Because I have already posted a lot about week 4’s exercise, the ‘Doors’ shoot, (My method of Working Parts 1 and 3, as well as in Week 4’s epiphany), I have decided to write a post about both this shoot and week 5’s shoot, mainly in relation to performance. For both of these shoots we had a rather large crew (about 10 people), but these were both split into two again so that we had an ‘executive’ team and a ‘support’ team. The ‘Doors’ shoot was the first time I had ever really been a part of such a big crew. It was all just incredibly exciting to me, because for the first time I felt what it might actually be like to be part of a proper shoot. Even though I was acting, which is definitely not my forte, I had one of those moments, where I had no doubt in my mind that this is really something I want to do for the rest of my life.
In terms of performance, I think most of us as directors are not primarily concerned with how the actors actually act. Mainly we concentrate on where the characters are going to move in the space and where they are going to be positioned in respect to the camera. I guess this has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of us are not actors, nor do we want to become actors, so whether we perform well or not doesn’t really bother us. Another reason is that this course is mainly geared towards refining our camera skills, rather than our acting or even directing of acting skills. Thirdly, because we are only shooting scenes (rather than whole films), the characters cannot be fleshed out or developed that much. Particularly because we are only receiving the scripts for a scene, without knowing what the rest of the film is about, we cannot gain a deep understanding of a character, because we have no context, other than a short prose or piece of dialogue. This was my main problem as an actor in our ‘Doors’ shoot. None of us knew exactly what character types we were meant to be playing. We couldn’t even decipher what kind of genre this scene might have been made for. For all I knew, my character could have been a murderer in a horror film. Another problem is that now we are all much more comfortable with each other, we all end up laughing throughout the shoot, which can sometimes cause problems when someone cannot contain themselves… that person is usually me. At the end of every shot in ‘Doors’ I would make two critical mistakes 1. I would look straight into the camera lens when I thought the shot was over and 2. I would crack up laughing. This was a big problem when I had to edit the footage. It made me realise how important it is to continue a shot on a little bit more than might be needed in editing, because ultimately it is always better to have more usable footage than less.
These mistakes helped to inform my methodology of directing for week 5’s Friday shoot. I was co-directing the single shot shoot for the scene about ‘the system going down’. Although we still had problems with actors laughing, I think the performances weren’t bad. One of the things I did to prepare the actors was give them a bit of a back story to their characters and the overall story. We made up a storyline about one of the characters losing her parents’ contact because they were astronauts (or something along those lines). I think that this helped the actors get a feel for the kind of characters they were meant to be portraying and in turn, how they would go about delivering their lines. Another thing that helped the overall performance was making the actors feel comfortable. Recently I read Alan Rosenthal’s section about interviewing in his book ‘Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos’ (2002). Even though Rosenthal is a documentary filmmaker (rather than a fictional filmmaker), some of the lessons in this were helpful, because he was talking about how to get the best performances out of people who weren’t actually actors. One of the things he kept coming back to was the importance of making the person on screen feel comfortable. Sometimes the camera, audio equipment and crew can seem a bit daunting (even to people who have been behind the scenes on shoots). It makes a difference when a director makes an effort to talk the actors, to brief them on the scene and exactly what they want from the actor’s performance. This way the actor will inevitably feel more confident and relaxed, enabling them to give their best possible performance.