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#1 Richard Boddington

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 08:14 PM

Hi,

I'll be directing and DPing my first feature in October. Casting starts next month.

For those that have produced and directed features, what has been the typical procedure for rehearsing scenes with actors prior to starting shooting?

Have you spent two three weeks in a rehearsal room going over scenes?

Do you expect the actors to show up on set with lines learned and then do a few dry run throughs before you shoot a few takes?

A combination of the two?

I'll be working with two principles, neither of whom are "mega stars" so I'm curious how much I should rehearse them?

Too much I assume will ruin the natural feel of the scenes? Spielberg talks in his making of interviews about trying not to do too many takes or the actors become too familair with the scene and the natural feel gets lost.

Thoughts?

Thanks
R,

PS: I will be shooting 35mm, so 20 takes of each scene is not an option.
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#2 jijhh

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 08:39 PM

you've got a hell of a job in front of you to be DPing and directing at the same time on a feature, especially one shot on 35mm. if i were you i'd really put some thought into doing that. not that it's not possible, but turning out quality cinematography and quality directing at the same time (especially on a feature) seems almost unfeasible to me.

as for rehersal, generally as much as possible is best best. i sort of understand spielberg's method but don't sacrifice an actor's understanding/your satisfaction with part of the script because you feel it will be less natural on set. rehersal allows you to see what you like/don't like and to make last minute edits, familiarize your actors with the characters/scenes, and organize blocking among other on set tasks. it will save you a ton of time on set, and saving time = saving money. obviously you don't want to overwork the script, but generally what i've learned in my experience is the more preproduction, the smoother the production.
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#3 Michael Collier

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 09:27 PM

I try and make sure they will know their lines. You dont have to babysit them the whole time (unless they are completely unproffessional)

Before the shoot I find its important that they understand their character, not so much memorize lines. have discussions on the abstract of the charecters. The more you talk about their drive and backstory (make a backstory up for them, since you know the story better then them in their first week of prep)

Once the shoot starts I make it known that you must have lines memorized (to a decent degree) but most important is to talk to the actors about the MEANING of the scene. if they are just working for natural inflection on their lines, they are hitting about 10% of what acting is.

As for speileberg, while he isnt my favorite director, I have seen what he means on set. In my experience the first take is a bit shakey. take two and four are good. 3 is a repeat of 2 and everything after four is the same as take 3. (this is in general, but the point is actors loose the ability to keep things fresh after a while. try saying beekeeping 50 times fast, then see if you can say and have it feel normal. they get into a loop and cannot get out. also in emotional scenes, they may be spent)

Very emotional scenes its best to start at 1/4 emotion and work up from there.
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#4 rbg

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 10:10 PM

Hi,

I'll be directing and DPing my first feature in October. Casting starts next month.

For those that have produced and directed features, what has been the typical procedure for rehearsing scenes with actors prior to starting shooting?

Have you spent two three weeks in a rehearsal room going over scenes?

Do you expect the actors to show up on set with lines learned and then do a few dry run throughs before you shoot a few takes?

A combination of the two?

I'll be working with two principles, neither of whom are "mega stars" so I'm curious how much I should rehearse them?

Too much I assume will ruin the natural feel of the scenes? Spielberg talks in his making of interviews about trying not to do too many takes or the actors become too familair with the scene and the natural feel gets lost.

Thoughts?

Thanks
R,

PS: I will be shooting 35mm, so 20 takes of each scene is not an option.



I'm assuming you have auditioned these actors and liked what they did enough to cast them, so really... it is all about working from there. Every actor works differently, but as some others mentioned, the words are important, but the meaning is more important. If they actually know what they're saying and trying to get from the other actor, they should be active, real, and dynamic, or at least as much as the story will allow them. How long it takes to get to this point depends on the actor. Don't beat it to death with the specific dialogue and let them improv the scenes in their own words during the rehearsal. This will tell you where they're at in understanding what the heck is really going on in the scenes. A trick I've used before with good to great results on set when actors are stuck in a "loop" or stuck delivering the words in the same way over and over, ie..... not in the moment, is to have them deliver the scene in their own words as close to the actual words in the script as possible. I have them do it a few times until they're back at the meaning and what they're trying to get, then I have them do it again right before we roll camera, then roll camera/sound, and have them deliver the scripted words immediately. I've gotten some great results that way, really real, dynamic...

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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 11:46 PM

Thanks guys for the replies, please keep them coming.

As for:

"not that it's not possible, but turning out quality cinematography and quality directing at the same time (especially on a feature) seems almost unfeasible to me. "

Yes that may be an issue, but, director/DOP is how I've always done things. I don't know any other way. There are quite a few director/DOP combos in Hollywood, who do both jobs on their shoots.

Besides it's my camera and I don't want any one else touching it :)

R,
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#6 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 03:55 AM

Your job is to get a preformance out of your actors. Your not there to be loved or hated. Your ther to do your job. As was mentioned earlier, every actor works differently. Some people will get it on the first take and get progressivly worst the more takes you shoot and some don't even get rolling until the 5th take. Bogdanovich told me on "The Last Picture Show" he had to literally give Cybill Shepherd a reading for every line. She was a model and hadn't learned to act yet.

Brando never knew his lines. He felt knowing the lines interfered with his spontinaity. In the famous scene in the cab with Rod Steiger from "On the Water Front" the reason Brando keeps looking away from Steiger towards the front of the cab is because his line were taped to the visor. In another movie, I can't remember which one, He had an earwig mic so an assistant could feed him lines. It wasn't lazyiness, it was the way he worked.

When Jackie Coogan was doing "The Champ" King Vidor, in order to get him to cry conviningly when the champ dies told Jackie his dog had been run over by a car. Kubrick treated Shelly Duvall deplorably on the set of "The Shining" in order to get the preformance out of her he needed for the film.

You may want to remind them , if they're stage actors and not familliar with film technique, that less is more on film. be aware of where the camera is the camera but don't ever let anyone know your aware of where it is and being late or unprepared cost a hell of a lot more money than being late or unprepared on stage also that once it's on film they can't ever make that preformance better so they better be ready once the camera starts rolling.

Another thing you want to do is make them comfortable about showing their most intimate, hidden selfs. Let them know from your actions that your there to protect them, guide them though the process of finding their charicture and they can trust you. You also need to let them know you trust them and you want them in this role and you whant them to be good in it. Set high standards and expect them to achieve those standards.

And always remember that famous quote " Have patience with the petulence of actors for their moment is but their moment upon the stage. "I'm sure I'm paraphrasing but you get the idea.
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#7 Matt Pacini

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 05:16 PM

I would suggest at least one rehearsal before the shooting even gets started.
This removes all the distractions of the crew, etc.
It's better to have all the discussions about character arcs, etc., while you're not paying a crew to stand around and watch all that.
Also, I find that a useful time to figure out who tends to get things in the first few takes, and who takes longer to "warm up".
This is extremely valuable, because that way, you'll remember to shoot the quick starters first, so the slow starters can get up to speed off camera.
I've done the opposite, and you just burn loads of film, doing take, after take, after take of this person basically rehearsing on-camera.

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#8 Sean Azze

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 12:18 AM

you've got a hell of a job in front of you to be DPing and directing at the same time on a feature, especially one shot on 35mm. if i were you i'd really put some thought into doing that. not that it's not possible, but turning out quality cinematography and quality directing at the same time (especially on a feature) seems almost unfeasible to me.


Yeah, with all due respect I have to say thats a pretty inaccurate comment. First example that pops in my head is Doug Liman doing a directing/dp job on Swingers. Shot on 35, the thing was made for around 200 g's. Looks great, and they did half the movie guerilla style. I read some trivia where a dialouge scene shot on the side of a highway was done with no permit and with cops hassling the producers for one. This guy Liman managed to pull the thing off technically while still being able to direct the actors. You got that thing, man.

On dealing with actors, I'd say the best thing to do is feel all your actors out. Accomodate them as best you can. Rehearse with the ones who like to rehearse. Others have their own quirky methods that work for them. Some like to provide their characters backstory themselves. Even if you wrote the script, you shouldn't feel threatened by this. Its their way of contributing something creatively. After all, this is a collaborative art, and it is a way for the actor to provide some input if your anal about them ad libbing lines!

Edited by sean126, 20 April 2006 - 12:21 AM.

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#9 jijhh

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 12:53 AM

I guess after reading posts and looking into it more, I retract the degree to which I was opposed to the idea, but I still think that the average DP/director would be more effective choosing one of the two roles.

However, it sounds like you've got the experience and for all I know you're a film genius, so best of luck on the shoot Richard.
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#10 Mark Allen

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 01:16 AM

First off - accept that all actors are different and want and need different things... but... somet thoughts:

You do want to rehearse your actors - if nothing else you need some time to understand how they work, what they respond to. Don't worry about missing the prime performance. It never happens on the first rehearsal. On the first take, maybe. Generally the rehearsals are to make sure the actors are all on the same page. They're all in the same movie.

If you don't rehearse you run the risk of an actor surprising you on the set having a totally different idea of what you thought the scene would be.

Don't make the very common director mistake of talking too much. They won't hear it. Speak simply. Focus on things that are tangible for them and are very present to this moment. Your job is the whole movie, their job is living the moment. Don't try to explain everything about the movie - just deal with this moment.

Actors mostly just want to know: where they are coming from prior to being here, where they are headed, what they want in this very moment (i.e. why they are in this scene)

Here's somethigs you can say to an actor:

"You just spent 5 hours working in a field, it's 110 degrees outside, you're hot, sweaty, coming inside for a glass of water. You get inside and your wife is playing bridge with her friends. You want to strangle her, but you don't want to scare her friends. Oscillate between that hatred and trying to cover it up."

That's just a moment - and that's about as complex as you want to get until they ask a question or you see what they're doing. By the way - oscillation is something actors can do - and directors rarely ask for. It works, it's very live.

Notice that that quote did NOT go into a big diatribe about marriage or their marriage or her friends or anything extra - stick to the basics.

Something not to say: "You walk in and you're looking very intensely at your wife and then you try to cover it up." Why? Because "intensely" doesn't mean anything but a phoney expression. Tell your actors what they WANT - but never tell them their expression.

unless.... it's the third take and you just gotta move on.


Another thing - be open to how actors read lines. If you try to make everything exactly as you hear it in your head. Sometimes the actor's way is just as good - just not what you'd imagined. As long as it sounds like a reaction and there is intention (vs. intensity, very different) behind the statement - it will work.

When you're rehearsing... your goal is to make sure the actors are in the realm... break down what is going on in the scenes - what the characters want from eachother, share those beats and work the scene.

That's a starter at least.

(Just FYI, I wasn't a film major, I was a theater major and began by directing theater and I still host improvisation workshops and coach professional actors for studio auditions when they come up...)
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#11 Bob Hayes

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 01:25 AM

I would highly advise you not to be your own DOP. If you want to be a successful director, hire yourself the best DOP you can. I don?t know what your background is maybe its commercials or rock videos but dramatic feature work is a different beast. You really need to focus your energy on the cast to get good work. They need to feel like they are the center of the world because they are. The time that the DOP is lighting a set is the only time you have to do that. As far as the directors who DP there are only a few. Rodriguez, Soderbergh, and Hyams are names that come to mind.

I?ve directed two feature films, shot over 300 hours of dramatic television, and over 20 features and I still feel I would be pretty split doing both jobs. Though I must say I am tempted.
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#12 Mitch Lusas

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 02:04 AM

Mark Douglas, awesome reply. It's good to hear that there are some theatre majors in the cinematography industry.

Oscillate is a great word to use, as a director/actor I've never used it or thought it. Thanks for the tip. However, with your direction to "oscillate between that hatred and trying to cover it up", is 'hatrd' not another hard-to-play emotion?

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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 03:21 PM

Thanks Mark.

As for Bob1dp's: "I would highly advise you not to be your own DOP. If you want to be a successful director, hire yourself the best DOP you can."

I can understand what you're saying but there are zero dollars for a DOP. So if you want to come and shoot this film for free I'll be glad to welcome you aboard :)

Basically I have two choices, be my own DP and have a film, which I feel is better than zero film. Or wait and wait and wait until I have additional funding for a DP. Basically I've been waiting for 15 years and I'm so sick of waiting, that I'm just going to shoot and let the chips fall where they may. It's only money, I can always make more later, what I can't make is more time. No one can do that.

Once my casting is done, I've decided that I will do several rehearsals for the dialogue heavy scenes. And leave out rehersing the scenes that require more of a "reaction."

I've already accepted that this project is a Kamikaze mission, I'll learn from this one, and then do better on the next.

R,
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#14 Jason Debus

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 03:45 PM

Kudos on trying to do both DP & directing jobs Richard. I think those directors that can do both have the potential to put together a more coherent & complex vision, for example someone like Kubrick. (He had DPs but Kubrick is behind the cinematography from what I understand).

For whatever it's worth, Krzysztof Kieslowski rehearsed his actors until he had the scenes perfect before he shot the Three Colors trilogy. He had limited funds and could only afford two takes per scene.

Good Luck!
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#15 Tom Bays

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 03:55 PM

Rehearse the shot...Light the shot...rehearse the shot again...shoot the shot.
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#16 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 04:12 PM

Maybe one thing I neglected to point out to those that oppose the idea of my director/DP combo, is that my film is entirely ONE location & with only two actors. There are a few other minor actors that come in for a day here and there, but that's it. My crew is eight people, two of them are the sound guys.

If I was undertaking a huge shoot with a cast and crew of 100 and 30 different locations I think it would be different.

Since my film is entirely one location indoors, I have eliminated delays due to weather and losing the sun. Also the floors of this location are all smooth concrete so laying dolly track will literally take minutes. In fact I have a camera dolly with big air filled wheels that doesn't even need track, glides just fine on the smooth flooring. And I'm using light weight lights, not the giant beasts you normally see on sets. This is a suspense thriller so low key darkish lighting is what I want.

Essentially the cast and crew show up each day "at the office" we shoot for 10-12 hours M-F and then go home. There's no need to work longer because we need to get all of our shots from a particular location. On my film the location looks the same from one day to the next, so there's nothing we can't do the next day.

As for two takes per scene, I'm not going that low :) But this idea that you can't shoot unless you can afford 10 takes per scene I think is silly. When I was doing stop motion animation I learned how to do things in ONE take, the reason of course is that a second "take" would mean hours more work. Now of course I don't expect that from human actors, but I've shot a lot of stuff with the one take and move on technique.

Actually in my experience when it comes to the lower budget indie scene I know tons of guys who shoot and direct their own stuff. It's pretty common at that level.

However regardless of my planning this is still a Kamikaze mission :)

R,
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#17 Mark Allen

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 04:23 PM

Mark Douglas, awesome reply. It's good to hear that there are some theatre majors in the cinematography industry.

Oscillate is a great word to use, as a director/actor I've never used it or thought it. Thanks for the tip. However, with your direction to "oscillate between that hatred and trying to cover it up", is 'hatrd' not another hard-to-play emotion?


I'm not really in the cinematography industry, I'm here to suck information from the pros. :)

Well, as an actor, you probably know from doing transition exercises that usually the moment of transition is the most powerful moment in a performance. It's the moment when spielberg likes to put the music swell and the dolly-in. I've found you can use these moment of transitions pretty much whenever you want and can.

You never "play" oscillation - you play the emotions on either side. Is "hatred" hard to play? Well, I was using that as short hand, in theory - during the rehearsals the body of "hatred" has been established and so on set you say "play the hatred" and it is defined (which is another reasonf for rehearsing). But, yes, "hatred" would need to be much more specific for most actors.

The theory is that you aren't watching the actor on camera oscillating for 20 seconds, you're just catching the moment.

"hesitation" is actually an oscillation. You see a candybar and you want to eat it. But you're trying to lose weight. You are oscillating between the desire for the candybar and overwhelming insecurity and self-hate - but that makes you want the candy bar even more - so you reach - and then you hate yourself for reaching because you're so weak and miserable, so you take your hand away... but, damn it, YOU'RE in control of your life and you really WANT that chocolate bar - and so on and so on...

So oscillation + escallation. It's a great trick to make actors come to life on screen.
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#18 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 03:23 AM

I'm sorta surprised you would say "play the emotion". As an actor heavily infulenced by Strassburg, Misner and Hagen, I find it impossible to "play the emotion". What happens is one plays AT the emotion instead of believing what one is doing in a scene. You must play the reality of the scene not the emotional respone you want to achieve and as a side note this is death to a performace if a director tries to tell an actor what they "should be feeling", it kills spontinaity and the subtle coloring from his own personlity that an actor bring to a preformance. This should never be done unless an actor is just completely off the mark, and even then an actor should be guided to where he needs to be not dragged there by a dictorial director.

The only time it is acceptable to give an actor an emotional quaity to play, by say, giving them a line reading, is when they are completely lost or specifically ask for one and even then it's dangerous to do, because then they end up doing an impression of you and not creating a reality for themselves. The other bad result of this is , and I've learned this though expirence, is that they may take a characture in a different direction , a much BETTER direction, that you had thought of as the direction that charature SHOULD go. If you force them to do the scene your way because you feel that' the way it has to be done, you will loose what may be the inspired preformance you could not imagine. That's why it's increadible important to allow actors, especially Good actors, as much freedom as you can.

There is an old very famillure term from the method scholl of acting called "living in the moment" that reffers to emmersing yourself in the reality of the scene from moment to moment, honestly listening to the other actors and reacting naturally as the characture would. If you do this truthfully the emotions will come naturally without being pushed or staged. I would suggest you read Method or Madness by Sandford Misener, An Actor Prepares by Stanaslovski and Respect for Acting by Uta Hager if you haven't already.

The type of "Play the Emotion" acting your suggesting will in hands different than your own, be most likely miss-inturpreted and result in a very "acted" preformance, even though this technique may well work for you and it does that's great but I would not suggest using it as a director's tool unless your very sure about the effect it will have on your actors. The most difficult thing to do as a director is to get an actor to "unlearn" something once they've incorperated it into their reading. I would suggest keeping them off balence by having them read it a few different ways to explore the emotion range of the charature at that moment so the scene doesn't become stale and dry which is what happens when actors play the emotion.

I would agree with you that a strong "Objective ( what the characture wants)" and "Obstical (what's stopping them from getting it)" combined witth "Shading (the variuos other factors effecting the characture at that moment)" are the keys to fining the charature, but once found, that becomes a given andd then the exploration to find the truth of the charature begins. One they find that truth then the charature begins to life. As a director your going to want to see the full range of what can be brought to that charature and use what works best for the over all peice at that moment and in order to do that that you have to allow the actors to try things. Acting is viseral, not intellectual. You cannot DECIDE to feel something, you are put into a situation and emotion simply HAPPENS, whether it be bordom from sitting around with nothing to do or anger at being critized about a post on directing. the situation creates the emotion, not the other way. around.
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#19 Hal Smith

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 08:12 AM

I'm sorta surprised you would say "play the emotion". As an actor heavily infulenced by Strassburg, Misner and Hagen, I find it impossible to "play the emotion". What happens is one plays AT the emotion instead of believing what one is doing in a scene. You must play the reality of the scene not the emotional respone you want to achieve and as a side note this is death to a performace if a director tries to tell an actor what they "should be feeling", it kills spontinaity and the subtle coloring from his own personlity that an actor bring to a preformance. This should never be done unless an actor is just completely off the mark, and even then an actor should be guided to where he needs to be not dragged there by a dictorial director.


Whence the absolute importance of good casting. It's possible to cast against type, etc. but the performance you want has to be in your actor to start with. A great example of against acting against type, and a lot of fun, is the job Sigourney Weaver did in "Galaxy Quest". The queen of "Aliens" returned as a blonde bombshell - in a tongue in cheek Sci Fi flick - absolutely inspired casting. Sigourney has been quoted as saying she found the character when she put the wig on - she took one look at herself in a mirror and knew who she was. :)
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#20 Sean Azze

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 11:12 AM

"hesitation" is actually an oscillation. You see a candybar and you want to eat it. But you're trying to lose weight. You are oscillating between the desire for the candybar and overwhelming insecurity and self-hate - but that makes you want the candy bar even more - so you reach - and then you hate yourself for reaching because you're so weak and miserable, so you take your hand away... but, damn it, YOU'RE in control of your life and you really WANT that chocolate bar - and so on and so on...

So oscillation + escallation. It's a great trick to make actors come to life on screen.


Somebody get this guy a trophy. Thanks for dropping some gems, Mr. Douglas. I think I might be learning more about acting from this topic than even Mr. Boddington. :lol:
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