Anything Can Happen

April 17, 2024
Enough about nutjobs. My only point is that they are out there, and it is absolutely certain you will encounter them. I don’t think I remember them teaching that in film school.
But, most of the time, you will be surrounded by people who care about you, care about the film, and care about their work in it. This is the rhythm you want to create and sustain.
One vital element of that is building a sense on set that Anything Can Happen. This is particularly rewarding with actors. No actor wants to feel there is only one way to do a scene, especially if they think it is the one molded in concrete in the director’s brain. I have found that encouraging a sense of joy, pleasure, and discovery will always spur the actor to bring you everything you could possibly want.
The element of surprise is crucial in film acting; the feeling that something is happening for the very first time. Film acting is different in this sense because audiences already know the performance is not live. Here is a technique that I’ve found to be incredibly useful.
If you have a scene with more than one actor, go up to each of them privately and whisper something only they can hear. It should be an actable direction specifically for them. Watch their reaction as you whisper it. It could be something as simple as telling them to yawn when the other actor begins their “important” speech. If their eyes light up, you know you’ve hit something.
Try to do this right before the camera rolls. Don’t give the actor time to think about it. And then just sit back and watch. If your suggestion has any spark to it, there will be a moment when the other actor is truly surprised and has to react in real-time. It’s like a jolt, a psychological slip on a banana peel that spurs the actor to respond in a way they never would have expected. And their response, unexpected will, in turn, spur the other actor to respond to something they did not expect. And if you’re lucky, that pulsing miracle of life happens right before your eyes.
And if you’re really lucky, someone has turned on the camera.
Here’s Ep. 3 from a video series I made called Drunk Film School.

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Independent Filmmaker & Musician