“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.” That line from “Sunset Boulevard” is iconic. Actors know that the close up is the most important shot. It makes you a star. Plus, once you understand how to play a closeup, you start to understand that you can make the camera work for you. (And, remember, that most auditions are done in closeups, so if you can't play that shot …well, you’re in big trouble.)
To understand what makes a good closeup, you need to understand that the closer you get to a camera, the more it is all about what is inside of you. Long shots (full-body shots) are more about physical action, because we don’t see your face very well. Medium shots (waist or hips up) are half physical action, half inner energy. Closeups are all about your thoughts. It is the moment that the action comes screeching to a halt and we go inside of the character that we can see a big change happen. You fall in love. You get inspired. You find out you have been betrayed. It’s when your character evolves or changes emotionally.
Below are six tips for playing closeups.
1. Make a great picture. Understanding that camera is about pictures helps. In a closeup, you can even look great just by making a nice picture and not even being a great actor. Conversely, you may be doing some good acting, but it will look lousy if you make a bad picture.
You are painting a picture, so give it interesting angles and shapes. Going diagonally across a frame makes a better picture than straight up and down. Bringing depth and dimension into the shot by leaning in can add to the effect of the picture. Framing the picture by bringing your arms or a prop into the bottom of the shot helps. The flow of your hair or the collar of your shirt or an interesting angle can all make a picture come to life.
2. Make it all about your thoughts. Play a closeup as though the other person were a foot or two away from you. Feel extremely intimate as though you were having a very deep, personal conversation. Really see and hear the other person. Anything that you really do or think or see will look amazing. Don’t try to punch it up to make sure the audience gets it. It will look too big. Closeups exaggerate everything. Think more along the lines of letting us see the reflection of the other person in your eyes.
3. Keep it simple. Because you are so close to the camera, less is more. Cut everything down to the bones. Keep your eyes simple and focused. Don’t do much physical movement.
4. Slow down. It is a moment that needs time for a big shift, so take it slow. Plus, the closer you get to a camera, the faster you appear to go ...so slow it down.
5. Don’t blink. In a powerful moment in the closeup, don’t blink. Blinking will kill your magic. Yes, you can blink in a close up, just not on your powerful, dramatic beats.
6. Become a pressure cooker. Since you want to drive all of your energy inside in a closeup, try holding your emotions in. This will build your energy like a pressure cooker. Keep your voice down to prevent your energy from escaping in the words. Don’t shake your head, as that will let the energy escape in the movement. Let all of your energy and emotion come from inside by directing it through your eyes like a laser.
Try these six simple tips. And study great actors from old and current movies to see what they do in their closeups. Now go out and make close-up magic!
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