Monday, May 3, 2010

5 Tips for Better Auditions

CAZT is an awesome casting studio in Los Angeles where actors can view their auditions and feedback from casting directors afterwards! I just wrote a piece for them on the top five things that can instantly improve your auditions. All of these are pretty common sense, but I think that they are easy to forget (and you can never hear them enough) so I've included them in the EEAS blog!

1. Know Your Material
If you are given the sides in advance – prepare them! Use the methods you have studied in your acting classes to analyze the script. (Every actor beginner or professional should always be enrolled in acting classes to keep their craft sharp!) If the audition is a cold reading then take the time you need to make sure you have the scene(s) down. Don’t go in until you are ready. Either way you should be extremely familiar with your lines and situations so your head isn’t buried in the script.

2. Know WHO You Are Auditioning For
When you get an audition one of the very first things you should do is some research! Look up who the major players (the director, casting director, writer and producers) are. See what else they have done - you are likely to get a better feel for the project and what they might be looking for.

3. Know WHAT You Are Auditioning For
Or, in other words, know the genre. Each genre requires a different style of acting, and knowing whether you are auditioning for a sitcom, a single camera comedy, a drama, etc can help immensely.

4. Professionalism
The “industry” is a business and you should treat it that way! Always be on time. (Yes, even in LA you have to be punctual. Factor in plenty of time for traffic even if there might not be any.) Be respectful to your auditioners and your fellow actors. Dress appropriately… even if you are dressing the part. Have a crisp clean copy of your headshot and resume, not a wrinkly unstapled one. Nothing says “Beware - Don’t hire me!” more than a rude, sloppy actor.

5. Nail your Slate
Finally, first impressions are so important. And your first on-camera impression is the slate. Don’t fidget or look at your script or play with your hair or pick your nose (trust me I have seen all of these and worse!). Make sure to portray confidence, affability, professional and personality! And SMILE!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio Blog Update

First, I apologize for the lack of new posts the past few months. I've been quite busy, but that is due to some exciting new additions to Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio (EEAS)!

We've recently opened up EEAS San Francisco Bay Area where I will be coaching and teaching classes approximately twice a month!

And we've also launched WebCam Coaching so that actors all over the world can get Hollywood acting coaching right in their own home!

But no excuses - the blog must go on! And starting shortly I should be back on track with weekly posts!

As you may know, my mission for this blog is to teach acting for film and television through film and television! I believe a great way to learn about acting and to strengthen one's own acting abilities is to watch and study the performances of others. In each post I take a look at a performance in a film or television series and discuss it. And as I start up again I will continue in this fashion, but I also want to hear from you! Is there any particular series or movie you would like to discuss? Any particular actor or performance you want breakdown and analyze? If so please let me know! You can post to the blog, or you can always contact me through the website or email me at!

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy to Stay the Same

Happy-Go-Lucky (* Spoiler Alert - if you haven't seen it, this may give away some parts of the movie.)
When an actor approaches a character one of the first things he or she should tackle is what's called the CHARACTER ARC. This is the virtual path of a character’s growth and development over the course of the story. It can be internal, external, mental, spiritual, positive, negative, etc, but generally a character starts the story one way and ends another. And when this path is mapped on paper it usually looks something like an arc - hence the term character arc. For example in Batman Begins we find Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) at the start of the film a spoiled yet lost and lonely billionaire, but as we follow him along his journey over the course of the film we see that he becomes a changed man, well in his case, Batman, the vigilante hero. Mapping out how Wayne transforms into Batman will greatly help in understanding the inner workings of the character and make for a great performance like the one Bale delivers.
But this is not always the case. Take for instance Happy-Go-Lucky the award-winning film written and directed by Mike Leigh. Happy-Go-Lucky chronicles a few weeks in the utterly optimistic life of elementary school teacher Poppy played by actress Sally Hawkins who won the golden globe for best actress in a comedy for her performance in the film. This movie isn’t typical in many ways, but from an acting perspective we see a very unique difference: our protagonist doesn't change! At the start of the film we see a Poppy who is happy, centered, silly, confident, light-hearted, caring, and adventurous, and at the end of the film we see a Poppy who is happy, centered, silly, confident, light-hearted, caring, and adventurous. So plotting a character arc probably isn't your best option for a role like this. We see that our protagonist doesn't go through any profound changes in the film, but if nothing changes in the entire story then it definitely wouldn't be interesting! So where are the changes? Looking closer at Happy-Go-Lucky we find that Poppy may not change but the characters around her certainly do. I believe the answer to analyzing a character like Poppy then lies not in plotting her changes over the course of the film, but by plotting the ways she affects change in the other characters over the course of the film. Take for example her relationship with her disgruntled driving instructor Scott (played by Eddie Marsan). At first he sits rigidly in the driver seat militantly instructing Poppy on proper driving etiquette. Unyielding and austere, he is disturbed by almost everything about Poppy, particularly her completely "inappropriate" high heeled boots. But over the course of the film we find that he has secretly grown to like, even lust after Poppy. And in the, end when he realizes that she does not reciprocate his affections, he breaks out of his rigid shell and goes ballistic. Not exactly the same Scott we saw at the start of the film! But Scott, though certainly the most obvious, is not the only person changed by Poppy's presence in this film. We also she how she affects her roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), her two younger sisters, a troubled young student in her elementary school class, and even the handsome school social worker Tim (Samuel Roukin). So don't be daunted by a role that isn't standard - see if your character changes over the course of the script, and if not, look at the way your character affects the other characters in the script and I bet you will find some interesting inklings to start you off!
What did you think of Happy-Go-Lucky? Let us know in the poll to the right. For more info on Elisa Eliot and Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio please visit

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reacting and Reactions

* This blog includes some stills from the film Ghost Town.

Ghost Town stars the lovable, hate-able, hysterical Ricky Gervais. Gervais is best known for his single camera comedies The Office (the original BBC version) and Extras. As in Gervais’ performances, many actors make comedy seem effortless, but it is one of the most precise, detail oriented and unforgiving styles of acting. Comedic acting takes into account many things: timing, hitting the joke, physicality, characterization, to list a few. Of course we have to give credit to the writers for creating comedic scripts, because without funny lines we wouldn’t have funny actors. But one of the most important aspects of comedy is often easily overlooked because it is not necessarily written into the script. And that aspect of comedy is REACTING. Of course all styles of acting are about listening as much as they are about delivering the lines, but in comedy our reactions often act as a final punch line or even the joke itself. For example, take a look at the comedy of actor Rowan Atkinson. The entire premise the show Mr. Bean is Atkinson’s crazy comic reactions. Mr. Bean often doesn’t have any lines at all! Gervais is also an exceptional reactor. And we certainly see proof of this in his role as the sour, snippy dentist Bertram Pincus D.D.S. in Ghost Town. In this case I think pictures might speak more to the point than words. Take a look at these:

As we can see in these stills from Ghost Town, Gervais excels at unique, uninhibited, quirky, funny reactions. And, as I am sure you can guess, his reactions add tremendously to the comedy of the film. But looking at these stills out of context doesn't address one important fact: simply making funny faces is not reacting. Making funny facial expressions for the sake of it isn't a good idea, and often when actors do this they comes across as over acting. The reactions have to be in response to something and they have to be true to the character. In Ghost Town, the character Dr. Bertram Pincus definitely would sneer, scowl, snort, snip, scoff, mock, humph, guffaw and occasionally smile. So as we see in the film, Gervias isn't just over acting, he's reacting. And that's why this comedy is definitely something to laugh about! What do you think of Ricky Gervais? Let us know in the poll to the right. For more info on Elisa Eliot and Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio please visit

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Embrace your Type!

After watching the brazen comedy Sex Drive last night my friend said to me, “You know, I think my favorite actor in the film is that odd guy who plays Lance. But I don’t know why. He’s just got It.” And I definitely agree. Clark Duke, the actor who plays Lance in Sex Drive, has got It. But what is "It"? What makes us like the slightly pudgy, quirky, smarmy, weird guy over the cute and sweet Josh Zuckerman who plays Ian our hero in the film, or even the steamy James Marsden who plays Ian’s crazy yet cool brother Rex? I think part of the reason is that unnamable je ne sais quoi about a person that Duke definitely carries. Some might call it charisma or charm, some might call it the X factor or karma, but whatever it is, it’s undeniably there. But another very important reason I think Clark Duke seems to have the It is because he embraces his TYPE. Duke’s other notable roles include Dale the dorky religious zealot in the television series Greek, and a fictionalized version of himself in the CBS internet mockumentray Clark & Michael costarring the equally It-endowed actor Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Superbad , Juno). In all of Duke's roles he doesn’t fight his unconventional look or naturally idiosyncratic qualities, he accepts them and uses them to his advantage. And with this he comes across more real and lovable on camera. We are just drawn to him. Some actors try to deny their type or try to escape it so that they can be what they believe to be a versatile actor. And that's fine, but it does often lead to performances that feel fake and untrue. I understand that actors don't want to play the same role over and over and over. But just look at Duke - while he does embrace his type, he definitely doesn't play the same role over and over. In Greek his plays an uptight, moral Christian, while in Sex Drive we see him as an eccentric and sexy lothario. As in Duke's case, this kind of type-casting can be a wonderful thing. I repeatedly tell my students, "It's great to be type-cast because that means you're being cast!" We'll see if Duke continues to embrace his type in his two upcoming films A Thousand Words starring Eddie Murphy and Kick Ass starring Nicolas Cage... I certainly hope so!
Now check out the poll to the right to let us know what you think about type-casting! For more info on Elisa Eliot and Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio please visit

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pathos Part II

Breach (* Spoiler Alert - if you haven't seen it, this gives away some parts of the movie.)
The preview for the film Breach looked so cool! “Inspired by true events… The most dangerous threat is one of our own!” the announcer exclaims in that oh-so ominous voice as we watch fast-cut clips of what looks like a chilling action film. But watch the movie, and yeah, not so much action. But the film is still based on a really fascinating true story. Breach depicts the take down of the most damaging spy in United States history – Robert Hanssen an FBI agent who single handedly created the most severe security breach ever by selling secrets to Soviet and Russian intelligence for over 22 years! Great story for a film, huh? But unfortunately Breach just seems to fall flat. I think the reason this extraordinary spy story seems so blah isn't because it lacks action, but because we as the audience don’t feel pathos for Robert Hanssen. Academy award winner Chris Cooper (American Beauty, Adaptation) plays the double agent, and honestly, I do think it was great casting. Cooper just screams rogue FBI agent. But unfortunately we just don’t feel for the Hanssen Cooper creates. Yes, Hanssen is the bad guy, so we are not supposed to root for him per say, but as we watch him spiral deeper and deeper toward his demise we should at least come to a deeper understanding of why. And Cooper actually had a lot to work with - Hanssen in reality is quite a complex, three dimensional character. Aside from being a traitor, Hanssen is a computer genius, he’s extremely religious and moral to a fault, surprisingly also a sexual deviant, and (in the film at least) he takes an unusual interest in his clerk Eric O’Neill played by Ryan Phillippe. But instead of using these characteristics to give Hanssen some depth and vulnerability, Cooper just appears like an uncomplicated, one-dimensional villain. None of Hanssen's weaknesses and faults seem to have any reason behind them accept for evil. Why is he fervently religious yet hypocritically perverted? In Cooper's rendition we don't get to know why, just that he definitely uses his fanaticism to control O'Neill, O'Neill's wife and even his own family. If we knew the reason behind his militant devotion, or at least saw a glimmer of his reason d'ĂȘtre, then we might be able to feel some empathy or sympathy for him - some pathos - as he's carted away to prison. Towards the end of the film there is a scene where Cooper is crying in a confessional, but too little too late I fear. What would have been a moving moment had the character showed some humanity previously in the film is just uncomfortable, unemotional and unpleasant.
Now check out the poll to the right to cast your vote for Chris Cooper in Breach!
For more info on Elisa Eliot and Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio please visit

Friday, March 6, 2009

Secrets, Secrets are So Fun

Never Back Down (*Spoiler Alert - if you haven't seen it, this may give away some parts of the movie.)

Last night I found myself watching the movie Never Back Down . (Let's be honest here, my guy made me watch it.) And you guessed it, NBD is no Academy Award nominee. The best way I can describe this film is The OC meets Fight Club. So yes, it isn’t the greatest film ever, but I still think we can learn a thing or two from it. Wonderful actor Djimon Hounsou (know best for his performances in Amistad, In America, and Blood Diamond) makes an unlikely appearance (or rather an interesting career choice) as Jean Roqua the gym owner and fight coach to bad boy Jake Tyler played by actor Sean Faris. Roqua owns the 365 Gym, a gym that is open every day of the year, and soon we find out he also lives there. Hmmmm… Why does this man never leave his gym? Why does he live in his gym? Does he love his job coaching mixed martial arts that much? No, obviously. Clearly Jean Roqua is living with a secret, a past life, something. And that’s what I want to talk about - secrets. Giving your character a secret (even if it isn’t written in the script) is a great way to create depth and back story. It also makes the audience want to learn more about your character. What are you hiding? Why are you hiding it? Think about it in real life; when you have a secret, people are more attracted to you, they want to find out more about you and what your are concealing. People can’t let a secret go, they feel compelled to discover the truth. This is how Hounsou’s character makes us feel throughout the film - compelled to find out why he is the way he is. We want to know more. But unfortunately all Hounsou's realism and beautiful acting is ruined in the end because of a sappy and contrived speech where he spills everything. Sometimes the secret just isn’t that great. But up until that point he has us captivated. Now check out the poll to the right and let us know what you think of NBD!

For more information about Elisa Eliot and Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio please visit

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

King Henry VIII and Pathos

Lately I have been riveted by The Tudors on Showtime (I’ve been watching the series on DVD) partially because the story is so great and partially because much of the acting is really exceptional. The Tudors tells the saga of King Henry VIII of England and the many women he makes his wives, and the politics and religious upheaval at the time. I’d like to talk about Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayal of King Henry VIII. Playing a historical figure is challenging, especially one so famous, or should I rather say, infamous. And I think one of the key reasons we connect so much with Meyers’ Henry is because he does not create a one dimensional portrayal of the lecherous king. His Henry is at once villainous and virtuous, strong and fragile, guilty and innocent of his crimes against kingdom and God. In essence Meyers had made the storied King Henry VIII human. And as an audience we feel for Henry because of his humanity. This feeling or connection is what the ancient Greeks called pathos. I believe conjuring pathos in the audience is absolutely essential when creating all well acted characters, but even more so in unsavory ones. Although the term is usually used to describe acting evoking pity or compassion, it more simply is the connection an audience feels to a character. If we don’t feel for the character what is the point? And it is much more difficult to feel a connection to a villain, but it can be done - Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs , Heath Ledger as The Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight. What all of these villains have in common is that you can see or sense a reason behind their folly. Maybe they were abused as children, maybe they have a psychiatric illness, or maybe as Henry those who surround him manipulate and deceive to such an extent that he really doesn’t know right from wrong. Of course a lot of the credit for Meyers’ compelling performance also needs to go to the creators and writers of The Tudors, but Meyers brings Henry to life. Ever feel like you're wishing an actor off the screen to get to the next scene with another? It’s probably because they haven’t created a character that you can feel pathos for.
Now check out the poll to the right to cast your vote for The Tudors!
For more info on Elisa Eliot and Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio please visit

Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio Blog!

Hi there! I am Elisa Eliot, founder and owner of Elisa Eliot's Acting Studio. I am a professional actress and acting coach in Los Angeles with a degree in drama from Yale University. I give private acting lessons, group classes, and industry coaching in the Los Angeles area to beginners, professionals, children, and adults.

Some of the most popular methods I teach are:
Stanislavski · Method Acting · Chekhov · Meissner · Classical Technique · Viewpoints · Stella Adler · Alexander Technique · Brechtian Concepts

Out of this diverse training, I developed the method that I use and teach called Modern Thought®. I believe that no actor can be confined to just one of these older methods in today’s acting world; and that is the core idea of Modern Thought - it blends old methods with the tools needed to succeed in today's Hollywood. These disciplines all work well to capture the essence of a role and bring out powerful emotions but each actor learns and works differently and can benefit from slices of each. My method teaches a blend of all these methods tuned to my student’s specific needs and learning style. I like to help find what makes you unique and to explore which ways of thinking work best for you.

I am starting a blog because I believe a great way to learn about acting and to strengthen one's own acting abilities is to watch and study the performances of others. In each post I will take a look at a performance in a film or television series and discuss it. Also, feel free to post questions and comments! Enjoy!