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On Directing Actors


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#1 Ger Leonard

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 08:37 AM

i have some difficulty with the idea that "all acting comes from wanting something. It's what you want that makes you do something, not what you think" (sydney pollack), which seems to be the accepted doctrine. (although there are others)

Think about that for a moment....is that true?

To my mind what is essential in cinema acting is what the actor is thinking (even if it is almost nothing). If a want is too clearly defined the actor can lose spontaneity. In the scenes of our lives we often do not know exactly what we want, and our actions are often in conflict with them even when we think we do.

Its this tension,this friction, this anxiety ("the one emotion that cannot be faked") that is truthful and truly in the moment.

Personally i like to use images and associations, to trigger thoughts and feelings.

For example a couple are having an argument

The director tells the man that he WANTS to leave, BUT he doesn't want her to cry (OBSTACLE).. run the scene. OK ..

Now add IMAGES, (thoughts)

1) the first night you made love, a small detail.. how she cried after and started to hiccup?.. how vulnerable and beautiful she looked = look at her now , look at you now. Her tears were/are lies, you were a fool, she wont fool you again !! Let her cry after you leave not before. She seemed so beautiful then, you can't look at her anymore.

2) the darkness outside, the open road, oblivion, the door slamming on the past = its too bright in here, overhead lights, too warm, clammy, ugly, naked, confined.

OK perhaps this is overdoing it (knowing when to say nothing is important too) but what i'm attempting here is to trigger the actors imagination, their sensory life... thoughts and feelings, their inner world so the do something unexpected, unconscious.. alive.

Could this overwhelm the actor? Well perhaps this scene is overwhelming?

Backstory, what just happened etc can also help.

BUT what you THINK does dictate how you act, how you do something, doesn't it ?

I like to ask the actor questions to stir his imagination and guide him to these images/senses ensure his WANTS are not too clean, to sure of themselves. (when necessary)

I hope this sparks some debate, as its through conflict and discussion that we can better refine our thoughts and actions.

Cheers
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 09:11 AM

I think what Sidney Pollack is getting at is that in a story each character has a need which they have to address. Thinking without a need is basically a passive activity, for a character to work well they need to overcome something, even if they're only thinking, this need (even if unconsciously) must be driving their thoughts.

You can feed the actors information on where their character is in addressing this need. However, the character may not be that aware of their true deep need, so you will find characters acting in a complex manner as they make their journey (that much over used term on TV reality shows).

What works in achieving a performance will vary from actor to actor and the nature of the role they're playing. Casting is important, because each actor will bring something different.
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#3 Ger Leonard

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 10:54 AM

I think what Sidney Pollack is getting at is that in a story each character has a need which they have to address. Thinking without a need is basically a passive activity, for a character to work well they need to overcome something, even if they're only thinking, this need (even if unconsciously) must be driving their thoughts.

You can feed the actors information on where their character is in addressing this need. However, the character may not be that aware of their true deep need, so you will find characters acting in a complex manner as they make their journey (that much over used term on TV reality shows).

What works in achieving a performance will vary from actor to actor and the nature of the role they're playing. Casting is important, because each actor will bring something different.


I understand your point, but i think its more important that the director knows and understands the characters wants and needs than the actor. By communicating directly to the actor the specific need the character has to address or what they want in a specific scene, the risk is that this will be foregrounded, and played toward overtly.

For the actor to be in the moment can sometimes be a slight misnomer in that often a person is projecting themselves elsewhere in order to avoid the present situation. Of course this is in reality being true to the moment in that it is this moment that their past memories or pathologies causes them to recoil from, their thoughts go elsewhere, they dislocate. Translated into a want you could say "you want to be somewhere else, somewhere quiet and safe". Their thoughts are engaged by the IMAGE of this other place, and their frustration with being in this place and their actions stem from this dislocation.

Is it important that an actor understand why their character is doing something? For some actors maybe, but not intellectually...he has to do it intuitively, as a response to his imaginary circumstance.

Its said that an actor should be given a clear direction of their want from a scene, changing the want or action verb when the "beat" changes. The risk again is that the actor who say switches from " to threaten", to " to console", to "to amuse" within a scene may do exactly as directed BUT if the actor is conscious of trying to fulfill these wants prior to playing the scene this is not natural behaviour/thinking.. unless the character is a sociopath. Also if the actor is thinking only of these directions and follows them the danger is that as Robert Bresson warns "Words do not always coincide with thought. Earlier, later. The aping of this non- coincidence in films is dreadful."

I accept these techniques are useful shorthands and much better than "result direction", but used without engaging the imagination/images/senses they can fall short.

Whatever works works...and in casting hopefully you will have found the key to each actor.


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#4 Jamie Lewis

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 11:20 AM

Each scene needs direction. What happened earlier in the time line of a film is supposed to affect what happens in the later time line. Supposed earlier in the film a boy likes a girl and later on he hates her. Now they are shooting the later part of the film first. What can the boy call upon in terms of what he's supposed to "feel" if he watched the girl enter the room? How does he know how to react to her without it being explicitly told (directed) to him?

Spontaneity works to some degree but going into a scene blindly rarely ever works. That's why improv movies always have a general premise and direction.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 11:38 AM

There are no rules and every actor needs a different type of direction at times, some more intellectual than others. You can't just use one technique for all actors.

I think Pollack is speaking both as a screenwriter and as a director when he talks about the importance of character goals & desires in a narrative. It's mainly a question of narrative flow, that traditional cinema is generally active, not passive, peopled by characters either being persued or persuing something. Not a right or wrong thing, just a quality of most cinema, and particularly Pollack's movies.

Often his movies have two characters in conflict because they have fundamentally different goals, but he has them fall in love, and then out of love (as he said, happy characters are boring, so his goal is to get them to fall in love and then fall out of love, but cut down the middle part where they are happily in love...)

I find it's important in moviemaking to simplify everything down to basics. Too many ideas, too much intellectualization, and the delivery is muddled and confusing. Same goes for lighting or art drection -- simpler bolder brushstrokes works better most of the time. I'm talking about traditional narrative, not art cinema though.
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#6 Paul Bruening

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 02:13 PM

Directing is the second hardest thing I have ever done. At the no/low budg level, the talent isn't worth a damn and you have to coach them on every take. It's maddening. But even with good talent, you have to be in a weird state of mind where you're on an edge, experiencing the performance as you hope the viewer will and at the same time running a checklist of about two dozen criteria that each take has to pass. While the take is in play, my mind is stretched to beyond it's limit.

Acting is the first hardest thing I have ever done. You're stretched as far as the director but you can't show that. It's one of those experiential ironies that sits in your lap like an over-exuberant dog. You really don't find your magic zone until about the second week into the shoot when you're so tired and bored that you no longer even give a poop. THAT'S when your performance becomes both spontaneous and natural. Your retakes drop from 8 to 1 or even, the occasional none.
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#7 Ger Leonard

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 05:03 PM

There are no rules and every actor needs a different type of direction at times, some more intellectual than others. You can't just use one technique for all actors.

I think Pollack is speaking both as a screenwriter and as a director when he talks about the importance of character goals & desires in a narrative. It's mainly a question of narrative flow, that traditional cinema is generally active, not passive, peopled by characters either being persued or persuing something. Not a right or wrong thing, just a quality of most cinema, and particularly Pollack's movies.

Often his movies have two characters in conflict because they have fundamentally different goals, but he has them fall in love, and then out of love (as he said, happy characters are boring, so his goal is to get them to fall in love and then fall out of love, but cut down the middle part where they are happily in love...)

I find it's important in moviemaking to simplify everything down to basics. Too many ideas, too much intellectualization, and the delivery is muddled and confusing. Same goes for lighting or art drection -- simpler bolder brushstrokes works better most of the time. I'm talking about traditional narrative, not art cinema though.


As always you are correct in your analysis .. "i'm talking about traditional narrative, not art cinema though."

I dislike the term art cinema but understand why this is the term used. Cinema is classified as entertainment, the entertainment industry... yet good music, literature, theatre, art is rarely consigned to the "entertainment industry". Surely film is about communication, an element of which is entertainment. Would a person like to be defined as "entertaining", as if that were your sole purpose? Imagine if all other art forms accepted so readily that there main purpose were entertainment...

Every time i've read your posts david i've been hugely impressed with their clarity of thought and openness of spirit. Your analysis of Pollack's film is entirely accurate. (and i do like some of his films)

The film i'm currently working on is "art" cinema, in that it is something that i want to communicate/explore and film is medium through which this feeling/these senses can be transmitted.

Can i express it in a few words? No.

Are my feelings about the characters ambiguous? yes

Yet i agree that its important to simplify things down to basics.

I believe in a minimalist simplified elegant "style" , which while directing actors i want to also hold onto whilst allowing the action/life to exist outside the frame/film.
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 05:52 PM

My attitude tends to be "whatever gets you there". Acting, directing, cinematography, whatever. If you are inspired in your cinematography by a poem or a pop song, whatever, it doesn't really matter if it gets you where you need to go. If you have to tell an actor to play the scene as if they need to go take a piss but can't (as Marlon Brando was directed by Kazan for a scene in "On The Waterfront") versus a more intellectual discussion, well, if it works, why not?

Ultimately the real issue is whether it can be captured by the camera.

I've worked with actors who want and need complex discussions of character and motivation, and others who just want to know whether you need them to stand up or sit down for the camera -- they just want technical direction, they can provide the internal motivation for it.

Speaking of the larger world, I was impressed with Bill Paxton during this small office scene in "Big Love" -- his character just had to walk into his office and get some news from his assistant, but Bill checked to see if he was arriving from home, or if he had been at work for a few hours, and if so, what he had just been doing and where he was going next. There was a line in an earlier scene about a meeting with Sherman Williams (he runs a hardware store) so Bill decided he should be walking in with some paint chips and brochures for the meeting, which was smart and gave the simple scene a realistic grounding, suggesting the world and time outside the scene itself.
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#9 Ger Leonard

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 07:39 PM

yeah i'd heard somewhere about that kazan - brando direction...dunno if true but print the legend !

As with everything its good to know the theories but in practice whatever gets you there gets you there.
Its only whats captured on film that counts. Ultimately the actor owns the character, but the director owns the cut/take (hopefully)...

Pedro Almodovar says that he doesn't do much coverage in the classical sense but with each take he points the scene in a different direction, allowing him to try out things and choose later.

I like this idea: limited coverage yet options within the frame.

Its surprising how many directors will own up to result direction in practice on set eg. saying "faster" etc.. but experienced actors often automatically will translate these directions into terminology that works for them. eg "sooner", "i want this to be over".

I think its important to be intrigued both by the character and by the actor charged with being that character.
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#10 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 06:54 AM

You know sometimes the best way to direct is to not direct at all. If you've cast the right people for the role, often times it's best to just let them do their jobs and only direct them if they're having problems or what they're doing is so far off the mark that it interferes with the basic structure f the plot. Most times though a good actor in the right role, if left along, will find things in their characters that you never even dreamed of. You really need to strike a balance between knowing when someone needs help finding their way and when you should back off and let them inhabit the character. There is no one way to find the character particularly in film because an actor's performance is never a continuous stream of interaction as it is in a play due to the technical demands of making a motion picture AND because it is a visual medium where the illusion of emotion can be manufactured and artificially synthesized but the one thing you should always be open to as a director is the question of whether their interpretation of the character at any given moment is better than your original vision of what the character should be and does that interpretation serve the piece better?
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#11 Ger Leonard

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 08:18 AM

I have a specific question explained below: How to encourage VULNERABILITY in a performance?

Casting is crucial but on low budgets especially its hard to find exactly what you are looking for. I long had in mind an actor who i'd long admired and followed his career , who i felt and still do is perfect for a particular part. His career has taken off, and he is in demand, and is unavailable. So long ago i had to move on.

I went through exhaustive casting sessions and found an actor (theatre exp, no film), who is extraordinary. He took direction, he was alive in the moment, real. He simply blow everyone else away. He was in a totally different league. Yet his take on the character and indeed his look is quite different to what i had in mind, the aforementioned "perfect" actor.

This "perfect" actor has just been in the lead in a major television series, and again i was struck by his mesmerizing performance.
I find it hard to shake him from the role in my mind. His image lingers. He fits so completely.

The key thing this actor has is vulnerability, it is impossible not to feel for him. He is so sympathetic, so pure, so fragile, so enigmatic.

My question here is how to make this wonderfully talented actor i have cast more vulnerable on screen. As i said before he is a extraordinarily real actor, every gesture seems intuitive, in the moment.. yet its that vulnerability that seems lacking (in comparison to this other actor.. very few actors, if any could stand the comparison).

I want to avoid result direction "show more vulnerability", of course, and perhaps as it will be his first major film role, he will feel vulnerable! But obviously my aim will be to put him at ease so he can find the character within himself.

Possible directions to encourage VULNERABILITY?

IMAGES and BACKSTORY: remember your childhood, to a time when you were all alone and frightened, you had pissed in your bed, and your drunken father was shouting at your mother next door.
AS IF you have pissed in your trousers.
AS IF you are naked
AS IF you have explosives tied to you, which could go off at any moment, but you cannot tell, YOU NEED to make a connection with someone before you die.
AS IF there is a jury watching you, judging you.
YOU WANT someone to hold you, but you know you bruise easily on physical contact.
YOU CAN make eye contact but don't hold it, it hurts too much, you will fall.

As said in previous post: the actor owns the character, the director owns the take/cut..

I know its difficult not knowing the script nor the character but anyone any further suggestions?
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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 04:02 PM

I have a specific question explained below: How to encourage VULNERABILITY in a performance?

Casting is crucial but on low budgets especially its hard to find exactly what you are looking for. I long had in mind an actor who i'd long admired and followed his career , who i felt and still do is perfect for a particular part. His career has taken off, and he is in demand, and is unavailable. So long ago i had to move on.

I went through exhaustive casting sessions and found an actor (theatre exp, no film), who is extraordinary. He took direction, he was alive in the moment, real. He simply blow everyone else away. He was in a totally different league. Yet his take on the character and indeed his look is quite different to what i had in mind, the aforementioned "perfect" actor.

This "perfect" actor has just been in the lead in a major television series, and again i was struck by his mesmerizing performance.
I find it hard to shake him from the role in my mind. His image lingers. He fits so completely.

The key thing this actor has is vulnerability, it is impossible not to feel for him. He is so sympathetic, so pure, so fragile, so enigmatic.


I think you always have to work with what you have in front of you. If you keep thinking of how you'd prefer another actor you're not going to allow the person you've cast in reality to create their best performance. You have to use the method of direction that works with the actor you've cast. Often they have their own tools to regenerate emotions within themselves. You have to use guidance that works for each of your actors and the director will have work this out through conversation ideally before or on the day of the shoot.

Getting an actor to try and give a performance another actor's style usually reads as false. Perhaps you should attempt to cast the perfect actor, it's not that unusual for well known actors to work on shorts for union minimum rates (which are surprising low) if they like the script.
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#13 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 08:00 PM

I

Possible directions to encourage VULNERABILITY?

IMAGES and BACKSTORY: remember your childhood, to a time when you were all alone and frightened, you had pissed in your bed, and your drunken father was shouting at your mother next door.
AS IF you have pissed in your trousers.
AS IF you are naked
AS IF you have explosives tied to you, which could go off at any moment, but you cannot tell, YOU NEED to make a connection with someone before you die.
AS IF there is a jury watching you, judging you.
YOU WANT someone to hold you, but you know you bruise easily on physical contact.
YOU CAN make eye contact but don't hold it, it hurts too much, you will fall.


You know, dude, why are you asking us if this will work? We're not directing your actor, you are. Have you sat down with him in rehearsal and discussed these ideas? Have you asked him what his take on the character is, why in the sections where you feel he is lacking in "VULNERABILITY" what his character is feeling and why the character is doing the things he does. Have you discussed his motivations, his wants and the things that are stopping him from getting what he wants? Have you discussed the fears and insecurities this character has which would lead to a feeling of being insecure and vulnerable and seen if he agrees with your assessment of the character OR have, as I suspect, you simply decided this character SHOULD be feeling this way and are trying to find some way to force him to feel that whether it's inside him or not?

Sense memory exercises don't always work for all actors or even a single actor all the time. You stated that " the actor owns the character" but you don't allow him to " own the character" because you insist that he do it your way instead of helping him to find a version of the character that will work within the context of your vision so those are just words. It sounds to me like you're trying to turn this guy into the other guy you originally wanted instead of allowing for the unique qualities this guy brings to the role. What you're gonna end up doing is badgering this guy into playing the role the way you have it set in concrete in your mind until the performance is a watered down, pale imitation of what you think the original choice for actor MIGHT have done rather than using his talent to it's fullest and ending up with a unique and fully realized character. The reason Hamlet is still being staged after 400 years is that no two actors that create the role ever do it exactly the same way. Laurence Olivier's portrayal of the melancholy Dane is miles from Kenneth Branagh's, yet is either one invalid?

A good director works WITH his cast and crew, a GREAT director makes the absolute best out of what he has to work with. Stop trying to ram your version of this character down this guy's throat or if you can't let go of that that, give the guy a break and re-cast the role 'cause you're never gonna be satisfied with his performance and you won't waste his time and drive him crazy forcing him to try and please you rather than doing his job which is to inhabit this character.
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#14 Ger Leonard

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 11:21 AM

You know, dude, why are you asking us if this will work? We're not directing your actor, you are. Have you sat down with him in rehearsal and discussed these ideas? Have you asked him what his take on the character is, why in the sections where you feel he is lacking in "VULNERABILITY" what his character is feeling and why the character is doing the things he does. Have you discussed his motivations, his wants and the things that are stopping him from getting what he wants? Have you discussed the fears and insecurities this character has which would lead to a feeling of being insecure and vulnerable and seen if he agrees with your assessment of the character OR have, as I suspect, you simply decided this character SHOULD be feeling this way and are trying to find some way to force him to feel that whether it's inside him or not?

Sense memory exercises don't always work for all actors or even a single actor all the time. You stated that " the actor owns the character" but you don't allow him to " own the character" because you insist that he do it your way instead of helping him to find a version of the character that will work within the context of your vision so those are just words. It sounds to me like you're trying to turn this guy into the other guy you originally wanted instead of allowing for the unique qualities this guy brings to the role. What you're gonna end up doing is badgering this guy into playing the role the way you have it set in concrete in your mind until the performance is a watered down, pale imitation of what you think the original choice for actor MIGHT have done rather than using his talent to it's fullest and ending up with a unique and fully realized character. The reason Hamlet is still being staged after 400 years is that no two actors that create the role ever do it exactly the same way. Laurence Olivier's portrayal of the melancholy Dane is miles from Kenneth Branagh's, yet is either one invalid?

A good director works WITH his cast and crew, a GREAT director makes the absolute best out of what he has to work with. Stop trying to ram your version of this character down this guy's throat or if you can't let go of that that, give the guy a break and re-cast the role 'cause you're never gonna be satisfied with his performance and you won't waste his time and drive him crazy forcing him to try and please you rather than doing his job which is to inhabit this character.


While i appreciate your comments I think you have rather wildly misinterpreted what i said and my intentions. I have no intention of "ramming" my version down the actors throat. I love it when an actor surprises me, does things that i had not expected and fully inhabits the role, makes it his own in collaboration with me.

That is the reason why i cast this actor. Seeing him being this character was so convincing, so persuasive, it was exhilarating to see this character i had written come to life.

All I was asking was "how to encourage vulnerability in a performance". As i said he is a wonderful actor, a real talent that I am thrilled to have found.

The suggestions i made were some possibilities I have been considering. Again I find it hard to understand why you ask "why are you asking us if this will work?", this is after all a directors' forum where we are given the opportunity to discuss ideas openly. I do not claim to know if these will work.

I do not as you suggest have any intention of "badgering" an actor into a preconceived performance.

Yes i spoke about an actor who is unavailable that seemed to perfectly fit my concept of the character. But i have no intention of "forcing" my actor to fit that. This would be self-defeating and i would not have cast him if i felt he hadn't something that seduced me, and excites me. It is a liberation of the character from my preconceived image.. taking on a life of its own.

Again all i am asking here was about encouraging vulnerability in a performance.

I do stand by my statement that "the actor owns the character", and that "the director owns the take/cut".

I recognize the dangers in having a preconceived reading of a character both for the director and the actor. I believe you have misrepresented my previous post James, but I'm sure your intentions are good ones.

We will be shooting this film in november (touch wood), and of course I will be working with the actor on the character over the coming months. We have despite your suspicions a very strong working relationship. He was called back 5 times to auditions, sometimes to work opposite other actors, and each time he gave my something remarkable.

I am confident that he will be truly great in the film. I posted my question to discuss methods to encourage vulnerability NOT to force, and subjugate an actor into some impossible other..
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#15 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 02:34 PM

While i appreciate your comments I think you have rather wildly misinterpreted what i said and my i

I am confident that he will be truly great in the film. I posted my question to discuss methods to encourage vulnerability NOT to force, and subjugate an actor into some impossible other..



Radio 4 had a Lenny Henry documentary today about Method acting: http://www.bbc.co.uk...bout/pip/p6k0z/

It mentioned that actors don't tell the memories or keys that they individually use in their acting tool box. So, you basically have to trust them to open that tool box themselves rather than supplying the contents. Much will depend on your relationship with the actor, unfortunately, people in a forum can't really supply set lines for you, it's something you have personally to sense and work out with your actor.

David Lean used an instruction to Omar Sharif in "Dr Zhivago", when his character was watching a crowd being massacred in the street, about having sex and trying not to climax. That worked for them, but it mightn't work for other actors.
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#16 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 02:14 AM

While i appreciate your comments I think you have rather wildly misinterpreted what i said and my intentions. I have no intention of "ramming" my version down the actors throat. I love it when an actor surprises me, does things that i had not expected and fully inhabits the role, makes it his own in collaboration with me.

That is the reason why i cast this actor. Seeing him being this character was so convincing, so persuasive, it was exhilarating to see this character i had written come to life.

All I was asking was "how to encourage vulnerability in a performance". As i said he is a wonderful actor, a real talent that I am thrilled to have found.

The suggestions i made were some possibilities I have been considering. Again I find it hard to understand why you ask "why are you asking us if this will work?", this is after all a directors' forum where we are given the opportunity to discuss ideas openly. I do not claim to know if these will work.

I do not as you suggest have any intention of "badgering" an actor into a preconceived performance.

Yes i spoke about an actor who is unavailable that seemed to perfectly fit my concept of the character. But i have no intention of "forcing" my actor to fit that. This would be self-defeating and i would not have cast him if i felt he hadn't something that seduced me, and excites me. It is a liberation of the character from my preconceived image.. taking on a life of its own.

Again all i am asking here was about encouraging vulnerability in a performance.

I do stand by my statement that "the actor owns the character", and that "the director owns the take/cut".

I recognize the dangers in having a preconceived reading of a character both for the director and the actor. I believe you have misrepresented my previous post James, but I'm sure your intentions are good ones.

We will be shooting this film in november (touch wood), and of course I will be working with the actor on the character over the coming months. We have despite your suspicions a very strong working relationship. He was called back 5 times to auditions, sometimes to work opposite other actors, and each time he gave my something remarkable.

I am confident that he will be truly great in the film. I posted my question to discuss methods to encourage vulnerability NOT to force, and subjugate an actor into some impossible other..


My intent is to "encourage" you to think about what YOU'RE doing and stop worrying about what this guy is NOT doing. You say this guy is great but you have to read him 5 TIMES before he gets the role. You say this guy is remarkable but you keep mentioning how perfect your original choice was and how lacking this guy is in "vulnerability" what ever that means and how you must find a way to "encourage vulnerability" in this guy in order for him to play the role properly. Dude, you can NOT "encourage vulnerability", vulnerability is a trait and/or an emotion. Emotion comes FROM something, it can't be pulled out of a hat like some kind of dithyrambic rabbit. Emotions are a subjective response to stimuli so you can't just conjure up emotion outta thin air, it has come naturally as a response TO something.

Now it's been my experience there are really only 2 ways to get an actor to respond the way a director wants them to, the first is what I like to call the internal or natural method where you guide them though rehearsal and though discussions until they find a workable response that comes from inside them, as a reaction to what is going on around and within them in the context of the character, IE a simple scene, a guy gets shoved in a bar. This guy has been pushed around his whole life because of that is seething with anger just below the surface so when shoved in a bar, his first response is to punch the guy in the face as hard as he can or maybe this guy has been beaten down his entire life and now feels impotent and ineffective so his first response is fear of being hit so he cowers in his chair when shoved maybe the guy doesn't WANT to fight and just backs off because he doesn't want to have his evening ruined by some jerk and turns and walks away or maybe there are women around and though guy is terrified, he forces himself to stand up to the guy who shoved him so as not to be thought of as a coward.

The second method is what I like to call the exterior or artificial method which is basically to emotionally sucker punch your actor IE you tell your actor the guy who is about to shove him just made a pass at his wife OR that he is a 3rd degree black-belt emotionally disturbed war veteran and if your actor accidentally hits him or even looks like he show ANY kind of aggression, this guy could very easily go crazy and break his arm. Both methods work, the natural method is less hard on your actors but the artificial method often gets the best, most realistic results.

The 2 things BOTH methods have in common though, is that the emotion the actor and through them, the character, feels CAME FROM something. Don't believe me then you try it, be vulnerable right now and I mean don't play AT IT, really feel vulnerable right now, I'll wait............................................. See, can't be done. You want your actor to be vulnerable, try setting up a situation were he'll feel vulnerable, talk about something you know embarrasses him, have him explore his feminine side, make him do the scene in the nude whatever it takes. You're not there to be liked, you're there to get results so take action, don't sit here and create these imagined scenarios where some magical phrase you say to him is going to somehow turn him into a wounded bird, find out what makes him and his character tick and use that to get what you need. Acting is visceral not intellectual and you are throwing an intellectual solution at a viscera problem which is NEVER going to render a solution, THAT'S what I'm trying to get across to you. Learn that and half your actor problems will disappear.

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 06 July 2008 - 02:19 AM.

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#17 Ger Leonard

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 07:04 AM

My intent is to "encourage" you to think about what YOU'RE doing and stop worrying about what this guy is NOT doing. You say this guy is great but you have to read him 5 TIMES before he gets the role. You say this guy is remarkable but you keep mentioning how perfect your original choice was and how lacking this guy is in "vulnerability" what ever that means and how you must find a way to "encourage vulnerability" in this guy in order for him to play the role properly. Dude, you can NOT "encourage vulnerability", vulnerability is a trait and/or an emotion. Emotion comes FROM something, it can't be pulled out of a hat like some kind of dithyrambic rabbit. Emotions are a subjective response to stimuli so you can't just conjure up emotion outta thin air, it has come naturally as a response TO something.

Now it's been my experience there are really only 2 ways to get an actor to respond the way a director wants them to, the first is what I like to call the internal or natural method where you guide them though rehearsal and though discussions until they find a workable response that comes from inside them, as a reaction to what is going on around and within them in the context of the character, IE a simple scene, a guy gets shoved in a bar. This guy has been pushed around his whole life because of that is seething with anger just below the surface so when shoved in a bar, his first response is to punch the guy in the face as hard as he can or maybe this guy has been beaten down his entire life and now feels impotent and ineffective so his first response is fear of being hit so he cowers in his chair when shoved maybe the guy doesn't WANT to fight and just backs off because he doesn't want to have his evening ruined by some jerk and turns and walks away or maybe there are women around and though guy is terrified, he forces himself to stand up to the guy who shoved him so as not to be thought of as a coward.

The second method is what I like to call the exterior or artificial method which is basically to emotionally sucker punch your actor IE you tell your actor the guy who is about to shove him just made a pass at his wife OR that he is a 3rd degree black-belt emotionally disturbed war veteran and if your actor accidentally hits him or even looks like he show ANY kind of aggression, this guy could very easily go crazy and break his arm. Both methods work, the natural method is less hard on your actors but the artificial method often gets the best, most realistic results.

The 2 things BOTH methods have in common though, is that the emotion the actor and through them, the character, feels CAME FROM something. Don't believe me then you try it, be vulnerable right now and I mean don't play AT IT, really feel vulnerable right now, I'll wait............................................. See, can't be done. You want your actor to be vulnerable, try setting up a situation were he'll feel vulnerable, talk about something you know embarrasses him, have him explore his feminine side, make him do the scene in the nude whatever it takes. You're not there to be liked, you're there to get results so take action, don't sit here and create these imagined scenarios where some magical phrase you say to him is going to somehow turn him into a wounded bird, find out what makes him and his character tick and use that to get what you need. Acting is visceral not intellectual and you are throwing an intellectual solution at a viscera problem which is NEVER going to render a solution, THAT'S what I'm trying to get across to you. Learn that and half your actor problems will disappear.


This has become quite frustrating.. Its clear that you have made assumptions bases on the reality of my posts ..
Firstly it is quite common to call back an actor a number of times in castings. (ask around) The fact that i called this actor back 5 times shows not my mistrust of the actor but rather my dedication and commitment. I mentioned also that some of these sessions were to read opposite other actors. At third callback he was cast. The other two times it was to see how other actors I was considering worked opposite him.

If you read my posts properly you would have clearly seen that I was NEVER even suggesting that I would tell the actor to "feel vulnerable". This as i said is "result direction", I find your posts to be patronizing, and i'm afraid to say show distinct signs of profound disrespect and hubris. PLEASE only respond to posts that you have read properly. Or else this will really get us nowhere useful.

You go on to give 2 directing METHODS as a emotion has to COME FROM SOMETHING..

I KNOW THIS .. I SAY THIS IN MY POSTS, I even give examples!!!!! Why you insist on the opposite, i cannot fathom.

You tell me that i should try to find situations where he'll feel vulnerable...READ MY POSTS .. How could you have missed my saying this myself?

Please review all my posts on this topic.. I have taken acting classes, have done a directing actors course with Judith Weston, have read Checkov and stanislavsky, and many more..

I know about playable and unplayable direction. I know "act vulnerable" is result direction, i explicitly say this ! Yet you insist that this is exactly what i intend to do!!

I talk about backstory, what just happened, images, objectives, wants, obstacles, intentions, action verbs etc.. as methods to ENCOURAGE vulnerability. Please lets focus here !

I will say this one final time
I HAVE NO INTENTION OF TELLING ANY ACTOR TO FEEL VULNERABLE

I agree with everything you say in your posts (which should be abundantly clear, as I say almost the exact same things), but as to the reasons why you are writing them in such a manner I am at a loss. You seem intent on assuming that what i'm intending to do is ignorant and uninformed. Yet if you were to pay proper attention you would i hope realize something quite different..

I hope you respond to this, but only after some reflection on my previous posts and perhaps some self-refection also.
;)
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#18 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 01:25 AM

You know, I'd probably just blow this off since you're already an expert on directing and obviously have no need of my opinions because you've pretty much made up your mind and far be it from me to dissuade a determined man who desperately needs the experience of just what such determination will wrought but because you hoped I would reply I will. I've never been much on self-refection so you'll forgive me if I confine my comments to my OWN small experience.

I've never taken a directing course with Judith Weston or anyone else for that matter, I've just directed dozens upon dozens of plays, musicals, music videos, live action film, movie shorts, founded a drama school and taught acting in both a class room situation and as a private tutor as well as been an actor since I was 6 years old and I've gotta tell you, as an actor, if you gave me a direction like

AS IF you have pissed in your trousers.
AS IF you are naked
AS IF you have explosives tied to you, which could go off at any moment, but you cannot tell, YOU NEED to make a connection with someone before you die.
AS IF there is a jury watching you, judging you.
YOU WANT someone to hold you, but you know you bruise easily on physical contact.
YOU CAN make eye contact but don't hold it, it hurts too much, you will fall.

I quite literally would have difficulty trying to keep from laughing out loud. This is just actor's workshop Bullsh*t. The kinda thing you say when you have no idea what to do. MAYBE one in a hundred actors would find something to respond to with this tripe, to the rest it means nothing. It's just so much useless imagery that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the script. You can't just pull poop out of the air and expect some poor actor to have an epiphany. There is no such thing as "as if", there is only "IS" and "IS NOT", "DOES" and "DOES NOT" and EVERY statement must be ironclad strong and defensible from what is in the text. It's tough enough for an actor to stay involved after the fifth performance or the 4th take let alone try and remember some off the wall imagery and let that effect him while trying to stay involved in the scene and react to what's going on. So in answer to your very first question is, YES in SPADES, Sydney Pollack was ABSOLUTELY right "all acting comes from wanting something. It's what you want that makes you do something, not what you think"

The basic precept of the Method is Objective and Obstacle , what does your character want and what's stopping them from getting it and EVERYTHING IS DRAWN FROM THE SCRIPT!!!! The "backstory" you're so fond of referring to time and time again MUST BE an extrapolation from WHAT IS GIVEN IN THE SCRIPT not some crap you made up because you thought it would sound good. The truth of a character lies within the honesty with which it is played and that is SOLELY derived from the SCRIPT!!! SOOOO you CAN NOT encourage your actor to do ANYTHING except keep trying to find the character!!! Hey, I want to encourage you to be more vulnerable, it would make your performance oh so much better and you'll be a star!!! It's absurd. ALL you can do if help guide your actor through the subtleties of the text and let him find the character in his own way. You can discuss, you can interject, you can suggest, you can interpret, you can disagree, you can explain, you can analyze and you can insist but you CAN NOT ENCOURAGE an actor to find something in a character. ANY other method of trying to create emotion within the scene would be artificial and you put enough artificial moments together, you'll end up with a plastic, uninspired performance that the audience will smell a mile away.

When you give an actor a direction like "AS IF you have explosives tied to you, which could go off at any moment, but you cannot tell, YOU NEED to make a connection with someone before you die" your actor is not playing the emotion of the scene, he's playing AT the emotion of the the scene, in other words, he's not involved in whats going on at any given moment but is worried about shaping an emotion to fit YOUR idea of how a scene should be played. He's not involved with the other actors or what is happening in the scene at that moment, his complete ant total focus in on himself which is absolute DEATH to a living performance. If you have, as you say you have, taking acting classes, you must have heard the phrase acting is reacting.

Misner, Strasberg, Adler, Hagen ALL based their technique on LISTENING and REACTING. The variations in their respective techniques all all pretty much just added emphasis on other aspects of Stanislavsky's method. By "encouraging" your actor with this extraneous imagery, you've completely undermined the whole basis of modern acting technique and completely pulled the actor out of the moment, in point of fact, FORCING him to lie rather than as James Cagney once said, "Walk in, plant your feet, look the other fellow in the eye . . . and tell the truth." True, Strasberg did teach sense memory BUT that was just a reference point for an actor to relate to emotional situations he has never experienced before. Sense memory cannot be sustained over any length of time because a person very quickly loses the initial emotional response to that particular memory so once an actor understands what the character is feeling, he must inevitably return to the text, find the truth in it and allow himself to react to that truth. This is the ONLY way consistency in a performance can be achieved.


I think the major problem I have with your position is I've worked for directors that talked like you do. They usually ended up being of no help what so ever, in fact if anything, they're a major hindrance. They get an idea into their heads, right, wrong or indifferent, they obsess over that idea until it becomes the ONLY thing they're concerned about. Their direction tends to be un-inspired and pedestrian and quite frankly, I absolutely hate working with that kind of director. It's NEVER been a good experience for me if fact it's always horrendous. So if there is ANY way I can get you to re-evaluate the way you handle actors and save some poor thespian sob the excruciating aggravation I've experienced, I feel it is my duty to try.

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 07 July 2008 - 01:26 AM.

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#19 Ger Leonard

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Posted 07 July 2008 - 07:41 PM

I am not claiming to be an expert, just that I am not a complete idiot. I have studied and continue to learn and hopefully will never stop learning, questioning, challenging, reassessing.... there shouldn't be a full stop

As has been mentioned by David Mullen in this topic "whatever gets you there"
David goes on to quote a well known example:

"If you have to tell an actor to play the scene as if they need to go take a piss but can't (as Marlon Brando was directed by Kazan for a scene in "On The Waterfront") versus a more intellectual discussion, well, if it works, why not?"

Brian Drysdale in this topic says

"David Lean used an instruction to Omar Sharif in "Dr Zhivago", when his character was watching a crowd being massacred in the street, about having sex and trying not to climax."

Of course these are "quick fixes".. imaginative adjustments in order to capture something on film. All the other work you mention has to be done. Preparation is in depth script analysis

Judith Weston is a widely admired teacher who told me in one of her workshops to play the scene "as if" the other actor were holding a gun. Yet there was nothing in the text to backup this possibility. http://www.judithwes...orsements.shtml

To dismiss it as "tripe" and "just actors workshop Bullshit" seems harsh.

I am sure you have heard of "opposites" , playing it "wrong".. this can and has worked..

I know you are a vastly experienced director. You are entitled to your opinions.

There are other vastly experienced director's however who believe that occasionally these adjustments work on film, where you are capturing moments. They can serve to loosen up an actor (or even a director) that is blocked or locked into a line reading.

Perhaps my previous post seemed to imply to you that this would be my primary means of getting a performance. If so i want to assure you that that was not nor is my intention.

You seem to have a very strong reaction to the word "encourage". There is always that risk with language. I think there is nothing wrong with a director wanting to encourage an actor. HOW the director does this is what is important.

It is in the discussions on the script, the character, backstory etc that the preparations to enable the actor to "have permission" to be in the moment will occur.

There is much of what you say that i agree with and i feel we may be at cross purposes.

I appreciate the strength of your convictions.

I will continue to encourage ..
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#20 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 03:42 AM

Do you know what the primary job of a director is, what the director actually does?.............The primary job of a director is communication so, language, is paramount. In order to be effective, a director must be able to make his vision crystal clear to his cast and crew through words. With all due respect to Mr. Mullen and I DO very much respect him, he is a cinematographer and though he has no doubt learn a great deal watching some of the best in the business direct, his primary job is not directing actors. Whatever gets the job done is a valid statement but it's not that simple. It's knowing WHAT it will take to get the job done that counts. Now barring that Brando was one of the greatest actors who ever lived and could find inspiration in a box of toothpicks no doubt Kazan, being one of the greatest directors to have ever live KNEW, or at the very least had very strong suspicion that, THAT particular statement at that particular moment, with THAT particular actor, would allow Brando to find something he could play to give Kazan the emotional quality he wanted in that particular scene. I'm also JUST as sure, Brando had Terry Malloy cold and could have played the scene honestly a half dozen different ways or more. Kazan's statement merely confirmed the choice Brando thought would be be closest to what Kazan wanted, the same with David Lean and Omar Sharif.

Carpenter told a story about Donald Plesence playing the last scene of Halloween when he goes to the window after shooting Micheal and sees nothing on the ground. Micheal is gone. Plesence told Carpenter, he could play it 2 ways, one- I know this would happen. two- I had no idea this would happen. Carpenter, being inexperienced said can you do it both ways for me, so they shot it both ways. They ended up using I knew this would happen because it was by far the stronger choice for the character. The point is a good actor can give the director the full gambit of what that scene can contain so often times these statements do nothing more than confirm choices the actor had already explored.

You're right. The problem I have with your approach IS language.....but that's a BIG problem! You make statements like "This "perfect" actor has just been in the lead in a major television series, and again i was struck by his mesmerizing performance. I find it hard to shake him from the role in my mind. His image lingers. He fits so completely. The key thing this actor has is vulnerability, it is impossible not to feel for him. He is so sympathetic, so pure, so fragile, so enigmatic." and "His career has taken off, and he is in demand, and is unavailable. So long ago i had to move on" THEN you say "That is the reason why i cast this actor. Seeing him being this character was so convincing, so persuasive, it was exhilarating to see this character i had written come to life." yet you feel the need to change him."My question here is how to make this wonderfully talented actor i have cast more vulnerable on screen." You've obviously not moved on. You've built this character in your mind and played it over and over again You should heed your own advice and pay attention to Robert Bresson because "Words do not always coincide with thought" or with actions for that matter. You SAY "the actor owns the character, the director owns the take/cut" but way does that mean? That's not a statement, it's a sound byte.

The actor does not OWN the character, he INHABITS the character, he PLAYS the character but to OWN the character implies there is one way and one way ONLY to play that character and that's just plain untrue. There are as many ways to play that character as there are actors to play it.

The director might decide which takes he'll print but the cut belongs to the film editor if it belongs to anyone. The thing about film is that it is, by it's VERY NATURE, a collaborative art form which means no ONE person can completely claim artistic OWNERSHIP of any of it. A cinematographer can paint with light and create emotion in a scene that would otherwise be bland as in Days of Heaven. A composer can make a scene creepy or even terrifying where no terror existed otherwise as John Carpenter did in Halloween, An actor can make a simple act like standing on a table and holding up a sign BURST with a dozen emotions all at once without saying a single word like Sally Field did in Norma Rea, A sound effect man can create the tension of impending disaster like in Dante's Peak, A VFX team can bring dead actor back to life to play an essential scene he was unable to shoot before he died as they did in Gladiator, A film editor CAN and often DOES create entire scenes that never existed on the set or in the script through the use of filmed elements that independently have nothing to do with the scene what so every as they did with Basic Instinct or completely change the emotional quality of the scene through pacing as they did in The Horse Whisperer. A director can create through composition the feeling of isolation as David Lean did with Laurence of Arabia, or a sense of being trapped and helpless even in the most unlikely of places as Hitchcock did in North By Northwest. The director helms the ship that's all. With actors, he guides them by pointing them in a direction henceforth the name "Director".

You SAY "It is in the discussions on the script, the character, backstory etc that the preparations to enable the actor to "have permission" to be in the moment will occur." implying your actor needs permission to explore the charater, find the best choices, make strong statements and decisions about his character and "to be in the moment", in other words he needs permission more specifically YOUR permission since it's through "the discussions on the script, the character, backstory etc" to do his job. You're in the process of creating these elaborate "quick fixes".. imaginative adjustments" like

"AS IF you have pissed in your trousers.
AS IF you are naked
AS IF you have explosives tied to you, which could go off at any moment, but you cannot tell, YOU NEED to make a connection with someone before you die.
AS IF there is a jury watching you, judging you.
YOU WANT someone to hold you, but you know you bruise easily on physical contact.
YOU CAN make eye contact but don't hold it, it hurts too much, you will fall.

"in order to capture something on film".

All this BEFORE you've shot a single frame of film or even taken the time to read through and discuss the script with your actors which means you haven't even CONSIDERED he'll be able to play this guy or given him a chance to to explore the character and allowed for the slightest possibility his interpretation of this character could not only work BUT might actually be FAR BETTER than what you imagined the character to be in your mind.

I've read your posts and if this is how you plan to "Encourage" your actor, I feel sorry for the poor bastard because the word "Encourage" is nothing more than a catch word for "I have no confidence in your acting ability and there's no way you can play this character unless I tell you how". I STRONGLY recommend you do some soul searching and REALLY think about what you're main focus is with regards to this character. Is it more important to you to get the best performance possible out of this actor or is it more important to have the character played the way you think it outta be played?
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