stage to the silver screen
actor makes the transition from community thespian to movie star
Actors such as
Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando switched from stage to film without
changing much of their performance technique. But today, stage and
screen are two very different entities. An actor who wants to do both
must be versatile, and prepared.
With this transition
in mind, Yellow Taxi Productions recently hosted a screen-acting
workshop for local performers. The day-long event was led by Martin
Goeller, an independent film director and co-founder of NYC-based
As with a theater
audition, a film actor is expected to give the casting director a resume
and headshot. The shot should be a head-and-shoulders portrait, in black
and white, with a clear representation of what you actually look like.
“Your head shot is
your calling card,” Goeller said. “It should look like you — the way you
Just as stage actors
must prepare for an audition by learning a monologue, a film actor must
prepare by being familiar with the type of role at stake.
“You should never
just show up at an open call with no idea which role you are reading
for,” Goeller said.
Trade papers that
announce film auditions (such as NEED) often allow room for directors to
print the specific types they seek. For example, “Woman in her mid-20s,
sexy, femme-fatale,” or “Man in his late 40s, slightly paunchy.” If
these descriptions don’t fit you, don’t waste your time showing up at
What’s your type?
“As a film or TV
actor, you should learn to love typecasting,” Goeller said. “The word
has a negative connotation to it that it doesn’t really deserve. A good
actor knows what kinds of roles she does the most convincingly, and goes
out for those roles consistently. Stage actors are often expected to
play a wider age range. That’s not typical of film or TV performances.”
To determine your
“type,” think of an actor who might play you in the movie version of
your life, or an actor with whom you think you could compete for roles.
Be realistic. If you’re slightly short and slightly round, don’t peg
yourself as a leading man type. And that’s not a bad thing. There’s no
shame in comparing yourself to, say, a Paul Giamatti type over a Brad
Pitt type. Both actors are in high demand these days.
Goeller had the
actors at the workshop stand in a circle and try guessing their types.
Many of them were accurate, but some of the actors struggled with the
“It’s not about the
roles you wish you could play, or the roles you have the acting ability
to play,” Goeller said. “It’s about the roles you could most easily
land, based on your physical appearance and voice.”
In screen acting,
the performer must rely much more on the cerebral than the physical.
“The way films and
television shows are put together is different than a play,” Goeller
said. “It’s a series of shots that are edited together to tell the
story. There isn’t a fluid movement through each scene. There could be
one shot that’s a close-up on your face, and other that’s a close up on
your hand touching another person’s hand. It isn’t one wide shot of you
looking at the other person and touching their hand. So your face, your
voice, have to tell the story, but in a more subtle way than you would
One issue that stage
actors must face when working in film is to “tone it down.”
“Stage actors are
trained to project their voices, no matter what the scene,” Goeller
said. “That’s because we need to hear you. But in a film, actors are
wearing microphones. You can whisper, you can even mumble if the scene
calls for it. Vocal diversity is key.”
Actors also need to
be careful of facial or physical “tics” that can seems small on stage,
but look huge on screen.
One example of
moving away from stage techniques is shedding the concept of “getting
into character.” Iin film, this sort of technique doesn’t work as well.
“Have you ever
noticed how Denzel Washington seems to play the same type of character?
Or Harrison Ford, or Julia Roberts?” he asked the group. “For the most
part, they are playing their type: good cop, rugged hero, romantic
heroine. It’s because they don’t have to ‘get into character.’ They are
Instead of relying
on staged vocalism or mannerisms, Goeller advises to just let your own
personality — and the writer’s lines — shine through.
Martin Goeller will
direct Odd Man Out, a new play about the life and death of Harvey Milk,
with Yellow Taxi Productions in September. For more information, go to
yellowtaxiproductions.org. For more information about Sixtus Pictures,
go to sixtuspictures.com.