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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Musical Theater Actors Breaking into On-Camera Work

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I recently received an email from Meredith, a musical theater actor who wanted to know how to break into film & television. Here in New York City, this is a very common question, especially as the economy starts to rebound and production tax credits get handed out, which lure more and more production to NYC.

She says:

Hi Erin, I love your blog, very helpful. I know you must get thousands of these questions but I was wondering what your advice is about starting a career in TV and Film. I have a degree in Musical Theater but I want to crossover into TV and film. I have been thinking about registering with Central Casting. Are there auditions I can get other than background acting? I know to get an agent you need to have at least a few credits to your name. I just wanted to get your input. Thanks very much! Sincerely, Meredith

Hi, Meredith! I’m very glad to answer this- thank you for writing. First off, having an on-camera career is not as different as one might think from musical theater (I’m sorry, what?) It’s true. I was working on a singer’s showcase, and the director and I were talking about my deep love for both musicals and film/TV (which I pursue equally and passionately.) Let’s face it, they seem to have opposing viewpoints- musicals are larger than life, and film/TV focuses on the inner life of the character. Further, one of the biggest differences between on-camera and theater is where the audience’s attention is focused. On film/tv, by editing the footage a very specific way the director tells the audience where they need to look. In theater, it is up to the audience member to create their experience using their own lens, looking at whatever part of the stage (and whatever actor) they choose. However, in musical theater, this focus is sharpened when an actor begins to sing a solo. When the music plays, and the spotlight lands on the principal singer, you get a similar effect as a director slowly zooming in on its lead actor - everyone’s attention is on that singer, and the singer has a rare moment to let their inner life show. It’s very similar to having a camera on you on set/

When I coach actors on transitioning from theater to film, I often hear actors’ concern about being “too big for the camera.” Being too big is a huge problem in any acting arena, regardless of whether you’re acting on stage or on set. One way to combat over-acting is to understand where your audience is. In a theater, this is easy - you can see your audience. And a theater actor naturally knows how to modify their performance to reach the back of a 300 seat house versus a 3000 seat house. But when working on set (or in an audition) with a camera, it is hard to tell where your audience is. To make sure that you aren’t overdoing it, ask the casting director (or director, if you’re on a shoot) what the framing of the shot is. Is it a close up? If so, you imagine that your audience is right in front of your face, and you modify your performance accordingly. Is it a two-shot, featuring both you and your scene partner sitting at a table? Most likely, your audience will be as close as a nearby table, so your performance will be a little bigger than the close-up but still smaller than a wide angle or a “master shot” which takes in the entire scene. To reiterate, theater actors already know how to do this, you simply need to apply what you know to this new medium. If you remember that your audience is the person sitting at home or in the theater, and you ask the director what the framing is, you’ll have a good idea how to adjust your performance.

On to your second question about finding auditions - I am assuming, since you mentioned Central Casting, that you live in NYC (or perhaps LA?) Regardless, one of the best ways to get started in on-camera work is to submit for student films. There are nearly a dozen film programs in NYC, all of whom need actors to contribute to their projects. The most highly regarded programs are from the 4 years schools (like NYU, Columbia, Hofstra) but you can also look into the other programs (School of Visual Arts/SVA, NY Film Academy/NYFA, School of Film & Television/SFT, etc.)

You can find audition notices for these kinds of projects in the traditional casting arenas. You can check out one of my other posts on Reputable Casting Sites for Auditions to find out the best places to find film/TV auditions.

I hope this is useful - please let me know if you have any other questions! You can shoot me an email or leave a comment on this blog.

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

1 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Anonymous said...

Good Post lots of great info here!!!

Cynthia
www.drakebook.com

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