While our posts often focus on the technical side of VR filmmaking, or the crew roles, we have not yet looked at one of the most important elements in 360 videos which is the acting. In this post we are going to consider the role of the actor and how they fit into our new medium.
An actor for 360 video needs to consider what it is the user is going to see. Basically unless they are hidden or off-set, they will be in shot, and this means everything they do they need to think about at every moment. They will be ‘always on’ and this has repercussions for their emotional performance. The actor needs to think about not just their close up and the emotion in their face they are expressing which is common for mono 2D filming. They also should be thinking about their physical performance, whether it be moving or just standing still but the limbs need to be making natural consistent movements both suitable for the character and feeling natural for a human being. The movements would be closer to stage/theatre acting, with the actor aware of the audience eyes that are always on them. The problem here then, is that we have a mix of both worlds. An actor needs to deliver lengthy physical performances with the emotional intensity of a film close-up throughout the course of a whole take. And this needs to be from every actor involved in the scene, for every take. A director needs to work with an actor throughout the course of a whole take, ensuring natural movements which aren’t disjointed with the drama in the scene, but also aren’t fixed and inflexible. Otherwise you end up with actors stuck in positions looking wooden or playing the statue. Or you have the over-excited actor with too much influence that levies a ‘look at me’ performance which distracts from the other performances in the scene.
Let’s use this drama scene from 24: Legacy 360 film. We see the main actress commanding the scene from the operations command compound, but after a few minutes, she’s left with little direction and ends up frozen in a position without knowing what to do. This is an established actress that isn’t given motivation through her scene to perform with direction. She also seems to struggle a little with the green screen nature of the images. Clearly greenscreen work is extremely difficult for an actor, but the problems multiply when we can observe an actor at all times. We end up seeing an extremely over-acted, then under-performed sequence which needed more subtlety – nail biting, fidgety and anxious would have worked better than hands on head and extreme shock in the face. An actor with too much rehearsal time can also counter the feeling of a natural performance. We are asking an actor to channel emotion which is often rehearsed so they know cues and timings, but at the same time having the feel of what a normal human might express emotionally and physically. To rehearse extensively would be to take away any improvised movements or natural expressions. There is certainly a fine line between freedom and heavy-handed direction and rehearsal.
In the same way the style of acting changed from silent movies to movies with sound, the format may significantly change again with performing for 360 video. While it probably suits actors with extensive theatre experience over those with film experience, there needs to be a combined talent for both and the best actors will be those with the confidence to act completely naturally and embody their character with a wide range of mannerisms and nuances to tell a character’s story when it isn’t even part of the main story focus at any given time. The argument of an actor not having enough screen time is certainly going to be less of an issue as more move into the realm of 360° film for virtual reality audiences.