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Monday, February 1, 2016

INDIE MEMPHIS Splice and Shoot Acting on Film @ Crosstown Arts
for the actor

Edison Studios early 1900s

Dustin Hoffman screen test

       High School of Performing Arts, NYC 

HB Studios, Bank Street

I learned acting on film from my teachers: Sandra Seacat (Jessica Lange, Mickey Rourke), Susan Batson (Nicole Kidman, Juliette Binoche), Uta Hagen (Jack Lemmon, Sigourney Weaver), Herbert Berghof (Anne Bancroft), Mira Rostova (Montgomery Clift), Ivana Chubbuck (Terrence Howard, Halle Berry).

And from the actors and directors 
I have worked with:

 Sophia Loren, Mike Nichols,  J.J. Abrams, Susan Sarandon, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Anne Bancroft, Patrick Dempsey, Christopher Walken, Connie Britton, Kate Nelligan, Mathew Broderick, Marsha Mason, Sandy Dennis, John Schlesinger, John Slattery, John Malkovich, Treat Williams, Peter Boyle, Tom Skerritt, Harold Gould, Stephen Hill, Jason Alexander, Tea Leone, Lisa Kudrow, Greg Grunberg, Billy Dee Williams, Jesse L. Martin, Renee Taylor, Stephen Hill, John Dye, Cecilia Peck, Sherilyn Fenn, Brian Cox, Robert Urich, Ken McMillan, Jeremy Piven, James Spader, Hume Cronyn, Michelle Lee, Debra Messing, Linda Hamilton, Frances Sternhagen, Gary Cole, Hal Holden, Grace Zabriskie, Bill Cobbs, Tim Curry,  Eric LaSalle, Anthony Edwards, Elizabeth Perkins, Thomas Hayden Church, Hector Elizondo, Bruce Dern, E.G. Marshall, Dan Hedaya, Patty Duke, John Glover, Richard Kind.

  No one owns acting. You are free to find your own way of working.   

Acting on film is telling the truth. 

Tommaso Salvini 1829- 1916

"I must by intuition grasp the characters, and by study reproduce them with a semblance of truth. I must become capable of identifying myself with one or another personage to such an extent as to lead the audience into the illusion that the real personage, and not a copy, is before them."

"I must work, I must learn!"
Eleanora Duse 1858-1924
Considered one of the great actresses in history.

Charlie Chaplin called her "The finest thing I have seen onstage."

Constantin Stanislavski 1863-1938

"In the circle of light on the stage in the midst of darkness, you have the sensation of being entirely alone... This is called solitude in public... During a performance, before an audience of thousands, you can always enclose yourself in this circle, like a snail in its shell... You can carry it wherever you go."

"Of course, if you have thought up to now that an actor relies merely on inspiration you will have to change your mind. Talent without work is nothing more than raw unfinished material."

"Create your own method. Don't depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you"

"Our demands are simple, normal, and therefore they are difficult to satisfy. All we ask is that an actor on the stage live in accordance with natural laws."

The Group Theater, 1931. The birth of America's own approach to 
Stanislavsky's System, later practiced in theater and film. Members included Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, Harold Clurman.

In 1947,Group members  Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis founded the Actors Studio. It is a place where professional actors can experiment and try new things. Lee Strasberg became primary teacher for many years. 

Lee Strasberg teaching his class at the Actors Studio. James Dean in front.

Strasberg with student Al Pacino

Marilyn Monroe studied with Strasberg for a time

Dustin Hoffman studied with Strasberg

Stella Adler, after the Group Theater, became a renowned teacher and respected film actress. She taught at the New School for Social Research, and founded the Stella Adler Studio.

Marlon Brando studied with Stella Adler

Robert DeNiro, right, studied with Stella Adler

Sanford Meisner, after the Group, became a renowned acting teacher at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

Robert Duvall, front row to the left, studied with Meisner

Gregory Peck trained with Meisner 
and Michael Chekhov

 Elia Kazan, right, came out of the Group Theater and successfully directed both Broadway and film.
"I'd watched other actors working and saw how little they had to do externally 'register' on the screen...The camera, I concluded, is a microscope, which reveals what the eye does not see. It also penetrates into a person, under the surface display, and records thoughts and feelings--whatever is going on."  (Kazan)

Stanley Kubrick spoke of this book as his source 
for help directing actors

Sydney Pollack studied with Sanford Meisner

Sidney Lumet was one of the first members of the Actors Studio 

"Any good actor uses the principles of Stanislavsky, no matter what they do. They may do it unwittingly, but they do it. You can call that 'method,' I don't care what you call it, but it's about being truthful. Every time you find a truthful actor, you find someone who bears out some of the realism that Stanislavsky bothered to put on paper."

--Montgomery Clift

The camera sees what is placed in front of it.

Reading the script is where the work starts.

 Read it once and seeing what it triggers in you or makes you feel... Then you stay open-minded and read it again. The more the better.
The script is filled with clues for the actor, about the world you are going to be living in. 

You can start to create based on the writer's words. For me, it's like a puzzle, and I will be putting it together until the movie is done. Beneath the words, what actually has to be communicated in a scene? In a shot? Even without words, communication is happening, with the body, with the eyes. The easiest way to understand communication as an actor, is to watch people.

Anywhere you see people, watch them... what is their body doing? How important is the topic of discussion to them? What effect are they trying to have on the person they are talking to? Even when they are on their phone, you can ask these questions. Is that person trying to get help from someone? Are they flirting or seducing? 
Are they talking to someone and trying to get them to laugh?
 Are they trying to get a point across? 
Is it life or death? 
Where do you see the communication in their body?

"Acting is in everything but the words."
--Stella Adler

The actor on screen must honor and respect the words that are written, but by watching people, you can see that beneath the words is where life is, and it's communicated through the body. The words may be connected to this inner life or they may be a cover to the inner life, but the words are not the source of our life. The camera captures behavior. We hear the words of an actor, but we watch behavior. We listen with our eyes.

In order to communicate truthfully, we research the script, ask questions, and then we start to make choices. 

Who are you? 
Where are you?
Where were you before this?
Why are you here?
What do you want?
How badly do you want it?
What is your character's bottom line need in the script? 
and in the scene?
What is your relationship to each person in the scene you're in?
What is your relationship to everything in the frame?
 On set: where is the light?

These are a starting point. The camera captures the behavior that reveals who you are, why you are there, what you are after.
Do you get tense in front of the camera? Can you reveal your humanity in front of the camera?

"Staring back at the lens from within myself, I feel that so much of what I've otherwise kept hidden is captured and filtered. What emerges on the screen reminds people of something in themselves, because I'm so many different things. I'm a network of primal feelings, instinctive emotions that have been wrestled with so long, they're automatic. The things I don't like about myself, the things I do like about myself, the things I'm not, but I'd like to be, the things I am but don't want others to know about--these are all percolating inside. All these contradictory aspects are the basic me. Courage and cowardice, strength and weakness, fear and joy, love and hate--that's what makes up the actor so that's available to the camera."

--Sydney Poitier

 One danger for the actor is to avoid it all together, another danger is to be honest or emotional without anything driving you forward. 

The super objective, or overall objective is a visceral choice about what the character wants from the beginning to the end of the script, and it involves bringing change to their lives. What do they really need? It might be unconditional love or power over their own lives. Once the choice is made, you can look at each scene and find the scene objective. If the character wants love overall, how are they trying to get it in each scene? 

The pursuit drives the character and also moves the action of the script forward. The choices you make may be weak choices or strong choices. When people say, 'No acting please,' they are not saying make no choices, have nothing going on and no sense of purpose. They are saying Don't just emote, pursue something, and they are also saying, don't act so hard that it shows you're acting--don't show the seams of your work. 

You do your homework, your preparation and when it comes time to act, let it go, enter the moment and bring the character to life.


Director Sidney Lumet wrote:"The talent of acting is one in which the actor's thoughts and feelings are instantly communicated to the audience. In other words, the  'instrument' that an actor is using is himself. It is his feelings, his sexuality, his tears, his laughter, his angst, his romanticism, his tenderness, his viciousness, that are up there on the screen for all to see. That's not easy. There are many actors who can duplicate life brilliantly. Every detail will be correct, beautifully observed and perfectly reproduced. One thing is missing, however. The character's not alive, I don't want life reproduced up there on the screen. I want life created."

"The truth is you have to be more honest in films than on the stage." 

--Edward G Robinson

How do you get honest in acting? Study. Practice. Many people think of acting as something that has no structure. Whereas a pianist practices daily, what can actors do? Actors must create their own structure. 
Keeping an acting journal is a way to start creating structure for your acting.

Work on your instrument daily. Work on monologues, scenes, read books, exercise. Do vocal warmups each day, develop your voice. Watch film with the sound turned down, and see what the actor is communicating, did the actor make a choice or not. Study tight shots this way. You will know if they made a choice or are just 'winging it.'

 Start an acting journal and fill it with everything you love about acting, everything that inspires you, write down your questions. Search. Follow your passion, train your instrument. Other actors are doing it, so you can too. Whatever your goal is, create structure and commit to it daily. For an hour, a half hour, 15 minutes every day.This can help create an instrument that is accessible, an emotional life that is available, and an ability to stay truly present take after take. And work to get off of yourself, help others, volunteer, save animals. Avoid getting too self involved.

Start looking at yourself in your life.When are you honest? When are you not honest?When do you reveal the real you? If you begin your search for the authentic you, then ask yourself who do you truly open up to? Who do you let down your guard with? Your mother? Your father? Your best friend? Your lover? Your spouse? Your kid?  That intimate you is important to bring with you in front of the camera. The camera can tell when you are open or protected. The camera captures our behavior.  The camera tells the story: Humans in circumstances of conflict, humans that think, feel, yearn, fight, try. As we overcome the obstacles in the script, we show the audience the side of themselves that also struggles and yearns and tries. Rarely does the audience want to watch someone be a victim who does nothing but complain and remain powerless. That's why we can't get lost in emoting. The actor must have a sense of purpose and must, in some way-large or small- be in pursuit of something better.

Sanford Meisner's famous quote: 

"Acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances."

Director Frank Capra wrote: "This is the artistry of the film director: convince actors that they are real flesh and blood human beings living in a story. Once actors are themselves convinced, then, hopefully, they will convince audiences. This self conviction of actors applies with equal force to those playing the smallest of parts. Does a star, paying his hotel bill, pay it to a bit actress or to a real cashier? A bit actress, perhaps, hired for one day, will be just a bit actress to herself and to audiences. But let the director give her an identity--an only daughter worried about her mother in the hospital, a wife anxious about her husband losing his job, or a woman in love, going to a party that night with the man of her life--and that bit actress becomes a woman. She may not say a single word in her brief appearance on the screen, but her "identity" will fix her mood, her thinking, her attitude. And audiences will sense her as a real person, not an actress. Very important, this."

"Imagination refers to the actors ability to accept new situations of life and believe in them. From your imagination comes your reactions."

--Stella Adler

"'What if" can be the entry into imagination.

Eyeline stays close to the lens

A question you can ask anytime you are acting, when you get lost, when you're unsure: Where did I just come from? What do I want? Where am I going?

" In a long shot, you don't have to worry much about getting your emotions right; the physical action is what counts. The camera is so far away that it won't see the emotions your supposed to experience. In a medium shot, your body language and gesticulations become more important, though you have to turn up your emotions a little. But it's in the close up that you really crank it up. The acting you do there is best conveyed by thinking, because if you're thinking right, it will show."
--Marlon Brando 

Stanislavsky paid a great deal of attention to relaxation in acting. This is a great tool for the actor in film.  Breathing is a key to relaxation, as it is in yoga and in mindfulness. The breath can bring us into the moment, or if we forget to breathe or even breathe in a shallow way, we can get tense quickly. Fear and anxiety are a part of the actor's world at some point. There are tools for this. Fear and anxiety involve adrenaline and cortisol being released into our bodies, as part of the fight or flight response. Daily relaxation, meditation, mindfulness as well as regular Pilates or yoga can retrain our bodies to lower the adrenaline level and create a new baseline, with less anxiety. Exercise is a key, as well as diet. I do believe that fear is something that actors need to become more accustomed to, and accept its presence at times. It is just energy and if we can allow it and coexist with it, we get better at it. Woody Allen used to vomit before each stand up performance. Laurence Olivier developed stage fright when he was the most respected actor in the world. Ethan Hawke has spoken of his stage fright in his documentary Seymour: An Introduction. He also speaks of needing a deeper meaning to his life and his acting than just praise and awards. When fear comes up I believe it can teach us if we allow it to.

One way we can stay simple and at ease on camera is listening. We tend to focus on our lines as the main point. But whenever other characters have lines, we can truly listen. It can get us centered and back in the moment. All fear and self consciousness literally take us out of the moment, away from what's right in front of us.

 But breathing and listening, even in an audition, reveal us ease, and fully present. 
Ease is important in front of the camera, including at auditions. 
The best work can happen when we are engaged in the moment and what's right in front of us. The camera watches our relationship to whatever and whomever is in front if us, in that frame.

"On set I’m an actor like every other actor. Most times, for every part I play, I can think of other actors who would be better. I worry from the moment I take a job. I worry about how I'm going to do it, if I can do it. I try to work out what I have to do on set and how I do that. I get extremely anxious. I panic. I can't get it. It happens every time, and I get myself into this state, and then I walk on set and the director says, 'Roll', and all of a sudden all of it disappears and it's all happening, and I relax and I'm doing what I do and I'm not even thinking about it. And I relax up until the moment they yell 'Cut'."

Jack Nicholson studied with Jeff Corey

"Listening is everything. Listening is the whole deal. That's what I think. And I mean that in terms of, before you work, after you work, in between work, with your children, with your husband, with your friends, with your mother. It's everything. And it's where you learn everything."

Meryl Streep attended Yale Drama School

.Humor on the set can lighten things up, bring play into it when things get tense.

Ultimately, technique can be seen by young American actors as a straight jacket. But technique is for the moments of difficulty. You can work in any way you choose, and if you get stuck and wonder what to do, there are limitless techniques that can help you become more proficient, more flexible and more confident. Search for the actors who inspire you and find out whom they studied with. Technique is not about checking off a to do list, it is about freeing your talent and allowing you to become more of who you are, empowered in your work. 

Martha Graham said, "The aim of technique is to free the spirit."

What do you need to work on as an actor?

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 
What muscles do you need to strengthen?

"People often say that an actor 'plays' a character well, but that's an amateurish notion. In acting, everything comes out of what you are or some aspect of who you are. Everything is a part of your experience. We all have a spectrum of emotions in us. It's a broad one and it is the actor's job to reach into this assortment of emotions and experience the ones that are appropriate for his character and the story."

--Marlon Brando

Film: rehearsal is optional. Some like to flesh out the work, some want to shoot the rehearsal.

Mike Nichols rehearsing The Graduate 
with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft

In rehearsal, you can block out the scene, ask questions, try possibilities. What would the character do there?
What is needed to serve the scene?

Questions don't need to be answered by the left brain. Questions can be asked and then allowed to simmer. 

  If you ever had a script or an audition scene and did not know what to do? Script Breakdown is a technique that helps the actor to understand the logic of the scene and find a way to play it that excites you. This includes breaking down a scene into beats, and then finding out what the character is doing in each transition.


Notes: any result oriented acting note can be translated into process work. Susan Batson, Nicole Kidman's acting coach tells her that when a director gives a note that is a result, more angry, more happy, more sad, to translate this into a verb. A doing. This is the heart of Stanislavski's work--what are you doing in this script, in this scene, in this shot, in this moment? 

"The better you know yourself, the better an actor you'll be."

 --Ivana Chubbuck

To learn more about this work, I am leaving a list of books that can help.

"Playing to the Camera"

edited by Bert Cardullo, Ronald Gottesman, Leigh Wood

"Figures of Light"

Carole Zucker

"Actors Talk"

Dennis Brown

"Acting for the Camera"

Tony Barr

"Dream of Passion"

Lee Strasberg

"Art of Acting"

Stella Adler

"Sanford Meisner on Acting"

"Making Movies"

Sidney Lumet

"It Would Be So Nice if You Weren't Here"

Charles Grodin

The Ragman's Son
Kirk Douglas

Embracing Fear

Thom Rutledge

Uta Hagen Acting Class
Sanford Meisner Master Class
Inside the Actors Studio (Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino)
Showing Up
Searching for Debra Winger (focuses on actresses)
This So Called Disaster
Pina (on creativity)

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