Acting in Film and Television

By andrew hadzopoulos

From an acting standpoint, the difference between theater, television, and film is immense. Most audiences can see the differences between theater and filmed performances – it makes sense that live performances are, by definition, theatrical. With no close-ups or edits to direct your attention, the actors are the ones tasked to keep everyone’s attention, even the people sitting all the way in the back. There’s no need for such ‘big’ performances on camera, but the line may seem a little bit blurry when it comes to television acting verses film acting.

In the past few years, there has been much discussion regarding the rise of quality in television programs. Production values for these shows have gotten better and better, and both audiences and actors have taken notice. The old stigma regarding television acting has radically changed, and now the weekly schedules are filled with really great shows, with really great actors. More and more, seasoned film veterans are considering and making the jump to television projects, much like Glenn Close did in ‘Damages’. And while it’s no longer considered a step backwards in a career, there is still a noticeable difference in acting style between television and film.

In most cases, film acting is much more detailed and nuanced than television. Casting directors frequently tell actors auditioning to do less. Even emotionally charged scenes can be ‘smaller’ when it comes to the performances. This is often where many coaches and casting directors say confusing things like “stop acting”. They want less, and less is more in film. It may be due to the fact that an actor (and the character they’re portraying) has more time to gradually show their emotional journey in a movie, as opposed to a thirty-minute or hour-long TV show.

Television programs are built around commercial breaks, and to make sure you don’t change the channel, that’s when the victim tells the detective they know who the killer really is. A dramatic pause, music cue, and the camera slowly inches closer to the detective’s astonished/puzzled/worried face. Cut to commercial. That’s acting for television – lightly exaggerated. While today’s shows are much more grounded, casting directors can still identify actors who only have television experience.

This is not to say that one is better than the other, only that one is certainly more appropriate in different settings. There are exceptions, of course, but a good actor should know how to navigate both. You can learn a great deal just by watching more shows and movies, but to really understand the subtle differences, having a great acting coach or class is encouraged. Much like any profession, there’s no real end to how much you can learn and grow. Even the A-list actors use coaches, and there’s no better way to learn than to immerse yourself in it.

 

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