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With 99.95% of my first feature shot, I thought I would give some personal tips on how to actually get believable performances from your actors. And while this may sound like a pretty simple task — “Just say the lines.” or “Give me a bit more sadness behind it.” — it definitely is not a simple thing at all. I will explain why it isn’t so simple, and then I will give you some tricks I, myself, was able to use on my feature, ‘Potential Inertia’.SUBJECTIVITY & PERCEPTION
As a director, you have to ask yourself: “What is believable and what isn’t?” The answer is: It’s subjective. I think one has to truly grasp what kind of film they are actually making. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? All types of films require all types of acting — “styles” if you will. However, regardless of genre, even if it’s an “over-the-top” comedy, all performances must be believable to an audience if the audience is going to be willing to come along with you for a ride.
What is “real” actually starts with the writer. It is how the writer writes the characters themselves. What is real in the world of the character may not necessarily be real to the audience.
For example: In ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Harry and Lloyd are not very realistic characters to an audience. They’re portrayed as cartoonish embellishments of what low intelligence would be — brilliant comedic acting by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, but they seem not very plausible in real-life. However, every other character in the film is just like you and me. These are not only choices by the writer, for writing such fantastic lines, but also the direction that has been given to every actor on set. The normality of the supporting characters embellishes, even more, the absurdity in the direction that was given to Carrey and Daniels — and we’re willing to “believe” them as being “real” because the reality is subjective to the characters themselves.
The actor must make choices — or have those choices made for them — that would best interpret how that character would physically react or vocalize given a specific situation(s). The director’s job is to make sure their vision of said situation(s) translates to an audience in the most realistic way possible. If the audience can’t connect, or buy into the reality of what they are seeing, then it’s ultimately the director’s fault.THE EXPERIENCE FACTOR
So, how exactly does one go about getting their actors to pull off this remarkable feat of morphing themselves into what you want and need from them? How do you get your actors to be “real”? How do you get your actors to be “believable”?
Every actor is a different monster, and I say ‘Monster’ in a very loving way. I’m also an actor, so I know what it feels like to be molded, scorned, twisted, praised, rewarded, and the plethora of feelings that come with the job. But, as a director I must realize that each person I’m directing is different. Each has different experience. Each has a different process they use to get into character.
In my first feature film, ‘Potential Inertia’, the experience of my actors runs the gamut. I have had to direct people who have been leads in previous independent features, people who have been background and supporting roles in major Hollywood movies, and people who have had no acting experience in their entire lives.
My actors with experience on stage, screen, or both, all have their own processes. For those folks, it was imperative that I made clear what kind of film this was to be — the tone, the level of intensity or urgency for each scene, and the fact that I didn’t want their lines to sound inelastic. And with those experienced folks I was able to allow a level of trust that veteran actors deserve, because they are the ones that can understand the structure of a scene. They are the one’s who you really need to mentor those lacking the time spent in front of an audience. Regardless, each of those actors have individual processes, and as a director it is my responsibility, again, to understand each process by itself, be able to explain what I want to coincide with each process, and be able to find a cohesive way to mesh each actor together with another.THE ROOKIES
It can be extremely fun or totally frustrating to direct an actor who has never been in front of a camera before. They are extremely aware of the camera itself. They are not sure of themselves, or what to expect from a more experienced actor they have to do a scene with. It is a real test to put someone on screen who hasn’t the slightest clue of what they are doing.
I have knack at “seeing” people. I mean, really seeing who they are. Not all extroverts make good actors. Not all introverts can’t be actors. However, all “passionate” people can. I believe putting someone who is a passionate person in front of the camera for their first role will be a better idea than putting someone there who isn’t one.DIRECTING NOTES
The following notes are a bit of advice I have for those directors trying to get believable performances from their actors. These notes are a direct result of trying to make my first feature film as conversationally believable as possible using both veteran and rookie actors. I hope you all find them useful.
- Always remember that every actor has a different process, especially those veterans you have in your cast.
- Let the words in the script work for you, and not against you. If you need to give an actor a line reading, especially the rookies, do not be afraid to do so in the most polite manner possible. Let your actors play, but if they’re not giving you the delivery you want, make sure you show them what you need.
- Make sure your actors understand what each scene is about, and what is happening both on the surface and underneath it. Scene study with your actors can be a valuable tool when your actors are making decisions while the camera is rolling. If they don’t know why they’re saying something, if they don’t know their motivation, then there will be no focus or purpose in the delivery of their dialogue.
- Remind your actors to BREATHE. Breathing is imperative to coming across as believable. People breathe when they speak.
- Remind your actors to NOT RUSH their lines (unless rushing their lines is a character trait, or the scene calls for it).
- Let your actors veer slightly off script, perhaps to say their lines in their own way. Unless a specific line MUST be included in the story fully intact, sometimes letting your actors take a more personal approach to delivering them results in a more conversational result.
- Prepare them for the intensity or lack thereof in each scene.
I think it is important as a director to remember that each set is different, along with each script, and one must always take those two factors into consideration when looking at what is ‘real’ and ‘believable’. Please remember that your actors are an extension of you, and your vision, for what the film will ultimately be. Work WITH them, have fun WITH them, and communicate WITH them.COPYRIGHT (C) 2014 MATT CROYLE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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(OIL CITY, PA) – One Fish Films has made pre-orders available for the upcoming release of the feature film ‘POTENTIAL INERTA’ written and directed by its creative director Matt Croyle.
‘Potential Inertia’, and its award-nominated screenplay, tells the story of Declan Holmes, a graduating college senior who experiences loss he is not quite ready for, in a time of transition and in need of support from those who care about him the most. This coming-of-age tale is Croyle’s feature directorial debut.
Pre-orders for the film can be purchased at: http://potentialinertia.weebly.com for a discounted price of $9.99 if you buy the film before the upcoming release date.
The film stars Matthew King, and will be widely released on digital VOD in late 2014.
For more information about the film, please visit its official facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/potentialinertia
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As I near completion of my first feature film, I’ve learned quite a few things about what not to do while making one. If you’re considering making a movie, here are five important things you must never do.
1. DO NOT SHOOT WITHOUT A FINISHED SCRIPT
While ad-libbing scenes can be a fun and creative way to create scenes with actors, and while there have been some great flicks made by simply having a treatment or outline, this is not how you want to make your first film. Chances are the actors you can afford to cast are not the wonderfully trained ad-libbers they think they are. The more structured — your first filmmaking experience is — the better.
Also, shoot the script. Shoot what is written on the page. Anything else can be done in pickups or re-shoots. The bulk of the performances on your first film will be shaped entirely in the editing room.
2. DO NOT HIRE PEOPLE FOR YOUR FILM THAT CAN’T COMMIT THE TIME TO DO IT
When you are making your first film people will have a tendency to view it as some sort of hobby or extracurricular activity — even those folks you ask to come aboard, to be part of it. Until they see some progress, or a rough cut, most won’t see it as a serious endeavor. Do NOT bring people into your project that aren’t going to be available on days you need them. That family day at the amusement park should have to wait until you get the shots you need. The actress who can’t find a babysitter needs to find one, and show the fuck up when she’s called to set.
3. DO NOT USE ON-CAMERA AUDIO
Audio is the most important part of your first feature, because chances are it’s not going to be a cinematic masterpiece. It’s going to be a stepping stone. Clean, external, audio will make your production stand out next to the kid shooting his on the camcorder. According to one of the board members at SXSW, clean audio makes a huge difference in whether or not a film is chosen to screen there, regardless of what it looks like. In other words: Your movie can look like crap, but as long as it has clean audio, that people can hear, and isn’t distracting, your movie is already better than one that looks amazing except for the fact that people can’t hear anything.
4. DO NOT ALWAYS RELY ON EXISTING LIGHT
This is a given, especially with DSLR technology. Some cameras are great in low light, but sometimes you have to light the shit out of things in order to get that clean digital look. This can always be adjusted in post by adjusting gamma, brightness, and contrast. Light, light, light.
5. DO NOT KILL YOURSELF
Making movies is a very difficult thing to do. Your first flick should be super-fun and engaging, but do not beat yourself up over things you can’t control. Making movies is fun. And if it becomes not fun, then you should probably find something else to do with your time. Relax. Enjoy the process. Good luck.
Copyright © 2014 Matt Croyle. All Rights Reserved.