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Backstage Experts

How to Steal the Scene and End Up Playing the Lead

How to Steal the Scene and End Up Playing the Lead

Backstage Expert John Swanbeck discusses the inspiration behind his e-book, “How to Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead,” out now.

I was directing the film “The Big Kahuna.” We were auditioning a small role in the movie—a member of the hotel room service staff—but it was a scene with Kevin Spacey, so it was going to be a big deal for whomever landed the role. 

The day wasn’t going well. We were seeing well trained actors, but nobody who I thought could hold the screen with Spacey. During a break I went to the bathroom and ran into one of the actors who had just auditioned for me. We said hello again. There was an awkward silence as we went about our business. Then, he surprised me by asking how his audition went. I asked him how he thought it went. He said pretty good. Then, I surprised him by asking how he approached his audition. He jumped at the chance to tell me… 

He described his character, his character’s world, what was happening to his character during the scene, and I found myself wanting to see the performance he was describing, because it looked and sounded nothing like what we saw him do in the audition. So I walked him back into the room and showed him the tape of his read. He said he didn’t see on the monitor any of what he thought he had done. “Do you want to?” Then I took a few minutes and explained to him how the camera thinks, what it responds to, and about how to make an emotional connection with it, and, suddenly, he was amazing on the screen. 

I realized his actor’s process had given him all of this wonderful raw material, but not the tools to turn that raw material into something cinematically compelling. In other words, he didn’t know how to create for the camera. It would be like the lumber, the nails, and the paint got together to build a house and forgot to invite the saw, the hammer, and the paint brush. Here was an otherwise good actor with a wonderful process, and because no one had shown him how to use that process to create for the camera, he almost missed a chance to work with Kevin Spacey. The scene was eventually cut for story purposes, but that actor has a very nice career today.

When we finished working on the scene, I joked we couldn’t cast him because, even though he’d be acting opposite Kevin Spacey, he was going to steal the scene and end up playing the lead, and I told myself… if I could ever find a way to deliver what he experienced that day directly into the hands of actors that’s what I would call it…“How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead.”

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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 “Newbie” and the live comedy show The BlueSwanFilms Traveling Comedy Show. John is also the creator and writer of the comic strip “The Daily Life of 'Pants’". For John’s on-camera workshops email You can follow John on Twitter @CleverActorTips and visit BlueSwanFilms.Com.



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