Substitution can and should be used at all phases of your work on a character. It should be called upon as needed when you don't understand what you are doing or cannot find the spark that you need to ignite a difficult scene. In film acting, where the scene will be deconstructed into many different angels and camera takes, the fuel you need for doing one shot, where you are acting with other actors in the scene, is very different from the fuel you need to do a close-up reaction shot or monologue, as you stand alone talking only to the camera. Actors are never told beforehand what the coverage is going to be on a scene. (Coverage is the term used for how a scene will be photographed, i.e., how many shots, from what angles, and of whom.) I am not sure why this is. I suppose it's because many times, the director doesn't know how he is going to shoot it himself until shortly before he does it. Even though the shots may have been planned, the nature of good filmmaking is allowing the creation of a collaborative work to flourish on the set with the actors. It is a continuation of the moment-to-moment reality that extends to the director and crew. Directors who are able to be prepared, command a crew, and still leave space for spontaneity and creativity when the actors walk on a set are usually considered great, because it is a very difficult thing to do.
So what happens when the actor is lucky enough to work with a great director and is now called upon spontaneously to act out many subtle and fragmented aspects of the scene? An experienced film actor has a whole bag of Substitutions that she can pull up at any time when needed. You never know what will arise during a scene and what kind of coverage the director may choose to have for it. If what you are doing in the scene is interesting, then the director may spontaneously choose to cover you more than previously planned. You have to be ready for your close-up; you have to have Substitutions waiting in the wings.
Substitution is very tricky business. It is very often misunderstood, and ^ when such a technique is misunderstood, it can really sow the seeds of bad oi acting or, in the very least, acting that is removed and self-indulgent. The ™ whole purpose of Substitution is to make you more connected to what and < to whom you are talking. That being said, this is a technique with which „ one must become familiar before using it on a film set. Once you have built strength and your own style of incorporating this technique into the fabric of your acting skills, it becomes a gem to use and behold.
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