Film Production - Actors
First time directors get confused when they make a simple request to an actor, like "Act sad!", and the actor looks at them like they were an idot. To be an Independent Filmmakers and work with actors you must understand how actors work and the terminology they use.
There are a number of schools of thought about acting that have developed at different times and in different countries but the predominate theory in American film is what is know simply as The Method. Most actors in the United State have taken classes in The Method.
Method acting is a technique where actors try to reproduce the emotional conditions under which the character they are playing would operate in real life. The Method requires an actor to draw on his or her own memories of emotions and experiences to portrayal their character in a way that is authentic and deeply felt.
A Method actor tries to BE the character, not ACT the character. It's hard to describe the process and even harder to do it.
A Little History
A Russian actor and director named Stanislovski (1863-1938) first expressed the principles that later came to be known as The Method.
His followers brought his priciples to Europe and America. The most enthusiastic practitioners and teachers of The Method were located in New York and included Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler and Uta Hagen. Each of them added or modified the basic teachings to suit their own style.
A very popular acting coach in Los Angeles, Ivana Chubbuck, teaches a variation on The Method which she has dubed The Chubbuck Technique. In her Oscar acceptance speech Halle Berry credited Ms. Chuibbuck's coaching for her winning the best actress award for her role in the film Monster's Ball.
In order to play a role the actor must understand what their Overall Objective is. The thing they want more than anything else. They must also understand the character's Previous Circumstances, their personal history that determine how they got be to who they are and how they behave.
They must have a Scene Objective for each scene they are playing which may or may not be related to their Overall Objective. How they play the scene will be influenced by the Moment Before the scene started.
While they are acting the scene they will be engaged in Doings because people are always doing some kind of Business.
Their character will be dealing with Obstacles stopping them from achieving their objectives. The greater the Obstacles the greater the intensity of the scene.
To get fully into the character the actor must use Substitution, endowing the other actors and props with the memory of real people and objects from their lives. This causes the actor to remember the emotions associated with those real people and objects.
The actor must maintain an Inner Monologue and think of Inner Objects to help them stay in the scene. They must endow the Place where they are acting with real places they are familiar with so they can feel a sense of reality in their mind. They also build a mental Fourth Wall across where the audience is watching them so they can feel privacy.
Each change of thought in a scene is a Beat, usually associated with Actions.
If all of this sounds complicated, it is. For most actors it takes years of study and almost constant practice before these techniques can become second nature.
When you as a beginning director say "Act sad!" the actor must translate that simple request into a Scene Objective with Obstacles using Substitution, endow a place and create a Fourth Wall, create Doings, an Inner Monologue, and so on and so forth. If you can learn to think like your actors are thinking, and talk in their language you will be a better director and they can be better, and happier, actors.