There’s a place in the universe not for the feint of heart. It’s a place where you must be completely vulnerable without ever expecting a hug. It’s a place where you make earth shattering discoveries you will never be able to share. It’s 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 stage is a communal place. The success of a theatrical production depends on the shared experience the actors have with each other and the audience. It’s a gathering with the purpose of taking a journey together. The success of a film take depends on one actor taking a journey entirely alone.
The experience of acting in the film frame is akin to that of our primal ancestors who wandered solo away from their tribes across unfamiliar terrain to see what else was out there. You are skilled. You are adventurous. You are totally unprepared for what you will encounter. In the film frame, you need all your wits about you and a courage beyond what you think yourself capable.
There’s nothing sacred about acting in the film frame but acting in the film frame requires a leap of faith. You must believe in the power of the camera to see beyond the mask of your words and into those places in your heart and soul where you keep hidden your deepest fears, darkest intentions, and most treasured secrets. You must not only believe in it, you must surrender to it. We’ve all heard the expression, “You can’t lie to the camera.” Not only can’t you lie to it, you can’t negotiate with it, and you can’t outwit it. You must submit to it or fail in its frame.
What interests the camera is not the human being we present to the world. What interests the camera is the human animal we are underneath the human being we present to the world. Over the millennia, humans have learned behaviors that allow us to more or less get along in the world but what interests the camera is the primal, emotionally uncivilized nature we still share with those ancestors who first wandered away from their tribes and that each of us walking the planet today has buried within us. When our learned behaviors fail us in the face of conflict, our primal instincts kick in and intense drama or hysterical comedy results.
Only the film actor can take that journey to the primal animal lying beneath a character created by a writer who is trying to accomplish something in a world created by a filmmaker. A director can equip an actor for that journey, supply the actor with a map even but the actor takes the journey alone. At the end of that journey lies true cinematic power.
One more thing. It’s taken for granted that a filmmaker and her or his cinematographer create a film frame and then an actor steps into it and in many cases, that is the situation. With actors who understand true cinematic power, it’s the other way around. With actors who understand true cinematic power, when they step in front of a camera, they create something so compelling it demands the filmmaker and cinematographer put a frame around it in order to preserve it.