Why Knowing Your Type Is Important

By Charis Joy Jackson

Previously published on Backstage.

I have a love/hate relationship with being typecast. I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking. Many actors endeavour to break away from being cast in the same roles over and over again. I think I speak true when I say it’s the actor’s dream to be one of those few who are known for breaking the mould. Gary Oldman comes to mind, the man is a chameleon.

However, I think it’s important to take note of your type.

Recently, I posted two of my head shots in a couple of acting groups. I was curious to read what people saw in them. Most of the people don’t know me, so I knew their answers would be purely on my look and not my personality or character.

It was a valuable insight for me and one I recommend you try too.

Knowing your type is important because it can broaden your horizon

We all have our own presupposition of the type of characters we should be playing. However, we’re not always as perceptive to the vast pool of character types we could go for.

For example, I only saw myself as the best friend type. Or the quirky girl on the sidelines. Not as glamorous as the leading lady types, but still fun characters for a lifetime career as an actress.

Then in one acting course, my classmates and I were asked to spend a full minute silently staring at each other, to think up the types of characters we could see that person playing.

I loathed it, but soon learned how beneficial it was to have an idea of how others saw me.

During the session, my preconceived ideas were replaced with a whole new bunch of characters I never thought about before. Knowing this, helped me to branch out in my acting too.

The same can happen for you. If you have a small circle of characters you think you’d be good for, try asking fellow actors what roles they’d see you in. Then use it to your advantage by workshopping scenes with these types of characters. Not only will it help you grow as an actor, but it may help you go for auditions you would’ve never gone for.

Knowing your type is important because it can save you time

As someone who has been Casting Director on two independent features, I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your type. You’d be surprised how often I put out a casting call for a specific character, giving information on the age range and look only to have a heap of actors apply who clearly don’t fit. My favourite is when I have twenty-something’s asking to audition for a character who’s six! (True story.)

It’s a waste of my time and a waste of the actor’s time too.

When an actor knows the types of characters to audition for, it frees up their time to go for roles they actually fit, versus waiting on auditions where they don’t. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend a day auditioning for characters I actually have a real chance to play, versus ones where I don’t.

Last bits of advice… Sometimes it can be disheartening to hear what type others think you could go for, but take what they say with a grain of salt. Learn where you can and dismiss it where it hinders. And definitely don’t see it as a part of who you are, it’s not your identity, it’s like a skill or tool for your trade. That’s it.

Knowing your type is important and can definitely be beneficial to the actor’s career, but at the end of the day, go for the roles which inspire you.

The One Thing You Need To Know About Acting: There Is No Formula

By Keaton J. Evans

 

One of the biggest temptations for actors, when they begin their creative journey, is the desire to have everything figured out as quickly as possible. Which is completely natural. I did this when I first started learning how to act, and I still find myself doing this.

 

Thing is, I like to make formulas for problems I find in my life and in my acting. The classic A+B=C right? Well, mathematically yes, but not in other areas of life. Especially for any problems you face as an actor.

 

With acting you have so many things to think about and work through. You gotta break down a script, learn about the story, your character, your relationship with the other characters and emotions and everything else under the sun. And while there are things you can do which will help, there is no formula.

 

One reason for this is because of how different techniques work for different people. I mentioned this a bit in another article I wrote, which you should check out. The basic idea is an acting technique which works for someone else may not work for you. You may find certain acting tips don’t work, while other ones will. The point is don’t rush to find a system. Know it will take you awhile to figure out this whole acting thing. When starting out, patience is key.

 

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The second case for no formula is this: art is fickle as well as acting. And an approach or technique which may work for you once may not work again. And if you stick to only one approach, especially early on, you’ll get stuck in a single way of doing things, instead of exploring all the techniques which exist.

 

There’s a “Creative Spark” starring production designer Rick Carter where he mentions how he never knows how he’s going to do a movie. He doesn’t go in with preconceptions. Carter is a major production designer in the film industry and his words surprised me at first. Surely by now he would have a system for making a movie after years of doing so many films. But in fact his openness and acceptance of his own limited knowledge is exactly why he’s so good. He understands it’s not about figuring it out.

 

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You gotta let go of what you think you know. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it helps to be completely clueless and open when approaching your craft.

 

Curiosity should beat out needing to have all the answers in a nice formula. If that makes sense. Just like Rick, you should always be searching for answers. There is no one method which covers all. If you think you’ll be able to find some formula or something that works each time, maybe you should try openness of mind and asking more questions.

 

You can’t have all the answers, and you’re not suppose to. My third point is exactly this. Have questions instead of answers. You’ll find answers when you ask questions. So ask away! There are answers to be found in the script, and you’ll be able to answer them. It’s the same as not going into the script with preconceptions. You come at it with a clean slate.

 

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There are definitely things you can do which will help you in acting. Little tricks and tips here and there which will help.

 

But needing to have a consistent overarching formula and approach won’t really help you here. Which is totally fine. Grow your curiosity, ask questions, and be free to be completely clueless especially at the beginning. That’s acting and that’s art folks.

 

As actors, we need to learn to let go of formula and embrace the journey.

 

What is it You Really Want? Finding Your Objectives

BY ANNETTE LANGE

If you’ve had any training in acting, you’ve come across the idea of objectives. While I’m not a master in using them effectively, I’ve improved and found principles I thought I’d share in order for you to act as believably as possible.

Laura Bond, author of TEAM For Actors: A Holistic Approach to Embodied Acting, has a section in her book on objectives which helped me immensely. If you want further explanation, check it out here.

Objective – Something aimed at or striven for

Synonyms – aim, intention, goal

People are governed by what they want. Every human being has desires and acts accordingly – they are our driving force. The same applies to our characters.

Determining the objective of a character is a bit more complicated than thinking what your character wants in a scene. It’s easy to choose ineffective and weak objectives. Below are some guidelines to help you determine effective objectives:

Where are your character’s needs rooted?

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First of all, you will need to understand your character’s basic needs and motivations.

Is your character seeking to fulfill basic physiological needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, physical comfort) or is your character desiring security (shelter, order, stability etc.)?

How about their social needs? Is your character primarily seeking love, acceptance and relationship, or is he/she really looking for ways to satisfy his/her ego (achievement, independence, prestige, recognition)?

Is your character driven to gain more knowledge or striving towards beauty? What if your character can’t be bothered by beauty, but ultimately seeks spiritual fulfilment?

Try to determine which of these needs your character is primarily seeking after, bearing in mind their needs and values might contradict your own.

E.g. “My character wants to be loved.”

Are you referring to your character in first person?

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Rather than talking about your character in third person, identify with him/her as soon as possible by talking about your character in first person. This obviously applies to your objectives as well.

E.g. Instead of saying “She wants to be loved”, embody your character, bridging the distance by saying “I want to be loved …”.

Does your objective call for your partner’s participation?

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This is straightforward. Don’t forget to involve your scene partner(s). The other character(s) is normally also the reason for conflict. If there’s no conflict, you will not captivate your audience.

What is your character’s relationship to the others in your scene? What do you want from them?

E.g. “I want him to show me he loves me.”

Are your objectives focused on what you want?

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An easy trap to fall into is focusing on what your character doesn’t want. First, understand what he/she wants before you focus on the obstacles.

Figure out the positive aspects of your character’s journey.

E.g. Instead of saying “I don’t want him to fall in love with her”, say “I want him to show he loves me.”

What is the desired outcome?

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What would be the perceived victory of the situation in the scene be for your character? What could the other character possibly do or say in order for you to feel victorious?

Make sure that you have a clear picture of what that would look like. Be specific.

E.g. Instead of defining your objective as “I want to be loved,” try “I want him to say ‘I love you’.”

Is your victory difficult to attain?

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Creating a sense of urgency in the scene will aid you as the actor immensely.

Actors normally call this ‘raising the stakes of the scene’.

We have previously talked about imagining the perfect victory for your character. Let’s take it up a notch and make sure you’re selecting a victory extremely difficult to attain.

You might set them so high, the victory will never happen. Allow for the possibility, that way it doesn’t become unrealistic.

E.g. “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date.”

Does your objective sustain the scene?

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In other words, do your objectives motivate your character throughout the duration of the entire scene? If the victory happens in the middle of the scene, your character would have nothing left to fight for.

This goes further than the individual scene.

E.g. The previous example “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date” only works if the scene ends when the date ends. If the above victory happens in the middle of the scene, the objective does not sustain the entire scene.

Do you have main objectives and scene objectives that carry your character through the scene/film/play? What are the general unsatisfied needs your character is wanting to fulfil, and what are the scene-specific needs in need of fulfillment?

Are your scene objectives in line with your main objectives?

Know the story.

Of course you need to have a good understanding of the story and its intention in order for you to be able to choose strong objectives. Your objectives have to be in line with the intentions of the script and your character’s given circumstances.

Practice.

If you need to practice more, watch and analyze scenes of movies and other actors that were particularly engaging and see if you can find out what the objectives of the respective characters were.

I hope these guidelines help when you’re stuck and need a little inspiration.

How to Make talking to yourself genuine and authentic

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Fellow Actors, nobody wants to sit through a stilted performance of a lifeless monologue.

On the other hand, there is nothing more fascinating than watching an actor embody a character through monologue successfully. It’s incredible when he/she presents the character’s thoughts through his/her physical presence, imagination and inner activity – not just the words of the monologue.

This being said, here are helpful guidelines I summed up from legendary Uta Hagen’s take on performing monologues. By monologues, I mean any scene in which your character is alone in a given time and place and finds him/herself talking out loud for a specific reason at a moment of crisis.

First and foremost, it’s important we know:

WHY WE TALK TO OURSELVES

Talking to ourselves is always an attempt on our part to gain control over our circumstances.

These circumstances can look very different. They can be boredom or a tragic situation.

For example, when I’m in a hurry, my verbalisation of, “Ok, I’ve got my keys, my wallet… where’s my phone?” is merely my attempt at organisation. In the case of a dramatic monologue, Uta Hagen explains “it’s that you are in crisis and need the words to help you find answers.”

So, when you tackle your next monologue, make sure you determine and are aware of your circumstances – or your ‘crisis’.

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The next important aspect is observing yourself and others and knowing:

WHAT TALKING TO OURSELVES LOOKS LIKE

A big temptation for actors is putting too much emphasis on the actual words. Uta Hagen describes it as “mostly a subconscious procedure that makes you verbalize” because it is an involuntary process, most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

Because we are often so caught up in our thoughts, words are merely the byproduct of trying to figure out a situation, or an emotion we are submerged in. It is, in other words, an overflow of our thought process about the circumstances we’re currently in or an experience we’ve just had.

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This is why it’s always important to take into consideration that:

OUR WORDS NEED PHYSICAL PRESENCE

In her book Respect for Acting, Hagen emphasizes the importance of partnering physical action with words: “I strongly recommend that the scene be found physically before you approach the verbal action […] you do not come into the room in order to talk to yourself [emphasis added].”

Generally, people aren’t actually physically still when they talk to themselves.

You will make life much easier for yourself if your words are accompanied by physical activity. You don’t have to finish the activity, but it will help in your character’s attempt to gain control over his/her circumstances.

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Even though physical presence is essential, be aware of:

THE DANGER WITH PHYSICAL ACTIONS

Partnering actions with your words does not mean you have to physically act out the words. Or as Hagen puts it, “Don’t illustrate the life you are verbally fantasizing.” This is an easy trap us actors can fall into. You don’t need to show your audience what your words mean, which brings me to the next point of danger.

In a monologue, your character is alone. He/she knows exactly what is going on and doesn’t need to explain to anyone the whole story. But, obviously your audience still needs to understand the context. This is why Hagen advises to “let the humanness of your behaviour reveal the necessary events” in order for them to understand the story.

I’m aware of the trickiness of partnering words with actions, so allow me to share:

HELPFUL QUESTIONS TO ASK IN PREPARATION

Similar to Hagen’s previous advice to start with the physicality of the monologue first, ask yourself:

“What would I do here if I didn’t talk?”

Start with the physical presence first, and at some point, as Hagen reassures us, it’s going to be easy to start talking.

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Consider what the real reason is of why you’re doing these things under the given circumstances in order to allow any verbal fantasy to take shape.

IN CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, don’t forget these guidelines aren’t meant to stress you out. They are there to help you make your performance as believable as possible in order to tell a story worth telling.

Have fun in your journey of exploring and imitating human behaviour, in order to let the stories you tell. Be an inspiration to your audience.

I Acted, It Sucked…

BY LISA RODGERS

Acting is one of the most vulnerable careers you can pursue. You have to wear your heart on your sleeve in a room full of people who are all focusing on every little thing you do. When I did it, it made me constantly self conscious about whether or not I did a good job. I’m sure I was better than I thought; the casting director hired me for a reason and it’s because they saw a little thing called talent. Here are a couple tips I’ve learned from my experience in the acting world!

Talk to your Director!

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In film, communication is key. If you’re not talking to the director, then you’d be in a lot trouble. Once when I was acting in this student film, I had to balance my body on my shoulders with my feet in the air, while I pretended to read a book balanced on my feet. It was a difficult position to hold to say the least. I was also wearing a red cape and a multi coloured paper clip necklace. It was odd to me, but it was what my director wanted, so I did it.

 

The director used this action to explain to the audience what the character was like in a nonverbal way, which in a short film saves a lot of precious time. It ended up being a very comedic scene and I had a lot of fun with the character. What helped me through this was knowing my director’s vision for the film and scene. I sat down with the director and talked to her about the character before and during filming.

 

Talk to Your Friends!

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Last year I went to an acting program in Kona, Hawaii for three months which gave me a lot of experience in student short films. When I got home, I hesitated showing these films to my family and friends. I thought that everyone else in the films did so much better than I did.

 

However, I could only hide my films for so long and I had to show my friends and family what I’d done for the past three months. As we watched, my every flaw was pouring out of my TV screen and I shrunk lower and lower into my seat. Once they were finished watching them I knew they were going to say something kind because that’s the right thing to do, but when they talked to me about my films they looked at me and genuinely told me I did a good job. It wasn’t like when you tell a small child that their painting is beautiful and you can’t actually tell what it is, my friends and family actually really did like my films.

 

My friends and family saw my performance in a different light than I did. While I was seeing all the flaws of my performance they were seeing all the good. Be sure to surround yourself with people who are going to tell you what they think, because it’ll give you a reassurance you can’t give yourself.

 
Talk to Yourself.

Your Own worst Enemy

Everyone’s a critic and I criticize myself the most! I know that when I watch myself on screen I wonder if that’s what I really look like, sound like, and I feel like giving up on acting completely. How could I ever compete with the actors of Hollywood?

 

The thing is…those actors didn’t start out great. After hours and hours of hard work and job after job, they’ve worked on their craft and got to where they are today. It would be easy to give up if I got a bad review for a film, but it would be even better if I proved them wrong by getting better.

 

My acting is nowhere near perfect and there are days where I watch films and they make it look so easy, but that’s when I have to think more highly of myself and strive toward a goal.

 

When you start watching your material over and over again to find the flaws in your performance, it will never help you. Hard work and practice is what’s going to get you to the top of the acting mountain. Turn off that TV, tell yourself you can do this, and go for it! That’s what all of us actors and actresses have to do. Have fun acting and get the experience so you can become the actor or actress you want to be.

 

Conclusions

 

I acted, it sucked, but I’m getting better. I have to keep pursuing it and strive for my best. My acting isn’t just standing in front of a camera for the first time and doing it perfectly. On set we go for take after take after take until we get the best performance I can give. There’s always going to be days where I look at my performance and see all the flaws, but everyone in the acting business has an off day.

 

Remember to communicate with your director, family and friends, and most of all yourself. You’ll never reach your creative potential if you stop.

 

Make the editor happy …and get more screen time

BY JAY EVANS

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Have you ever been an actor on a film set but wondered why in the end your character saw very little screen time?

 

Have you ever noticed the same thing happen to some of your favourite characters in films adapted from a book?

 

This article is for those of you who love acting but aren’t sure what to do when it comes to hoping for more exposure in the end.

 

Something that goes unseen in the film world is that an actor may have spent weeks or months investing into their character but what ends up on screen might only be a few minutes. There are several different reasons for this:

  1. The character and their performance was extremely complicated, ie. Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic thunder: An American playing an Australian playing an African American – so it would require much time and effort behind the scenes to go into making that character come to life.
  2.  Although the character was a huge part of the story the film simply had to be cut down due to time constraints.
  3. The actor playing that character did not give that character justice. (Let’s just say RD. jr. ended up doing a horrible job as  Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder so the director / producers decided to use less of his character in the final cut than what was originally planned.) This is not always the case but it does happen, especially on lower budget films where they may not have the money to re-shoot those scenes.

What ends up on screen is about 1% of what was actually filmed.

 

As a film editor, I see EVERYTHING. I see the good performances, and I most definitely see the bad ones. It is my job to find the best parts under the vision of the director and form the story into the best it can possibly be.

 

The following are three simple things that would make my life, as the editor, easier.

1. Be teachable.

If the director is happy then ultimately so is the editor. Having a teachable, serving attitude on set and working with the director on their vision will make the post production process smoother. Your own interpretation of your character may be different to what the director wants so be open to their vision. Once production is over, my job is just beginning. So if the director is happy with your performance on set, then my job is made that much easier.

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2. Listen.

Acting is listening. When you get into the shoes of your character and focus on their goal (living truthfully under imaginary circumstances) then the ‘performance’ you give comes from a real place. As the editor I may even cut to your character more when you are just listening. Your character might not actually be saying anything but they are still being real.

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3. Be consistent.

Consistency is an editor’s best friend. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay true to your character, but when you hold your cell phone in a different hand every take it becomes 5 times more difficult to cut together those takes. On set, the script supervisor is in charge of continuity – which makes them the editor’s representative. So when the notes they make regarding these issues come to you, please take them seriously. The editor will love you for it.

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All of these things can make the editor happy, since he has the freedom to use the performances you give…or not.

 

One more thing. If you’re an extra, plleeeeaase do not try to steal the spotlight. Please refrain from ‘not putting in 100% because you’re part isn’t big enough for you’. If you actually act the way your character would in real life, even though you are just an extra and probably won’t even be seen for more than half a second then there is still a much better chance you will find yourself in the final cut. Believe me, it’s very easy to spot, and cut out the extras who just want their face to be seen on screen.

 

You cannot control what the end product looks like, but what you can control is your attitude, and giving a truthful and consistent performance.