Game Library: “Camera, Narrator, Actor, Actor”

The narrative quality of this game adapts particularly well to an online or Zoomprov setting. As a screenwriting brainstorming session, Camera, Narrator, Actor, Actor also explores a compelling style of storytelling in an accessible and riveting manner.

The Basics

Four players are each assigned one of the titular functions: the camera (visual elements), narrator (expositional and subtextual ingredients), and the two actors (voicing the dialogue for all the needed characters.) When played live, players tend to stand in this order from stage right to left. In a virtual situation, all four improvisers can be featured on the screen at once or their presence can be sculpted by an able technician. In both situations, a caller nominates which of the three functions currently takes focus to develop the story arc – the actors are considered one dynamic and work together when they are cued. The caller moves between these various storytelling devices as the team constructs a detailed and original screenplay.


The proffered title is “The Painful Lie.” Players line up as the camera (A), narrator (B) and actors (C and D). The caller discretely positions themselves downstage of the action. If played in a virtual setting and your technological parameters allow, the caller or their surrogate can turn on or off the pertinent players’ screens when they have been activated. The caller’s voice begins the narrative…

Caller: “Camera.”

Player A: “An establishing shot of a rustic high country farmhouse. The morning sun can be seen reaching over the distant horizon as fields of wheat slowly pulse in the gentle breeze. Close up on a calloused hand slowly passing through the crops. The lens slowly opens to reveal a sun-bleached farmer assessing their crop.”

Caller: “Actors.”

Player C: (booming as the farmer) “Gerard! Get out of that bed!”

Caller: “Camera.”

Player A: “Cut to the interior of the farmhouse and Gerard’s shuttered bedroom. The camera pans over an assortment of noticeably non-rural posters and postcards on the wall: images of big cities, crowded beaches, and exotic destinations. Slowly the camera focuses on the occupant of the bed…”

Caller: “Narrator.”

Player B: “Gerard’s wary hand reaches out into the darkness, searching for some imagined alarm clock. But then the reality sets in – he’s not in his college dorm room anymore. With belabored effort he swings one leg after the other out of his childhood bed. His bare feet, repulsed by the cool wooden floorboards, slowly approach his window.”

Caller: “Actors.”

Player D lets out a guttural cry. It’s much too early for this.

Caller: “Camera.”

Player A: “The camera looks over Gerard’s shoulder as he opens the bedroom curtains, and the morning light invades the room. We see what he sees as the camera sweeps through the window, onto the farmhouse lawn, and then over the fields of wheat where we can see the farmer impatiently waiting…”

The Focus

Enjoy the varied ways each contributor can shape and forward the action.

Traps and Tips

1.) For the camera… Use what you know. If you have some film making jargon at your disposal, it adds finesse to sprinkle it through your offers (although always be mindful that it doesn’t alienate your audience). This function largely serves as an exemplar scene painter providing the details of the physical world. The more descriptive your images, the better. This format provides a rare opportunity to lavishly develop nuanced locations and characterizations. Take full advantage of this reality and don’t rush over shots that can richly establish mood and style.

Camera: “Cut to a panning shot that follows the disheveled son clumsily running into the field…”

2.) For the narrator… While the camera concentrates on what can be seen, and the actors on what can be heard, the narrator assumes the responsibility of filing in all the other gaps. In a screenplay or script this artist’s contribution would typically occur in the unvoiced parentheticals or italics. Consider adding expositional and background information: what do we need to know about this character, prop, or setting? This can also take the form of articulating character subtext and motivations.

Narrator: “The farmer had never fully understood their son…”

3.) For the actors… A lot of contextualizing material should be flowing from the other narrative positions so make sure you are particularly diligent when it comes to listening and accepting. Make your character voices and energies distinct and memorable as the actors may need to take on multiple roles as the story progresses (although you should “keep” any role you originate). Dialogue usually has to carry the majority of a scene which is no longer the case here, so seek well-performed conciseness. Player D’s grunt serves as an example of a simple but emotionally supported choice that probably adds more than a lengthier and clumsier verbal meandering.

Actor: “I was starting to think that bed ate you…!”

4.) For the caller… Follow the story. As the camera (and to a lesser degree, the narrator) provides the unique voice, I tend to favor this element, at least initially. It’s also helpful to start with the camera just so you’re setting the mood and rules of the game clearly. Once the characters are well-established, it’s likely that the calls will start to lean into this component, although strive not to leave any facet unfeatured for too long. While all positions can serve the story in multiple ways, balance advancing and extending needs by endeavoring to pitch the focus accordingly. Lastly, although shivving often infuses most called games, you’ll get much more gripping stories if you primarily function as an ally and dramaturgical “first listener” actively asking yourself “what would best help their story now?”

Caller: “Camera…”

In Performance

I’ve also played this format without the caller which necessitates more organic and generous give and take between the players. I prefer the game as described, however, as it generally benefits from a kind outside eye serving as the screenplay’s editor (or hands-on producer, perhaps!)

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Zoomprov

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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