Motion Pictures - Acting And Makeup
( Originally Published 1924 )
ACTING for the camera is essentially an art and is just about as amenable to law as the more common forms of art. The greatest success is attained by those displaying the greatest individuality, but there are certain hints which may be given which will help the amateur actor to avoid the more common pitfalls' of the art. Acting of any kind presupposes a certain natural aptitude for mimicry and the retention of the love for dressing up which all children possess in common. The actor must not consciously act his part, he must live it. As long as the idea persists that the work is imitation, an unnatural stiffness will prevade the action, and stiffness of any kind is ruinous to acting of high quality. Neither must one tolerate the idea that he is being made ridiculous. There must exist that feeling that the work is actually happening as a real incident in the life of a very real person. When the actor attains this attitude the first and greatest step toward success has been made.
The next thing to acquire is a proper tempo. The normal exposure of the motion picture camera is approximately one thirty-second of a second, and any motion which is appreciable in this interval of time produces a blur in the film, which although absolutely permissible in news work and work which has a naturally quickened tempo destroys the needle sharpness which is so desirable in the finished picture. Practice motions which are rather slow. Not slow enough to appear sluggish, but lacking that nervous rapidity which is a racial characteristic of Americans. Start a motion slowly and increase speed. Avoid all suggestion of jerkiness. A close study of an accomplished ballet dancer will be beneficial. Her movements are rapid but do not appear to be so because each motion is made gracefully and with a definite acceleration. Another good study is a comparative study of news reels and dramas. The usual human animal in a news reel resembles nothing in nature so much as an ant. A man will rush into the scene, a formless blur. He will stop as suddenly as though brakes had been applied. He will turn his head with a jerk. He sees the camera, stares into the lens, then, presumably at a sharp command of the cameraman he grins foolishly and darts from the scene in another blur. The average per-son in a news reel is a complete illustration of what the screen actor must avoid. This does not mean that screen acting is artificial. On the contrary, it is sup-posed to be an exact representation of nature. However, the lens has its limitations and also the motiograph renders conspicuous certain limitations of normal vision of which we are unaware in ordinary life. So the slow tempo of the actor appears quite natural on the screen. Do not get the idea that the action resembles the slow-motion pictures we have seen on the screen. It probably takes the normal human being as long to pick up a glass and drink as it would an actor, but the tempo is quite different. The ordinary person would thrust out a hand—pause—grasp the glass—pauseraise it to the lips and drink. There is no pause in the actor's motions. He begins to grasp the glass the in stant his fingers touch it. It has begun to move before his grasp is firm. The whole movement is continuous with no jerks. Again, in the news reel the bobbing heads are really comical. A crowded sidewalk looks like a motiograph of a pen of kangaroos. Train your-self to move with a full ankle movement. Walk with the slightest possible change in the elevation of the head. Do not stride or mince. Walk firmly and grace-fully but without bobbing like the cork on a fisherman's line. I have often heard the remark in Hollywood, "You can spot an actor by his walk," and it is true. This walk has been characterized by certain ill-natured people as a "strut" but the fact remains that one will rarely see more graceful carriage than that used by the professional actor. It combines at once, grace, lithesomeness and dignity. The best study is the screen itself. Go to the theatre, not to enjoy yourself, but to study technique. The peculiarities of the actor's walk are as evident upon the screen as upon the street, but like bathing suits on the beach, we do not notice them in their proper environment.
As a race we are inclined to suppress our emotions, and in consequence we are acquiring poker faces. The face of an actor is his most pliable tool, and both absolute flexibility and absolute control are necessary. Re-member, you have no words to help you out, and pantomime is limited in its expressive power and liable to misinterpretation, but an unmistakable facial expression is a universal language. Bearing this in mind you will understand that the natural expression must be exaggerated. Not to the point of caricature, but to such an extent that the necessary emphasis is placed upon the emotion being registered that its import will be unmistakable. Practice before the mirror. If you try to register the various emotions without this aid you will but make a series of meaningless grimaces, but with the aid of the mirror it will be seen that an almost imperceptible shifting of one or two of the delicate muscles of the face will work wonders. The secret of success in acting is practice—more practice and more practice.
When using gestures keep the hands low as much as possible, that is below the level of the shoulders, for otherwise there would be a possibility of covering the face. Always make sure that the lens sees you, but whatever you do never, never look into the lens. A swift glance at the director or the cinematographer will show you if the path from the lens to you is unobstructed. Do not let any other actor crowd in front of you, that is between you and the lens. Should anyone do this, very quietly and unobtrusively shift your position so that the lens sees you. The director will often take care of this work but it is your duty to help him out. These three hints are for the same purpose. Your face tells your story and the audience should be able to see it at all times. This keeping in the lens is not screen hogging, but is a necessary part of your work. Of course, it is understood that there are hundreds of situations which will render it necessary for the proper action, that you be hidden but if there is no distinct reason for doing otherwise, it is well to remember the above hints.
Screen hogging is a fine art, although it is not a very admirable one. One would think that to hog the screen the proper procedure would be to crowd into the lens, in front of everyone else, but such is not the case. If you should do this, you would cross the front focus line and your figure would be but a blurred blot on the screen and you would be reprimanded by the director.
It is amazing to study the dramatic action of the modern screen-play. The bulk of the action is primarily enacted between two characters who work opposite each other. There may be extras by the hundred, the setting may represent thousands of dollars, there may be a half dozen actors in important roles, but all of this is usually but a background for action between two characters, though, of course, the identity of the two changes constantly, but in each scene as shown there is action between two characters. Each of these characters will want to secure a prominent position on the screen, especially if they are comparatively unknown and are "working up." In order to do this each will slowly work backward, away from the camera! This is done so that the face will have to be turned more directly toward the camera in order to face the actor working opposite, and he will be forced to turn his back to the camera for the same reason. To avoid this, the second will also work back, and so it goes, a regular see-saw. I have seen retakes necessary because actors trying to hog the screen worked back-ward beyond the limits of sharp focus and the camera would stop sharp while the cinematographer addressed the world at large and the screen-hogs in particular.
Know your action and interpretation as well as you can before venturing before the camera. Some di-rectors do not let their actors know anything about the scenario, but those who obtain the best work from their cast have each leading character read a copy of the working script before the work is started. If you under-stand your part in full, you will find it far easier to give a consistent interpretation.
If you should be working in a drama which is laid in a foreign country or some historical period, try to learn everything possible concerning that country or period. There may be some detail of gesture or costume which seemingly trivial, is of vast importance, and if the film is ever published, there will be sure to be some spectator who is familiar with the setting. An incorrect interpretation will be condemned by him, but a correct interpretation will gain for you the approval of an expert in his own field. Of course, this is not so important in itself in amateur work, but remember always that amateur acting may open the door to a professional career just as surely as amateur cinematography may do the same thing.
The make-up of the actor is quite as important as the costuming and action. A poor make-up may ruin a splendid bit of action, and, conversely, a perfect make-up will go a long way toward compensating for poor dramatics. In considering make-up, the first consideration is the necessity for such a thing. Make-up of any kind was not primarily developed as a disguise, but as a means for restoring the natural appearance of the face under conditions which changed its appearance. The lighting of the legitimate stage, together with the distance which separates audience from actors, makes the natural complexion appear sallow and unpleasant. For this reason the natural coloring is heightened and the result, when properly done, is a close approximation of the natural appearance. In motion picture work, however, the make-up serves a different purpose altogether, and if stage make-up were applied for screen work the result would be horrible.
The sensitive emulsion used on motion picture film combines the properties of speed, gradation and fine grain. It is remarkable that such a combination has been produced at all, and no more could be asked. It is obvious, therefore, that we cannot ask for orthochromatism, and this means that the film is sensitive almost exclusively to the ultra-violet and blue rays, being even more limited in this respect than the ordinary roll film. Although we have become accustomed to the outrageous rendering of color value of the common film, it cannot be used in motion work. A dead white face, or a chocolate brown one would soon be condemned, and for this reason the motion picture make-up has been devised, and the colors used are those which will give the most life-like presentation on the screen after having been photographed on a nonorthochromatic film. It furthermore serves to hide facial blemishes such as freckles, moles, and scars. It is obvious that motion film cannot be retouched, so these details must be cared for, on the body of the subject. With proper make-up, it is possible to make a portrait which will require no retouching whatever, so it may be seen that make-up has its uses not only in amateur cinematography, but in home portraiture and other work where it is desired to avoid retouching.
An elaborate make-up outfit is not necessary. The whole equipment can be carried in a modern vanity case. The materials for a lady are: Theatrical cold cream, motion picture yellow grease paint, motion picture face powder, two or three small chamois stumps as used by crayon artists, one each blue, gray, crimson and green grease paint liners, medium moist rouge, mascaro, powder puff, absorbent cotton, a soft cloth and a supply of toothpicks. The outfit for a man is the same except that the grease paint is motion picture orange. No other materials will be needed except for character work.
First of all, the face must be scrupulously clean. Then a liberal amount of cold cream is thoroughly massaged into the face. When this is done all the surplus cream is wiped from the face with a soft cloth. Don't be afraid of removing too much. If the massage has been properly attended to, the skin will have absorbed all that is necessary, so the face can be thoroughly wiped. An excess of cream will give a messy and streaked make-up which it is impossible to remedy except by removing it and starting all over again. The grease paint, yellow or orange, is then applied in wide streaks until all of the exposed portions of the face and neck are covered. This is then blended by massaging until the whole ground is of one even tint. When this is done the face will have lost most of its character and the features will appear insignificant, the eyes especially appearing small and anything but beautiful
Next, the accents are applied. The ground is care-fully wiped from the lips and the rouge applied very lightly. In this step avoid the artificial Cupid's bow, and follow the natural contour of the lips. If the mouth is large, the lips may be shortened a trifle, but otherwise the natural curve is followed.
The next step is the eyes. The importance of the eyes can hardly be over-estimated. I once heard a motion picture director state that a motion picture actress was nothing but a pair of eyes. With every other feature of ideal beauty, no girl can succeed as a motion picture star if her eyes are incapable of being made beautiful. Remark that I said "incapable of being made beautiful!" Many are not beautiful naturally, but before the make-up table, they can be made so. The first step is to consider whether the eye is naturally prominent or sunken. If the eyeball is set deeply in the head, then a very good eye-shade is green, but for the prominent eyeball, crimson or other deep, rich, photo-dark color is the best. Each actor and actress eventually develop a color scheme of their own. I shall consider the make-up of the actress. That of the actor is the same, but less sharply accented.
Any surplus ground is removed from the upper lid, and the tip of the little finger, heavily charged with crimson—or whatever color is used—is rubbed over the lid. When the lid is covered the color is wiped from the finger, and by careful dabbing the color is blended to the side of the nose, to the brow and out into the ground at the outer end of the lid. With no further charging with color, a very faint tinge of color is applied to the lower lid and blended in all directions into the ground. Success in this operation is only attained after practice. Now charge the broad end of a toothpick with crimson and lightly line the edges of both upper and lower lids and continue both in a single short stroke outward from the outer corner of the eye, about a quarter of an inch long. Now slightly blend these lines with a chamois stump, taking away the harshness, but also taking care that the distinctness of the line is not destroyed. It must be very definite, but not so sharp that it looks like a pencil mark. The final step is placing a tiny dab of crimson, or better, of scarlet, at the inner corner of the eye. The eye will now appear much larger and more lustrous than be-fore, but the colors used will appear clownish at first. The lashes and brows appear faded and dim, but they are cared for at the last step.
The tip of the little finger is now very, very lightly charged with crimson, and a small dab placed at the center of the chin. This must be so faint that it is barely perceptible and must be most carefully blended into the ground. The same is now done at the front of each nostril, as lightly and as carefully as before.
Never, except in character work, place any coloring on the cheeks. It will make you appear consumptive in the picture.
Now dust the face thoroughly with motion picture face powder. Pile it on until it appears dry and velvety. The first application will absorb grease from the paint and appear moist. When the whole face appears dry, the surplus powder is removed. Hold a circular, lamb's wool puff by the extreme edge and with the opposite edge stroke the face as lightly as possible, dusting the puff at short intervals to dispose of the surplus powder. When this is properly done there will be no streaks, the dry powdery appearance will have disappeared, but the greasy appearance will be gone also. The face is now ready for the final touches.
Take the little brush found in the mascaro box and after wetting it, rub in on the cake of color until it is charged brush, taking care not to touch the lids. This the brows and the hairs will take on a coating of color while the skin beneath is not soiled. This gives a natural appearance which can never be obtained with the eyebrow pencil. Now brush the lashes with the charged, but not dripping wet. Pass this gently across requires practice at first and patience at all times, but the result is worth working for. Finally wipe all the powder possible from the lips without disturbing the rouge and you are ready for the hairdresser.
All of this sounds troublesome and unnecessary, but two test films, one made without actors in make-up and one with, will demonstrate to all concerned that make-up is vitally necessary to any motion picture work. A comparative study of dramatic productions and news reels will also demonstrate this point clearly.
A library could be written on character make-up and still be far less satisfactory than an hour's coaching by a professional. However, for those who wish to experiment I shall give a few hints. The most common character type is that of age. In this make-up, a tinge of red, surrounded by a tint of green is applied to the cheeks, following the natural contour of the hollow made by sucking in the cheeks. This tinge is light and most carefully blended into the ground. The lips have no rouge applied, but are covered with ground, the natural lines of the face are determined by grimacing and then accented with a line of crimson, while at the side is placed a stroke of white. These are carefully blended. The wrinkles around the mouth are short lines of crimson, blended. The brows are colored before the powder is applied, and the lashes are untouched. The lower eye-lids are more heavily colored than usual, to sink the eye farther, but the eye color should be gray, or steel blue grease paint.
The accompanying photograph is that of a young man about twenty-five years of age, portraying an aged rake of mythology. The bald effect is obtained by a chamois foundation bald wig. The edges of the band were lined, and on the screen the lines blended into the facial lines, and the obvious line of the wig was not noticeable. The pouches under the eyes were formed from nose putty and the double chin obtained in the same way. The lines of the face were crimson and white blended, and the missing teeth were stopped out with black wax. The nose was enlarged with nose putty and tinged crimson and the shaggy brows made of gray crepe hair attached above the natural brow with spirit gum. The veins of the hand and arm were accented with crimson. This make-up is a fair example of character work by an amateur actor.
Nose-putty is a pink, waxy substance capable of being moulded in the hands, and which adheres for some time to human skin which is free of grease. No cream or paint should be applied to those portions of the face which are to be built up with nose putty.
Black wax, is a similar preparation, which when applied to the teeth adheres firmly, yet may be easily removed. When black wax is applied to a tooth, the appearance is as though that tooth were missing. Tooth enamel should also be mentioned here. Gold and discolored teeth photograph dark and sometimes may appear absent, but the tooth enamel covers the tooth with a pearly white coating which is entirely harm-less, adheres firmly, and may be detached at will, coming away in the form of a film.
Crepe hair is a hair product which comes in braided strands. When first unbraided it is very crinkled, but patient working and pulling will leave it but slightly curly and a one foot length will be about four feet long or more. A half dozen six inch lengths of the original braid will make an ample, flowing beard. The hair is pulled out and arranged with the fingers, then a few strands at a time it is fastened to the face with spirit-gum, which is purchased already prepared.
Crepe-hair finds its greatest usefulness in making "tramp" beards, shaggy brows, and in softening the harsh outline of wigs.
Hair goods, wigs, moustaches and so forth, when used at all should be of a good grade. Do not try to work with the cheap carnival or masquerade grades of hair goods and expect to obtain any effect other than that of a burlesque.
Although not strictly make-up, costuming may be mentioned here. Light costumes against a dark ground tend to accent the figure, but in any case they darken the flesh tones by contrast. Dark costumes render the figure more inconspicuous except against contrasting grounds and, as a rule, are applicable to the heavier dramatic moments. They lighten flesh tones by contrast. A medium shade is usually, therefore, advisable. Pure, delicate yellow, neither lemon nor orange is good, so also is a very delicate pink, steel, lavender and similar shades are good for male characters. In modern costuming, of course, ordinary clothing is worn, white being avoided when possible as it is unpleasantly harsh and tends toward halation.
Heterogenous costuming is to be avoided. I do not mean to suggest uniforms, yet each costume should be appropriate to the action and for this end, all costumes will be in harmony. Any unusual costume display, except in regular costume plays, is distracting. The costume should attract its share of attention, but should not distract the attention from the more important parts of the production.
Don't overdo the personal preparation. Let the make-up be just sufficient to present the actor in his most attractive natural appearance, and let the costume be that which we should naturally expect under the given circumstances. In photo-drama, even more than on the stage, we strive to present that which shall pass for an excerpt from real life.