Greetings, AWS elite!

Man, what a class on the first! We covered a lot of ground…

We started with our swift, thorough reading of the Coach’s Notes, and moved right into our review of the Breaking Bad scenes we filmed last week. We discussed your impressions, surprises, continuity, and the benefits/drawbacks of coaching during filming (as opposed to after the fact). As seems to be the pattern, each clip had it’s wonderful moments, as well as moments that served to inspire the participants to further modify your craft for future scenes. That’s the hope, anyway… put the work in, come prepared, film it, cut it together and take a look… did you accomplish what you’d hoped to, with your preparation? Strengthen the things that worked, identify and work on the things that didn’t, and try again!

I passed out sheets to y’all to gather suggestions for scenes/characters from TV and film that impacted you, and got a lot of suggestions (so thank you for that!). We’ll pick one or two clips/characters per week and take a look at them in class, seeing what we can pull from them. We watched that clip from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in class, just to give everyone a gut kick… it’s in the last blog post if you want to watch it again… scroll down!

We began to review Stanislavsky and Chekhov, but got diverted a bit, so I moved on to our Meisner intro, with the scene from Nightcrawler.

The Stanis./Chekhov technique review was focused on when to be yourself in a role, and when to be a variation of yourself. This seems to be a theme of mine. “Being yourself” vs “being a version of yourself” vs “being someone completely different altogether.” We watched the first five minutes of a video essay on “Finding Your Voice”, which dealt with a number of craft-related items, but, within the context of this theme, it covered actors such as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart – who always seemed to play the same basic character in every film (as far as line delivery, mannerisms, undercurrent, vocal style), contrasted against the likes of Daniel Day LewisGary Oldman and Meryl Streep, who are chameleons, disappearing into radically different characters every time.

Again, there’s is a time to craft a complete character, from the ground up. But there are more times when being yourself in a role not only works better for you, but for the project as well. Know when to be you, and when not to, and have the tools in your bag to do either, when needed.

Here is that video essay (It’s actually 14 minutes long – we watched the first 5 minutes only in class)…

The essay also covers using your voice to command control of scenes/films. If we have time before the end of August, we’ll spend a little time talking about Kristen Linklater‘s vocal training for actors. It’s an important aspect of acting training that I feel is often overlooked/misunderstood.

Within this discussion, I read to you a quote from Harold Clurman (one of the founders of the Group Theater back in the 1930’s). He was asked, “What ingredients does a person need to become a wonderful actor?”

“First of all, you have to have a wonderfully trained voice so that when you open your mouth to speak, everyone sits bolt upright in their chairs to listen. Secondly, you have to have a very alive and expressive physical instrument that can convey every nuance of what you are feeling. Thirdly, you have to have a lot of temperament – which means you get upset easily, you laugh easily, you cry easily.” — Harold Clurman

So there’s “finding your voice”, as far as locating and being able to express your uniqueness in your work (part of “being you”), and also “finding your voice”, in that you learn how to command a scene (on stage or film) with a strong voice – not a loud voice, mind you. It’s not about volume. It’s about vocal quality, confidence, presence. We do a disservice to ourselves and to our audience when we’re vocally mousy and uncertain.

Again, you can whisper and be strong and in control. We watched a gut-wrenching scene from The Grey (2011 dir. J. Carnahan), featuring Liam Neeson in which he is very soft spoken, but you can’t take your eyes off of him.

That is an incredibly powerful and effective scene. Kicks my butt every time I watch it. Incredibly courageous writing, and impeccably acted.

The actor playing the dying man in that scene is named James Badge Dale, and trust me, you’ve seen him in other roles. You just don’t recognize him there, behind the facial hair and blood. He’s one of those solid journeymen actors who routinely show up for a part, shine like the sun, and fade back into the woodwork. He made a name for himself in the TV show “24” with Kiefer Sutherland, playing the role of Chase Edmunds, but he blew me away with his scene-stealing turn in the film Flight (2012 dir. R. Zemeckis) with Denzel Washington. He played the cancer patient in the stairwell scene, and was absolutely fantastic. You’d have to be, to steal a scene from an actor of Denzel’s caliber… I would embed the scene here, but I think I’ll show it in class next week, when we talk about death, as a theme in film/TV and in “real life.”

But, yeah, Dale’s performance in that clip from The Grey (above) was absolutely top notch. I don’t know who else could have pulled that off so effectively. I wish I knew how to contact him – I’d love to see if he could come to class and talk to us about his character work. Well, a man can dream, right?

So, yeah, back to the scene from Nightcrawler (2014 dir. D. Gilroy). I passed out one page, with some simple dialog, for you to familiarize yourselves with. Then I took you into the office one at a time, away from all eyes, just you and me and your cell phone camera, and we played the scene. The goal was to get a little Meisner with it, with selective repetition of certain lines, to keep you off-guard, and to keep you from thinking. One of the tenets of Meisner’s training is that effective acting is impulsive, instinctual… act, don’t think. If you think, you get into your head and you lose the connection to your co-actor. So I did everything I could think of to keep you from thinking – just roll with whatever I threw at you, even if it didn’t make sense, or (especially) if it didn’t seem to fit the way you felt the scene should be played. Would you try to shoe-horn your prepared choices into the scene and control it? Or could you just roll with it?

“The only thing you have to offer as an actor is your unique personality, that which is yours and yours alone.” 

“Who you really are is revealed by your spontaneous impulses.” 

“To be your true self, you have to act before you think.” 

“Actors think more with their hearts than with their heads.”

Those quotes are from William Esper, in his book The Actor’s Art and Craft: William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique

The other purpose of the exercise was to see how close to “you” you could each play the scene. No acting, no choices… just be as authentically “you” as possible, and roll with it, listening, maintaining connection.

I recorded one pass on your phones, for you to review later, and then another pass without recording, to eliminate that last possible hurdle, so you could really focus on the task. You all did very well, and I hope you saw the benefit in the experiment.

After that, time was running short. I decided to show you the actual scene we just did, from Nightcrawler…

And then we broke out the scenes from “This Is Us.” I want to film these scenes in class on 8/22/18, and I want you all to have plenty of time to not only get off book, but to really go deep on your prep work. Each of the scenes and parts has depth, and layers to explore. I want to spend time in class the next couple Wednesdays working on the scenes, experimenting, stretching our wings. On the 22nd, I’ll hopefully have my DP and sound guys in to join us, so we can get high-end visuals and audio. Fingers crossed that they can join us.

That was only a fraction of what I’d hoped to cover on the first. Some of what we didn’t get to, I’ll add to next class.

In the interim, get out there and live!

Dave Wagner

AWS Staff