Photo by Casting Frontier.

Hollywood magic is accomplished with a wide assortment of illusions, and actors have their fair share of tricks to contribute in order to create compelling scenes. In episode 22 of Casting Frontier’s Bring It! series, James Levine and session director/actor Charles Carpenter discuss what “cheating the camera” and “cheat out” mean as well as “cheating up.” These are technical directions actors must understand and be ready to put into practice. 

Cheating the Camera, also known as Cheating Out

When actors hear the direction to “cheat for the camera” or “cheat out,” they are being asked to position their face and/or body more towards the camera—even if it feels a bit awkward or unnatural to do so. Being that the camera represents what the audience will see, the idea is for actors to make themselves more accessible to the viewer as well as more communicative. 

Let’s say you’re speaking to your scene partner and the camera is limited to capturing both of your profiles; audiences won’t feel as much of an emotional impact because much of your facial expressions are hidden from view. By simply opening up your position, you immediately become more engaging. Cheating the camera allows you to maximize your face time on screen and enables the viewer to better see, comprehend, and experience more of your character’s thoughts and feelings. Carpenter says, “This is a medium in which we exchange information. If the camera is not receiving that information, we have to figure out how to get it involved.”

Cheating Up for the Camera

If actors were to eat on camera the way they do in real life, the camera would tend to emphasize the top of their head as they look downward at their plate. To avoid this, actors can cheat up by bringing the food closer to their face. This allows the viewer to better see the actors’ face on camera.

Also, when actors portray a character who is using a computer, it’s easy for their downward gaze to interfere with the audiences ability to remain fully connected. To avoid this, performers can cheat up—that is, maintain a higher eyeline. Carpenter advises, “Don’t look down. If you’re looking at your computer screen, look at the very top of the computer. I can see what you’re thinking as you work.”

Developing Camera Instinct

When first incorporating these directions, it will likely feel strange to talk with someone while being turned away from them, or eating off a plate that’s positioned oddly high up, or staring at the top of your computer screen. But keep practicing these techniques, and soon enough they will become second nature to you as you act. Indeed, you will have developed camera instinct. And camera awareness is essential if you want to be employed in front of one!

There are all sorts of tricks of the trade to convince audiences that what they’re seeing is real when in actuality it’s an illusion. In commercials, pouring cereal and berries into a bowl of glue instead of milk is a great cheat to make the food appear more appetizing. Green screens allow viewers to believe the actors are floating in outer space. Similarly, camera angles can be cheated in ways to benefit production. For example, The Lord of the Rings featured a technique called forced perspective with a moving camera, which is another way of saying the crew and actors cheated the shots to make specific characters appear smaller than others. Watch how hard they worked to pull off the trick.

Determined to help actors cut through the mystery associated with the casting process, James Levine authored an enlightening book entitled Bring It! along with Charles Carpenter and Jim Martyka, which will be released digitally in the near future. In the book, Levine shares helpful audition information from the vantage point of a casting director as it relates to commercial, film, and television acting. 

Casting Frontier’s YouTube channel publishes weekly video tips, tricks, best practices, and interviews with industry professionals. Tune in each week for the latest valuable insights—or better yet, subscribe now.

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