The Key to Onscreen Success: Get Behind the Camera

Photo Source: Gabe Sachs

Eoin Macken was in the middle of directing a movie atop a windswept cliff when NBC’s “The Night Shift” asked him for an audition video. Surrounded by friends, colleagues, and top-notch film equipment, he figured they could take an additional 10 minutes at the end of the day to shoot a quick scene. After promising everyone drinks were on him that night, he says, “We just shot this audition tape on the top of a cliff. And it looked quite cool!”

Having booked the lead role of army vet TC Callahan on the gripping medical drama, now wrapping up shooting its second season, Macken clearly believes in the power of the self-taped audition. Sure, not everyone has access to impeccable light and sound amid sweeping vistas, but investing in something that looks well-executed is crucial. “If you have a good camera, it makes it look a bit more professional, and someone will take the time to really look at it,” he says, before adding with emphasis, “Make sure the sound is good.”

The actor-director knows what he’s talking about, having resolved early on to immerse himself in every aspect of the filmmaking process. Initially a model for Abercrombie & Fitch, he dabbled in several different performance styles, including improv, the Meisner technique, and training under legendary acting coach Vincent Chase. Macken shot his first short film with classmates in L.A., a project that ultimately became a full-length feature and a major career highlight.

“When you’re first starting out acting, you’re just doing a bit part in a film so it’s actually hard to learn about the arc of a character,” Macken says. Teaming up with fellow creatives, he decided to start writing, directing, and starring in his own shorts to assemble a dynamic demo reel. “Part of the reason I made those films was because I wanted to play different characters. And I learned, from watching myself, that I thought I was good and I wasn’t.”

It’s that act of watching that has turned Macken into such a capable screen star. By editing footage of himself, he began to recognize what works on camera and what doesn’t, a technique he recommends for other actors “100 percent.” Being able to identify specific foibles or tics onscreen allows actors to embody different characters more fully. “If you can make [a film] for $500, $200, you can edit yourself and learn.” More conscious performers, he says, become more assertive performers.

Plus, a working knowledge of behind-the-camera intricacies enables Macken to loosen up on projects in which he’s only acting. If a director on “The Night Shift” asks for multiple takes, he explains, there’s no freezing up or fretting over whether he botched it. “When you’re aware of all the other things going on—the sound, the camera, [the fact that] they’re trying to get a certain composition, a moment from a scene because it works for pacing the character or story—you realize it’s not all about you.”

It’s natural, of course, for actors to think it’s all about them; that’s part of the job description. But experience on the other side of the lens can only enhance one’s craft. “I know people say they don’t want to watch themselves on camera, and that’s fine,” Macken says. But, as he points out, would that clifftop audition tape have booked him the job if he’d been reluctant to examine it? “I [don’t] see why you’d want to be an actor if you didn’t want to understand filmmaking.”

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Jack Smart
Jack Smart is the awards editor at Backstage, where he covers all things Emmy, SAG, Oscar, and Tony Awards. He also produces and hosts Backstage’s awards podcast “In the Envelope” and has interviewed some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.
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