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Acting For Film

  • “The reason that there is so much bad acting is because there can be.”

    Constantine Stanislavski said this over a century ago bemoaning the fact that the low expectations of the audience and the manipulations of directors toward these low expectations were the reasons that the art of acting needed to be revolutionized. I think it may be time for another revolution.

    I have been directing the theatre program at a community college in Kentucky for a little over 26 years. About ten years ago, the advancements in digital technology made it possible for me to begin using the transferable skills of live theatre in practicing and teaching the basic skills of filmmaking. There was a learning curve. The technologies used (lighting and sound) were similar but the difference between the human eye and the eye of the camera required some adjustments in thinking. This was particularly true, however, with the differences between stage acting and film acting.

    I require that all my students successfully complete my acting class on basic stage acting skills before they enroll in my “Acting for the Camera” course. “All acting is an adjustment,” I tell them on the first day (as well as every chance I get thereafter). “It’s an adjustment from who you are toward who your character is.” The actor’s ability to make this adjustment is crucial and is the basis of all good acting.

    About a year ago, a colleague of mine at another community college told me that he didn’t require his students to take a basic stage acting course before they took film acting because, according to him, they were basically the same. “Film acting is stage acting, only smaller.” He told me.

    This “smallness” seems to be a prevalent attitude toward the art of acting in film. True, you can’t perform for the camera the way you do on the stage. However, a great film performance should be every bit as “large” as a great stage performance; it’s a matter of adjustment.

    The first thing an actor must do to create a believable character is to create a rich inner life based on the structure of the script. Then they must make the adjustments necessary to convey this inner life to the audience. The difference between stage acting and film acting, I tell my students, is that “stage acting is about creating the truth within yourself and then projecting it toward the audience. With film acting, you create the truth within yourself and then let the camera come and find it.” The first requirement of good film acting is that you create something that’s worth coming to find.

    The undervaluing of acting for film has been around as long as the “Kuleshov Experiment” in the early 20th century. The result has been that there has been a lot of mumbling and posing for the camera in lieu of acting. And why does this happen? Because it can.