On camera, when actors give every line a different line intention to make a scene interesting, it makes the scene confusing because the scene has no cinematic cohesion. When actors move in the frame to appear naturalistic, they instead appear awkward. When actors are completely still, they appear natural. On camera, “acting is reacting” comes across as overacting. Everything actors create using the actor’s process the camera sees as wonderful raw material but the actor’s process wasn’t designed for the camera. It was designed for the stage which is why the seven words you never hear in acting class are “…and here’s why it works on camera.”
Something happens to an actor’s performance when it makes its way through the film camera and comes out the other side as a moving image on a monitor or screen. The film camera changes the alchemy of what it captures and turns it into something aesthetically compelling. Actors and directors who learn how to create the way the camera thinks are the ones who create the timeless and iconic film performances we all know and love. Actors who understand the camera are the ones directors hire to go on the journey with them.
How do you know you’re watching a great film performance? While watching it, you’re thinking more about the character than you are about the scene. You can watch the whole film with the volume muted and still be mesmerized by the actor’s performance and moved by the character’s emotional journey. You’re always wondering about the character the actor has created and always wondering what the character is thinking or feeling instead of always knowing what the character is thinking and feeling.
Great film acting doesn’t answer questions. It provokes them.