Are You Ready For Your Close-up?
Using a Video Camera to Develop Your Artistry
Reproduced from The Soul of the American Actor
Every actor’s toolbox should have the big guns in it – Meisner, the Method – and now a camera. I believe that an actor who doesn’t work with a camera is at a disadvantage. If you’re competing against actors who have already done a lot of film or television, you have to know what you are doing. You have to be better than everyone else. And the camera can help you reach your potential. Using the camera is one of the ways to empower yourself as an artist.
Now that video cameras have become so affordable, every actor should own one. You can buy an inexpensive tripod or set the camera up on a bookshelf or a table to tape yourself. Once you get set up and start working with a camera regularly, you will really start to make progress in developing your art. One problem with working on your own, i.e., using a mirror, is that seeing yourself as you are performing takes you out of the moment, as you are simultaneously watching and critiquing yourself. The camera becomes a viable option to work fully in the present and have the opportunity to step back and objectively view your work during playback.
You could start with sensory work. Make a list of different emotions and start working on them one at a time. Daily is ideal and you don’t have to work for long periods of time, just enough to get those veins open and the emotions fully flowing. You can improv a situation that brings you to the emotion and then see if you can go straight to the emotion without the improv. Use the same material and plug in different substitutions to experiment with what substitutions affect you. The purpose is to take something like Method work where you’re working specifically with sensory and bring it to working on camera, so that you can then look at the playback and make adjustments yourself.
When working on scenes, you can tape the other character’s lines on audio tape, leaving spaces for you to work your lines. Use a handheld cassette recorder that you can pause or a regular tape recorder. Of course, rehearsing scenes would work better with a partner but sometimes you’re in situations where you have a reader or somebody who’s not really giving you anything to work off of. So it’s good to be able to see if you can plug your substitutions in and make it work without a partner. This is an excellent way to work monologues and to create the reality of the scene as fully as possible for yourself. The more specific and juicy you make your substitutions for your imaginary partner, the more interesting and specific your reactions will be. Is he crying? Is she walking away? Interrupting you? How specific is your environment? You can work deeply and take as much time as you need to get your sensory in place and then work on speeding up your reactions to work with the timing of the scene or monologue.
Let’s talk about exploring ways to fill the frame. Discovering not only how you can fit into the frame, but also how fully you can come out and fill the frame. How far can you fill your emotion internally? Do a scene or a monologue and watch it with the sound turned down. Is it all there? Are you seeing the emotions and thoughts you are trying to covey? Is your movement illuminating rather than taking away from the scene? Another way to work with filling the frame is technically. How far can you go with your emotions and still stay physically relaxed? In other words, can I keep my eyebrows still and not moving up and down? (No eye brow acting!) Are my eyes relaxed and not blinking? Is my jaw tense? Am I swaying? Am I making exaggerated faces? You can also work on the camera to watch your breathing. Are there places where I am holding my breath? How can working on my breath deepen my sensory work and emotional reality? How can working on my breathing drop my voice down, relaxing my throat and opening me up to emotional response? Relaxation is very important to practice on camera. For some actors who have a lot of tension, I take them through a process where I just want to relax their outer musculature, focusing solely on being in the moment in a relaxed state, and when they get that, then we start building it from the fire inside, adding more and more layers of emotional and physical life until it bonfires through a relaxed face.
You can practice blocking on camera. Try coming on camera, going off camera, leaning in, turning your head and your body, and using your mind like a pinball machine. Thinking is a great thing to practice on camera. You can really see if someone is just delivering lines one dimensionally or if the actor is really thinking what’s going on under the words. Multi layered thoughts create dimension and make the acting resonate in a deeper way. Practice this with the camera. Practice how big you can get or how far in you can pull an emotion internally or how you can communicate your thoughts without saying a single word. You might pull those thoughts inside, but the audience should see those thoughts through a relaxed outer body.
You learn by doing and you learn by repetition. You’re not an artist if you’re not consistent. And you can act alone consistently using a camera. An actor wants her process to be seen by the outside world. Now you can know what your process is. It used to be that you didn’t know what your work looked like until you saw it on the screen. You had to have a great deal of professional experience to understand how your work looked on camera. Now you can do that yourself.
Take responsibility for building your artistry and understand how to create it. Practice being open. Working on camera may inspire you. Be open to that. It’s not just practicing techniques, because that’s just like hitting a tennis ball. The techniques are important, but where else do they take you? That’s working your artistry. Can you bring yourself and the very depths of your soul to your work? Through working with the camera, you make discoveries that enlighten your art.
Okay, now press record!