Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 15th Jan 2013

Busy night.  Long night.  Will as the righteous clone.  Martin the righteous son.  Casey the righteous virtual detective.  Campbell the righteous actor.  Elizabeth the righteous paralegal….. There seems to be a theme here…. Oh why the hell not?  It’s a stretch but…. Aaron the righteous music critic.  And Zahn the guy trying to get laid at the wedding.  Bada bing!  That was exhausting. The shy quiet Lise sat in and audited.  And we had two writers… Ryan and Matt…. sitting in and watching Martin work on a scene they had written for a feature.
Huge variety last night…. scenes from pilots, films, and plays….. and even some scene writing explicitly for this arena.  Some of it was good…. some bad.  Good writing usually goes right into your head…. bad writing is harder to learn.  Will found that out.  Lots of exposition….. which is nice when it’s good writing which reveals character like the paralegal Liz worked on.  Lots of playful patter.  And two detective scenes!

So what is your obligation to the writing as an actor.  I believe that it is to bring the material to life.  Ryan and Matt both came down on the side…. that actors can and should help make their writing better.  That’s part of our collaborative art.  It varies from genre to genre but you should never have as your top priority to get every word exactly.  The only exceptions are Shakespeare and sit coms and plays…. there you must try to be word perfect.  But…. “It ain’t about the words.”  Your obligation is to find the thoughts and emotions behind the words and make it all come alive.  So if you have to change or add words or improvise or use an accent…. you must do it.  You have to get the words that are flat on the page to stand up and be alive.  That’s our craft….. our challenge… our obligation….. the art of acting.

So this brings us to the issue of improv.  The craft of acting is always evolving.  When I first hit the boards improv was not even spoken of.  It was verboten !  Writers were the kings and we as actors were obligated to make every word work.  Thank God that era is over.  We now recognize that actors have an artistic responsibility to make dialogue better…. not just repeat it like a parrot.   I have always maintained that by the time we get to a set… we should/must know more about the character than the writer or director.  This is how our collaborative craft has evolved and continues to evolve.  Living in fear of changing or forgetting a word is not creative.  Finding ways to make words come alive is…. even if that means changing or adding or dropping something that the writer did.  Good writers. good directors…. good actors recognize this and engage this creative task.  The specific amount will vary from genre to genre and project to project.  But to not be aware of this issue as an artist…. or to be afraid to engage this process limits you creatively.  Don’t get painted into the corner by the the urban myth that actors must speak every word that is on the page.  To put it most simply.  That’s BULLSHIT.

Different kinds of material present different issues.  But what we’re engaging is a process of bringing life to writing.  Improv is a tool that you must use in your prep.  You must find the life in the writing.  If you obsess about getting the words exactly rather than finding the life.  You’re missing the creative boat.  Focus on the life…. not the lines !

Long night with lots of challenges.  Commentary tonight was very good.

Zahn…

Yes it might be time to go back to bad guys.  Enough mush.  But two things emerged from this work.   First the element of drinking…. fire water.  So many of those bad guys you play would likely be drinkers.  Certainly not drunk all the time but they inhabit a domain where drinking would be common.  And with this element you can increase impulsivity.  I saw this in the last take… and I think it’s an element/adjustment that you can weave into your work without anyone knowing. If you create a character that’s a drinker….. then anger and humor are much more likely to be random impulses and there can be more physical movement.  For instance I loved some of the movement(hands thru hair and walking into the scene).  It just made him looser physically and that’s liberating.  Second….And again the question of vocal presence.  I’m convince now that those moments when your presence drops that it is frequently a question of intention…. with intention comes presence because the character wants to communicate.  That desire supports presence.  So when you find a moment that drops off vocally look to your process and see if you can find that need to communicate

Casey…

Great exploration.  A detective scene…. but well disguised in the “Inception” like layers of complexity.  We were finding his emotional presence in this virtual world and at the same time finding his detective thoughts.  My head hurst from trying to follow all the layers but you seem to have the puzzle figured out.  I’m anxious to hear how the audition went.  This was early process… still learning lines…. but you were discovering the life as you absorbed lines.  So touching the phonograph and dancing and were helping ground you in this make believe world.  This was the first time you’ve worked on theatrical material in a while.  Maybe it’s time to do another play ?  This was challenging material and it was nice to see you engaging the complexity…. something that seldom happens is TV and Film writing.

Martin…

Exploration.  You we’re still learning the lines/scene. We added context… where they were.  We looked for different levels.  In the final take we asked…. ” What if the lines were down cold?”… would it be possible to do that confrontation in one unbroken crescendo/explosion of emotion….. Perhaps.   It would be worth a couple of takes to see if it were possible.  My inclination is rather to find levels and feedback and thought and cut away shots to your Dad’s face.  Longer explosions can become rants… and there is something shallow about a rant as opposed to a deeply felt and emotionally varied confrontation that/s been brewing for years.  That’s why Matt and Ryan included the dad’s line about his throwing hand.  It was their instinct to find humor in this emotionally charged confrontation…. and you missed that moment/that dialogue because you were focused on the emotional challenge.  Just think what an emotional bounce/impulse you’d get when you hear your father be concerned about your throwing hand now here in public as you finally confront him about being a failure as a father.  In process…. this is perhaps the time to concentrate on the emotions.  But… For me anger, passion, sadness… big emotions come in waves.  And as one wave crashes on the rocks it provides the impulse for the next…. feedback.  I would as a director ask for both approaches and make the decision in editing.  Watch your body so it doesn’t lean in….. even if it’s something that  TV Detectives(David Caruso) do.  There was extra pressure to perform here tonight because the writers were there and you were still early in process.  You found a strong emotional path…. and we explored.  Lets talk further about finding material for you reel.  This is a powerful scene.

Will…

I think this was a question of style.  You played the character based on a stilted speech of a clone.  What we saw in playback  was…. there was just too much clumsy exposition that you had to get through.  That’s why you found so much trouble memorizing.  When you improvised through it we saw the emotional path of the scene…… unburdened from exposition.  And we could then care about this guy… as we should….. he’s a protagonist.  He’s struggling for his life and freedom.  This ties into the issue of writing.  In the continuum of writing…. low budget movies require the actor’s greatest contribution to dialogue.  It’s really one of our artistic obligations. Show up on time and ready to work…. and play.  We’re doing a screen play(low budget) and you have to play with the dialogue…. creatively, intelligently and use all your skills to bring life to this writing.  Our guest writers expect it, we’ve used it in several projects….. but you didn’t use it here.  And that was the question of style.  You chose that word centric style and executed it well….. and that might indeed be how they finally do it…. but that’s a long uphill battle to make the characters approachable if they choose to go that way.  We’re talking many rewrites.  I think you’re better served in this kind of project to bring your artistic obligation to make it better and make it come alive… and the only way to do that is to change the dialogue and bring some life to it.  If in an initial audition you find writers and directors who are egotistically attached to the exact words they’ve written…. you’d have to ask yourself if you’d want to do it….  because you would be giving up a substantial part of your creativity.  This is a challenge but….. I think it would be a good exercise for you to bring this material back and see if you can inject some life into it…. by changing some of the writing.

Aaron…

This is a love scene.   A classic pilot arc…. How do we get such disparate people together?  The sides give you 3 scenes that make up their romance.   And here….  they are arranging their first date.  And she asks him !  Or she certainly gives him the chance.  She brings up the idea of “parking his stick shift in her garage.”  She would never do that unless she thought he was cute/interesting.  So you have to find the sense of play and flirtation and patter than nascent attraction engenders.  That’s why pace was so important.  Some dialogue…. like some music is written to be done fast.  It’s the only way to catch the tone of that kind of conversation.  And as you eased into the exchange you were learning to listen and react with the lines as something in his conversation charms you.  So when he answers the question and walks away…. maybe she got what she wanted…. so you have to feel that and allow us to see it.  That doesn’t mean show it.  That means let the life in the scene affect you…. and let the camera in so we can feel what you’re feeling.  I think this would be a good scene for you to work on again.  It might be a good idea to a bring in the other scenes too in the next couple of classes so you can get a sense of the arc of these characters in this pilot.  She’s a good character for you…. as Casey said…. it allows you to bring her eccentricities and off beat qualities to life.

Elizabeth…

Very challenging dialogue.  Almost a monologue…. which allows us to see that she’s efficient, pretty, smart, and certainly doesn’t suffer fools easily.  A real modern chick…. and she’s gotta wicked mouth on her. Surely she’s the creation of the staff of male writers.  She shows us the whole office, explains the structure of the firm, and lets us discover the tenor of this relationship… that’s a lot to accomplish in a small scene.  So you have to be solid on lines and “Leap….. and the net will appear.”   I so envy actors who have the skill and the brain to be able to handle mounds of dialogue… which you obviously do.  And yes this is the kind of character that you can and should play.  We loosened your body up and let you move around the office.  “When your body knows where it is it knows how to act.”  If you allow your talent to create and be in the physical circumstance/space of the scene….. that’s a part of the “net” that will appear ! When we have activities it’s always easier to act.  Here the creation of the space is an internal activity that will help your body relax and respond.  See the office…. walk down the hall… hear the sounds… feel the carpet under your feet…. you can do all that and say the words.  It’s not just that the net will appear…. it’s that you create the net.  I think this would be a good scene for you to repeat and get another shot at this kind of character.

Campbell…

Again context.  We opened him up to talking not just to the camera but to the actors/fans on the other end.  Once it became conversational it opened to us….  cause he was talking to us/his fans/his fellow actors rather than at us.   The key to monologues is figuring out why you keep talking.  How do you turn it into a dialogue…..( and something about “coming from the crotch.?”) Once you did that he didn’t seem deranged… just a little Coo Coo.  And maybe as it progresses into a rant it becomes talking at us again and we can observe how crazy he is? Loved the bird.  Love the agent calling…. both those things add life and character.  This is another version of the voice of the angry actor and the more specific you are with each character the more universal and varied they will be.  Packing little moments of life/character/behavior off the lines is the best way to allow us to know who he is and identify with his real actor’s frustration and not just his craziness.  This is the second time you’ve written a series of 4… here it was times of the day…. last time it was(brain fart)…. both those sections were difficult to sustain.  Last time we just blew through them… tonight I ignored them to see how they’d develop.  When you’re writing multiple characters you must be certain that your writing habits/patterns don’t unintentionally appear in different characters.  Or if they do…. then your acting craft must find a way to use them differently.