By John Sudol |Originally posted in Backstage|OCTOBER 18, 2018 12:00 PM
Do you fear the close-up? (Click here to Tweet)
Imagine the camera is locked in on your face and the director or casting director asks you to reveal slight sadness or the beginning of fear or incredibly controlled anger or a hint of excitement or boredom. Oh, and they only want to see it in your eyes. Could you do that? Or does even the thought of a close-up make you freeze?
If this is you, you are not alone. Most actors know how their body and voice communicate but know very little about their own faces. And since the close-up is all about the face, this can be a problem.
So let’s talk about how knowing the language your face speaks can prepare you for your close-up. More specifically, let’s talk eyelids.
To keep facial movement to a minimum and execute any one of those directions listed above would require you having access and control over the muscles around the eye, more specifically, your eyelids. Done correctly, with just the smallest amount of tension, the lifting or relaxing of your eyelids can speak volumes to the viewer.
Your eyes may be the windows to your soul, but it's your eyelids that are the workhorses of nonverbal communication. (Click here to Tweet)
Below are four common messages your eyelids send the viewer and what they convey on film:
READ: 7 Ways Your Face Expresses Emotion
feeling by staring at another person, it might be time to rethink those beliefs.
The eyelid examples I gave you are meant to expand your knowledge of the subtleties of nonverbal facial communication. Master them and they will serve you well, though it’s just the tip of the facial communication iceberg.
The truth is that we give the eyes too much credit for our emotional communication. There are certain muscles and muscle groups on the face that are connected to specific emotions. Just the slightest contraction, expansion, or tension of any one muscle belonging to any one of the seven universal emotions (anger, contempt, happy, sad, fear, surprise, disgust) changes the whole appearance of the face. It may look like it's all in the eyes, but it’s not. It’s all over your face.
Yes, the close-up can be incredibly intimidating and frustrating, but the more you know about those universal emotions and the muscle groups connected to each one, the more control you will gain over your own facial expressions.
And if you have control over your facial expressions and you understand the meaning of each, it really doesn’t matter where the camera is.
Does the close up freeze you up? Share you thoughts and experiences below in the comment section. Like what you read? Share it with a friend.
By John Sudol | Originally posted in Backstage|Posted March 12, 2018, 10 a.m.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about the ways our emotional messages may not be viewed the way we intend. Topping the list at number one was “your own face.” I wrote that for some people, the structure of their face resembles an emotion and having the appearance of emotion on your face can confuse the viewer by sending the wrong or inappropriate message. In other words, your words may be saying one thing while your face another.
Since on-camera actors rely so much on facial communication, I thought I’d take a deeper dive into what gives some faces a voice.
Is your face speaking?
Do people often ask if you’re ok, angry, or upset? One of my favorite quotes is from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” when Jessica Rabbit says, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn this way.” Have you ever thought about how your face is drawn and what it’s saying to others when you’re just thinking or listening?
Princeton neuroscientist Alexander Todorov says, “Humans seem to be wired to look to faces to understand the person’s intentions.” According to Todorov’s findings, in as little as 100 milliseconds, we make a snap judgment about a person’s face that guides us to how we feel about them.
READ: 7 Ways Your Face Expresses Emotion
How do people read us wrong?
Is casting making a snap judgment about you? Do they see you differently than you see yourself? If so, you may be wondering how it is that so many people can draw the wrong conclusions. It very well may have to do with what I call your think of as your two faces: static and default. “Static” is the face nature gave you, and “default” is the face that arrives on-command for protective measures or out of habit. Although both faces look like they’re expressing emotion, for the most part, the owner isn’t actually experiencing emotion.
Static: Your static face is often the result of your age, ethnicity, and emotional history. How your face is structured can be responsible for the appearance of emotion even when you’re not particularly feeling anything at all. For example, a low brow, deep-set eyes, or thin lips may look like anger. The pulling down of the corners of the lips might make a person appear sad. Arched eyebrows may be responsible for the skeptical look on your face. The deep folds on the side of your nose make you appear to be disapproving.
Default: This is the face you go to for comfort, security, or even social gatherings. It’s a face most of us learned a long time ago, possibly from family, friends, or even a magazine, TV show, or film. This is the face you learned to put on to make you feel differently about yourself.
Over time, have you learned to wear a smile during social encounters even if you’re not feeling particularly smiley? Do you actively cover an actual emotion with a faked one to deflect attention or conflict? For example, to hide fear and insecurity, you learned to bring in the muscle group for contempt so you would feel above it all.
Not sure if your face is talking? Have someone take a photo of you from the shoulders up while you’re having a conversation, with you looking into the camera lens as if you were making eye contact. Then show the photo to people who don’t really know. Ask what they think you’re feeling or thinking in that moment captured on film. Their answers could give you some valuable insight as to how you are seen by the world. (You can find examples of talking faces here.)
By Casey Mink | Originally Posted in Backstage on Jan. 9, 2018, noon
Photo Source: Pexels
The Screen Actors Guild Awards are one of the few ceremonies to combine both prominent forms of on-camera acting: film and television. So, if you have dreams of one day winning a SAG statue, you’d be wise to start honing your on-camera skills, and our Backstage Experts are here to help you do it.
On-camera acting has an additional element.
“To define the difference between acting for the stage and acting for the camera, all stage actors are trained in two channels of nonverbal communication: the body and the voice. However, what separates the on-camera actor from the theatrical actor is the on-camera actor must know the three channels of nonverbal communication: the body, the voice, and the face.” --John Sudol, acting coach and author of “Acting: Face to Face: The Actor’s Guide to Understanding How Your Face Communicates Emotion for TV and Film”
Actually do things on-camera.
“Anything that is real looks amazing on camera. So really read the book; really listen to the other person; really try to get the piece of lint off of your clothes; really trace a heart in the water spilled on the table.
“Use props and bits of business. Adjust your clothes. Really observe the other person in the scene. Feel the breeze on your face. Clean your fingernails. Touch someone with love. Stare so hard into their eyes that you make them tell you the truth.
“Doing something also distracts you from feeling like you are acting. If you are busy doing you won’t be stuck thinking. Thus, you will get out of your head (which is making you fake and stiff) and you shall easily get lost in your body and the scene. You are in the moment and organic.” --Cathryn Hartt, Dallas-based acting coach, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio, and Backstage Expert
If you push for emotion, it won’t be there.
“However you achieve a powerful emotion, beware of forcing it out while the camera rolls. If the editor uses that over-emotive footage, you’ll look ridiculous. Instead, play the feeling as an obstacle. Contain it, but make sure it’s deeply felt or it will disappear on film. You want to play an emotion so viewers notice the power, detail, and nuance in your performance, not just a single solitary emotion that screams ‘I’m sad!’ or ‘I’m angry!’
“Be the break (not the gas) while on film. Less is more, I promise.” --Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera acting teacher, founder of Screen Actors System, and Backstage Expert
You don’t need to “project” on-camera.
“Stage-trained actors must learn how to project so that the audience can hear what they’re saying. In on-camera acting, there’s never a reason to speak more loudly than the scene and story requires. Whether by boom or hidden under clothing, we can get a mic anywhere and it picks up everything.” --Shaan Sharma, co-founder of the Westside On-Camera Acting Studio and Backstage Expert
Yes, you need to watch your playbacks.
“Knowing how to interact with the camera is knowing how to interact with the audition room. By taking an on-camera acting class, and watching your playback tapes very carefully, you can figure out what works for you and what does not. At my studio 3-2-1- Acting School in Los Angeles, every class ends with a playback. This way my students see what is and isn’t coming across on camera.
“Are you walking into the room with confidence and then freezing up on camera, or perhaps the opposite? Maybe you are rocking your on-camera acting work but could use some polishing on your actual entrance into the audition room, or your slate. Your exit is important, too. A quick one is best with a simple, ‘Good luck with this project!’ ” --Mae Ross, acting teacher and Backstage Expert
The camera will see every move you make.
“Be sure what you think you’re doing in front of the camera is actually reading on the monitor. Rehearse with a video camera and watch the playback. The camera often magnifies small physical movements you have naturally in everyday life. Unfortunately, arching eyebrows or a bobbing head draw attention to themselves on camera and distract us from watching what you’re thinking and feeling. Lose them. This does not mean you don’t move at all. You don’t have to be still to be effective on camera. Your physical life should look natural and full within the frame. It’s like the difference between cats and dogs. If you enter a room where a cat is cleaning itself with its paw, it will stop, look at you, then resume cleaning itself. Cats do one thing at a time. There’s separation. A dog, on the other hand, will scratch itself, wag its tail, and look at you all at the same time. Obviously, actors should be cat-like. It’s also ok to ask at the audition how they’re shooting you so you can adjust.” --Philip Hernández, NYC-based audition coach, working actor, Backstage Expert
Originally posted In Backstage Jan. 3, 2017, 11 a.m.
During my years in casting, I came to understand how challenging the reaction audition was for many actors. Whether theatrical or commercial, the reaction audition demands that you use your facial expressions to nonverbally communicate very specific messages to the viewer, which indicates how you feel or think about someone or something.
Although challenging for most, what I noticed was that there was a small group of actors who were very consistent at getting the callback and booking the job. In fact, they were the inspiration for my first book, “Acting: Face to Face,” referred to as “the five percent.”
Years of research ultimately led me to the following six things these actors did to increase their callback and booking ratio, and set them apart from the rest:
1. They make it real.
The top actors I studied had the ability to make their actions and reactions appear to be real. “Making it real” simply means that whatever they did or reacted to was infused with enough detail to make it look like real life.
Your reaction doesn’t stand alone; to get the callback and ultimately book the job, you must be skilled at executing the action and the reaction. In other words, you’re doing something (the action) and then something happens that makes you respond (the reaction) in a very real way.
2. They make it recognizable.
Your face is capable of making over 10,000 expressions. Many of them are meaningless, but those five percenters who always got callbacks and booked jobs? They intuitively knew how to choose the expressions that had meaning and were recognizable to all.
If they can’t recognize what’s on your face, how can they hire you?
3. They make it appropriate and adjustable.
The third thing the five percent did differently was to make their expressions appropriate. By appropriate, I mean that the reaction they created was based on what was happening in the material or from a direction. It made sense and had the proper intensity. If the reaction was too big or too small, they could adjust it.
Think about it: If your reaction is random, or the intensity is too big or small, it won’t make sense to the viewer and will seem inappropriate for what’s taking place.
READ: “How to Make Auditions Dynamic”
4. They have one reaction at a time.
Most often, actors will try to create a reaction by recalling a time they felt something analogous to the circumstances, then hope the correct reaction will appear on their face. As they do this, other thoughts can cross their minds and those additional thoughts are reflected on their faces.
Sometimes, those thoughts are accompanied by body movement. So even if the correct reaction is given, the extraneous movement of the face and body often makes the whole reaction too big, too busy, or unrecognizable.
The group I studied didn’t try to show multiple facial movements at the same time. They employed one recognizable, appropriate facial reaction at a time.
5. They make it repeatable.
I also noticed that the five percent actors could repeat the reaction they gave because they were very aware of what their faces were saying. The actors who had this ability were in alignment with what they were feeling and revealing, making them more capable of consistently repeating exactly what they did.
If you can't repeat what worked, odds are you aren’t going to book the job. And if you do happen to book, there’s a chance you could lose the job by not being able to repeat on set what you did in the audition.
6. They can do it on demand.
Finally, what those five percent actors were able to do was interpret material, make a choice, express that choice in a real, recognizable and appropriate way, and do it when asked. In other words, on demand. If they got an adjustment, they understood and executed it without losing any intensity or meaning.
If the reaction audition is a challenge for you, I suggest looking in your emotion toolbox to determine which of the skills here needs to be acquired and/or developed. Missing just one can be the difference between booking or not.
Mastering these six skills won’t guarantee entrance into the five percent club, but it does make you eligible for membership.
John Sudol is a bicoastal audition coach, speaker and founder of the Emotion Training Center, and a Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Sudol’s full bio.
Article originally posted on Backstage May 4, 2016
Facial movements and emotional expressions are like the words you speak. If used arbitrarily, expressed out of context, or delivered with the wrong expression, you run the risk of being seen as untruthful, dishonest, too busy, or even worse...a face actor!
With shows such as “Lie to Me” and the breakout film “Inside Out,” awareness of what emotions feel and look like on the face is reaching the masses, and proving to be a must-know for all on-camera actors.
Here’s the first thing you need to know about emotions: Based on the latest scientific research, people anywhere on the planet will recognize surprise, fear, anger, disgust, contempt, happiness, and sadness. They’re considered universal because we’re all hardwired to express each one of these emotions with the same specific facial muscle groups or muscle patterns. For example, anger involves three muscle groups: the brows are pulled down and together, the upper eyelids are raised and/or lower eyelids are tensed, and the lips are tightened.
Understanding emotions and what they look and feel like on your face is the first step to speaking this emotional facial language. The following is a quick overview of the 7 ways your face expresses emotion, thought, and feeling that will have the biggest impact on your on-camera acting.
Macro expressions are more emotionally intense than other kinds of expressions and often involve your whole face. They are expressed with all the muscle groups of that emotion. For example, the macro expression of anger would involve all three of the muscle groups that I mentioned a moment ago.
This type of expression appears on your face when you are either unable to manage, or find that there is no need to manage or hide the emotion in any way. When an emotion is expressed in the macro, there is no doubt to the viewer what you’re feeling.
These are the fleeting emotional facial expressions. They are expressed with the same muscle groups as the macro, however, they are very quick. Micro expressions can also be seen as “emotional leakage.” Executed correctly, these expressions can give insight to what your character is feeling, but for whatever reason, is trying to conceal. If you were trying to conceal your anger, you may see leakage of it flashing from the mouth, brows, or eyes.
These expressions occur when you’re just starting to feel an emotion, the emotional response is of lower intensity, or when you’re trying to manage or cover up an intense emotion. The same muscle groups in the macro expression of the emotion will be involved, but expressed with either fewer muscle groups, contraction, expansion, or tension, which makes them smaller. So, the subtle expression of anger may only involve the brows, eyes, or just the mouth.
Not all recognizable facial expressions are emotional. Some are cognitive, emblematic, or used to punctuate your words.
Cognitive. This refers to thinking. If the task is difficult or perplexing, confusing, or needs increased focus, changes will occur on the face. For example, the brows may pull in and down, or there may be more tension in the eyes as you focus in on something. Perhaps you may press your lips together or jut your jaw out slightly. Since all of these changes can be found in the anger family, this is why you may look angry when all you’re doing is thinking.
Emblems. These are facial signals that are culturally recognized. They could be anything from a wink of the eye to the quick flicking of the eyebrow as a sign of acknowledgment. When you lift your brows up and hold them, it is an emblem for questioning or doubt.
Emotional emblems. They look like the facial expression of the emotion, but they’re not. One of the uses of emotional emblems is to share with someone what you felt or will feel about something. For example, you’re telling a friend that you have to see your accountant about taxes. At the end of the sentence, you tense and stretch your lips back and down. You are flashing them the emblem of fear.
Punctuate. We also use our face to punctuate words in the same way we might use our hands. Lifting your brow or widening your eyes can bring focus to a point you’re making. Unlike emblems, these facial movements are there to comment on what you’re saying. They can add a question mark, exclamation point, quotation marks, or a period to our speech. Over-punctuating your words is the top way to be pegged as a face or eyebrow actor.
Here’s something to think about. There are three channels of nonverbal emotional communication: body, voice, and face. Stage acting only requires that you have control over two: body and voice, whereas on-camera acting requires that you have all three.
It’s having the skill to clearly and authentically speak this emotional facial language that defines you as an on-camera actor. Knowing how your face communicates is the first step to insuring that your emotional messages are read in the way you intend.
John Sudol is a bicoastal audition coach, speaker and founder of the Emotion Training Center, and a Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Sudol’s full bio.
To set up a free 20 minute consultation with John click HERE
This post was originally posted in Backstage 3/17/2016
Should nonverbal communication be studied and added to your emotion communication toolbox?
The answer is an overwhelming yes. Nonverbal communication makes up anywhere from 65–95 percent of our communication. An audition requiring only a reaction from you brings it to 100 percent. Since we are in the communication business, it makes sense that all actors master this nonverbal language.
It’s what you’re not saying within the silence that often speaks the loudest. A slight clamping and lifting of the corner of the lip can send a message of contempt or skepticism. The rate of blinking can suggest interest, hostility, or distress. Your scent, what you’re wearing, and your posture are all sending messages and are interpreted by casting. It’s this nonverbal information that differentiates the skilled actor from the unskilled or unprepared.
The nonverbal information we send out through our body, voice, face, and appearance is called “nonverbal behaviors.” Nonverbal behaviors spring from our attitudes, cultural upbringing, and are reactions to things we deem to be important to our well-being either in a positive or negative way.
The following is a quick overview of eight types of unspoken communication and behaviors that you can use as a checklist and reminder for your next audition.
1. Your face. The majority of your nonverbal communication will come from your facial expressions. Some facial expressions are just random muscle movement without meaning and only serve to confuse the viewer. However, facial expressions associated with surprise, fear, happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, and contempt are universally recognized. Used appropriately, they inform the viewer what you are feeling at any given moment. Some facial reactions are also used for punctuating words or phrases, such as raising your eyebrows to comment on how big something really was.
2. Your hands. Movements that express some kind of thought or process of thinking are calledgestures. Some gestures occur with speech, such as using your fingers when counting out loud or perhaps to emphasize a word or phrase. Others, like pointing or waving, are recognizable without words. Gestures are expressed primarily with your hands, however, can occur in the head, body, or even your face. This may include nodding your head “yes,” a shoulder shrug implying that you “don’t know,” or a wink of the eye suggesting “game on.”
3. Your voice. Vocal communication separate from the actual words you speak is referred to as paralinguistics. This includes tone of voice, volume, inflection, and pitch. It can also include yawns, laughs, grunts, and pauses. Consider the powerful effect your tone of voice can have on the meaning of a sentence. When said in a strong tone of voice, listeners might interpret approval and enthusiasm. The same words said in a hesitant tone might convey lack of interest or confidence.
4. Your body. Unlike facial expressions, body language doesn’t tell us what emotion you’re feeling, but rather, how well you’re coping with the emotion felt. Things that we find frightening or distasteful, we tend to move away from. Heavy swallowing or licking your lips, touching your hair or sprawling out on a couch can be signs of stress, interest, or feelings of superiority.
5. Personal space. The amount of distance we need and the amount of space we perceive as belonging to us is referred to as proxemics. The amount of space you or your character needs is influenced by a number of factors including social norms, situational factors, personality characteristics, and level of familiarity. Just a slight moving in towards your partner, reader, or the camera can enhance intimacy.
6. Your eyes. Looking, staring, and blinking, also known as eye gaze, is an important nonverbal cue. When people encounter people or things that they like, the rate of blinking increases and pupils dilate. On the other hand, when angered, the gaze gets harder and the blink rate will decrease or stop completely. An increase in the blink rate for no apparent reason sends a clear message that you are either not prepared, not connected, or experiencing high anxiety.
7. Your touch. Communicating through touch is known as haptics. It’s another important nonverbal behavioral cue to think about. Touch can be used to communicate a range of information and feelings such as affection, familiarity, sympathy, desire, etc.
8. Your look. The choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting how you look fall under the category of appearance. Appearance can also alter physiological reactions, judgments, and interpretations. Just think of all the subtle judgments you quickly make about someone based on his or her appearance. The first impression you make in your audition is important and lasting.
It’s how you react to an event or situation—your attitude or behavior under certain circumstances—that makes your performance memorable. When chosen and layered appropriately into your audition, any one of these eight nonverbal behaviors can bring more depth, colors, and meaning to your actions, reactions, and the words you speak.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
John Sudol is a bicoastal audition coach, speaker and founder of the Emotion Training Center. He is known to many actors around the world as the “go-to emotion specialist.” Sudol’s expertise is in emotional facial communication, he’s written two books on emotional communication: “Acting: Face to Face,” the actors guide to understanding how your face communicates emotion for TV and film, and “Acting: Face to Face 2,” how to create genuine emotion for the TV and film.
Visit www.languageoftheface.com for more information, and follow Sudol on Twitter@johnsudolstudio and Facebook. To schedule a free 20-minute consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you walk into your next audition and they asked you to go through a series of very small reactions of determination, sadness, concern, determination or even fear, would you know exactly how to create and express them?
Maybe you've been out on an audition like this. How'd you do?
If you understand emotions and how they are expressed, you're probably smiling, because you know that this is exactly the type of audition you nail. If you don’t, then you are more than likely throwing you're hands up in the air in frustration.
Sometimes the reactions they are asking for can be so small you barely recognize them as emotions, but they are. These brief emotional releases are known as micro expressions and every actor should have them in their emotional toolbox.
“Micro-expressions” are fleeting emotional facial expressions that last between 1/25th and 1/15th of a second. They occur when a person consciously or unconsciously is attempting to cover up a real emotion they are experiencing.
For on-camera actors, micro expressions can be seen as “emotional leakage”. They are much too quick and subtle for stage work, however, if done correctly, can bring color and an added dimension to your audition and performance.
For an example of what I’m talking about, take a look at this very cool Jaguar commercial to see how advertising is now using micro expressions to sell products.
It's an excellent example of an upscale brand understanding how to speak to their professional target with a real new, interesting, yet educational message. Ad-execs, directors, casting, are all counting on actors to have the skill to express the most subtle expressions of emotion.
The message here is simple. Everyday you are seeing audition notices asking for the actor to have the ability to be good with subtle facial expressions. If you have the skill to reveal real and recognizable emotions from the most subtle to the extreme, you’ve got a shot at booking a spot like the one you will see below.
Let me know your thoughts...
To Check out other reactions you should have in your toolbox, check out my last blog.
Author, Coach, Speaker
John is known to actors around the world as the Go-To Emotion Specialist.