my technique

Nicol Razon UPDATE (7/8/11): just posted a video where i get a little more in-depth on the technique i describe in this post. check it out above.

a very talented actress named Nicol Razon who auditioned for broken people emailed me this week. she was really fantastic in the audition – so emotionally available. i told her as much, but it was kind of obvious even to her that she did such a great job. i was however completely upfront before she even began her audition about the fact that her natural toughness might make it difficult to cast her in this particular role, which instead needed an aura of complete fragility. she was very cool about that (thank goodness) and came in to the audition with an open mind. and then as i said, proceeded to blow me away.

the reason she contacted me this week though was that she wanted more information about this exercise i used in her audition. i used it with all the actresses we saw for that role and because it so consistently produces for me, i plan to use it whenever i need an actor to plumb his or her emotional depths.

it started during the linian society event in April ’09. i was very impressed with the skills of Will Bowles, and during rehearsals i realized what a funny, humble, cool and caring man he is. so i told him i wanted to write something for him. a few months later, in a bout of post-48 hour film festival frustrution, i sat down and wrote carefully descending over the course of a day or two. the lead character Graham takes an extremely intense emotional journey during the piece and i assumed that the intensity which i witnessed in Will during the linian society thing would automatically translate into the vulnerability needed by Graham. so that was lesson number one: never assume.

Will’s extraordinary intensity, sharp wit and facile mind are exceptional talents, but all talents are not equal. some actors are more facile with certain qualities and emotions than others. in fact – though this is NO WAY is in reference to Will himself, whom i find to be an unbelievably talented and skilled actor whom i love to work with as often as i can – i am sometimes forced to choose a less talented (whatever the hell that means) or skilled actor over somebody with far more craft and over-all abilities simply because there’s a distinct quality i need as a director to bring that character, and the piece as a whole, to life. so needless to say, as we started to rehearse carefully descending, i began to worry. not that Will isn’t a fantastic actor and not that he couldn’t pull it off even – just that i had assumed it was going to be a lot easier to get out of him the level of vulnerability that this character required.

so out of the blue one day – out of nothing more than necessity – i created this exercise. i created it and we used it in rehearsal later that day and it became very obvious to me that i’d also need to use it on the actual shoot where it was a great success. i’ve been using this exercise ever since.

Nicol blew us away in that broken people audition with this exercise, but even so we ended casting Murisa Harba (who was really incredible in the role btw) instead. we were impressed by many of the actresses we saw that day, but Murisa was the best for that particular role. of course we continue to search for something on which we can work with Nicol and when she asked me about this exercise a few days ago, this was my response:

the exercise is just kind of a cyclical thing that i first of all rehearse one-on-one with an actor that i need to get to a very dark and heavy emotional state. i obviously make sure they’re warmed up and that the environment is as safe as possible and then i just have them cycle through on their own and in their own time, the following four “stages” (for lack of a better term):

  • “what am i going to do? this is horrible.”
  • “there’s nothing i can do. everything is fucked.”
  • “no, there’s got to be something i can do.”
  • “i’ll figure it out. everything will be okay.”

and then back to the beginning, over and over

then when i shoot this, i make sure that the space is lit to give the actor the freedom to walk around the space and basically do whatever they want. i make sure the camera and sound department are prepared to follow the actor around the space and then i remove everybody from set that doesn’t absolutely need to be there. i demand absolute silence from everybody but the actor and i call ‘action’. we’ll typically just keep shooting with no cuts and i’ll occasionally whisper to the actor directions if and when we need to move them to a different place in the space or if we need something else.

the truth is – though you’d never know it by reading that utter crap that is People magazine or by watching that complete jackass Simon Cowell – acting is a craft. like architecture or mechanical engineering or even software design. so few directors i ever worked with when i was acting ever understood that and so i myself was never able to bring this level of emotion to the screen. it’s really hard! you have twenty or so people running around yelling at each other and messing with the lights and the camera and dolly track and everybody just expects you to be at the top of your game no matter how much noise and distraction they’re making, but i know how hard this kind of vulnerability can be – even for the very best actors! and yet, this level of vulnerability is what the audience often needs to really understand what’s going on inside some of the most intense and truthful stories … and this is my most reliable weapon. feel free to use it if you like. if you use it well (and appropriately – this isn’t necessarily the level of emotion your character needs to reach if can’t find his shoes) and if your actor is willing, i guarantee you will get some excellent footage.

Be Sociable, Share!
Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email
Web Analytics