Last week I shared screenwriting advice. Today I’m excited to share acting advice from actors whose abilities have been confirmed by their film festival awards. Learn camera tricks from Jenn Gotzon, tips for newbies with Courtney Lee Simpson, Venus Monique, and Patricia Binkley, focus techniques from Rhonda Oliver, and finding your identity with Garry Nation.
Camera Tricks for the Actor by Jenn Gotzon
#1 – Your physicality can be adjusted per the camera set up. Imagine a painting of a large landscape. Now imagine a painting of a portrait of Mona Lisa, close on her face. As an actor, our job is to paint the artistic colors of the directors vision through emotion, physical movements, energy level and expressions. Think of a master shot as a big picture of landscape. Think of a closeup / over the shoulder / coverage as a portrait. The behavior you do needs to reflect the composition of the painting. In a portrait, moving your eye from one point to the next would communicate similar information as if you pointed with your hand from one point to another. Be encouraged and inspired to be more physical in those master shots and then dial those same gestures internally with same movement (match continuity), but internally to communicate with your eyes.
#2:- In a two-shot, open to camera by squaring your hips to the camera while talking to the person next to you VS squaring your hips to the person which will put you in profile on camera.
Jenn Gotzon received the “Award of Excellence & Outstanding Contribution to the Entertainment World”, Film Advisory Board for her role in Doonby, “Best Actress” award at Pocono Mountains Film Festival for her role in God’s Country, “Rising Star Award” at Wildwood by the Sea Film Fest for her role in Chemistry, “Best Actress” at 168 Film Festival for her role in Stained, and “Best Ensemble Cast” at Bare Bones International Film Festival for The Good Book. She was also nominated for “Best Actress” at International Christian Film Festival and AFA Truth Awards for her role in The Good Book.
My advice for upcoming actors is to let you know you will face rejection. Instead of letting it bring you down, let it be the fuel to your fire! You will have many auditions. Be patient, persevere, and leave it in God’s hands.
Courtney Lee Simpson received the “Best Actress” award at AFA Truth Awards for her role in Fat Boys. She was also nominated “Best Actress” for her role in Gramps Goes to College.
Be a ham all the time and go to church. That’s where I was “discovered”. It was a God-thing.
Patricia Binkley received the “Best Actress” award at Bare Bones International Film Festival for her role in Flowers for Fannie.
My advice to aspiring new actors would be that if you know that this is the purpose, gifting and calling for your life, then walk in it. No matter what obstacles come to seemingly stop you…keep pushing ahead. There will be many more no’s than yes’s but keep pushing ahead. Don’t always look for money because there are some opportunities that may not pay or pay what you think it should, but it may be a priceless opportunity to develop and fine tune your skills. Pray and ask God what’s next, and I can promise you that if you allow Him to order your steps, He will open doors no man can shut. If you are pursuing acting always remember why you’re doing it. I do it for the love of the art and the love of reaching people in a way they can completely relate to. Remember to pursue the love of it and keep God first.
Rhonda Oliver received the “Best Supporting Actress” award at the AFA Truth Awards for her role in Basement.
There is a scene in the movie Patton in which the general thunders to his staff, “If we are not victorious, let no one return alive!” His aide quietly says to him, “General, sometimes they don’t know when you’re acting.” He replies wryly, “It’s not important that they know. It’s only important that I know.”
It is a characteristic of actors that we are empathetic mimics; that is, we not only imitate the behavior of others, but we seek also to imitate their motivations. I am always practicing, always rehearsing, always observing – whether I’m actively working on a role or not. I study the work of actors I admire and try to figure out and emulate how they make the magic, how they create the illusion that they’re not just playing a part or reading lines, but actually make me believe they are the characters they are portraying. I’ll put on different characters myself, adopting their accents and attitudes. Sometimes acting even becomes a part of the way I study the Bible, as I try to understand the stories by putting myself in the place of the character I’m reading about.
That is why as an actor I must first of all have a firm grip upon myself, my own identity – as a human being, and as a man in Christ. Romans 12:3 instructs us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think soberly. That is not only a command to reject pride, it is an admonition to stay grounded in reality.
Peter Sellers was a brilliant actor. Best known for his comic portrayal of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, he was an actor of amazing range who sometimes appeared in multiple roles in the same film. All agree that his finest role was that of a gentle but mentally disabled gardener who is mistaken for a genius in the satire Being There. Yet in a rare interview he once confessed that he had no idea who he himself was. An unhappy man, his identity depended on the roles he played rather than the other way around.
Heath Ledger did not appear to have that kind of identity crisis, yet many believe that he had so deeply immersed himself into the role of the psychotic criminal The Joker in The Dark Knight that he never really emerged. It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world yet lose his soul, but how tragic is it to sell one’s soul for a role!
Know yourself. Know who you are, and accept that – with all the weaknesses as well as the strengths, all the uncomely parts as well as the beautiful ones, all the awkwardness as well as the talent – as a gift from a loving Creator and as redeemed by a Savior who gave his own life for yours. Be who you are before you start being somebody else.
Garry Nation received the “Best Actor” award at International Christian Film Festival for his role in Polycarp.
There’s a lot to consider when you decide to start this acting journey, and these two golden nuggets have stuck with me more than any other.
The first is that you should never be too proud to take acting classes or feel like you’ve reached your peak of learning. You will always benefit from being in class – sometimes because of practice and other times because your fellow acting mates are creating projects and want to cast actors they already know. That’s happened to me on a few occasions. More often than not, an acting coach will let you audit their class to see if it’s a good fit for you. Definitely bounce around a bit to experience different styles of teaching and find the avenue that you feel suits you, at least for now. It’s said often, but acting training is no different than athletic training; you have to constantly be exercising in order to improve.
My second piece of advice is NEVER feel like you HAVE to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing. From the time I decided I wanted to pursue acting, I made a list of things I was not willing to do – no matter how far or fast they could advance my career. When I joined my acting classes, I also let my acting coaches know what I was willing and not willing to do. They respected my decisions and even appreciated them because rarely are there actors who have set ‘limitations’ (as some would see them) on themselves. If a coach makes you feel like you need to ‘get over it’ or stresses that you won’t get work if you don’t take risks, avoid their class. You absolutely do not have to drop your standards in order to succeed in this industry. Like an acting coach once told me, “At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to look back down your own mountain and be okay with everything you’ve done.” Keep your self-respect, and know that honoring God, your body, and your spouse may make your route a bit longer, a bit slower, or a bit less direct, but when it comes down to it, you’ll get to enjoy everything you’ve done rather than regret any of it.
Venus Monique received “Best Female Performance” at Attic Film Festival for her role in Genesis. She was also nominated for “Best Actress” at International Christian Film Festival for that same role.