Acting tips: Hitting your marks for position, framing and focus.

As an actor and not a film maker, no-one really explains to you what all these technical details are that need to be arranged for each scene,take and shot. In a sense, actors shouldn’t be distracted by technical stuff; it shouldn’t be a distraction. However, when starting out, actors are often left in the dark about the film making process when just a little bit of knowledge would actually help you understand more clearly what is required. Becoming familiar with these film production techniques will help you interpret what the director and crew are after. Let’s look at some of these details now in this basic ‘acting lesson’ for camera.

The importance of hitting marks

‘Marks’ are used all the time on set for many things. White camera tape can mark the position of moving cameras, points of focus over distances and people’s positions in shot and in frame.

When it comes to marks for a character’s position, an actor should try to ‘hit’ the marks correctly through each successive take. The camera and lighting will both be focused on this particular area to make the subject look as good as possible, as sharp as possible or achieve whatever purpose the Director and D.P. have decided. With lighting, after a couple of takes (if you have that long) you will know when you are in the light and when you are not and this is an awareness and knowledge that, as an actor, you will pick up as you gain in experience and time spent on set.

Movement in frame

Often when you are in tight framing such as a close-up (CU) or extreme close-up (XCU), movement must be kept to a minimum. The director will most likely tell you when you are in this sort of framing and communicate the necessity of remaining ‘still’ once you walk or lean into frame. Any excessive movement of the head and shoulders will mean you move in and out of the frame or focus. If you imagine yourself projected onto the big screen in a tight shot, the slightest movement will be exaggerated to a large degree; quite a dizzying experience for the viewer.

Hitting marks for focus

When it comes to knowing when you are ‘in’ and ‘out’ of focus and how much of you is in frame; you will probably not know. Really, you will never need to concern yourself about it. Marks are crucial here for focus, unless there is sufficient depth of field (area of focus); the camera assistant will know this and be adjusting during the take. If an actor is as little as a few inches off mark, they can sometimes be out of focus and this is where consistency and accuracy for hitting those positions each time comes in.

A digital camera operator or camera assistant will often ask an actor to look straight into camera when they are standing on their positional marks. This enables the assistant to use actors’ eyes as an object of focus. With the camera lens ‘zoomed’ in, accurate lens focus is made using the whites of the eye. The lens is then returned to the correct size for the upcoming shot.

If a crew is working with ‘prime lenses’ (lenses that have one focal length) a ‘focus puller’ will measure the distance from the camera lens to the subject of the shot and correct the focus manually using the distance marks on the lens focus ring.

When the camera crew ask an actor to do something, like look into camera, it is important for that actor to have patience and remain still while the crew make the measurements they need. Not being distracted by other actors and the activity around you is desirable and the crew will love you for it.

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