Being a professional actor is hard. You probably have other commitments, whether studying or working a survival job to pay bills, on top of pursuing auditions, networking, and trying to keep up with your social life. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is work on your craft when you get the chance for some downtime. Maybe if you watch something on Netflix that has really good acting in it, that’ll count as study, right? Wrong.
However, there is a loophole here that’ll let you stay up to date with Riverdale guilt free, and that is Active Watching. Active Watching is just like active listening that you learned in school. Listen to the information, engage with it however works for you so that you retain the information. For some people, engaging with content means writing it down, repeating it back to yourself or someone else, paraphrasing it, or drawing a picture or diagram. Go with whatever method seems like the most fun to you, fire up Netflix, and pay attention to the following:
Let’s start with the fun one. Pick a character and watch them closely. Note your first impression of them, and whether this was informed by their physicality, their dialogue, or their vocal choices. Hopefully it will be all three. What about their choices made you feel and react the way that you did? Would you have delivered the character differently? How would your choices have effected the relationships between characters? Write down the lines you thought were special – whether they were funny or moving. Was it the line itself, or the delivery? If you have a movie you can watch over and over, do this for all of the characters, whether they are your gender/ethnicity/preference or not.
Super simple one here. Write down what is happening while the movie plays. Don’t pause it, don’t try to get it perfect, because this is about the flow of the narrative and discovering the special moments. When you look back over what you’ve written, it’ll become clearer what the themes of the movie were, when the pacing sped up or slowed down, perhaps when an entire scene was driven by dialogue or by silence. You’ll discover what you find important or interesting, because these are the notes and quotes you’ll prioritise. Get a copy of any screenwriting book that contains the three act structure, and try to identify the inciting incident, turning points, mid-point, climax and resolution.
A practised actor knows what the camera is capturing at all times. This is a skill acquired by being on set, watching your tapes back, and experimenting. What helps to inform your experiments is a knowledge of cinematography. It can be super basic, or if it interests you, it can go deeper into lens sizes and shot types. Take notes about what the type of shot does to an actors performance. A wide shot will require a different performance intensity than a mid or close up shot. Does it bug you when an actor holds themselves a certain way in their over the shoulder two shot? Why do you think that is? Check on your own phone, camcorder, or webcam whether you do the same thing.
The more awareness you have of how your favourite content works, the more awareness you will have when you perform. By knowing your preferences and their outcomes, you can play with possibilities that may not have occurred to you before, or alter habits that you never realised were holding you back. Now you’ve been reassured that your procrastination is productive, get yourself to a TV and feel smugly professional.