Michael McDonald's Blog

Hitting the Mark

One of the basic artifices of film acting is the 'mark': often a small 'T' taped on the ground marking where you are supposed to stand and the direction you should be facing at some point during the shot. This ensures that the actor is in the basic position that the camera expects, with the right framing, profile, direction of focus, etc. that the director wants to see on the screen at that moment. This all made perfect sense to me, or so I thought.

Last night I was attending a film acting class and we had our first foray into blocking and hitting the mark. I took note of the mark, practiced positioning myself on it making sure to be 'unaware' of it at the same time. In the shot I walk in and then look around in a circle, eventually facing the direction the mark intended. But for the first walkthrough I didn't walk directly to the mark. I sort of meandered near it, intending to let my feet wander to the mark as I turned. Before I got halfway around I heard "Cut!"

I had missed the mark - intentionally, since I intended to 'end up' there a few seconds later. I thought I understood hitting the mark, about framing the shot and camera focus until I made that little mistake and only then did it sink in. (I felt that friendly flashbulb go off in my head).

I was thinking about the constraints from my point of view: I walk here, turn, and eventually my toes need to be on this line at this point. But it's the camera's point of view which matters. Since I didn't go directly to the mark right away, I would have been slightly out of focus (if this were a film camera) and imperfectly framed while I was looking around. The mark is like a tiny spotlight on a stage: it's where the audience can see you. If I had been thinking about what the camera was seeing, I would have hit the mark and turned exactly in place. Of course, the ultimate goal is to completely forget about the mark and the camera having trained my subconscious to hit the mark and angle myself properly for the camera. But first I needed to learn a little bit more about why that's so important.

Some lessons learned:

  • Push the envelope early. When you're given a constraint, immediately look for the loopholes, shortcuts and creative alternatives.
  • Fail early.
  • Learn from your failures.
  • Preferably make lots of little mistakes.
  • Technical details, when handled properly, are invisible.
  • It's not about you. It's about the camera. It's about your customers. It's about the person sitting across the table from you.
  • Only after you have internalized that it's not about you, can you focus on what you're doing and trust your subconscious to do the right thing.
link  |   |  10/17/06 03:48pm
updated 10/18/06 06:06pm
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