Sunday, August 26, 2007


The best way to define a film actor is as an entity that embodies a film role. Acting has been around for almost as long as civilization, but not until the beginning of this century has it been as up-close and personal as it is now - in the movies.

Before movies ever existed, actors made their living by performing theater. Theater is, of course, still around today. But because of the differences between the two, making the jump to movies can sometimes be tricky. Because the stage actor is usually able to sustain a character throughout one linear performance, he may have trouble adjusting to the quick response demands of out-of-continuity shooting. This major change has advantages and disadvantages. A film actor does not have to memorize many lines at one time to make the scene work, but he must be able to respond with a display of any given emotion at the time it is required.

The closeness of the medium of film compared to the stage provides the other big change. The intimacy of the camera makes it much more difficult to fake an emotion on screen than on stage. The camera's ability to capture the tiniest flicker of expression has led many to believe that what film requires is not acting, but being. Certain directors that agree with this philosophy are more likely to cast real people who aren't professional actors, but demonstrate an appearance and personality to match those of the characters to be portrayed, thus achieving a stronger sense of reality.

The contribution of acting to the total quality of a film differs from production to production, but is always a very important part of the filmmaking process. No matter how well the words are written, they must be said well to have any sort of lasting effect.

Obtaining the best actors for a given role, or casting, is almost always achieved through the process of auditioning. The technique that the casting directors use to audition you can differ dramatically depending on the part and the casting director's personality, but usually will involve some sort of line reading or improvisational acting. Some casting directors don't want you to read lines at all, but simply want to talk to you. In other cases, like if the movie is a period piece, the casting director may only want to see if you have the potential to look right for the part. For instance, at the Dallas audition for Dazed And Confused, the casting director mainly wanted to examine people's hair to see if it was long enough to fit the 1970's setting.

A good way to start an acting career is to go to open call auditions. Successful open call auditions can give you experience, and fill up your resume with credentials. Open calls are often advertised in local newspapers, and having an agent is not necessary to try out. Open calls are used for commercials, television programs, or even movies, and the parts being casted can range from extra all the way up to starring role. Experience and headshots (glossy, usually black and white photos of the head and face only) are usually not required for open call auditions.

Although open call auditions can often offer good experience, they aren't usually as reliable as a private audition, which can only be obtained through an acting agency. Because film directors want to cast their film with the best actors possible, they are more likely to trust actors who are represented with an agency, because this shows that the actor has been weeded out from the rest, has experience, and hopefully has talent.

To be accepted into an agency, you will typically be required to submit a headshot and resume, tell the agent a little about yourself, and read scripted lines. If the agency decides to take you, you will need to supply many copies of your headshot with a resume stapled on the back of each headshot. Even if you don't have too much movie or television experience, resumes can be filled up with everything from a part in the school play to favorite hobbies. Although not completely ethical, actor Jack Palance (Shane, Batman, City Slickers) faked acting experience by having pictures of himself posing in costume on stage as if actually performing a part for a popular play. Agents constantly receive information about auditions being held in the area, and will contact you if the part being auditioned seems right for you. Agents usually get paid by a percentage of the money the actors make after getting a part, but some request a fee just for representing you.

Another casting technique is the rarely used movie contest. Rather than hold an audition for a certain part (no more than one part per movie is usually casted this way), a contest is held to determine which "Lucky Winner!" gets to see himself on the big screen. This isn't usually used for major roles, because the fear of basing a movie around someone just because they got their name drawn is quite understandable. The reason casting contests aren't widely used is obvious. Directors feel as if they have less control over the project if the way it turns out relies purely on odds.

If they're so unpopular, why are casting contests used at all? Probably to build interest, and to make the public feel more involved with the movie, which in turn makes them more likely to want to see it and perhaps imagine how the movie would be different, had they won. And who knows? Maybe the filmmakers will get lucky too and actually discover an actor with enthusiasm, talent, and personality. There is one recent example of this technique in action - the sequel to Wes Craven's Scream held a contest to cast one of its characters.

The actors in the earliest films after the development of the film projector were normal people playing themselves; but then, with the development of the story in film, the need for professional actors arose.

Stage actors in the 1900's neglected the new medium, so most of the performers recruited for the early film dramas were either beginners or theater dropouts. They adopted a style of acting popular on the stage at the time - an oratorical technique characterized by flamboyant delivery and exaggerated gestures.

However, the introduction of sound removed the final traces of stylization from film acting. The exaggeration made necessary by the lack of verbal communication had disappeared. Many of the silent era stars were unable to thrive after this advance in technology because of imperfections in diction and absence of good voice quality. Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain

demonstrates this shaky era perfectly.



Paper Fan Club said...

Somewhat related to this post, I noticed that "Contact" is listed as one of your favorite movies... mine too! Jodie Foster's acting in this movie is nothing short of superb but strangely, often overlooked for other films in her career.

NeoAuteur said...

You share some really neat info here. I have one question for you though. Between great directing and great acting, which of the two do you think is more essential to a film's success?

Kathy said...

I wish I could act. I don't think I'd be very good and I am definitely too shy.