Film is a business, as well as an art. Many of its procedures are not designed for the actor; they are designed to make the business of making films more efficient cost-wise.
Unless the actor is a star, it is common practice in film not to give the actor the entire script before he or she auditions. The obvious reason is to keep the script secret from the general public. The average actor auditions with a scene of a few pages only, called “sides”—usually a moment in the film chosen by the director and/or casting director because it displays the wide range of emotions essential for the role.
Often, the auditioning actor is not given any backstory with which to understand what has happened in the lives of the actors before the auditioning scene. He or she has no idea what the story or character relations might be. All that the actor knows is what can be guessed from a cursory reading and study of those pages.
Often, during the casting process, particularly when many others are waiting to audition for the same role, the casting director has no time to discuss the meaning of the scene with the actors, and, sometimes, the casting director is not even present at the audition; often the actor auditions in front of a disinterested videographer who reads the other character’s lines off-screen, and without emotion.
Not knowing what the scene is about, how then does the actor make intelligent choices? What clues are there hidden in the script to help the actor make these choices?
If the actor’s first audition pleases the casting director, he or she will show the video to the director. If the director agrees, the actor may be called back to audition for the director.
During this callback, the director may give the actor specific instructions called “adjustments”. As many directors do not talk in the language of acting, these instructions are likely to be vague, often incomprehensible
How does the auditioning actor translate these instructions into an emotional performance? Can the director keep calling you back to audition without paying you?
As few directors know the actors in the talent pool, it has become common practice to hire a casting director to suggest and audition actors on tape for the director to view and then decide. Some casting directors are very helpful and will answer all your questions about the few pages you are given; others are too busy or may not know the answers.
The actor’s relationship with the casting director is absolutely essential if he is to get work. If the casting director likes what you do, even if the director does not cast you, the casting director will call you again and again for every film he is asked to cast.
How do you keep in touch with these most important persons in the business of acting?
In many countries in the world, in order to protect the actor from being exploited, the actor is dependent on an agent to find her work, to sign contracts, to collect money from the production. The agent is rarely an actor. He is a businessman, who by law, only collects a small commission when and if you work. By law, the agent cannot ask you to pay him before you work.
How do you find an agent to represent you? What are agents looking for when you meet them?
Before the theater actor gets on his feet and learns the blocking [physical movements in the play] he or she reads and studies the script for many days with the director and other actors.
Often in film there is little or no rehearsal. The actor is simply asked to show up on set or location for a specific scene on a certain day—sometimes a scene set in the middle or end of the script. The director, however brilliantly gifted he may be visually, may know little or nothing about the craft of acting. Many directors feel their only responsibility is to tell the actor where and when to move in relation to the camera.
How then does the film actor prepare emotionally before and, more importantly, during the shoot? In effect, how does the film actor learn direct him or her self?
Unlike theater where the actor blocks the movement on stage and may vary her position on stage slightly from performance to performance, in film it is absolutely essential that the actor be in the exact same spot on the set at the same time in the dialogue for every camera angle and take.
In film this is called “hitting your marks.” If the actor changes his body or hand movements during the course of a long day on the set the film editor may not be able to cut from one angle to another smoothly.
What can the actor do to remember what he did early in the morning by the end of the day?
A more importantly, if an actor cannot change his movements once set by the director and crew, can she change the intensity of performance during the long day?
IN AND OUT OF SEQUENCE: In theater rehearsal the actor begins by studying the play in sequence from beginning to end of the text. The actor rehearses for a number of weeks before the director, then performs the play from beginning to end in front of the public and without interruption.
In film, the actor may not begin with the first scene in the script in which you appear. During the shoot, if there is a camera mistake, the director often calls “CUT” in the middle of a highly emotional moment, and instantly asks the actor to begin all over or to repeat the action again and again.
If the final performance, the one permanently recorded on film or tape, is made up of many pieces, shot out of continuity over a long period of days and months, how does the actor design the role, create a performance, so that when all the pieces are put together in the editing room the characterization is both believable and emotionally consistent?
The theater actor is trained how to project the voice to reach the furthest listener in the audience, whereas the film actor often thinks he need only be heard by a microphone far away in long shot or hanging directly above in close up.
In modern drama, actors emote to the final row of the theater. The actor film needs to avoid the monotony of conversational speech by knowing how to use the expressive range of the human voice. How much or how little vocal projection does a film actor need?
In theatre the actor is always at a fixed distance from the viewer in the audience; the spectator, once seated, retains the same view of the action throughout the performance. However, in film the director and the editor choose the distance from the viewer to the actor. In the edited film the actor, depending on which camera angle is used, is sometimes very close to the lens of the camera; other times, very far away.
How much or how little energy does the actor need to project so that honest unexaggerated emotions are read by the camera and heard by the microphone from various camera angle to angle?
In theatre, the curtain or lights go up, the play begins without stop, other than for intermissions. After a few hours the curtain or lights come down. The play is over, and the actor goes home.
In film the day begins early and often ends very late. Weeks or months later the film is finished. During these weeks and months, the actor is asked to repeat the same dialogue and physical actions from one short scene again and again so that it can be covered in many camera angles from very long shot down to extreme close up. The film is shot out of order.
How does the actor conserve energy during the long day, most of which is spent waiting for the camera and lighting to be adjusted from set up to set up? How can the actor learn to stop and start on command, to “turn on the juice,” and to be full emotionally at a moment’s notice?
The actor on set may get little or no instruction from the director other than “After you say that line move fast to the chair and sit down with your head turned right.” Many directors are so busy setting up camera angles and movements that they devote little time to their actor. Others do not know how to communicate with the actor.
How then does the actor justify these directorial instructions and move-ments, psychologically, so that all the actions have a reason and are more than just physical movements for movement’s sake?
If you disagree with director’s instructions or are unhappy with what you scene partner is doing, what is the proper on-set etiquette for making suggestions?
Do you as an actor have the right to disagree?