Acting for the screen advices (I): Understanding edition

Main point: you want your best performance to be on the movie, don’t you?

But when we shoot a film, we need to take many, many takes we have to assemble together, cause a movie is a just a puzzle of pictures and sound. Obviously, we all want the best shots to be in the final video edition but many times that’s not possible. Why? in a frame with several actors connected to the next scene with continuity everybody needs to be in the same position otherwise the movie looks sloppy and amateur.

Which shoots, which takes get together the best is the priority in edition. If your best ever performance can’t match with the next frame, the editor will automatically choose your second, third one and else… and in the worst case even erase your character not because your performance wasn’t good enough, but because they simply could not use it.

Leaving the tech problems away (and always are), let’s go the main points you (actor) can control and take the best of your job.

1 Point. You have to learn the screenplay at the perfection. Professional actors, specially working for soaps and tv series study and learn many pages every day. I understand is difficult at the beginning but it’s also a practice that becomes perfection with the time. Actors need memory and you can work that with practice, you won’t get serious roles if you can’t learn a screenplay in short time. Many auditions too, will ask you to perform some lines they pass you minutes ago.

2 Point. Once you say always the SAME lines you should try to move always the SAME way. It’s easier just let yourself go and perform the lines enjoying them but that often doesn’t work. Specially: where are you looking at every moment of the scene is the most sensitive thing or if you’re touching yourself or another actor. Big productions have people checking that, but you won’t get in a big production if you spoil the shoots cause your body movement is random. IMPORTANT: Unfortunately, that’s extremely difficult to realize for filmmakers on the rush of the shooting, but later in postproduction is fatal for the edition, and they will realize it. It will mark your performance as invalid and it could even cost you the job in some professional productions, so my advice is: be aware.

3 Point. Rehearsal. You should decide with the director how are you going to perform and how are you going to move before the shooting, that not only will improve your performance but also give you confidence and the capability of being focus in other requirements and script changes that eventually happen. If you are professional you should practice at home to be sure you feel comfortable and moving yourself in the decided way. If you work with me I can provide you an audio file with my reading of the screenplay as I image it, but that can spoil somehow your personality, you maybe want to do that recording yourself.

It’s hard to practice and rehearsal but think in all the actors who feel the same and how being serious about the work can put you in front of them and make you a professional. every screenplay you study, even if goes nowhere is a step in your career, don’t waste it.

4 Point. Using the time between takes. The shooting use to take long hours, but you are performing only a small part of it. In the technical preparation time, if you get focus in the screenplay and prepare you role acting and moving, also with the other actors the chances of having a good and useful performance increase drastically.


Other points to consider:

-Not bringing your own copy of the screenplay to the shooting is a terrible unprofessional mistake.

-Punctuality. You don’t need to be there at the exact time the meeting is supposed to be. You should go earlier and use that extra time to speak with the director about your character, script changes, coordinate with other actors and rehearsal.

Coming late is terribly bad too, because you’re wasting many people time and money, and even you could spoil the shooting day. Shooting daylight time is vital, why?: (next point)

-Light conditions. This is one of the most feared enemies in the shooting. A ten minutes’ scene recorded for five hours needs to have the same light all the time or it will be disastrous on the final edition. If at the end of the scene it becomes darker than before, sometimes the takes don’t match and the footage is useless.

But sometimes dusk or dawn light can be the most beautiful. If everybody knows the role very well there’re some chances of doing a fast-extra shooting at that time and achieve an outstanding quality image. But requires as always, a perfect knowing of the screenplay.

-Improvisation and changes. You can improvise eventually, but always after you know perfectly the lines, not because you don’t know the lines you improvise, that doesn’t work in cinema. You probably can change lines to be more comfortable if the director agrees, but not because you forgot the others in the middle of the shooting. That’s another reason for study the screenplay in advance, to identify what you are or not comfortable with.

-Sound. You should rehearsal yourself your voice to achieve a reasonable presence of voice. Low voices are hard to take and low or no budget productions use to blunder very much with that issue. Also, loud shouts can saturate the microphone so, if your scene includes any shouting, yelling or else, check with the sound director the micro levels in advance before he makes the mistake (they often do because they don’t know what’s coming) and your best scream gets spoiled because poor micro sound setting.

-Movements. You should practice and rehearsal the way your character naturally moves to be fluent, charming and as previously said constant. Not only your lines it is very important to be aware of your body movements as you listen and specially where your head eyes are looking at and your facial expression. If you have any question of where the other characters are going to be, ask.

If you wait until the shooting day you will feel the pressure of the people and camera around.

-Requirements. You often are going to have to do, look at, not look at, many things that have nothing to do with the performance at the same time you are acting with many people staring at you. That’s another point of being properly prepared knowing very well the screenplay, cause your head can get focused in the needs of the shooting and not bothered about remembering the lines, but just flowing.

-Outfit and hairstyle. Important thing, if a long project shooting is going to happen be aware you can NOT cut your head, change your beard or else until the project is over.

About the outfit: is better to avoid white or black garments. White is often too brilliant a will give unwanted radiance in the image edition. Black can’t get the focus in and could be virtually invisible at times.

-Shyness. An actor can’t be shy. So, if you feel embarrassed doing anything of a screenplay that can be seen in normal television, you need to change that. If you feel like stepping over a bench in a crowded square and yelling “I’m the king of the world” to everybody around and start any monologue performance is difficult, you should practice that. The reason you feel ashamed is because your head is telling you: “I am a crazy guy over a bench, what are these people going to think about me?”. You feel like an amateur and you have to practice over the bench until your head supports you saying: “I am a professional actor and I’m performing, I can do or say anything cause I’m an actor”.

 Seriously, go to the park and perform like real your role in the screenplay being aware how you are moving each line and enjoy the curious glances of the people around. You’ll become a professional and you may earn some ovations too.

 That’s to be an actor.


Carlos Guerrero

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