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.

 

7 Popular Movies With A Terrible Worldview

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Movies are a curse for the human community.

There’s no doubt they’re a blessing. We love movies. They are a powerful tool, hence we make them. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine life without them.

They’re entertaining. They squeeze out emotions we didn’t know we had and they inspire and encourage us. They’re excellent conversation fillers for awkward silences and transport us into a different world in the space of 2 hours.

BUT, they’re also an excellent advocate of procrastination. They’re our chocolate cake and Kleenex for mood swings and boredom. They can infiltrate our views, expectations and desires – unless we don’t let it get to that point.

They are excellent manipulators. They disguise their message through eccentric characters, catchy songs, comedy, amazing visuals and angles, subconsciously making you proponents for ethics you’d normally not take on as your own.

Even though there are many examples, these are the examples I came up with:

3a0a80afe066f3f7_grease3.xxxlarge_2xGREASE

Its songs will not leave your brain for weeks after watching it. The set design and costumes are amazing and you get to fall in love and identify with the individual characters. But, if you think about it, doesn’t it seem a bit skewed seeing Sandy ultimately earn the love of Danny by changing everything about her physical appearance through flaunting leather clothes, a perm and cigarettes?

prettywoman_kissthemgoosbye_2817029PRETTY WOMAN

Originally, this movie was meant to shed light on the grimness of prostitution. The original screenplay did not have a happy ending and was gritty and dark, but because people supposedly ‘wanted to see a fairy tale’, it got changed.

This in turn, promoted the idea that a life of prostitution was glamorous and romantic. Now, the message of Pretty Woman could be summed up as “When in doubt, buy designer clothes, get more money and a boyfriend and your life will be fulfilled”.

django-001DJANGO

Django Unchained is an excellent example of good story, aesthetics, comedy and dialogue. In the story we follow Django and Dr. King Schulz taking violent revenge on the most wanted criminals in the South.

I am not against violence in movies. If the story is worth telling and it serves the story – great! But, what I disagree with in Django Unchained, is the way in which violent revenge is applauded and seen as the solution to injustice.

It is told in a manner that makes the viewer cheer for the violent retaliation of the protagonists. It seems good people and their allies are allowed to take revenge and punish the ‘baddies’ violently, because… well, they’re the good people, right?

the-notebook-3-rachel-mcadams-and-ryan-gosling-1440671-2560-1703THE NOTEBOOK

Speaking of Rom-Com’s, The Notebook is an audience favorite – at least for the majority of young women. At first glance, the story seems harmless. It shows a cute older couple whose relationship stayed strong throughout the years.

But in my humble opinion, it does more damage than good as it romanticises sensual and shallow attraction, the breaking of promises, betrayal of trust and rebellion against parents. I’m not so sure that this combination will lead to a healthy relationship. Instead it would give ground to heartache, bitterness and misery.

open-uri20150608-27674-xbjvsj_76fffa1aTANGLED

I love Tangled. I love the songs, the animation is so excellent it’s almost scary and the relationship between Maximus and Flynn is priceless. I never really had a think about its message or worldview, until I read Brenden Bell’s article Why I won’t let my kids watch Tangled.

And like Brenden rightly explains, Tangled, like many other princess movies, conveys the idea of wish fulfillment. Everyone around the hero has to sacrifice themselves in order to have his/her needs met without having to give in return.

The idea of being able to make an insensitive criminal change his lifestyle and fall in love with you within 2 days can be misinterpreted too.

003twilight-movie-twilight-movie-35588225-2185-1224TWILIGHT

The Twilight Saga broke box-office records, and there was no doubt it was successful. I would have been happy for the creators if it weren’t for the skewed messages it sends to its audience, primarily young teenage girls. The story glamorizes violent and vengeful behaviour toward the romantic interest, secrets, abandonment (disguised as love) and lying to parents.

Again, similar to the idea of The Notebook, I would definitely not encourage anyone to use this combination in a pursuit of “happily ever after”.

fifty-shades-of-grey-1024FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

I have to confess I haven’t seen this movie, but I would also never choose to watch it, based on the reviews I’ve seen, word of mouth, the sexual explicitness and the storyline.

Fifty Shades of Grey is, in my opinion, an example of misusing the power of film to dull, mislead and harm its audience by disguising domestic violence and emotional abuse as a normality, even romance.

What personally frightens me is how popular it was. The book series was the fastest-selling series yet, even though so many warnings and boycotts have come against it.

The relationship between Christian and Anastasia is clearly violent and abusive on a sexual, physical and emotional level. Even though Anastasia ultimately chooses to leave, the relationship is still portrayed as acceptable because she always had the opportunity to leave.

In her article, Dr. Ludy Green said this film “could only have adverse effects on recovering victims, like brainwashing them into thinking that their previous abusive relationships may have been acceptable or that maybe they were overreacting to the aggression showed by their partner.”

BE ALERT AND RECOGNIZE…

Please don’t get me wrong. My intention is not to entirely bash these movies. I want to remind you, watching movies should go hand in hand with a healthy dose of skepticism and alertness.

Every artist creates his work through specific filters. Be informed, discuss and process the movies you watch and detect the damaging messages creeping into your consciousness which in turn will affect your expectations of what life, love, conflict resolution etc. should look like.

Filmmakers, Writers, Actors, and Creatives, be aware of your own filters, because you’re responsible for the work your audience will end up seeing.

Participation Awards and How to Have Tenacious Creativity

BY BRENDEN BELL

I don’t know if anyone truly transitions into their adulthood with the mentality that they’re ready for whatever life has to throw at them. I most certainly did not.

 

Achieving adulthood was a messy, prolonged labor for me, and in some ways, only now is she starting to crown.

 

I made a major career change into filmmaking five years ago and it has taught me so so much about life and what my place is in it as a Millennial.

 

While I’ve never been given the titular “participation award” for anything, I understand the concept. I’ve expected great things to happen to me without actually sacrificing time and investing hard work into something. It’s the double edged sword of growing up in a culture of instant gratification.

 

It’s conditioned me to believe certain things about the nature of life and how I should be treated. Hard work that allows years to create something is an extremely unattractive prospect indeed.

 

Working in film has helped me recognise some of those tendencies within myself, and how to combat them.

 

It’s OK to Fail

 

This may sound like a strange point, but hear me out.

 

I think the biggest lie behind this idea of participation awards is that failure is not an option. You always win even if you fail.

 

A failure without the consequence of failure sets up an unrealistic expectation in the child that they will always win. So, when an adult inevitably fails at something and feels the consequences of that failure, they will not be emotionally equipped to deal with that failure.

 

The way I learned filmmaking is the “kick you in the deep end of the pool and hope you swim” style of learning. As you can probably guess, it involved a lot of missteps and some straight up failure.

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To this day, I fail in some small way at my job every day.

 

When I first began this work, those little failures would kill me. I would forget to post something on Facebook and feel like I didn’t belong on the team anymore. The more I failed and was still trusted with work, the more I understood that it was OK to fail as long as I owned up to it and made it right.

 

I am now more comfortable with failure and happier for it. It has positively impacted every area of my life and has made me more OK with taking risks, because I know that failure is a normal part of life and doesn’t have to be the end of a story.

 

Romanticising the Adventure

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I fell in love with the idea of being a filmmaker when I watched the behind the scenes of The Lord of the Rings. The level of camaraderie and pure creativity they all appeared to have was intoxicating, and I wanted to be a part of it too.

 

I romanticised the idea of being a filmmaker and struck from my memory every mention of “years of development”, “failure” and “nervous breakdown” that I heard. Filmmaking was a grand, enjoyable adventure one can go on with their friends.

 

When I went on the journey of making a film myself, I had a rude awakening. It’s a lot of hard work. You don’t always like the people you work with. The thing you thought was your passion becomes the very 9 to 5 drudgery you joined film to avoid.

 

If people are handing out awards for showing up, it’s easy to come to believe you don’t need to put in a lot of effort in order to get what you want. This was most definitely the case for me when it came to filmmaking.

 

Everyone in my generation has a dream, but few want to put in the day to day work needed to achieve those dreams.

 

What Then Shall We Do?

 

What’s left to do? How do we as a culture set aside our participation awards and become tenaciously creative?

 

Being OK with failure and being willing to put in a lot of hard work are both part of the equation. However, I think the biggest solution is embracing pain and suffering as a normal part of life.

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So much of life as a Millennial is about finding ways to avoid or subvert painful and vulnerable experiences. If we want to be successful in our craft, we are going to have to be ok with discomfort and pain in order to get what we want.

 

I’ve wrestled a great deal with what separates a child or adolescent from an adult (or what should, more than age or higher brain function).

 

I’ve decided it’s someone who is willing to suffer in order to see their goals met in their career and and to see their family succeed and thrive. The adult suffers so that the family can be at rest and enjoy.

 

It is those who are willing to suffer and never give up that are truly triumphant and deserving of awards and our respect.
Do you have a dream and failure or life has gotten you down? I hope this article gives you some inspiration to take that next practical step to make that dream a reality. Dust yourself off and become the tenacious creative that you can be.

Spotlight on Botswana: revealing a ‘scandalous’ love story

BY ANNETTE LANGE

 

*** WARNING: This article contains spoilers!!! ***

 

Having grown up among the Batswana community in South Africa as one of the few white people in our township, I was always made aware of the fact that I was white, not black – from both sides.

 

Even though the Apartheid system had been abolished in 1991 (and I was born in 1995 – the so-called born-free generation), the effects of it and attitude were still ingrained in people’s minds. I never felt truly part of either the Batswana, or the white community in South-Africa – a weird limbo situation.

 

Needless to say, the trailer of ‘A United Kingdom’ sent tears streaming down my face – even when watching it for the 10th time. Seeing a powerful testimony of both the black and white community reconciled through the ‘scandalous’ union between Seretse Khama, a black inheritor of the Bamangwato chieftainship, and Ruth Williams, a white typist from London, pulled on my heartstrings even more.

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A United Kingdom follows the true story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), who meet and fall in love in London in the 1940’s. Their relationship is not only opposed by their families, but by Khama’s uncle, the regent of Bechuanaland, his tribe and both the South-African and British Governments who do everything in their might to prevent their union.

 

Through it all, their love overcomes all opposition, efforts and exile, ultimately leading to Seretse becoming the first president of Botswana, now being an independent country after its state as a British Protectorate.

 

Under his leadership, Botswana became one of the fastest growing economies after being the world’s third poorest country. His uncompromisable stance for equality and integrity was a beacon of hope amidst a region ruled by racial segregation, civil war and corruption.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvOWLRNxVs8

 

I applaud Amma Asante (director) and David Oyelowo (actor and producer) for their incredible efforts in making this story come alive. I am and will remain a huge fan of this film. However, there were some melodramatic and westernized elements and choices that pulled me out of the story on several occasions.

 

Pike and Oyelowo’s acting performances are outstanding and they have great chemistry on screen even though Oyelowo’s accent pulled me out of the story every now and then, sometimes rolling the ‘r’, sometimes not. I realize this is a daunting task, seeing that Seretse would have had the British accent mixed with the Setswana accent due to him living in London for several years. Also, Oyelowo’s occasional choice of pausing in the middle of his sentences as if he had a hard time speaking English was unnecessary, since Khama was perfectly fluent and proficient in English.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shg1hXkvT4U

 

The cinematography and production design was beautiful and aided in creating the stark contrast between the different backgrounds of both Khama and Williams, the culture of London and Botswana and the obvious presence and absence of wealth and economic stability.

 

Most of the locations were the actual locations where the story took place: the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, the St Mary’s Church in Isleworth and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. For the scenes set in Bechuanaland, they mainly filmed in Serowe, Botswana’s biggest village and Seretse’s actual former house that was put back together after finding it in a dilapidated state.

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I realize that Asante and Oyelowo’s main focus was the love and relationship between Seretse and Williams, they do not deny the fact that they are both ‘unashamed romantics,’ but in my opinion the focus on the romanticism took away from its authenticity and led to unnecessary melodramatic elements.

 

When Ruth first catches a glimpse of Sereste, we see him sitting confidently on the armrest of an armchair discussing politics in a macho-like manner among his African brothers. In my opinion it does not reflect Khama’s humble demeanor he is said to have had. “Seretse Khama was known for his intelligence and integrity, and a wicked sense of humour –puncturing the pomposity of those who had too high an opinion of themselves.” For the sake of his country, he stepped down as a chief and became a cattle farmer for a while. His weapon was humility, not arrogance.

 

In another scene, Seretse delivers a brilliant speech to his people who are assembled to vote whether or not they want him to continue as chief. However, the part where the men raise their hands to vote was drawn out dramatically with long periods of silence was a bit unrealistic. This particular kgotla (public meeting) in which he was recognized as Kgosi (king) by his people was the last meeting following a series of meetings through which he had gained more and more favor from the people. The men would not have taken so long to vote for his chieftainship as he “was popularly recognised as Kgosi together with his wife.”

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Another element of melodrama is seen in the portrayal of the antagonists of the story: Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and Lady Lilly Canning (Jessica Oyelowo). Even though their intentions obviously weren’t pure, their portrayal as villains was unnecessarily exaggerated. It came across that Sir and Lady Canning made no attempt to hide their pleasure in Seretse and Ruth’s misfortune, even in their company.

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There were also a couple of moments that gave away the fact that the screenplay and dialogue were not written by an African.

 

Which brings me to the following examples of ‘westernisation’:

Ruth remains in Bechuanaland while her husband is in exile. During this time, her first child is born. In her effort to integrate herself into the Batswana community, Ruth nurses her newborn baby and joins the circle of other African mothers in the bush hospital, I am 90% sure they would not have just sat in silence acknowledging each other with a smile. I think I’d have permission to assume this group of nursing women would have been chuckling or at least chatting away in their native language, at least to the point when Ruth joins their circle. It was not the behaviour I expected from a group of Batswana mothers.

 

The people of the rural villages in Botswana are portrayed as meek and quiet. In view of the fact that Ruth had become a member of the royal family, I can imagine that a certain respect or reverence towards her might have caused members of her community to feel inhibited in her presence. From my personal experience, however, I would describe the Batswana as a lively, confident people.

 

The part that was executed extremely well however (the tearjerker for me) was the scene where the women of the village gather together in song to show their acceptance of Ruth as one of their own. I have seen such a scenario many times, and it never fails to make my heart skip a beat, when I see an example of reconciliation and acceptance such as this.

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Even though these few elements distracted me from the story now and then, I praise the filmmakers for brilliantly telling the story from both sides: Seretse’s challenges in being accepted in England as well as Ruth’s challenges in being accepted by the Batswana and the white community in Southern Africa (the part I identified with the most).

 

And, a bonus for me personally was of course, to see a story told that was so close to home. I was surprised I had never heard of the story myself, but even “many in Botswana did not know the story either, despite Seretse and Ruth’s son being the current president.”

 

I’m excited to see what the response to this film will be in Botswana and South-Africa and also to see future projects of Amma Asante and David Oyelowo. Hats off to both of them and the team!

 

Adrien Brody is the Definition of Dedication

BY KEATON J. EVANS

After watching The Pianist (2002), I became convinced that Adrien Brody is the most dedicated actor of all time.

 

The process he went through to portray Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Polish WWII survivor was not only a reflection of his dedication to acting, but also to his commitment to tell someone’s story as truthfully as he could.

 

The training and purging he went through was horrendous, all to feel and experience what the man, Szpilman, felt and experienced through Poland’s darkest times.

 

Szpilman, was a master concert pianist who lived in Poland when the Germans invaded his country in WWII. The Pianist is about his life and how he was able to survive the war. It’s an intensely impactful story, and I suggest you watch it before reading the rest of this article as there are minor spoilers.

 

As an actor, I was naturally drawn to Brody’s performance and the level of depth he brought to his portrayal of Szpilman.

 

But, what blew me away was when I discovered many of the pieces he plays in the movie are actually him playing. These weren’t simple chopstick pieces either, but Chopin pieces, so complex and intricate, yet so masterfully done, you’d think Brody had picked the wrong profession. The craziest part was it took him three months to learn and master the piano.

 

What is it about Adrien that he could pull off such a well done performance?

 

You can teach an old dog new tricks

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Thing is, Adrien Brody wasn’t old when he portrayed the Polish pianist back in 2002. In fact he was the youngest person to win an Oscar for best actor, being only 29.

 

Yet the fact that he was able to learn how to play the piano in his late twenties, to me is a phenomenal tribute to his determination. One driving force behind his level of dedication was the visionary director, Roman Polanski. Both wanted to tell the story of Szpilman as realistically as they could, which resulted in an intense few months of training and purging for the young American actor.

 

Even before Brody got the role, when he was with Polanski in Paris, they discussed some of the things Adrien would need to do to prepare for the role. They were both on the same page for where they wanted to take the character.

 

They decided to have four piano teachers help Brody to learn in the three months he had to master the piano. He played four hours each day.

 

I think it’s easiest to learn something like an instrument or an art form when younger and it becomes nearly impossible to learn when older. As an actor, I was naturally drawn to Brody’s performance and the level of depth he brought to his portrayal of Szpilman.

 

What blew me away was when I discovered many of the pieces he plays in the movie are actually him playing. These weren’t simple chopstick pieces either, but Chopin pieces, so complex and intricate, yet so masterfully done, you’d think Brody had picked the wrong profession. The craziest part was it took him three months to learn and master the piano.

 

But Brody showed me I can learn to do anything if I commit my time and energy to it. He pushed himself because of his commitment to Szpilman’s story. It also pushes me as an actor who still has a lot of things to learn.

 

Dedication to Szpilman’s story

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Adrien Brody appeared on Charlie Rose a few months before the release of The Pianist. He talked about two things: his working relationship with Polanski and how he wanted to really know what Szpilman went through and felt, and then show that in his performance.

 

He wanted to know so badly that he sold his car, his apartment, turned off his phone, stopped watching television, halted his current relationship, and moved to Europe, where he isolated himself and spent hours playing piano while eating little-to-no food.

 

During his isolation, Brody talked about how the only thing he had to comfort himself was the piano and music. He mentioned how we usually have things like food and drink to comfort us. But not having access to such fineries, Brody only had his piano, which he said made him feel the way Szpilman must have felt surviving the war, with no food or people to comfort him but only music.

 

The dedication Brody showed for Szpilman’s story is shown in how far he went to know Szpilman’s loneliness and suffering.

Brody’s dedication knew no bounds

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I think the most inspiring thing about Brody’s work with Polanski in The Pianist is he did whatever it took to make a shattering performance. He made personal sacrifices to give a performance of a lifetime.

 

It made me think about how far I would go for a role. Brody did talk about how the diet and lessons affected him both physically and emotionally, and that it was the darkest time in his life, but also that the lessons he learned as well as the perspective of someone truly suffering and in need was worth it.

 

How far are you willing to go for a role? How dedicated are you to telling someone’s story? I think Adrien Brody is a shining example of someone who took the necessary sacrifices to present a truly compelling story.