Directing techniques for actors

Michael Rabiger who is a Professor at the Columbia College in Chicago has written a directing textbook called ‘Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics’. Included in this is 9 do and don’t’s of directing actors. I picked out one do and one don't that I found really interesting and could possibly use when I have to direct the actors from Marjon. The do that I picked out is: Remind the actor where their character has just come from. I liked this because a lot of films aren't shot in chronological order so it is important the the actor knows what has happened in the scene before so they can get a better idea of their characters emotional state and feelings before this scene. I think this helps create a stronger more realistic character. The don't that I picked out is: Never demonstrate how you’d like something played. I chose this one because as a director I think you have to remember that you aren't the actor, each actor is unique and will act it in their own way. Just tell them kindly and make each note specific so they know were to improve on. You don’t want to knock their confidence and make them feel not good enough.

I think its important that the director creates a good and supportive environment for the actor so they can focus on their work they can concentrate on the scene and remembering their lines and what character they are. If there is a lot of commotion going on behind the camera, or before a scene that if really tense, this can throw off the actors concentration.

Its also important that the actor knows everything about their character, they need to know what their ‘motivation’ is. The actor needs to know the motivation behind the character, the goal in the scene and the arc of the character. Its the directors responsibility to know all these things about the character so if the actor or any of the other crew members does ask any questions you can answer them.

Rabiger, M and Hurbis-Cherrier, M., 'Michael Rabiger’s Nine Basic Tips for Directing Actors' [Online]. Available at: http://www.indiewire.com/2013/02/exclusive-excerpt-michael-rabigers-nine-basic-tips-for-directing-actors-41254/ [Accessed on 2nd January 2017, at 14:07]

Fernald, J, B and Chaillet, N., (2009) 'Directing' [Online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/directing [Accessed on 2nd January 2017, at 14:18]

G.S. Pern, G, S., (2014) 'DIRECTORS' TRADEMARKS: CHRISTOPHER NOLAN' [Online]. Movie Buffs. Available at: http://www.cinelinx.com/movie-stuff/item/6667-directors-trademarx-christopher-nolan.html [Accessed on 2nd January 2017, at 15:02]

Aitken, T., (2014) '10 things about Laura Mulveys visual pleasure and narrative cinema' [Online]. 10 or 21 things. Available at: https://10or21things.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/10-things-about-laura-mulveys-visual-pleasure-and-narrative-cinema/ [Accessed on 2nd January 2017, at 15:22]

 

 

Session 1

Going to Marjon

Today we were introduced to our new unit, directing and performance lead by Andy and Lucy.

The class would be going up to Marjons university to meet the actors we would be working with. I was very excited to be getting to work with people who were training to be actors rather then other class mates.

When we got to Marjon's we did a few small exercises with the actors to help us get to know each other.

The first one we did was improvisation through re-acting. The actors sat in 2 rows of chairs facing each other and would improvise based on how they respond and react to each other. Us, the filmmakers would have to walk around them thinking about all the different angles and scenarios we would come up with.

The second one we did was we got into groups of 8, each with 2/3 actors. The actors had 2 minutes to go away and come up was a short scene and then show us. We would then tell them to do the same scene but in weird locations. The locations my group came up with were space, underwater and then a library as a normal one.

We would then have to pick a location to go and film 2 shots of the scene and then come back and screen them to the whole group.

The scene that the 3 actors came up with was 3 of them were standing around and one of the boys wanted to as the girl out to a party but she didn't really want to go with him and the other boy was trying to get him to ask her.

From the second exercise we decided to get them to do it in a library. We went to a free classroom around the uni that could easily be a library. We set up one shot of the two boys with the girl walking past the camera sitting down and then the second shot of the three of them sitting around a table.

The next task we had to do was where we swap roles. The actors have to film us. The clip has to be 15-60 seconds long and has to include pulling focus on different people or ending in a specific composition.

The actors would act as camera operator being directed by us.

This is the shot that the actors got of us.

I think doing both these tasks today has really helped me get an idea of what kind of actors they are, what strengths and weaknesses they all have. Swapping roles on the last one definitely helped me appreciate how hard being on camera was as I always want to see whats being filmed as I'm used to being behind the camera seeing whats going on. It also definitely helped the actors understand how hard our job is as filmmakers to set up a shot and get it right as both the actors I had for the second task said that they didn't realise how difficult pulling focus could be.

I'm now excited to continue this unit and work with all the actors more and see how our films can develop.

Naturalistic performances

Examples

I think that two of the hardest things in films to do naturally are laughing and crying so I decided to try and find some of the most naturalistic crying scenes.

The first film I decided to look at was Stand by Me (1986) directed by Rob Reiner. I chose the scene where Chris played by River Phoenix confides in Gordie played by Wil Wheaton about taking the milk money and a teacher betraying his trust. I think that especially for young actors crying naturally is something that Is really difficult to do so when I saw this scene I was really impressed by how well he did.

The second film I looked at was from the film Captain Phillips (2013) directed by Paul Greengrass. I chose the ending scene where Tom hanks character Richard Phillips has finally be saved and is being treated by ambulance crew. I chose this scene because I thought that Tom Hanks did a really good job acting in this as he really portrayed how disorientated and confused he is and after awhile of being asked questions he can't answer he breaks down and sobs being thankful he is alive and finally safe.

Session 2

Naturalism

Terry and Edie's scene in the film On the Waterfront directed by Elia Kazan.

Eva Marie Saint's character Edie dropped the glove by mistake but Terry played by Marlon Brando picked it up and started improvising with the glove by playing with it and at one point, putting it on.

We were also shown a scene from Westworld with Anthony Hopkins. We looked at a video of a youtube channel, Nerdwriter1 where he has explained step by step Hopkins acting and how naturalistic is. From him pausing for 7 second and showing us loads of different emotions to the how he breaks down the dialogue. I think this is a really good example of naturalism acting as in real life you often do take awhile to respond to something rather then being able to respond as soon as the person has spoke before you. You need time to think about what is being said before to be able to respond.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kSGkGKwp9U

 

We were then given 4 options of what we could do with the actors based off of directors techniques.

1. Set up an improv, actors only know what they've been told by us. One could be told a different ending to the other and they have to improv. Mike Leigh.

2. Establish key moments, enrty, exit, meetings, conflict. Shane Meadows.

3. Set up a situation with non actors doing their normal tasks and have the actor interact. Greengrass.

4. Shoot in real situations and dub the dialogue after. Vittoria De Sica.

 

My group chose to go with option 1 as we were all interested in this one the most. However, we were only given one actor so we also have kind of gone for option 3 as one person from my group volunteered to also act in it.

The idea that we came up with was a 2 people meeting up for a coffee for the first time. We told Sasha who is the actor to be really uninterested in the date and then told Josh the non actor to be interested and thinks the date is going really well.

This is the finished film. I was the editor for this.

I really enjoyed experimenting with different techniques for helping the actors impov as it was interested to see how they respond to each other when being told slightly different details about the story.

Session 3

Production Design

Locations, sets, objects, lighting and sound plays a great role in the performance for film.

Find own examples.

Texas chainsaw massacre - lighting when they take photos of the dead bodies, shot in daytime, makes it feel more real and believable

Castaway - the volleyball, Tom Hanks makes an inanimate object interesting

 

People that we looked at include production designer William Cameron Menzis, Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest and Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront.

We had to think about the crew roles and responsibilities. We had to assign roles to each member of the group. I was the editor.

Andy then showed us a few more examples of films.

La Pointe Courte by Agnes Varda in 1956.

The Graduate by Mike Nichols in 1967.

We were put into groups again and each given one or two actors to make a film with.

My group were given 2 actors. As there aren't enough actors to go around 4 groups got the actors first and the remaining 5 groups got the actors second. My group got the actors second. Because of this the group that had the actors first went half an hour into my groups time so we had about 20 minutes to brief the actors on our idea, find a location, shoot and edit this film. Considering we only had 20 minutes to make this I'm pretty happy with the outcome.

Here is the finished film. I was the editor for this.

After this we were put into our new groups for our final film. Each group would be assigned on of the following approaches to base their film on.

1. Naturalism/Realism: Using actors’ improvisations to generate script.

2. Staging / Production Design: Locations, objects, hands, close ups

3. Comedy, Dance, Musicals: choreography , physical performance, visual/physical comedy.

4. Light and Sound: Highly crafed sound and light, the unseen the unheard.

5. Post sync, Dub, ADR: incredible locations, actors and non actors.

 

We were then told we have to make a 60-90 second video pitch explaining the following things.

  1. Two possible themes we want to work with

  2. What approach we are most comfortable with, interested in and scared of and need to develop

  3. What crew role we are most comfortable with, interested in and scared of but need to develop

Due Friday 27th.

Comedy/Dance

My group were given approach number 3. Comedy, Dance, Musicals: choreography, physical performance, visual/physical comedy. If I'm being honest this is the one that I wanted to do the least because comedy is something that I think is really hard to do well as everyone has a different sense of humour. However, once I found out what actors we had (Sasha and Sam) I was a bit more hopeful as I know that they get on really well and can easily bounce off of each other as they have good chemistry. We were also given set roles for this film based on what we said In our pitches. I was given cinematographer for this film which I am really nervous to do as I've never properly done it before but I'm really excited to try and see what the outcome is.

I'm also really interested in trying out some techniques and shot types that we've been taught about from directors such as Bresson and Anderson.

To kick start off the final film we were told to go away and do some screen tests with the actors. One for each actor and then one together. Rather then doing a typical screen test where you show all their different angles and showing their skills as an actor we wanted to go for a different approach, similar to Edie Sedgwicks screen test by Andy Warhol where she was just put in front of a camera and just filmed continuously. We wanted to so something like this to show how well the actors are at improvising and how well they can bounce off each other. We also wanted to see how well they could act naturally with a camera pointed directly in their face as this is something that I think they need to get used to so when it comes to our final film they are as naturalistic as possible.

Here are our screen tests below.

Group meeting 1

Ideas

Roles

Director of actors: Amy

Director of photography: Me

Sound: Jamie

Lighting and Editing: Annie

 

All actors must speak

4-5 minutes long

Actors: Sam and Sasha

 

Physical - musical, dance, comedy

 

Subtle comedy

Movements to the beat of music - Shaun of the Dead - Edgar Wright

Cutting to beats

 

Comedy Movies - Mr Beans Holiday, Shaun of the Dead

 

Music in background - movement to the beat but not a dance and not obviously - subtle

 

Possible song choices:

  • Immigration song - Lez Zepplin

  • Sweet child of mine - Guns n Roses

  • Dancing Queen - ABBA

  • Hit be baby one more time - Britney Spears

  • Dancing in the moonlight - Toploader

 

Ideas

Purposely bad horror movie spoof

Ouija board gone wrong

 

Possible end shot

someone walks into the room and turns the light on

sees two people sitting opposite each other with blankets over their head

Group meeting 2

Finalising Ideas

Spoor horror - ouija board - they can make the ouija board?

 

Possible story lines ideas

 

Have them both getting drunk and drinking a lot. One of them can tell the other a story they heard about a few teenagers who attempted a story board and went missing - something along those lines.

 

Day 1

Day 2

Day 4

Day 10

Day 19

Day 24

Do it in a way that shows the haunting getting worse over time

Draws opening

Lights going out

Doors shutting

Flour footprints

TV channel changing

 

Do all of this in really bad says to emphasise spoof horror

 

We then decided against this as we think that this idea is to complicated for a 4-5 minute film.

Deciding on just letting them get really drunk and a door slams so they decide to go and 'explore'

 

Spoof horror example

Scary Movie

Lesbian vampire killers

 

Other film examples

Red Dragon

Paranormal Activity - all of them

 

Movement - heads peering round a door - inspired by Shaun of the dead scene where they put hands on shoulders

Directions that have inspired this film are:

  • Robert Bresson

  • Stanley Kubrick

  • Edgar Wright

  • Wes Anderson

 

When I was researching to styles that could help influence and inspire my style of cinematography I looked at a clip from Hot Fuzz by Edgar Wright. The scene where Simon Pegg's character Nicholas Angel is traveling to Stanford really caught my attention as I really liked the quick shots and how in only second seconds it completely explains whats going on. I really wanted to experiment with the use of quick shots. This would of course be properly put together in the edit, which I would be present for. It also caught my attention because its not a typical way to show that someone is moving area which I really liked because he's doing something that is different to the norm.

To be honest, I'm not actually a fan of any of Edgar Wrights films but I really can appreciate them for what they are, which is very well made. I like his style of comedy and hows its more visual rather then the dialogue making it funny. He uses techniques such as having objects enter the shot in funny ways, matching scene transitions, people leaving shots in funny ways and actions synchronised to music.

In one of our first lesson on this unit we were shown a 4 minute clip of all the shots where Robert Bresson has used close ups of hands to emphasise different emotions and to make the audience focus on what was going on in the shot. I really liked this and knew I wanted to experiment with close up of hands come to shoot day.

I knew that this being my first time cinematographer I thought that doing a shot list and some storyboards would be a good thing to do to help me start thinking and visualising possible shots. As the location we picked would be in my flat It made it easier for me to be able to think about what shots I want tot use.

Doing both of these pre production tasks really helped me be more confident in what shots I might be interested in trying as I'm really nervous about getting some good shots for the film. They have also helped me think about what the final film could look like as well as letting the other members of my group get a feel for that i'm going for and what my vision is for the look of the film.

Storyboard

Shot List

Narrative Breakdown

  • Scene 1 – Establishing – Drinking - Location: Kitchen

Sasha & Sam are sat in the kitchen drinking and having a chat, laughing, telling jokes / stories – establishes characters and their friendship on screen. Drinks are going down; shots are mentioned; the two characters’ start getting drunk.

Ouija story is mentioned, beliefs are questioned and the characters decide to make a Ouija board.

 

  • Scene 2 – Assembling the Ouija board – Location: Lounge

Sasha gets something to hold the Ouija board down, Sam gets the board / paper. They meet in the lounge to create the Ouija board. They begin to contact spirit Jane. A door slams, they decide to investigate

 

  • Scene 3 – Pink Panther / Scooby Doo style investigation dance number – Location: Hallway

The two characters begin to pop in and out of doors, running to other doors, they bump into each other and go into another room.

 

  • Scene 4 – Roommate comes home – Location: Lounge

A roommate comes home to the two characters huddled around the Ouija board wrapped in blankets, the roommate asks what they’re doing, they look startled.

 

Production Schedule

Crew meeting Wednesday 8th February at PCA, Room 2:21 (Film Room) – 12pm

 

Shoot Day – Tuesday 21st February

  • Crew & Cast meet at PCA Reception – 11am

  • Arrive at location - Gull House (Lucie’s flat) – around 11.20am

  • Crew & Kit set up – 11.20am – 12pm

  • Kitchen scene filming - 12pm – 2pm

  • Lunch break - 2pm – around 3pm

  • Ouija board scene filming - 3pm – 5pm

  • Hallway Pink Panther Scene – 6pm -7pm

  • Home time

 

Filming

How did it go?

We began filming by briefing the two actors on the idea again, telling them the 4 main scenes that we wanted to film so they could begin thinking about possible dialogue to say.

We knew we wanted to go with a more simple camera set up with having the first scene all filmed at the same angle to get the actors comfortable being on camera as well as having them act as naturalistic as possible.

Production design is a role we took on all together as our production designer couldn't make it to the shoot. The location we were filming at was my flat as the atmosphere and feel we wanted was a student flat which is what my flat is. Having cups, plates, tea towels, cereals and lots of alcoholic bottles in the background really helped show a student vibe.

The main issue we had with filming was we wanted it to be set in the evening/night time as that's obviously when you start drinking but because all my flatmates will be home in the evening as well as everyone in my group not being available in the evening time we had to film during the day.

In hindsight looking back on the final film now we probably could have played around with colour correction where we darken the shots to make it look less obvious that it's day time, however none of us really know how to use colour correction properly and we didn't have enough time to do a good enough job on it. This is definitely something I would change and do differently if we were to do this again. Or we could manage our time slightly better so this could be possible.

I was really happy with how quickly and how well we managed to do the shoot. It was a new experience being cinematographer and I actually had quite a lot of fun experimenting with different shots and framing. I'm a big fan of composition of shots and having things centred and symmetrical. This was definitely inspired by Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. I just really like how having the frame centred and symmetrical can completely change the mood and feel of a shot. Kubrick used this type of framing to make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy as In real life nothing is really that symmetrical and exactly the same.

Annoyingly the shots we filmed of the actors using the ouija board came back as really grainy with a lot of noise throughout the shots. This was due to us not thinking about the lighting enough. Looking at it now we definitely should have spent more time filming the ouija board scenes as for me it completely ruins the whole feel and look of the film but unfortunately we were just running out of time. We had spent too long filming the first scenes of the actors getting drunk and the making of the ouija board. Even thought I'm disappointed these shots didn't come back the way I wanted I still am really pleased with a lot of the close ups of hands and a few of the shots compositions.

To really highlight the shots I'm most proud of I decided to do a quick edit of them all. This can be seen below.

I decided to do this because not all the shots that I am most proud of got used in the final version of the film.

Sketchbook film

For this film I was cinematographer and out theme was comedy, musicals and dance

The idea we had for this is to do a spoof horror film where 2 drunk people decide to make a ouija board and see if they can talk to any spirits.

Directors that inspired this film are Robert Bresson, Wes Anderson, Edgar Wright and Stanley Kubrick.

Bresson inspired me because I admire his use of close ups of hands. He uses this style to convey and emphasise the meaning of the shot and emotion behind the action. In our case, I decided to get close ups of the actors hands pouring shots to emphasise how much they were drinking. I also wanted close ups of them moving a shot glass over the ouija board to make the audience focus on what the 'potential' spirit was saying.

Anderson typically uses a lot of centred and symmetrical shots which really influenced the style of framing. I personally find symmetrical shots pleasing to the eye and was really intrigued by how this could effect the feeling of a film. Kubrick also uses symmetry to create a uneasy and distressing atmosphere which can be seen in The Shining. I thought using this could be shown as slightly comedic as our genre was a spoof horror. I think having a technique used for actual horror films would be a good feature to have incorporated.

For example, the steadicam shot in The Shining where Danny is riding around the halls of the hotel. Kubrick’s use of the camera angle of the walls forces the viewer to look at the middle of the shot. This was something I wanted to play with and it just so happens that in my flat I have a long corridor where I could easily experiment with this style.

Edgar Wright is widely known for his visual comedy. The technique that I admire the most is his use of having actions synchronised to music. This can be seen in the clip from Shaun of the dead where they are hitting the zombie in time with the soundtrack. I want to use this technique to really push the comedy aspect of our film which I think it does. Another technique I really wanted to use in the final film is quick jump cuts to quickly explain a part of the story. The best example of this I think is the scene in Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg's character Nicholas is moving to Standford. I really like how unique and different this style is for showing part of the narrative. Even thought this influenced only a few seconds of the final film I definitely think that this is a technique that really helped develop the film.

In terms of framing, I wanted to keep it quite minimalistic with mainly stationary shots of the same angle. This was to help the actors perform in a more naturalistic style. We chose to let them improvise as we all agreed that we want to get them acting as free as possible, with no boundaries of having to stick to a script. Choosing to let them improv helps keeps things fresh and new. We knew that the actors would be able to successfully do improvisation from seeing them in the previous films we have made leading up to this final film. As our given approach was comedy, we wanted the dialogue between them to be funny and lighthearted. This is something we know the actors can do together because of the screen tests we did prior to filming.

The naturalistic style of acting would be contrasted in the edit as the agreed editing style is fast jump cuts to enhance the comedy approach. As I was the cinematographer, we felt it was important that I was there for the editing process. I also have experience with editing as that is my preferred area and where i’m most experienced. This meant I could advise the editor who wasn't as confident using the software as I am. Overall, I was quite pleased with how my first experience as cinematographer went as I feel that I got some really interesting shots that really help tell the narrative of our film without being too messy.

To try and get the most of of this new experience I also experimented with different lens's. The one that I really found most beneficial was the wide angle lens. I've never really thought about changing different lens's before but because the location we filmed in was quite small and to get the desired shot I wanted couldn't be done with the standard lens, changing to a wide angle lens made this possible. in future projects now I will definitely consider experimenting with different lens. This project has definitely helped me develop and broadened my skills as a filmmaker and I can now take these skills and use them on future projects.

Evaluation

My role for this project was cinematographer. The approach we were given was comedy, dance and musicals. The final film 'Jane', is about two teenagers getting drunk, deciding to do a ouija board to try and talk to spirits and then going to find said spirits.

We wanted to focus on keeping the acting very naturalistic with a contrasted edit of fast jump cuts to emphasise the comedy aspect. This meant we kept the camera stationary and the same angle for most of the dialogue shots. The outcome of doing this gave us a really impressive and naturalistic performance from the actors which is what we were aiming for.

The strongest point for me was how I used techniques from directors to help influence my shots which would be put together properly in the edit. I used some of Edgar Wrights technique’s of visual comedy to help with this. I used his technique of having actions synchronised to music to really help push our comedy and dance approach which can be seen in the last part of our film where we have our actors walking towards the camera to the beat of the soundtrack. Having all these different inspirations certainly gave me plenty of opportunities to really experiment with a huge range of different shots and angles. This ended up really helping us show the narrative in a way that's simple but still looks visually good. I feel that choosing to frame the first dialogue scenes in the same angle and then having cutaways of close ups of hands really helped make is visually more appealing and interesting to watch. It also make's the audience focus on their hands and the message behind the shots. For example, I decided to get close ups of hands pouring and drinking shots to really emphasise how much they were drinking. These close up shots of hands were inspired by Bresson as I was really interested in how you could subtly show messages with just the use of hands.

On the day of the shoot the whole crew took on the role as production designer as our actual production designer sadly, could not make it to set. We utilised the use of a shot glass to become a planchette. I feel that doing this is a subtle piece of production design based around the previous scenes of them drinking out of it. I feel that this instantly adds a slightly comedic feel to the film.

Unfortunately, the scenes I filmed of the actors using the ouija board came back really noisy and grainy. This was due to not having enough lighting. Even though it’s not the desired quality I would have liked, it almost gives the film a more creepy and atmospheric feel. This is immediately contrasted with the end dance sequence which I really like.

One thing I would change If I were to do this again, is to focus more on the lighting in the darker shots. I would try to prevent any noise or grain from occurring. We regrettably didn't have enough time to go back and re film on the day as we ran out of time. Next time, as a group, we need to work on our time management skills more.

Over the course of this module I've really learnt a lot about how framing and close ups can really change the feel and atmosphere of a film. Being cinematographer for this project has really helped me develop and strengthen my skills as a filmmaker because I've been learning new techniques and new pieces of equipment which I didn’t know prior to this unit.

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