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Finally watching a feature film that I put on hold for a while inspired me to write an article on this fantastic topic of Acting. For all of you talented individuals looking to break into the industry, though this article takes a comedic approach to a serious issue, please give this topic the attention it deserves. Have a look at this hilarious scene from Hail, Caesar!
In this scene, the director is trying to pull the performance he is looking to get out of an actor played by Alden Ehrenreich. Unless you want to have a HORRIBLE experience on set like the one shown above, I HIGHLY SUGGEST getting into an acting class somewhere, anywhere. Has this scene been exaggerated a bit? Sure. But make no mistake, these incidents still happen on big sets today. I have seen it first hand.
IF YOU DON’T DELIVER, YOU RISK EVERYTHING
Before I get into the meat of this article, I’d like to share a story. I’m on set for Marvel’s latest Ant-Man and the Wasp feature film with Paul Rudd and Michael Pena. We are in Atlanta filming a sequence that takes place somewhere in South America. It’s the final shot of the opening sequence, just before the Ant-Man titles hit. It’s Marvel right, so as you can imagine, it’s a $125 M feature production, which is on the low end for them. Picture this:
Four 1970’s firetrucks and four police cars pull up to a warehouse, in flames, just on the outskirts of the city. Seventy extras are running around. Half are scared because the building is on fire, the other half are there to control the scene. Firemen, Police officers controlling the environment. The firemen jump off the trucks and march towards the distressed warehouse. Pyro cracks and pops as the 10 fully suited firemen march towards the danger.
The firemen enter the warehouse. It looks like a warzone. . .literally, no greenscreens, no blue or green tape. LEGIT set design where. NO EXPENSES WERE SPARED. The ten firemen approach a machine that’s the size of a school bus, it 30 feet in the air and on fire. As they near, the lead firemen notices a little girl sitting next to the base of the machine, crying. The lead fireman approaches. Gets down on one knee – and delivery his lines. . .
“CUT!” yells the 1st AD
. . .
I have not seen that actor work since. No lie.
The AD worked with the actor three separate occasions to try to get the emotion they were looking for. Then the director worked with him for 20 minutes. A year later, when I say the final cut, I had a good laugh, then I felt bad for MARVEL, Disney and the rest of the creative team that put their hard work and effort into making that whole sequence the very best it could have been. That opening sequence with the location, costume, set design, extras, SFX etc cost over $2M, and it all came to a head when the fireman was supposed to deliver his line and save the little girl. His lines were cut down to 10% of what he was originally going to say and I guarantee you Marvel will never work with him again.
Getting back tot the film example I shared above, hit play and fast forward to 1:40 to see the solution they came up with for the final cut.
KNOW YOUR CHARACTER
One thing you must understand is that writers, directors, and actors all read the same script, but can walk away seeing a scene completely different.
And that is ok.
Let’s say you book a role-playing a music producer. The scene opens with you sitting in front of the mixing console and your scene partner walks in the room. She is a bit distraught. Your first instinct might be to console her. The writer’s perspective is that you should punch through the musician moment of weakness and get her to focus on making music faster. The director’s perspective is that you are more of a ZEN type character and every way you may have practiced the scene will get thrown out the window because you are not sitting at the boards anymore, you are now sitting Indian style on the studio floor.
I say all of this to say that as an actor, your job is to give the creative team you are working with, exactly what they are looking for.
That said, you should also know who you are as an actor and make strong choices that show off your skill as best you can. When the camera is pointed at you, it’s your turn to do your job, so if you would like to try one take, feel free to ask the director to try something different, or just do it. You are a professional too. However, remember, you MUST give them what they are asking for as well. Otherwise, you run the risk of never being called back to work with them again.
Rest assured you will have more than one take, and film multiple angles.
You will have your establishing shot, wide-angle, medium shot and close up. Then you also will need to record coverage and your reverse.
The video above is a bit extreme. This actor was called off the set of a country-western and pulled into this upper east side movie production. Today, actors tend to fill a niche. It’s the reason you don’t see Vin Diesel playing a Nanny or baby sitter anymore. Not to say that all actors stay in their lane. Mark Wahlberg does action quite well. I say all of that to say that the more prepared you are as an actor. The more versatile you are, you will not find yourself in a similar predicament shared in the video above.
Think about it like this. Most professional athletes start playing sports around 5 years of age. Most tech entrepreneurs start coding as teenagers, most race car drivers start racing go-carts as kids before matriculating through 4 different Formula race classes and joining the big leagues in F1 racing.
If you are just starting out, spend time learning the craft. Get comfortable working in different environments, playing different characters and working with people from all walks of life. Sometimes, confidence is enough to get you through a scene, but without knowing how to give the creative team what they are looking for, you are putting your career at risk.
If you found this article funny or helpful, please share it with someone you know that may be able to learn something from reading it as well. Also, if you would like to learn more about our talent management company or read additional material about the acting, check out this article.