How important is it to make eye contact with your partner?
Sometimes, not as important as you think.
Watch this vid, but especially starting at about the 1:45 mark.
You'd never know watching the film, it's that frikkin' smooth. And they're that good.
What looks natural to the camera, and what looks natural to you the actor may be two entirely different things. And you still have to make it work. It's what they're paying you for.
I'm not saying you're acting all by yourself up there. You're not. You've got to respond to your partner(s), the scene, the weather, and a whole host of other things that the character would logically be amidst of.
Sometimes though, it's as much, of not more about "the shot" than it is about you.
So that camera that's on you?
Remember how we said that you shouldn't change a thing? Well....that isn't entirely true.
You probably should have picked up that cup with your other hand. You just totally blocked your face and the reaction to what she said.
Also, where you stopped to wait for the bus, there's no light, we can't see how your worried about your mother.
As much as you shouldn't change if the camera is on you, there are certain technical things that can't be denied.
You have to hit your mark. You have to be seen.
As much as you shouldn't be concerned with the camera, you need to be worried about the camera. It would suck to do your best work, but all we see is your back.
PS. This, of course, all applies to the stage as well. Though, the audience doesn't move while, the camera might, so hitting the autopilot on your audience awareness is more tricky.
"Acting is nothing more or less than playing. The idea is to humanize life."
- Jeff Goldblum
If there was a camera on you right now, would you be doing anything differently?
Would you be sitting differently?
Would you been looking at your computer/phone/whatever differently?
Would you not be picking your nose?
Would you suddenly be aware of every move that you're making?
To be as "real" as possible the answer should be "No." You shouldn't change anything. The scene is you reading this post. And this is how you look reading this post. You don't need to change anything.
Throughout the day today, picture a camera suddenly being on you. Just notice, but don't change, what you're doing.
In the scene you're about to do, what just happened the "moment before"?
Something ALWAYS happened just before this. Sometimes the script will give you clues, sometimes it's totally up to you.
We could easily make a list of what it could be when it's up to us...
You could have...
...just had a fight.
...just woken up.
...just stepped in dog shit.
...just got laid.
...just had your dog die.
...just got a new job.
...just quit your job.
...just won a $5,000 scratch ticket.
You get the idea.
Go make your own list. At least 10 items. Pic two for the sides today.
P.S. I find it's better to make a list that has nothing to do with the scene you're about to do. This way, you get to try some really random stuff, and have a little more outside-of-the-box fun.
Of course, if it's obvious what just happened, you should probably try on that choice too.
Be good at small talk.
Many of the jobs you get at first will only be a day, maybe two. You're going to be making a LOT of small talk with people.
Get some conversational skills. Ask polite, but appropriate questions. Practice listening (it's called small talk, because you should listen more;)
And here's a really good one; try to remember one distinct thing about each person. Even if you don't remember a person's name, if the next time you see them, you can say, "Didn't you tell me about a great place for pizza in Austin?" They'll be both surprised and delighted that you remembered something unique about them.
If you remember their name too...even better.
“Be nice to people on the way up, because you may meet them on the way down.”
– Jimmy Durante
Be nice to everyone. No one is trying to piss you off on purpose. Everyone wants to do a good job, including the lowest guy on the totem pole. He's just like you. He wants to do well enough on this job that he gets another.
Word travels. Make an effort for the words said you to be at the least, very professional, and at best also a helluva fun time.
The stuff that we're doing on set, the stuff that fills our life with meaning?
It really ain't that important. Seriously.
Sure we move people. But we're not firefighters, or heart surgeons. What we do is mostly fluff. It's entertainment. Entertainment that makes some people, and hopefully ourselves, a shit-ton of money.
I'm not saying that what we don isn't important, but lets' put it into perspective.
In general, no one is going to lose their life if we mess up a take (nod to the stunt men, for whom this may not be true). It's just another take. Now, once you get past the 3rd or 4th take, you may start costing people money, and by the time you're on take 10, they're wondering what the hell is going on. But still, no one's life is at stake.
What we is important, in context. We all love out-takes, but you don't want the set to be a free-for all. And you don't want to be unprofessional.
Believe it or not, being more relaxed about the whole process will make you better as an actor. More relaxed = more emotion. More emotion = more dramatic takes.
So, remember that shirt you were so awesome about putting on before you sat down to get your make-up and hair done?
It's got a secondary purpose. It's multifunctional. Yeah, that's how awesome this shirt is.
Your On-Set Shirt should also be a little bit big for you. Big enough that you can throw it on easily over whatever other wardrobe you're wearing.
Why is this important? Because, hopefully, at some point, you're going to break for lunch. When you do, you're going to be able to save yourself some hassle by being able to put your "On Set Shirt" on right over your regular wardrobe. I know, so frikkin' genius.
This will stop you from getting food all over yourself, and, therefore, will keep wardrobe happy, and make you look more professional, because you are. Wardrobe and make-up are both in charge of how you look, so making their jobs easier, and less stressful is going to make you look that much better for the final product.
I know, I know. You don't spill food on yourself when you eat. Yeah, yeah. Neither do I. But you know what, it's a good thing I've had that damn shirt on, more than once. Cause sometimes, there's ice cream for dessert.
You should own a snap-up, or button up shirt that's a little too big for you, that's not offensive, or some crazy color. Something from Target is fine. This shirt will have one purpose and one purpose only.
It is your On Set Shirt. Yeah, I capitalized, it's a proper name.
I'm not saying that you have to where this shirt TO the set, but it's going to help you out once you get ON set. Here's why.
Say you're sitting in the make-up chair, and the hair person just finished about 20 minutes (if your a guy) or an hours (if your a gal) of work. You then go over to wardrobe to get your stuff. What happens then? Before you can put your wardrobe on, you've got to take your t-shirt off...over your head.
You're about to ruin someone's work, and they're going to have to come touch you up. Before the shoot even starts.
Once you get to set, and have made your impression with you're awesome sense of style. Change into your on-set shirt before sitting down in the make up chair. When you're done, and it's time to change, you don't have to worry about messing up someone else's hard work as the first thing you do on set.
There's another reason you should have an onset shirt, we're not done yet.