Description image

10 Lessons in Film Acting from Michael Caine

03.31.12 @ 3:10PM Tags : , , , ,

How do you make sure you stay in frame and focus while performing?  What is the best way to work with off-camera actors while performing a close-up?  How can props like cigarettes become a major headache?  Michael Caine answers these questions and more as part of a film acting workshop broadcast on the BBC.  You can watch the hour-long special in its entirety after the jump, along with 10 film acting lessons pulled from it — highly recommended for actors and non-actors alike!:

10 lessons I learned from Sir Michael Caine on film acting:

1) When speaking to an actor off-camera, look into one eye and stick with it.

2) Film acting is, in large part, reacting and listening.

3) While rehearsing something with a fellow actor, if a crew member can come up and recognize you’re rehearsing vs. having a real conversation, then you aren’t doing it right.

4) An actor relaxes in front of the camera by concentrating, and knowing that you have no enemies on set, everyone’s on your side and doing their best to make you look your best for the movie.

5) The camera catches everything you do, so don’t be afraid to play things subtley.

6) If you’re going to smoke on-screen, you must plan it absolutely perfectly, don’t mess up the continuity.

7) All actors steal certain gestures and behaviors from other actors — but the best actors make these gestures their own.  Steal from the best, and make it your own.

8) You can make four pictures as an actor in the time it takes a director to make one — so if you’re an actor planning on becoming a director, consider the financial aspect.

9) A majority of movie acting is relaxation.  If you’re knocking yourself out, you’re doing it wrong.

10) Theater acting is an operation with a scalpel, movie acting is an operation with a laser.

For elaborations on these ten tips, along with actual scene work and demonstrations, check out the workshop in its entirety.  Interestingly enough, this workshop has a companion book written by Caine called Acting in Film: An Actor’s Take on Movie Making.  I haven’t checked that out, but if it’s anything like the workshop below, it should be pretty interesting and informative.

What did you learn from the workshop?  What film acting tips have you learned while shooting?  Share below!

[via FilmmakingIQ]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 52 COMMENTS

  • THis was awesome.

  • NOW! This is amazing! Number 4 really should be in actos minds!!

  • I’ve got the book and I’d definitely recommend it – as an actor, but also as a director. I started blogging on the acting lessons I’ve been taking (to improve my skills as a director) and the more I analysed what I’d been doing, the more sense Caine’s advice made. He doesn’t bullshit in the book or the video – and although it has the potential to slip into ‘Joey from Friends’ style tips, it ends up cutting through the crap and gives a very clear insight into Caine’s technique.

  • Tyler Baikie on 03.31.12 @ 4:01PM

    This is actual amazing.

  • Although good, this is incredibly old. Must have nothing better to post.

    • Because it is old it is somehow no longer useful? Add to the conversation please.

      • This was useful- when I saw it many years ago. For everyone else, better late than never I guess.

    • Actually, I think since the new writers have come on, I’ve seen a shift towards less technical/camera oriented posts (while still prevalent, no offense to Koo) towards more posts based on acting, the business of film, and so on; basically more craft.

      I’d rather have a blog like this curate great learning material than purely concentrate on the bleeding edge… but it is a bit of a filler post (I use to do them all the time on a music blog though).

    • and where can we find the newer stuff you have shared???

    • dude, just because Newton’s laws are old doesn’t mean they are useless, if you like it or not they govern you.

  • Will Gilbey on 03.31.12 @ 4:32PM

    Some more tips:

  • For all the books on acting I’ve read… some of Caine’s eye tricks blew me away. Going back, it certainly makes sense as editor Walter Murch suggests watching for the eye blink as a place to cut because they usually mark a transition of thought or feeling for the actor.

  • Great post. I really appreciate post where I’m learning more about directing and directing actors. This was very insightful. Thanks

  • abhishek krishnkant on 03.31.12 @ 11:09PM

    every thing here in this post is pure gold !!!!!!! truely awesome thanks ryan for sharing it. … i would like to add which might help few actors / directors ….. the only acting trick is to believe in the situation that the character is in … and forget about everything else and try to make the part as interesting as possible …. and obviously also keep a track of the marks and the camera but one must not worry to much about it ..because if he does that he is not thinking about what the character is thinking … what you think is on your face .

  • I loved these…I originally intended just to watch the first until tomorrow, but alas it’s 1:10am here and I just finished the last clip. Amazing stuff, not just on how to be a better actor, but how to get the most out of your actor-actresses in their performances.

    Although I must admit, 90% of the time Caine was talking I was having “The Trip” flashbacks.

  • This masterclass is actually considered a really good example of what NOT to do. Yes Michael Caine is a highly regarded actor- he is great no doubt- but the point is that he is an actor not a director and that the way he speaks to the actors to get a performance is actually completely dreadful.

    The technical points with regards to marks and eye lines at the beginning are great but when he comes to directing the actors, it’s goes downhill.

    He tells them what to do, he performs for them after their performance and is effectively saying, “copy what I do”. If Michael Caine gets you to perform a scene from one of his previous performances and then performs it himself in front of you- do you think that will make you perform better? No, you’ll just be thinking “shit I have to copy Michael Caine”. That is the number one rule for how NOT to work with actors. He’s leading by demonstration when you should lead by the emotional honesty of the scene and character, which the actor should access themselves, you simply guide them to these questions and motivations.

    Look at the oldest actor, he doesn’t trust him and is showing up defenses and his performances doesn’t really grow any better after his input.

    I covered this a year ago in a directing class, where the lecturer used it as an example of what not to do. It is historically bemusing because he is such a highly regarded actor but the fact that he has trouble directing actors is a testament to how different the skills involved are between directing and actor. It is a very good watch when taking this into consideration, nonetheless.

    I recommend Judith Weston’s book “Directing Actors”. She covers the mistakes in this attitude to directing extensively.


    • I give credit to the current popular theory that all acting must come from the actor, it is not the only way to direct. The micromanaging of actors lines is not currently popular, but it does and has produced great results.

      The current theory has led to problems like Will Smith. He really only has a few emotions and reactions. So when I see a Will Smith movie, it is Will Smith with aliens, Will Smith as a cop, Will Smith as a cowboy, Will Smith with a child, Will Smith fighting off the zombie hoards… I like watching Will Smith, but he, and other actors need to be told how to deliver some lines outside their comfort zone. Some directors are BETTER storytellers than their actors, and can sometimes tell if a subtle change in line delivery at the right point may change the whole feel/meaning of the story.

      Wait twenty years. All arbitrary trends like this swing back and forth eventually. Making your currently held belief unpopular. Neither one is superior, just which one is popular.

      • Exactly. It is my job to tell them what I need. They are nowhere near in terms of story, working with the writer and shaping the full product throught a global view and in the editing room, that’s my job. Their job is to perform under my direction, doing what I want as I want it. I have been on set with some A-list actors and many directors. They always listen to the director, even if he is 25yo. They know it’s their job to do so. The fact that they are so experienced that they do not need to be given basic direction does not change the fact that they will try to get the performance you need when you specifically ask them.

    • I think it’s a very fine line to walk as a Director. If an Actor is clearly pouring their heart out and giving an emotional take that you might not have been wanting, let them have it. You know what you want but it’s your job to steer their enthusiasm and emotion to fit your vision without sounding negative. So instead of “Let’s try that again but this time”, which just sounds negative from the start, you use the “Wow, that was great. I think we almost got it, what if we just tweaked this last bit a little.”

      Sometimes you might even sacrifice your vision for a scene if it means that the actor is now 100% invested in the character because he found it himself.

      Ultimately I think it’s up to the Director to “ride the hot hand” and if the Actor doesn’t have it, take the lead in a RESPECTFUL tone and don’t try to establish dominance. That’s my personal style and it doesn’t work for everyone, that’s why I love Directing! It’s a challenge but that’s what makes it exciting.

      • cont. In my experience there are two types of actors and every one falls somewhere in between. They direct themselves are they are looking for direction. It’s up to the Director to figure out which they are. If they have a bad take and go “That was no good, let me try that again”, your job is easy. They are policing themselves and they are into the character. Your only job is to give them the proper context as to what the character is and how they would react.

        Then there are actors that finish a take and instantly look to you for feedback, “what do you think? Was that any good?”. I think this is when you have the go ahead to put on the acting hat yourself and use the “mimic” technique.

        Sometimes the latter will get in a groove and start policing themselves and sometimes the first group will lose confidence or the character and it’s up to you to be RIGHT there helping them back up.

  • This takes me back!
    I was shown this back in my first year of film college.
    Wonderful stuff, helped me so much when directing actors.

  • Dated, but still great. For a more contemporary, and practical set of lessons check out McNamara’s “The Craft of Film Acting”.

  • This was great, and very useful.


  • THANKYOU!! I am so glad to find this Masterclass is alive on the internet. My battered and bruised VHS copy can finally go into retirement. This Masterclass really did teach me some of the most valuable acting lessons I ever learn.
    Tip #3 is one of the most useful things I ever realised – screen acting is not “acting” it is just being a variation of you infront of the screen. If people aren’t sure if you are acting, or if people say you were “just playing yourself” then you got it right!

  • Great stuff ! #7 has always been the guitarist’s Credo as well.

  • Great great post.
    I’ve been acting for 13 years now and I can always learn from masters like Mr. Caine.

  • Larry Vaughn on 06.8.12 @ 9:22AM

    This is very good free information of the kind you don’t usually see on filmmaking sites, because most are geared towards just selling new equipment.

  • am nana gyasi i wanna be an actor….n i have the passion of beign an actor…GOD help me to become am actor one day….!

  • Prakash Bhatia on 07.29.13 @ 11:53PM

    Hi everybody,
    Being theatre actor has definitely helped me in front camera.Ofcourse tech points do create problems initially but gradualy with directors help an actor overcomes this. No book can teach acting.Each and every actor has its own technique. It develops through constant work either in theatre or before camera If one is lucky one can become a star otherwise one can become a good actor that is assured.

  • Tip # 2 should read “then you’re not doing it right” ;)

  • mithilesh divedi on 08.21.13 @ 2:15PM

    i seen up side you tube. i like its. i want join 10 days lessons Acting course with micheal-caine.

    please send me detail about this course.

    mr. mithilesh divedi
    al-merqab city doha
    ph. 70219934

  • mithilesh divedi on 08.21.13 @ 2:17PM

    i seen up side you tube. i like its. i want join 10 days film lessons Acting course with micheal-caine.

    please send me detail about this course.

    mr. mithilesh divedi
    al-merqab city doha
    ph. 70219934

  • SAYS the video is private and won’t play!!!!

  • Caine really was riding poor Ian. It appeared he was trying to make Ian do an imitation of him.

  • Useful and interesting but SO dated and gender biased. Only 5 of these 60 minutes was spent coaching one of the women. The rest of the time they were props for the guys. One would hope that we’ve come a long way. I remain skeptical.

  • This is awesome! Thanks for posting guys!

  • Hey thanks for sharing Acting tips, i am great fan of him. He is my favorite HERO

  • Great tips. Thanks for sharing them.

  • My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for.
    can you offer guest writers to write content for yourself?
    I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write about here.
    Again, awesome blog!