Few actors were born to be on camera but all actors can make the camera think they were. It starts with understanding one key thing about the camera: The camera is only human. Just as humans have egos, so does the camera. And just as humans seek out other humans like them selves, so is the camera more attracted to actors who share its qualities.
Here are three qualities the camera possesses and how to use them to make the camera love you.
1. The camera is cool. Look at it sitting over there across the room while everyone else is running crazy. Probably the coolest cat walking but, like a cat, very skittish when it’s around people with a lot of unfocused energy. And it’s not just a question of volume. It’s mostly a question of energy. On stage, actors are taught to put energy into a scene. On camera it’s the opposite. On camera, actors should harness their energy steadily through the entire take or scene, no matter how big their choices. As a matter of fact, the bigger the choice the less energy actors should put into it. Remember the camera’s like a cat. The more energy you give it, the less interested it is. The less energy you give it, the more it can’t resist you.
2. The camera is focused. It’s sharp, focused, and precise. It loves actors who are sharp, focused and precise, which is why it doesn’t like naturalism (and naturalism is not the same as being a “natural” on camera). If you take a snapshot of someone acting naturalistically, it will come out unfocused, unclear, and fuzzy. Just as you focus a camera before you take a picture, focus your performance for it to work on camera.
3. The camera’s mysterious. Like James Bond mysterious. Or anything Grace Kelly. Or the Dark Knight. It loves mysterious characters. Heros or villains, good guys or bad, it wants to know as little about you as possible so that it always feels the desire for more. The camera loves having to work for it. The camera loves being teased. You don’t want to show the camera everything you’re thinking and feeling all the time, nor will it want you to. Remember, just because you create something doesn’t mean you have to play it and, on camera, it’s usually more powerful if you don’t. The camera’s more interested in the moments you created and don’t play than in the ones you do.
By John Swanbeck