As you may recall, a few weeks back I mentioned in a Your Turn segment that I needed some help putting together a piece on the best on-camera classes out there. I had gotten a few suggestions via response to a post at MySpace, but it wasn’t until the call for help went out here that I really started hearing from y’all. Thanks!
Before we get to the specific on-camera classes that were named “tops” by my awesome readers who emailed, let’s address a quick question I received about how to know who to trust. “How do you know what acting classes/schools you can trust? I had planned to attend NYFA. It sounded so great. But just to make sure I don’t waste my money, I went to an actors’ forum, searched for NYFA, and found that they don’t have a good reputation. Now I’m back at square one and I’m not sure what to do. How do you know what courses you can trust? There are less-known courses that might not show up in a Google search so you can’t read about them in a forum. I think I’m not the only one that feels a little scared about spending money on classes that will let us down.”
First, every school or studio is going to be its own biggest hype machine. Think about how advertising works. If I’m trying to get you to see my movie, I’m going to create a poster that makes it look amazing and a trailer that gets you really excited. It may not be ’til you’ve spent your money and gotten about 20 minutes into the film that you realize you’ve been lied to, but that’s quite a different predicament than having signed up for a year or more of classes in a so-called professional program and then learning their company’s name on your resume actually makes you look BAD to those in the know. So, absolutely, you must do your homework early.
Google is your friend, yes. But so is the reputation you can learn about in more “behind the scenes” places. Because so many folks with gripes over unrelated issues can post anonymous comments on message boards to disparage companies or services, there is only so much weight to give those opinions. Calling or emailing a friend who works at an agency or in a particular casting office and asking for his or her opinion on a particular class is even better. A mentor in the industry typically stands nothing to gain by steering you away from a bad class. So, that person’s information is more valuable than what you may find by Googling. Better still is the information you gather by auditing the class.
Since not every class will be the right fit for every actor, it’s vitally important that you spend time with the instructor you’ll be handing your hard-earned money over to, in exchange for classes. If audits aren’t allowed (and they should, generally, always be allowed — except in the case of very intense high-level master classes, MAYBE), at the very least you should be able to meet with the acting instructor to spend some quality time discussing your needs and goals while learning about the coach’s style and approach. So, in order of value, as you search out opinions on acting classes, we have the good ol’ Google search, the industry referral, and the first-hand audit of the course itself. Got it? Good!
One of the coaches I hear the most buzz about (and whose students tend to turn out uniformly excellent work in audition sessions) is Lesly Kahn. Well, lo and behold, Lesly reached out to me about this particular column and shared a great point about the usefulness of on-camera classes (which I will now share with you before getting to the big list).
While I feel it’s IMPERATIVE that the actors work on camera so they can see what WE see, my teachers and I have all found that inevitably we just gotta get back to the actors’ ACTING. Once they’re not bopping in and out of frame, once they’re still, once they understand the requirements of video, we STILL have to fix the acting issues. And suddenly having them so result-oriented (as a result of watching themselves on camera), our job gets even harder. Thus, while we have offered on-camera classes on a monthly basis, we tend to discourage the actors from REMAINING in the class for longer than a month. More frequently, we’ll just bring a camera into our regular classes now and then.
I am certainly NOT recommending Lesly Kahn and Company as having great on-camera classes (particularly since I just did away with our most recent one for the reasons outlined above). I did, however, hear about a school that had the actors actually RUN cameras (similar to those found on sitcoms). They learned to direct and edit and storyboard and light. THAT class sounded FASCINATING to me. Naturally, for the life of me I have NO idea who ran it or where it was. But I love that idea so much that I’ve actually started incorporating filmmaking into our acting classes as a regular exercise. I’m thinking once the camera ceases to be a mystery, it won’t be as scary to them, and they’ll be able to be themselves in front of it. So far so good.
Right on! Now, here are the folks whose classes “made the list” of best on-camera acting instruction, based on my call for feedback. Names are linked to official websites, where available. Please note that what you’re reading here is an excerpt from the class website or information that someone else has reported. Also note that there are sometimes on-camera classes offered as a component of two- and three-year conservatory programs at locations such as those in place at The Strasberg Institute, The Meisner Center, and Promenade Playhouse, but none of these were singled out in emails to me from readers. As always, I welcome your feedback and follow-ups on this topic!
Alice Carter and Cameron Thor, On-Camera, Carter Thor Studios: The idea is to recreate the dynamic of the set in the classroom. Alice directs the actors for two cameras and the work is taped to look at later.
Annie Grindlay and Margie Haber, Ongoing and Intensive On-Camera Classes, Margie Haber Studios: All classes are on-camera workshops. Students participate each class, then view and evaluate their work on videotape. Courses meet twice a week for one month and each actor works on camera twice per class. Free orientation required.
Billy Cowart, Ongoing On-Camera Classes, WCI Studios: On-camera 80% of the time. You don’t have to take my word for it; you can see the truth. Each student works on what they need to work on, not what the class needs to work on. Got an audition? Bring it in and we’ll work on it. Acting is easy compared to auditioning. I am going to put you through so many auditions week after week that auditioning will become easy. Then imagine how easy acting is going to be!
Carolyne Barry, Commercial Classes: Focus on developing each actor’s acting skills and on-camera commercial persona, as well as defining each actor’s unique commercial personality (in advanced classes) and addressing improvisational commercial auditions.
Christinna Chauncey: Confidence, skill, knowledge, and charisma are all necessary components for booking the job. In an industry that utilizes the camera as its vehicle for storytelling, the value of on-camera training remains unparalleled. “On-camera for audition technique; very passionate and knowledgeable.”
Daniel Gamburg, Acting for Film Workshop: “He’s an experienced filmmaker and we shot five different scenes over the five-week period which he edited into finished pieces that were good enough to put on my reel and included a commentary track with acting notes. We learned a lot about making continuity your friend, and everyone had improved so much by the end of it. He only takes six students per class, so you get lots of on-camera time and feedback.”
Doug Warhit, Ongoing On-Camera Group Classes: Geared for TV and film, performed on-camera, for beginners through working professionals, with monthly industry showcases included. Also covers the business elements of being on a set. Free audit required. “Doug is adept at knowing the right way to talk to any actor to get you to make the adjustment he’s looking for. His focus is on getting the actor out of his or her own head and into the scene.”
John Sudol: Gone are the days of cold reading, due to sides being available ahead of the scheduled audition. Therefore attention is given in class to breaking down the scene, finding and executing the truth, character “quality,” and how to make the read dynamic. The class alternates from an audition and callback setting to the actual taping of the scene with a partner. Ongoing work in this class will help reads be executed at a performance level.
John Swanbeck, Actors Creative Workshop and Los Angeles Actors Center: On film and television sets, you’re surrounded by dozens of crew members manipulating the camera, lighting, and sound equipment, all within feet of you as you prepare for your upcoming scene. Shooting out of sequence, hitting marks, matching, pickup shots, multiple takes — these are the logistical realities of shooting on a set which can undermine even the most talented actor. “On-camera for film; no bullshit. Gets it.”
Kimberly Crandall, Actorsite: This program provides each student with their own professional demo reel showcasing their best abilities. Each reel will have several different clips written specifically for them showing your child’s acting range. “On-camera for young actors and a demo reel class.”
Mark Sikes, Ongoing On-Camera Audition Technique: Cold reading, audition technique, with a dose of “business of the business” mixed in. Classes are sold by the month, but this is not a four-week class. Two industry showcases are produced each year.
Michelle Danner, On-Camera Class, Larry Moss Studio: Eight weeks of working on scenes from existing projects, breaking down the script, getting off the page, emotional mapping, and creating a through-line.
Mike Pointer, Commercial Fundamentals, Hey I Saw Your Commercial: Slating, personality interviewing, how to read commercial copy, feeling comfortable in your own skin, standing out in auditions, use of cue cards, partner exercises, and avoiding common mistakes. “I’m now getting loads of technique specific to commercial auditioning. Mike’s sincerity and energy are infectious. As I’m new here, this is my first class, but will be a continuing one; supplemented by others, I know.”
Richard Lawson, On-Camera Auditioning Class, Beverly Hills Playhouse: Actors audition weekly on camera, and then in class the video of each student’s audition is screened and critiqued before the whole group, so you can really see what you are doing when you come into an office for an audition.
Stuart K. Robinson: “Commercially, nobody beats Stuart K. Robinson.”
Tim Hughes, Actors Certified Training: We don’t teach acting. We train actors. Focus on actors’ etiquette, hitting marks, green screen, lines of sight on camera, what video village is, and who does what on a set. Designed to please the employer, not train the actor. “I learned quite a bit at the free On-Camera Workshop and got some tape to work with. Nice people with practical tips.”
Todd Rohrbacher and Scott Sedita, On-Camera TV and Film Comedy and Professional Audition Technique, Scott Sedita Acting: Breaking down comedy scripts, identifying and delivering jokes, implementing Scott’s Eight Characters of Comedy, emotional access, and marketing. One-Day Comedy Intensive required.
On-Camera Classes Outside of LA
D. Candis Paule, San Diego: “I did a four-week on-camera audition workshop and really learned a lot. I’m the ‘second try’ kind of actor at auditions and she helped me find that ‘get it right the first time’ edge, because oftentimes that’s the only chance you get.”
Linda Darlow, Vancouver: “An amazing on-camera acting coach. She’s a no bullshit — says it how it is — woman who is accomplished as an actor, has high regard amongst other industry professionals, and isn’t there to tell you ‘that was good’ after every scene just to make you feel good. Her constructive criticism is helpful and guiding. Some people don’t like the truth, though. Scenes are videotaped and then watched afterwards. It’s an audition techniques class that forces you to be sharp with your skills. Linda’s the greatest!”
Marc Durso, Miami: “I learned so much from Marc about ‘acting true;’ about being ‘real’ in our portrayals of characters on stage, in film and television. It boosted my young career so much in 2001 that I landed in SAG that year and in Los Angeles in June, 2006.”
Jane Alderman, Chicago: “Jane’s on-camera classes are great. I especially recommend her Camera Smarts class.” Aids in preparation for all types of TV and film auditions, from one-liners to small scenes to leading roles. Work on your on-camera techniques and business skills. Find the best ways to present your own personal “package.”
Lewis Baumander, Toronto: Action-based focus in the vein of David Mamet. Simple and straightforward. No misleading buzzwords or clever theories. You will come to depend more on your own innate abilities as an actor and become less dependent on “methods” or “theories” for acting.
David Rotenberg, Pro Actors Lab, Toronto: All classes are done on camera and primarily use scene study as the teaching tool. Classes cover hits, actions, image, keying, beats — volitional, interlocked, and reactive — swings, crie de coeur, drone notes, states of being, icons, playing firsts, playing seconds, modulators, modifiers, etc.
Dean Armstrong, Armstrong Acting Studio, Toronto: Using a variety of television scripts, students will first define, then recognize the mechanics of any comedic scene. Students will continue their study with on-camera performances of various comedic scenes in both audition and scene study format. There will be a final on-camera taping of sitcom-stylized material for an invited audience.
What a round-up! Be sure to check our SMFA Hot Sheets for all the latest updates on the best coaches on our radar! (They’re FREE updates to Self-Management for Actors. Woo HOO!)
Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form, to match your awesome craft? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!
Let’s DO this!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000708.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.