I love Theatre. I can pay almost anything to go see a great stage play. The energy, music, vibrancy and magic seen on stage can never be replicated in film. In fact if you want a date with me, suggest a good play in a good theatre and come with Jollof rice. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some really good theatre trained actors in my films and films I’ve been involved in. Olu Jacobs, Bimbo Akintola, Tina Mba, Femi Branch and others. Infact, I always make sure there are at least two theatre trained actors on my film. Film needs more Theatre trained actors.
In recent times I have had to do some close auditioning and invited a few theatre trained actors. We handed them the sides (sides are specific set of lines from the script) and in no time they had all the lines in their head and were ready to go. I would usually audition looking into the viewfinder of a camera to be sure I’m not distracted by the actor. I want to see what the camera sees. More than 80% of the time, theatre trained actors disappoint. Even when I try to convince producers and casting directors to give them a try, the response is usually; “he’s too rigid”, “He doesn’t channel emotions” “He won’t take directions”. Unfortunately, they are all correct in their fears. I hope I can fix this in this post. Please read objectively. I hope we won’t fight
First, let’s talk about some preconceived notions
STAGE VS SCREEN MYTHS
- Theatre actors are better than their Film counterparts:
Fa Fa Fa….Foul! First this is a ridiculous comparison. It’s actually a subset of the bigger “Classical is better than Contemporary art” arguments. I never take part in them because they are retrogressive. An artist is an artist regardless of the medium he chooses to express his art. Any good actor is a good actor whether he’s on stage or on a big screen. Every medium comes with its own set of challenges that a true artist has to overcome to stand out. If you carry a sense of reckless pride crossing from one medium to another disrespecting the new medium, you will fail in it. Just because you are trained in theatre doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a good screen actor or a screen actor at all. An olodo is an olodo anywhere o
- Film Actors are Vain and care only about Looking good
Well…ermm…How do I even answer this one? Well, the extra gift film actors have is that they can be vain and very self-aware yet very very good at their jobs. That’s not an easy feat. This however comes from the fact that Film is a visual medium and a lot of imperfection can be covered up with glitz and flare. This attribute should be seen as part of the things that come with the medium. No matter how good an actor you are, in film, you will need that extra vanity. Every theatre trained actor that has transitioned well knows this all too well.
- Rehearsals are Compulsory, Even in Film
It’s a lie! Is it in the bible?! God abeg o. Rehearsals are key parts of the stage process for obvious reasons; you only get to perform that line once. No takes, no cuts. No edits. Film on the other hand doesn’t always require rehearsals. Film thrives well on good preparation both from the cast and crew. Every smart director knows not all scenes will require rehearsals. Also, In Nigeria, who will give you money to camp people for days to be rehearsing? Any actor that isn’t prepared from his house is on his/her own. In film, the director gives clear direction and augments what you’ve already brought to the scene.
Now let me explain The Key Uniqueness of Film. Remember, this post is about transitioning from theatre to film.
- In Film, The Edit is bigger than Your Performance
As an editor and owner of a post-production studio, one magic we are constantly being told to perform always is to save a terrible scene with cuts, music and effects. A good editor can make a stammerer sound like a great orator. No matter how great a performance is, it can and most often be made better in the cutting room. A good editor can combine five different takes and even the actor will believe he/she did one smooth take. Every director knows that half of his work will still be in edit. It’s important for you to understand this if you are coming from theatre. The reality can be very humbling.
- In Film, an actor is a slave to the Camera Lens
In the early days of cinema, people didn’t show much interest in film because the filmmakers at that time were basically filming stage plays. The medium was different but didn’t bring anything with it. Then great films like Orson Well’s “Citizen Kane” pioneered novel visual techniques and established much of what we do today in film. The idea of Close-Ups and deep focusing became widespread and everyone knew if they would put a face close up for everyone to see, they had better make it a face no one will forget. The priority shifted from long take performances to subtle nuances. Slapstick acting and loud vocal projections disappeared and people started pushing for mood, tone and impressions that mimicked everyday life. Cinema was reborn. In film, the camera lens tells everyone what to do. It brings the audience closer to the story in ways stage cannot do. If the camera doesn’t like you, the audience will not like you.
- In Film, your Personality Outside work is an important as the work itself
One of the burdens that come with being a film actor is that you belong to everybody. Film brings actors so close to their viewers that sometimes the line is blurred. Children have tried stoning Patience Ozokwor in real life thinking she’s a real witch. A smart actor knows that building a brand outside of his/work is crucial to how people will perceive him. More importantly, Producers love the easy route of actors that are loved outside film. They always know it’s easier to sell a film to people when the actors in it are already loved by people. You can hardly succeed in film if you fail to realize how important this is.
Oya, what should you start doing right while making this transition.
- Stop “projecting”…Start talking. Learn the art of subtlety. Learn when to rise and fall in tone and volume. No matter how emotional the scene is, Try subtlety. Theatre actors “shout” a lot even when they don’t know they are. In an audition, think about how to communicate that emotion to the guys looking at you. Don’t treat a film audition like stage. They will picture your character as loud in the film and misread it as bad acting.
- Find your “beauty angle”: There is such thing as a beauty angle and actresses like Genevieve Nnaji and Rita Dominic know how to use it in their films. They have mastered head positions, eye and lip movements that look the best in camera. Even If the character is sad and crying, there is always a more beautiful angle to catch it. Rehearse a lot in front of your mirror. Bribe your D.O.P to help you find it. I know actresses that aren’t strikingly beautiful in real life but once you point a camera on them, they become electrifying. Find yours too, theatre actor. You will need it. Same goes for men.
- Trust your director; it’s all in his head: Because you won’t have as much or any rehearsals, you might be shocked at how a director decides to approach a scene. You will never know how a movie will turn out until it’s out. Everyone knows the story of “Romeo and Juliet” so everyone knows what to expect. In film, most of the times, only the director knows what the film will look like and that’s not even true all the time. There’s a genuine sense of surprise at the end of a film for the makers and the audience. A film is largely a director’s film. Most film actors already know this. If you are unsure about something, ask why and trust your director’s vision.
- Use Space and Time very well. Most time when you put a theatre actor in a room scene, you can always be sure he will lock down his spot and deliver his lines from there. Once he also has the pacing set for his lines, he will always deliver them the same way. Film directors will usually prefer you use all the space on a set as it feels more natural. In fact, suggest to your director by giving him things he didn’t plan for; interaction with set pieces, prop usage etc. Find delay points in your line delivery that are more natural. Don’t be afraid to forget your lines. We will cut and retake. Praise be to Film Jesus!
- Never disrespect film People. It’s important you decide early about making a transition to film. I know theatre trained actors in film right now nobody wants to work with because they have been found to be too condescending and a bit of a know-it-all. Unfortunately, they weren’t even found condescending to the director or producer, but rather to Pas, gaffers, grips etc. Nobody likes know-it-alls. A gaffer or DOP can ruin your beauty shot and make you look terrible on screen. Be nice.
Others include, working on your image, asking questions about things you don’t understand from the directors and producers.
Theatre trained actors who have transitioned well to film bring in unique flavours; they have fantastic vocal range, great continuity and know how to channel energy. Everything that makes a film director’s work a breeze. It’s unfortunate that theatre isn’t thriving in Nigeria and most theatre trained actors now have to find their way into film. Film needs people that are trained in the art of performance. Film needs people that love to look good and show off too. You can make that transition smooth. Just be willing to throw away a little and take in some more.
See I told you…there won’t be any fighting….lol.