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What You as a Film Actor Should Look for when Watching Movies

Updated: Jan 15


A film actor peeks through a slate during the filming of a film.

Being able to analyze acting performances and cinematic elements is an important skill for aspiring actors. You can learn a great deal by analyzing the performances of other actors, and also by watching your own recorded performances. By working to develop your "cinematic eye", you can learn to appreciate and understand different aspects of actors' work and how they are used to tell the story on screen. This can be a great skill to have for example when reviewing your own selftapes to be able to tell which take you should send to the casting director. Here we will tell you about some important aspects to keep in mind when watching movies or recordings of yourself, which can help you develop even further as an actor.


1. The Ability to Listen as a Film Actor:

One of the most important aspects when it comes to acting is the ability to listen to your co-stars. Listening means both that the actor hears what the other actors say, and what they actually mean (the subtext - what emotion is it said with? In what way is it said?) and above all that the actor reacts to what the other actors say. We practice this a lot when we practice the Meisner technique. When watching movies, try to pay attention to whether the actors are really listening and whether their responses are authentic or just sound like they are rambling their lines.Are they present with their scene partners? Is it a genuine interaction or does it seem mechanical?


2. Body Language and Presence:

Notice if the actors move in a way that fits the character and makes it look natural. Take note of if the actors are present in their bodies and use them consciously. How they use their bodies to portray emotions and communicate with their surroundings can provide clues about their characters' inner lives and motivations. An important detail to keep an eye on is also whether the actor's body language and expression might convey something other than what is said with the lines.


3. Energy Distribution in Film Actors:

A skilled actor can distribute energy throughout their body and not just limit it to their voice and face. Pay attention to whether the actors use their energy in a balanced way and whether it reaches out through their whole body. Also, try to see where they direct their energy to reach out both to the co-actors and through the camera to the viewers. This point may sound a bit abstract, but once you catch it in a performance, it usually becomes clear where the actor is directing their energy. Compare it with your own experiences - when you are fully focused on a goal, where is your energy directed? How does it feel in your body? Are you letting the energy flow freely or is it blocked?


4. Use of Surroundings and Props in Film:

Notice how the film actors interact with the environment and use props to tell the story. Can you tell the difference if interactions with the environment are planned or perhaps spontaneous without having been written into a script? And can you see how they use the "fourth wall" (i.e. the side the camera is on - the expression comes from the theater where we have three real walls, and an "invisible fourth wall" in front of the audience) and create the illusion of being completely inside the fictional world?


5. Clear Relationships between the Characters:

Examine whether the actors establish clear and authentic relationships with each other. A relationship is based on how the other character makes your character feel and how the characters treat each other. Good actors can establish relationships and how they feel about other characters without having to explain in detail with words. When you watch a movie, can you understand the dynamics between the characters and how they affect each other? Consider what the actors convey through the non-verbal when they meet another character. A good performance should be able to clearly indicate whether another character entering the room is a person you secretly have a crush on, a sibling, your worst enemy, or an annoying door salesman.


6. Inner Life and Transparency:

As the camera gets closer, you can sometimes detect subtle nuances in the actors' facial expressions and body language that reveal their inner lives. Try to catch these moments where the actor shows a deeper dimension of the character by being transparent, vulnerable and truthful in their performance of the inner emotional world. Do they use maybe breathing or pauses to convey what is going on inside them? Can you see the emotions and thoughts going on inside of them just by seeing it in their eyes?


7. The Moment Before:

A scene never arises from an empty vacuum. Be aware of the actors' ability to create continuity in character by giving the sense that something has just happened before the scene begins. Reflect on their preparation to create a mental "moment before" that lends authenticity and fills the scene with history. Investigate when an actor enters a scene where the audience has not seen what happened to them before entering - what do they bring into the scene? What can be deduced and in what way is it conveyed?


8. Objectives and Actions in Film Acting:

Notice if the actors are pursuing their objective through the scene through various actions (active verbs). Here, you want to look for concrete objectives in the present, not abstract objectives that cannot be achieved in the present. Does the character want a material thing, or for another character to do something for them? Do they want to convince, seduce, or accuse? By watching the actor's actions, you can better understand the character's goals and motivations. If you want to do a real in-depth analysis, you can do an exercise where you watch a movie and try to identify the objective of each character in different scenes.


9. What is at Stake:

Consider whether the actors have enough to fight for and whether there is enough at stake. Consider whether their level of commitment, effort, and the actions they choose to take reflect the level of what is at stake for them. A strong sense of conflict and motivation can heighten the tension and engagement of both actors and audience.


10. Beat Changes within the Scene:

Notice if there are clear beat changes in the scene where the characters' emotions or motivations change, and try to see how this is conveyed. Does the actor use pauses in the right places to enhance the story, do they change the pace, or is it just through their eyes and small changes in facial expressions? Sometimes it might just be marked by a change in energy level and commitment. Also consider if it is an external change that is obvious to everyone, or if it is an internal change that only affects the character in question.


11. How the Actors use Their Voices:

Through really listening, we can examine how actors use their voices to convey the content of the lines and what can be found between the lines of the script. Consider how the actors use their voices to communicate and portray the characters. For example, is the character with the highest authority always the one who speaks the loudest, or does it have more to do with how they speak? Can you hear nuances, variations, and intentions in the actors' voices, and how does that affect your perception of them? This can be especially challenging with film acting as you have to adapt to the camera and microphone and sometimes are limited in terms of volume. As a result, you'll have to work more with the small nuances in your vocal registers, such as emphasis, articulation, pitch, cadence, temo, etc. We practice how to use our voices in front of the camera during our couse Film Acting (Step 1) (the course is taught in Swedish). If you want to read more about what makes film acting different from acting in theatre, you can check out this post.


12. Believability in Film Acting - "Good" and "Bad" Acting:

As an actor, one is often inspired by Oscar-winning performances and amazing performances where the person on screen transforms into the character in a way that makes the audience believe everything that happens and everything that they say. Think about why it works and break down the performance to yourself - what tools are they using? What do they actually do? Why is it "good"? Remember, it can also be helpful to watch actors who are doing a less than good job and think about why it's not working - what tools would need sharpening? What's missing? What are they actually doing? Why doesn't the performance work completely?

 

So the next time you sit down to watch a movie, don't just be a passive spectator, but try to be an active observer who can identify and appreciate the work of the actors and the creative choices made in the storytelling (sometimes, though, you may want to watch the movie twice - once as a pure audience member to be able to appreciate the film completely, and then again from a more analytical perspective).


Do you want to develop as an actor and take your career to the next level? We teach courses in Uppsala (Sweden) in Film Acting, Meisner Technique and Selftapes and Audition Technique, as well as Individual Coachings that can be booked either on site in Uppsala or remotely through video call. Click here to read more about our courses or click here for booking. The courses are taught in Swedish, except for the Individual Coachings that can be booked either in Swedish or in English.

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