Where to Learn Film Acting
by Ruth Kulerman
There is a difference between acting on stage and acting for the camera so here's what you need to know.
"Are there classes just for film or TV acting? What is the difference between acting on stage and acting on camera?"
Let's answer the easy part first: Yes, there are classes for film acting all over the world. In fact, look under a vine in the Brazilian Rain Forest and you'll find a come-on ad for an expensive class in camera technique! In the world of scams, film acting classes rate top ten. Be careful out there. Lots of sharks.
There are many acting classes which specialize in just about everything: mime, improv, soap operas, commercials, martial arts, stage combat, auditioning, sit-com, Shakespeare and yes, acting on camera. You name it, somewhere it is being taught! Look on Internet audition sites like Actingland.com. See message boards. Speak to acting friends. Just don't plunk down a fortune until you have really checked out the coach/school/class. Film acting rip-off stories fill every acting message board.
In fact within the past hour I received an email announcement of a six week film class, which meets for two hours once a week, here in New York for the mere price of $550 with a promise of an audition upon finishing the course. That's a lot of money for something you can more or less teach yourself. Probably. Perhaps. (To be explored further.)
1. If you have any colleges near you, call and see if they have a theatre department. Their curriculum will probably include a film course.
2. If your town has a community theatre group, talk to the artistic director, who probably can steer you toward on-camera classes.
4. There are also videos on film acting you can buy. Go on-line and see what Amazon.com has to offer. Michael Caine has one out which received good critical response.
5. There are books about on-camera acting. Not quite the same as working "on-camera" but some are excellent. Go browsing in a bookstore or on-line.
6. Having read these books, get a Camcorder and practice in front of it. Do monologues, just talk and watch yourself talking. Do cold readings in front of your video camera. Watch yourself carefully and critically. Teach yourself. There is no better teacher in film work than you watching yourself on camera.
The best lessons I've ever had in camera work have come from watching tapes of my own work. Ouch, even that tiny little glance was too deliberate! It smacked of ACTING!!! Wow, that was interesting (didn't realize during the shoot that I had done anything. But that slight turn of the head WORKED. Why? It was not ACTED.) You and your camera are your best teachers. In Film.
MY BEST FILM TEACHER:
I was raised in a rural backwoods Southern hamlet which had one movie house that played Westerns on Saturday afternoon for the kids and "real" stuff Saturday night for the adults. Only we didn't call them movies. They were "picture shows." (Pronounced "Pitchershows.") And week after week, month after month, year after year, Saturday afternoons I sat in the dark, glued to the magic screen of the picture show in the Crystal Movie House. For a dime.
It is my deepest belief that the Crystal Movie House in the rural South was my "training school" for movie acting. That's 5,500 picture shows for the price of one NYC film class!
7. With videos, your generation can watch a film over and over and over. First the story--get that out of the way. THEN start watching for the acting. Just watch and watch and watch until you finally start to SEE what the actors are doing. Or mostly see what they are NOT doing.
8. Look at their face. Especially the eyes. The lead in "Cold Case" has superb acting eyes. You don't have to like her, her eyes, or the show. Just watch her eyes. They are about as good as the small screen gets. See what makes so many actors' eyes look like they are acting. Then look at the real TV or film pros whose eyes seem to live naturally, not live like an acting teacher told them to.
9. Listen to the voices. What happens at the end of a sentence? Hear the rhythm of their delivery. All the CSI clones seem to have attended the same "pause" class. But it's hard to beat Caruso for unique delivery. Watch and listen. You are not there to judge whether you like someone. You are watching and listening in order to learn how the pros act on camera.
10. Look to see if something looks "actory." Why did it look that way? Be sure and watch the "great" older actors also, even though they are a different generation and may act differently.
And watch TV. Rob Lowe or David Caruso are there whispering in your ear. Listen to them. Contrast their vocal and facial performance with Gary Sinise although Sinise is getting more whispery with each passing week. Look at the actors on West Wing. What is the difference between their acting and those on the original Law & Order?
Once you have mastered really watching actors on film, you are half way home in learning how to act on film yourself. I am totally convinced that watching the best actors -- I mean really watching, not criticizing, not judging, WATCHING, is the way to learn film acting. Then bring out the Camcorder and practice what you have learned. You will eventually discover your own eyes and voice and pauses.
So, to wind up "Can you take classes in on-camera acting?" Yes, of course. It just depends on where you take them: in a $550 six-lesson class or watching a video over and over or watching yourself in a graduate film. Or the Crystal Movie House.
But first a HUGE SUGGESTION: Learn to act. Chad Gracia recently mentioned that a current British heart throb did his initial acting on stage. So get basic training first. Then use that training in all acting arenas. Remember that abused phrase, "Get real"? That's acting! GETTING REAL. Movie, stage, TV or your own living room.
And getting real may require a coach to tell you when you aren't "real." But I am not convinced that a $550 six week course shared with several other actors is the only answer to "Where can I take a class in film acting?"