Director Proof

In a recent interview I was asked if the technique I use in my classes made actors director proof.

First of all I think there are a lot of really good directors working in the film and TV industry now. A lot! But having said that I know directors, just like the rest of us, can have bad days — for a myriad of reasons. And regardless of why they’re having a bad day – they’re sick, the new baby kept him/her up all night, the shoot the day before ran way over, or the project they were hired for wasn’t a good fit for their sensibilities – regardless of what is throwing them off their game, in the final analysis it is going to be you up on the screen not them.

Because of that you have to make sure you’ve done everything you can so that no matter where the director’s head is you’ll  still come out looking good.

I’ve been teaching now for twenty plus years and as a teacher I am constantly evolving, growing my craft – just as actors should be evolving and growing their craft. In the five years since my first two books (film and commercial acting) were published I learned a tremendous amount from my students about what worked in those books and about what could be better. I incorporated that info in to the new book The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera. click here  As acting is a living, changing craft so is teaching acting. Remaining static is one of the worst sins an actor or a teacher can commit.

So, how does this relate to actors being director proof? If you don’t have a technique you can rely on you won’t be able to fully develop your character, you won’t recognize the arc of the scene. And if you can’t do those two simple things then you will miss all the other information available to you in a script. Having a technique is like having a treasure map that highlights all the good stuff so you’ll have a fountain of information to draw from if/when you discover your director is off his game, for whatever reason.

Please understand this isn’t about alienating directors; it’s about supporting them, giving them options. The more you know about what is doing on in the scene the more “choices” you can offer the director. The great thing about all of this is if your director’s having an “off” day you’ll still look good. And is he/she is having a good day you’ll look great.

Either way, it’s a win-win…for everybody. And, oh, did I mention the producers? Yeah, you being at the top of your game is good for them too.

Upcoming classes:

Two-Camera Scene Study class starts December 5th 2017 and goes ‘til February 6th 2018 (off Dec. 26th and Jan. 2nd).

Commercial Level 1 class starts 13 Nov. and goes to December 8th 2017.

For information regarding these classes go to:

Tommy Day – booked a co-starring role on the new network TV show INSTINCT.

Caitlin Kerchner – is one of the leads in the web series OTHER VOICES.

Diana Craig – booked co-staring roles in GOTHAM and BULL.

Bill Cannon – shot two commercial projects: SWITLIK MATTRESSES and RIVER SPRING RETIREMENT COMMUNITY…drum roll, please…on the same day. Way to go, Bill.

Steven Jones – shot a national network commercial for BDO.

Jody Watkins – booked a commercial for Jendu Pharmaceutical.

When you’ve booked something let us know so we can share the good news.

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How Does Riding A Segway in Salzburg Relate To Acting?

Several years ago I read an article about Dean Kamen, the gentleman who invented the Segway. I remember thinking at the time what a cool invention it was and how great it would be to ride one. It took me almost twenty years to do it but man, was it worth it!!

Salzburg, which literally translates to Salt Town, was the end point of my most recent bicycle adventure – Munich to Salzburg. Questiondo Austrians think Salzburg sounds as glamorous as we think it sounds? Cause it sounds pretty alluring to me. Anyway, after biking over the German Alps – no broken bones this time – the thought doing of a walking tour wasn’t very appealing so when I read there was a Segway tour of the city we jumped on it. Not literally jumped because you don’t want to jump on a Segway, you want to step up on it. Gently.

How was it? Unbelievably terrific!! If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. The Segway is a marvelous machine that moves the way you tell it to move. Lean forward and it goes forward. Lean back and it goes backward. Lean to the side and it turns. In a matter of minutes we were off exploring the sites of Salzburg.

So why does riding a Segway relate acting? Acting is about heightened moments of reality. When you’re doing a scene you know how it ends but to make the journey interesting the writer and/or the director place a number of objects in your way that your character has to overcome. If your character achieves his/her goal without too much struggle we, the audience, won’t be invested in their journey and wouldn’t care about the outcome.

Staying on a Segway falls into the category of heightened reality. It’s not exactly Evil Knievel time but if you aren’t paying attention, if you don’t adjust to the obstacles that come up, you could end up ass over elbows in a ditch.

BTW, this is true in life as well. Rarely, if you’re seeking a goal of any real value, are you going to travel start to finish without having to overcome some obstacles, without having make some adjustments to your original plan.

In Salzburg we had to deal with rain, traffic, difficult terrain, and hordes of pedestrians (there are a lot of tourists in Salt Town). Learning how to drive the Segway wasn’t difficult, what was difficult was getting to where we wanted to go. We were constantly dodging people, avoiding huge puddles (did I mention it rained while we were there? Oh, yeah, it did. A lot. We’re not wearing those ponchos to start a new fashion trend.). We had to traverse up steep, winding hills all the while mindful of other moving vehicles.

Our guide was clear about where she wanted to take us and we were clear about what we wanted to see but sometimes the way was blocked (I mentioned the tourists, right?) so we had to find another way. We never lost sight of our destination but we were constantly adjusting our course to get there.

It’s like flying an airplane from anywhere to somewhere else. The pilot is constantly correcting his course to stay ahead of the weather, adjust for the wind but eventually you arrive where you wanted to go.

So riding a Segway…and acting…and life? Who knew they all had so much in common?

Mary Loorm is wrapping a twenty-day shoot on the film Like Father, starring Kelsey Grammer.

Daniel Sovich – booked the off-Broadway play, Downtown Race Riot, directed by Scott Elliott, starring Chloe Sevigny.

Stacey Scotte – booked the lead in Last Night of the Ballyhoo, with the Florida Rep Company in Fort Meyer, Florida.                                 Melanie Little – booked a regional commercial for Downtown Dental Arts.               Rebecca Pitcher – booked the upcoming Broadway show Carousel, directed by Jack O’Brien.

Leslie Russell – booked a national commercial for Balsam Hill.

Anybody else working? Let us know so we can put you in the shout outs.

Upcoming classes:

Two-camera scene study class: 3 Oct. – 21 Nov. 2017. Two spots left.

Commercial Level 1 2 Oct. – 6 Nov. 2017. Sold out. Wait list available.

For more info on these classes – click here

Hope to see you soon.


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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.

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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!


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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.



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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

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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


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