Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bringing a Past to a Scene

Been a very busy few days. Came off of a great fast paced shoot on the indy film "Devotion" all day Sunday then onto a drive to Austin Monday AM to do a commercial audition and lunch with one of my "HvZ" costars and a taped audition for a local short in the evening. Such is the life...if you're doing it right. That said, I haven't had much of a chance to sit down and write here the past few days.

I also hate writing just for the sake of it. I have to think of something I actually want to convey. I don't want to waste your time and prattle on about stuff that's uninteresting and unhelpful (at least by my standards). It hit me this morning what I really wanted to write about and it's a 3 parter so that should line me out for the next few days!

Every character at every given scene in a film (much like any given point in life) has a past, a present and a future. To keep with the chronological, I'll talk about finding the character's past and using YOUR past to provide emotional punch.

I'll start with an example. Let's say you are auditioning for the role of an armored car driver who is being held up by a couple of robbers. A brief description of the scene is that you say "You can't take this money" and then you go for your gun, dieing in a hail of bullets.

First off, this is what's called a dayplayer role. It's speaking, so in a SAG production it counts towards membership and puts you on a day rate, which is good. These are also the kind of roles that locals are more likely to land in bug budget productions rolling through taking advantage of tax incentives. In all the big budget TV and film I've done, my parts were dayplayer gigs. You "usually" won't have a name (Guard #1, Apache CPG#2, Off Duty Cop, Soccent Ops Tech), but it's still excellent pay, a solid credit and always a fun time.

The tricky part is that it's one...maybe 5 lines and you have to build a character from it. Script analysis may reveal a couple things. The writer may have given you specific clues. Maybe in the action it describes the Armored Car Driver as "nervously reaching for his gun" or describes him as "looking terrified". Probably not that lucky. One of the best ways to build that read is to find out where your character came from.

There are a lot of methods to examining a character. Some people will have you fill out pages and pages on where you came from even talking about the character's favorite films, music what kinds of foods they like. Depending on how deep into character you want to go (I'm not much of a method guy myself) you may engage in that depth. I hate crating anything that may be so in depth as to clash with a director's vision so that when they say "Change this" I don't completely stall out. I like to stay flexible and have options.

Director's, HAVING your actors complete an in depth analysis can be really fun...especially if for a series or a film that may have sequels. You may discover an amazing adventure for examination down the road.

Looking at where you have been, I suggest a paragraph. Write one solid paragraph about the biggest things in your life. This will work on any size character (though you may want to flesh it out more for larger roles). Here are a couple examples of the Armored Car Driver:

"Andy has been working for the armored car service for only a couple of weeks. After a string of unemployment and financial turmoil he's happy to have the job so he can take care of his wife and 3 kids. The medical insurance has been particularly helpful with the new baby and her various ailments. Andy can't lose this job. It means everything to him and his family."


"Hank's wife left him for his best friend yesterday. He used to be somebody. He was in the Army for 6 years and saw some pretty scary shit in the gulf. He also boxed a bit years ago. He's been drinking a bit more than he should and he's tired of getting pushed around. He's a staunch conservative and a gun enthusiast".

Just from those two examples can you see the difference in where the line is coming from. Andy can't let them take the money because he's worried he'll lose his job and can't support his family. Hank is just looking for a reason to hurt someone and these idiots walked into a place where he can kill them LEGALLY...or maybe he can just end it all in a blaze of glory. Pretty neat huh.

It's also important to look at history with the other characters in the scene. In this case, Hank and Andy probably don't know the guys. It's not written into the dialogue. However, they both have met people like these guys. Depending on the crew pulling the job, Andy may empathize with their desperation and identify with their needs. Hank probably sees them as parasites and bottom feeders that don't deserve to breathe.

You can do this with the props you're given and the scenery as well. Andy may not be from the big city and it still getting used to urban sprawl around him. He may, also, hate guns and be fairly unfamiliar with them. Quite the contrary for Hank. This is his own personal firearm and just the other night he contemplated using it on his wife and then offing himself. He used to work at a store two blocks from where he's currently preparing to die.

Take a minute and think about how you would take the line with either background in mind. Totally different. Now take another minute and write your own paragraph as the Armored Car Driver as an example.

One thing to keep in mind (and the reason I said I keep these short) is that if you can mentally prep a couple of these, you will be so much more flexible if the director doesn't like your first choice. Say you go in and take the line John Wayne style in Hank mode and the director says "Be more vulnerable...scared". Then you can hop into Andy mode and maybe deliver. Always have a back-up or two if time allows.

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