Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Acting Up (SoCal Film Group repost)

Indie actors & filmmakers, take heed:

Acting Up

Steve's post about emotional context got me thinking about something I've noticed a lot of ...


More specifically, bad performance.

When you cast your film, please take the time to cast good actors.

Screw that—take the time to cast GREAT actors.

Pretty please? Your audience will thank you for it.

You've spent all this time creating the character, thinking up the backstory, writing the snappy dialogue... all of this is meaningless unless you have someone who can sell it.

Performance is everything. It's why this is a star-driven business: because these are the folks who take the time to FEEL all of these emotions that we put on the page. To paraphrase Quentin: "If you're not a great actor, you're a bad actor and bad acting is bullshit in this business."

As audience members, we're acutely aware of when someone is giving a non-genuine performance; we're human, so we know when someone is not behaving genuinely. And it doesn't matter how much production value you put into your film—if an actor is giving a bad performance, that's what will attract the most attention.

Acting is the natural recreation of human behavior. It's listening. It's reacting. It's behaving. It's FEELING in front of a camera (or on stage, or what-have-you). In short, it's NOT ACTING.

We want our audience to feel the emotions of the genre—we want them to laugh, to cry, to be scared, to be on the edge of their seats. If the actors aren't feeling it, neither will the audience. How can we become involved in the story if we're preoccupied with a crummy performance?

So please take the time to make sure your movie is cast well. Audition and re-audition and re-re-audition if necessary. Shyamalan spent FOREVER agonizing over Cole in Sixth Sense—he said he thought he wrote a part that COULDN'T be played by a child actor. And then Hayley Joel walked in and blew everyone away. On the extras for the special edition Superman DVD, watch and see all of the actors who AREN'T Superman... and then watch Christopher Reeve.

If you're shooting a five minute short or a full-length feature, make sure every part is filled with someone who will add life to your movie, not take away from it.

Pretty please? Your audience will thank you for it.

Great actors can turn even wooden prose into compelling poetry... so get the best actors you can afford. If you can't afford great actors, then rehearse with them until you feel yourself getting drawn into their performance.

My personal acid test is simple—during rehearsals, when you no longer feel like you're watching actors but feel like a voyeur peeking into a real moment between people... stop rehearsing. Let the actors end on a high note. Let their final memory of this magical moment resonate inside them before the cameras roll.

Of course, you could always hand actors sides an hour before you shoot and hope they nail it, but most indie filmmakers are probably not working with Pacino or Streep. As we say in the design world, "Garbage in, garbage out"—you can't hand a rough design sketch to a designer only 10 minutes before you need it designed and expect to get quality work everyone's happy with. Same goes for actors.

So ask yourself: if a film's acting is bad, would you bother watching it? Countless indie filmmakers focus their efforts on mastering the filmmaking's technical aspects but overlook the obvious truth: every technical aspect of filmmaking exists to support the one thing a paying audience expects to see: a moving performance. And you can't get that without great actors, or rehearsals, or both.

Filmmakers: Budget time with your actors until you feel their performance is almost ready to be filmed ("almost" because you're usually better off leaving some room for spontaneity on the day you roll cameras). Do not take an actor's fame as bona fide proof they'll nail the lines as you want them to be said. All actors worth their salt—no matter how fat their paycheck—are still actors, i.e., they flourish with the right feedback. Why do you think many big movie actors like to perform on the stage? No time in rehearsals is wasted time.

Actors: Take acting classes. Do theatre. Master a variety of monologues. Dig deep into your emotional treasure chest. Hone your ear for mimicry. Finally, demand a copy of the script well in advance of shooting and rehearse it until either your director is happy, or you are, and preferably both. If they don't give you a script, then ask yourself this career-deciding question: are you willing to have a potentially poor performance burned into film for all the world to see, forever? It's fine to take a job to network, but the play's the thing.

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