In episode 24 of Casting Frontier’s Bring It! series, casting veteran James Levine and session director/actor Charles Carpenter share valuable advice on how to open a scene in a compelling and engaging manner. For starters, they do not suggest that performers wait to act until they hear the word “Action;” nor do they encourage actors to start speaking the moment the scene begins. 

Instead, Levine asserts, “There’s only one way to get out of the gate strong: You need to make everything happen in those first couple seconds. It really is where we decide everything, whether we’re going to continue watching this.” Gee, no pressure, right? 

This pivotal first impression is not to be confused with greeting people by flashing a friendly smile, standing with good posture, or making sure your shirt is crisply ironed. Rather, the key factor is all about your character’s action. That is, make sure you start performing before the word “Action” is called. To determine your opening movements, consider the environment in which your character finds him or herself, know the imaginary layout of the space, and be specific about what activity your character is engaged in before the script kicks in. 

“If you make that happen in the first second, you already won!” Levine says. “You already got us.”

Carpenter explains, “Remember this: This character had a life before the camera got on them; they will have a life after the camera leaves them. You owe us the second before the camera turns on. What has this character been doing?”

This brief moment is a great opportunity to make a creative, bold choice. And Levine offers one way to immediately draw viewers in. He says:

“If you’re reacting to something before we saw it, we’re curious. We’re immediately engaged and curious about this. So you make a strong decision about what happened a second ago and come into the scene from that reaction, I’m like, ‘Wow! What happened here?’”

But no matter what you choose to do, refrain from immediately reciting your lines the moment casting calls, “Action.” Indeed, Levine and Carpenter have seen many an actor limit their performance by doing so. 

“When I say, ‘Action,’ I didn’t say, ‘And talk,’” Levine insists. Before saying any lines, establish the situation and surroundings. 

Carpenter clarifies, “[Calling Action] doesn’t necessarily mean, ‘Now you start;’ You need to have started before ‘Action’ takes place.”

By developing your improvisational skills, you open yourself to endless scenarios and the full spectrum of human emotion. On the other hand, allowing the initial two seconds to pass without distinction works against your own cause. As Levine puts it: “Everything is an opportunity to bring life to this [character]. So you come out of the gates strong, and you do something like that, I am already signed off on you. If it’s clear, I’ve signed off on you already—I like you already. You already got a callback.”

Opening up a scene with a strong choice is similar to punctuating the end a scene with a button or tag. Learn more about buttons in Bring It! Episode 8.

Determined to help actors cut through the mystery associated with the casting process, James Levine authored an enlightening book titled 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. 

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