What?! No rehearsal?

I heard from an actress recently who was frustrated about her work on a recent TV series. She had a medium size role that was complicated by a lot of physical activity.
The main problem, she said, was the lack of rehearsal. Unfortunately that’s a dilemma we face when we’re working in film or TV. We don’t have weeks of rehearsal to iron things out. Producers simply don’t budget either the time or the money for rehearsal. Actors are expected to be fully prepared and ready to work when they report to the set.

There are a few exceptions:

Sam Mendes directed the film American Beauty, Mr. Mendes is a very talented stage director and because American Beauty was his first film he asked for and got three weeks of rehearsal. The payoff was amazing and you would think producers would pay attention. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for Best Actor, Sam Mendes won one for Best Director, Alan Ball won for Best Screenplay, Annette Bening was nominated for Best Actress and the film won for Best Picture.

However, that isn’t the norm and actors often suffer for it. What you have to do is to make sure you are as prepared as you can be. Actors, smart actors, will get private coaching before they step in front of the camera. Most directors, because they have so many other things to focus on, turn a blind eye to this. Actually they’re grateful for the help because let’s face it, not all directors are good at coaching actors.

A lot of television shows employ a “dialogue coach” whose sole purpose is to get the actors ready to shoot. Not only do they make sure the actors have learned their lines but they also make sure the actors know the intent of the scene. The dialogue coaches get notes from the director as to how he/she wants the scene(s) to go and the dialogue coach “directs” the actors.

Often times however, actors are on their own and have to get help wherever they can.

I was at a cocktail party years ago and Cloris Leachman, a wonderful actress with an incredible resume, told a story about how she prepared for her role of Anna Sage in the film Dillinger. Anna was from Romania and she was the famous woman in red, the woman who fingered John Dillinger to the F.B.I. The day before she started shooting Ms. Leachman called the Romania Embassy in Washington, D. C. She read her lines to the receptionist and asked the receptionist to say the lines back to her. That’s how she got the accent she needed.

Remember a good portion of what you are going to do on the set is what you did in the audition. That is why they hired you; they liked what you did in the audition. So take that information, add whatever else you can glean about your character from the script, make sure you know your lines and then leave yourself open for whatever last minute adjustments the director may have. If you have props to deal with, practice using them. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can get on the set before shooting starts to work out your character’s “business.”

Remember, they hired you. They could have hired any number of other people but they hired you. Everybody is on your side. They want you to do a great job, they want you to knock-it-out-of-the-park just as much as you do.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

You may have wondered – where have I been!?

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, the answer is…drum roll, please… working on my new book. It was released on the 18th of August and will soon be available in your local bookstore or can be ordered now on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Taylor-Frances/Routledge Press, one of the world’s largest publishers, read my two other books and commissioned me to write a new book, this one titled The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera – A Practical Approach to Film, Television, and Commercial Acting.

Quite a mouthful, heh?

In the process I discovered self-publishing a book is a lot easier than writing for a publisher. When you self-publish you’re the boss, what you say goes. With a big-time publisher a lot more people are invested in what you’re saying and how that material should be presented. And did I mention compiling an Index? I’ll never do that again! I have to say though, from beginning to end, the people at Routledge Press were nothing short of amazing.

I am extremely pleased with how the book turned out, not just how it looks, but the content too. And the reviews so far have been outstanding. Here are two of the latest:

“Swain’s The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera is a welcome addition to the study of on-camera work! It covers the nuts and bolts of a very important and sometimes ignored medium in the actor’s training. Swain provides a touchstone for any actor wanting to learn and know more about working on-camera. A great addition to my library in teaching the actor for today’s world.” James Calleri, Casting Director, Head of Graduate Acting, Columbia University.


“John Howard Swain’s The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera is a readable, practical, and immensely enjoyable guide to the study of acting on film. I have made my living as an actor for over forty years and still found new things to learn from his book. There are many books out there attempting to explicate the study of acting. Most only reduce it to results and pronouncements. Swain keeps it right-sized, upbeat, positive and do-able.” Ivar Brogger, Department of Theatre, Chapman University

What’s next? First, a well-deserved vacation with Marsha Mercant, my lovely bride of twenty-six years, and then, in October, back to work.

And after we come back you’ll be hearing a lot more from me. My goal is to post a new article every two weeks focusing on…you guessed it – the science and art of acting for the camera.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. See you in October!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Commercials – To Do Or Not To Do?

First a shout out to Summer Crockett Moore. Summer was my guest in our latest FREE Industry Workshop Series. Twenty-five actors presented their work for her and afterward she said, “I’m producing several projects right now. I am SO glad I saw these people tonight. It is going to make my job easier.”
Summer’s upcoming film projects include The Alternative, Heather, Love Thy Keeper, Before I Do, and Miss Liberty. For television she’s producing: Little West 12th Street, One Night Only and an hour-long dramatic series More. THANK YOU, SUMMER!

A few days ago one of my students asked me if performing in commercials could have a negative impact on her career. She had heard it might. I told her I had the opposite experience. When I moved to LA (after five years in New York) I knew a few other actors but I didn’t know any LA casting directors and or agents. But because I had done 60 plus commercials in New York I didn’t have any problem getting commercial representation but I had to scramble to get a legit agent.

I finally got a legit agent (Dick Lovell – great guy, long gone unfortunately) and when he first started sending me out he got a lot of, “No. Don’t know him.” Fortunately, shortly after I arrived in LA  a Hallmark commercial I had shot a few months before started to air. After that whenever Dick called to submit me he would say, “He’s the guy in the Hallmark spot.” And the casting directors said, “Send him in.”

I was lucky and booked a lot of episodic work right away –  – Hill Street Blues, Simon and Simon, St. Elsewhere – and those shows lead to other shows – Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Bay City Blues, Dallas, Knot’s Landing, etc.

And even though I was doing a lot of episodic work I continued to shoot commercials. The issue of being overexposed wasn’t my problem, my problem was getting double booked. On more than one occasion I had to make the difficult choice of which job to accept. “Is this guest role on TV show X going to lead something or is it just going to be a one-off? Or should I take this national commercial that will probably pay me a lot and allow me to put a few bucks in the bank?”

I’m not complaining. It was a nice problem to have. And by the way, sometimes I made the right choice and sometimes I didn’t. One particularly painful memory is the time I turned down an episode of Family Ties. I had been offered a national Chrysler commercial and the shoot dates conflicted.  After a lot of back and forth with my agents we decided to turn down the Family Ties job. The part ended up becoming a recurring role. The Chrysler spot didn’t test very well and it never ran the way we thought it would. I kicked myself in the butt over that for a long time.

Another question I’m often asked is: “What role can commercials play in a actor’s career?” For me they played a huge role. I’m not sure I would’ve survived in the business without them. I can’t tell you how many times I paid my rent with commercial residuals. And those residuals, along with money I made working in Film and  TV, helped me buy a house, two houses actually. I was able to take early retirement and have a really nice pension a because of the money I made from commercials. Many actors will tell you the same story. In an interview recently Brian Cranston said he lived off of commercial residuals for about ten years while he was trying to get his acting career going. I hear you, brother! I hear you!

Watching TV last night I saw Jennifer Garner and George Clooney promoting products. These are major stars and I don’t think either one of them is worried about being overexposed because they’re doing commercials. So, my advice to my students and to you is if you’re offered a commercial go for it! You never know where it might take you.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Summer Is Almost Here!

Summer Crockett Moore that is! Only four more days ’til the invitations for this special workshop with Summer Crockett Moore go out. Here is some info on one of the films she produced last year that is coming out this year, Lost Cat Corona.  This funny film stars Sean Young and Ralph Macchio.

Above All Things

Summer also has four other films opening this year and three films in various stages of production. Plus she is show running a new TV series, More. Here is what she said about her new series and the upcoming workshop – “We have  32 characters in the first episode of the full season of this TV show that we are show-running! We need all types in this series.  Excited to see your people. Wheeeeeee!”

As you can see this is one busy lady and we are thrilled to have her as our guest at the next FREE Industry Workshop (April 25th). Be on the outlook for the invitation. It (fingers crossed and saying prayers that our new mailing system is working properly) will go out at 11:55 AM on the 20th of April.

Hope to see you there.



News Classes:                                                                                                                               Commercial Level One (1 May – 19 June 2017)
On-Camera Scene Study (2 May – 20 June)
For more info go to:  click here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Has Been Postponed…

…only kidding. The snow storm two weeks ago threw our calendar off and we had to re-schedule our next FREE Industry Workshop. It is now scheduled for the 25 of April.

Summer Crockett Moore is going to be our guest. In case you don’t know who Summer is (one of New York’s most prolific producers) here are a few of her credits: Summer has spear-headed award-winning independent feature length and short films, Off-Broadway theater productions and numerous multi-media ventures.  Current film projects include: Lost Cat Corona (2016), After the Sun Fell (2016) Wholly Broken (2016), Above All Things (2017), Block Island (2016), Lez Bomb (2017), Junction (2013), Trust Me I’m A Lifeguard (2014), These Things We Hold (2015), Mired (2015), Chosen (2016), Symposium (2016), A Younger Man (2011)Upcoming film projects include: The Alternative (optioned), Heather (pre-production), Love Thy Keeper (pre-production), Before I Do (announced) and Miss Liberty (development). Television projects include: Little West 12th Street (2016) Vevo’s One Night Only (2015) and the upcoming hour-long dramatic series More which begins production in New York in April 2017.

As you can see this is one busy lady and we are very lucky to have her as our guest for the next Workshop. Invitations to the workshop will go on the 20th of April at 11:55 AM. The first twenty-five people to respond will get a spot in the workshop.

What will you need to bring to the workshop?  A headshot and resume, a two-minute contemporary monologue (shorter is okay, longer is not okay). Location and other details to follow.

These workshops fill up fast so be on the look-out for the invitation.

Hope to see you there.


New class info:                                                                                                                      Commercial Level One Class                                                                                                          May 1st – 12 June 2017

Two-Camera Scene Study Class                                                                                                       May 2- June 20th 2017

For additional details on both of these classes go to https://johnhowardswain.com/classes-2/


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Is Coming! Summer is Coming!!

images Okay, I know you’re thinking, “Is this guy with the megaphone nuts?” it’s not even Spring yet. But on the 18th of April the producer Summer Crockett Moore will be the guest instructor at our next FREE Industry Workshop. Summer is what is known in the business as a fire starter. In ten years she has become one of the most prolific producers in New York.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with this multifaceted lady here is a brief introduction: Summer is an award-winning actress/producer and a Managing Partner and founding member of Choice Films and Choice Theatricals. As a producer, she has helmed award-winning independent feature length and short films, Off-Broadway theater productions and numerous multi-media ventures.  images-3Film projects include: Lost Cat Corona (2016), After the Sun Fell (2016) Wholly Broken (2016), Above All Things (2017), Block Island (2016), Lez Bomb (2017), Junction (2013), Trust Me I’m A Lifeguard (2014), These Things We Hold (2015), Mired (2015), Chosen (2016), Symposium (2016), A Younger Man (2011).  Summer’s upcoming film projects include: The Alternative (optioned), Heather (pre-production), Love Thy Keeper (pre-production), Before I Do (announced) and Miss Liberty (development). Television projects include: Little West 12th Street (2016) Vevo’s One Night Only (2015) and the upcoming hour-long dramatic series More which begins production in New York in April 2017. Theatre projects include the Off-Broadway world premieres of Scrambled Eggs, Reading Under the Influence, Stain and In The Daylight, as well as the regional / world premiere of the new play, American Stare. For a full list of her credits & awards visit: www.choicefilms.com and www.summercrockettmoore.com.

Invitations for her workshop will be going out mid-April so stay tuned.

images-4Also, happy to announce we are in discussion with director Matthew Penn to be the guest at our FREE Industry Workshops in June. Matt was the Executive Producer of Law and Order from 2003 through 2007. He has directed a slew of network TV shows including The Mist, Queen of the South, Unforgettable, Royal Pains, Orange is the New Black, Golden Boy, Damages, Blue Bloods, Law and Order (27 episodes), NYPD Blue, Pan AM, etc., etc. Prior to working in television, Matt spent many years working in theatre and is currently co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

We are excited to bring this caliber of talent to our workshops and hope to see you there.

class-announcementCommercial Acting Level 1.   6 March – 24 April 2017 (no class April 10th) ONLY TWO SPOTS LEFT!!

Commercial Acting Level 2: 9 March – 6 April 2017. This class is only offered once a year and is already SOLD OUT!!

On-Camera Scene Study class: 14 February – 11 April 2017. The current session is SOLD OUT! Registration for the next session of this class opens on the 12th of April.

For additional information about any of these classes click here.

See you soon,



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Status, Why It’s Important

A lot of things need to happen to make a scene successful, some more obvious than others. One thing that helps me gauge how well a scene is going in my on-camera scene study class is whether or not the actors are aware of and playing their character’s status.

First and foremost, actors need to know what their Main Objective is. What is it that your character wants from the other character(s), or from the situation or the circumstances revealed in the scene? The Main Objective is the engine that drives the scene.

imagesOnce a character knows what his/her Main Objective is then the element of status comes into play. There are two possible scenarios for your character in a scene: you are either getting closer to whatever your goal is or you’re moving further away from it.

In a well-written scene the issue of your character’s status should always be in flux.

With each scene the writer wants to impart a certain amount of information but if they23yytwx4h3h2ckhjs47icijwusr4z3_17-1 slant the scene too heavily in one character’s favor the audience will get bored. Why? Because there isn’t enough conflict or tension to hold their interest. So, in a well-written scene, one moment you might be getting closer to what you want only to discover in the next moment you have lost ground and the thing you wanted is actually slipping away from you.

Where actors get into trouble is they pick a main objective and then make a beeline toward it. By doing so they miss out on the chance to orchestrate the scene, to play the highs and the lows, to experience and express the shifts in their character’s status. Once you understand how important this shifting of status is, you can create compelling, exciting characters. Ask yourself the next time you’re working on a scene “Am I, at this moment, getting closer to what I want or is it slipping away from me.” And let the answer to that question motivate what you do next. I promise you, the ride in both directions will be incredibly rewarding.


9 February 6:30 – 9:30

Casting Director Cindi Rush will be our guest at the next FREE Industry Workshop. Invitations will go out February 6th at 11:55 AM. The invitation will be going out via Mail Chimp so please make sure you look for your invitation coming from them. We are discontinuing our relationship with Constant Contact.

Here are a few highlights from Cindi’s bio: NY: Promising, Ruthless, Disenchanted, Drop Dead Perfect, Under My Skin, Silence!,Rooms, Jacques Brel, Urinetown.The Thing About Men, Home Street Home, Regional Theaters: Triad Stage, Hudson Stage, Penguin Rep, Pittsburgh Public, Charleston Stage Co. Film: The Grief of Others (SXSW/Cannes), Runoff (L.A Film Fest), Policy of Truth (SOHO Film Fest),The Woman (Sundance),Funeral Kings (SXSW) Ghoul, Theresa is a Mother, Jugface (Slamdance), In The Family (Independent Spirit). Plus she has been a consultant for NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program (1999-Present).

New Classes:

Commercial Level 1 class starts the 6th of March and goes thru the 17th of April.

Commercial Level 2 class starts the 9th of March and goes thru the 6 of April.

Two-Camera Scene Study class starts the 14th of February and goes thru 11th April.

For more info on these classes go to click here



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment