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Old December 1st, 2003, 10:44 AM   #16
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Aaron,

IMHO...the style of dialogue delivery in Lynch's films is unique, and carries through from film to film, actor to actor. I think that shows his definite stamp. I'd just like to see him going through the motions of making a film to see how he does it.
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Old December 1st, 2003, 10:53 AM   #17
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"I'm not sure what I want, but I do know that what I don't want is someone who feels like they are doing me a favor."

This is spot on. We've had more problems with people with "years" of experience than anyone else. There's a reason a lot of those people aren't in SAG yet. My ultimate goal is to build to the point where we can hire union actors. Unions can be a pain the butt, but it would be great to work with real pros.
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Old December 1st, 2003, 11:38 AM   #18
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I'm posting from the perspective of having been a "real" actor for close to 20 years, a member of SAG and AFTRA, having appeared in a number of television shows and MOWs, having taught acting professionally, and having an MFA (and PhD ABD) in acting and directing. I've also directed and cast a considerable amount of stage (but no video or film).

There are two things a professional actor must have: craft and talent. Believe it or not, talent is secondary. Craft means that the actor will know how to hit a mark, take direction, show up on time knowing their lines, work to camera, work with other actors, not be a pain in the @$$ on the set, do the scene in one take, not be a prima dona, etc. Any actor who has mastered their craft will turn in a competent performance with a minimum of fuss. Talent, on the other hand, is an amorphous and intangible quality that separates a brilliant performance from a competent one. I always had craft, but I don't think I was particularly talented, which is why I quite the business and became a lawyer (where I still act, but for much smaller audiences). And, from a production standpoint, I'll always take an actor with lots of craft and mediocre talent over one with lots of raw talent, but no craft at all.

Craft is something that can be taught, and fairly easily. Talent can be developed and nurtured, but it is a much more difficult process.

At a minimum, you want to cast an actor who has sufficient craft. Look for professional training with a good acting teacher. Almost no universities or other academic settings provide professional-quality training -- Julliard, and, perhaps, Northwestern are two exceptions that come to mind.

SAG membership (but not AFTRA) usually (but not always) indicates that at least one other producer paid the actor for work. Unless things have changed since I last worked, AFTRA, unlike SAG, was an open union/guild, i.e. anyone could join by simply paying the initiation fee.

AEA (Actors Equity) is the stage union. Note that stage-trained actors _may_ not necessarily be a good choice for film and/or video work. It requires different skills to be able pull together a coherent performance in little bits and pieces, as required for video and film.

At the audition, watch how the actor works with sides (the section of audition script). Do they ask intelligent questions? Are they text bound, or can they get off of the page? Do they actually _listen_ to whomever they're reading against? (You should have a casting director/assistant/someone who can read to read with them.)

Check their resume and head-shot. Do they look professional? BTW, assume at least half the credits are lies or exaggerations.

All of this goes to craft. As for talent, again, training is important, but only professional training counts. Talk to the actor about their process. The best actors have a very specific way of approaching the role and, again, process is something that can be taught. There's not enough room here to describe the various processes in detail. In summary, though, I have a personal bias against pure-method actors; method is a technique for creating an emotional reality, but it takes more than that to produce an interesting performance. The performance of actors trained only in "classic" Stanislavky method appear to me to be self-indulgent, their work looks like emotional masturbation. The better actors use method techniques, but also use actions and through-lines (at the most deconstructioned level , acting is "getting what you want from other people," not simply "feeling."). Look for people trained with Sanford Meisner (Neighborhood Playhouse), Uta Hagen (HB), the late Roy London (my favorite acting teacher -- Gary Schandling has a separate credit thanking Roy on the Gary Schnadling Show), or others who teach in these schools.

At the audition, choose material that is emotionally and situationally ambiguous -- see if the actor is capable of making intelligent and interesting choices. Let the actor read once, as they prepared. Then vary the reading -- give them a different context, relationship, back-story, etc., and let them read the same material again. See if they are flexible enough to work with the changes. The biggest "test" for me, both as actor and director, was whether a "hot" moment could be created out of the material -- text means nothing, since everything is about emotional reality AND action. When I taught acting, I used to give my beginning students "nothing" scenes -- these were scenes that offered no clue as to character or context. The scenes only came to life when the actor made a choice about what they wanted from the other character, what made their stakes high, etc. A good actor with these skills can make a reading from the phone book interesting.

Okay, I'm jet-lagged and tired, otherwise I'd keep writing about acting. ;)
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Old December 1st, 2003, 12:19 PM   #19
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Another thing to keep in mind, is it's a good idea to have backups for all your lead actors. Pick one or two of the most promising actors you had to pass on, and ask them if they would be interested in taking over if a position opens up. You might even give them a script, and assure them they will at least get some screen time as a prominent extra. If you do have to can somebody, you can slide one of your backups right in. Believe me, it keeps the other jokers on their toes. If you do have to make a move like this, do it early, and never fire somebody in front of the other actors or crew.
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Old December 1st, 2003, 05:11 PM   #20
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Wow Paul! Even jet lagged, you said a mouthful! I only wish you could be my neighbor. With the years of experience you have, on screen, off screen, and in the courtroom, you sir, are a valuable resource! And I even remember you in the Twilite Zone... You were the guy on the phone. And you said your weren't memorable!
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Old December 1st, 2003, 05:20 PM   #21
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Paul's one of the few people on the planet who could set a camera and lighting up properly, hop in front of the lens to perform, and then defend his performance production in court with equal aplomb!
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Old December 1st, 2003, 07:00 PM   #22
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Paul: I agree that stage actors aren't usually the best film actors. I have performed in several stage dramas/musicals with numerous compliments, alongside other actors who are similarly praised. In my limited experience with working with them in film/video (assisting my friend, who was directing a feature on DV), however, these award-nominated stage actors seem to have a little trouble controlling their energy. Stage acting allows enormous amounts of (controlled) energy, but on film, even a little too much can ruin a shot.

Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to act in many shorts or movies, but from what I have seen, I seem to have an equally hard time creating a believable character on film as did my co-actors from stage.
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Old December 1st, 2003, 07:18 PM   #23
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Friend of mine just called up to complain that he had assembled a crew, cast, equipment and was all ready to yell, "Action." when the lead actress ran off the set yelling, "I can't do this!"

Too bad he didn't have an understudy.

Oh, and several other major characters have committments that will not allow them to continue past the first of the year.

Anybody know of a hot late-teens, early-twenties Northern California actress that wants to step in? I don't know what the script is but at the beginning, the young lady is Caucasian and then becomes African-American.

I'm going to paste this in Helping Hands.
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Old December 1st, 2003, 07:55 PM   #24
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I would just like to take a moment to bring this discussion back to the new director's responsibility in all of this. Besides having done some directing, I have also had the opportunity to work with a few first time directors, and I have been struck by the total lack of understanding some have of what acting is all about. And to further muck things up, they don't know the language of acting. They tend, for the most part, to be what are often called "result oriented" directors. That is, they try to prod the actor into giving the result they think they want to see.

In one situation, we were doing a fantasy scene that was very "Cinderella," where a girl comes into a party and sees "the prince," and the director told the actress (who was a celebrity ice skater, not an actress) that she sees the prince and immeadiately "falls in love" with him. "I want to see love in your eyes," he told the poor girl, who obviously had no idea what to do. Take two: "More love, give me more love!" he exhorted her. This is quite typical.

Another example would be: "You're mad, really pissed off at him. I want to see anger, show me how mad you can get!" So, the actor proceeds to smash the set. No take two. In both of these situations, the director is attempting to get a result from the actor, rather than giving the actor something to do in the scene, to arrive at what he is looking for. So, the poor actor just vamps something that he hopes will please the director.

Actors need to have things to do, so they strive to make the intelligent choices that Paul mentioned. I doubt that most first time directors have any idea what he means by "choices." And to make correct choices, you have to be able to analyze a scene and discover what it is about. If an actor has a different conception of what the scene is about than you do as the director, you most likely will not like his interpretation of the scene. But, if you can guide him to make choices that will lead him to where you want him to be, you may be pleasantly surprised to find he is just what you were looking for.

There is just so much more to all this, that we have not even scratched the surface. The point is, if you want actors to treat you with respect as a director, you had best damn well earn it by preparing to work with them as equals. And that means learn what actors do, and how they go about it. They will understand that you are new to this, and they will work with you. But they will do a better job if you have prepared.

I second Barry's recommendation to get Judith Weston's book, "Directing Actors." And then start working with actors before you begin to shoot your first film. Hell, you wouldn't walk onto the set without a script, would you? Or without having had long discussions with your DP? Why do you think you can just walk on a set and say, "Action." And try to have a little humility about all this.

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Old December 1st, 2003, 10:41 PM   #25
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Quote:
Friend of mine just called up to complain that he had assembled a crew, cast, equipment and was all ready to yell, "Action." when the lead actress ran off the set yelling, "I can't do this!"
Once, I was doing a one-hour dramatic show for a very, very well known producer in which something similar happened -- one of the leads was from New York and primarily stage-trained and experienced. This person (I'm deliberately being vague about who this was -- I don't even want to identify the person's gender) needed to "prepare" before every scene by going off by themself and doing internal work, during which time they could not be disturbed. Now, this kind of thing is fine when you're doing stage, you get to the theater early, and do your preparation before curtain. It is not so great when when the cast and crew and are waiting around for you at a cost of several thousand dollars a minute. Based on comments by the other lead (a well-known actor) and the director, it was unlikely that this person would be working for this production company again. In my years of working in LA, I rarely saw these kinds of displays of temperment, though. Stars never did it, nor did actors like myself (by the time I quit, I had worked my way up to co-star billing).

Quote:
In one situation, we were doing a fantasy scene that was very "Cinderella," where a girl comes into a party and sees "the prince," and the director told the actress (who was a celebrity ice skater, not an actress) that she sees the prince and immeadiately "falls in love" with him. "I want to see love in your eyes," he told the poor girl, who obviously had no idea what to do. Take two: "More love, give me more love!" he exhorted her. This is quite typical.
This kind of direction is quite common, but an experienced actor knows what to do with it. I'd like to take credit for this, but I learned it from Roy London and Joan Darling (another first-rate LA acting coach), and used to teach it myself. When a director gives this kind of direction, i.e. "I want to see more [fill-in-the-blank-emotion]," or, "You need to play even more [fill-in-the-blank-emotion]," what he is really saying is, "There's an empty moment, here." As an actor, that doesn't mean play more love, or amusement or hatred, or whatever but, rather, see what you need to do to make the moment hotter. It may entail using a different substition (a method technique that lets you bring an emotional history to a scene with a stranger/actor), identifying a different action/objective, or, in general, increasing your personal stakes. 99% of the time, if you do your work this way, the director will say, "Perfect, that's exactly what I want," even if he told you to cry and your revised work caused you to laugh. The 1% of the time it doesn't work is because the director is a hack (or a student of Wagner, who believed that actors were "super marionettes" who could be programmed, like robots, to perform exactly as the director wished), and there's not much you can do.

As an actor, it's nice when directors know about the process of acting, but it's not strictly necessary. When I was teaching my beginners, I used to wear a sweatshirt that said, "The Lines Mean S___!" The idea was, an actor approaches a role by creating an emotional reality and identifying the actions that will get achieve their objective in the scene, and these are _not_ something you find in the script -- the lines are merely tools for the performance. If the writing is good, it makes the task easier -- there's more to work with, more room for creative choices, more suggestions and hints about conflict, etc. However, there is never one "right" line reading, or one way to play a scene. Poor directors give line readings, good ones discuss actions and objectives.

Wayne is absolutely right. Good actors don't play results -- in fact, good actors can't play results. They play actions designed to achieve an emotional/social objective, using a variety of techniques to create an internal emotional reality which makes the objective sufficiently important to result in an interesting scene. "The body takes care of itself" (my other sweatshirt). Result-oriented directing makes the process more difficult, not easier, for the actor. BTW, all the best actors of my generation work this way -- DeNiro, Streep, Duvall, Hoffman, Pacino -- all of them studied with acting coaches who teach this technique. I can't speak for the actors who have come up in the last decade since I quit acting, but watching them, I'd be shocked if the good ones worked any other way than this.

I can't suggest any books on film directing -- I've never done it, and only know film and television from the actor's perspective. I can recommend Uta Hagen's "Respect for Acting" as a very good summary of the acting process.
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Old December 2nd, 2003, 12:04 AM   #26
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Something that helped my actors make dramatic portrayal choices was supplying them with a backstory for their characters. That is, I gave each of them a page or two of (ficticious) biographical background information on their character that was outside of the film's actual story. This helped me to convey the type of character I was looking for and, according to the actors, helped them to get into their characters' skins when the camera was rolling.

Also, I want to pick up on earlier remarks concerning stage -vs- screen actors. Indeed, the stage actors seemed to often deliver their dialog louder and exaggerate their gestures more than necessary for a camera. It took them a while to get used to the idea of sensitive microphones and a camera lens that could detect the slightest facial muscle twitch.
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Old December 2nd, 2003, 08:27 AM   #27
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"It took them a while to get used to the idea of sensitive microphones..."

Oh man is that the truth. I've found that stage actors have trouble increasing their intensity without increasing their vocal level. It creates havoc with the mix. I'm getting ticked just thinking about it. In their defense though, I would say stage actors typically show more commitment. They have more respect for the craft or something. I'd much rather try to teach someone not to yell so much than deal with all the other stuff.
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Old December 2nd, 2003, 11:29 AM   #28
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In my opinion, DL gets his feel and consistency because he writes or co-writes the scripts himself, as well as using very specific production design and direction methodologies.

For example, if I were to watch "The Ring" I would say, the lead actress is adequate for the part. If I were to watch "Molholland Drive" I would say the lead actress is an incredible talent. I think they're the same actress, so it can't just be all about her.

The sum might be actor+material (script)+direction, and if all 3 are great, the sum will be really great. Maybe production quality too, i.e. an actor might give a better performance on an expensive set, compared to a greenscreen (i.e. Star Wars 2).

[bac]

Also, in one of the Twin Peaks DVDs, one of the actors discusses how DL made him eat this piece of bread over and over again, getting more aggro about it. The actor thought he was crazy, but that's the style.

<<<-- Originally posted by John Locke : Has anyone ever noticed the consistent acting style in films by David Lynch? I've always wondered how he manages to control that so well, given the variety and range of actors he's used.-->>>
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Old December 2nd, 2003, 02:07 PM   #29
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Mulholland Drive. Need to watch my DVD of that again (and again).

Thanks for such a great thread! Joy to read. I heard some of it
before, but it is nice to see it here in one place.

John, I would also like to see some great director directos some
great actors. You know, just tailing them through a scene with
all the takes and whatnot. Would be quite nice.

I think someone told me once of a DVD that has such a (short?)
piece on it. Forgot which one though.

Let's hope Kill Bill will have some of that, I saw a behind the
scenes piece that touched on the subject.
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