Learn to “Block” Your Eyes
Your eyes are a big part of every on-camera audition. Too much eye contact can hurt an otherwise good audition. In real life, we don’t stare at people when we are talking to them. We often look away when we are thinking or reacting to the person we are talking to. Sometimes, we do this to give us time to think of a response; other times, to mask what we are really feeling. Nerves can often cause actors to feel such a strong need to connect with the reader and be in the moment that they become overly fixated on eye contact.
“No Staring Contest Please. …don’t keep your eyes locked like a homing device throughout the entire audition…We are always, to some degree, multitasking in life and so it shall be for your audition.” – From The Present Actor by Marci Philips, Head of NY Casting Office for ABC TV
Learn to “block” your eyes. On stage, actors are aware of the importance of the blocking given to us by the director and hitting our marks. Working on camera is much more intimate, especially in close-ups and auditions, and therefore, to be most effective, actors must learn to block their eyes. A good rule of thumb is to first identify exactly when you need to be looking directly at the other actor/character. Learn to express, listen, and speak with your eyes. Look for the moments where your character could be looking away to hide what they are feeling. Other reasons for looking away might be to gather your thoughts or refresh your blocking to avoid continually staring. Block these moments into your scene.
Here are some basic concepts to keep in mind when blocking your eyes (from Penny’s book, ACTING LIONS):
- “Work on keeping your thoughts “up and around.” The camera frame is like the stage for the screen actor. Your thoughts are like blocking.
- Practice eye synchronization. When is it most effective to look down or away from the other character? When is it most effective to look at the other character?
- Rehearse a scene using an extreme tight shot that only shows your eyes.
- Develop your instincts until every movement on camera is clear, having a reason and a purpose!”
One of Penny’s techniques is to have the actors set the camera frame to show their face from the nose up. In playback, the actors can see if their eye movements are clean, clear and expressive. When Penny works on this in class, she gives the actors either a Japanese fan or a bandana to block the lower portion of the face.
We often tell actors to treat an audition as if you are shooting your close-up. Imagine you have shot the master shots and mid-shots and now it is time for your close-up. React to the other character and the blocking as you imagined it for the scenes and block your eyes to match it. Taking the time to do this can make your work look like the real scene instead of just an audition.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Take another look at Rachel McAdams’ amazing audition for THE NOTEBOOK. This time, pay attention to how she blocked her eyes to enhance her audition. You’ll see she “Shot her Close-up” and that’s why she booked the job.
* In November and December, Penny’s Master Class will concentrate on auditions for leading roles in Pilots.
Acting Lion Tips are co-written by Penny Templeton and Hank Schob.
Hank Schob A graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and a 50-year acting industry veteran, Hank teaches the Camera Class, Beginning Class, Scene Study and Script Analysis Class.
Penny Templeton is the founder of The Penny Templeton Studio and the author of ACTING LIONS, the go-to book for actors in the 21st century. She teaches 2 Master Classes on the craft of acting and also individually coaches actors on technique for auditions and on preparing roles for Broadway, Television and feature films.
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Stay Tuned. Penny is in the process of preparing a Monthly Feature to be called RAISING the BAR. It will feature in-depth articles by Penny & Hank on the state of the Industry and Craft and offer ideas on what all of us can do to raise the bar and keep the craft of acting moving forward.