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-   -   What is your approach to dealing with actors stepping on one another's lines? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/techniques-independent-production/68762-what-your-approach-dealing-actors-stepping-one-anothers-lines.html)

Emre Safak June 2nd, 2006 09:28 PM

What is your approach to dealing with actors stepping on one another's lines?
Is it possible to get actors to talk without stepping their lines, while maintaining urgency?

Michael Wisniewski June 3rd, 2006 12:30 AM

That's a bad sign, it means they're not listening or reacting to each other. They're just waiting for the other one to finish so they can say their line. Basically, they're giving you a rehearsal/line reading, but they're not performing.

First thing I'd do is take the focus off the lines, and place it on their behaviour. Give them permission to slow down and react to each other. I'd tell them that their reactions and behaviour towards each other are more important to the scene than the actual lines. Fast and sloppy doesn't equal urgent. Trying to go slowly, clearly, and deliberately can enhance the urgency of a scene.

An exercise that might help, is to have only one actor speak, while the other one only reacts - physically. Then do the same in reverse. Do it slowly and deliberately, giving them permission to react/behave without consequences. You could even go so far as to call for the next line, then say, "react" and give all the focus and attention to the actor who is reacting. Make sure to reward the behaviour with praise and support. Analyze and correct after the performance is completed.

Another way to think about it/direct it - we, the audience wants to see the character's behaviour, that's the main way the actors communicate with the audience, lines of dialogue are like a cherry on top, they just clarify and sweeten what's already there. I have feeling the actors are really focused on the lines and not their behaviour.

Also check your own behaviour, you may be un-intentionally rewarding the line reading instead of the performance, once again focus on praising the performance and their behaviour while consciously taking the focus off the lines.

Hope that helps.

Emre Safak June 3rd, 2006 07:02 PM

Yes, very much!

Russ Jolly June 4th, 2006 04:25 PM

I think it's also OK to tell your actors that you need a clean read so don't step on each other's lines. I spent many years as a professional actor and while I always appreciated direction that was organic and based on character motivation, I was equally fine with direction that dealt with technique, such as "pick up the pace" or "slow it down" or "don't step on each other's lines." There are many outstanding performances where overlapping dialogue has worked to the benefit of the show, but if it's wrong for a project I'm directing, I just let the talent know what I need.

K. Forman June 4th, 2006 04:40 PM

Try using a remote controlled shock coller, like for training dogs...

Russ Jolly June 4th, 2006 05:02 PM


Originally Posted by Keith Forman
Try using a remote controlled shock coller, like for training dogs...

LOL. This is the best advice of the three responses so far!

Cole McDonald June 4th, 2006 11:09 PM

I've actually gotten good results asking my actors to slow down and pause between lines so I had editing options...when given a reason, they fell right in line with the need to separate the dialog. I also do my singles with a line reader off camera (often the other actor) and have the option to have them redo the line right then. It kills the organic flow of the scene, but it makes it easier to make sure you have the footage you need to edit. I reward this by letting my actors redo lines they didn't like either right when they are in the mood for it. I love shooting singles. You can have them dial in emotions so much better than when they're doing the master shot.

Charles Papert June 5th, 2006 06:26 AM

More experienced actors need only to be reminded "watch the overlaps" and they can maintain the pace without stepping on each other. Suggesting an actor to add pauses solely for this purpose is a possible invitation to chewing up the scenery--actors love dramatic pauses and big reaction beats, but for many projects it's just too slow. A common mistake for newer filmmakers is to believe that this sort of acting is more powerful; more likely for the viewer it's just ponderous.

Sometimes if you know that a scene or sections of a scene will play in a master, you can allow the overlaps--letting the actors know when and where this is appropriate is a good sign to them that you know what you are doing. FYI, on industry sets the request to avoid overlaps is usually passed on by the sound department, from the mixer via the boom operator.

Robert Knecht Schmidt June 5th, 2006 06:36 AM

And then there's the Robert Altman school of directing,

"More overlaps, please..."

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