Stage is a performer’s medium. It is, in film terms, one long wide shot. The character is free to fill the space. A film or TV audition is one long mid shot. But there are restrictions on you.
On stage, your performance must be pitched to the back row. You semaphore your character’s emotion with reactions, looks, and inflections in your delivery.
But for a film or TV audition, we see the same lines again and again. We know the characters intent. And the camera is in close-up, catching the twitch of an eyebrow.
A good actor shows us everything the character is feeling. A great actor gives us just enough to stay fascinated.
A great performance intrigues us, makes us sit forward in our chairs wondering where the character is going. A telegraphed performance makes us sit back in our chairs. We know exactly the characters feelings and intentions.
On stage the actor will provide a reaction before the line. The emotion is communicated before opening your mouth, preparing the audience for what they are about to hear.
If you do this in film and on TV—react before you deliver the line—you actually kill the line.
So, in film and on TV, what do you do before each line? Nothing, except listen.
Stage scripts do not contain actor instructions. You are free to let the character go where the character wants to go! But every film and TV script contains writer notes describing scene actions, blocking, a character’s intent. They put dialogue in CAPS or bold to convey emphasis. Auditioning actors usually follow these guidelines obediently.
To follow the TV writer notes to the letter, is to act by numbers—to act in a pre-ordained sequence, to conform. You did not become an actor to be a conformist!
In film and TV auditions, we look for the actor who has a new approach to the character. We are drawn to the actor who finds a new rhythm for the dialogue, and many times the magical moments arrive when the character is not speaking.
In film or on TV, your goal is to listen. Hear the other characters’ lines for the first time. Because what you hear will allow you to deliver your next line perfectly without the need for an added reaction. On screen, stillness is far more powerful to show a character’s intention rather than physical or facial reactions.
Listen, don’t react. It makes the audience sit forward in their chairs, fascinated by your character’s next moment.
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