While acting for the stage and acting for a camera contain many similarities, major differences exist in the techniques that should be used for each respectively. Think about it: in the theater, actors have to convey the same story to people in the back row as the people in the front row, and so the story must be shared in a big, loud way. On camera, however, actors tend to have smaller spaces to convey similar stories, and so nuance can come into play. Here are six ways to improve your on-camera acting technique, particularly if you grew up as a theater kid.
Lean Into Nuance
As mentioned above, having a smaller space in which to tell a story lends itself to smaller gestures. A small smile or a look downward may not read at all on a stage from a distance of fifty feet, but the camera can zoom in nice and close to catch all those little quirks. These are things humans see in each other on a daily basis, and is not only limited to body language, but extends to voice and tone as well.
Keep it Real
Though acting tends to be closer to real-life behavior in film than in theater, the big screen can still depict a fair amount of drama that doesn’t usually exist in our day to day lives. Even in these instances, try to draw on real feelings and memories for your performance. As mentioned in the nuance section, the camera gets much closer and hones in on specific emotions needed for a scene. Reactions that are too false will then seem much worse when put under such scrutiny. Make sure the actions are coming from a place of truth, wherever that can be found.
Most Work is Off-screen
In the theater, the entire show must be rehearsed multiple times before performance. For film, single scenes can be shot hundreds of times, and only the best take is used in the final cut. In order to portray these scenes, film actors prepare for them individually, because there won’t be tons of rehearsal. They must be ready the moment action is called, and then perform.
Blocking is Still Relevant
Blocking (your rehearsed placement and movements) is essential in theater, and surprisingly just as important in film. Though camera angles can often obtain shots which would be impossible on stage, and can break the bounds of placement common in stage acting, it’s still important to not block other actors from the camera view, or relevant pieces of set. Even walking across a room must be carefully considered in case the actor accidentally walks completely out of view.
Things are often smaller and quieter in film. With the many bits and pieces of expensive sound equipment, no sound tech wants the actors to be shouting into the microphones. Use clear and purposeful tones, but there is no need to “speak to the back row.”
Less is More
Trust the cameras and microphones to pick up what is happening. Trust the technicians to guide their equipment in the right direction. Unlearn the performative qualities of stage acting and remember that you’re not the only one who has to get your point across; a village of people are waiting to help your volume and lighting along. Tell your story naturally.
Logan Sekulow is a renowned producer and director.