Okay, so I do not want to be completely negative by saying the misconceptions which requires me to denounce a certain idyllic view someone might have of the acting process and say this way of doing things is wrong. However, I am going to state the things I’ve noticed and learned in my very, very, small time of directing for film or watching my friends direct for film.
I revere actors, I really do. All my friends that are actors, I am so very blessed to have them. A good actor is gold really they are and I’m honored to be surrounded by so many talented people. So I have learned from them and from ‘directing’ them what it takes to make it as an actor. This is dedicated to the people thinking about trying out acting and what encounters you may face on the endeavor.
1. It’s easy.
Nothing in life that is worth working for is ever easy. Come on, you know this already!
2. You’ll go on auditions.
This is sad but very true. Especially if you live anywhere other than Los Angeles, California or New York City. If you do go on auditions, regularly you’ve got something good going. Keep holding out you will land something.
3. You are already Meryl Streep or George Clooney.
Unfortunately, if you are reading this and you are Meryl Streep or George Clooney (wow, thanks for stopping by!) then obviously you are Meryl Streep or George Clooney. For the rest of us folks out there you can’t be trampling along thinking you are Meryl Streep or George Clooney. That means no, you do not get a chair in this film. All I offer is pizza, beer and coffee and that’s something. You are not the best there is, I’m sorry but it’s true there are always replacements and there are millions of replacements who will fill your part and will shut up about it.
This doesn’t mean you will never be better than the greats, or aren’t a great actor it just means don’t go around the town acting like you are irreplaceable. Prove why you can not be replaced. Be the best without telling everyone you are the best. I’ll believe it when I see it and so will the other millions of people out there.
4. You will be really busy on set with no time at all.
I usually feel really bad when I’m on set and I have these kind actors (who are usually my friends) and I ask them to be “on set” three hours before they even get to be in front of the camera. This is partially because I really can only pay them with pizza and soda or sometimes coffee and beer if I am really desperate. I just remind myself that that is what happens in the big leagues. It’s probably helping these future actors realize if this is or isn’t the right place for them. If they don’t still have some pep in their step after four hours working on a short film they probably won’t enjoy it for the rest of their lives. I myself treasure time on set. Especially when things are running smoothly. It’s four am and I’m on set I can keep going I don’t want to stop because I am in the flow of it. If you feel no flow with it don’t do it or reassess your priorities.
Making movies takes time and it takes up a lot of it from everyone. Actors are the ones with the most free time on set. Even if the cinematographer on set and the director on set know the exact shot they will be doing and the exact procedures it takes to get that shot it still takes so much time to set up the shot to the perfection level. Then it takes time to rehearse, perform, review, and dismantle each and every shot. That means actors will be standing around waiting for their moment to shine when they had the best momentum two hours ago when the process began. The whole point of a director is still bring out the magic even with all these factors align to prevent it.
Recently when Chris and I went on a tour of Warner Brothers studios in LA our tour guide told us she heard someone once say, ‘If you want to be an actor, bring a book.’ It’s so true. That means be prepared to sit for a long, long period of time in which you may have only five minutes of shine (30 seconds of screen time).
5. You don’t need to do any homework except memorize lines.
I really dislike those people who have the philosophy that they just show up do their thing and then their out. Unless, of course you are Meryl Streep or George Clooney in which case they did their homework a long long time ago they don’t need to do it anymore but are probably still interested so they do still do it.
When I was younger and first told my mother I wanted to be a singer and then later an actress she told me I needed to do my homework. That meant that even though I wanted to sing S Club 7 songs at the talent show in third grade she showed me ‘Nothing’ from A Chorus Line and it changed my whole perception on wanting something and getting it. You had to study and learn about the pioneers before you could dream up your own songs.
To think that you just need to memorize lines to be an actor or even a decent one is really ridiculous. Do you need to just learn a string on the guitar to be a rockstar? I don’t think so. Same goes for anything and that includes acting. For example is your play or film taking place in the 1960s manhattan? You should probably listen to some music, watch a few movies from that time and yes, read a few books too written in that time or that encompass that time and place well. DO your research. It will show through your performance. It will.
6. You don’t need to pay any money to be an actress, you get paid to be an actress. AKA you don’t need to invest in it.
Yes you do need to invest in it. If it’s something you want to do you need to put money towards it. That means headshots are expensive. Yes, I know. If you put value in it you will get value out of it.
Even if you are unconventional and think school will ruin your craft you still should go to it. Decide there for yourself if you are not getting anything out of it. Don’t decide you don’t like something before you even try it. If you don’t like acting classes maybe it’s not the career for you. Maybe you just need to find a different acting school, different acting teacher, or different town.
7. If you can’t do teach.
Teachers are the best people to take advice from and most acting teachers are still actors just like you. Teaching the craft is just their day job. These should be the people to bond with, they have been through the trenches and back and they believe in you. They want you to succeed because then they too will succeed. They’ve had criticism too. They’ve had rough times too. They’ve been there and they decided they wanted to help other actors too it’s a beautiful thing.
8. If you think it you are it.
If I think I bought that handbag and then tell people I bought that handbag it doesn’t mean I own the handbag. This goes for anything really. As for anything you can’t just think it you have to do it too. You have to do something every single day to further your dreams.
9. You will perform in rehearsed comfortable situations and with plenty of time to perfect it.
That means that all that time you had before when the crew was setting up and you were waiting for them to get their artistic expression straight doesn’t apply to you when you perform. When you perform as a screen actor you will not have the luxury of twenty takes each shot to get your performance right. Seventeen of those takes might have been crew mistakes. Better believe they will not be happy with seventeen takes that the actor just wasn’t feeling or emoting right.
So spend that time waiting for them to set up rehearsing your lines and your performance because as soon as the cameras are rolling it is showtime. Pretend like you really only get one take. More takes are just more time to improve your performance not to rehearse.
Also, I think a lot of people forget they might be physically uncomfortable and must perform. One thing about the movies is we forget the magic that goes into them because we are caught up in a performance. That is great acting. For example when Heath Ledger gives his performance as the Joker and he is saying his final words (also some of his final words ever on screen) to Batman UPSIDE DOWN. He is still the Joker and still engaging even though he could have been really dizzy. Now I am not certain that he did do that upside down or if they filmed it differently, either way he still has to exhibit the physicality of being upside down (while maybe actually being upside down) and deliver an engaging performance. Now that’s acting.
10. One expression fits all.
Okay, I like Kristen Stewart movies but to me she plays only one role. One expression. One expression does not fit all. Expand!
If you are one of those people that has a total of two faces: happy and sad then maybe you need to do some staring in the mirror and practice some new faces. That may be weird to anyone else, but hey you are an actor, you are practicing. It’s okay to make funny faces, or sad faces, or all kinds of different faces in the mirror by yourself because you want to be an actor. You will thank yourself later when the director is yelling at you to be more wistful looking (or whatever it is they want) and you feel the muscles in your face move to your beckon call. This is having control over your face. (Which is definitely something I have to work on if I am going to be on the screen more. I get a little to mouthy and start moving it in strange directions as I am performing.) You need to be in control at all times. You can’t get comfortable. You are performing.
11. You will only take paid parts.
Please don’t put yourself in a box. Don’t ignore the knock of opportunity. When it strikes take it you may never know the path it may lead you to or the end result.
I hate begging. I do it a lot to find actors right now especially if I am going for a look. That’s fine for now but shouldn’t more people that want to be actors I meet be begging too?
Yes you should invest value in your craft but that doesn’t mean being stingy with the productions you have an opportunity to be a part of. I mean if you get on set and it’s not the classiest set with not the best script or the smartest crew that’s okay and not your problem. At least you are doing everything in your power to make yourself better as an actor and that means taking crappy embarrassing parts you can (later) embellish about on your resume. Or maybe tell no one about but I am sure you will learn something.
On set I try to be encouraging and passionate as I am ever about directing and film hoping that it will be contagious. Even though I am only paying them in pizza my hope is that the actors will take the film I created as seriously as I do. Which means perfecting their own craft along the way as well. Then maybe they will want to work with me again and one day I can (and will want to) pay them with money.
12. Transitioning from the Theater to the Screen will be easy.
(See #1) Um no it won’t. Is transitioning from painting to photography easy? Sure, they both are about constructing an image adding texture and emotion to an image but are they the same? No, no they are not.
You can’t say ‘I want to be a movie star’ but only act and read plays. You need to expand. You can do this by saving for headshots, doing your own screen tests so you can see yourself on camera and see your expressions (can’t afford a fancy camera? hello, use your smartphone for good practice). You can be in B films your ex-boyfriend’s second cousin makes. You can read movie scripts online. You can take film classes and acting/theater classes at the same time.
The theater and the screen are two different art forms which means acting in both of them needs to be treated as two different art forms. This is very important and I believe the biggest misconception of acting.
I’ve learned if I do not specify and clearly define my end game goal then I put myself in a Master of None box. I am continually reminding myself of this when I get so many ideas about random things like a new painting I want to paint or a new book I want to write or a play I want to act in I get jumbled with projects and ideas. Not focusing my ideas into the same form. This means that if I do not specify and focus on a specific goal or outcome I will be a master of none because I am trying to be a juggler, a jack of all trades. If you want to be the best you can not be a jack of all trades because you need to be a master. You need to spend your precious time wisely focused on exactly what you want so that you can be the best there is, that means acting too. If you want to be the best broadway actress you need to study the theater. If you want to be the next iconic movie star you need to study film. It’s really simple but artistic people like me and you always want to complicate and dabble but in order to be the best we need to master our craft.
Here’s some tips from Project Casting.com on how to act for the screen:
Hope that these misconceptions didn’t anger everyone and that some people found some good motivation or ideas within this post. If not hope at least it was an entertaining read! Leave questions, comments, concerns, and ideas below!
Thanks for reading,