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.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Transition: Stage To Screen

While I am an advocate of theatre (I've worked on over 100 Equity plays) and of actors practicing their craft, I have also seen many problems arise when actors bring their “stage acting” to the film set. Acting on the stage and acting for the camera are similar in many ways, but they are also different in some very fundamental ways.


The main way that acting for the stage and camera are different is in how you communicate emotion. When you communicate emotion on stage, you use your body and your voice. Movement conveys emotion. If your line is “I’ll make you pay for that!” and you wish to convey that you are angry, you might shout the line and step forward, perhaps with an accompanying hand gesture. 

This helps to communicate your feeling to the last row of the theatre, sometimes ninety feet away or more. 

When you’re on camera, however, you communicate emotion in only one, very different way - with your eyes. Not your face. Not your gestures. Not your expression. Just your eyes.
Katharine Hepburn

If you move too much, your head falls out of frame. The sound people have control over the volume of your voice, so the only things that you have left with which to convey emotion are your eyes. The expression that directors use is that they want to see the emotion "behind the eyes.” 

But how do you get an emotion “behind the eyes”?  That is both the simplest and the most difficult part of acting. 

The answer is, simple. You feel the emotion fully.

Look, I've said it in previous blog posts but it bears repeating. Technique is like medicine.  You only use it when you need it.  If you are able to fill up with emotion on demand, simply by believing in the imaginary circumstances, then great!  You're all set! You don't need to use any acting technique. 

But what about after Take 12...? Will you still be able to make the tears come or feel real anger?  This is where technique comes in. The purpose of any good on-camera acting technique is to give you concrete steps to take that allow you to trigger (or fill up with) a desired emotion. Repeatedly. Dependably. On demand.  Or will you, like many actors, "indicate" the emotion you're supposed to be feeling?  You can get away with that sometimes in the theatre, but not when you act on camera. This always causes your acting to look, as directors say, "too big for the camera".  

You see when a director says you have "too much emotion," "it's too stagey," "too big for the camera" or some-such phrase, what he really means is "you're not feeling the emotion enough."  I know this seems paradoxical and hard to believe but I promise you it's the truth.  When we really feel an emotion we don't try to show it.  We simply feel it and THAT'S ENOUGH! The camera will capture it.  Even good theatre actors have trouble trusting that this is true when they first make the transition from stage to camera.  It's hard to believe that something so so little (your eye) can convey that much emotion.  

Consider this -

When you're in a close-up, on a movie screen, One of your eyes, would measure eight-feet across...  When you blink, we feel it.  It's like...baBOOM!  When you look away, for any reason, it’s jarring and to some extent the audience loses its connection to you. The eyes really are the clearest windows we have to an actor’s emotion. 

Michael Caine, in his wonderful and concise book “Acting in Film” says:
"I don’t blink. Blinking makes your character seem weak. Try it yourself: say the same line twice, first blinking and then not blinking. I practiced not blinking to excess when I first made this discovery, went around not blinking all the time and probably disconcerted a lot of people."
 My estimate is that upwards of 50 to 60% of the actors at any given audition won't get called back because of something they do with their eyes.  Either blinking or looking around or spiking the camera or looking up at the ceiling when they're trying to remember their lines (?!). Sometimes it's as subtle as an actor looking at the other actor's face instead of into their eyes.  Eyes are much more important than most actors realize...

Next week: More tips for making the transition to TV/Film (and a real life horror story!) in...
 From Stage To Screen Part 2... 


  1. Excellent blog as usual Scott. I will practice on this!

  2. Sam Peckinpah is alleged to have said: If you want to understand acting, just watch Steve McQueen's eyes. McQ allegedly also would cross out some of his dialogue in scripts! John Wayne said: Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk much.

  3. Really interesting, is The No Blinking For TV Acting Aswell Or Just for Film

    1. Yes, though not quite as obvious.