Landing the Role of Kate

A chronicle of my actventures

Acting in Film: Breaking it down Vanity Fair style

I’ve decided to keep a running review of the books as I read them. They are quite short and quick to read, so I think this will help me delineate key points and take away messages (wow, can you tell I’m in corporate communications or what). Then I will have a good notes resource to come back to, and you won’t have to go and read the books.

So, here is Michael Caine’s Acting in Film: An Actor’s Take on Movie Making

Chapter 1, Movie Acting: An Introduction

This chapter is less of an actual introduction to movie acting and more of a look at how film and theater acting vary greatly. If you have no theater experience, you can still take something from it, but it’s not as potent. Fortunately I do have some theater experience, so I can get where he’s coming from with a lot of the ideas.

The gist of it is that the camera picks up every minuscule thing you do. Caine describes it so well, I am going to quote him from page 3-4:

Like an attentive mistress, the camera hangs on your every word, your every look; she can’t take her eyes off you. She is listening to and recording everything you do, however minutely you do it; you have never known such devotion. She is also the most faithful lover, while you, for most of your career, look elsewhere and ignore her.

Basically just imagine that person you got [or are] obsessively infatuated with. You noticed every inflection in their voice, every flicker of their eyes, every hesitation they made before speaking or moving, every sigh they let out. Then you judged them all, usually in regards to yourself, deciding what each meant. Were they upset with you or just distracted by something else? Were you guys in sync or was it just a coincidence? Did that hesitation mean they ran into their ex today? In this scenario, you are the camera as well as the audience. You are recording and reacting. If something isn’t “right” or is “off”, you will notice and wonder about it. The difference being that an audience watching a film will instead say, “She’s just gone out of character.” and the suspension of disbelief, the persuasion of character, is gone, and worse, the actor most likely will never gain it back.

That being the main message, his points on the differences between film and theater are the following:

  • Theater relies on voice to carry the sound, film relies on microphones, so every whisper and sigh, no matter how minute, is picked up
  • Theater uses action to express emotion, while film relies on reaction
  • In theater, more is effective; in film less is more
  • Theater uses the play to carry you through if you forget a line, in film that slightly panicked look when you’ve forgotten your line will be picked up and you’ll have to reshoot
  • Plays are developed over time with the director and cast, whereas in film you have to prepare your character on your own before you show up on set without necessarily speaking with the director or cast first, and there are rarely rehearsals
  • In theater you have the entire play going in chronological order to help you get in character and build to your emotional climax. In film you might shoot the climatic scene on the first day.

Caine also states—and I think this is important, especially for me—that screen potential is impossible to determine until the actor is on screen. Basically, you have it, or you don’t.

Nothing really surprised me in this chapter, but of course when I watched a couple episodes of Lost tonight, all I could focus on was the acting. And the eyes, especially the eyes. But that comes up in more detail in later chapters.

What do you think—is this information surprising to you? Do you feel like film was just ruined for you forever? Did you hear that quote in Michael Caine’s voice when you read it? (I did, I love his voice.)



January 8, 2010 - Posted by | Acting in Film by Michael Caine | , ,

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