Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hitting marks

I was in New Brunswick last week to shoot a scene from the CBC TV movie "The Phantoms", playing my 30th doctor.  (I think when I reach 35, I should be getting my honorary medical degree from ACTRA.)

Working with a nice cast and crew on location is a great joy.  You become part of an instant working family for the time you're there.

But while I was there, I was reminded about something that I take for granted but that can really slow the process and make all performances suffer.

Actors have to be able to hit their marks.

Working with an inexperienced, (I assume) performer from the Maritimes who couldn't hit marks just makes it harder to actually do the acting part for everyone.  Actors probably don't realize how critical it is for camera to hit marks, especially if they are inexperienced with film work or if they spend most of their time working on stage.  Film is a game of millimetres.  Shifting your weight can make the difference from being seen or not.  And if you're not seen by the camera, the editor will use a shot of an actor who is seen.

At one point, I missed my mark because the other performer kept missing hers and so the camera assistant put black tape on top of her coloured tape so she couldn't miss it.  Except no one told me and my mark was made with black tape as well, so I ended up entering the scene and hitting HER mark.

After doing 30 doctors on camera, as well as a few more credits (75 films and TV episodes so far), hitting marks is almost intuitive for me.  To learn how to do it, requires an awareness of your surroundings, peripheral vision and respect for the craft.  It means that you have to take hitting the mark seriously.  But it doesn't mean you'll stop acting.  Only bad actors can't do both.

To give an example of the dichotomy between the technical and the emotive that must come together in film performance, I remember a story my mentor Daniel Petrie, Sr. told us at the Canadian Film Centre.  He was directing Jane Fonda in a very emotional scene where she was using a hammer and chisel to chip away at a block of stone, tears streaming down her face.  But the shot was so tight that she needed to be told if she was in frame or not - while she was acting.  So Dan Sr. told her as the shot rolled, and tears rolled down her face.  I think she won an Emmy for that performance.  I know so many actors who would be unable to develop the emotional resonance needed for a shot like that AND listen to the director telling her to move her eyes left or right, while the scene was shot.  But that's the craft.

As is hitting marks.
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