I always thought thinking about the final result in directing with actors is the most important thing on the set. How it works – I know exactly what I want the actors to look like and how they should sound like, and I do have a clear picture inside of my head when I go to the set. Once actors become close to the final image I have, I consider my job done. I call this image that appears in my head when I read the script my directorial vision; and until recently, I was thinking this is my main driver I should have as a director and that I should have while working with actors on the set.
However, I started to ask myself, is this the right way to go, and could this impose a problem? Quite frankly, I didn’t see it coming until one of my actors asked me, “What do you mean, ‘upset’?”, or “What do you mean, ‘scared’?”
Suddenly, I realized my image is formed solely by my own interpretation of the script; and what the character should be like is really only a projection of the actor into that flat, four-cornered TV screen that I see inside of my head with my invisible eye. What it can be compared with, is perhaps, if I were to imagine a script as a flat earth surface and a character as a traveler who disappears from the face of earth once it reaches the edge of the horizon. Is the earth flat? Is the script flat? While working more and more with actors, this is what I started to realize while analyzing some techniques suggested by the Stanislavsky system and Meisner technique.
How does it all translate into a real situation on the set? The characters which a director often asks actors to perform are human beings, and human beings are much more complex than what we imagine while visualizing and explaining roles to actors. This means that while reading the script, to prepare for it is not just to go over it and imagine various emotions or feelings certain sentences or situations in the script may trigger inside of our heads, but rather, my preparation as a director should be much deeper than that.
I should ask myself, what can I do to make this character sound more dramatic? Or, how can this acting be funnier? As opposed to, what clues does this give me to what the movie is about and what the characters are doing to solve their predicaments. These types of questions really drive my artistic choices based on what I may know about other movies rather than on what I know about life. And these questions actually corner my characters to those four corners of the screen that the script triggers inside in my head. That’s what limits actors to perform only what appears to be a result inside of my head as the director.
Alas, it is called, Result Directing. It shapes actors to be the result of what the director wants the actors to be after, for example, how the acting should be looking at the end.
Here is an example of Result Directing.
I say to my actor, “This scene should be more funny,” or “I’d like you to be more dangerous.”
This direction is really vague. Why? What is funny or dangerous for the actor? When the actor tries something, is it really it? What if he was funny already, in his terms? Or what is he was as dangerous as possible already, from his perspective. So, it is quite possible that the actor starts watching himself to be funny or dangerous, and while doing so, the real acting and his real performance may slip away. Naturally, the performance is dead when the actor is to put his concentration on the effect he has on the audience.
So, what can I try instead? I can try the “as if” adjustment. I can come up with a parallel experience that may have similar tone and trigger similar behavior to that what it should be reflected in the scene.
Here is an example. Say a character receives a letter, and I want him to show a great deal of curiosity or impatience about the letter’s context. Instead of saying, “More curiosity, please,” I would tell him, “imagine you have a lottery ticket to win $175,000,000 dollars,” and “as if you are waiting for another 15 seconds for the lottery contest and chances of winning are quite high.” Another example. Say I want to create a chilly atmosphere during a party. I would ask an actor to imagine that if he makes a mistake while picking up his drink at the counter, he will be taken to the prison.
As a director, I should try to work on the script not just simply imagining it in my head as a projected movie that is seen by my imaginary eye, but rather try to create playable layers that potentially bring the actor to real situations which he can play on the set that approach the actor to a real person as close as possible.
Hence, an alternative to Result Directing is Specific Playable Direction that actors should appreciate on the set.
Alas, there is no “cookbook” on directing, and every technique that directors might use while working with actors on the set might still work. The main thing to realize is that it is important to do decent homework with the script before you go on the set and try to create playable situations with “as if” scenarios that actors may use for themselves while playing live characters.
Lastly, here is a bottom line. Do your homework, go over and over the script and see what “as if” situations can be found and brought to life. Add these to your arsenal. The best acting performance is not necessarily the one that is already predefined inside of your head, but rather, the ones that are yet to be discovered in a new form and shape via your directorial research. Think about it as a scientific project and you are a scientist. It is like finding a new organism while looking through the magnifying glass of your directing, and something down there inside of the script’s body is waiting to be discovered by your directorial eye.
Gleb’s award-winning short films screened at more than dozens film festivals around the world including Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia, Asiana International Film Festival, Krakow International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival, New York and Los Angeles Shorts Film Festivals. His film ‘The Quantified Self’ was nominated Best Narrative Short at Woodstock Film Festival, has received a Programmers Award at Sidewalk Film Festival, and Runner UP award at the Boston Underground Film Festival.
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