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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Actor Preparation vs Actor Planning

By Scott Rogers

Scott Rogers Studios

One theme that keeps coming up in my classes is the difference between Preparing and Planning. I always say, “Preparation is good but Planning is bad”. 

Simply put:
Preparation: is all the research and imagination work you do on your character and their relationships. Knowing your character inside out is important if you want to really feel what they would feel under the given circumstances.

Planning: is deciding what you should feel or express and when. For example, deciding to cry at a certain point in the script or deciding to get angry at a certain point or even deciding to drop your head, roll your eyes, sigh… These things should happen because they are triggered and not because you have decided they should happen.

This is very important when you work in TV. Unlike acting on stage, when you act on TV (and in many movies) there is effectively NO rehearsal. You see, as an actor, until you are on set and ready to shoot, you never know what the director is going to want, how the scene will be staged, what the set looks like, or how the other actor will be saying his lines. The more you plan, the more you will be thrown when things don’t go the way you planned – and they WON’T. The scene you rehearsed so diligently in your trailer, which takes place on a park bench, in the script, may be shot as a walk-and-talk (a scene shot while the characters are walking and talking). Or the scene you rehearsed as a confrontation in a bar could easily be shot as a scene at a horse race or at the beach.  You just don't know until you're there, "on the day".

This isn't to say there is absolutely no planning that takes place.  Naturally, there is.  You will have to hit your marks, violence must be staged,
the director may even want you to cry on a specific line.  Your job is to make these planned moments appear completely spontaneous and triggered. That's difficult enough without adding planned moments of your own into the mix! Also, all of your plans are made without taking the other actor into account.  The choices they make will (ideally) change your own choices and plans.  Or, more likely, they will throw you, since you weren't expecting their choice.  If this happens you will find that you will avoid listening to the other actor because it throws you!  Now you're acting in a vacuum and that is never a good thing.  You won't be REACTING to them at all.

Think of your preparation as building a foundation from which to soar. You are building a platform 50 feet high. The stronger you make it, the more it will support you when the time comes to push off from it and fly. At some point you will have to take a leap of faith and trust that you will fly.   


If however, you try to plan out every step you will take when you leave the platform, that’s akin to building a path to walk on, instead of flying. When you do this, you end up spending all your energy trying to stay on the path (you don’t want to FALL!). Well, when the director or the other actors do things that you don’t expect it’s like they’re throwing unexpected turns in your path. All your focus ends up on staying on the path and the more you try to stay on it, the harder it becomes. Instead of flying with abandon you are struggling to stay on a rickety track that is falling apart as you take each step.

That's no way to act! this forces you to actually avoid listening to the other actors because they are liable to throw you and instead causes you to focus on yourself so your performance will go as you planned no matter what the other actors say or do. I call this "acting in a vacuum" and it isn't a good thing!  So instead, Prepare like crazy: Do imagination work on your character and their relationships, do research, study the pathology of your character and, of course, learn your lines!!  Once you have done all that, you've built yourself a platform from which to soar.  It's time to let go of everything (your safety net is strong!) and take that giant leap of faith!  It's the only way to fly.

And would you want to act any other way?

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