Since the moment of the invention of cinematography by Limier brothers, the development of the cinema has been unstoppable. The 20th century was marked by the great progress in the sphere of cinema and television and its impact may be observed nowadays in the modern cinema and television which are to a significant extent shaped under the influence of the trends of late 20th century. At the same time, it is worthy of noting that the second half of the 20th century, especially late 1980s-1990s brought a totally new trend in the development of cinema and television. In fact, this period became the epoch of the great progress and rapid growth of television that gained popularity in a relatively short period of time.
Nowadays, the impact of television on the development of cinematography and the audience is undeniable. This is why it is extremely important to carefully analyze and discuss the basic differences between television and film performance which actually made these two competing branches of cinematography so different and distinct. Moreover, it will also help clearly understand the reasons of the popularity of television and a relative slow down in the development of films creation.
In other words, it is necessary to find out what was the contribution of the differences between television and film performance in the outburst of soap operas, mini series, and other genres typical for television that simply invaded the modern television and screens, to the extent that there remain less and less room for feature films.
The growing role of television
Before discussing the major differences between television and film performance, it is primarily necessary to fully understand the place television occupies at the present moment compared to films. In actuality, the development of television, as a cinematographic product delivered to the mass audience and basically consisting of a variety of soap operas and serials of different sorts, started in the late 1980s. To a significant extent, such a shift from feature films to television basically occurred in the result of the profound crisis that had stricken the cinema when home video practically put the latter in an extremely disadvantageous position.
In such a situation, the producers were vitally interested in the development of a TV product which could regain the interest of the mass audience and serve as an alternative to feature films people could watch at any time they wanted. Naturally, TV producers could not admit the situation when the whole industry was under a great threat since their losses could be really enormous if the viewers eventually refused from the products offered by television.
As a result, soap operas, mini series and other genres of television were developed in order to attract the mass audience and, what is more, to make the audience stable for a possibly longer period of time. It was obvious that people would definitely spend much more time watching their favorite series daily at a certain time of day than if they watched a single feature film. The popularity of such series naturally stimulated the growing supply that was particularly beneficial for TV producers, channels, and advertisers.
However, it is possible to argue whether the development of television made cinematography any better as art or probably, as some opponents of television state, it simply kills the cinema. It is also quite difficult to definitely state the general effect of television on the mass audience but it is, actually, not the aim of this paper. What is really important is the fact that the television grew more and more popular and, what is more, it was really different from films, especially in the part of acting styles.
It is obvious, that television could not fail but affect the actors, directors and all those professionals who were involved in the production of series and who willingly or not were forced to turn their focus from feature films to soap operas, for instance. Unquestionably, such a shift implied a new approach that was quite different from traditional film making and affected dramatically performance. At the same time, television could be viewed as a new ground for experiments, innovations and implementation of new ideas in cinematography which could be hardly applied in films. It is particularly important to underline that, as the development of television showed, the latter became particularly close to the average viewer to the extent that nowadays it is even possible to estimate that, to a significant extent, it is television that defines the personality of each viewer and which affects dramatically the development of each individual since, as researches show (Parker 2001), an American at the age of 70 will spend at average ten years of his/her life on watching TV. This is why it is really important to know what the television actually is and what its main differences from films are in order to clearly define whether it influences the audience positively or not and why its impact is so serious.
Differences between film and television performance
In order to better understand the basic differences between film performance and television performance, it is primarily necessary to discuss the audience they target at and the situations in which they are supposed to be watched. On comparing films and television, it is possible to estimate that the latter basically targets at the mass audience which is not supposed to be overwhelmed with some serious ideological, philosophical, or moral message. On the contrary, television basically targets at the audience that rather tends to relax and simply enjoy watching television without any slightest intention to be disturbed with some profound thoughts and problems.
At the same time, the audience of soap operas and other series expects to be amused and entertained that implies that the emotions of viewers should be affected and, as a rule, the emotions should be rather positive than negative. Naturally, this influences substantially the acting style and television performance since actors should take into consideration the needs and interests of their audience.
It is also worthy of mention that the audience of television needs to receive these emotions in a relatively short period of time, especially compared to feature films but, what is more important the emotions dominate over the contents and events that take place in the series. This is why the concentration of action in soap operas and other series may be and is substantially lower than in feature films. It means that the action, as a rule, is quite slow, and each episode should be fully delivered to the audience in order to reach the viewers’ emotions and feelings, involving the audience in the action of the series or show.
In stark contrast, the audience of films is quite different and basically people come prepared to watch an interesting, involving and often time-consuming film. Practically, it means that the target audience of feature films, for instance, is the category of viewers who are ready to spend a substantial part of their free time about two hours watching the film. This is why the film should be full of actions to maintain the interest of the viewers during all this period of time as the film is shown. Consequently, the actions will be more significant and having far reaching consequences that means that, unlike series, actors in the film should realize that every slight detail in their play is meaningful since they should deliver the whole message of the film not in a hundred or two of dragged out series but in a limited period of time.
At the same time, the concentration of events and actions turns to be incomparably higher since there is no other chance to change anything in the film. Naturally, this imposes certain obligations on actors as they have to perform at their best as they do not have the right on a slightest mistake while performing the film as it will not be corrected in the next episode as it can occur in the case of a soap opera.
In this respect, it is worthy of mention that in recent years the production of series have reached such a moment when the series start when there is not even a clear ending written by the screenwriter. This is why often it is quite difficult for an actor to fully realize his role, or the character he is supposed to play. As a result, there are a lot of opportunities to improvise and experiment while starring in a series. Moreover, in many series the personality of an actor is of little importance and sometimes there may occur substitutions of actors the event unimaginable in a feature film. It means that one and the same character may be played by different actors that naturally effects dramatically the perception and makes the work of actors more difficult, though, at the same time, this may practice may be quite discouraging for actors.
It is obvious that the actor, if he substitutes his predecessor needs to learn carefully the style and manner of the previous actor since it is very important that the play of the new actor did not differ seriously so that the audience easily perceived him and the substitution remained relatively ‘unnoticed’. Moreover, such a situation deprive the actor of a possibility to express himself, his own vision of his role and his character because he has to take into consideration the play of his predecessor. No doubt it is quite difficult to do because each actor is an individual personality with his own mentality, views, opinion and it is really difficult to get integrated in the series when it has already being shooting for several months, for instance. On the other hand, along with such difficulties with the entering the series, the new actors have serious responsibilities which naturally come into clashes with the lack of motivation and discouraging atmosphere because it would quite logical to presuppose that if an actor was dismissed, than the new actor could easily follow his way under certain circumstances. This is why the actors should not only adapt to the general style of the series that probably existed before but also take into consideration the changing circumstances and be ready to change their play and perfectly understand the vision of the creators of the series in order to work productively.
Unarguably, the situation when one actor is substituted by another is absolutely impossible in a feature film. However, it does not necessarily mean that the responsibility or importance of the actors’ style and play is less significant. In fact, traditionally, the casting takes place before the film has started to be shot. This stage is much more important in the film performance than in television performance because actors should clearly demonstrate their own style and individuality to the director who selects the crew. This means that an actor willing to star in a film should demonstrate the understanding of the main idea of the film, the character he is supposed to play, and naturally, he should understand the views of the director on the film at large and his place in it. This is why, being once selected, an actor should keep playing in accordance with the style he has chosen and the director expects from him.
At the same time, it does not necessarily mean that the actor has not a single opportunity for improvisation. On the contrary, starring in a film, it is important that the actor could demonstrate his individuality, his original and unique style since he is the only one chosen for this role and no one else could play this role better. At least, this is a traditional ground directors stand on. This is why actor’s improvisation is welcome but it should fully correspond to his character and underline his style.
Furthermore, the problem of understanding of the character and the role an actor is supposed to play, at first glance, seems to be of equal importance for actors and their style in both film and television performance. However, it is necessary to remember that there exist a substantial difference between a feature film and a soap opera, for instance. What is meant here is the fact that basically, series and television at large does not imply that an actor possesses a great talent or that he has a unique style though both of them are desirable. Nonetheless, the nature of television implies that series, soap operas, or different shows are quite simplistic by their nature. This is why the actors do not need to pay much attention to the development of a unique style or some peculiar features of the character which are very complicated and practically cannot be found in the real life at large scale. Basically, television needs different certain types of actors and acting style which, in actuality, are standardized and do not need to be significant changed or modified for any particular situation. Instead, television needs stereotypes, or it is even possible to say archetypes which would fully correspond to the expectations of the audience. Practically, it means that bad guys should be definitely bad and good – perfectly good that naturally, defines the actors style and narrows substantially the opportunities to demonstrate a variety of qualities of the character which are overshadow by the dominating stereotype labeled to the concrete character the actor is supposed to play.
Quite a different situation is in the film performance. As a rule, the film has a limited number of characters and it is impossible to introduce a new character every five minute in a two hour film. Naturally, it does not mean that the cast in series can change in every episode but the opportunities to introduce new characters in a series are incomparably wider than in a feature film. Moreover, often films are built around a few main characters and it turns to be impossible to represent a variety of characters the director want to convey to the audience with the help of minor characters. This is why actors starring in a film should take into consideration the fact that they are expected to be able to represent a wide range of characters. In other words, one actor could be able to represent different characters or, to put it more precisely, traits of character or sides of personality.
As a result, the acting style of a film actor is more diverse as he should fully reveal the essence of the character he plays. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that due to the substantial difference between film and television, film actors often need to perform different aspects of the personality of one and the same character that is practically unnecessary in a soap opera, for instance. It means that a film actor’s acting style should be rich and include a variety of tools in order to demonstrate spiritual or moral diversity of his character.
Another distinctive feature of acting style of film and television performance is realism and depth of the performance. It should be pointed out that depending on a nature of a series or show, television needs more or less realistic characters but anyway they should be comprehensible and easily perceived by the mass audience. Such a demand to actors may have a dubious effect. On the one hand, they have to play realistically if their role or character is not supposed to act differently. On the other hand, the necessity to be easily perceived and understandable to the mass audience forces actors, often under the impact of screenplay or directors, to play simplistically or exaggerate their performance in order to make their character more comprehensible. In such a way, actors should play in such a way that an average viewer clearly understood what a character the actor is playing. At the same time, the recent trends reveal the fact that actors should also play realistically in order to produce an impression as if they are just taken from a real life. In this respect, reality shows, which have grown popular in recent years, are particularly focused on the realism since they imply that the characters do not simply look like an average, ordinary people, but they also act as such. As a result, television performance often implies simplification of the actors’ style and actors are simply to make their play simplistic since complications would make any series not so easily consumed by the mass audience.
As for film performance, it is traditionally much more complicated. However, it is necessary to agree that in the last couple of decades the trend to simplification influenced dramatically films too but, basically, this trend is not so evident and not so strong as in television. Moreover, often it is simply the question of the film quality that defines the degree of simplicity of the actors’ performance.
Speaking about traditional film performance and, especially, about its best samples, it is necessary to underline that even the realism of actors style and play did not and still does not lead to the simplistic presentation of a role or character. In fact, the film performance implies that the actor should be able to convey all essential traits and features of the character so that the audience felt this character as an individual personality. In other words, the film acting style should provide a possibly larger picture of the character while television is basically focused on the demonstration of key elements of the character’s personality.
Moreover, actors starring in films should understand that their character can evolve as the actions in the film progress. This is why it is very important that the actor turned to be able to convey all these changes to the audience. In stark contrast, actors playing in series basically do not need to undergo any changes at all since, as it has already been mentioned, as a rule they play a definite type of character and the changes of his personality are seldom, and what is more, they are absolutely undesirable since it will make the series too complicated and less perceivable by the mass audience.
However, it is possible to object that films also target at the mass audience, but it is necessary to remind that there is a principle difference between films and television that actually defines the acting style, notably this is the goal of films and television. Even though films, similarly to television aim at the amusing and entertaining the audience, they can also contain a profound message of the director that differ films dramatically from television which are practically deprived of any kind of a profound ideological and author’s message. Unlike television which tends to be rather simplistic, films aims at the delivering of the author’s message to the audience in a limited period of time which rarely surpass a couple of hours. This is why films are sometimes semantically and ideologically overpowered that makes them hard for perception by an average viewer and, in such a situation, it is the actor play that come onto the stage. In actuality, often it depends on the actor how amply and correctly the original message of the director will be delivered to the audience and it is the actor’s play that defines this success. This is why the film acting style is much more complicated for the actor than the television performance where everything is clear from the start and the actor does not need to change significantly the character he performs.
Finally, speaking about the acting style in television and film, it is necessary to point out that the audience of films is close and ‘dead’. It means that the viewers simply perceive the film while watching it, develop certain reactions either positive or negative, but as a rule they cannot influence the film anyhow and, thus, films and actors play are less vulnerable to the external influences from the part of the audience. In stark contrast, the television performance is extremely sensitive to the changes in the audience mood since a series, for instance, consists of hundreds of episodes and this is why it is extremely important that the performance of actors was interesting to the audience and, what is more, it is important to keep this interest from one episode to the next so that the series or show did not lose its audience. Otherwise, it will simply die that will never occur to a film since it may be good or bad, it may be perfectly perceived by the audience or rejected but a viewer can never tell whether he/she likes the film or not until he/she watches it. As a result, the acting style in television should fully correspond to the expectations of the audience and it must be interesting to viewers. Naturally, the same is true for films but the main point is that, acting in a film, actors have an opportunity to show their own vision of the scene, or their character regardless the expectations of the audience, while it is practically impossible in the television performance as it threatens to its potential popularity and interest from the part of the mass audience.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that there are substantial differences between television performance and film acting. Basically, they are predetermined by the difference between television and films and these differences, to a significant extent, define the play of actors. At the same, it is necessary to underline that television is growing to be more and more popular and its influence on the audience grows respectively and this influence and popularity of television basically result from the fact that television is closer to the mass audience and it simpler for the perception of an average viewer than films.
Anyway, television performance, being routine and monotonous, is based on the perfect understanding of the audience expectations that makes television quite simplistic and that is what makes it so different from film playing. The latter may be still as a part of high art known as cinematography since film acting basically turns to be much more profound and complicated than television performance. To put it more precisely, film actors need to convey a definite message of the film in a limited period of time, demonstrate dramatic changes that occur to their characters, etc. in order to make the film interesting and understandable to the mass audience. While television performance, on the other hand, rather resembles a chewing gum that will never ends without any serious or profound message and, what is more, the recent trends indicate at the gradual shift to unveiled and simplistic realism without little efforts to make television a real piece of art.
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