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.

You don’t want life to be easy – trust me!

BY ANNETTE LANGE

If actors didn’t struggle, they wouldn’t be able to represent the human race. I came across an interview by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation with Matt Damon in which he recounted his early endeavours with Ben Affleck to pursue an acting career.

After having no place to stay, “Ben showed up […] and that was when we were really running out of money. He was on our couch and […] he didn’t fit […] and all this shit was in our living room […], so we got really serious about writing. And that was the place where we sold the script [of Good Will Hunting].”

This was also the script that then won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Their sticky situation was a blessing in disguise for them and ultimately for us who watch Good Will Hunting and get an opportunity to understand characters like Will and Sean.

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All aspiring actors and creatives risk poverty and uncertainty when they choose to pursue acting/art/writing professionally. When successful actors are interviewed, it’s almost a guarantee they’ll be asked about odd jobs they had in the past to make ends meet.

I love to hear those stories. First of all, they’re hilarious. Second of all, it takes them off the pedestal I automatically put them on. Experiences I can identify with bridge the gap fame creates between celebrities and myself. It gives me hope. A hope to create something I never deemed possible.

A career in the film industry is hard – no doubt about it. It’s unpredictable, financially insecure and you will face rejection, criticism or concern from your family and friends. It’s highly possible you’ll have to defend your choice again and again and continually choose not to give up – the battle in the mind seems unending.

But, that being said, I am so glad this is the case… in theory more than practice…

However, times of desperation build our character. They force us to endure and to cling onto hope – if we choose to do so. Desperation causes us to wrestle with questions we want to avoid asking…

Are my current aspirations worth pursuing?

Why am I here?

What is the purpose?

What really matters?

Why am I who I am?

What is worth fighting for?

What do I want to see happen?

Where do I want to make a difference?

What can I offer to make that difference?

Boy, am I glad pursuing art is hard…

Art reaches hearts like nothing else can. It rises above being mere entertainment because it comes from a place of struggle. Not always financial struggle, but emotional, creative and/or philosophical  struggle.  When art comes from this vulnerable place – we can all identify with it to some extent or another.

Struggle makes you re-evaluate your choices. It brings the best – and the worst – out in you.

Desperation can be the biggest source of creativity – if you choose to channel it right.

In his pursuit to become an actor, Sylvester Stallone got to the point where he had to sell his dog to get by. That was also the time during which he wrote the script for Rocky. This in turn, garnered three Academy Awards… and he got his dog back.

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Jim Carrey discovered his gift for comedy during his teenage years when his family lived out of their van for several months because his father lost his job. Because of his boldness and commitment, we are able to enjoy his comedic and dramatic stories he tells.

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Charlie Chaplin grew up with an alcoholic father. His mother was mentally unstable and he spent most of his childhood in orphanages, yet that did not seem to hinder him from becoming the iconic actor he became. All his wealth “didn’t seem to derail his artistic drive” either.

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Dustin Hoffman “lived below the American poverty line until [he] was 31.”

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Halle Berry was a struggling actress in the beginning and found herself jumping from homeless shelter to homeless shelter.

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Morgan Freeman never fails to give absolutely believable and profound performances. But bear in mind, it took him 50 years of perseverance before getting ‘success’ in his career, if you count fame and awards as success.

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Obviously, these are success stories of actors we all know. They have a platform to share their experiences. But I always wonder how many success stories there are that we just don’t know of because the end result wasn’t fame, or an Academy Award.

Now, I do not wish poverty, depression or misfortune on anyone, but I do want to encourage those that are struggling to view this as an opportunity to rise above your circumstances and to channel your desperation towards creativity. Don’t dwell in desperation, but use the growth that comes from it to reach others.

Oftentimes comfort is the biggest threat to creativity.

Comfort and wealth isn’t bad. But don’t see it as the ultimate fulfillment of your life, enjoy it when you can, but don’t let it be a blockage to your creativity.

Failure, mistakes and struggles are so valuable – yet we’re so scared of them.

Desperation is a blessing in disguise – if you let it be a blessing. For all else, it keeps you down-to-earth, allows you to be human, allows you to learn from mistakes. It can be the most helpful springboard to reach and exhort others through your unique experiences and creativity, or you can let it define you and be a curse.

Channel desperation right. Choose to treat it as an opportunity. Celebrate the highs and lows of life – your own and those of others.

Viola Davis put it better during her Academy Acceptance Speech:

“I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

Don’t give up fellow Actors, Creatives and Dreamers!

HOW TO SQUEEZE THE CRUMMIES OUT OF YOUR SCRIPT

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Sometimes approaching a script might be a bit overwhelming or even underwhelming in some cases. It’s hard to understand the story and why your character is doing what he/she is doing etc. But often, everything is right there in the text, you just have to look for it.

 

But… fret not! Here are some helpful tips and guidelines that might help you in your endeavor to make your character come alive.

 

THE FIRST READ

 

The advantage of reading it for the first time is that you as the actor are reading the script as a whole story, not just your part. It’s the only time you will read it as the audience. Even though it’s tempting to want to dive right in and start acting already, try to refrain from that in the first read.

 

READ, READ, READ… AND READ SOME MORE…

 

Reading the script over and over again is a very helpful tool. Different things will be highlighted each time, the story will unfold and make more and more sense as you read it, you get a better understanding of the characters, their relationship to one another and of the story as a whole.

 

Anthony Hopkins mentioned that he reads the script 100-250 times as a preparation, “I learn the text cold, read it maybe 100 or 200 times […] It’s a trick I play on myself just to make sure I really know it. Then I’m at ease, and I can improvise. […] this gives me a tremendous sense of ease and the power of confidence.”

 

Let’s take an excerpt of the restaurant scene between Joanna and Ted from Kramer vs. Kramer (1979):

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WHAT INFORMATION DOES THE SCRIPT GIVE YOU?

 

As you go through the script, highlight your lines of course, but make sure you take all the information the script gives you into regard. Work with the text, make it your own.

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What does the script tell you about your character? What do other characters reveal about your character?

 

As the character, ask yourself:

    • Who am I?
    • Where am I?
    • When is it?
    • Where have I just come from?

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From just this little section, we know that Joanna and Ted have been in a past relationship together, presumably married. We know that Joanna was the one who left Ted and their son, and that he has been caring for their son since then. She admits that she needed help from a therapist, and we get the idea that she had previously put her identity/value/purpose in the fact that she is a daughter, mother and wife which frustrated her. She tries to come off very confident, because she knows this is a very delicate topic between them and is careful about her wording. She is nervous about his response.

 

WHAT DRIVES THE CHARACTER AND WHAT DRIVES THE STORY?

 

To get an overview of your character’s motives and objectives/goals, a helpful tool is to divide your script into ‘beats’. Legendary actress Uta Hagen explains that “a beat begins […] when an immediate objective sets in. It ends when that objective has succeeded or failed and new circumstances set in.”

 

What is your character trying to do? Is he/she trying to charm? Persuade? Convince? Guilt trip? Etc.

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Remember to make your objectives strong active choices that will drive the story further and will heighten the stakes. Weak objectives won’t help you.

 

Joanna’s overall goal is to get her son back. She knows all the arguments Ted can use against her, so in her attempt to have Ted agree to give her custody of their son, she knows she’ll have to word her desire very carefully. But she’s also convinced that she did the right thing in finding out who she was and justifies herself.

 

While Ted sincerely wants to understand her reasoning at first, he clearly does not want to give her custody for their son. Opposing objectives create great conflict!

 

A CLOSER LOOK AT OBJECTIVES

 

When going through the script, find the answers to the following questions in the script:

    • What do I want?
    • Why do I want it?
    • Why do I want it now?
    • What will happen if I don’t get it now?
    • How will I get what I want by doing what?
    • What must I overcome?

 

You can also refer to this article for more details and tips about these background questions.

 

While Joanna’s primary goal is to have her son back, subconsciously, she seems to prove to Ted and the world that she is a capable and independent woman. If she were to get her son back she would fulfill her role as a mother and make up for the mistake of leaving her son and Ted in the first place. If not, Ted will have won, she would be considered a failure and would have to live with guilt for the rest of her life. She has to overcome Ted’s refusal to give their boy back, and this is her first attempt after 15 months of being away.

 

This summary only starts to scratch the surface of Joanna’s internal fight, there is so much more depth to the whole situation, so make sure you go as deep as you can in your character development.

 

WITH YOUR BUDDY…

 

When rehearsing with your scene partner, I would recommend reading the script cold a couple of times before playing around with different approaches and objectives of your character. Even if it’s not the ultimate objective your character is going to have, have a go with different ones during rehearsal. It is especially effective when your character’s objective is the complete opposite of the other character.

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E.g If your objective is to avoid the other person, it would be interesting to see how the scene unfolds if the other character is trying to flirt etc.

 

When practicing scenes like that for while, you’ll get to see different elements, connotations, accentuations that you hadn’t considered before, but might use for the actual performance – and of course… it’s a lot of fun.

 

AT THE END OF THE DAY…

 

Ultimately, every actor will have his/her preferred approach. Some things work, some things don’t. Play around with it, have fun, use your imagination in cases where you’re stuck and… don’t stress.

 

Getting to know you

Written by Annette Lange.

 

“Creating a character is like getting to know a person.”

I remember Marion Cotillard saying this in one of her interviews. She briefly mentioned it before she continued to answer other questions, but that statement stuck with me – as if the penny dropped for the first time.

And it’s true.

When you act and see yourself on screen, your character looks the same as you, but you are completely different.

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When I think about the way I get to know people, I like hearing their story first. I understand them much better once I’m aware of their background and can trace why they behave in the ways they do.

As a matter of fact, I’ve realized it catches people off guard when I ask what their story is, after we’ve met only once. I might have to rethink my strategy…

When it comes to creating characters for acting, there always seems to be a wall. I still have a hard time getting into the character completely, because I tend to distance myself from the character.

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Yes, I realize this also has to do with lack of confidence, but mainly I think it’s because I judged them and didn’t treat my characters as people. They aren’t (don’t worry, I do understand the concept of acting), but every character reflects humanity in many ways.

If there is one thing I’ve learned after 3 years of travelling, meeting people from all over the world and hearing their stories, it’s that I have no right to judge anyone, because I have no idea what they’ve gone through.

We all act out of a place of hurt – our emotional baggage. We all have filters. So many things influence us and shape us into the person we are right now – and the same applies to your characters.

Viewing your character as a project creates a distance, but if you think of him/her as a person you can get to know intimately – it clearly shifts the perspective.

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It shifted mine and lifted off a lot of pressure because I can empathize with where they’re coming from.

This is why I fell in love with acting in the first place – you have the freedom to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and discover the intricacies of humanity.

You are challenged to understand and love people you would normally not want to understand and love.

We, as actors, writers, artists, filmmakers get to create.

As actors, a backstory is one of the things we need to create to make our characters believable. You have probably heard that many times before and know that it’s important to create one. And one that fits and adds to the story.

I have definitely caught myself being more concerned about the way my performance comes across rather than being concerned about who my character is. And I don’t like it.

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But, I want to encourage you, to create a character out of a place of curiosity and love for the hurting individual you are creating.

Focus on who your character is, rather than what he/she does. Because if you know your character inside out, the physical actions will follow automatically. This also prevents emotional mapping, e.g. planning beforehand when your character will cry or burst out in anger instead of responding to the given circumstances (which I am also guilty of).

What questions would you ask your character if you were to meet up with them for coffee? What’s their story? What emotional baggage are they carrying around and why? What happened in their life that led up to the situation they’re in now?

Questions you should always address about your character are:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where am I?
  3. When is it?
  4. Where have I just come from?
  5. What do I want?
  6. Why do I want it?
  7. Why do I want it now?
  8. What will happen if I don’t get it now?
  9. How will I get what I want by doing what?
  10. What must I overcome?*

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And this is not only applicable to the characters we create, but rather everyone we meet. The people you dislike, that get on your nerves. The people you find hard to love – do you know they’re background? Have you put yourself in their shoes?

That ability helped me a lot in my interaction with people, and I want to apply it to my characters too. Everyone is lovable. At the heart of every person is the desire to be loved and accepted in a world full of hurt.

WHY WE NEED HEROES

To kick off my film school experience back in 2012, all of the students and the staff of the school went to see The Dark Knight Rises at the theatre. On our way back from the theatre, we started talking about why superhero films are so popular, and it made me think why we are drawn to these larger than life characters.

 

I am sure there are many reasons people go to see caped heroes on the silver screen; escapism, fun, spectacle, identifying with characters that feel like outcasts and misfits…

 

I wanted to dig deeper than that.

 

I once watched a video of a professor giving a presentation on the significance of heroes in wild west literature. He spoke of how people seem to have a fascination with characters that take matters of doing the right thing into their own hands and save us all from evil. He then went on to explain how he believed that these characters even have inspired and shaped America as a nation.

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The western genre was the most popular genre of the first half of the 20th century much like superhero movies are today.

 

As I was watching the interview, I realized that the prominence and influence of this type of character must have carried on into comic books and superhero movies.

 

These types of characters exist in many forms of art and literature spanning hundreds even thousands of years and many cultures, not just the American.

 

In superhero movies these types of characters take center stage.

 

During The Great Depression of the 1930’s, the first superhero (as we know them) was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

 

He is an alien, brought up in the heartland of America, has godlike powers and stands up for truth and justice.

 

His name is Superman.

 

The Great Depression caused a loss of hope in the lives of many, and I believe one of the reasons why comics featuring Superman became so popular during this time was the hope this man embodies.

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He is a character that willingly uses his great power to protect the public and sacrifices himself and his desires for the greater good. Superman became the archetype on which pretty much all other superheroes were created or modeled.

 

One of my favorite quotes from a superhero movie is from Spider-Man 2. Peter Parker is passing by Aunt May’s house and sees the neighbor’s kid helping her move a few things.

 

Aunt May tells Peter that the kid wants to be like Spider-Man. This is during a time in which Peter has given up being Spider-Man and it is one of a few key moments that makes him realise that he must embrace his heroic duty once again.

“Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer.“

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I believe one of the reasons we need heroes is because we need someone to look up to; someone who can teach us to be courageous and self-sacrificing in the face of adversity. Someone who brings us hope when we have none. Someone who can inspire us to live virtuous lives.

 

These stories, at their best, affirm, teach and inspire.

 

I also believe that we are drawn to superheroes, because there are times where we need someone to save us.

 

Some people believe that mankind is able to solve it’s problems entirely by its own prowess and will.

 

I don’t actually think mankind can save itself. I believe that we are so drawn to these selfless, god-like characters, because we need a hero.

 

Whether you agree with that statement or not, you cannot deny that there are seasons of our lives where we need others to save us to and to help us stay alive.

 

Think of the first couple of years of your life; you were a helpless being entirely dependent on your parents for your survival. It is a completely natural and unavoidable part of your life. It is by design, and I think this carries into the rest of your life, as well.

 

My point is that we are drawn to superheroes or heroic characters in general because we have a natural and innate desire to be saved and to become more like the hero who saves us.

 

In the first half of the 20th century these heroes wore boots and stetson hats, rode horses like the wind blew and knew how to use a six shooter.

 

Today they wear masks and coloured tights.

 

I don’t think we will get tired of hearing stories of caped heroes who come to our rescue any time soon, and if we do, they will just appear in a different form, in a different costume.