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Old November 30th, 2003, 08:49 AM   #1
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For anybody that have worked or collaborated with "REAL" actors.

What are the dead giveaways that your "actor" can't really act?

I'm in the process of finding one male actor and when I get several to choose from I want to be able to pick the right one right of the bat. To make my choosing process more easy, I want to know the basic giveaways for a bad/inexperienced actor.

Anyone ever thought about this? There should be ways one could easy dissmiss the ones that wont cut it when it comes down to real acting.

And I'm not talking about the really really obvious bad actors here. So lets go abit deeper. When the obvious "bad actors" are out of the scene and you have a few potantial ones left. How can I try them out to find the one I'm looking for? I know I can have them reading lines from the movie. But I want to be more creative and really find out what the person is like.

Anyone with suggestions?
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Old November 30th, 2003, 09:59 AM   #2
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I find it really difficult to predict the performance your going to get from an actor. Your instincts often turn out wrong. It's almost like you should go against your instincts. A more predictable (and arguably more important factor) is how professionally is this person going to behave on the set. You should steer clear of people who have trouble remembering their lines, are ever late, ask too many questions about their character (note I say TOO MANY), are fatally insecure, argue with other people, complain and so on. The best thing to do is have a staple of actors you work with over and over. I would talk to the directors of other shows they worked on, if you're considering someone new.
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Old November 30th, 2003, 12:25 PM   #3
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Get references. If they aren't fun to have on the set, it will be a very long production.

Remember that you are looking for actors that can act for television which is a massive change from acting on stage.

I am one-half of a team that teaches students how to act for television at a local community college. These are students that may have been enrolled for a year, acted for years (not all are just 20 years old) and may be part of a more in-depth Actor Training Program, external to the college.

They still surprise me. I find that their rep in the industry is the surest way to tell if I can and want to work with them.

Once you get past that, a 'real' actor is a joy to work with. You can tell them that on a scale of 0-10, their intensity was a 7 and you want an 8.5 and they respond! They listen to direction and 'act' on it.

BTW, if you don't have your Director's chops, you may not get what you want out even from very good actors. It pays to work under with an established Director if you are at all unsure of your self. I regularly hire the other half of my teaching team to Direct my productions. He is an experienced stage and screen actor and has about 30 years of Directing experience. He gets more out of actors in 5 minutes than I could in 5 days.

Read Michael Caine's book on Acting for Film. Watch the BBC recording of him as he teaches Acting for Film in the UK. Wow.
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Old November 30th, 2003, 12:44 PM   #4
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I second Marco's remarks. This summer I had my first exposure to "real" actors, having auditioned nearly 80 actors for four parts. It was enlightening in some ways. To be brief, as a former boss of mine once remarked, the best "ability" that someone can have is "reliability". No endeavor is more reliant on this quality than no/low budget movie making. You may simply have no leverage over your actors so it's vital that they commit to your project, show up on time and plow distractions out of their view while working.

In terms of judging acting ability, I strongly advocate auditioning with a 2-3min section of your actual script. Auditioning is a very stressful activity so it's important that you make every effort to make actors feel comfortable to get their best performance. I also advocate "cold" auditions for most parts. That is, the actor does not see their "side" (script) until they show-up for the audition, perhaps 30 minutes before they are scheduled to audition. Why "cold"? Because scripts can change during production. It's important to see how the actor can adapt to an unfamiliar part.

Beyond that, what I learned was that the challenge of "directing" actors is nearly identical to that of managing staffs in a business environment. That is, treat people with respect, realize that each is an individual with unique needs, and lead through thoughtful guidance not edict. The most experienced actors will generally need little guidance once they get the idea of what you're trying to accomplish. The less experienced may need guidance on every scene. Whenever possible, make a opportunities for the seniors to get together with the juniors (away from your presence). Both
will gain from the experience. I discovered that several of my actors were meeting for impromptu rehearsals and read-throughs. They also developed some long-term friendships as a result of the project. To me, that's what it's all about on no/low budget projects.

One last comment: The most frequent complaint I heard from actors was that no/low budget producers / directors tend to be disorganized, immature kids with video cameras. Break that image. Do your homework and be more than ready for each day's work. In short: be extremely professional in your duties. If -you- know what you want to accomplish you'll be able to get the most from your actors' performances.

Good luck!
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Old November 30th, 2003, 12:53 PM   #5
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It's difficult to tell. That's why in some films somebody was "miscast" or just does a bad job with the role.

Readings are OK but some actors are terrible readers but great when the camera's rolling. Others read great but can't perform when it counts.

This is why it's better to see their previous work, if possible. You now how Pacino and DeNiro work on screen. But an interview is always good to make sure you can maintain chemistry with this person or you just despise him and it's personal.

My son is a professional actor. He said, "Does the actor have "IT"?" "IT" isn't necessarily presence but believability. Some have it. Some don't but have potential. Others don't have it and never will.

Affleck has potential but it doesn't always work. Madonna doesn't have it.

I once helped an actress go over her lines. I never met her before and was just dropping off my son's headshot. She handed me her copy of the sides. As I glanced at them she started talking to me about her "real" job. I carried on the friendly conversation for a few seconds before I realized she was reading her lines. She was so natural that I didn't realize it.

Has your actors had any training? Are they training with someone now, or at least looking for someone? I don't feel high school drama classes count. Even DeNiro takes classes.

Really bad actors don't use their real voice. When the script calls for arguing their voice goes up an octave. Every sentence ends on a rising pitch. Or everybody sounds the same.

For readings, give the actors sides at least five minutes ahead of time. Give them a chance to make their choices. They shouldn't need more than a brief description of the character if they ask at all. You could describe the character with the sides.
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Old November 30th, 2003, 01:28 PM   #6
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Great thread, guys. Thanks.
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Old November 30th, 2003, 02:33 PM   #7
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There seem to be many different notions about what makes a good actor and what makes a bad actor. I often find myself at variance with the majority opinion.

The thing that helped me the most with my relationships with actors, and with spotting the people with whom I would like to work, was going to acting classes and also acting in film. Trying a few short classes at first to sample the different approaches, then concentrating on those that I felt most in tune with. Not only do you learn a lot yourself, but you also get the opportunity to work with a wide range of actors and to see how you are affected by directors.

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Old November 30th, 2003, 03:16 PM   #8
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Excellent advice, Helen. I'll bet immersion in an actor's world would, indeed, be very illuminating. So often, particularly at a forum such as this, we see producers and directors with basically a stuff-centric perspective. That is, they are actually most interested in using (and having an excuse to buy) stuff such as the latest camera, lights, mics, etc.. Scripts and actors are basically just a conduit towards achieving that goal.

Reversing that perspective, such that the stuff is nothing more than a conduit towards the goal of a performance venue, would be a very valuable experience for many such folks.

The only caveat I might add is to try to separate your emotional reactions (like / dislike) from your objective evaluation of an actor's ability to fill a role. That's where your professionalism comes into the picture. An actor may be reliable, committed to your project, and very effective in a role. If, however, you just don't like his/her demeanor you may need to just set those feelings aside for the sake of the project.
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Old November 30th, 2003, 07:51 PM   #9
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My teaching partner has a bootleg copy of the auditions for the FBI local agent in charge for the first Rush Hour movie.

Of the six, two nailed it (I thought) two were OK and 2 were not. But they were all very very good actors with many significant Hollywood roles to their credit.

The guy who got the job didn't, BTW, play the agent. He played some other character. He was one of the guys who nailed it.

I think the best long-term film schools do indeed require folks to be on both sides of the camera.
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Old November 30th, 2003, 08:12 PM   #10
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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.

When you watch a film and see great performances, there's always the the actor bringing this character to life on his own, with just a bit of influence from the director? Or is the director actively guiding the actor to finding the character?

Definitely the latter in Lynch's case...I just wonder how does he does it so universally?
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Old November 30th, 2003, 08:32 PM   #11
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I personally think that it is a good idea to give the actors the script ahead of time to prepare some (SAG requires it actually - not that you are using SAG actors, but if they think it is a good idea then I tend to agree). It is fine to give them a new scene also and see how they do on less prep.

I think one of the best ways to see how good an actor will be for your role (not neccesarily how good they are in general) is to ask them to improv on the role a bit, either with another actor, alone or with you. You don't want to push them too hard on this and make them come up with a story, just put them in a simple scenario and see how they are - e.g. you are a bank teller or a shoe salesman interacting with them. See how well they are able to inhabit the character. See if you believe them.

Note that the improv based on a character they have had time to develop in their minds is different than giving someone a new script. But you learn something either way.

I feel that bad acting sinks more low-budget films than anything else, so I think it is worth considerable effort to find the right people.

I second the notion on getting directing help if you need it, and to that end I very strongly reccomend the book Directing Actors : Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television by Judith Weston. It has helped me a great deal in understanding and working with actors.

The most important thing is to trust your gut. It will be right.

Good luck!

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Old November 30th, 2003, 09:00 PM   #12
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I think Mike brings up an important point. Actors can be really good, but just might not be able to hit what you're after. It's not their fault necessarily. Maybe they just don't look like what you want, their nuances aren't right for what you want, or they just can't do Shakespeare ;). Doesn't make them bad, just not good for that role.

Almost all the people I worked with on our no budget LadyX episode are acting colleagues of mine who I spent 2 years in acting classes with. I'd seen them work and do some really amazing stuff. I knew they could "act" and we used them, but we ended up casting one of the actors wrong....Well we cast right the first time but the guy we wanted was on holiday so couldn't do it. This bad casting (And very inexperienced directing of mine, of course) meant that what I wanted to get across about his character didn't end up happening. 2 weeks later I watched him work in a scene group I'm in and he blew me away.

John, do you think David Lynch does all the work to get that feel, or would the script and preconceptions of actors about his movies make it more naturally tend to that stylel? I haven't seen many of his movies to know to what extent they are similar, so I'm not commenting, just querying.

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Old November 30th, 2003, 11:45 PM   #13
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David O. Selznick director of “Gone with the wind” could not find his Scarlett O'Hara until the burning of Atlanta scene. There on the set he saw her not for the first time as she had read for the part yet under the burning fire he saw an inner beauty the rest is history.

What does this say for an actor or actress a lot, finding one is hard enough for a no budget/low budget film let alone for a major film like GWTW. There is no cookie cutter way to finding one and if there was would someone tell you. Look at their past work, go to one of their shows if they do stage, or watch for others when you are on someone else’s shoot.
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Old December 1st, 2003, 09:14 AM   #14
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Actors are tools for the director. The director tries to pick the best tool for the job. But the tool can only do so many things. The director can guide it and make it do things it's not designed for. But chopping down a tree with a butter knife is difficult while a chainsaw is made for the role.

You hear at times of actors congratulated by others for their "choices". Their choices are how they define the role. People on "Pirates of the Caribbean" were concerned about Johnny Depp's choice of how the character should be played but the director went with it and it worked. If it didn't work, that would be Depp's fault, although someone could have said no and allowed Depp to change or be fired. (Hollywood BS, unions, contracts, etc. It isn't always about art.)
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Old December 1st, 2003, 09:32 AM   #15
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"Real" Actors, a beginner's perspective

Last summer, I shot my first project. I had a cast of four. Three of the actors had never acted before, and one was a twenty year vetern with network sitcom, independent film and hollywood experiance.

The project was a 12 minute short, off-beat comedy.

We had a ton of problems, bad lighteing, worse sound, but this was to be expected- the project was designed with failure in mind. I have done plenty of writing in my time, plenty of drawing. I have a long history of thinking in visual terms about story. But I had never made a movie. I had no idea what I needed to do and what I should ignore. I wanted to make a little movie and see where I most needed to concentrate my future efforts.
Hoo boy...

The acting/actors were by far the biggest headache- well, aside from my "DP", anyway.

The vetren was late by about forty minutes- therebye making it impossible to shoot his first scene in the original location ( The Pearl St mall in Boulder Co, it was way too busy by the time he showed and we had to find a more out of the way location) He did not know his lines. But worst of all, he did not understand the story, or the jokes. His delivery was awful. He seemed far more interested in socializing with the cast and crew than anything else.

The newbies all did really well for me. They all knew their lines. They took direction very well. And they didn't drag the set down with an endless lecture on Shadow Government/ UFO's (As did the vet). One of these guys did so well in fact, that I'm building my first feature around him.

At this point I think a long, private talk with each major cast member is important. Make sure that they understand what you are trying to do. If you have to spend a lot of time explaining the story, and it is still lost on the actor, then maybe your script is flawed- or maybe you need a different actor.

Don't fall into the same trap I did. All the experiance in the world is not going to help if the actor does not take you or your project seriously. There are things you can do about this: be careful about the way you present yourself and the project... ect, but it is really up to the individual actor. 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. For many, if not most people, acting in a movie, even a small independent one, is an unobtainable dream. You can tap into this and find actors who are really excited to be involved. One of the cast for my short got so into that he appointed himself chief stage hand and did 90% of the grunt work without even being asked! Look for that guy, he's out there and worth his weight in CCD's.

Happy hunting,
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