Acting is a challenging profession; one that is guided by two paradoxical attributes: artistry and entertainment. Although these two share a lot in common, they are each inspired by different factors.
Entertainment as a business guarantees revenue. It develops a repetitive and consistent formula which will ensure that the client (in this case the viewer) comes for more, hence the different genres on TV. Artistry on the other hand has a deeper desire to cause lasting effect in the hearts and minds of human beings- possibly in an ingenuous manner.
In order for these two important attributes to be used effectively by the actor, several aspects of the production must be on point. Unfortunately this is usually not the case in East Africa; a place whose viewership expects “Hollywood” quality on a “Riverwood” budget. With the steady but sloppy increase of local TV and ‘cinema’ productions, the actor is the most vulnerable when it comes to viewer criticism. This is because the average East African viewer knows very little about the filming process and may easily compare an actor in a drama series to a singer who simply goes into the studio and produces songs with relatively less complex production. They are, after all, all artistes, right? I doubt you as an actor will have time to explain to all your viewers what went wrong on set and therefore you must be ready to take blame for every aspect of the production that will affect your performance.
I remember I once filmed a role in a family drama in which my character had come back home to his family drunk, angry and bruised. During filming, I did a couple of takes in which, with the permission of the director, I played slightly differently. The final product that was aired was however slightly disjointed and lacked continuity. It showed my character coming in with a limp, extremely drunk on one cut then appearing as not drunk and without the limp in the next cut. A friend later pointed this out and since he was not in “the industry” translated this to mean an inconsistency in the acting. I could not convince him that the problem had been in the editing. And how will I ever forget watching my friend give her best performance during the premier of a hyped movie; for her character to get into her bedroom with a bruised cheek dressed only to go back out to the living room with her cheek conspicuously smooth…the elastoplast vividly missing!
An actor’s final performance is affected by many things most of which (s)he does not have direct control over. Like me, you might at some point have been disappointed when watching the final production that you spent lots of artistic resources developing appear below standard when aired.
In order to avoid this, as a professional you must do your ground work before going for an audition or accepting a role – offer. First, you want to know who the producer of the show is. No matter how good every aspect of the show may look, if its producers have bad records or you are unsure over their ability to deliver, then accept that you are taking a great risk. As you may agree, we live in a region where the talented have no resources and those who have, have no talent. You also want to know who the designated director of the show is.
Directing is an art and just like any form of art, it is easy to identify one’s style and quality of work. Do not expect a miracle from a director whose last job was not satisfactory or up to standard. Many directors in our region are more keen on the cinematography (I’m being kind. It’s really, just declaring angles of shots to be taken) aspect of the film at the expense of character development. It is counted as good luck if you stumble into a director who rehearses with you before the shooting day or sets a one on one to discuss the character you are playing. You can tell of this scarcity by the great number of actors on our screens who cannot relate to the characters they are playing.
Due to lack of supportive structures in the young industry, an experienced actor will usually ask deeper questions that will also touch on quality of sound, set management (I know you have beef with being called to set early and shooting hours later or not shooting at all) and casting. For as you may know, a bad actor can easily make a good actor look bad. But this is a topic for another post.