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Talking to the Talent


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#1 G McMahon

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 08:45 AM

Hello all,

Example, an actor or whomever is in front of camera. They are standing to square to camera, or they need step into a frame. I feel like my communication is too long winded or I need to come out from behind the camera to demonstrate. Do you have any suggestions or key phrases which help in communicating with the people in front of the lens (considering things are reversed too, or they may not know what a pre-frame is)?

And while I have you here. Celebrities, that you haven't been introduced to, that you are shooting, do you call them by their surname or first name? I have been using their surname, but I don't know if that comes through as pretentious or not. Is that just bad form of the director not introducing you to them?

Thanks,
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#2 Walter Graff

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 09:46 AM

Tell them in a short sentence what you want and let them do it. See if it's what you want, if not, fist try to elicit words to tell them. It doesn't have to be long winded. "Great take, can you give me more intensity", "I love it. I'd really like to see one with you smiling even more as you say it", "great job, can you do it with a bit more of a relaxed feel". Notice positive reinforcement and then asking to take that positive energy and do more of what you want. It works better than never letting them know if they did it right in the first place as in; "okay, can you do it with more energy". I'd eventually resort to doing it for them if they simply don't get it, but even that has to be subtle. I usually do it like this:

"Hey John, can I show you how I see it." They will never say it but most actors don't want you to show them how to do it, so if you choose to, the presentation has to be subtle and positive. Sometimes I might say, "Can I show you what I see you doing", then show them a worse rendition of what I see which makes them do it twice as good.

But it's all about the relationship and the energy of you and the talent that determines what you can say and how you might say it. I always respect my talent as knowing more than me, and make sure they feel that I respect them, and then find out how to suggest something more out of them. I will always work my talent long before the camera rolls, getting inside their head and finding some common bond so that it's less some stranger telling them what to do and more a friend suggesting how to do it better. That means less of calling for the talent when I am ready to come into the studio after never really doing more than saying hi to them and first spending some time with them off-set to break the ice, explain myself, and what the project is to me, then first letting them interpret it their way. Perhaps I learn something from them instead of being so locked into what I think it should be.

I've worked with hundreds of celebrities and talking to them like anyone else seems to work best. If their name is John, than that is what I call them. If you put up an imaginary wall between you (being impersonal) you never connect, they see it, and never know what to give you. They are humans too, only have the word celebrity after their name. That doesn't mean working with them means they need to be on some pedestal. They'll appreciate you more talking to them like anyone else, and not being star struck.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 10:01 AM

There are likely many opinions on these questions, but nothing will gain you more respect than if you treat the talent as normal people just like everyone else on set. Strip away the marketing that turns some talent into "celebrities" and you have Actors who are getting up early and going home late to do their job on set just like you are.

Of course some talent let their own press get to their head so you can help your own quality of life by sussing out each specific situation (ie, "will this Actor be a jerk or nice?") before you say anything. But, I feel it's always better to break the ice as soon as possible, at the first appropriate moment, in a professional way. Steer clear of the "I love you work" conversations. While certainly a kind thing to say, it automatically places them in a "superior" position and inadvertently can reinforce the idea that they are unapproachable.

Instead, a quick "Good morning, my name is Brian. I'll be the [insert job here]. If it's not a problem, you'll look better in this shot if you could stay just a bit to the right. Is that okay?" If they break in with their own name, "Hi, I'm Angie," as if you didn't know already, just smile, say something like, "It's very nice meeting you" or "Hi, I'm glad to be working with you" and leave it at that. Get back to your work and really only speak with them when you have to or when they approach you.

The practical reason for that is that a great deal of an Actor's work takes place in his/her head before ever stepping in front of the camera. The talent may be running lines through his/her head or "getting into character." Your setup time may be the Actor's too even though it might not look like he/she is doing anything. Of course we've all run into Actor's who have no problem being "one of the guys" and will talk and joke with the crew in between shots. But let them set the parameters. You're there to do a job and so are they. You really don't want an Actor bothering you while you're in the midst of a setup unless it has to do with his/her lighting or blocking. They likely don't want to be bothered unnecessarily either.

So the summary is, get in, introduced yourself, and get out again. You let them know that you aren't just a nameless body sitting on a dolly and they feel comfortable knowing that you will be treating them as a professional.
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#4 G McMahon

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 10:11 AM

"Great take, can you give me more intensity", "I love it. I'd really like to see one with you smiling even more as you say it", "great job, can you do it with a bit more of a relaxed feel".

I've worked with hundreds of celebrities and talking to them like anyone else seems to work best. If their name is John, than that is what I call them.


Hello,

Thanks for your reply, I appreciate your ideas but I think you may have misinterpreted my question. I am not talking about character direction as such, more about staging or blocking so the alignment in the frame is good i.e. the hand is not masking the product.

The second part, being a celebrity, everyone knows their name. I assumed that someone calling you by your first name may be rude, if you don't know who the hell you are. Also, just because they are a house hold name doesn't mean you automatically know them and can call them by their first name. May be the way I was brought up though, but I like to hear feedback anyway.

Cheers,
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#5 Walter Graff

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 10:23 AM

"Thanks for your reply, I appreciate your ideas but I think you may have misinterpreted my question. I am not talking about character direction as such, more about staging or blocking so the alignment in the frame is good i.e. the hand is not masking the product. "



Sorry, just reread your question and never clearly got what you said. So ask them to move their hand. No big deal. How about "John, great take. I noticed you were covering the product a bit during the take." That would be enough for anyone to adjust.

"The second part, being a celebrity, everyone knows their name. I assumed that someone calling you by your first name may be rude, if you don't know who the hell you are. Also, just because they are a house hold name doesn't mean you automatically know them and can call them by their first name. May be the way I was brought up though, but I like to hear feedback anyway."

Sounds like you answered your own question then. If that is the way you were brought up, then great. I find that anyone form Tom Cruise to a no name wants to be known by their name and make a connection to you because of it. In fact if I said Mr. Cruise, I'm sure he'd correct me and say, please, Tom.

Cheers,


[/quote]
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#6 Alfeo Dixon

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 11:03 AM

I find that short quick terms work the best and leave anything lengthy to telling the AD, that will translate to the director and the actor... one of them may not want what you are asking for, keeps you from getting fussed. I would NEVER jump from behind the camera to show them unless they ask or it's extremely critical. Try to use the simplest blocking terms and give them point A to B. Upstage, Downstage, Camera left/right. Ask if you may adjust them or their mark and also you might ask on critical framings if they mind if you gently adjust them to camera while during the take.

The best time to introduce yourself is one that always troubles me too. I never want to be the one to distract them from work. I once had an actor bitch at me because I didn't introduce myself... I just didn't want to disrupt the process. But I guess they want to be comfortable knowing who's around them... I still don't know. So what I do is at the first chance I see them not talking to the director or running lines with another actor, I will politely excuse myself and make a quick intro with my work title, now sometimes this is maybe after a few scenes and I will apologize for not doing so earlier. Some of the better AD's will introduce the key workers when the rehearsal takes place... love that, but reintroduce later and welcome them.

You can never go wrong with calling them their scripted names when working, because that IS who they are at that time. Even if Tom Cruse told me to call him Tom, I wouldn't until after maybe the second or third time he told me to do so. I hate to be called Mr. Dixon, but it is a sign of respect.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 12:01 PM

Generally I just listen to see how everyone else higher up (producer, director, etc.) is addressing the celebrity - by the time I meet them anyway, they've already spent time with make-up & wardrobe people, so they are used to being addressed by something, usually their first name.

But often it's the usual introduction of yourself and sometimes, if you are going to be working with them for awhile, you may ask them how they'd like to be addressed. Often though, the AD has already asked that and has informed the crew in advance.

As for making physical adjustments between takes, usually an actor does not mind getting simple instructions or corrections (please hold the prop a little higher, your shoulder was blocking, etc.) within limits... i.e. if it is an emotional scene, you don't want to burden them with too many technical notes, you try to adjust the camera or lighting positions (or other actors) to accommodate how they are moving and acting, and keep the technical stuff out of their way as much as possible.

But sometimes it's not possible, so you bring it up.

Though many times if it is an emotional scene, I'll take any notes through the director so that only one person is communicating with the actor in a sensitive moment, between takes, and I ask the operator and AC to take their notes to me first, so I can pass them through the director. If an actor has just cried their eyes out, you don't want to even hint to them that you need another take because they missed their mark and didn't hold a key prop high enough in frame.

Although a few directors I have worked with feel that an actor will listen to the DP or operator more than the director (!) when it comes to technical notes.

Here's the problem I have on sets -- I'm so busy running around setting up equipment all around the stage that I'm not there when at whatever spot the actor is when they arrive, I may run into them a bit later, so I have to remember to be polite and say "good morning" and make some brief small talk, because I have a tendency to dive right into the work, I get so focused. So I have to take a moment, take a deep breath, and get into casual mode for a moment to exchange pleasantries, and then dive back into work.
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#8 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 12:37 PM

David brings up a good point about WHO to run things through.

If it's a simple adjustment to be made, a might quietly and quickly ask the talent to do it. Professionals usually are good about taking the suggestion and realize that it's about making a better movie and making THEM look better.

If the talent has established that wall or the Director and/or Field Producer (as the case may be) has made it clear that everything needs to run through them, then I'll whisper my "suggestion" to whoever wants to be in charge and then it's in their court if it actually happens.


Also, depending on the established pecking order, there may be a situation when it is more appropriate for someone else to introduce me to the talent or anyone else. When I shoot behind-the-scenes, it should be the Unit Publicist's responsibility to introduce the EPK crew so that the talent knows who we are and what we're doing. There's nothing worse than the talent or anyone else on set thinking I'm from ET or some other terrible tabloid show looking for "dirt." But too often, the Unit Publicist and the Field Producer fail to introduce me (and my Sound Mixer) so it is up to me to jump into the trenches and sometimes "create" the opportunity to introduce myself before I start pointing my lens at everyone.

I look at it this way: we're all on set to do a job, all cogs of equal size that create a machine that is designed to produce just one thing. If one cog thinks that it's bigger or better than any other, then the wheels don't turn the way they should and the product will suffer. So, the "celebrity" thing is for off set and while Talent is in front of my camera, I'll treat them with as much respect as they show me.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 12:51 PM

I'll treat them with as much respect as they show me.


Reminds me of Hamlet talking to Polonius about taking care of the arriving players -

Polonius: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

Hamlet: God's bodkin, man, much better: use every man after his desert and who shall scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity -- the less they deserve, the more merit is your bounty.
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#10 Walter Graff

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 12:52 PM

Forgive me. I realize everyone is speaking from a DoP perspective. My thoughts are from a directors perspective.
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#11 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 07:38 PM

Reminds me of Hamlet talking to Polonius about taking care of the arriving players -

Polonius: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

Hamlet: God's bodkin, man, much better: use every man after his desert and who shall scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity -- the less they deserve, the more merit is your bounty.



That's funny. :)

I never intentionally disrespect someone at work just because they choose to take their bad attitude out on others (or just me). I continue to do my own job as well as I'm allowed within the given parameters. If someone decides that they want to be a bigger cog in the machine, an element of "I'll be over here when you need me" can creep in. We're all just there to do our specific function on set and if someone else wants to make life difficult and threaten the overall quality of the project, all we can do is what we're allowed and let everything else slide until an even bigger cog decides to get involved.

This is one aspect of business that filmschools and most books fail to impart sufficiently. Most talk about all the nuts & bolts, but it's the successful navigation through politics that helps get through the day and helps build a sustainable career.
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#12 G McMahon

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 09:01 PM

Reminds me of Hamlet talking to Polonius about taking care of the arriving players -

Polonius: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

Hamlet: God's bodkin, man, much better: use every man after his desert and who shall scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity -- the less they deserve, the more merit is your bounty.


Sounds good, is there an English version of this ? :)
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#13 Steve Phipps

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 05:30 AM

Sounds good, is there an English version of this ? :)

Can try to scan it.
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#14 Steve Phipps

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 05:44 AM

Can try to scan it.

^ was terrible. I award myself, a forum demerit.

Will now give self, sound virtual beat.
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