Before commencing any shot a camera operator will zoom in on an appropriate element of the picture to do a routine focus check. Often the eyes of the actor are the target of this exercise. If they arent using a zoom lens then a clearly defined object might be placed on the same plane as the central image of the shot to act as a target (to focus on) or the distance can literally be measured with a tape. Obviously in any such process knowing what element of the picture is meant to be in focus is crucial for the shot.
Whats a suitable procedure for the actor?
Recently I heard some actors explaining that during a scene they had been exhorting themselves to Focus, focus, focus! But when asked what they were trying to focus on they seemed baffled. Perhaps they were talking about concentration. Sometimes actors try to hype themselves up in the hope that more adrenalin in the system will enable them to concentrate, engage or focus better. This might work. But if they dont have anything to actually focus their concentration on, then adrenalin or not, the original problem still exists.
As with the camera operator, if an actor is having difficulty focusing then there are two possible causes
Either way, for the actor the choice is the same. It is important to put some logical effort into establishing were the focus should be. If the actor is unclear where the focus should be (as with the camera operator) consulting the director might reveal the appropriate choice. Usually the areas the director will be dealing with will be
Different directors have different ways of working these areas.
When all the ingredients are in place but the wrong element has been chosen to focus on, then the issue is a question of balancing the performance. The assessment process now involves -
These are all areas that can be assessed logically and intuitively but ultimately a logical course of action needs to be arrived at otherwise the choices cant be implemented. For if they are implemented by an intuitive approach the likelihood is that the performance outcome will be erratic or if per chance it is successful on this occasion it will be difficult to re-create a second time. The manipulation of issues that can be logically identified is what gives the director and the actor control of their process.
So focus is not something that can be achieved on its own. It is the outcome of having an appropriately clear group of performance elements in place. If these elements have been logically organized then deciding which ones need more or less focus is an easy task.
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