The camera is the apple of every film and television actor’s eye—but sometimes it can play hard to get. However, the best onscreen actors know exactly how to lure the camera to them and keep it there. That can be you, too, if you stick to these how-to tips from industry and Backstage Experts.
Eyes are the windows to the (camera’s) soul.
“To achieve solid eye contact, focus on your scene partner’s downstage eye. Yes, there is an ‘upstage’ and a ‘downstage’ when working on camera, although ‘stage left’ becomes ‘camera right’ and vice-versa. (While there are still some directors who use the terms ‘stage left’ and ‘stage right,’ it is becoming a less frequent practice when directing for the camera.)
“Inexperienced actors often look shifty-eyed, as they move back and forth between another actor’s two eyes. Depending on the tightness of the shot, this may not be an issue. However, you should be very careful if the shot is extremely close and intense. By focusing on the downstage eye (the one closer to the camera), your performance will have more stillness, which both directors and audiences prefer to the shifty-eyed look.” —Brian O’Neil, acting career coach, consultant, audition coach, and Backstage Expert
The camera will love you as you are.
“The camera is, in fact, your biggest fan. Because it stands very close to you, it doesn’t require you to use any of your well-honed theatrical skills like precise diction, vocal projection, or any indication of where the jokes lie. If you want to do something extremely subtle, the camera will be there to see, understand, and record it.” —David Dean Bottrell, actor, teacher, and Backstage Expert
The camera knows what’s on the inside.
“On stage you have the opportunity for much more external business and your body and voice play a big part in who your character is. But in TV/film, where stillness is at a premium, you need to look within and find the qualities of yours that connect most powerfully with the words on the page. And when it’s go time, you need to be able to just talk and listen with a minimum of movement, relying on the honesty of your decisions to shine through from behind your eyes.” —Craig Wallace, creator of the Wallace Audition Technique and Backstage Expert
Show the camera your every nuance.
“Set yourself free. Do the things you would do if you were alone. Scratch. Get the hair out of your face. Set free natural nuances to happen so that you are working from a real ‘living human being’ area. Allow yourself to feel ugly, imperfect, even boring. Everyone actually looks better in a relaxed mode, as your face and body get a beautiful, natural glow and flow. It will look like you are doing nothing, but tiny nuances will begin to happen that warm up the whole scene. The more you do this, the easier it gets to trust that all the good stuff happens in this zone.” —Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt & Soul Acting Studio, acting coach, and Backstage Expert
These are the three keys to the camera’s heart:
“To define the difference between acting for the stage and acting for the camera, all stage actors are trained in two channels of nonverbal communication: the body and the voice. However, what separates the on-camera actor from the theatrical actor is the on-camera actor must know the three channels of nonverbal communication: the body, the voice, and the face.” —John Sudol, acting coach and author of “Acting: Face to Face: The Actor’s Guide to Understanding How Your Face Communicates Emotion for TV and Film”
The camera will tell you if you’re being too general.
“On camera, limitless possibilities translate as general. Human limitations translate as a clearly-defined character. Human beings, and therefore characters, are defined by their prejudices which limit the ways they see and respond to the world. Watching a limited human being or character clash with the world is what makes a story interesting. The ‘you are the character and the character is you’ approach would actually work if actors isolated specific qualities or character traits (or character limitations if you will) that they themselves possess and let those specific qualities dictate how they play the entire scene.” —John Swanbeck, author, speaker, director, and Backstage Expert
Ready to give it a shot? Check out Backstage's TV and film auditions!