TJ Answers a Question About Watching His Own Work

Nov 14, 2009 | TJ's Skeletons

Intempestanox (Jen): Are you comfortable watching your own work, whether it be a tv show, movie, or commercial?

TJ: Hello Jen!

Comfort in watching myself work…on film sets, there is something called PLAYBACK.

It happens when a director wants to make sure they have the take. So they yell out “PLAYBACK” for the video recorder individual to rewind the take and watch it again (which now is easier than
ever with digital video). You find it a lot in film, always in commercials and hardly ever in TV (Bones doesn’t use playback at all).

There are 2 types of actors.
Those that will watch playback, those that won’t.

Though I respect those that don’t and their reasoning. Mainly: I can’t watch myself, for then I will start to judge myself, thus not be in the moment, thus not deliver a good performance. Totally understandable. Completely sane.

However, I fall on the side of actors that run to video village (where the monitors are on a set and all the directors’ chairs with the actors’ names on them and producers hang out. This is a sacred area on a set. Not just anyone can stroll up to video village without getting stares and daggers. It’s a palpable wall of don’t even think of coming near here. Ultimately reserved for director, DP, Script Supervisor, Producers, Writers and the leads of the film…sometimes makeup and hair and the 2nd are allowed
within the vicinity but per set has a set of different rules. I spent 10 years only looking in its direction and never approaching, and to be honest, though it’s more than friendly on our set, I still instinctively move my chair as far from video village as I possibly can. haha)…to watch playback. Why? Because I feel confident in my ability to calibrate my performance based on director’s notes and what I’m seeing myself do. I spent decades on stage. And it is a transition to television and film.To keep it inside that small box we call a TV, that FRAME if you will. So I spent years and years and years watching myself to make sure I could fine-tune that ability to stay alive and alert and huge, within a smaller frame.To watch myself gives me the chance for me (AS AN OUTSIDER SEPARATE FROM MY CHARACTER) to look and…
dial back or dial up my performance to get the best take possible.

It’s the same technique an actor/director has. Someone that can TRULY separate themselves from the work and just look at the performance with a directorial eye. So I’m not looking in that instant to figure out if I nailed it, if my hair looks good, if I’m strong in the scene: that all falls under category 1 and in
that case I would follow suit with my fellow actor and run away from watching. But when I’m in category 2, I can really watch with a director’s eye and slightly highlight or backtrack the performance accordingly. I prefer this.

Having said that, as soon as I watch a take or two and start to calibrate, I walk away from the monitor and don’t look back. On SHUFFLE I watched playback about 6 times in the first 2 days, and then never went back; just checking to see where I was going and how the camera was choosing to capture me.

There it is!
Oh the gooey delicious not-knowns of an actor’s process!



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