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How to Coax Oscar-Worthy Performances from Non-Actors for Your Marketing Video

Professional actors have the training and experience to hit their marks and deliver the performances you need for your marketing video. Non-actors lack this background experience, and may feel lost in front of the camera, asking questions such as, “Where should I stand?” “Where should I look?” “How quickly should I speak my lines?” It’s enough to bring on an anxiety attack, so prepare your counterattack by tricking people into giving great performances.

Here’s a list of tricks to use while directing non-actors (feel free to try them out with professionals, too):

  • Keep them relaxed. People who are tense show it in their faces and voices, which prevents them from giving standout performances. Keep the situation light, stay positive about every take (even the bad ones), make jokes, provide water and coffee, and generally boost their confidence. As a director friend our ours likes to say, “Tell them they look pretty.”

  • Use gaffer tape. Use the tape to make an X (“the mark”) on the floor to indicate where actors are supposed to stand in a scene. Actors who move to this mark a scene are “hitting their mark.” If someone is looking off camera, you can have a fellow actor stand in the right place. Or, if someone is looking at an imaginary spot off-screen, put the X on the wall where his eyes should land.

  • Keep them busy. Give actors activities — completing paperwork, looking into bags or purses, pouring drinks, putting away stray items — to take their minds off the camera and dispel their self-consciousness.

  • Give them goals. Use statements with important-sounding verbs. “Convince them,” “warn somebody,” and “motivate your colleagues” are all familiar actions that people perform in everyday life.

  • Suggest an imaginary “as-if” circumstance to stimulate their creativity and draw out a better performance.

    Your directions can be physical (“as if it’s cold,” “as if your chair is uncomfortable,” or “as if you’ve spilled coffee on the floor and are trying to hide it”) or emotional (“as if you’re waiting for a phone call about a promotion,” “as if you just found $200 on the ground,” or “as if you were bad-mouthing the character who just walked in”).

  • Write out cue cards. Memorizing lines is the hardest part of acting for most non-actors (and a few pros, too).

    If you’re shooting a scene in which an actor is speaking to someone off camera but is having trouble remembering lines, simply hold the script off camera approximately where the other character’s eyes would be located, and let your actor continue reading. It isn’t an ideal solution, though it may relax the person enough to complete a good line reading.

  • Break it up. Break the scene into back-and-forth shots between your characters. You can break longer passages of dialogue into bite-size chunks for every shot.

Non-actors sometimes ask whether they can “hide” the script in front of them during a scene, perhaps taped to a wall or nestled among the paperwork on a desk. Your answer should be No, to avoid non-interaction with their fellow actors and their eyes pointed downward for the entire scene. Someone may even be tempted to turn a page of the script in the middle of a dramatic moment.

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