DIRECTING ACTORS: PRACTICAL EXERCISE

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In order to prepare myself to shooting my film, I captured a series of photographs experimenting with lighting. I confined to the conventions of the film noir genre and directed my subject to pose in a number of ways. The original photos can be seen below.

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Below is a range of screenshots I captured whilst editing my pieces. By looking at these you can understand my work in PhotoShop and how I created my final photos.

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I also took a range of photos of passing cars in order to form the background for my images.

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Here are examples of my final pieces. Experimenting with three-point lighting and my direction of the subject really helped by get a range of “noir” pieces.

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IMG_9912 cropI think the shoot was successful in that I exercised by cinematography skills, lighting skills and directional skills in preparation for my short film, Screen Three.

DIRECTING ACTORS

Whether we know it or not, we are truly blessed to have the internet at our disposal. Amongst other things it acts as a superb tool to educate the world and with this in mind, I took a lot of time out to learn more about DIRECTING.

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Film Riot is such an awesome YouTube channel where the host and film-maker, Ryan Connolly, gives back to the filming community with tutorials, behind the scenes of his work and his own short films. In the video above he talks about something very important and that’s working with and directing actors.

What makes the video I’ve featured so good and so helpful is having professional actor, Todd Bruno (right), by Ryan’s side to further the educational supplement and to get a personal viewpoint from an actor. The duo discuss acting, directing actors as well as answering questions from guys like me who want to know more about this subject. Connolly and Bruno had amounted their relations from their work on Ryan’s shot film “TELL” which he wrote and directed while Bruno played the lead acting role as “Taylor”.

In a close look into filming day two of their short film, actress Bridget Kelly is interviewed  about the director she wants to work with. Information that this is relatively rare to come across and very much helpful is educating a director. One of the most important things for her is for her to “trust the director” and “they have no what they want”. This is understandable and something I felt I’ve tried to achieve for my own work. With “PRAY” I took my time with shooting to really tell my actors what I was going for for certain shots and angles and passages of dialogues so while I meditated and revised that they got to know what I was going for.

Bruno discusses similar ideas with Kelly by saying it’s important to be “close” to a director, “to become friends” with him/her and it’s helpful to get to know each other. “The more intimate, the better the product.” The film set, he notes, is a place with “high intensity”; people are running around, things need to be done quickly and to a high standard while money is being spent, and, refering to the director, an actor needs to “rely on the person in charge of everything “. This trust is there so as an actor you can “put yourself in their hands and give yourself over to them”.

Similarly Connolly discusses them from a director’s point of view. Any sense of discomfort is no good during a film production especially for an actor. I know this from working with amateur actors who aren’t confident in the craft. Them feeling not right damages their performances significantly and so it’s important their in an environment they’re happy in. Although Connolly notes that this method of directing is “my method, not the method,” he continues to say how he talks to his actors directly after cut. He’ll begin with “what the actor did right” and “lead to the bad” whilst focusing on keeping “the actor’s confidence fully intact”. This balance between criticism and keeping their confidence is a difficult one but one that needs to be done, and done right, I’ve learnt. Afterall, the director, as Connolly puts it, is supposed to be the actors’ “safety net” as someone to fall back on. As a director you need to be someone who’s approachable, a good communicator and someone who does their homework and knows what they’re doing.

What does Connolly expect from his actors? Well, in my opinion, what every director should expect on an established production.

  • They need to know their dialogue. Not knowing this slows down principle photography dramatically and gives off an unprofessional vibe on set. Not knowing the dialogue means a lack of preparation of behalf of the actor which may mean they’re not ready to fulfil their role.
  • Actors need to understand and have a grasp on their character’s “motivation”. What’s driving them in a certain scene? Why are they there doing what they’re doing? Answering these questions and adding them into a performance is vital for an actor.
  • Similar to the point above, actors must have a understanding of their character. From looking at the script, perhaps one might imagine and construct a past for their character that might create a more in-depth performance on screen.

This being said, actors have the power to evolve the character if the writer or directing likes where the path is taking their film. Connolly notes that this happened in “TELL”. Todd Bruno added something to “Taylor” that his director admired and thus was added in the script, and so the actor/director relationship is very much a collaboration.

Studying this discussion has been immensely helpful in furthering my understanding of how to work with and direct actors. Although learning on set through directing first-hand is immensely important, one must not forgot there is a whole world of directing out there to learn from, thanks to videos like this.

Below is the short film “TELL”; the film the duo are discussing in the video at the top of this blog. With Ryan Connolly putting this thing together and Todd Bruno’s acting role, this is not one to be missed.

AN INSIGHT: THE DIRECTOR

The role of the director is a vital and significant part of a film production. Unlike many members of a crew, they control and have power over a wide variety of areas such as the script, mise-en-scene, cinematography and editing.

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So let’s identify what a director is first of all, shall we? I believe the quotation I’ve snatched from the Dark Knight himself, Christian Bale, is a very true and significant part of the director’s role (or directors’ role as seen in films such as The Butterfly Effect by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Grube). They create an overall vision for a production which is to be captured, and are a key member of a film crew. Realizing this vision includes overseeing the artistic and technical elements of a production and acting as a commander but equally as a listener who’s open to idea. A bad director only listens to himself/herself and limits creativity which is definitely the wrong way to go about film-making. Creating a film is far from an individual process. It requires a group of talented people to make a successful film but it is the director that leads on the march and, with help from the other members of the crew, decides the route they all take to get to their destination.

Put a group of fantastic professionals together, Quentin Tarantino, David. Russell, Ben Affleck, Ang Lee, Tom Hooper and Gus Van Sant, and you get the video you see above with priceless experiences and knowledge. In my eyes, it serves as a great way to understand the role of the film director and is equally as entertaining.

What I really learnt about this video in concern to directing is that a director has to be very much aware and knowledgeable of a huge variety of other roles. In the interview Ben Affleck talks about the pressures of being an actor and how that affected him as a director later in life concerning his treatment towards actors and actresses in his films. Having a firm understanding of aspects such as editing, cinematography and more is key is being a director.

TEST FOOTAGE

Although it was a small idea, I took the time out to shoot a handful of shots similar to ones I had in mind if I was to pursue the concept. The concept being a car driving through the night by a mysterious driver. The point of the shoot was to experiment, test settings on the camera and to see the difference between what I imagined in my head compared to what I really have in front of me. It was also a great exercise to get back behind the camera. And so, some shots worked great whereas others did not so well but the night, with thanks to my driver, was definitely a learning experience. Whether if my group continue with the idea or not it’s still good to have footage like this to study even for other projects and it’s also good to get behind the camera instead of throwing ideas on pieces of paper all the time. I hope the videos annotations help your understand what I was testing and learning and also what I was trying to achieve throughout the shots.

screen shot upload matt bellAbove is a screenshot from the post-production process of putting together my test footage video. This was me editing in Adobe’s Premiere Pro and as you can see from the video and audio tracks I put together, nothing complicated is going on here. Because of the simple video I was going for which consisted of just the clips, their audio and a letterbox effect layer there wasn’t much to play around with however, at times, such as between 4:05 and 4:10 above, I decided to use small bits of audio from clips and place them in others so the digetic sound would flow better and be nicer to hear. Another video track was added to add the letterbox effect which is in fact a PhotoShop document that I made myself with the help of a YouTube tutorial. The letterbox gives footage that widescreen, film-look which I love and want to incorporate in my film since here, to me, it looks so good.