Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Watching Yourself

When I studied on-camera acting with the fantastic Doug Warhit, he would instruct each student to bring a VHS tape to class, which he used to tape our in-class scene work so we could watch it again later.

For months, I didn’t bring a tape. “This is an on-camera class,” he would scold. Then I brought a tape but never watched it later. “You don’t have to like watching yourself,” he said, “but it will help you become a better actor.” Still, I resisted. It wasn’t until my roommate took the same class and forced me to do so that I started watching my tapes.

And lo and behold, I became a better actor.

Watching myself on-camera will always be awkward and awful for me. The inner critic babbles in my ear incessantly – “Your mouth looks funny, your makeup is bad, you look like a man.” Utter nonsense.

But as I’ve learned, watching yourself act is one of the most powerful tools for getting better at your craft. You immediately catch your bad habits – the way you keep shifting from side to side, that tendency to sigh before every line – and learn how to shape your performance in a way that comes across on-screen.

Everyone has a camera in their phone or laptop nowadays. The next time you’re preparing for an on-camera audition, consider recording video of yourself performing the sides like you would in the room. Give the inner critic the night off and watch yourself, taking note of how your performance comes across on-camera. If you’re trying to be authoritative, does your on-camera self seem authoritative? Or does she come off looking angry? Does your outfit give the impression you want it to? If you’re doing comedy, do you laugh at yourself?

Don’t use this as a tool to beat yourself up. Just take note of a few things and make adjustments. It’s a painful exercise, I know, but so useful. Imagine what Alexandra Wallace would have done if she’d watched herself first. (Merely a hypothetical question, not a social comment.)

And if you took the advice of my last Tools of the Trade post about submitting yourself online, consider adding the new kid on the casting block to your submission list – CAZT. They’re a casting studio in Hollywood that allows you to watch your taped auditions, read comments from the casting director, and even upload a replacement audition video if you want.

All for a fee, of course, but with that monthly fee you get to submit to all the projects in their list of Los Angeles auditions, which is growing exponentially. I’ve been auditioning at CAZT for a few years, and every time I’ve been this year, the place has been packed with projects looking for actors. More and more independent & mainstream projects are using their studios, cameras, and video hosting & collaboration tools, which are all 100% free, which means more opportunity for all of you! (If you’re looking for audition space, visit pro.CAZT.com to learn more.)

So don’t be afraid of your own image on the screen. It could be the key to transforming you from an audition disaster to an audition master.

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