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cojocaru27

Golden rules on blocking the actors!

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hi guys, i am sort of directing a mini web series and i have to deal with actors coming from theater backgrounds. They all over acting and it's horrible.

I don't have experience in blocking actors and dealing with the way they deliver the lines and i need any good advice i can get. I am reaching to you for any good to know advice you can give, any sort of golden rule when you are blocking them, how to make them comfortable and natural and how to direct them to be more natural and not to over act.

I know this is something you can not learn overnight and am planing on reading books and train myself for the future, but know any sort of advice would help me a lot. So many thanks in advance. cheers.

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It might help to let them practice the scenes in private. After they practiced check what they have come up with. Take the actors seperate and try to get them to feel the emotion you want. Let them use their memories to give the scene emotion. If they need to be angry, you could annoy the fuck out of them. But there is always the possibility they walk off set. So there's that as well. 

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I can't offer any answers, but in terms of reducing over-acting I worked on a number of student films and getting actors from theatre was a common practice.  I remember that everyone struggled with over-acting but can't remember that anyone found any solutions.

One thought though, I do remember that one problem was that these actors aren't aware of how much they were over-acting, and didn't understand when you try and explain that you've got a tight shot and their face is filling a third of the frame.  Perhaps it might work to have some practice sessions where you record a few lines then play it back to the actor (on a big TV!)and then you talk about it, and repeat that process a number of times?  At least that has a good chance of them re-calibrating their sense of how what they are doing will appear in the final product.  They will likely have had this process done to train them in theatre with "more more more" being the guidance offered - this is what you have to counteract.

Or it may not work - just an idea :)

Good luck!

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In theatre, actors are trained to project their voice and emote to the back of the theatre. As you know Film is more subtle. The camera is in your face, it will pick up the smallest of gestures and hear the lightest of whispers... if possible for the scene or just as an exercise, have them whisper their lines... it’s almost impossible to overact with a whisper.

Also direct the speed of their delivery... say faster, or slower to break up their preconceived delivery.

Or in between a take, read the line back to them the way you want it delivered. Actors usually want notes... good and bad... they want to be directed.

Also as Kye suggested, explain to your actors what you’re doing and why. Ask what their interpretation of the scene, or line, is. Show them how your shots are going to help to express that visually.

As you know, movies are jigsaw puzzles put together one piece or shot at a time, so the blocking they’re used to in theatre isn’t the same as blocking... or hitting their marks in film. So just make sure they know their marks and obviously have a bunch of gaffers or painters tape to mark it.

But probably most important is to show passion for your project. If you have passion, they’ll have passion and they will follow your lead.

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It might be a good idea get your actors to watch a film (or even a scene) which has a similar mood to what you are trying to capture. At least then they will know what you are aiming for. Some directors like to play music on set before shooting to set the tone for the scene. 

If nothing works, then consider recasting if possible. It's been said that casting correctly is 90% of the work of a film. An exaggeration of course, but you get the point. 

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Coming from a stills background, and working with untrained models, it is often helpful to have them imagine a glass box around their head.

The box is about an inch or two in front of their nose and and inch or two behind the back of their head, and about an inch or two to each side and on top.

Now let them know that they shouldn't bump in to the glass when they are moving their head.

Another tip that comes from shooting headshots when people are standing - and this may only work in limited situations - is to have them stand up behind a chair with their hands on the back of the chair, so that you limit their movement that way. Also helps them from leaning too far forward at the waist or leaning too far back.

Be clear to the actors about what the lens actually sees when telling them about the shot. If it is a head and shoulders shot, let them know that. If it is waist up, let them know that. You get the idea.

Also, maybe encourage them to practice in front of a smartphone (while filming themselves) instead of practicing in front of a mirror???

Hope this helps.

 

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Before he became a persona non grata, Kevin Spacey did a course on acting for the website Masterclass.com. He worked with a group of student actors on refining their performances and the results were incredible. He was able to transform a lot of 'showy' performances into something more truthful. He was also able to transform lacklustre performances into genuinely powerful ones. It was amazing to watch. Since his fall from grace, the course has been removed from the website, but if you ever get the chance to see it, it's definitely worth it.

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8 hours ago, Mark Romero 2 said:

Coming from a stills background, and working with untrained models, it is often helpful to have them imagine a glass box around their head.

The box is about an inch or two in front of their nose and and inch or two behind the back of their head, and about an inch or two to each side and on top.

Now let them know that they shouldn't bump in to the glass when they are moving their head.

Another tip that comes from shooting headshots when people are standing - and this may only work in limited situations - is to have them stand up behind a chair with their hands on the back of the chair, so that you limit their movement that way. Also helps them from leaning too far forward at the waist or leaning too far back.

Werner Herzog talked about this as part of his masterclass too - that actors can't hit their marks properly and you have to work with them to help them understand that a few cm movement on a tight shot can ruin framing or focus.

IIRC it was almost the only thing he used to judge actors - the class was full of blanket statements that I thought were quite strange.  I also remember him saying that a DoP should know what framing a given lens would provide without needing to look at a monitor, and if they couldn't do that then they didn't know their stuff and you shouldn't work with them!

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On ‎5‎/‎20‎/‎2018 at 9:02 AM, mercer said:

In theatre, actors are trained to project their voice and emote to the back of the theatre. As you know Film is more subtle. The camera is in your face, it will pick up the smallest of gestures and hear the lightest of whispers... if possible for the scene or just as an exercise, have them whisper their lines... it’s almost impossible to overact with a whisper.

Also direct the speed of their delivery... say faster, or slower to break up their preconceived delivery.

Or in between a take, read the line back to them the way you want it delivered. Actors usually want notes... good and bad... they want to be directed.

Also as Kye suggested, explain to your actors what you’re doing and why. Ask what their interpretation of the scene, or line, is. Show them how your shots are going to help to express that visually.

As you know, movies are jigsaw puzzles put together one piece or shot at a time, so the blocking they’re used to in theatre isn’t the same as blocking... or hitting their marks in film. So just make sure they know their marks and obviously have a bunch of gaffers or painters tape to mark it.

But probably most important is to show passion for your project. If you have passion, they’ll have passion and they will follow your lead.

This. Except the part about giving them line readings of how you want it delivered is generally considered a don't, but you may find that it works with some. I don't try to give line readings because if I could do the lines how I wanted them delivered then I would be an actor. Work with your actors and learn how to get what you need from each of them. What works great with one actor might piss off another.

Sometimes you just need to lighten things up. On All the Pretty Horses, after several takes that he wasn't happy with Billy Bob told Matt Damon to do the next one as though "you're inside of Ernest Borgnine's ass." And that was the final take.

Generally with theatre types, I remind them that they don't have to project to the audience member on the back row but only to right here. I also find myself asking them to pick up the pace, both line deliveries and movements. 

 

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On 5/20/2018 at 7:58 PM, cojocaru27 said:

hi guys, i am sort of directing a mini web series and i have to deal with actors coming from theater backgrounds. They all over acting and it's horrible.


As a sound recordist I love actors from a theater background! As they know how to project their voices, while too many of today's film actors give shit sound as they whisper and mumble their lines :-/ 

However yes, I've noticed often that directors need to remind actors from a theater background that they're not needing to play to the person way at the back of the hall, and rather instead that even small facial movements can be significant in conveying the scene when you're doing a close up of them which will look gigantic on the big screen. 


 

On 5/20/2018 at 7:58 PM, cojocaru27 said:

any sort of golden rule when you are blocking them

It is super handy for the camera/lighting/sound departments (and I'm sure others too, such as art department) to see the blocking as early as possible (even before starting the set up is nice, even if it is only a rough blocking with them only delivering the lines at 50% energy just so we can see the gist of it)

 

On 5/21/2018 at 2:02 AM, mercer said:

In theatre, actors are trained to project their voice and emote to the back of the theatre. As you know Film is more subtle. The camera is in your face, it will pick up the smallest of gestures and hear the lightest of whispers... if possible for the scene or just as an exercise, have them whisper their lines... it’s almost impossible to overact with a whisper.


NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

 

Do it at his volume instead please. Thanks.

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Well you're talking about two elements of actor craft here.

Acting performance and then staging (blocking).

Are you worried about the actors performance or how they're blocking and staging the scene ? Or both ?

For sure they're related, but in my view (and I'm a DP not a director) actors want to be lead through a conversation about blocking.  It's a negotiation.  But there's nothing worse than demonstrating by example or showing them another scene or being literal.

Blocking is one of the most mis-understood elements of the craft of filmmaking,.  And no one ever says "great staging" or "amazing blocking" when talking about a film they like.  They're talk about editing, performance, the photography, the design...but never ever blocking.

It takes a while tor realise how powerful a tool this can be and it really SHOULD be the director that drives these choices.  From staging / Blocking comes coverage.  And it factors hugely in performance.

Normally I prefer to have the set cleared, you listen to the actors say the words and then you block.  This is a very very crucial and creative time for the director and actor.  The director may have really specific ideas about how they want the scene to stage and move through it's dramatic beats.  Or you might be looking for them right there and then in that moment and you work WITH the staging as you block to try and labour, extract and bring these beats into the light.

Good actors will be able to adapt their blocking as you talk ab out beats that are important.  They find ways to "physicalise" what you're asking for emotionally and dramatically.

If the issue the OP has here is just "overacting" my best would be to ask the actors to "do less" or "scale it back".  As an experiment sometimes it's fun to run the scene without speaking the lines.  Just do it in body language.  Try a rehearsal like that. Then tell them to do the silent rehearsal with as little body language as possible.

There are some great and obvious examples of blocking WITH CAMERA (hey I'm a DP) and how the actor blocking is DRIVING what you do with a camera.

here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfqD5WqChUY

and here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2THVvshvq0Q

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT3FZdMqtVk

https://medium.com/@dalonsoperez/mad-max-silhouette-and-clear-staging-fd67eda4b4d9

 

JB

 

 

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