Media Production

Christian Movies and The Problem of Over-Acting

There’s many reasons people criticize bad movies, and when it comes to Christian films, in most cases, all the reasons can apply. But there’s one over-arching problem with most Christian movies that come up short:

Over-acting.

The truth is, real acting isn’t about acting at all. It’s the art of being natural in a very unnatural situation. Acting is difficult, and professionals spend their entire careers perfecting the art. Just think of the difficulty playing an emotional scene with the challenge of hitting your marks, knowing where the camera is, and a 20 person film crew standing around.

That’s why if there was one thing I’d recommend to Christian filmmakers it would be to understand acting and become better at knowing the difference between what’s authentic and what’s not. In fact, my wife Kathleen addressed this subject in “Acting or Being?” – the first chapter of her devotional “Hope 4 Today: Stay Connected to God in a Distracted Culture.”

One of my greatest professional regrets is that I didn’t take more acting classes early in my career. I never had a desire to act, so I focused on other aspects of production. But years later as a director, I quickly discovered that I didn’t have the vocabulary and experience to understand what they were going through, and how to get the performance I needed.

Another issue is that because of budget considerations, Christian movies are often forced to hire non-union or less experienced actors, which usually doesn’t help.

If you’re a filmmaker, I strongly recommend you find someone like Judith Weston. Many years ago I took her class, and it was filled with other television and film directors trying to understand the world of acting because we all wanted to be able to help actors on the set navigate their performances. Judith’s classic book is called: “Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television” and I highly recommend it. It’s so helpful because it’s written not for actors, but for directors.

So directors – put over-acting at the top of your list of concerns when you walk on the set. It’s the most obvious and embarrassing reason your movie could fail.

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6 Comments

  1. SAG has various levels of low-budget agreements, and I’ve hired actors under all of them and never had a problem. As you say, it’s important to get very good actors.

    Scour local plays, film festivals, and film acting schools for good talent. Actors love to act, and an excellent script will get them to work with your budget.

  2. Over-acting….and often heavy-handed messaging.

    I would also like to put in a plug for a friend of mine’s book, “Acting and How to Be Good at It” by Basil Hoffman, with a foreword by Sydney Pollack. Basil is a great character actor and one of the truly good guys in Hollywood.

  3. Great points Phil. Solid Acting, a good story (stop always trying to preach to the choir), and production value…needed in every film genre’ but especially in faith based films.

  4. This is tricky. While I think having a low-budget agreement is better than going non-union, saying the “actors like to act” is not necessarily a good thing here. Actors also like to eat and provide for their families, and as a union actor myself, it’s been a struggle to find work that will actually pay the bills because if productions aren’t going non-union, they go as cheap as possible. I understand the value of low-budget films but I’m not sure we should be encouraging filmmakers to go “sag low-budget” because “actors love to act”. I really have a hard time with this thinking because it goes in the direction of “we can find good actors on the cheap just because we can- because there are so many out there”. This is why our union is having such a hard time…and an excellent script is an actors dream! But why can’t we also make a living and be protected by the unions that were created to help us also make a living? Just something to think about 🙂

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