Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "DIY - Part 1"



This week, and by a curious chain of events, I ended up editing my new short film, Man Crossing Street, myself. Now, I hate computers and I know almost nothing about editing, so this was a decent little challenge for me, and so using the Chicagoan philosophy of “lets figure it out”, I managed to put together a provocative little film, and I had hoped to share it on here this week, however, I have still some work to do on the sound.

I have always thought that actors should create their own work, producing my own plays and films in years gone by had a profound effect on me as a man and as an artist. It's not about money because you probably wont make any, infact, you'll probably lose money by producing your own work, but the benefits are artistic and psychological, and in this particular blog, I've written about the psychological impact only, the artistic benefits I intend to write about at a future date, I have plenty to say on a subject that will form part 2 of this blog.


One of the greatest causes of anxiety among actors is the lack of control over whether they work or not, and this lack of control is brought about by a lack of completion, which the mind craves. A completion of what? Well, the actor's goal is to obtain his next acting job, and completion takes place once the actor has obtained that job, which in turn creates a feeling of control and causes the anxiety to dissipate (the inability to cope with this anxiety in between jobs is the primary reason why so many actors become demoralized and quit), and further, the work itself is a state of equilibrium for the actor. An actor must wait for someone else to give them an opportunity to perform – they can do the action steps to get work perfectly, but ultimately, someone else will make the final decision, someone else will decide if completion is brought about – all actors experience the agony of this position. However, by creating their own work an actor can write and produce their own film or stage their own play (and may not even produce the script, simply writing one can be enough), and cast themselves in the production, which will ultimately bring about that completion – remember: writing a script is fully within the actor's control, grabbing a camera and shooting a movie is within the actor's control, as is staging a play, it is simply a question of going through the steps. Sure, this is not a substitute for anything, but at the very least the actor will be able to go through the creative process and experience completion by finishing a new piece of work, and moreover, it will be work the actor can take pride in because the aesthetic is his alone, and work which will bring forth feelings of self-respect because the actor has taken control of his work, and, at the very least, by creating his own work, the actor can prevent himself from going bat-shit.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "You've Only Got Today"


Many actors think that the big prize of stardom will be theirs if only they just hang on in there, no matter how difficult things seem now, just give it another couple of years, afterall, didn't such-and-such-a-famous-actor spend 15 years getting his big break, didn't that other actor go on 3 million auditions before he made his first million – the inference here is: IT COULD BE YOU, if only you just keep “believing” then “it” will happen for you. The mentality of the lottery-playing-get-rich-quick-actor (irony intended) thinks that artistic ardour amounts to sticking to their routine at the gym, and spends endless money on THE MOST EXPENSIVE HEADSHOTS, the logic being that the more expensive the headshot the more likely it is to get that actor work, and further, this actor infantalises themselves and submits their life and happiness to the whim of an apparent authority figure, the person they think can unlock the gates to the Palace Of The Social Elite. This actor who spends their whole life trying to get into the country club and sneers at art, is seen as the “serious” actor in this era of crass commercialism that we live, because not only do they want to win the jackpot, but they are willing to follow the prescribed path (of obediance) in order to do so... Of course, almost all fail, as indeed almost all fail to get rich via the National Lottery.
There is however,  another kind of actor, the aesthetic actor, who recoils at the thought of kissing ass because he wants his actions to speak for him, this actor simply dedicates himself to being an artist and pursues an aesthetic agenda (or put another way: dedicates himself to attaining truth and excellence in his work). This aesthetic actor however, is seen as “unserious” because, as with all individual creative artists, he follows his own path which may be exhilarating only to himself, his actions may seem incomprehensible to others, and further, this actor is uninterested in getting brand names onto his CV, and worse, he is unwilling to spend money in the right areas. This actor is, therefore,  to be denigrated, and especially so for having the impertinence to want control over his life and work, afterall, aren't actors supposed to grovell with their begging bowls, frantically scrabbling around on the floor for whatever crumbs are thrown their way, and poking out the eyes of their brothers and sisters in the process...*cough, cough*...i'm sorry, I meant pursuing SUCCESS  not scrabbling on the floor for crumbs. I do apologise for that slight slip of the tongue. But no, the aesthetic actor will be told to forsake his reason and stop being “negative”, he will be told he “doesn't really believe”, and worst of all, that he is “a loser”...and...“just, who do you think you ARE?”
However, I say, and in the words of the great Al Pacino, “you've only got today, that's all you've got”. How much of your life are you willing to spend “standing around in the dark waiting to be picked “ (ie - the casting process). How many years? 10? 15? 20? What is an acceptable amount of time? At which point do you stop “believing”? I know actors who have quit the business entirely but continue to tell me that they still “believe”. Believe in what, I ask you? If you just keep “believing” for another 9 years you MIGHT have a shot at stardom. And what does this stardom amount to? A part on a well known television show? Perhaps work on an expensive movie? Who knows? And remember, before you actually get to become a star you'll have to be cast via the audition process where somebody will decide whether, yay or nay, you can proceed to stardom. All those years of toil and sacrifice and subservience boil down to somebody in some room somewhere, deciding for you, whether you've been wasting your time or not. Nice.
I say, don't worry if you're not conforming to the prescribed path. It's not easy to stand your ground, but do so, and don't let a flip remark by a casual aquaintance upset your apple cart. Infact, what others say or do has got nothing to do with you, and therefore should not concern you. Remember that those who would denigrate you because you refuse to pander to authority, are doing so simply in order to make themselves feel secure, they are cowards who need to feel that they too are part of the country club (whether they are or not, or whether it's even possible that they might be in the future, is apparently not open to scrutiny, it's a given). Sometimes those things you do for love will not work out, and sometimes you will look at someone who works with purely venal motives and it does work - that's life – it should not cause you to throw everything out of the window. Stick to your guns. What is important is that you're living your life, and that you take responsibility for it. Don't mortgage the present for some imaginary future good, follow your own personal truth, and do so today.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "The Ventura Conundrum"


"I learnt how to act by watching movies, sometimes up to six a day" - Lino Ventura

I first became aware of Lino Ventura when I watched Jean-Pierre Melville's Freanch Resistance masterpiece, L'Armee Des Ombres (Army Of Shadows), where he played a tough resistance leader, busting out of jail a couple of times. Those of you who've seen Ventura's work will know that he is strong, not just physically but also mentally and in terms of his presence on screen. He's focussed and disciplined, possessed with an apparently awesome will power, his posture makes him seem immovable, he's Stoical and has a reserved intelligence, a wisdom, no "door-smashing neanderthal" Ventura, and further, it's worth pointing out that he was a prizefighter before he was an actor. Jean-Pierre Melville himself describes Ventura as: "a monolith, a real force of nature". As you can imagine, all this adds up to a compelling acting whole. And so it was then, that I watched an interview with Ventura this week, after seeing Melville's Le Deuxieme Souffle (Second Wind - another mindblowing masterpiece), and was amazed by just how shy and uncertain Ventura was, even giggly at times. Obviously those qualities he displays when acting are contained within the man himself otherwise he would not be able to display them. But what is it that causes this difference between his persona onscreen and off? Why so certain and direct in performance, but hesitant in life?

I started to think about how, when working on a part, I love to refine my intentions in the scene. I'll refine, refine, refine them, until they have a laser-like strength and precision (having to eventually perform the scene prevents this becoming procrastination, although I have been working on the same Harold Pinter speech for eight years, endlessly working it, and I do this largely because it gives me pleasure), and the reason I work this way is because it enables me to commit fully when playing the scene (which is in itself a pleasurable thing to do), and this commitment renders my work truthful and the scene becomes exciting to play, and, blessedly, I am relieved of my everyday self-consciousness - suddenly my personality clicks into place and everything makes sense, I proceed with total conviction. And this commitment leading to conviction is the reason why many actors only really feel as though their life has purpose when they are performing, and feel hopelessly awkward the rest of the time. Paradoxically, many actors are less self-conscious performing than when they are not, and perhaps then, this helps to explain the Ventura conundrum.

NB - In addition to the Melville films mentioned above, I also recommend Jacques Becker's Touchez Pas au Grisbi (Hands Off The Money), a hard boiled film noir, and contains not only a fabulous performance by Ventura, but also one the greatest in all cinema, by Jean Gabin.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "The Objective"

“There are musicians who practice all the time but we actors are not able to do that. We don't have an instrument, except if you say we are our own instrument, and yet I always try to continue searching and working for the moment where you have to deliver.” - Michel Piccoli.

I had a meeting with a filmmaker this week who asked me to read from a script which had been handed to me during the meeting. The only chance I got to look at it was there and then, a quick scroll down the pages while the filmmaker was watching me. Then I got up to read. At the end of each reading she asked me to do it again in a different way and this went on for four or fives readings. Before the first time I read it, I simply selected an objective for myself to accomplish in the scene (or more precisely, I gave myself an action within which is embedded an objective), and upon the subsequent readings, I simply adjusted my action in order to meet the new demands made upon me by the director, and was, as a result, able to deliver the goods, much to the delight of the filmmaker, and I left the meeting stronger for being able to respond fully when under pressure. And this is why I use the objective as my first principle in acting, it provides me with a
mode of thinking that is entirely under my control, and if I produce results, I know how I did it and why, it was not a fluke. There is plenty that isn't under the actor's control in his working life, so at the very least let him find a concrete technique that makes sense to him and brings his work under his control.

I would go one step further, and say the actor should employ the objective in his everyday life as well as in his work. If the objective can get you out of trouble when under imaginary circumstances, thenthe objective can get you out of trouble when the circumstances are real. When analysing a script, we identify the superobjective, and all the little objectives which need to be accomplished along the way. Well, do the same in life. We humans are complex creatures, we mustn't let our mood or the way we feel entice us away from our goals, for not only will this prevent us from accomplishing our goals, but we will only regret the time wasted once our mood has passed. By using the objective in our everyday life, we can stay on track, or if we do stray, we can get ourselves back on track quickly. Crucially, having a clear objective enables us to think correctly when under enormous pressure.

And finally of course, by applying the objective in our life, we will be exercising our acting muscle every moment of every day, therefore making it stronger, and ensuring we will be ready when the call comes.