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Working with Theatre Actors + Film Actors

directing director short film producing blocking

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#1 John W. King

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Posted 23 August 2014 - 06:13 PM

Hello, folks!

 

I'm a young director (mid-teens), and the selection of actors in my town are mostly well-trained theatre actors. Earlier this summer, I made a film with two of these actors + a young film actor, and I noticed some difference in the two groups. The theatre guys were a lot more patient than film actor, but never really took direction; they were great improvisers (which is okay, but it left my film actor in a very awkward position as he was more for taking serious direction).

 

Now I have read on directors such as Elia Kazan, who have worked in both theatre and film successfully, but I am still open to advice from you guys: what are some ways a director could work with a stage actor to create a great performance?

 

By the way, the films I make are mostly dramas/crime films, which I like to call "Southerns" (I take a lot of inspiration from films such as No Country for Old Men, and Badlands). I recently volunteered at my local theatre department as a technician/stage manager for the fall, but nevertheless, I would like to hear what you guys think.

 

 

 

Sincerely,


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 02:04 AM

I suspect what you're talking about really depends on the actors and the type of theatre they're coming from. When you say "improvisers" does that mean they were changing dialogue? When they're doing that it's the directors job to guide them, the actors should also be aware that the performance has have a consistency (or at least enough) so that it can be cut together. Any theatre directors I've seen tend to create the performance in advance of the cameras rolling, so perhaps you could (if possible) have sessions in advance with your actors, rather than trying to do it on the day.

 

If you're in your mid teens, there could be also a bit of a power thing going on with older actors. Let them do their improvisation, but then select the parts or ideas you want, giving them reasons, while remaining positive. Let them do their own action during the blocking stage and then see if it's better than what you've got in mind and if being at a particular spot or mark is important for a line or action in a shot tell them, also give the reason. EG You'll be framed with the door behind you. 

 

It would be worth your film actor learning improvisation, it's a handy tool for actors, although not all like doing it.. 


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#3 John W. King

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 04:22 PM

I suspect what you're talking about really depends on the actors and the type of theatre they're coming from. When you say "improvisers" does that mean they were changing dialogue? When they're doing that it's the directors job to guide them, the actors should also be aware that the performance has have a consistency (or at least enough) so that it can be cut together. Any theatre directors I've seen tend to create the performance in advance of the cameras rolling, so perhaps you could (if possible) have sessions in advance with your actors, rather than trying to do it on the day.

For the film we did earlier in the summer, our schedule was so compact that by the time we got to filming, we could only rehearse that very day (the packed schedule being my fault, another mistake I've learned from). And what I meant by improvisers was that they did change dialogue a little, but also they didn't really take my direction, which at some parts: it actually worked (example: I told one actor to pick up his wine glass midway through when he said his line in order to show his nervousness for meeting a character that had just entered the scene. He ended up not picking up the glass at all, which made me a little angry, but I stayed calm and did a retake of him taking the glass; the next day when I come to edit, I see he was moving his hands in a very shaky manner, what I notice some people do when they are nervous, and decided to go with it)

However, when it comes to doing dialogue scenes (in which we film from several angles), I give the actors a lot of direction, in order to maintain continuity. My film actor takes it perfectly, but the theatre actors are (naturally) more expressive with their hands, face, and body that I get a great performance out of them, but in the film room - things aren't too pretty. And these are above-average high school theatre actors, and my actors are either my age or a year younger, but knowing these guys, I highly doubt it's a power issue. 

 

Nevertheless, I think my greatest fault was not having rehearsals and table talks with them before the shoot. And I have tried doing some improvisation with my film actor; only a few weeks ago, we did an action film, and I wrote zero dialogue on the script - I had him improvise the fight scenes (it was a shootout picture), and what dialogue he spoke. It turned out to be a pretty good film, but I think he's geared more for strict direction..

 

Anyways, thank you for your advice, I've got a film I'm planning to shoot in October with both theatre and film actors, and will definitely use these techniques in my direction.


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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 05:46 PM

Over acting can be a bit of a problem with some theatre actors, they don't realize how little needs to be done for ti to be picked up by the camera. You usually don't need to give huge amounts of direction to maintain continuity, once their action has been blocked out and rehearsed they should maintain it, it's usually more a matter of tweaks. 


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#5 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 25 August 2014 - 08:08 PM

Sometimes actors are overacting because they have nothing to do in the scene but say lines.  In other words, make sure the blocking has them busy with stuff in the set.  Props, etc.  Even if it's mundane.  Just keep their hands busy, have them move around the set and make sure they're not just standing there, staring and talking to one another.  When they have very specific things to do, it forces them to keep continuity because they will have to remember the actions and tie the dialogue to those actions for muscle memory, timing etc.  So you're in a way, tricking them into continuity and hitting marks and keeping them from 'improving' it all.


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