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When I am watching movies I seem to never catch actor's direct look into the camera. If you ever being filmed you will know how difficult it is to avoid the camera pointed at you and I can only imagine how many of those cameras are involved during filming.

I could attribute this purely to professionalism of actors, however, what is the key in avoiding the camera during filming?

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29  
use your eyes to not look into the camera – davidlumix Mar 10 at 15:04
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"Welcome to Acting for Beginners. Lesson #1 - Don't look at the camera, directors hate that". – user7812 Mar 10 at 15:22
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"Welcome to Acting for Beginners. Lesson #2 -- beatings will continue until you stop looking at the camera". – Steve Jessop Mar 10 at 16:19
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Is "natural selection" a valid answer? – corsiKa Mar 10 at 18:43
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@corsiKa - good point. The folks you're seeing on TV/Hollywood films have gone through what I assume is a ridiculous (both emotionally and physically) weed out process that is "Hollywood". I'm sure there are tons of actors who do look at the camera, we just don't see them because by the time you get to National TV/Hollywood, you're (theoretically) so good at acting, that it's not an issue. – BruceWayne Mar 10 at 18:52
up vote 71 down vote accepted
+200

It's only difficult to not look into the camera for you because you're not used to being around them. If someone's taking a photo or video of you, you're "trained" to look at the camera because it's generally a portrait-style shot.

Actors are trained to not look at the camera. Looking at the camera is called "spiking the camera" and it means that you've just ruined a shot and you have to start over... congrats, you just cost the company money. As the TV Tropes article points out, editors don't always catch these, so you may see them in films and TV:

A specific form of Breaking the Fourth Wall accomplished merely by looking directly at the camera. Usually done by accident, by amateur actors who happen to notice a camera is pointed at them. The trouble here is that the editor didn't catch it, allowing the character to make eye contact with the audience. Typically a film or live TV trope, especially in dramas.

Trust me, even for new extras, you've had "don't look at the camera" so drummed into your head from the second you set foot on set, it's running non-stop through your mind that it's the only thing you're thinking about.

On set, directors will give actors a specific eye-line for where to look. Usually they're looking at another actor... the person they're doing the scene with. This is beneficial for performance reasons. If the person they're acting opposite isn't available due to scheduling or they're in makeup, or something else, they often have someone else there to deliver lines and act as eye line.

Sometimes they're looking at a thing off in the distance... building, animal, ocean... whatever. Sometimes they're looking at a piece of colorful tape that's stuck to part of the camera or other piece of equipment (this is generally used when the talent is almost looking at camera)... And, in CG films, they're probably looking at a colorful tennis ball on a stick being controlled by someone off camera.

Daenerys, and her beautiful dragon... stick

And, finally... and probably most importantly... if you're good at acting, you're so involved in what you're doing that everything other than the person/people you're acting opposite simply fade away into the background. If you're doing it right, the cameras, director, lights... everything else... it just goes away and it's just you and that other person having a conversation or fighting a monster or watching TV...

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This is the "after" image – Catija Mar 10 at 20:02
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@mnemonic and? I'm not certain where you're going with that. The question is about avoiding looking at the camera... Intentionally breaking the 4th wall isn't part of that. It's not accidental... It's part of the show. – Catija Mar 11 at 11:19
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@Catija She's looking in different directions in the "before" and "after" images! Sorry to nitpick, but since this is the whole point of the question ... – rand al'thor Mar 12 at 14:29
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@randal'thor it's not the whole point of the question. I didn't make the images... I used what I could find... And the after image isn't even part of the answer because it's irrelevant to the question. – Catija Mar 12 at 15:02
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@Catija No offence meant (and I did upvote)! It was just funny to see before and after pictures where she was looking in different directions, when the direction the actors are looking in is what it's all about :-) – rand al'thor Mar 12 at 15:06

Aaron Taylor's "Theorizing Film Acting" speaks to this issue. Basically it's become such a major faux pas that anyone who has a tendency to look into the camera (other than when slating) will almost certainly find themselves unable to find work. It's therefore a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you're the sort of person who finds it hard to direct their attention elsewhere, acting probably isn't the right career for you.

I've seen some hint/tips on offer, largely aimed at ensuring that you focus your attention on the scenery around you and your acting partners. Most actors have a "process" (usually a form of Method Acting) where they attempt to envision themselves in the scene rather than viewing themselves as an actor acting the scene. This allows them to give the illusion of not really noticing the camera.

Marcus online has some acting tips for kids that might be useful;

Make sure to get a good reader to read the lines opposite you. Your reader should stand RIGHT NEXT TO THE CAMERA, almost straddling the tripod. Direct your lines to your reading partner so that your eye line is not into the camera, but just slightly off, connecting with your reading partner’s eyes.

and

Please read the script beforehand. We need you to be prepared and as off-book as possible.

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1  
I've actually used some of these tricks (for myself and for actors under my direction), as well as a couple other tricks. Like you said, having a reader (or even the other actor, if it's viable) standing just offscreen is the most helpful for maintaining eyeline (i.e. making sure that the actor is looking in a direction that makes sense for the scene); but another useful trick is having the actor talk to the red "on" light above the camera (if it has one) or to the cameraman whose head is likely just above the camera so you can get the "almost looking at the camera, but not quite" effect. – ghostdog Mar 11 at 5:57

I had trouble with this during my first year of a media studies course as the director/cameraman filming a short film. I had to make a lot of creative edits because my actors (friends who had a couple of hours of spare time) kept reacting to the camera.

Fortunately all the instances of looking straight down the lens happened at the end of takes, but they would actively avoid looking at the general vicinity of the camera whilst filming was taking place, meaning they kept doing really unnatural things in order to actively avoid looking down the lens.

I understand what you mean, it is very difficult to maintain the persona of a character whilst having a camera pointed at you. Avoiding looking in the direction of the camera is almost as bad as looking at it directly, it's less noticeable but it still ruins the illusion. The task for the actor is pretending like it doesn't exist at all.

The general consensus for achieving this appears to be staying so heavily in character, that the cameras cease to be a part of their surroundings. Therefore the actor blocks out any camera/ lighting/ microphone movements, because the character is not noticing them (because from the character's point of view they do not exist).

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7  
I would imagine that being repeatedly yelled at for "spoiling my effing shot again" is a learning experience you don't forget in a hurry. – user7812 Mar 10 at 15:52
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@Richard Yes... but... if your "actors" are working for free and you're already half-way through your shoot, you probably want to phrase it a wee bit more tactfully... else you have to start the shoot over with a new cast. – Catija Mar 10 at 18:09
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@Catija - That's why you get your blackmail material sorted out first. – user7812 Mar 10 at 18:21

One of the best tips I've given actors who have this problem to to have them blink if they're turning their head in a way that would usually have them look at the camera. Once they got the hang of it, it became second nature and they don't have the issue.

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Walter Murch (father of modern editing) states that people often blink when they turn their heads rapidly... So they shouldn't necessarily need to be told this. – Catija Mar 10 at 19:24
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I was taught this as a trick to 'break the plane' if your eyeline needs to actually cross the camera. Most times, the need to change your look from one character to another on the other side of the camera is avoided, but sometimes it's done intentionally by the director. You can quickly flick your eyes from one to the other, but a blink removes the audience perception that they were suddenly included in the scene - the 4th wall stays intact. – Tetsujin Mar 11 at 8:14

I would say they are used to cameras and Professional actors are very focused in their play, they cant allow themselves to have the time to look into the camera, because they would break character.

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True, but I am more interested in specific techniques and skills that are required for that. – eYe Jun 6 at 16:40

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