I’ve been out of the loop since the HORRORS OF WAR screenings. Sure I directed the HOW TO DEAL WITH TELEMARKETERS videos in late 2007 and this year I did the UNCLE PETE’S PLAY TIME series, but I have not tackled any drama or acting that had real meat on the bones. I love working with actors, but I really love getting deep into a scene and playing with all the various ways you can interpret or enliven a scene.
A few years ago, my friend Holly was taking an acting class and her scene was not flowing. It was a Friday night and as is hardly unusual, I had no plans. Since My Sexy Fiancé Veronica ™ (then simply Girlfriend™) worked (and works) Friday nights, I tend to take Friday night off and just chill on my own. Holly called and said she & her scene partner couldn’t focus and they had a particularly harsh read in front of the class and wondered if I’d mind “directing” them. It was supposed to be more about just being more of a babysitter (her words, not mine), but I seriously got into it. I loved taking a scene, one I had not written myself, and then working with actors to re-shape the words and find meanings and emotions in the context. I had never before directed words I had not written myself.
At first I just had them read it and perform the scene as they had been for at least two reads. Since there is a tendency to get into syncopation with the words, the first suggestion I made was to examine the lines and maybe accent, and “hit” a different word and tell me why they chose that word instead of the one they had been emphasizing. Then I pulled them separately and told them to try the scene as a completely unrelated character. I told one of them to be SPOCK from Star Trek and the other one to be Bill Murray. Just to create an entirely different dynamic to the scene. Neither would win awards for impersonation, but the reads became entirely different. We found together different aspects from this wild interpretation to take to the final variation of the scene back to “normal”. There was so much more in terms of dynamics and the “rut” was alleviated.
The next day I was proud to receive the phone call telling me they had successfully impressed the acting teacher.
The experience left an impression on me and I used similar techniques for my 2004 endeavor directing in the 48 Hour Film Project. Since we had no script, I wanted to develop a rapport with actors in lieu of having a script (or genre).
Now, I am in a different place, yet not so different. I have not been directing in some time. I’ve been away from actors and acting, nonetheless directing. Like any other art form, practice makes perfect. I’m practicing directing at least once a week with two actors. I play acting games, using “open” scenes, and hell, I’m even making up scenes and writing one pagers for them to work on with me. That invigorates me as a writer too, but the directing muscles get the most work. This experience helps me on many levels, but the re-igniting of my inspiration and desire to get back to directing has rewarded me the most.
Maybe it’s arrogance, maybe it’s fear of being judged or deemed weak, but , I’d say that pretty much MOST directors need to practice working with actors more than they do (if they do at all). I don’t really care. I feel like if actors need to practice, then directors need practice just as much if not more. Jesus, having seen so many indie films recently I know that most alleged directors are NOT good at working with actors. I view what I’m doing as a scrimmage before the new championship season starts.
That also means I’m about to really get back in the game. I’ve been on the bench too long and this is just the warm up before I start playing my best.
Even though I suck at sports metaphors…
Expect more goodies from the blogs from Rossdonia!
Your Ever Faithful Narrator,
- Peter John Ross