Monday, March 10, 2014

Good Actors Behaving Badly

We had some fantastic short films this week, starting with an animated piece that answers the question of the answer to the ultimate question of the Universe.  When it was over, one of our screeners said, "That was a nice way to start the evening."  I couldn't agree more.

Another terrific animated short was in a style invented forty years before the Vogons thought about building a galactic bypass.  The former film was an exception to the "good logo, bad movie" rule.  The latter, was a fantastic use of black and white, which I've often complained about when not done well.  Thanks to everyone involved in those films, they made the night go faster.

Later in the evening we watched a film with a scientific name and the perfect blend of three voices.  Nice job!

Of the movies that missed the mark, most did so because the actors were put in bad situations.  That's not to be confused with putting characters in bad situations.  That's a good thing.  Treating actors that way is not-so-good. 

There are many ways to leave your actors hanging.  The most obvious one is bad dialogue.  We had a film last night where the characters sounded like they'd been lifted straight from a novel.  If that had been an obvious style decision, like with any Raymond Chandler script, then great!  But, that was not the case.  Every sentence was grammatically correct with vocabulary words any spelling bee winner would be proud of.  Consequently, the actors not only sounded like they were spouting memorized lines, but they all sounded like the same person.  There was no "separation of characters." 

The actors might share some responsibility for this if they didn't bring it up on the set or during rehearsals.  If they did, and the director didn't listen, then that's on the director.  If you're ever directing a project, and the cast say, "This dialogue doesn't feel natural," you have two possible answers:

1)  I know; it's a style – followed by a discussion to make sure the cast are all aware of the style you're shooting for, or:

2) Really?  Show me what you mean – then you listen to what they are saying, and – if they have good point, don't be afraid to go with what they are saying.

Remember, if you have cast, well-trained, experience actors, then you have a tremendous resource on the set.  Use them.  They're actors.  They are used to being used. (That's a joke.  You can laugh).
Bad set-ups are another way to handicap your cast.  If the audience isn't sure what's going on because of the way the shot is framed, then they'll miss the performance.  If an actor looks like they aren't in the same scene as everyone else because of a bad eye-line or background, then their performance will suffer.  Throw in some set dressing, and adjust the shot a little, and the same performance will be a thousand times better.
Sound is also important to an actor's performance.  If we can't hear them, then we won't believe them.  If we hear audio drops, or changing room tone with every cut, then we're taken of the scene without really knowing why.  The actors might look bad for reasons that are beyond their control.  That's not the end of the world, but it does make it harder to cast your next project.
That's it for this week.  We have some exciting things in the works for our almost legal year.  Continue to follow events here, on Facebook, and Twitter #DWF17.  That's for reading.

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