You never know how you’re going to act in front of a camera crew until you hear the word, “ACTION!” Then it’s anybody’s game. And eventually the director gets so frustrated with you that he shouts that iconic film-industry word all directors say:
“Beer! I need a beer!”
Today, I discovered exactly how I act on camera. I behave like a man having a brain seizure. Instead of using intelligent words I end up saying, “Aaahhhhhh… Ummmmm…”
“ACTION!” the director says again, placing the camera in my face until the lens is touching my chin.
“Try to relax, tell us your name.”
“Don’t overthink it, tell the viewers your name.”
The word “CUT!” is an industry term. There are lots of film-industry words that you’ll have to get “hip” to if you’re going to be “shot,” “wide angle” by a bunch of “key grips” with “shotgun mics,” mounted on “booms,” held by guys eating “bags of Funyuns,” and “laughing their butts off at you.” It can all be pretty intimidating.
I am no stranger to performing in front of people. I give a lot of speeches and have spoken at some very high-level gigs. For example, last week I received the honor of being the keynote speaker at Vertigo Villas Nursing Home. I gave my speech during chair yoga class.
But when a professional camera crew shoves space-age equipment in your face and expects you to talk enthusiastically like a qualified Honda dealership salesman, all bets are off.
Something changes inside you. You find yourself sort of trembling because you know that any boneheaded thing you say will be preserved forever.
But I’m not being fair. Being on camera isn’t all bad. The great thing about film-industry people is that they are intelligent and creative individuals. And by “creative” I mean “slap-ass crazy.”
The director had me doing many different activities I would never do in real life to capture footage. Leaning against a brick wall and looking pensively into the distance is only one example.
Another thing camera crews love to film is “walking footage,” where they film you walking. They’re crazy about walking scenes. Sometimes they set up film equipment at local malls just to watch people walk, then they get all the free rides in police squad cars they can stand.
I must have walked forty miles for the camera crew in hopes of capturing “the perfect walking sequence.”
The main thing to remember about being on film is that you should relax and not worry. Because no matter how bad you think it’s turning out, remember, these are professionals, and when it’s all said and done they are going to make you look absolutely hideous. This is a rule of thumb in the film world.
I don’t care if you are a Farrah Fawcett. Somehow, a film camera will make you look like a sea creature who slept on his brother-in-law’s sofa last night.
It’s stunning how bad ordinary people can look on camera. Take me, for instance. I always thought I was an average looking guy. But when the director showed me an instant replay of my walking sequence, I looked like the Hunchback of Talladega.
For years my mother warned me not to slump. It’s too late now. I walk with the same elegance of a turkey buzzard.
“Do I really look like that?” I asked the director.
He patted my back. “It was just bad lighting is all.”
Bad lighting in the film world is a serious issue. Film crews are always testing the light and erecting huge lamps to counteract bad lighting.
In big-budget movies, if you were to look off-camera you’d see huge lights burning at roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun. Many Hollywood actors develop rich suntans during filming so that by the final scenes of a movie their skin is beef jerky.
Perhaps the hardest part of being on camera is trying to behave normally. Body language, for example, is important during filming. Directors call this “camera presence.”
Hours earlier, before you were on camera, you had normal everyday Joe-Schmo presence. But now you can’t seem to remember what your presence was, or where you misplaced it, or how you can buy some more. Your body language suddenly becomes choppy, like someone has put a lit cigarette into your Jockey shorts.
This causes a lot of laughter among the crew who all notice that you are so confused that you don’t know whether to wind your rear or scratch your watch.
Occasionally you’ll hear the director yell, “CUT! Why’re you walking so weird?”
“Am I walking weird?”
“You look uncomfortable. Do you need to use the restroom?”
“Let’s try that again. Aannnnnnnd ACTION!”
So there you are, trying to mosey along nice and natural like John Wayne on his way to the outhouse.
Laughter from the film crew erupts behind the director. You overhear one crew member whisper, “Does he have a hiatal hernia?”
The director says, “Take five!”
By the end of the day, you’ve practiced walking over and over until you are so self-conscious about your own gait that you can hardly remember how to walk without falling. When your wife comes to pick you up from the set, she says, “What in God’s name happened to you? Why are you walking like that?”
And all you can manage to say is, “Aaahhhhhh… Ummmmm…”
I need a beer.