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Old January 15th, 2003, 08:27 AM   #1
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(non prof.) actors

I've been spinning something around my head the last couple of
days and that is how best work with "non"-actors. The people/
friends you just use but have never acted. Any tips on how I/we
can draw the best acting out of them?

I actually started thinking about this through the following
question. How do "professional" actors do the crying scenes
in a movie? I can't imagine every actor there can simple draw
tears on demand. And to put fresh onions under the camera
might not be the nicest thing to do (heh). Anyone has information
or tips on this?

Thanks!
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Old January 15th, 2003, 10:27 AM   #2
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As hard as it may be for you to imagine... yes a skilled actor can summon up tears on demand. That's part of what makes them skilled.

There are libraries full of books on acting, some of them quite good. they will answer most of your q
But if you are looking to "simulate" tears, sure, the onion will work. Or simply place a drop of baby oil near the eye, and watch it slowly trickle down the cheek in a close up. (Glycerine is even better)
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Old January 15th, 2003, 02:27 PM   #3
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You can sometimes find quite talented actors in local playhouses. In my area, we have several groups that perform plays and musicals. The biggest problem is finding the right person that ISN'T in the middle of a production.
Keith
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Old January 15th, 2003, 05:41 PM   #4
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Tears on demand? Sjeesh.... now I understand why acting is a
hard job! Heh.... I'll look into baby oil and such.... thanks for bringing
that to my attention!
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Old January 15th, 2003, 10:04 PM   #5
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Rob, it depends on what technique the actors trained with as to how they manage all the stuff you see. Some fake it, some dont.

I'm new to the world of acting and directing so don't take my words as gospel, but here are some things that might help based on my acting training, and things I've read and thought about. Try them out and let me know how they go ;)

Use "As if's" ("Particularisations"). What this means is you, as a director trying to give the actor workable things that may generate the emotion that you think would work for that person. It requires you trying to know what makes them tick

E.G. You want your actor, who's terrified of his boss, to enter a board room, panicking but trying to hide it, because they think the boss has found out that they're applying for a job elsewhere. If you tell the actor this, it might not give them enough to work off, so ytou might say "It's 'AS IF' you've come home early from work to cleanup after a rendezvous with your 'lover' and you find your wife is at home unexpectedly to pick up something". Maybe that would work for that actor.

It's easier for actors to use 'as ifs' themselves, so it might be better to explain to them what they are and then they can create 'as ifs' for themselves.

As if's are good for starting scene's off. Sometimes you can ask what makes them nervous and then add to that to help them understand where they should be.

Tell them to fantasise about it actually happening and the moment they feel they're ready to start, come into the scene. Fantasy is a good thing as sometimes imagination about real life things won't get them full enough.

I use 'as ifs' EVERY time I come into a scene and they really work. I still find it very hard to cry unashamedly..Some actors will be like that and you might not be able to get exactly what you're after cause for whatever reason they can't get that emotion (Not enough life experience, to scared to go to sad/angry/happy places etc). That's why actors train. If we could all do it with a snap we'd all be great actors ;)

So for you I guess that's what auditions are for ;)

'as ifs' should be forgotten about once the actor is in the scene. Tell the actor NOT to bring it into the scene otherwise they will keep going into their head to use it and that will make the whole thing crap. After they enter they drop the 'as if' and work moment to moment.

----------

I think there are 3 big things that you need to get non-actors to be able to do to get something better than "thunderbird puppet" acting.

1) Get outside themselves and not be nervous (This is the hardest thing in the world for non-actors to do I feel) So make them feel comfortable and pleased with what they do. If you're wanting strong emotional performances, for a non-actor (and any actor really) to give you that, they are taking a personal risk. The risk of you and the crew seeing them as they truly are and that can be a frightening thing.

2) Fantasise - Acting is imagination so they need to be able to imagine things, and live in the moment as if it's real. Without imagination I think they're buggered :)

3) LISTEN - REALLY Listen to what the other players are saying and respond truthfully.

---------------

Use verbs when directing. READ A BOOK call "Directing Actors' by Julia Cameron. It's a wicked book and is all about verb based directing.

NEVER say to an actor "Be bigger" or "be more angry" as those aren't workable. You might say that to an actor and the retake might still be off but the actor says, honestly, "I was more angry." Instead direct them with verbs - doing words.

Example:
You're leaving your wife to go overseas to war (something you don't want to do) after being conscripted - you might use:
"In this scene your objective is to make her hold you so tight that no matter how many MP's or jeeps or tanks tried to take you away, you couldn't be moved an inch". That means something to an actor and they can use it.

I'm not saying that's a particularly eloquent example, but you see describing it that way give the actor something that they can take and turn it into something meaningful to them, rather than saying "I want to you be really scared and upset".


Anyway, I'm no acting teacher and I'm sure there are a shitload of experienced directors and actors on here that can give you some better info, but hope this helps for starters.

Catchya
Aaron
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Old January 16th, 2003, 04:08 AM   #6
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Thanks for all the advise thusfar people! ... This might be an ancient
question, but, I read someplace that it might be wise to NOT give
certain non-actors their lines/scenes/script in advance because
they will ponder over it and work to hard on it. The advise was
to either tell them what lines you wanted before shooting (taking
it a slow step at a time) or give them that section of the script
for the scene(s) just before shooting starts.... Any comments on
this? It sounds like a non-actor might panic before shooting if you
do such a thing...
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Old January 16th, 2003, 04:27 AM   #7
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NEVER EVER EVER FORGET TO DO READ THROUGHS!

This is the best way to get a non actor to sound much better. Get all your would be actors in a room with the script and start a read through, and you the writer/director listen and try and figure out if it sounds right to your ears or not.

Ask the actors how they would say it, (always want a natural response) and change the line. Sometimes they will fudge the line during shooting, that is fine, a script is a assistant not a definitive work.

Also look for responses between certain cast members, you may find 2 of them really meld and then you can substitute them for different more important roles if they do a better job, or move some lines over to them and so on.

I have re-written entire characters and given them much more importance due to actors working very well with the material.


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Old January 16th, 2003, 04:47 AM   #8
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Maybe what the person was trying to do when they said "Not giving them the lines in advance" is to stop non-actors from going to their heads. A non actor would have the tendancy to try and *think* about how they reckon a line would go. This could lead to artificially emphasising or indicating, or as some say "characterisation" which can tend to give crap performances because it's based on some artificial idea of what "the character" would be like and not what the actor's tru responses are (This all depends on your theory of acting of course). I've heard of directors doing that even with experienced actors to try and elicit a natural response. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, I dunno but I think it would be a scary thing for non-actors as they generally aren't uesd to the idea of learning lines. When I first started I found it daunting to have to learn even 5 pages of dialog for a scene. I mean "How the hell can I remember 5 whole pages of words!??!". Now I know I can learn more than that so it's not so much of an issue.

Zac says something interesting when he says "Ask the actors how they would say it". This might tend to mould your script to the actors but that can be a really good way to do it because you'll get more natural responses. I guess it's always a toss up between allowing the actors to "be themselves" and following the meaning of the script.

There is a well known New Zealand director who often works from the actors out. He will workshop with lots of actors and get the ones who work really well/interestingly together and he then writes the script based on what he learns about them in the workshops mixed with his own ideas. That way he knows he'll get a good dynamic for the text.


Good luck
Aaron
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Old January 20th, 2003, 09:43 AM   #9
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It depends a great deal on the script and the characters, too. If what you are after is a slice of life the awkardness of untrained actors may be just the ticket.

One best way to get the best performance out of untrained actors is to cast people who are as much like the part as possible and then they only need be themselves.

I am struck by how "natural" non-actors are on shows like "Trading Places" or the BBC's "Vets in Practice. How does this happen? I think because they are not placed in a "performance" situation, but do have a clearly defined role in which they are comfortable (e.g. spouse, vet, etc.) Creating this kind of environment for untrained actors might a thing to try and type casting will help.

Professional actors learn to do things like crying by study and development of emotional recall (think about how you felt when your dog died) which is a challenging process that not everyone is cut out for. Plumbing emotional depths with people not used to the practice can turn into pyschotherapy more than acting -- with very unpredictable results.

I think the hardest part of acting for film or video is the disjointed nature of the production process. The actors act for a few minutes and then sit around waiting for the next set-up etc. On stage a performace continues from beginning to end in a defined time allowing for the development of emotional energy of which an audience is clearly a part. Film actors have got a job to sustain what they do from take to take and don't have the energy of an audience to draw on -- and these are not the most favourable conditions for inexperienced actors to create a good performance.

I think, then, that planning the production process with a good view of the actor's skills and needs would be very important for getting good performances out inexperienced actors. Read what a lot of film directors have said, and one sees the better directors think very clearly about such issues.
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Old January 20th, 2003, 12:15 PM   #10
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<<<-- Originally posted by Peter Wiley : It depends a great deal Plumbing emotional depths with people not used to the practice can turn into pyschotherapy more than acting -- with very unpredictable results.
-->>>

Really interesting point there Peter and definately something to watch out for.


Cheers
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Old January 20th, 2003, 05:33 PM   #11
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Thanks again for all the comments! Much appreciated. I have
to bounce this around in my head some more....
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Old January 21st, 2003, 01:11 AM   #12
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although i do most of my work behind the camera, recently i had to "act" in a friend's production because they were short a few people. i felt what it's like to be on the other side of the camera, something i've never done before. practicing really improved the quality of my take. if you are doing a scene that has wide shots and close ups, and you are filming each shot in different takes, it might be a good idea to do the wide stuff first, and get close ups once the non-actor is comfortable and well rehearsed.

as far as crying goes. you can give a scene emotional wieght through staging and editing without actually showing the non-actor's face. turn your weaknesses into someting else.
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Old January 21st, 2003, 08:52 AM   #13
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* * WORKING WITH NON-ACTORS * *

Rob,

I am a professional actor... Turned DV guy.

Working with non-actors... Don't treat them like a non-actor...

1. Keep it simple (A task - Action which is DO-ABLE, Brushing your teeth, shaving, running etc.)
2. Add an challenge (An obstacle to the action, i.e. Brushing your teeth with you left hand, or a bad tooth, etc.)
3. Listen and try to relate the material directly to them, if you know them well you might be able to guide them more effectively.

Regarding crying, sometimes the actor can do it, sometimes they can't. My suggestion to you is to break it down into crying's more subtler specific components, i.e. The type of breathing associated, the physical aspects of the crying. It might be kind of wierd for the non-actor, but given some space they can do it. This might elicit a response you want. Bring in glycerin, if needed, for the close ups.

I agree with the above regarding the 'psychological' element. Avoid the emotional element, because it is undo-able. I personally strive for specifics, there are different realities, OBJECTIVE REALITY (Before the scene, during the scene, and after the scene, where is the character going. This encludes things like I am a taxi driver and everything asscoiated with operating a cab while doing some action), the EMOTIONAL reality (State character is in before and after)...

I could talk a long time about this...

I hope this helps.

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Old January 21st, 2003, 12:36 PM   #14
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Thanks Derrick!

Actually for a short I'm trying to get written and hopefully made
one day I'm thinking of a woman that has a few tears running
down her face. This might be considered cliche, but where the
story is going I'm at the moment thinking this might be necessary.

I'm not familiair with Glycerin. What do I do with it?
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Old January 21st, 2003, 01:19 PM   #15
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Rob,

The glycerine is an aesthetic thing. The substance is thicker than the tears produced by your eyes. So, you place a drop of the cheek of the actor. It has a nice pearl roll. Too much and it looks bad. BOO WHOO. Pour la mour...

I've never seen this used in my immediate acting life, however, I know its been a trick of the trade for a long time. Movie magic out the window. There are other tear creating saline solutions that are not irritating/harmful/painful to the eyes. If the glycerine was to get in there.

Its also good to have an alternative. In a long shoot or an intense emotional scene, sometimes you just run dry.

You can buy the liquid at a craft store (Used in making soap) or local drug store.

Getting someone to cry under the pressure is a little daunting and frustrating to both actor, director, and the crew. Unless they have had training or they cry easily, glycerin can provide you with a usable solution.

Hope this helps...

AMENDED - - > As far as the cliche of crying, if it is in response to a specific event and the actor makes it personal, it won't be a cliche. If directed like, "I want you to be sad." "This character is angry here." etc. Without the proper translation of that by the actor, meaning something that elicits that response, you'll have the cliche.... Vomit! However, an exception, you could tell some actors that, and the way they handle (imagine) and process the task of translating what you asked for, you may get an excellent response. Children do this all the time. Honest and truthful. Repeatable, I don't know. Have the camera running...

Fight the cliche...

Sounds like your going to have fun!

Rock'N!

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