple written instructions at the casting, what sort of message are you sending? How astonishingly unprofessional were those 97% of Actors submitting themselves and not even bothering to comply with the simple requests of the Cast Call.

Come on guys!!! If you don’t act as a professional, professionals like me are not going to consider you as a professional.

I get that you all want to work. We all do. But for the love of God, please try to be a sniper and not a machine-gunner. Don’t apply for everything you see as a knee-jerk reaction when you don’t fit the brief and can’t be bothered to follow the simple instructions in the Cast Call.

Instead, hunt for your targets, be selective, prep, take very careful aim then fire when you are absolutely certain that you’re on target.

If you want a career, BE A SNIPER, NOT A MACHINE-GUNNER.

Source: For Actors