Acting for the Camera: Back to One
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Acting for the Camera: Back to One

Peter Allen Stone

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  1. 180 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Acting for the Camera: Back to One

Peter Allen Stone

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About This Book

Acting for the Camera: Back to One is a "how to" book with practical steps to achieve a professional performance on camera.

The book focuses on four distinct areas: how to prepare the character, how to execute the technical responsibilities that will assist the editor in creating the on-camera performance in post-production, tips from industry professionals, and how to create effective self-tape auditions. Part One: The Character's World is packed with tools to analyze the script and fully prepare the character before arriving on set. Part Two: The Actor's World focuses on developing technical acting skills for the camera that assist the pre- and post-production teams to create a dynamic on-screen performance. In Part Three: The Professional World, industry professionals provide tips from inside the film/TV audition room and how to navigate a career in the acting business. The final section, Part Four: Self-Tape Like a Pro, outlines how to build a self-tape studio in the privacy of your own home and submit high-quality self-tape auditions that will help you stand out from the competition.

Written for students enrolled in Acting for the Camera courses, Acting for the Camera: Back to One explores techniques that can be practiced and mastered by actors of all levels, from the moment they audition for the part through to when they hear that director call "cut!"

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2021
ISBN
9781000386608

Part One

The Character’s World

1

Preparation

The world of film and television moves quicker than work in the theatre. In the theatre, you have the luxury of weeks of rehearsal to build your character with the director and find a rhythm with your fellow actors. Film and television work at a faster pace. When you are a day player or playing a supporting character, usually you will get a quick blocking rehearsal and maybe a short discussion with the director about an important moment in the scene. Of course, it depends on the size of your role and the production, but don’t assume that you will rehearse the scene over and over with the director and the other actors. You must prepare at home and arrive on set ready to shoot.
I will never forget my first television experience, acting in a scene with two of the show’s main stars. After arriving on set early in the morning to get into wardrobe and make-up, I waited for hours in my dressing room, running over my lines. When I was finally called to set, the director quickly gave me my blocking. As I ran through a blocking rehearsal with the main actors, I gave my best performance, while they simply marked their performance. They were pros, and it was clear that I was not. Moments before we shot the scene, the director shouted out last-second instructions to the crew as they quickly moved equipment around us. Suddenly, someone from the wardrobe department grabbed me and told me they had to change my shirt because the producer didn’t think it suited my character. I darted around a corner and changed my shirt at lightning speed. I didn’t want to hold up the production. Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I hurried back to my first mark. Moments before “Action!” was called, I reached out my hand to introduce myself to the other actors. I thought if I connected with them, it would settle my nerves. It did... a little. Our introductions were interrupted by the loud singular voice of the 1st assistant director (AD).
AD:Last looks, everyone.
HAIR/MAKE-UP/WARDROBE:Final touches done.
AD:Cameras ready?
CAMERAS:Ready.
AD:Okay, picture’s up! Quiet on set, everybody! Roll sound!
SOUND:Speeding!
AD:Roll camera!
CAMERA:Rolling!
AD:Let’s mark it!
2nd AC:This is 37Apple, Take 1. A, B, C, and X Common Mark! (whacking the slate)
CAMERA:Camera set!
AD:Okay here we go! Let’s settle …
(long silence)
ME:(nervous breath … nervous breath … nervous breath …)
DIRECTOR:And … Action!
My heart was pounding with excitement, and just like that – we were shooting the scene.
Then, it happened. We were in the middle of the scene, and my mind went completely blank. For some reason, I couldn’t remember my next line. I had acted in the theatre for years, but never on camera. This was a new world for me. In that moment where I lost focus, I realized that acting for the camera wasn’t as easy as the people on the screen made it look. I stood there internally pleading for the line to come back to me, but it didn’t. The director shouted, “Cut! Okay everybody, let’s go back to one!” While everyone reset, I stood there for a painful moment thinking my career was over before it began. As I went back to my first position, I took a deep breath, and tried to refocus my energy. Then, the lead actor smiled at me and whispered, “Hey, we got this.” I can’t thank him enough for his support that day. His small gesture meant the world to me. And then it hit me: we were all on the same team. In fact, everyone on that set was on the same team focusing on their specific job. I began to relax. The 1st AD called the roll again, the director shouted, “Action,” and this time, we made it through to the end of the scene. Suddenly, I was an actor on television.
When the episode aired, my friends and family back home congratulated me on how my performance looked natural. Natural? I appreciated their support, but all I could think about was the whirlwind that I had experienced on that day. The atmosphere on a set is filled with energy, and it can be a challenge to focus. I learned a few lessons that day when I stumbled. I learned that what happened to me, happens to many actors. I learned that it didn’t ruin my career. And, most importantly, I learned that you must thoroughly prepare the character before you take one step on the set. You have to be ready.
The following chapters in Part One: The Character’s World will provide you with a process to analyze your script so that you can play your character with confidence. This process, based on the teachings of Konstantin Stanislavski, is one that I have found effective for myself and my students. When you have been given the honor to give a voice to a character and tell their story, there is no room for thoughts like, “I wish that I had prepared a little more here … If only I had analyzed that moment there … How did I overlook that?” These chapters contain techniques that will not only help you avoid having those thoughts on set, but they will also provide you with a structure to give you confidence when the cameras begin to roll.

2

Breaking Down the Script

The Value of Beats

What Is a Beat?

Well, it depends on which book you read. Although there are many interpretations of beats, the good news is that they’re all correct. In script analysis, a beat is a subdivision of a scene. There are three different ways that you can divide a scene into beats. The first approach is to subdivide a scene by the entrances and exits of the characters. These subdivisions are known as French scenes. The second tactic is to subdivide the scene whenever the action changes. For example, Betty slaps him in the face and walks out of the room. This particular stage direction has two actions: slapping and exiting. However, the approach that I have found most useful is a third method: breaking down a scene into beats where the topic or subject changes1. Each topic shift, whether in the text or the subtext, signals the start of a new beat. This way, the characters can be in the same beat, but they can play their own actions within the beat (see Chapter 6).
But a beat change is not always from your character’s point of view or based on the intention of your character. When you mark your beats in your script, step outside of the situation and analyze them from a director’s perspective. Ask yourself, “What are these characters talking about?” Are they talking about their favorite food to eat? Are they deciding where they should go on vacation? Are they discussing getting married? Take a look at the television scene below and notice where the beats change. You will see that I have given names to each beat in quotations on the right side of the page.
Scene 2.1
SCENE H

INT. CAFÉ ROSÉ – NIGHT

CHARACTER A AND CHARACTER B HAVE JUST FINISHED THEIR MEAL. CHARACTER A THROWS A FIFTY DOLLAR BILL ON THE TABLE.
“Who’s Driving?”
CHARACTER A
Let’s go. I’ll drive.
CHARACTER B
Why do you always have to drive? I can drive.
CHARACTER A
Come on, we’re going to be late. I’m driving!
“The Divorce”
CHARACTER B
I can’t do this anymore. I want a divorce.
CHARACTER A
What?
CHARACTER B
You heard me. I’ve wanted one for a long time.
CHARACTER A
Well, I’m not giving you a divorce.
THEY STARE AT EACH OTHER FOR A MOMENT.
“The Money”
CHARACTER A
(CONT’D)
I didn’t mean to lose the money.
CHARACTER B
How could you take our savings without telling me?
CHARACTER A
I made a mistake. I feel horrible.
CHARACTER B
You should.
End of scene.
There are three beats or subjects being discussed in this short scene: Who’s Driving?, The Divorce, and The Money. The start of the second beat is when the topic of discussion has shifted from driving to divorce. When the topic of discussion shifted from divorce to money, it creates a third beat. Within each beat, the actor can choose one or more action verbs (see Chapter 6) to play on their scene partner to shape their performance. For example, in the last beat (“The Money”), Character A may choose to beg softly, with compassion, on their first line, “I didn’t mean to lose the money.” And when that doesn’t stop Character B’s inquiry about the money, they may choose a stronger action verb such as to attack for their line, “I made a mistake. I feel horrible.” However, Character B may choose to play to demean for both of their lines. This allows the beat to have a crackling pulse of energy. And when this beat is strung together with the other beats, the entire scene comes alive.
Many years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, every morning I would go to a coffee shop on Melrose Avenue. Often, I would hear the conversations of the people sitting next to me. It was during that time that I really began to understand what beats were, and how we speak in beats naturally in our everyday life. The next time you are in a coffee shop, casually eavesdrop on a conversation at the next table. You will clearly hear when the topics change, because you are outside of the situation. Make it a game and count their topics or beats. Watch a scene on your favorite television show and see if you can identify the beat changes. This is a great way to practice breaking your scenes into beats. When we step outside of a situation, we can often see it more clearly.

A Screenwriter’s Beat

Breaking your scene into beats is different than a beat marked by the screenwriter, which is written as a stage direction in parentheses (also known as a wryly). These kinds of beats appear in between lines and are used to indicate a pause where a character experiences a shift in thought or emotion.
MADISON
I would love to go to your party!
(beat)
Oh, you meant as a caterer.
We will discuss in Chapter 12, Art of the Reaction, how to make the most of your performance on camera by using these beats to help the editor.

Identify the Subjects

When you first prepare your scene for acting on camera, start by reading it aloud a few times. Read the entire scene with stage directions so you get a full sense of the screenwriter’s intentions. Go into each scene admitting that you know nothing about these characters and their situation. Pretend that you are a detective who has arrived at the scene of a crime looking for clues to figure out what happened. Stand outside of the scene, like you are in that coffee shop, and be curious. Identify what subjects are being discussed. Notice which character changes the subject and why. Are they trying to avoid the subject? If so, why? Are they nervous? Why? Are they trying to stay on the topic that will help them get what they want? This will help you understand your character’s intentions and desires.

Name the Beats

Mark and name the beat changes. After you have read the scene multiple times aloud, begin to brea...

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