If there is one way to expand your skills and knowledge as an actor, it’s to produce your own shorts. I learned more about the craft than a year of classes. An acting coach of mine had been saying it for years and finally, I did it.
I know it may sound like a daunting idea but there are so many Directors of photography and directors fresh out of college willing to collaborate or work together at a cheap rate. They’ll teach you so much and you’ll gain such a deeper understanding of how production works.
Here’s what I learned:
Casting isn’t personal – there are many factors.
I’d been sitting on a script for a while and wanted to shoot it. The storyboard was ready to go. I had loads of friends and friends of friends who were interested but one stood out. It wasn’t just because she was talented. It was because she fit the story and had a look that made sense. That was it. All the people we spoke to were super talented, but one stood out. This gave me my first key lesson.
It’s not personal, it’s not always about talent – other factors such as the writer’s opinion, the look of the actor and the story that is being told are huge factors.
That said, talent will make the casting director bring you back again and again till you do fit the story of a show their casting. There are always more projects in the pipeline.
Give the editor something to work with.
Many actors get stuck in a line reading and do the scene the same way over and over. This is a problem because one, it stales your acting and two, it gives the editor nothing to work with. You would be surprised how many different bits and pieces from different takes we used to make “one scene.” Keeping it spontaneous and within the instructions of the director will allow the editor to have plenty of material to use to make a scene look amazing and also make you look like a superstar.
Keep it spontaneous each take and give something the editor can work with.
You’re a team.
I’m not saying that actors don’t think this but it’s worth mentioning. You are a part of a squad that all have roles and responsibilities. Be a team player, be nice on set and be respectful to everyone. Try to understand from everyone else’s perspective. Be ready to go on set and prepared.
A director dreams of working with someone who is ready and doesn’t need too much direction. That means the scene will be done fast and they can move on – they’re on a time crunch. They’ll be ahead of time and the director will look great. One of my favorite quotes from a DP was “I love working with people who get it done fast and make me look good. I do none of the work but look like an incredible director.”
You all want the same result – to make an awesome film and look good.
A different lens tells a different story.
This links back to why keeping your rehearsals fluid and spontaneous is crucial. Let’s say the director decides they want an 85mm close-up shot for a part of the scene. Know that any kind of movement is exaggerated, and stillness is most likely going to be key here. If you’ve rehearsed the scene a certain way, the same way over and over, any change could buckle you as you hold on to the line reading out of fear of forgetting your lines. Try to remember the POV and thoughts of the scene, not just the lines. Keep it spontaneous in case there are changes.
A way to expand on this is to check out shotdeck.com. They have thousands of shots from well-known films and TV shows. It breaks down the color palette, lens, camera, lighting, time of day, and location. Look at how any changes to these factors create a completely different shot and story. All of these have a huge impact on how you’ll be directed.
This is the most important part. Everyone on set wants to make an amazing film and be proud of their efforts. Know that any chance to act in front of a camera is an opportunity to have fun. Embrace the play and enjoy the process. For most, it’s not an everyday occurrence. You might as well have fun if you’re going to do it.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a DP and/or director who will collaborate for free. Especially one who wants to get more experience. Worst case, you’ll have to pay them some money and hire some equipment. Next time, instead of paying for a class, use that money to shoot something. Not only will you have fun, you most likely have some great new reel material.
You’ll also learn so much about what goes into shooting a scene and a deeper understating of how it all works. This can be extremely valuable when you’re on set. It’ll be less daunting when you book that big role, and you’ll look like you know what you’re doing.
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Dylan Benson is an Australian actor and model. He’s starred on Australia’s soap opera Home and Away and has worked on commercials globally. He currently resides in LA, coaches with Bob Krakower and is represented by Luber Roklin Entertainment.