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Breaking Into Acting in the Movies

Apr 15, 2008
In New York resides a dramatic critic, now on the staff of a great newspaper, who has his own ideas about movie acting. The idea in question is that there is no such thing as movie acting and the gentleman carries it out by refusing to allow the word "acting" to be printed in any of the notices and reviews in his newspaper. When he wishes to convey the thought that such and such a star acted in such and such a picture he says, "Miss So-and-So posed before the camera in the motion Picture."

Now this critic is a good critic, as critics go, but he would be improved physically and mentally by a set of those monkey glands which the medicos are so successfully grafting upon various ossified Personalities. Anyone who thinks that there is no such thing as motion picture acting is probably still wondering whether the Germans will win the war. Motion picture acting is a highly developed art, with a technique quite as involved as that of the legitimate stage.

The fundamental principle to remember in undertaking screen acting is that the camera demands far greater realism on the part of the actor than the eyes of an audience. An actor in the spoken drama nearly always overplays or underplays his part. If he recited the same lines in the same tone with the same gestures in real life, he would appear to be just a little bit spiffy, as they say in English drinking circles. On the stage it is necessary to overdraw the character in order to convey a realistic impression to the audience; exact naturalism on the stage would appear as unreal as an unrouged face under a spotlight.

The camera, however, demands absolute realism. Actors must act as naturally and as leisurely as they would in their own homes. Their expressions must be no more pronounced than they would be in real life. Above all, they must be absolutely unconscious of the existence of the camera. Any deviation from this course leads to the most mortifying results on the screen.

The face, enlarged many times life size, becomes clearly that of an actor, rather than a real character. The assumed expression of hate or fear which would seem so natural on the stage is merely grotesque in the film. Unless the actor is really thinking the things he is trying to portray on the screen, the audience becomes instantly aware that something is wrong.

In the same way the camera picks up and accentuates every motion on the part of the actor. An unnecessary gesture is not noticed on the stage. On the screen, enlarged many times, it is instantly noted.

The two most important rules to follow, then, in motion picture acting are: act as you would under the same circumstances in real life, and eliminate all movement and gesture which does not bear on the scene. It is better not to move at all than to make a false move.

Beginners must adjust their walk to the camera. There is no rule for this, however, as every individual's way of standing and walking is different. Only through repeated tests can the beginner discover and correct the defects which are sure to appear in his physical pose the first time he acts before a camera. Often in making a picture, the director will instruct his cast to "speed up" or "slow down" their scene. Sometimes, also, he will alter the tempo of the scene by slowing down or speeding up the rate at which the camera is being cranked. Beginners must follow such instructions to the letter, for the timing of a scene is a vitally important part of picture production and a duty which is entirely in the hands of the director.

The best way to learn the principles of motion picture acting is to watch the making of as many scenes as possible before attempting to act one. Most of the stars of today learned their art by watching the efforts of others before the camera. Only by constant observation in the studio and, more important, in real life, where the actions and reactions of real people can be noted, can an actor hope to become proficient.
About the Author
Malcolm Blake has researched into the field of movies and written many articles in the area of movies.
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