What is a "Mark"?

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Photo Source: @mppllc via Twenty20

A “mark” or “marker” is the exact location an actor needs to stop and stand and deliver their lines. Usually, you will be asked to find that exact spot every time for each take. Every. Time. And why is that important?

Why hitting your mark matters

I discovered why this is important working on a film called “Brave New Jersey” with Tony Hale, Anna Camp, Matt Oberg, Mel Rodriguez, Sam Jaeger, Heather Burns, Dan Bakkedahl, and a ton of other working actors. It was a master class every day on set.

One thing I learned was hitting your mark. After we wrapped, the director invited me to watch some rough footage of my scenes. One thing that struck me was how absolutely consistent Tony Hale was in every scene. Out of four or five or even eight takes, he would hit his mark. Walk in, boom hit his mark. And the next take and the next. It was like watching a GIF. It was impressive and I said so to the director.

“Yeah,” said the director Jody Lambert. “Totally made me and the editor’s job easier. Hits his mark every time. Total pro. Keeps us from tearing our hair out.”

It makes the editor’s job easier! Of course. It makes it so easy for them to match up moments from one take to another to make one scene, but only if you’re hitting your same marks. So simple to understand but I had never thought of it before. You can bet I started to learn how to do it well, because, honestly, it’s hard. It’s a skill. Here’s how to master it.

How to hit your mark

  1. Know your surroundings. When you do get a mark, it’s usually a piece of gaffer tape or colorful marking tape on the floor laid down by a lighting person. If you shoot outside, it could be a stick or rock or something you could see but wouldn’t seem out of place to the audience. Step on that mark. Look around. Get the feel of standing there. Get into your character's thinking on that mark. Make it comfortable for yourself.
  2. Count your steps to and from your mark. Walk backward counting your steps until you’re off camera, then count them into the scene. Do this a couple of times until it’s in your body.
  3. Understand why your character needs to be at the mark. Do the same thing now but with your character’s thinking. Where are you coming from? What events are affecting your entrance? Do you have any props? How does it affect your breathing? There is a big difference in these two performances: the waitress rushing into work and stopping by the bosses door to apologize in near tears, versus 3, 4, 5, 6, look down. Stop. Now the acting. “I am so sorry boss.” Which performance do you want to bring to the scene?
  4. Work your marks when you’re not on set. This is something you can train yourself to do! Have a mark party with actor friends. Give each other a character, an opening line, and a mark. See who wins the “Markie” for the night. The work you do on your own time will dictate the work you do on set.

Become a great actor. Become your own GIF. Hit your marks easily with these simple steps (literally) and help your future editor and director keep their hair.

Bill Coelius has been in numerous television shows including “American Horror Story: Hotel,” “Parks and Rec,” “The Office,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Law and Order,” and many others. His movies include “Taking Woodstock” directed by Ang Lee, and “Brave New Jersey” with Tony Hale. He has also booked 49 national commercials which has allowed him to visit Buenos Aires, hang out with James Gandolfini, and get naked on 43rd Street. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit. Visit theworkingactorsolution.com to learn more.

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Bill Coelius
Bill Coelius has been in numerous television, movies, and over 50 national commercials. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit.
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