Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my Blog!
I created it so that I could share acting tips with you; things I've learned over the years, working on set, teaching classes, coaching actors, auditioning actors, etc.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The moment before "Action" - Part 2

Note the detached, almost vacant expression in Pacino's eyes as he listen's to direction from Sidney Lumet while shooting "Dog Day Afternoon". He's listening intently while trying to maintain his focus. I see this look a lot on set.

This is the second of two steps I recommend an actor takes before the director calls "Action" (or before you enter the scene.  If you have not already done so, please read the last post before reading this one.

Incidentally, this is one significant way where my training differs with the Meisner technique.  Now please note: I'm NOT claiming that my technique is 'better than the Meisner Technique' or that I am 'smarter than Sanford Meisner'.  I use MANY aspects of the Meisner Technique as well as Strasberg's Method Acting, Chekhov, Meyerhold, Adler, Hagen and others, in my own teaching.  The difference between my technique and the techniques of all these great masters is simply that I've created my technique specifically for acting On-Camera while all of their techniques were designed specifically for the stage.

I have found on set, that Meisner trained actors are SOMETIMES lacking in their connection to the imaginary circumstances, in the opening moments of a scene.  They always enter the scene emotionally full due to their training in "Emotional Preparation" and often times this is enough to carry them through the scene; However, I have often noted that they don't tend to be anchored in the circumstances of the scene at the beginning, so it often takes them a couple of lines before they are "in" the scene.  Here's what I suggest to my students as a solution to this problem:

After you've "Filled-up emotionally" (as described in "Step1"):

Create and Experience the Moment Before.
That is not an hour before or even the minute before but literally the moment before the first line (or your entrance).  What happened in the 5 seconds before you entered (or "Action")?  This moment should be related to the given circumstances in the character's life and, if at all possible, the Moment Before should increase the Obstacle for the character. The character wants something (his "Objective" or "Intention") and something is getting in the way (the "Obstacle").  By increasing the Obstacle the actor must try harder to get his objective and therefore enters the scene grounded in the imaginary circumstances.  Here's an example to make this clearer:  Hamlet is about to enter with the intention of making Ophelia hate him (for her own good) and sending her away.  The actor identifies an emotion and fills up with it (Step 1).  Then, right before he enters he smells Ophelia's perfume (either through imagination or perhaps he carries it with him on a hankercheif) and remembers how much he loves her.  His intention is to get rid of her so this increases his Obstacle. When he enters he is immersed in the imaginary circumstances. and is already dealing with them before he even speaks.  He must hide these feelings from Ophelia before he can convincingly say "Get the to a nunnery!"  And this act of hiding his feelings from her actually anchors him much more in these imaginary circumstances.  Hamlet will feel "in" before he even enters!

Keep in mind that all this prep - both steps one and two - happens before the director says "Action".  Once the scene starts, your head is clear and you are reacting to the other actors and the imaginary circumstances - completely spontaneously. You can swing with abandon...

Monday, August 22, 2011

The moment before "Action"

I'll preface this post by saying what I often say in class - "Technique is like medicine.  You only use it when you need it." If you're feeling the emotions you need to feel by simply believing in the imaginary circumstances, then you don't need anything else.  It's working.  E.g. - You enter the scene and see a child tied up in the corner and that makes you feel real anger.  That's all you need.  BUT often times (especially after 15 takes) an actor might not really feel the emotion he or she needs to feel in the scene anymore.  Typically, this is when they start "indicating" the emotions required in the scene (see my August 14th blog on "Indicating").

I'd also like to mention that, when I coach actors on TV shows, "The Moment Before" is one of the most frequently occuring problems I deal with on set (and in class!).  And when actors fix the moment before, this in turn fixes many, many other things throughout the scene!

The preventative medicine to this (very) common problem can often be found in the actor's preparation.  I suggest two phases of prep before an actor enters a scene (or before the director calls "Action").  When both are used together the actor feels what he needs to feel and starts the scene anchored in the imaginary circumstances. And although I use aspects of other teacher's techniques (Method & Meisner primarily), I've added something that's designed specifically for acting on-camera.  Here's how it works:

Step 1. Get emotionally full.
Sanford Meisner
Sanford Meisner uses "Emotional Preparation".  Lee Strasberg favored "Affective Memory".  My approach is, "Use whatever works!" The idea in both techniques is to "fill up" emotionally BEFORE the director calls "Action".

First identify a main emotion your character feels at the start of the scene. I know there may be several but you only need one for this.  Let's say "humiliation".  Simplified, humiliation is actually Fear.  So, try to think of a time in your life when you felt humiliated (or afraid).  If you don't have a specific memory, that's OK! Use a real memory and tweak it.  Perhaps you recently gave a speech in front of a group of people.  It went well.  But what if you had realized while you were standing there, that your pants were unzipped, and everyone was looking! This works well because it's a real event (you really gave the speech) and you tweaked it (made up the part about your zipper being open).  This makes it easy for you to believe in (the event and specific people are real) and therefore easier for you to actually feel the imagined emotions. Be sure to imagine the incident fully.  Thinking of it isn't the same as really imagining it.  Use your senses to actually see, hear, smell, feel everything you can about the event.  Sometimes you don't even need to imagine an entire event.  You can simply remember a song that triggers an emotion in you (Meisner).  Or smell a fragrance (Meisner) or hold an object (Method) or create a Gesture (Chekhov) that makes you feel what the character feels.  Whatever you use, it's your secret.  It should be something very personal because this will work better.  So feel the freedom to use anything that works for you - even if it's embarrassing.  No one ever gets to know.  This will get faster each time you do it.  When you are able to trigger the emotion and feel emotionally full within say, 30 seconds, you've accomplished step 1.  Now you're ready to move on to step 2...

Lee Strasberg

To read "Step 2" Click here.