10 Tips for transitioning from Stage to Screen

Stage to Screen

Stage and Screen acting can be very different.  Anyone who has tried to make this transition knows that the little things can throw you off your game if you don’t expect them.  If you’re looking to make the change from Stage to Screen, keep these tips in mind so you’re prepared when you get on set.

1.)  Don’t shout.  Stage actors spend many hours learning to project their voices while maintaining their composure.  With a mic under your shirt, and a camera in your face, there is no longer any reason to be heard across the room.  Practice your inside voice.  It’s a dead giveaway that an actor comes from the stage when they come into a room and his audition can be heard down the hall.

Stage2.)  Movement.  On the stage, you can have a lot of room to move around.  It’s even suggested you use the entire stage when you can, depending on the scene.  But on screen, the most important thing is to know what the camera is picking up.  If the shot is a close up, it’s possible you will only be able to move an inch either way.

3.)  Expression.  On the stage, you’re used to making big gestures and using your body to help the audience know how you’re feeling.  But on film, a lot of this filters through your face.  If a director wants to really hit an emotional moment, they will often punch in to get really close.  While you should certainly never stop using your body, you should consider the shot, and adjust where you’re putting your emotion.

4.)  Intimate interactions.  Have you ever been having a conversation with someone on camera?  It can be kind of awkward if you haven’t done it before.  The more intimate, or secretive, the closer you have to stand to each other.   On screen, the distance between two characters can seem distorted.  If you’re standing a normal distance apart, it can seem like miles on camera.  To avoid this odd distortion, you’ll end up inches apart from the other actor in the scene.  Too close.  You would never stand that close to someone in any normal situation.  Remember that it’s just as awkward for them, so just forget about it, and try not to spit while you talk.

Movie Set5.)  Director and Crew.  Camera’s can get pretty close to you while you’re acting out a scene.  Depending on what the director wants, the camera could be far away, or inches away.  If the camera is close, this means the camera guy is close, and possibly his assistant, and the trainee.  Some Directors like to watch at video village, while others like to stand right beside the camera.  You might end up having ten people two feet away while you’re acting out a scene.  It can become even more unsettling when the scene is intimate.  Practice pretending their not their and focus on your scene.

6.)  Bigger/smaller spaces.  Movies can film just about anywhere.  You can be put in a four by four room, scrunched up, with nowhere to go, or you could be in the middle of Times Square.  On stage, you pretty much know what to expect from the space around you after days of rehearsal.  On film sets, the space could be very different.

7.)  Lack of Audience, but possible spectators.  A stage actor is used to playing to an audience.  Part of your act could include reacting to the audience.  On screen, you may have to be comical without any reaction at all.  The silence can be unnerving.  On the flip side of this, if you’re in a public space, you could end up having a bit of an audience from passers by.  People standing around watching with their arms crossed can be unnerving.  Especially since in theatre, the lights are so bright, you can’t always see your audience.  Just ignore them as much as possible.

8.)  The entire production.  Movie sets can be massive.  I mean, giant!  To get the effects that end up on screen, you can be in situations you simply couldn’t create on stage.  Even stranger could be the completely empty green rooms you’re supposed to imagine is a futuristic city with flying cars and giant robots.  Being prepared for every type of set, no matter how daunting, is a must.  Come back and focus on you.  Use the set when you need to, but remember that the visual should not take away from your performance.


9.)  Stop and go.  The director yells “CUT!”, and then “Let’s go again.”  One of the lights fizzles out during a shot… “Let’s go again.”  This constant stop, repeat, and go again can spin an actor around a bit if they’re not used to it.  If you need a moment to regroup, take it.  If you get flustered, take a breath, regroup, and go again.  On stage, if you really screw up, you need to keep going.  You can’t fix it.  On screen, if you make a mistake, you get a second chance.

10.) Eye Line.  This is a major skill to have when acting for screen.  On stage, you pretty much know what you’re looking at.  If you’re talking to another actor, they’re there beside you.  If you’re looking up to the heavens, you stare into the blinding lights.  On set, your eye line depends fully on the placement of the camera.  If you are supposed to be speaking to an actor, but that actor isn’t on screen, (so isn’t there), you can be saying your lines to a voice somewhere back behind the crew.  Experienced actors can adjust their eye line based on where the camera is without much trouble, but for new actors, it’s like doing math and physics on the fly.  Angles and perspective.  There is nothing wrong with saying “What’s my eye line?” before you start shooting.  Once they give it to you, pick something to look at that won’t move.  A crew member might wander off.  Don’t look too far into the distance, because you’ll look unfocused during a close up.

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