Letting Actors Improvise

November 29, 2023
I love letting actors improvise a scene. Sometimes that spontaneous flash of imagination brings you something infinitely more alive and effective than anything you could have written. Buscemi is one of those rare actors who knows how to experiment with a scene but still keeps the meaning of the entire film in his mind.
His rant to the crew at the end of Act One of Living in Oblivion was completely improvised, although by accident. I needed some shots of the crew reacting to Steve's breakdown, which we'd already shot with Steve doing the much shorter scripted version. These kinds of reaction shots are actually hard for actors to do cold, so I always give them something real to respond to. In this case, I had Steve stand just off camera and asked him to just come up with things on his own to yell at the crew. Well, Steve started making up stuff to scream specifically at each crew member that was so brilliant, ("Hey Bob, you creaky motherf_cker!") that I got the best reaction shots I've ever put on film. The actors were as stunned as I was.
But, what Steve had done was so great I told the cameraman to spin the camera around on Steve so I could film him doing what he'd just come up with while it was still fresh. And the guy said, “I can’t do that; there’s no light.“ And I yelled, “Just do it!“
And we got it. It was a little dark and out of focus, but I didn't care because it was one of Steve’s most incredible scenes in the film; so wild, crackling, and alive.
Watch Living in Oblivion here.

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Independent Filmmaker & Musician