Thursday, September 5, 2013

The moment before "Action"

From the Scott's Acting Tips (click here for source blog).

Note the detached, almost vacant expression in Pacino's eyes as he listen's to direction from Sidney Lumet while shooting "Dog Day Afternoon". He's listening intently while trying to maintain his focus. I see this look a lot on set.
I'll preface this post by saying what I often say in class - "Technique is like medicine.  You only use it when you need it." If you're feeling the emotions you need to feel by simply believing in the imaginary circumstances, then you don't need anything else.  It's working.  But often times (especially after 15 takes) an actor might have trouble generating the real emotion he or she needs to feel in the scene.  Typically, this is when they start "indicating" the emotions required in the scene (see my August 14th blog).

The preventative medicine to this common problem can often be found in the actor's preparation.  I suggest two phases of prep before an actor enters a scene (or the director calls "Action").  When both are used together the actor feels what he needs to feel and starts the scene anchored in the imaginary circumstances. Here's how it works:

First, click "continue reading" below...

Step 1. Get emotionally full.
Sanford Meisner
Sanford Meisner uses "Emotional Preparation".  Strasberg favored "Affective Memory".  My approach is, "Use what works!" The idea is to "fill up" emotionally and I suggest a combination of different methods. First identify a main emotion your character feels at the start of the scene. I know there may be several but you only need one for this.  Let's say "humiliation".  Next try to think of a time in your life when you felt humiliated.  If you don't have a specific memory, that's OK! Use a real memory and Tweak it.  Perhaps you recently gave a speech in front of a group of people.  It went well.  But what if you had realized while you were standing there, that your pants were unzipped, and everyone was looking! This works well because it's a real event (you really gave the speech) and you tweaked it (made up the part about your zipper being open).  This makes it easy for you to believe in and therefore easier for you to feel the imagined emotions. Be sure to imagine the incident fully.  Thinking of it isn't the same as really imagining it.  Use your senses to actually see, hear, smell, feel everything you can about the event.  Sometimes you don't even need to imagine an entire event.  You can simply remember a song that triggers an emotion in you.  Or smell a fragrance or hold an object.  Whatever you use, it's your secret.  No one needs to know.  So use anything that works for you.  This will get faster each time you do it.  When you are able to trigger the emotion and feel emotionally full within say, 30 seconds, you're ready to move on to step 2...

Lee Strasberg

From the Scott's Acting Tips (click here for source blog).

This is the second of two steps I recommend an actor takes before the director calls "Action" (or before you enter the scene).  As I said these steps, like any acting technique, are like medicine.  You take it when there is something wrong.  If you can enter a scene believing in the given circumstances and feeling what you need to feel then you don't need to do anything else.  It's working!  But 10 or 15 takes later you may need help fully believing that this is the first time you've entered this room and said these lines...and feeling what you need to feel.  That's when you need technique.  If you have not already done so, please read the last post before reading this one.

Incidentally, this is one way where my training differs with the Meisner technique.  I have found on set, that Meisner trained actors are SOMETIMES lacking in their connection to the imaginary circumstances, in the opening of a scene.  They always enter the scene emotionally full due to their training in "Emotional Preparation" however I have often noted that they don't tend to be dealing with their objective in an active way.  Here's what I suggest to my students as a solution to this problem:

After you've "Filled-up emotionally":

Create and Experience the Moment Before. 
That is not an hour before or even the minute before but literally the moment before.  What happened in the 5 seconds before you entered (or "Action")?  This moment should be related to the given circumstances in the character's life and, if at all possible, the Moment Before should increase the Obstacle for the character. The character wants something (his "Objective" or "Intention") and something is getting in the way (the "Obstacle").  By increasing the Obstacle the actor must try harder to get his objective and therefore enters the scene grounded in the imaginary circumstances.  Here's an example to make this clearer:  Hamlet is about to enter with the intention of making Ophelia hate him (for her own good) and sending her away.  The actor identifies an emotion and fills up with it (Step one).  Then, right before he enters he smells Ophelia's perfume (either through imagination or perhaps he carries it with him) and remembers how much he loves her.  His intention is to get rid of her so this increases his Obstacle. When he enters he is immersed in the imaginary circumstances.

Keep in mind that all this prep - both steps one and two - happens before the director says "Action".  Once the scene starts, your head is clear and you are reacting to the other actors and the imaginary circumstances - completely spontaneously. You can swing with abandon...

From the Scott's Acting Tips (click here for source blog).


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Editors Note: I recommend Scott, an actor with a broad background going back to childhood in Chicago.

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