Last month I filmed this new webseries called “Ruth and Lori”. Having just wrapped principal photography on Spooks and now filming this, I’ve been getting a lot of on-camera experience, which has been great. I’m definitely new to the film world and the majority of what I’ve done is low-no budge kinda stuff, but it’s been a great learning experience along the way (in addition to great reel material and meeting some pretty cool people).
Below is a list of skills (many of which I didn’t even think of before getting into all this) that I’m honing:
- Hitting your mark. Without looking like an idiot by looking down on the ground as you walk. This is especially tricky when, say, you’re running into a scene, or turning around and walking backwards into it or going from mark to mark.
- Acting with a pole. Or a cupboard or piece of tape, whatever happens to be serving as your eye line while your costar takes a break or is awkwardly standing right next to the piece of tape because the camera shot wont allow her to sit where she’d really be.
- Acting to someone’s left ear. Sometimes your mark is not a piece of tape but the actual actor your acting across (imagine that!) BUT the way the camera’s angled it actually looks better if you look ever so slightly to their left which makes their ear a perfect target for eye line. This, I’ve found, has probably been my biggest challenge in this whole list. I immediately want to look at the eyes and then fuck up the shot, like, ten times in a row.
- Acting to a stand-in who isn’t saying the lines you are reacting to. Once I had the joy of acting to a stand-in because the actual actor was gone for the day, and it didn’t matter since we only needed to see a sliver of shoulder for the shot so you’d never know the difference. However, to keep it consistent I’m looking up at the person when delivering my lines. The challenge was when someone else read the other lines and not the stand in during the scene. It was incredibly weird and awkward.
- Consistency. Repeating the same action for continuity’s sake. And for the sake of increasing your odds to get your best performance in the final edit. If you held a cell phone in your left hand in one take, you better always hold it in your left hand from then on. If you took a sip of your tea at your first line in one take but at your 10th line in the remaining takes, even if that first take was the best, it might automatically get ruled out because it wont match up with the other takes from other angles. To make it easier on everyone and to ensure you’ll always get the best take in the final cut, make sure your big movements and actions are the same– always take that sip of tea at the top.
- Avoiding obtrusive objects that have been moved for the depth of field to look better on camera but in reality are just really awkward and cumbersome. This one’s real fun. You know how “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”? Same concept. Objects in real life are a hell of a lot closer than they appear on screen.
- Staying in frame. It’s a great little challenge when you have to be real, natural, in the moment but “don’t move your head too far to the left or raise your arm and further than your shoulder because you’ll go out of frame!!” (Actors are mere props anyway, who are we kidding?)
- Getting shiny. Apparently, what I’d like to consider a natural glow isn’t as attractive through the camera lens. Huh.
- Justifying unjustifiable movements. For the sake of a specific shot, you may need to stand in place even though it makes no sense and you want to walk. Or, that you are turned away from your fellow actor until a certain cue and then turn to them even though it makes no sense based on the script or the character. However, it may make perfect sense to the director who wants a very specific scene. It is our job to justify that seemingly incredibly unjustifiable action so that it looks completely effortless on screen.
The real challenge at the end of the day is to maintain truthfulness in all of this. Feels weird to act to a pole? Well, you better make it work. That is your job, after all.