Posts Tagged ‘Actors & Acting’

How to Make Confident Casting Choices

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Casting for a TV commercial or corporate video is an important step in pre-production. When you hire the right actor for a particular role, everything on screen seems to click. However, the auditioning process can be challenging, especially when you see a lot of talented actors. Sometimes it’s difficult to narrow the list of choices down to that one actor who fits the bill. Here’s how you can make more confident casting decisions.

First, HOLD AUDITIONS. Don’t simply cast someone based on a headshot and resume. Get them into your office. Meet with them. Talk with them. Get them on camera delivering lines from the script. An actor’s headshot may look perfect, but the performance may be lacking.

Second, HIRE PROFESSIONALS. I know that your production budget may prevent you from hiring professional talent, but if you can afford it, do it. Professional actors are accustomed to being on a set. They are comfortable on camera. They take direction well. They can deliver the same lines in a variety of ways, which will give you options when you get into post-production. Non-professional actors may require a lot of extra direction, which can cause the production to fall behind schedule. If you have to cast amateurs, you definitely need to adhere to tip #1 on this list. It will also help to hold a few rehearsals with your amateur cast before the actual shoot.

During the actual audition, you will want to do the following:

  1. FILM EVERYONE’S AUDITION. You can use the footage as a reference after the audition is over. When you are going back through everyone’s headshot and resume days later, it can be easy to forget how they performed. Also, seeing an actor perform live is different from seeing them on camera. Having video footage of an actor’s audition is an excellent way for you (or you and your client) to evaluate his/her on-camera presence.
  2. ASK THEM TO PERFORM THE LINES IN DIFFERENT WAYS. If an actor’s initial interpretation comes across too weepy, ask them to do it with a more angry feel. If it’s too “bubbly,” or “perky,” ask them to perform it with a more reserved and subtle joy. This will give you a sense of an actor’s range, and it will also give you an idea of how they respond to direction.
  3. DIRECT THEM TO STAND AND MOVE AS THEY DELIVER THE LINES. I realize that this tip really depends on the nature of your project. For example, if your commercial takes place inside a car, you won’t need the actor to stand. However, if the script requires standing and/or moving, get the actor up on his/her feet and ask them to move around as the script directs. Someone may look and sound great while seated, but they may move awkwardly when standing or walking.

And when evaluating the auditions, examine the following:

  1. Did the actor provide you with enough vocal variety when reading the lines?
  2. Did they respond to your direction well? Did they deliver what you asked them to do? Or were they slow to comprehend and deliver?
  3. Do their facial expressions and body language convey the emotion you are looking for? So much of an actor’s on-camera performance is non-verbal. Did the actor communicate the feelings of the character without saying a word? Or, did his/her face remain relatively unemotional?
  4. How did the actors look when up and moving around? How did they carry themselves? Was it natural and believable or forced and stiff?
  5. How was the actor’s overall appearance? Sometimes someone may have a great presence and an excellent delivery, but he/she may just not have the right look for the part. Who just “looks right,” in your opinion? When following up with actors with whom I have auditioned, sometimes I have to tell them that they are extremely talented and did a great job during the audition, but ultimately, just didn’t look right for the part.

Taking time to weigh your casting options will definitely have a positive impact on the final video.

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Directing Non-Professional Talent

Friday, September 18th, 2009

There are many corporate videos that feel staged, rehearsed… unnatural. Every action seems forced and the blocking predictable. Budgets often prohibit the hiring of professional actors, so sales and marketing videos usually rely on actual employees to communicate a company’s message. Using real-life employees, however, does have its advantages. It gives the company some transparency, allowing viewers to see the people behind the brand. And it can be a necessity. After all, if you’re producing an employee orientation video, wouldn’t you want to feature other employees within the company?

The challenge for the director then is to instruct non-professional talent so that the video seems personable, open, and natural. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Be clear with the talent regarding the content of the video, what you expect of them, and what you are trying to achieve.
  2. If they are to be interviewed, go over the questions with them beforehand. Again, tell them what you’re looking for, but be careful not to lead them. The answers need to come from them, in their own words.
  3. Before you start shooting, take some time to get to know your talent. Get them talking about things they are interested in. Being in front of a camera can be intimidating for some people. So you need to help them relax before you start rolling.
  4. In some situations, you may find yourself working with children. If so, take some time to joke around with them. Get them laughing. go outside and play with them for a little bit. If they consider you a friend, then they will perform better on camera.
  5. Children are very curious, so let them look at your gear. Show them the camera. Let them look through the viewfinder. Get them excited about being in the video.

Each of these suggestions is designed to help your talent feel comfortable. If they feel at ease with you, your crew, and the situation, then their on-camera presence will be incredibly strong.

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What I’m Watching: Rescue Dawn

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

rescue-dawnFor the record, Rescue Dawnis not a war movie. If you go in expecting heavy action, lots of gunplay, and large-scale battle sequences, you will be horribly disappointed. Rather, the film is about friendship, hope, and survival. It’s a character study. The pacing and method of storytelling is more like The Shawshank Redemption- short episodic sections that, when assembled together, form the overall narrative arc.

Christian Bale plays Dieter Dengler, a Navy pilot stationed on an aircraft carrier just off the coast of Laos in 1965. The story follows Dieter’s first mission, subsequent capture by the Vietnamese, and his life in a makeshift POW camp deep in the jungle. Director Werner Herzog made this film as a follow up to his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Flyin order to expound on more of the story and complete what Dengler himself saw as “unfinished business.”

The film itself is honest in its approach. It’s incredibly genuine and we feel as though we are watching actual events as they unfold. Bale’s dedication to the role is admirable and the investments he makes in his portrayal pay dividends in the final cut. Bale and the supporting cast of fellow POW’s (including Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies) succeed in developing a level of realism that fills in the for the lack of action and digital effects.

The biggest problem with Rescue Dawn is the fact that it has no real emotional impact. It fails to create a level of intensity that is to be expected from this type of story. At times the narrative seems content just to flow along slowly, like the lethargy of a meandering river. Therefore, it’s hard to connect with Bale’s character. You want to commit to the story 100%. You want to cheer for Dieter. But in the end you just sit back and say to yourself, “Whatever. If he makes it, he makes it.”

4 1/2 out of 10

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Acting for the Camera – On Set

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

A majority of my first post on acting for the camera dealt with preparations the actor makes in order to find work. For the purposes of today’s post, imagine that you’ve landed the role. What do directors and producers expect of you throughout the production process?

  1. A Strong Work Ethic – Whether you are getting paid for your time or you are donating your talents for the experience, you need to demonstrate an eagerness for the project. This includes: a) Arriving on time for all rehearsals and shooting dates, b) Memorizing your lines, c) Remaining courteous to everyone involved, d) Being mature and professional. We’ve all seen those “behind-the-scenes” documentaries of actors joking around on set. There’s certainly a place for that, but don’t let it hinder the process of filmmaking.
  2. A Willingness to Listen – When the director critiques your performance, don’t get defensive. Listen and acknowledge that direction. Don’t make excuses. Don’t tell the director why he/she is wrong. Effective communication begins with listening.
  3. A Willingness to Collaborate – As a director, I enjoy getting input from my actors. I expect them to come to the project with their own ideas and suggestions. I realize that not every idea fits with my vision, but I also know that some suggestions will make the film better. I welcome that creative collaboration. As an actor, you need to study the material. Be prepared to offer your opinions. It shows the director that you care about making the best film possible.

The process of filmmaking is extremely demanding, yet extremely rewarding. Being professional, courteous, and hard-working will go a long way toward landing you that next acting job.

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What I’m Watching: ‘Millions’

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

millionsBefore director Danny Boyle was winning accolades for Slumdog Millionaire, he shot a little film about two English brothers who fall into an incredible amount of money. In the film Millions, brothers Damian and Anthony re-locate to a new area of town with their father Ronnie. All three are still reeling from the death of Ronnie’s wife and the new house gives them a chance to move past the grief.

Damian is an imaginative little boy, always conscious of others and always willing to help. So, when a duffel bag full of British pounds literally falls into his lap, he’s motivated to use the money to help as many people as possible. His brother Anthony, in contrast, wants to keep the money to himself and use it for his own benefit. But complicating their situation is the fact that England will switch over to the Euro in only 14 days, leaving their cash worthless.

Millions is told from Damian’s perspective, and the fanciful special effects and vibrant colors throughout reflect Damian’s imagination and his view of the world around him. Each scene becomes a visual treat, especially the opening sequence when the two brothers venture on to the empty lot of their soon-to-be-built house. They start to imagine what the house will look like and as they dream, the house builds itself around them.

The film has a distinctive charm that’s brought out both through the wonderful visual elements and the performances. Alex Etel’s portrayal of Damian is heartwarming, and although the character is naive and innocent, he teaches us a lot about humanitarianism. Overall, Millions is a delightful story with identifiable characters, a solid plot, and an emotional appeal that doesn’t become overly sweet.

7 out of 10 stars

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