Screen acting, also known as film acting, is the art of portraying characters for screen based media – in movies, television shows, web series, commercials, and other filmed productions.
Screen actors perform for the camera, rather than directly to an audience.
Unlike stage acting, where actors perform live to their audience, screen acting involves conveying emotions, actions, and dialogue through the lens of a camera. The camera captures subtle facial expressions, gestures, and nuances, making it essential for screen actors to deliver authentic and believable performances.
Screen Acting vs Stage Acting
Whilst screen acting and stage acting share some skills in common, screen acting can be very different.
Here we look at some of the ways that screen acting differs from acting on stage.
Intimacy and Scale
In screen acting, performances are captured in a range of different shots and camera angles, including close-ups and medium shots, which allow the camera to pick up subtle facial expressions and emotions. This requires more nuanced and understated acting compared with stage performances as the camera magnifies even the smallest gestures.
Stage acting involves projecting emotions and dialogue to reach a large audience, often without microphones. Actors must use their physicality and vocal projection to convey emotions and make their performance visible to everyone at a distance.
Rehearsals and Takes:
Film productions allow for multiple takes and extensive rehearsals. Actors can refine their performances and explore different nuances during the filming process. The director will choose the best take for the final edit, at which point, the performance is finalised.
Stage productions typically have limited rehearsal time and, once the show opens, the performance remains consistent throughout the run. There are no retakes or do-overs, making live performances more immediate and, sometimes, unpredictable. Every performance can be different.
Screen acting generally requires a more natural and realistic approach to portray characters authentically. Performances are generally (although not always) more naturalistic and focused on internal emotions and subtlety.
Stage acting often involves more heightened performances, that are more likely to use abstract styles of acting. There might be an awareness of the artistic style, of the audience, or the style of presentation.
On-screen performances must maintain continuity across various shots and scenes, ensuring consistent character portrayal throughout the film or TV show (or be prepared to fall foul of continuity spotters). Sets, costumes and props are all documented and photographed to ensure continuity across days of shooting or re-shooting. Camera angles are mapped out on Floor Plans.
Stage performances tend have a continuous flow and unfolding narrative, with all the sets and props either static or used within a much shorter space of time, making continuity errors much less likely.
Feedback and Audience Interaction
Screen actors usually have more opportunities to receive feedback from directors and fellow actors during the filming process, which can influence their creative process. They can also watch themselves back on camera to evaluate their own performances.
As well as receiving feedback from the director, stage actors also experience direct feedback from the live audience each time they perform. Their performances can adapt and evolve based on audience reactions, creating a unique energy and connection with each show.
Working with Scripts
For most stage productions, the script is finalised before rehearsals begin (sometimes even hundreds of years before). The cast and the directors will then rehearse, before performance start.
With screen acting, the script can quite often be a work in progress, with rewrites taking place as production starts. Screen actors have to memorise lines quickly, often only receiving their ‘sides’ scene by scene shortly before the scene is due to be shot. The final draft of the script can be very, very different to the version that starts out.
Scheduling & Time Commitment
Depending on the production, screen actors will be booked usually for a period of days, weeks or months, with shooting taking place on a condensed schedule. The days are long and there can be long periods of waiting around. The schedule can change daily, it can overrun, there may be technical issues or delays.
Stage actors tend to be booked for a rehearsal period, followed by a performance schedule, where the time commitment is a lot more definitive and is known well in advance.
Both forms of acting require talent, skill, and dedication, but the job of a screen actor varies in many ways from that of a stage performer. The approaches and techniques used in screen acting and stage acting can vary significantly due to the unique demands of each medium. Some actors are highly versatile and excel in both, while others may find their strengths and preferences lie more in one area over the other.