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Old 09-10-2011, 05:17 PM   #1
gorillaonabike
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Getting the talent to go to 'that place.'

I am shooting my first 'real' short in October and have just completed casting. It is an extremely simple short with very little story because I believe the first should be as simple as possible while I build experience, although, admittedly I have done stuff on others' shorts including one which is currently showing at a festival. In addition, I have a little professional experience although this was over 20 years ago and as a musician.

Although it is extremely simple, I want to get the best of out of my talent. The way I direct is typically to talk to the talent and try to take them to a place where they 'feel' the emotion from an experience in their life. This feeling then translates itself to the performance which then goes into the camera.

Before the short, I will have a short readthrough (with food) where the talent can get to know each other. I will be showing them their rushes from their performances and getting them to connect with each other as well as share ideas.

So this is how I will be getting the best possible performance out of the talent.

But this is only my method. How do you guys get those pesky things called 'actors' to perform?
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Old 09-10-2011, 05:44 PM   #2
kinglis
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A director/teacher once told me: You don't tell a "talent" (to put it in your words) or (let's be honest) an actor what to do or how to act. You can only tell them what the physical body feels (if they don't know) while going through a certain experience (whatever it is: fainting, pleasure, pain) and let them interpret it their own way.

I'm curious about other people's responses to this thread as much as you
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Old 09-10-2011, 06:01 PM   #3
Uranium City
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A lot of that should be done in casting...you should cast actors that you know can get to that level. All actors work differently; some despise rehearsals and some need them. If you've got definite plans for how you want your acting to be, definitely rehearse!

If taking them on the emotional route doesn't work, don't hesitate to spell out specifically what you NEED THEM TO DO.
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Old 09-10-2011, 06:06 PM   #4
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As an actor there's nothing more frustrating that having a director who is constantly involving themselves in how you act and why you act.

Part of directing is, as UC says, casting well and making sure that you have actors who you trust with the material. If you're having to fine tune and tailor the performances all the time as you work, it's going to look unnatural.

I find that if I'm directing I try not to tell people how to act (same in theatre as in film) but give simple directional and technical advice ('Hit this mark', 'Reign it in a little bit', 'Do it again but this time you're properly shitting yourself') which, on the whole, actors will prefer to riff off.

Obviously it depends a lot on the quality of the actors and the quality of the script- if they're not acting it how it's supposed to be acted then that's when you need to step in and guide them. But I would always steer clear of preemptive guiding.
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Old 09-10-2011, 07:55 PM   #5
gorillaonabike
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Uranium City View Post
A lot of that should be done in casting...you should cast actors that you know can get to that level. All actors work differently; some despise rehearsals and some need them. If you've got definite plans for how you want your acting to be, definitely rehearse!

If taking them on the emotional route doesn't work, don't hesitate to spell out specifically what you NEED THEM TO DO.
You've hit a raw nerve today talking about casting as we've just done the second day casting and I am maddeningly disappointed. We just rejected a vaguely recognisable actress who is appearing in October on a popular soap and has had small but visible parts on TV pieces which everyone in the UK would know. Her face is recognisable and pretty. She is a sort of model-cum-actress.

I am absolutely gutted - so disappointed as I would have loved to have her on board just because she is vaguely recognisable and if she rises up the soap ranks, she may become a 'name' in the UK. However, she read the lines like a superficial soap star. She was selling the idea she wanted to shoot something artistic, profound and 'risky' but I couldn't get her to that place. I wanted steak tartare followed by a fondant au chocolat accompanied by a nice Sauternes and she gave me bubblegum. We had to cast someone else who could go there and touched us through the camera. Sure, I may regret it in the future but right now, that is what we want.

I am sooo gutted, sooo gutted that I couldn't use her but hey, this is an artistic short and we, as a team, wanted to touch the viewer in an artistic way. Of critical importance was to cast actors that I could get to that place where they could reach through the fourth wall and my MO is to take them to that place by talking with them, pointing the way and then letting them take me there. This is what we did in casting and while it was highly effective for the women, it was less so for the guys.

However, the question was not about exploring the rights and wrongs of casting. It is more an exploration of how you get your talent to go 'there' - that place which can touch the viewer - hopefully of empathy, rather than laughing because my attempt at a short is so bad. What do you do to get your talent to find that place you need them to go to?
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Old 09-10-2011, 08:14 PM   #6
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I am sooo gutted, sooo gutted
Don't be... Now you have the chance to turn your chosen actress into a star...
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Old 09-10-2011, 09:01 PM   #7
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Quote:
However, the question was not about exploring the rights and wrongs of casting. It is more an exploration of how you get your talent to go 'there' - that place which can touch the viewer - hopefully of empathy, rather than laughing because my attempt at a short is so bad. What do you do to get your talent to find that place you need them to go to?
I understand your question, and my answer is that I cast actors that can do this without my intervention or with very little guidance from me. They go 'there' because they love the material and love their craft. That's what they do...they go 'there.' It has little to do with me as a director (in film, at least...in theatre, I think, I have more input in helping actors go 'there.')

If they aren't getting there, though...if they don't understand the stakes, then I find it very useful to use my entire body in getting them to understand the stakes. I'll jump up from my chair and pull them aside and very animatedly say, "can you imagine what this must be like? Think about it...you've just lost your son, don't you remember the time you went fishing and he was six and he fell in and you jumped in and pulled him up and he was never in any danger but he thanked you forever for saving his life..." or something. I'll pep them up like a coach would an athlete.

Your emotional appearance and state can go a long way into guiding them where they need to be. If you need them pissed, get pissed at the actor. If you need them beguilingly cute, then tenderly touch their arm as you give them a note. William Friedken famously slapped an actor in order to get him to appear shaken in The Exorcist. (I don't recommend you do this.)
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Old 09-10-2011, 09:06 PM   #8
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Cattle prods! Enforced method acting! Actually, one of my favorite filmmaking stories is Hitchcock putting a spider in the cornfield with Cary Grant in North By Northwest, because he was terrified of them.

Seriously though, if you can get your actors to be their characters, even when the cameras aren't rolling I'll think you'll be on the right path. That, and as others have said, there are great actors out there, and you can find them!
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Old 09-10-2011, 09:41 PM   #9
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I've never directed an actor (although I've guided a lot of them through ADR along with the director), but have produced dozens of singers in the studio. Everything that has been said so far is totally right - and totally wrong. Every performer is an individual, and you have to have to treat them as such.

They are all going to have their individual quirks. You've got to get good stuff out of them when they're at their worst, keep them "under control" when they're all hyped up, encourage them when they're down, give praise when they do a great job. You are mother, father, priest/confessor, best friend, worst enemy turn and turn about. There are times when you should just let them riff, others when you have to be completely dictatorial - and all of this can change day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. And you have to do this not with one actor, but with two or three or more, none of whom are ever in the same place at the same time.

And that's why you need a crew you can rely on; their job is to satisfy your visual and sonic requirements, and you need to be able to trust them to do their jobs as you have previously directed them to do so you can focus on guiding the talent to a performance with which they and you are satisfied. To me that is where so many low/no/micro budget projects fall apart; the director tries to wear too many hats and loses focus on the performances.

It is the most exasperating, frustrating, infuriating, horrible, wonderful, rewarding job in the world. Good Luck!
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Old 09-10-2011, 11:18 PM   #10
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I'm not saying this is the best way to do it, or that such thing as the best way even exists, but I actually prefer to just get right into rehearsals, without having told the actors a thing. I enjoy seeing what they bring to the performance, and I fear that if I start things out by telling them what I'm looking for, then I might ruin the chance of seeing them do something brilliant, that I never would have thought of.

After the first couple read-throughs, then I start to ask for changes in the places that I've envisioned differently. Sometimes this is a very straight-forward thing, where I communicate what I was looking for, and the actor immediately understands my vision, and agrees with it. Sometimes it turns into more of a back-and-forth, in which I communicate what I wanted, but they still see it differently, and we have a discussion about the positives/negatives of doing it one way or another. Ultimately, I call the shots, and the actors know that, but I very much appreciate hearing their creative input (and I'm not afraid to allow my mind to be changed by something they've said).

The whole thing about trying to get an actor to go to a special place, by reminding them of something in their past. I dunno, I think it depends on the level of experience of your talent. I think for most experienced actors/actresses, they have a methodology of taking themselves to "that place" that is much more sophisticated than anything I could tell them, because they're trained actors, and I'm a trained director. So, me telling them how to get to "that place" would kind of be like them telling me where to place the camera.

Again, I'm not saying my way is right, or that any other way is wrong, but in my discussions with my talent, I'm just straight-forward with them. If I think their character should be emotionally-crushed in this scene, I don't beat-around-the-bush and try to get them to remember a time in their life, in which they were emotionally-crushed; I just tell them that they should be emotionally-crushed, and I let them figure out how to get their.

Good luck! This is exciting!
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Old 09-10-2011, 11:23 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alcove Audio View Post
To me that is where so many low/no/micro budget projects fall apart; the director tries to wear too many hats and loses focus on the performances.

It is the most exasperating, frustrating, infuriating, horrible, wonderful, rewarding job in the world. Good Luck!
So very true. Alcove, I'm not sure if you took part in this one infamous thread, but it was one in which a lot of people were telling me that I wasn't putting enough effort into cinematography (because I was basically putting almost no effort into it). The logic I tried to explain was that I didn't want to saddle myself with wearing too many hats, because I wanted to devote most of my energy to truly directing. It wasn't a very popular theory, but the pitfall you've just described is what I was trying to avoid, while accepting that my movie would have relatively low production value, at least it would be well-directed!

Anyway, as you mention, the true solution to this problem is to have a larger, more experienced crew.

Also, you forgot one thing on your list -- fun. Directing is SO FUN!!!
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Old 09-11-2011, 12:49 AM   #12
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I write a complete biography on each character. I list all of the things that I think would have formed their personality into the person that I envision the character as. I am hoping that this method will allow the actors to 'become' the character and embody him/her completely so that the actor isn't acting but rather reacting as the character that I have written.
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Old 09-11-2011, 12:50 AM   #13
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You have to do what you have to do. What works for one actor might not work for another. Say it as many different ways as necessary till the actor gets it perfect. Of course don't start out with notes. Let them run through it, and guide them through. Actors actually like notes. Especially good ones. They're looking to improve with every take.

The most important thing is don't settle for an OK take. With the exception of film, all medias are cheap. So, you don't have to settle for a few takes and run. Get it right. Because bad acting is a movie killer.
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Old 09-11-2011, 11:43 AM   #14
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Thank you for all your comments and there are some which are very useful. In particular, I am on ebay looking for a cattle prod...

However, I absolutely take on board the point about allowing the crew to do what they do best so I can focus on the creative. All the technicals are taken care of ranging from the shot list to my trust in the DP. We are severely lacking a strong sound recordist but I've got the best I can do in the time available.

Everything needs to be down pat before we shoot because we have limited time in each location. I don't want to kill the acting spontaneity but at the very least, we will have a lunch and a readthrough with the talent to stimulate ideas and keep the talent going in the right direction.

And on the day, I need to get the talent into the right place, quickly due to the limited time.

Ultimately, it's my first real short so I'm not expecting it to be any good, especially as it is an abstract, artistic exploration (read 'pretentious') of emotion, ambition and crushed dreams. It may even be completely incomprehensible. However, I want to give ourselves the best possible opportunity when we shoot this.
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Old 09-11-2011, 07:43 PM   #15
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I think it really depends on the actor and the director's style.

On film I had a model who was one of the leads, within the first hour of getting on set and us getting ready to shoot he came over and ask "So, my character is basically this big headed jerk" and I was "yes, the more the better"

That concluded the "directing" I gave him that were not movement instructions.

Others I had to practically act the role for them in order for them to copy me. And the model was able to do the other guys role better of camera I wish I could of use him for both...

Sigh...
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