Creation is a physical activity, not a mental one. The body can create better and faster than the mind ever could. A camera responds better to the physical than it does to the cerebral. But then why do so many actors spend so much time working in their heads? It’s how their “actor’s process” works. Their actor’s process entails a lot of analysis and takes a lot of time, and it’s the number one reason most actors don’t come across cinematic on camera. They’re stuck in their heads, so they’re not popping on screen.
Actors who know how to create physically, however, are going to create more memorable film work much more quickly and vividly, and it will be a lot more enjoyable, both for us and for them. With many actors, it doesn’t look like they even enjoy being on camera. They look like they’re working really, really hard. And if you’re working really hard, imagine what that’s like to watch?
Next time you’re about to start working on a piece of material, before you do any analysis, try these tips.
1. Everyone, and so every character, is a product of their environment, a manifestation of it. So imagine the environment of the story. Imagine the lighting, the mood, the temperature, the noises, textures, and feel. Now create a human being that embodies the characteristics of that environment, is a product of it, and a reflection of it.
2. Now, take the character you just created based on their environment and, before you do any analysis, pick an action that best reflects the character you’re creating. Carry that action through the scene delivering every line as though you’re carrying out the action with the lines. Now your character has a cinematic spine.
3. Next, take the character and, as you play the scene, explore rhythms you think might capture the mood and tone of the material. Human beings operate rhythmically. Writers write dialogue rhythmically. Yet, most actors never think about rhythm when approaching a piece of material. Apply rhythm to the dialogue until the scene feel like it fits in a groove and has forward momentum, and you’ll never have to worry about moments and line readings again. Your body will create all of them for you. The rhythm unleashes them. You just go along for the ride.
After you’ve done the above, do your scene analysis and your character analysis. You’ll find it takes a lot less time, you’ll get a lot more out of it, your performance will look and feel more cinematic, and no matter how much analysis you do, you’ll never be stuck in your head again.
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John Swanbeck directed the existential film comedy “The Big Kahuna” starring Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito. He is currently scripting a new comedy with the original writer of Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” His stage productions have appeared in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. His highly acclaimed e-book for actors “John Swanbeck's: How to Steal the Scene & End Up Playing the Lead” is available now on Amazon and iTunes. His company BlueSwanFilms is producing the animated series “The Daily Life of ‘Pants’ ” set in Los Angeles and the live comedy show The BlueSwanFilms Traveling Comedy Show. For John’s on-camera workshops email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow John on Twitter @CleverActorTips and visit BlueSwanFilms.com.
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