Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my Blog!
I created it so that I could share acting tips with you; things I've learned over the years, working on set, teaching classes, coaching actors, auditioning actors, etc.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Actor's Transition: From Stage To Screen, Part 2

 Last week we looked at the differences between acting on stage and acting for the camera.  If you haven't read last week's blog, you really should read it now. Then come back here and you'll be much happier.  Go ahead, I'll wait...
Another way the stage and the camera are different for actors is in the way you prepare or rehearse.  In the theatre, you rehearse a play for many days or weeks. When it’s ready you perform before an audience. During the rehearsal period, you ask the director questions and he guides you in bringing your character to life. In college and community theatre, the director often teaches actors (at least in their opinion) how to act. 

When you work on camera, everything that I just said is completely the opposite. On camera, sometimes the only rehearsal time that you have with the director and other actors is moments before you shoot and that is often more of a rehearsal for the camera than it is for the actors (or sometimes the first couple of takes are your "rehearsal"!) . The actors are expected to act when and only when the director says “action” - and not during any rehearsals.

In television, the director is often too busy talking to the DP, the AD and the rest of the crew to discuss anything in depth with the actors. You see,  the director's job is different when working on camera too. He's not there to help you be better or help you discover your character. He's there to get his day shot. That means he's there to shoot all the angles of all the scenes scheduled to be shot on that day.  If he doesn't get his day shot, it backs up the entire production schedule and causes the UPM or Production Manager all kinds of headaches.  Of course the director wants you to be good but that's not part of his job.  He also may lack the skills or knowledge to make you better. Many, if not most directors, (and many very good directors) have never trained as actors and in fact, often started in technical positions like Cameraman, A.C., AD, or Dolly Grip, before moving up to Director.  But regardless, if you are not doing good work, the director is more likely to "shoot around you" than he is to help you act better - there just isn't any time for that. When an actor reports to set, he must be ready to perform. That means that all character preparation must be learned, and all of your lines are likewise learned – BEFORE you report to the set.

I recall one time when the producer of a TV series I was coaching on, saw an actor he liked in a play, so we brought him in to read and (with the producer pushing for him) he got the part.

Let's call him "Dennis".  When I checked on Dennis in his trailer, he said he had his lines down but I asked him to run them with me anyway. He agreed and seemed to almost have them down. I told him he had a few hours yet and he said he’d get them down – no problem - and he mentioned that he had done some 40 leads in community theatre productions so I needn't worry.  I began to worry.  Then he asked about some of the series-regulars. It seems he was a little star-struck. We chatted for a few more minutes – he was a very nice guy – and I went to set.

When Dennis got to set a few hours later, I asked him if he would like to go over his lines one last time. He looked around and saw the well-known series-regulars chatting and joking around, so he winked and repeated (yet again) that he had done 40 leads in theatre productions and he told me not to worry. He proceeded to chat with the series regulars. I proceeded to worry.

As I said, he was a very nice guy, and very entertaining. He was telling jokes and the actors were laughing and I could see he was feeling pretty good. When the camera and lights were set the actors were called to their marks. The jokes kept rolling and the other actors kept laughing.

We shot the master and this actor had some trouble getting his lines out. But it was “only the master” and nobody seemed too worried about it – least of all Dennis, who continued to entertain the series regulars. Yet the series regulars weren’t laughing quite as much now. If Dennis noticed this, it only made him try harder… to be funny. 

After the master is shot, the actors generally have a few minutes while the camera and lights are moved to shoot the “coverage” (Close-ups, medium shots, overs, etc.). Because he had some problems, I asked Dennis to look over his lines. He took a cursory look at his “sides” but he heard the other actors laughing at something (perhaps at him?) and decided to join in the fun.

This joke telling and laughter went on as we shot all the coverage.

When he still couldn’t get his lines I gave him a script to read from (he wasn’t fully in frame for most of these shots). He got through the coverage (barely) and kept the cast in stitches. He was having such a good time that he didn’t even notice that they had shot close-ups of everyone in the scene EXCEPT HIM! When the A.D. yelled, "moving on" the series regulars all stopped laughing and looked at me.  They knew what this meant. When they edit the scene together there will only be a very, very distant shot of the five of them in the master shot and you won’t see him again. He walked down to lunch entertaining the cast and myself and he was still entertaining us after desert – but we all knew that he had blown his chance on this show. His role really could have become a recurring role. If he had done a good job... But he didn't.
The Incomparable Brooke Burns
So what lessons can be gleaned from this true story? I can certainly understand the temptation to regale the “Name” actors with entertaining stories. One of the Series regulars on that show was Brooke Burns (Shallow Hal, Dog Eat Dog, etc.), who is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood. She is also one of the nicest, warmest people in the business. When she laughs it's infectious and the whole crew laughs. Who wouldn’t want to entertain her?

YOU!  If you want to do a good job. You see, they can joke and laugh and chat between takes. You can’t. It has nothing to do with talent. Series-regulars put in an incredible amount of time on set. They’re used to learning a lot of lines in a hurry. They do this work day in and day out. You don’t.  So don’t fool yourself.  Like I said, I understand the temptation, but remember to ask yourself this question: Would you rather be liked or respected?  

During lunch, I asked Dennis how he felt about not really knowing his lines in the scene and again he told me how he has acted for years in community theatre and ALWAYS knows his lines but he usually has six weeks to learn them - and that this schedule was "crazy".

So I asked him how much they PAY him to act in community theatre… 

If you’re going to charge a producer the SAG-AFTRA minimum (currently almost $900 a day) for your services as a professional actor, and you show up to set without having your lines down cold, then you are stealing from them, plain and simple. Train now so you'll be ready when your big break comes.

Next Blog Post: Breaking down your script and Line Learning! (an amazingly fast way to memorize dialogue)

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the pain. I was wincing from your first paragraph. Largely because I WAS that kid. And learned that lesson with hugely embarrassing PAIN. Talent isn't nearly enough to call yourself a "professional." Years later, I was on set, in a supporting lead, and had long ago vowed NEVER to be "that funny guy" who doesn't get asked back again. I was, instead, the guy they RECAST as the lead, when the "lead" didn't have HIS LINES LEARNED! Amazing. The simple reality is, without having one's "words" well out of the way, you're simply not free to focus on character, story and moments with your fellow performers. You rip off everyone, foremostly, yourself. A great, tragic story, but there is no "coverage" in life, and people have long memories. Be a pro, leave the laugh garnering for the warm up guy. Great stuff Scott, keep it comin'!