Television Acting

Camera 1? Camera 2?

On a television set, there are typically several cameras angled at the set. Actors who are new to on-screen acting can get confused about which camera to look into. (This is not so much a problem for sitcom and dramatic television actors as it is for broadcasters and commercial actors.)

Each camera has a light at its top. Depending on the camera, the light can be red, green, white, or yellow. When the camera is "live" or "hot," the light will go on, indicating that this is the camera now capturing what is on the set.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

Many on-camera actors and performers will have to encounter lav mics (Lavaliere Microphones) at one time or another. These are the tiny little black buds you often see stuck to people's lapels in talk shows (or ripped away before they storm off the set when the interview gets too heated).

If you need to wear one, wear it professionally: Slip the mic underneath your shirt so that the mic tip (the head where the sound is picked up) merely peeks out of the edge of your collar. If you're wearing a suit jacket, tuck the cord under your jacket flap. Keep the tip away from any clothing that might ruffle against it and interfere with clean audio.

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Commercial Acting

When acting in a television commercial, remember that you are there to sell a product. In these instances, it is not so important to have motivation for your character, do a detailed breakdown of his/her character. Instead, focus on the product you are promoting; it is the star.

If you are reading your own copy, be sure to give a little more emphasis to the name of the product or service. This technique can be called either “punching” or “warming” a word or phrase, depending on the mood of the ad. Be sure not to overdo it. Advertising is a subtle art. You want the audience to believe you, not feel pressured by you.

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Joining the Union

If you plan to work professionally in television, you will most likely need to join AFTRA at some point in your career. AFTRA stands for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Along the with benefits of being paid the union-enforced day rates for performers, you are also eligible to join the sister union SAG, under certain circumstances.

New members must complete an application and pay a one-time initiation fee and dues for the current dues period. The initiation fee is $1,300 and, as of November 1, 2004, minimum dues are $63.90.

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Sitcom Acting

Acting in a sitcom (situation comedy) is a very specialized talent. It’s something like being in a comedic play, but without the need for vocal projection and larger-than-life body movements. Sitcoms are known for their “laugh-a-minute” standards, so they are fast-paced. Comedic timing is key.

Actors wishing to break into the world of sitcoms should read a few tips on acting in the comedy genre as well as take a few comedy acting classes. Sketch comedy and stand-up are best, since they teach the fine art of timing. Watch as many sitcoms as you can stomach – good and bad. Familiarize yourself with what works and what doesn’t.

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Television Acting Term: Frame

The term frame refers to the area that the camera's lens is capturing. You must learn what this is at any given point when you're on-camera, or you may just go wandering off the screen entirely. Camera frames usually cover close-ups (head), medium shots (head and shoulders), and long shots (full body).

To give an example of how these frames are used, sitcom ensembles typically encounter scenes with long shots (whole groups) and medium-shots (2-3 people). Close-ups are used to focus on one particular character when s/he is speaking.

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To Join or Not to Join

Be aware that once you join a union like AFTRA, you are no longer eligible to work non-union jobs. If you are just starting out in your career and need to make money, you may wish to hold off on joining a union. Many smaller companies offer work to non-union actors (at a lower rate of pay than union actors). Once you are a member of a union, these jobs essentially become off-limits to you. There are certain exceptions to the rule, but you must research what they are before you accept non-union work. Failure to do so could result in you being dropped from the union.

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TV Acting Terms: Copy, Teleplay, Side

Copy refers to the lines you will speak. In sitcoms and television dramas, “copy” comes in the form of a teleplay. In commercial advertisements -- whether on-screen or in voice-over work -- the words you speak are called copy, but the form in which they come to you is called a side. Sides are also what are given to you for an audition. In this case, almost any excerpt of a longer script can be referred to as a side.

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