Acting for Camera is a misnomer. There is no Acting on camera. The screen magnifies everything, so the artifice of Acting is magnified with it. Acting with a capital A, creating something and presenting to an audience, that is the business of the theatre and the stage. A stage performance needs to be radiated out to the audience of potentially 2000 people.
Acting for the camera cannot bear to capture falsity with its unblinking eye. It craves the honesty of the real thoughts, feelings and actions of the actor.
But at the same time, everything on camera is a lie.
Art is not documentary. It is a carefully crafted and highly mediated composition requiring the work of hundreds of organised, talented people to deliver the stunning end result.
We have to cheat to create the kind of performances that people talk about for decades. Monroe in Bus Stop, Bergman in Casablanca, Winslet in The Reader, McDormand in Three Billboards, or Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. These are raw honest performances cheated to create great cinema.
Acting for the camera is a fine balance between the raw honesty of the performer letting the camera reach in and capture their innermost thoughts, and the trickery, magic, falsity and cheating of the art of making film and television.
If you come from a theatre background - even high school theatre - you are going to be shocked by how different acting for the camera is from stage acting. The first thing is that there is no acting. There is no presenting to the audience, because there is no audience. The performance happens within you, and you don’t need to share it. Yes, we need to see what’s going on, but no more than in life.
The next thing that will surprise you is that whereas you had weeks to craft a performance for the theatre, on camera, you need to do it now - with no preparation at all. There is no sanctity of the rehearsal room to discover your character and develop your emotional journey. You will discover all in public, in front of cast, creatives and crew. You are creating your best work with a hundred eyes on you. And that’s a big difference.
You cannot fake anything. You can’t pretend to cry. Your feelings must be genuine. From 50ft away, the audience might mistake your fakery for tears, on camera, they won’t buy it. Perhaps that’s why the Method has been so popular for film, because messing with people’s trauma on camera does produce results - alongside the expense of further therapy.
Volume is the next thing. You’ve only just learned to project, or you’ve been projecting for years. There is no projection on camera. There is a need for clarity and articulation, then good sound work as you speak normally. I don’t think you need to whisper like some acting coaches suggest, don’t be less than life - let the sound folks do their job.
So as you can see Acting for Camera is a lot different from Acting for Stage. It is a skill, a craft, that can be developed either in training or on the camera itself. In training, acting for camera is a safer experience.
If you’re looking to explore acting for camera, get in touch with Haley, our administrator, who can tell you all about our part-time acting for camera courses, our unique full time acting courses - all of which include a good portion of acting for camera. We also have intensive week and weekend acting for camera courses at our Glasgow acting studio.
Mark Westbrook is the Co-Principal at Acting Coach Scotland and a professional acting coach, serving and supporting professional clients all over the world.