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 rehearsed. Being well prepared means having the skills to deliver a scene quickly and effortlessly while bringing the character to life. It’s the opposite of rehearsing.
Rehearsing for camera is a bad idea because it’s very difficult for the well-rehearsed actor to fool the camera into thinking that truly spontaneous emotion is happening, which is what is meant by the phrase, “You can’t lie to the camera.” Directors also take note.
The above is why rehearsing on camera is a “bad” idea. Here is why rehearsing on camera is a “dangerous” idea.
The filmmaking process is the process of creating pieces which will be put together into a whole. When actors think about their scenes, they like to think of their scenes as a whole instead of a collection of pieces. They see playing scenes as a journey, and they see it as their artistic responsibility to take the entire journey brilliantly from start to finish. They see the ability to do so as the mark of a great actor, but filmmaking is the art of creating the individual steps of a journey separately, and even out of order, and then assembling them in editing to create the illusion of a complete journey taking place uninterrupted from beginning to end. When it comes to filming, the well-rehearsed actor has a harder time creating in pieces because, by rehearsing the scene in its entirety over and over, an actor can become dependent on playing the whole scene to play any piece of it well. It slows down the process and creates more work for the director. Experienced directors know the difference and can spot an overly rehearsed scene in an actor’s audition, and it makes them reluctant to cast that actor.
The question then, is, how does one accomplish anything great on camera when rehearsing is so dangerous? The answer is by creating and playing characters and not scenes. The actor’s process teaches the actor that he or she already is the character and that the “acting” comes from how well the actor plays individual moments. On camera, the “acting” comes from how well the actor maintains a clearly defined character while letting the individual moments of a scene be truly spontaneous. When it comes to auditions, self-taped or otherwise, the biggest mistake actors make is ignoring the character description or “character breakdown” in favor of exploring the scene. Unfortunately for actors these days, “character breakdowns” often are overwritten and include more information than the actor needs. In that case, actors should only bring to life the qualities or characteristics used to describe the character and ignore everything else.