Marking actors should be simple right? How hard is it to slap a piece of tape on the ground?
You’re right — it should be simple, but there are tons of nuances to marking an actor that you might not know about. Like what size camera tape should you use? Is it better to go with a T-Mark or a toe box? And, more importantly, when should you use each?
I’m not saying marking actors is rocket science. It just takes some thought (and a little skill) to do it properly and avoid holding up the production while you turn the dance floor into a Twister board.
That’s what the video above (from Jared Abrams at Wide Open Camera) demonstrates: how to mark actors. At less than two minutes long, it covers the most popular types of marks you need to know. And I have a few extra tips of my own to share with you.
Like I said above, marking isn’t that complicated, but it doesn’t escape nuance. So here’s four more things to keep in mind in addition to Jared’s video:
Be consistent with the tape you use. In both color and thickness, don’t change it up in the course of a production. Part of the reason marks work is because the actors grow used to seeing them, especially if they are assigned a color. So don’t throw off their groove by changing to 1/2″ tape or their color from red to blue in the middle of a shoot.
Learn how to rip and tab tape at the same time. It’s an easy skill to learn, greatly increases your speed in laying marks, and makes for a mildly amusing party trick. Plus, tabbing marks makes removing them effortless. Watch this video to see the technique in action then read how to do it here.
Marks are helpful, but not always necessary. Because marking is simple, you can get carried away and mark everything. That’s not always needed. For instance, a scene shot all handheld with a lot of improvisation won’t benefit from actors marks because each take will be different and the talent may ignore them. When in doubt, ask the 1st AC or the DP if they want a mark.
Be prepared: directors, cinematographers, or actors may be adverse to marks. They may think it takes too much time to lay them or that it hinders the performance. In some cases, they’re right. Most of the time, however, marks speed up a production because less takes get lost to buzzed focus or missed framing.
(In terms of performance, well, maybe some actors need to have a chat with Michael Caine.)
For the camera department, a mark is more than a piece of tape on the ground. It’s a valuable tool used to inch ever closer to the perfect vision of the director and the production.
Or, at least, a tool used to prevent a total focus pulling failure.