So, you took a drink, right there? It wasn't written in the script, but you wanted to take a drink of water, right there, after your third line?
You better have a damn good reason.
If the author wanted you to drink there, they would've written "HE TAKES A DRINK OF WATER." But they didn't, did they?
Drinking water there could be brilliant. It could be the best decision anyone has made all damn day in the scene, but there better be a reason you made that choice, as in you can back it up and not just seem like an actor using a crutch to get through the scene.
If you choose an action, there's gotta be a reason behind it, and, of course, that reason will change with each scene. But it better be there, and it better be good.
There are a LOT of things, as in physical things you can do in a scene. Sometimes there will be things written, sometimes, not.
Something like, "HE TAKES A DRINK OF WATER." May seem like simple direction, but they can be much, much more.
If there's some kind of action written into the scene, it's there because the author had something very specific in mind for what that character was feeling in that moment. There's a very specific reason that HE TAKES A DRINK OF WATER right then, and not the line before or after it.
What's the reason?
Damned if I know.
Get creative. it could be a litany of reasons...maybe...
...he needed a minute to think
...he wanted to let the guy think about what he said
...he needs to relax
...he was actually thirsty
These are four off the top of my head. I haven't even seen the scene we're talking about.
If there's stage direction, sure, do the literal thing, sometimes that's all you need. But in the whole play/movie, the guy only ever is directed, in the script, to drink twice, why is this one of the times? You answer that, and you've got a little clue to the character, even if you don't have all the info you'd like on them.
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.
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.
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.
You should try something that you KNOW isn't right.
Make a choice that your POSITIVE doesn't work for the scene.
Make the character a clown, a drunk, a 5-year old, a frikkin' cowboy, hell, a creep child molester priest, I don't care. Make some REALLY BIG, even random, choices and go all the way with them, total caricature, SNL style.
Guess what's gonna happen?
You're gonna have a little fun. You're gonna loosen the fuck up. You're going to take the pressure off because there's no way that the character would be this way.
Guess what else is going to happen?
You're going to get insight into the scene. Sure, you'll probably never play the scene that way at an audition, or on stage, or on set. But doing so opens you to more possibilities for the scene, and keeps you from getting in a rut. You know that rut where you're saying the lines the EXACT SAME WAY only at different volume? Yeah. That's not acting. That's boring.
And those things that you were SO sure were true about the character? Maybe there's a little wiggle room there.
A little trick to make you look a bit more professional for your cold reading scenes when you audition.
Memorize your first and last lines.
Aside from being the easiest lines to remember, just by their nature of being first and last, this also provides you with a great opportunity to connect with your scene partner/reader. You know that you're starting the scene connected with them. And you know that your finishing it connected.
People, in general, tend to remember the first and last impression of a person. Being "off the page" for that first line, gives you a chance to focus on the emotion in the scene, or your task. Then have your finger right there, so when you go down to the page, you're on track.
Memorizing the last line ensures that you're not buried in the page at the end of the scene, for the button at the end of the scene. Give it a try on your next one, see how it works. 🙂
The natural next step after "Be a fuck-up," is naturally, not caring at all whether or not you get the job.
This may seem counterintuitive at first. As in, "If I don't care, I won't do a good job."
But that's not what I'm saying. Getting the job would be nice and all, but that's not why you're in the room. You're in the room to show them the shit you can do with those four pages in your hand. You're there to show them the work you put into these four pages. To show them that you made some frikkin' choices. That you're NOT BORING. That you're engaged with the material. That's why you're in the room.
Whether you get the job or not is soooo far out of your control that you shouldn't even be thinking about that AT ALL. The more you think about the job, the more your stupid brain starts spinning out of control with all kinds of crazy scenarios and stories about how you're finally going to get your new apartment and by a house for your mom. Guess what, you're not. All you're gonna do is walk into that room, and kill it. After that, who knows.
That's what we're here for. This whole site is a place for you to try shit out. Anything. You wanna do the scene in a dress? Put it on. Wanna try a German accent? Nine problem. Wanna do it while jumping rope? Let's go Rocky.
You don't fail enough. Seriously. You need to fail a LOT to start to have the instincts about the stuff that's going to work and that's not going to work. You may try something and think, "Yeah! That's a great choice!" Only to find out it wasn't the best one that you could make.
You need to try at LEAST 10 different "ways" to do a scene before you can start narrowing things down about how you think it should be played. And by "ways" I mean anything from accents to being cold out to a whole other list of things that we'll get to with time. If you go in with your first choice, at best you're always going to come out of your reading wishing that you would've tried something else, at the worst, you're going to get an idea on the way home and obsess that "I should've done THAT!"
Since you're getting all the gold I'm putting out here, go ahead and be a failure today. Do the scene the worst way you possibly can. Make the glaring WRONG choice for the thing. You know what? You're going to find a little kernel of truth or insight by doing it that way.