I have a degree in theatre. It’s on the tech side, but I still spent a lot of time doing acting, dance, costuming, and everything else. One of the things that was hammered into us by our acting and directing profs was how to make things look “real”. Verisimilitude. It doesn’t have to be real, but it should look real.
The 30-foot rule
In live theatre, there’s something known as the “30-foot rule”. It says: “From 30 feet, it won’t read”. In live theatre, you can get away with so much because the audience isn’t close enough to see any details. If the actor waves his hand within 6 inches of the light switch, it’s fine. If the actor can’t play the piano, don’t worry... just tilt the piano to hide his hands and have him move his arms to the music.
Screen vs. Stage
TV and movies don’t have a 30-foot rule. But actors keep behaving like they do, and it drives me nuts.
I’m all for suspending my disbelief. I’m willing to believe a dozen iffy things if it moves the story along in a good way (I’m binge-watching Leverage right now).
But... Actors need to learn some basic skills before they’re allowed on screen:
Do actors not have computers at home? Or do they all speak a secret language that only uses the letters ASDFJKL; ? I don’t expect the actors to be typing out the actual text on the screen, but for Pete’s sake, move your fingers around! You’re showing me a close-up of a character typing a letter, and they never use the space key?
Okay. Maybe some of these actors grew up in big cities and never learned how to drive an actual car. That’s why we have acting classes—to teach them how to pretend to do things in a convincing way.
So what’s the issue with driving in movies & TV? Well... ignoring the fact that they frequently spend 90% of their time looking at the person in the passenger seat rather than on the road... They’re swerving around like they’re drunk.
There’s this stupid habit of actors to constantly move the steering wheel. The green screen could be showing I-80 through Nebraska (the straightest stretch of road known to God or man), and the actor is whipping the wheel back and forth like they’re doing the Olympic slalom.
As anyone who as ever tossed their cookies knows, it’s not a simple affair. And yet, every time I see it on screen, the act of up-chucking is “hurk, hurk”... and then everything’s normal. There’s no increase in saliva, no bad taste in their mouth, no aftershocks... just a pristine expelling of clean water, and then everything’s fine.
What’s on the Syllabus?
So... If you were to help build the syllabus for “Acting 101", what would you include? Remember: We’re not looking for “actual reality”, just “verisimilitude”. An actor can’t be expected to know how to do everything. But they should be expected to do everyday things well enough to not be annoyingly fake.