Posts by John Swanbeck

How To Make The Camera Think You’re A Natural

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
Read More

How To Build A Film Performance

There’s a big difference between acting and building a film performance, and most of the actors and aspiring filmmakers who are reading this now have never thought about it. Acting is about connecting with a character, being affected by other characters and the world, creating moments that capture what the character is thinking and feeling and making it all real. Here’s what most actors and aspiring filmmakers don’t understand...
Read More

Why The Camera Loves Your Character’s Backstory

Can you imagine being a film camera? Now there’s a thankless job. Think about it. Everyone makes a big deal about you. Everyone thinks they know you better than anyone else. When making a movie, you’re the only one in the room who is irreplaceable. Yet, when the filmmaker and the film actors come together to discuss a scene and how to play it, no one asks your opinion. You are completely ignored. All you want to do is tell them what you love in case they want to consider it when making their choices. You wouldn’t demand they use
Read More

Why Actors Shouldn’t Take Care Of Their Characters

An actor and her character go to couples counseling and the therapist says, “Tell me why you’re here.” And the character says, “I don’t feel like I’m getting my needs met. No matter how hard I try to be the kind of human being audiences can relate to, she wants to use me to teach them a lesson. And she’s always projecting her own prejudices onto me, instead of accepting me for who I am. I feel like I don’t exist anymore.” The therapist turns to the actor and says, “And how do you feel about what your character is
Read More

How To Make The Camera Care About Your Character

The script creates the plot and the actor creates the story. In other words the script creates the “what” and the actor creates the “why.” And the “why” is the character’s story. And the character’s story is not the same as the overall story. As a matter of fact the overall story spends the entire movie trying to talk the character out of his or her own story. It’s not the actor’s job to create the overall story. It’s the actor’s job to create his or her character’s story and then fight like hell to make sure the overall story
Read More

Why Film Acting Is A Lonely Art

There is a place in the universe not for the feint of heart. It is a place where you must be completely vulnerable without ever expecting a hug. It is a place where you make earth shattering discoveries you will never be able to share. It is a place where you face the limitations of being human in the face of another’s pain. That place is the film frame. The film frame is a lonely place. The theatre stage is a communal place. The success of a theatrical production depends on the shared experience the actors have with each other
Read More

The Seven Words You Never Hear In Acting Class

A million years ago in the age of silent films, a popular actor on Broadway was hired by one of the film studios to make his first film. After signing his contract, he left the studio head’s office and went directly to the studio’s equipment facilities to check out one of their film cameras because he wanted to take it home and dismantle it to figure out how it worked. What that actor, Buster Keaton, learned that night about the film camera he would use to create a body of work, which would influence both comic and dramatic actors and
Read More

How To Audition For A Student Filmmaker

The good news about the digital filmmaking revolution has been that filmmakers no longer need to rise through the ranks of filmmaking to make their films. The bad news has been that filmmakers no longer need to rise through the ranks of filmmaking to make their films. Why is it bad news? It’s bad news because aspiring filmmakers no longer learn how to create cinematic performances from experienced filmmakers who have risen through the ranks before them. The result is a generation of filmmakers who are, generally speaking, ill-equipped to direct actors on camera. They can discuss scenes, beats, and
Read More

Why Rehearsing On Camera Is A Dangerous Idea

I’ve been asked to speak to a group of actors about directing oneself for a self-taped audition. Prepping for the event, I am reminded of what I hear directors saying to each other more and more. “Beware the self-taped audition. The take you’re watching of an actor’s audition might be great, but it might have taken the actor 20 takes to get there.” The way to know is whether the scene and the actor look well rehearsed. If they do, then directors should be careful about casting that actor. There is a difference between being well prepared and being well
Read More

How To Be The Smartest Actor In Any Room

Recently, I was speaking to a group of actors about a movie I’ll be directing next summer, and they asked about my casting process. I told them all directors are looking for the same thing in any actor. Does the actor speak our cinematic language? Actors would do well to remember that directors want to direct movies for one reason and one reason only. They love movies. They grew up devouring a steady diet of movies, and they want to make movies that are inspired by the movies and directors who came before them. Those directors were also inspired by
Read More