Single Biggest Unexpected Lesson You've Learned Making An Indie Feature? - Page 2 at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Techniques for Independent Production

Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old April 10th, 2009, 08:17 AM   #16
Trustee
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Bristol, CT (Home of EPSN)
Posts: 1,182
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lori Starfelt View Post
It's incredibly important to prepare actors. I let everyone know that if they aren't off-book two weeks before we shoot, I'm recasting. we do extensive rehearsal process to prevent those kinds of shocks. I think the bigger problem is that a lot of first and second time filmmakers don't actually know what a polished film performance looks like in rehearsal or when they're shooting. There's a learning curve for that.
Lori, could you descirbe what you are looking for at rehearsal in the way of polished film performance.
__________________
Paul Cascio
www.pictureframingschool.com
Paul Cascio is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 10th, 2009, 08:25 AM   #17
Trustee
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Bristol, CT (Home of EPSN)
Posts: 1,182
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Knaggs View Post
...
The great performance (in the room) of the supporting actor did not translate to the screen at all. In fact, it seemed a bit lacklustre. I couldn't believe it! Whereas the lead actor, who was underplaying, delivered a powerful screen performance and dominated every scene he was in. He had real screen presence. But I never picked up on that while I was in the room.

After that, you start looking for it and developing that sensitivity. (But in my case it was just dumb luck to be there on that particular day and learn that lesson so early.)

It's certainly one of the major lessons in the nurturing and preparation of the indie director.
David, does the screen/camera tend to remove energy from a performance, or add it? Do actors need to over-act just a bit for a performance to translate well to the screen?

I once read that the lens tends to suck the energy from a performance. Do you agree?
__________________
Paul Cascio
www.pictureframingschool.com
Paul Cascio is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 10th, 2009, 09:14 PM   #18
Major Player
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 785
Hi Paul.

Those are really questions that would best be answered by a good acting coach. I know that acting coaches and acting schools offer classes specifically on screen technique.

For example, the best known acting school in Australia is NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts). Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett are NIDA graduates.

Here's a link to a part-time course which NIDA offers called "The Screen Actor":

National Institute of Dramatic Art - NIDA

You'll notice that the first 8 weeks (Term 1) is exclusively devoted to the subject called "Screen Presence".

The purpose of the entire course is "to develop your personal screen presence for film, television and other media" and "introduce you to aspects of an actor's essential skills for screen performance".

So it's obviously something which can be learned, which is good news for those who might not currently have much screen presence (although otherwise skilled as an actor).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Cascio View Post
I once read that the lens tends to suck the energy from a performance. Do you agree?
As you asked for my personal opinion, I'll give it. But I'm certainly not an acting coach and be aware that I could be way off here.

Underplaying can work really well, so maybe the camera is also capable of magnifying the performance. But I personally don't think it's got too much to do with the actor's energy level (both high and low). I think it's got more to do with the actor's carrier wave.

This gets into my surfing analogy where you can have the world champion surfer (actor) who is capable of a stunning performance on the wave as it carries him/her to the shore (screen). But what if there are no swells (waves) that day? The world champ never gets to demonstrate his/her skill to the audience, even though fully capable of it. "Screen presence" is the "carrier wave" and it's an additional ABILITY that the actor must develop, unless he/she is lucky enough to be a "natural".

(Okay, maybe it's not such a great analogy, but that's what you get for asking me what I think!)
David Knaggs is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 11th, 2009, 02:28 AM   #19
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
First to Ryan - an important bit of advice unrelated to the acting question. Limit the number of takes you do on the master shot. The master shot does not need to be perfect because you will be cutting away to the coverage whenever you need to. Budget your time so that you have enough time to get all the coverage you need - this is so much more important than a perfect mastershot. If that means you only get three takes of the master shot, don't sweat it. We do post-production, we see lots and lots of indie films. This is one of the big mistake indie directors make. Your editor will be much happier with lots of coverage than he will with 20 takes of a mastershot to get to a perfect one, and then virtually none of the coverage they need.

As to acting performances, the first thing that is incredibly important is to hire really good actors with a lot of experience. This is scary for a first time director. But this is the thing, the more experienced the director, the less time they spend directing actors because they have cast well and thoroughly communicated what they need. The less experienced the actor, the more direction they need. Anytime you can hire an Equity actor, do so. Don't hire your friends unless your friends are brilliantly talented and whatever you do, don't cast models.

The best way to get a performance that really sinks in is to have your actors know their lines inside and out, backwards, forwards and upside down. Seriously. The better they know the lines, the better their performance will be. For a quick sample of what I'm talking about, dig up an episode of The West Wing with Oliver Platt. That mofo knows his lines better than anyone in that show, and you will see it. Now, mind you, Martin Sheen knows his lines just fine but Platt can rehearse his lines in his sleep and it makes a difference. Anthony Hopkins rehearses every scene he is in 100 times with his acting coach. That's in addition to anything the director requires of him. Christopher Walken memorizes all of his lines without any punctuation and just rehearses all of his dialogue over and over again to himself without interruption. Any actor who is cavalier about rehearsal should be fired immediately. That's an actor that is going to burn up production hours and waste your time. Get rid of 'em.

When you get to the set, rehearse the scene. Work your way through the blocking. Let the actors rehearse on the set a couple times. If they're still setting up lights, and you have a little extra time, see if you can layer in some interesting business. Make sure your actors are saying their lines on their action rather than after the action.

There are four directions you can always give with confidence to fine tune a scene - make it smaller, make it bigger, make it more specific and take out the pauses. Speeding up the pace of a scene will almost always make it better. Seriously. As Olivier once said to a young director who was struggling to get a scene right, "do it faster".

As for how to know if a performance will work on film, you're looking for the actor's level of focus more than anything. And nothing allows actors to be more focused than knowing their lines. If an actor is well cast, knows their lines extremely well and is sufficiently rehearsed to know the scene and is comfortable with their blocking, they'll probably do just fine. It'll just happen. You need to have defined the action of the scene and the action of the characters in the scene and if the action isn't being communicated, tell the actor to make it more specific. If the scene still isn't working well, tell them to take out the pauses and do it faster. If the scene is a mess, settle for having it done quickly with a lot of coverage. Let the editor fix it in post.

I want to talk about moments in film as well, because that is a frequent failing on indie cinema as well. Every film needs 6 to 7 great moments. Two of them are plot points and one of them is the climax. In addition, you need as many moments as you can within the film because that is what sustains the audience's interest. A moment is when the action shifts. A character has been lying through their teeth, and then his mom sees the broken cookie jar and says, 'what about this?" Boom. That's a moment and you need to emphasize it. Whether it's a pop zoom, the character's physical response, or a musical cue, you, as a director, have to define it. Hitting a moment is a place where you may very well need to say, "make it bigger".

Dailies help you know whether your performances are working but most directors who are inexperienced also don't know how to watch raw footage either - so it is limited.


Make it bigger. Make it smaller. Make it more specific. Take out the pauses. Do it faster.

Hire good actors. Define the action. Rehearse. Hit the beats. Get your coverage.

It's a good start.
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 11th, 2009, 09:55 PM   #20
Trustee
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Posts: 1,585
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lori Starfelt View Post
Make it bigger. Make it smaller. Make it more specific. Take out the pauses. Do it faster.

Hire good actors. Define the action. Rehearse. Hit the beats. Get your coverage.

It's a good start.
Wow. Your entire post is all great advice and right on the money.

Can I add:

Avoid telling actors what emotion they should be feeling. That is, don't say things like "can you make it more angry?". You're begging them to mimic a moment instead of living it. If anything, discuss motivation.

Avoid demonstrating how it should be done. This is a tough one, as it's so easy to just say "do it like this." Again, you'll just get a copy of your performance.

And although I think the same way you do, Lori, about the importance of preparation, there is a whole school of actors out there who are terrified of rehearsal as they believe it will kill their spontaneity. They think that just barely knowing the line will allow a more natural delivery, and that a very rehearsed scene is a scene that will have lost all its life.

I disagree with this, and believe that preparation is the key to freedom of expression, but I've seen great performances out of actors who think the opposite. I've also seen pretty spectacular crashing and burning from this, but that's life.
__________________
.
http://www.nosmallroles.com
Vito DeFilippo is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 11th, 2009, 10:31 PM   #21
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vito DeFilippo View Post
Wow. Your entire post is all great advice and right on the money.



And although I think the same way you do, Lori, about the importance of preparation, there is a whole school of actors out there who are terrified of rehearsal as they believe it will kill their spontaneity. They think that just barely knowing the line will allow a more natural delivery, and that a very rehearsed scene is a scene that will have lost all its life.
Those are actors who are asking a director to trust the entire production to their discretion. I have no idea what they offer that is worth the risk. For every good actor who thinks that way, there are 10 equally good actors who don't.

And no line deliveries. If you aren't getting what you want out of the actor despite both of your sincere best efforts, then the actor is badly cast. The best thing to do is agree on the character's action and let the actor give their performance. If you agree on the action, it's likely to work out even if it isn't quite what you had in mind.
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 12th, 2009, 10:48 PM   #22
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: The Colony TX
Posts: 327
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryan Kincaid View Post
what are some of the signs that something doesn't look good on screen? I'd assume that if it's powerful enough being played out for the camera, then the cam will pick up the performance and translate it to the screen. Obviously you guys see it differently.
Watch the screen (or directors' monitor) while shooting. DO NOT watch the actors themselves. You want to see what the camera sees. If you're watching the actors on the set, your POV is not the same as the camera, and what you see will not match what was shot. It's a hard habit to form, but in the end, if the camera didn't see it, neither will your audience.

Martin
__________________
Canon XF300, Canon 5DMkII, Canon XL2, Rolls MX422 mixer, Zoom H4N, AT899 lavs, AT2020's, Azden SGM 1X shotgun, Manfrotto 501 head on 351 tripod
Martin Catt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 13th, 2009, 01:29 PM   #23
MPS Digital Studios
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Palm Beach County, Florida
Posts: 8,531
To add my .02: A great director and actor combo can make a movie--if either is weak, you're doomed. I have seen it countless times as a producer where a director isn't paying attention to what's happening (whether it's lack of experience, the director is acting, the director is trying to shoot the movie, etc.), actors will start to do their own thing, and it'll be inconsistent.

As a director, I learned to constantly work with actors in rehearsal, and just help them during the shoot, so I can focus on the entire process. I also learned to NOT shoot my own films, too.

Another quick story: I heard a director showed his film to the two lead actors and a supporting actor, and they convinced him to pony up a few grand to re-edit the film (a friend of one of the stars is cutting--no idea how's it coming along, it's been delayed a month) and the two actors offered to shoot new scenes with them in it to help build tension. The two actors play brothers. The director wouldn't listen to me or anyone else--they aren't shooting new scenes, but I wonder if the two actors will have more face time now...

heath
__________________
My Final Cut Pro X blog
Heath McKnight is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 14th, 2009, 03:43 PM   #24
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Posts: 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lori Starfelt View Post
Ryan,

Before I respond, how skilled are your lead actors? How much theatre experience do they have and what kind of training? Are you completely cast? How much rehearsal time do you have scheduled?

I think we can give you some good pointers that are specific if we know that.

Lori
Hey Lori,

I'm holding my casting call on Saturday. The actors I've made appointments with range from very experienced to not a shread of experience. I do know how I want things to play out so I've emailed key scenes where each of the 9 main characters get to shine in their dialogue. taking that into account, during audition, if they don't read it how i want it to be read, I'd give them more back ground on the over all script (ie where in the movie this scene takes place and the emotion that the chracter should feel; I'm also the writer as well). Ultimately I want an actor that can act but mostly follow direction and even instruction.

I've slated to have about 4 full readings with a camera to tape the first two. In the first one I plan on stoping at a scene if the actor isn't getting it right and telling them the right way to convey the scene. After the first reading, my idea is to make 9 copies of the tape/dvd and send it to each actor. the Camera is also suppose to capture the facial emotions I want them to feel at certain intervals. I intend on holding another reading 2 weeks after that. I'll bring the camera along in case there is a need for further instruction and repeat the same process, this time only focussing on the specific actor that needs work. the last two sessions is to make sure that their memorizing their lines. A prior poster (i forget who) mentioned that it's a good idea to interact with the actors outside of rehursal and I plan on doing this, going out for drinks and a dinner later.
Ryan Kincaid is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 14th, 2009, 04:16 PM   #25
MPS Digital Studios
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Palm Beach County, Florida
Posts: 8,531
I had two massive castings in 2006 for my last feature, and it felt like 60-70% didn't have much experience, and it ended up being a waste of time. I cast maybe 2 or 3 people out of 200+. I thought I'd get at least 8-10 cast.

For the future, I'll have people email me a link to their reel so I can look at it, then call them in for an appointment.

Heath
__________________
My Final Cut Pro X blog
Heath McKnight is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 15th, 2009, 09:47 AM   #26
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Posts: 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Heath McKnight View Post
I had two massive castings in 2006 for my last feature, and it felt like 60-70% didn't have much experience, and it ended up being a waste of time. I cast maybe 2 or 3 people out of 200+. I thought I'd get at least 8-10 cast.

For the future, I'll have people email me a link to their reel so I can look at it, then call them in for an appointment.

Heath
Wow. I had about 500+ emails and I got it down to about 80 that i want to see. I'm so hoping I can pull 9 main characters out of that mess.
Ryan Kincaid is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 18th, 2009, 01:21 PM   #27
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 442
Quote:
Originally Posted by Heath McKnight View Post
I had two massive castings in 2006 for my last feature, and it felt like 60-70% didn't have much experience, and it ended up being a waste of time. I cast maybe 2 or 3 people out of 200+. I thought I'd get at least 8-10 cast.

For the future, I'll have people email me a link to their reel so I can look at it, then call them in for an appointment.

Heath
I absolutely will not audition an actor wthout looking at his demo reel first - not unless he has the perfect physique for the part. I always ask for it when I put out a casting call, and e-mails that don't include them (or a link) get a "Thanks we'll let you know" form reply.

Demo reels are a huge time saver. They let me assess the actor's body language. Head shots only present an idealized version of the actor and would be fine if I were doing a magazine spread. But for movies I need to see them talk and walk and act.

I coulld not conceive of auditioning 200+ actors. I see too many projects out there with terrible (or at best mediocre) scripts that should have spent more effort on the writing and less on casting the "perfect" lead.


J.
Jacques E. Bouchard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 21st, 2009, 08:40 AM   #28
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Posts: 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacques E. Bouchard View Post
I absolutely will not audition an actor wthout looking at his demo reel first - not unless he has the perfect physique for the part.
Actually that's why I held my auditions. I'm pretty confident that out of the 40 people that actually showed, I got my full cast and a couple of secondary roles too. One of the actors I might hire has the perfect look for the part. I know that a good director shouldn't need to coach the actor but this guy was enthusiastic and had no experience. My time will allow it so i might break the rules and actually coach him thoroughly for the part.
Ryan Kincaid is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 21st, 2009, 08:50 AM   #29
MPS Digital Studios
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Palm Beach County, Florida
Posts: 8,531
@Ryan, I should note that some areas are more known for trained actors, like NYC, L.A., etc. South Florida has seen many actors move away to those areas, which I think is why casting was so difficult for me.

@Jacques, I still love to hold auditions--you never know what you can find, but I think I'll get it down to 30-40 by watching their reels.

heath
__________________
My Final Cut Pro X blog
Heath McKnight is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 28th, 2009, 07:44 AM   #30
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Posts: 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Knaggs View Post
Hi Ryan.

If you're going to jump straight into features, then there's a great book on directing by Sidney Lumet called, "Making Movies", where he gives great advice on every stage of making a feature - from the director's viewpoint.

Amazon.com: Making Movies: Sidney Lumet: Books

It'll be the best $11 you ever spent.

In Chapters One and Four, he extensively covers how to work with actors, especially the preparation. AND HOW HE CAN TELL when he's got the level of performance that he's after.

The whole book is a remarkable act of generosity by an A-list director.

He didn't just "work" with A-list actors. He got remarkable performances from A-list actors.

But the advice he gives, really, is applicable for working with actors at any level, not just the A-list.

But, in this sense, I would minimally define an "actor" as someone who has at least had a couple of lessons. And preferably a bit of stage or short film experience.
David, this book is amazing. Ironically, much of what Sidney does and thinks about making the set a better working environment are along the lines of what I was thinking of doing. I've met a few directors, mostly music video directors or smaller movie directors, no one of Lument's caliber and what I've seen on how they run their sets, no wonder why their productions turned out the way they did. I just assumed that most in Hollywood did the same thing, after all Hollywood is notorious for that chew 'em up and spit them out attitude. But it's a comfort that Lument's strategy was more nirturing and produced fantastic results. I'm currently on Chapter 5 (been busy so I only get about an hour to read it a day) but you are accurate in your discription of the read; one of the best $11 purchases I've made towards making this film (another $11 purchase was the Screenwriters Bible)
Ryan Kincaid is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Techniques for Independent Production

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 03:02 AM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network