In editing, the actors who are able to communicate huge ideas in the smallest packages will have more screen time. Subtle precision and seamless emotions are what make cutting great performances possible. Unfortunately, good actors can develop bad habits that complicate the editing process. Make sure your best moments never hit the cutting room floor by using these on-camera strategies.
1. Use your eyes.
Ask yourself, “What am I looking at and why?” Actors who get this right are an editor’s dream because we use your eyes to tell the story. With a thoughtful and powerful point of focus, you can make an audience laugh or cry, and change the story completely. Every look is a communication, so use your eyes strategically.
The best thing you can do is always have your eyes up and available. If we can’t see your eyes, we can’t see the emotion and we can’t see the story. Many actors hide from the camera trying to pick up a line or build to an emotion, but this is a mistake. The eyes are the gateway to your soul and the audience wants to see it.
2. Pay attention to continuity.
Choose your blocking wisely and stick to it every take, every time. This shouldn’t change with the angle of the camera. Whether it’s your closeup, a two-shot, a dirty (which is when we see the back of your head during your partner’s take and vice versa), or the master shot. Continuity is something that takes precision, accuracy, and a plan. Actors who are free with their movements limit the editor’s ability to communicate clearly and tell the story.
When doing your text analysis, mark the beats and make decisions about your blocking. Lock in your eye lines, where your hands go, when you will take a sip from the glass, and link these actions to your character’s objective. There needs to be a thought behind every movement.
3. Take a moment.
Unless your action is synced with some pyrotechnics or another technical element, you don’t have to start immediately after the director says “action.” Some actors feel so rushed to start the scene, they often begin their dialogue while the director is still speaking. That’s a sound and editing nightmare, and you force the cut because there’s no air around that line. Take a moment, breathe, collect yourself, and start thinking the thoughts of your character. This is your moment. Make the most of it.
4. Avoid clichés.
The camera starts rolling before the scene officially begins and as an editor, I get to see actors in that lovely period of time before they start acting. These are my favorite moments because you’re being your true self. Unfortunately, when “action” is called, I often see a completely different, less compelling person. The voice changes, the face contorts, the eyebrows have a mind of their own, and all the anxiety an actor feels goes into their body like a contemporary dance. You might feel comfortable showing this release of energy, but on camera, it’s sloppy and impossible to cut. Be still and have all that emotion and intensity go through your eyes like a laser beam.
5. Don’t push the emotion.
If the emotion isn’t there, don’t push it. Unless you’re playing a manipulative character, remember that no one in real life tries to cry or tries to be angry or laugh. Audiences want to see truthful emotions. They want to believe. There is no room for melodrama and sentimentality. The truth is always more interesting than something manufactured. Emotions happen when the moment at hand affects us, so be affected and be in the moment. Forget about the camera and forget about the room. Focus on the story and what your character will do to get what they want.
Help editors by following these strategies and avoid losing your best moments in editing!
*This post was originally published on March 28, 2019. It has since been updated.
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