Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Perfect Martini

As some of you may know, I also blog with a group of novelists and non-fiction authors on a site called From The Write Angle. I think my recent post there might be of some use to filmmakers here, so I'm re-posting it. Any reports that I'm doing this because it's our off season, so technically my vacation, and that I'm too lazy to write a new article, are are absolutely true.


In a previous post, I wrote about an acting rehearsal that changed my approach to life, the arts, and everything, but I only told half the story in that article. Here's the most important part.

My acting partner and I had found what was missing from the Kent/Oswald scene in King Lear by getting back to the basics. Having done that, we worked on our monologues and sonnets. I had been having trouble with the sonnet:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away and me most wretched make.

The problem was it sounded like a monologue. I talked with my acting partner about it, ending my diatribe with, "I've been talking for more than a few minutes, but why is it that – if I wrote down, word-for-word, what I just said, and repeated it, it wouldn't sound like what I just said?"

In other words, why did acting sound like acting and not real life?

So I continued to talk about the sonnet, then without notice, changed from my words to Shakespeare's. The transition was so seamless that when I was done, my scene partner's eyes were wide with excitement. "Let me try! Let me try," he said.

He did, and it was much better than he'd ever done before, but it wasn't quite perfect.

We worked on this new approach until we had a method for getting rid of everything we'd ever learned. We let every acting lesson we'd ever had slide off of us. We didn't start our monologues until we'd forgotten we were acting – and forgotten we'd forgotten we were acting.

The next week, after we'd nailed piece-after-piece in our semester finals, our teacher looked at me and said, "if you can bottle that, you'll make a fortune."

I'm still waiting for the fortune.

What we had done was take the final step in training—any sort of training.

Today, when I'm asked to speak about acting, I show up with the makings of the perfect martini. I put ice in the glass and pour in vermouth until someone tells me that's too much—which can really backfire if you're teaching kids. I then cover the ice, pour off the vermouth, making a show of how hard I shake out every last drop. Then I add gin or vodka, shake, and pour the perfect martini.

I enjoy a sip while explaining that the tiny amount of vermouth that clings to the ice is the perfect measurement for a dry martini. You have to put in too much in order to reduce it down to the right amount.

Then I turn the bottles around. Vermouth is labeled TRAINING. The gin or vodka is TALENT.

An artist, or a Navy SEAL, or an athlete, must immerse themselves in training. They have to learn everything there is to learn about their specialty—not just in their head, but in their body. They have to become so trained that a reflexive twitch of the knee is a textbook example of movement in their discipline.

That's the first step. At this level, many people think they are done—and most of the world would agree with them. A great number of successful artists work at this level. Plenty of soldiers serve our nation well by relying solely on their training, and locker rooms are full of athletes who play the game exactly as it is meant to be played.

But there is another level beyond the training. There is greatness. There is the perfect martini.

You don't get there on training alone.

You don't get there on talent alone.

It's a three step process. Learn it. Forget it. Do it.

And, yeah. The olives are the balls—which apply to either gender.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Best of The Blogs

Every year that I've done this blog, I see a big spike in readers around the time we're announcing our lineup for that year's festival. During the off season (like now) my readership drops. Of course, I understand this. It's human nature. That, and I don't write as much during the off season.

But folks, once you've submitted your film, it's too late to apply any knowledge you might gain from this blog. The idea is that those of you facing the blank page, or just starting production, or just beginning to think about your festival submission strategy, might learn from the mistakes of others.

Now is the time to be reading, not when you're eager to find out if you've been selected or not.

To help you get started, I've compiled a list of the best of Dances With Blogs. I hope these posts will help you on your journey from concept to completion. I also hope they will help you make a better movie, because we sure get tired of seeing the bad ones.

In honor of upcoming year 15, here are, in no particular order, the 15 best posts from the past two years.

Think Positive
The important thing to note in this post is the importance of your world premiere status. Be advised, Dances With Films takes this seriously. If you get into Sundance, Toronto, or the like, fine take it. If not, DWF should be on the top of your list. We will work with filmmakers by contacting you early if you're under consideration, so keep that in mind as well. Year 15 we're going to be tougher on this than ever, so spread the word, and plan accordingly.

No News is Bad Advertising
This is another good blog to read as you're considering your submission strategy.

Artistic Cross Training
This is a theme running through all my work, here and on From The Write Angle.

Possibly the most important aspect of any of the arts.

Louder, Faster, Funnier
Tips from the stage.

Top Ten Story Lines
Trends we're seeing too much of.

The 180 Degree Rule – One of my favorites

Great Isn't Good Enough

Three Cheers For Romance

Art and Business

One Lousy Point

The Never-Ending Need For Independence

Rules of Criticism

One Worked, One Didn't

Post Production Stress Syndrome

That's it. Please tell your friends to check this stuff out now while we can still help them.

Thanks for reading.