Acting
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Acting

Definition

Actors portray characters in media products and contribute to character development, creating tension or advancing the narrative. The actors chosen during casting can have a role to play in audience understanding or enjoyment of a media product as we expect and associate certain actors with certain genres.

Acting can be described as either naturalistic or non-naturalistic. Non-naturalistic acting calls attention to itself and was often seen in classic Hollywood films.

Elements of Acting

Facial expression

An actor’s facial expression is a powerful way of expressing emotion when even small movements can have strong symbolic connotations.

Eyebrows are seen as important signifiers in facial expressions and is often a good place to start when doing a description.

Gaze is also an important part of facial expression — it’s a term used to describe the focus of a person’s look. Is the person looking at the camera, at someone else or outside the frame? When two people’s gaze meet, this is called ‘eye contact’.

Lowered eyebrows can mean anger or pain like in ‘127 Hours’.
Lowered eyebrows can mean anger or pain like in ‘127 Hours’.

This shot from ‘Grease’s shows the power of gaze.
This shot from ‘Grease’s shows the power of gaze.

Body language

Body language is about the way an actor controls their body through gestures, posture and body contact.

gesture is a kind of visible expression made by the actor, a type of movement. It could be a wave, a slap of the forehead, a shake of the head.

Posture is the general way that the body is held, it’s the attitude of the body. Arms crossed suggest someone might be defensive, a rigid posture might suggest someone is tense, slouching might suggest someone is depressed.

Body contact is a very powerful symbolic code that suggests intimacy and is highly dependent on cultural norms.

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Vocal qualities

How a character says dialogue often in more important than what they are saying. Characters might be loud, abrupt, soft-spoken, have an accent, have vocal fry, be slurring their speech or mumble.

Movement

How a character moves can be connected to their body language. A confident strut can be connected to a stern facial expression and a stiff posture. Character movements can be jittery, awkward, stiff, fast, meandering, agitated, still or any other of descriptions.

Video Examples

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Scene library

Magic Trick
The Dark Knight
Taking It Up With HR
The Assistant
You’re tearing me apart
Rebel Without A Cause
Truth or Dare
Eighth Grade
Telling the Parents
Line Up
The Usual Suspects
The Staircase
The Shining

Resources

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Westworld: What Makes Anthony Hopkins Great - YouTube
actingvideo essayvideowestworldnerdwriter
Introduction: gesture in film: Journal for Cultural Research: Vol 19, No 1
actinggesture
(80) Movie Accent Expert Breaks Down 32 Actors' Accents | WIRED - YouTube
actingaccentvoicevideo
Accent Expert Breaks Down 6 Fictional Languages From Film & TV | WIRED - YouTube
actingyoutubevideovoice
Movie Accent Expert Breaks Down 31 Actors Playing Real People | WIRED - YouTube
actingvoicevideoyoutube
There Will Be Blood: Vocal Control in Movies - YouTube
actingvoicethere will be bloodyoutubevideo
Observations on film art : THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Faces behind Facebook
actingBordwellThe Social Networkfacial expression