In the past few years, I’ve directed 25 short films. One of the benefits of being responsible for coordinating the screen acting part of our full time acting course at Acting Coach Scotland is that I get to direct a lot of short films with some immensely talented and hard working acting students. Every time I make a film, it’s a serious education for me.
I’d like to share one of the most valuable tips I can possible offer as a screen acting coach and director.
The shots that the director chooses for their film are a very precise kind of note to the actors. Each type of shot can be interpreted as a way of telling the actor what’s required of them.
Long Shot: On a long or establishing shot, your face isn’t very visible - so your whole body comes your greatest form of expression. In a long shot, subtlety is out the window. So don’t bother with it. You can be much bigger than you would normally be.
Two Shot: If there’s two of you in the frame, react to what the other actor is giving you as you listen carefully to them.
Reaction Shot: A reaction shot is asking for just that. You need to make a visible reaction to what came before it. Make sure you know and understand fully what it is you’re reacting to. And then REALLY DO REACT. It will sometimes feel like you are mugging or face-acting, but if a reaction is needed, a reaction you must do.
Close Up: Here your thoughts are transformed onto your face. Whereas in the long shot, your whole body expresses your thoughts and emotions, now your face must do it. But not mugging like in the reaction shot. Now, the simplest thought, idea, facial expression will sell to the audience. Here in the most dramatic of shots, a tiny joke that registers for a second will become painted across the cinema wide.
Medium: Somewhere between Long and Close, you must find a balance between expressing your thoughts and feelings with your body and allowing those thoughts and feelings to cross your face.
The best screen acting looks simple. But it rarely is. Screen acting is a craft and can be learned, practised and developed. Take this idea into your next film role and carefully think about how the shot type/size is one of the most important notes the director can give.
To You, The Best
Mark Westbrook is a Screen Acting Coach and developed the Professional Diploma in Stage and Screen Acting at Acting Coach Scotland.