Unlocking the Mysteries of On-Camera Acting

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Photo Source: Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

The camera can either be an actor’s best friend or worst enemy, depending on your approach. Regardless of your acting technique, there’s a very special, fundamental relationship that needs to be cultivated in order to work in front of the camera effectively.

Here are four things an actor should be aware of that can help make acting for the camera an exciting and magical experience:

1. The camera responds to the truth.
The camera is a great truth barometer—better than our parents, best friends, even our lovers. If you’re not living in a truth, or if you’re just saying the lines or “acting,” the camera will note it for what it is: fake.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking real thoughts, experiencing sensations, following impulses and releasing into real behavior, the camera will drink it in. So it’s important to call upon the aspects of your craft that will serve this process, like the ability to feel private in public, being involved in the character’s world from your gut rather than your head, and finding a visceral connection to an objective instead of playing to an idea.

2. Expose rather than project.
Theater and film are completely different animals in terms of the physics of energy. In theater, the actor must project energy so it reaches the back row. When acting for the camera, it’s practically the opposite: The camera reaches into the actor’s soul. 

Rather than project as you would in the theater, allow the camera to reach in and see within you. This takes courage, patience, and practice. It begins with the actor’s willingness to be vulnerable and for that to be seen. It is within this delicate psychological space and through the eyes that an actor can communicate volumes without the need to push.

Everything You Need to Know About Acting for the Camera

3. Be aware that small things help tell the story.
The camera is like a microscope. The smallest movement—the flickers of life on your face as you listen, the hint of a smile—is magnified. The language of the camera is so unique and much of the story can be told through silences, behavior, and subtleties. The courage not to “push,” “act,” or “emote” is the first step toward discovering a whole new level of how you can tell a story on-camera. Start by recognizing that you’re enough, understand that the character comes through you, and let go of feeling like you have to show everything to the audience.

4. When in doubt, keep it intimate.
The old adage “less is more” applies to on-camera acting more than anything else. This is achieved when an actor knows he can turn an exclamation point into a whisper and have just as strong of an impact. Understanding the power of intimacy can be the actor’s biggest triumph in unlocking the mysteries of how to truly be the most effective on-camera.

*This post was originally published on Jan. 22, 2019. It has since been updated.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Greg Braun
Greg Braun is a professional actor and co-founded New Collective L.A. in 2009 along with Matthew Word with the mission of creating a nurturing and empowering conservatory-style acting studio in Los Angeles. Greg has previously taught for Susan Batson at her acting studio for more than fifteen years in New York and Los Angeles combined.
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