Tech which makes Sense

The Camera Never Lies – How to Get Your Face Out: An Interview with Brenna McDonough, Author of “You Can Work With The Camera”

Q: What type and how much on-camera work is available in the Washington, DC, Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia market?

A: There is a lot of work in this region on corporate and industrial training films. We have Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and Richmond all within a three hour drive. We don’t shoot as many commercials here as we used to, but that could change at any time. Many television programs film their B roles here, that is, the exterior shots of the Capitol of the Nation. Washington is a government city, so they’re not looking for flash and dazzle, they’re looking for real people who can credibly communicate a message. The big stars don’t necessarily come out of this area, but there is a constant stream of work if you go after it. You can work as an extra here and you can work as a director and no one thinks about it. It is not a step down. I have never seen that in any other market.

Q: How does one go about working in front of the camera?

A: Go to market: get good training, get a good photo, put together your resume and send it out. You will be hired to do small things first because people will test your ability. Good jobs will increase with your confidence level. The little things you do will turn into bigger things.

Q: Is there a difference between the skills needed for theater and those needed for on-camera work?

A: The skills are similar, all good performance requires honesty. It’s about internalizing the character and the conflict and creating an emotional life. Create in your head the background of what you are about to do in your audition or for your role. It is not physical, it is internal. The physical will follow the internal. It’s about connecting with the camera.

Q: How does one connect with the camera?

A: The camera responds to several things when it sees you. Confidence and personality are the two things he sees first. Some days you may not feel safe. This is an opportunity to remember something about yourself that makes you feel safe. Finish a marathon, be a great cook; It doesn’t have to be related to show business, but it reminds you of a hit and that translates. Remember that the camera sees the thoughts. Think of the good ones!

Q: How do you approach copy for the camera?

A: Just like you do for the theater. Who am I talking to? Where I am? Am I doing an activity? Am I delivering directly to the camera? What am I selling? What excites me? You’ll get in the habit of asking yourself those questions quickly.

Q: How much control do actors have over their careers?

A: Actors have a lot of control over their careers. It is not at the whim of who is going to call. It’s going out and knowing what you want. Expect to do well in this industry, but don’t expect anyone to give it to you. You’re going to have to work hard at it, and you’re not going to get everything you set out to do. But you can’t be discouraged by that. People can work in this industry full or part time and be successful at any age.

If after a year you don’t get any jobs other than the free ones you’ve invented, you need an objective assessment. Get a mentor, someone in the business that you know and like, and know and like, and have an honest conversation about what isn’t working. Is it your headshot? Attitude? Haircut? Training? Ten or fifteen pounds? If your day job gets in the way of your dream, would you consider taking a temporary job?

Q: How does one make an objective evaluation of oneself?

A: I don’t think people have a clear idea of ​​what he really looks like and I think that’s why people are so surprised when they see themselves on camera. In my classes, I emphasize the relationship with the camera, not how one sees himself in front of the camera. The relationship you have with the camera determines who hires you. It sounds cliché, but it’s true, you have to imagine talking to someone, you have to imagine that the camera is the face of a friend or family member. Once you get hired to do a job, you’ll be dressed up and you’ll look great, but that has nothing to do with how you connect with the camera.

Q: You also teach TelePrompTer and Ear-Prompters. How important are these skills and are they difficult to learn?

A: If you can read, you can use a TelePrompTer. It’s eye-page coordination. You take a few words at a time, look away, and pick up where you left off. It’s not about looking at the TelePrompTer and looking at every word. You want to look natural. Looking natural comes with practice. If you took a TelePrompTer class with me, by the time you left that afternoon, you can put TelePrompTer on your resume.

Using an Ear-Prompter is not something you can learn on the job. It takes focus and practice and it’s not something you can fake. If you list Ear-Prompter on your resume, you are expected to have your own team and be excellent. I tell students who take my Ear-Prompter class not to put this on their resume until they’ve practiced four hours on their own with their own equipment.

Q: What do you think of children in the business?

A: Kids in the business also need training, but they’re hired to be kids, so they don’t need much polishing. I tell parents who enroll a child in my class that the children need to enjoy the process. If a child doesn’t feel like going to an audition that day, even though the parent said yes, we’ll be there, don’t force your child to do it. Don’t let your dreams be his dreams. There’s no point in dragging a screaming six-year-old to an audition. If she doesn’t want to be there, she will make everyone miserable and she won’t do well. Kids do well when it’s her idea. They don’t do well when it’s just a parent’s idea. On the other hand, kids get to an age where if they promised to audition that day, they have to show up. If teens say they want to do this and earn some money and you, as a parent, feel like they have the discipline to keep doing it, support them. Kids in the business can do well, but it’s a lot of work and they should know that.

Q: What do you think about taking jobs for the experience?

A: Never work for free. That is bad policy. Actors are often underpaid because that is what they accept. Non-union actors must set their own pay schedule. At first, you can do some things for free, but you need to know when you graduated from that category. When that person calls back, even if you have worked for them in the past for a DVD copy, you must charge them. They can say no, but they can say yes. You have to be willing to bite the bullet and maybe not get that job, but you can also graduate in another category.


Brenna McDonough has worked on commercials and corporate videos in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles for over 25 years. She grew up in a theater family with nine brothers and sisters and is married to actor John Leslie Wolfe and they have two children: Kate and Aidan.

Brenna McDonough and John Leslie Wolfe offer on-camera training and Ear-Prompter, TelePrompTer, and Narration classes. They also offer personalized training for actors and models, and other professionals whose jobs require them to appear in front of the camera. “You Can Work On-Camera: Acting in Commercials and Corporate Films” (Heinemann) by Brenna and John, and John’s new book, “Great Sex Notes” (Reference Books) are available at local bookstores.


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