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working with first time actors. Help needed!


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#1 Einar Gabbassov

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 01:44 AM

Hello!

I have an upcoming 1 day  shoot, where I will have to work with volunteer people (22-28 age group, never acted before,some of them are musicians who are used to perform in front of the crowd). The shoot  involves dialogues and some emotions of fear and shock .I'am not sure they can act convincingly. In addition to that I never worked with volunteers and I don't want to stress the guys with to many takes and rehearsals. Could someone advice me the good approach of working in this kind of situation?

 

P.S. I would prefer to keep them relaxed and comfortable as they may be shy to act. 


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#2 Jeff L'Heureux

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 03:25 AM

The bigger the group of non-actors on screen at the same time in a crowd setting, the worse their collective performance will tend to be.  You can see this often in films where extras are brought in to show fear and shock in a large crowd setting.  If you pick out any one person for any length of time their performance falls apart.  I'm looking at you football stadium scene in Dark Knight Rises!  Actually, that might be a good example of how to approach it.  I think there's some B-Roll of what the crew said to that crowd on youtube somewhere.  Better to not let them rehearse too much though.  They'll all turn into DeNiro in front of the mirror and get bigger and bigger with each take.

 

Non-actors tend to overact, so you'll have to pull them back.  However, if you say they're shy they may underact instead and not give enough of a reaction.  A lot of it has to do with your attitude.  Even if you're pulling your hair out with the details of the day, the schedule, the scene, you have to make it fun for them.  That is the key for volunteers.  It may be work for you, but it has to be fun for them.  Don't let them see you sweat and carry them through the scene like a photographer would when trying to get a large group of people to smile for a photo.  Do one rehearsal, fix anything wrong and try to get it in one or two takes.


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#3 Doug Palmer

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 03:47 AM

I'm also planning something with non-actors, though not perhaps as many as on Einar's project.   Jeff,  I find your ideas helpful.  I was wondering though because the situation is rather chaotic,  is there any advantage in actually turning the camera and trying to film that rehearsal.  In your experience can the rehearsal ever come across better than the performances that follow?   


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#4 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 10:08 AM

Dealing with new actors is tricky (I say "new" instead of "non" because the moment they make a decision to act in your film they are no longer non actors, right?). I have done three auditions in the last three weeks and I have one last one coming up this Sunday and some of the people don't have experience.

 

The best thing i have found for dealing with ANY actors is...have them run through the scene using the script sides as a reference but using only their own interpretation of how the scene goes. This is a good way to see their natural talent (or not) and also gives you a chance to see something good that maybe you didn't even think about. Afterward, critique them (nicely) by telling them first what you liked (try hard to find something) and then what they need to improve and what you would like to see differently. Then run through the scene again. If you notice at least some improvement then this person has potential and can take critique well. If not, cut them because they either 1) aren't listening to you 2) can't take critique because they think they are already doing it correctly or 3) they just dont have the talent to pull of what you want.

 

At that point, thank them for coming out and be done with it.


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#5 Jeff L'Heureux

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 12:50 PM

I'm also planning something with non-actors, though not perhaps as many as on Einar's project.   Jeff,  I find your ideas helpful.  I was wondering though because the situation is rather chaotic,  is there any advantage in actually turning the camera and trying to film that rehearsal.  In your experience can the rehearsal ever come across better than the performances that follow?   

I can't speak for the efficacy of shooting rehearsals.  I've only shot film and it can't be used in the same cavalier manner as digital can in that sense, especially on a budget.  If I may be so bold, I'll use that as a selling point for shooting on film though.  Whenever I've told actors or non-actors alike that we were shooting actual film, they take it way more seriously when action is called than they do if it's just digital. 

 

I do find though that it's better to rehearse at least once and tweak what you see and immediately shoot after making those changes rather than wait for any length of time between the rehearsal and the shot.  Actors tend to be patient and understand the time it takes to prepare a shot.  Non-actors will lose interest the more they stand around and wait, especially if they're volunteers and aren't being paid.  I brought in 20 volunteers for a scene and had to be on my toes not to waste their time at all, and at the same time make it fun for them even though I really wanted to pull my hair out because of the details of the scene.  After about two hours, you'll start to get whispers in your ear from one or two that they "have to leave" for whatever reason, which is their kind way of saying that they're bored and want to go home.  I was able to get through the scene with losing only 4 people by the end of a four hour night shoot.  Not bad for volunteers giving up their evening, most of whom had never met me before.

 

One more trick that works well, although it's a little devious:  Non-actors don't understand lens focal lengths.  You can be on an 85mm doing a close-up of the actual actor in the scene who happens to be amongst a crowd, but because your camera is pointed in the general direction of the crowd, they think they're on camera during the shot.  Never let the crowd know they're off camera, even if you are doing a close-up and only see one person's face.


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#6 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 01:55 PM

I can't speak for the efficacy of shooting rehearsals.  I've only shot film and it can't be used in the same cavalier manner as digital can in that sense, especially on a budget.  If I may be so bold, I'll use that as a selling point for shooting on film though.  Whenever I've told actors or non-actors alike that we were shooting actual film, they take it way more seriously when action is called than they do if it's just digital. 

^This. When i told my cast that we are shooting on film and how expensive it is, they are dead serious on rehearsal. They meet at my place often to nail it and they handle critique real well too because they

don't wish to "Waste film."


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#7 Doug Palmer

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 04:18 PM

I can't speak for the efficacy of shooting rehearsals.  I've only shot film and it can't be used in the same cavalier manner as digital can in that sense, especially on a budget.  If I may be so bold, I'll use that as a selling point for shooting on film though.  Whenever I've told actors or non-actors alike that we were shooting actual film, they take it way more seriously when action is called than they do if it's just digital. 

 

Agreed, film can't be used in quite the same way as digital. Many times however I've regretted not filming when unexpected magic happens, perhaps just great facial expressions and so on that can be cut into the film later. So I wondered if during a rehearsal while the non-actor is behaving as they see the part, some of this naturalness might occur in their performance.

Interesting your experience taking their acting more seriously with film.  I hadn't thought of this one.

 

Non-actors will lose interest the more they stand around and wait, especially if they're volunteers and aren't being paid.  I brought in 20 volunteers for a scene and had to be on my toes not to waste their time at all, and at the same time make it fun for them even though I really wanted to pull my hair out because of the details of the scene.  After about two hours, you'll start to get whispers in your ear from one or two that they "have to leave" for whatever reason, which is their kind way of saying that they're bored and want to go home. 

 

It's strange how time does appear to go differently for people, especially uncommitted volunteers etc.   Or I should say for the director/cameraman two hours just evaporates in what seems like half an hour.  There must be ways to alleviate their boredom problem.  Suggestions anyone?  Without putting more pressure on us if this is possible. Interestingly I've found kids tend to lose themselves in the film better than adults.  I remember one afternoon filming about a dozen in a classroom for probably 2 hours with no problem, (I'd planned only an hour but the teacher was great keeping them occupied between takes)   then I looked behind and saw a dozen sullen faces of waiting parents staring at me.


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