of Documentary for the Screen Actor
Actors can sometimes be heard
to say that even in a moment of great crisis in their lives they
often find themselves cataloguing the nature of their reactions
for future reference. This is a dedicated commitment to their
performance art. And there may come a time when the memory of
that experience will be of great use. However often such a subjective
view can sometimes be considerably distorted.
When challenged about a moment of clumsy or clichéd acting
the justification sometimes offered by the performer is, "But
that's exactly what I do" or "That's the sort of person
I am. I do that all the time." The response, which neutralizes
this justification of performance choices, is often, "You
are actually never like that. In life you are always believable
and that wasn't believable." Subjective views re-translated
subjectively can be a long way off the mark.
Actors need to be cautious
about the gathering and use of that sort of experience - sometimes
it's invaluable, sometimes misleading.
Another source of behavioural research for the actor is to observe
others and in this event the documentary film is a useful tool.
It has the added advantage of viewing people's life experiences
through the camera lens in the same way that screen actors are
In fact this week an individual's
personal experience was minutely explored and analysed by the
media. This was the final test match played by Australian cricket
captain Steve Waugh. Watching him standing on the Sydney Cricket
Ground waiting for the final presentations at the end of the
last test match of the series was extremely informative. Here
was a man in a highly emotional moment of his life and yet it
wasn't the display of emotion that was the significant factor.
It was his battle not to display emotion that was the dominant
element - an immensely informative moment for any screen storyteller.
Even news services can provide
of Making a Choice
The observational value of documentary first occurred to me many
years ago while watching a programme about women and their relationships
with their mother's. Here it was apparent that the pauses and
the moments of choice were more informative than the actual words
uttered. The difficulty or lack of difficulty in selecting what
a person would say was extremely revealing. This was a classic
example of someone revealing themselves by the way that they made their next decision.
Actors often define sub-text
as the unspoken element of a scene but there are many things
that can be unspoken in a scene which are text. These are the
elements of the story that the writer requires to be seen on
the screen. It is in fact the thoughts that emanate from the decision-making
processes that generate the real communication. These thoughts evolve
when a character is dealing with unconscious as well as conscious impulses and drives.
In this documentary
a persons real relationship to the circumstances they had been caught up in, were most evident in moments of
'Start Up Dot Com', screened between Christmas 2003 and New Year
on ABC-TV, was also an interesting documentary from an actor's
point of view. Here simple interaction and lack of emotional
display carried the story development. There was one moment where
the two best friends who had set the whole business up were in
conflict. The more dominant one had decided he had to sack his
friend from the project. The poor fellow who was being forced
out was experiencing a great sense of loss but again it was his
determination to stay on top of the emotion and not let it be
seen that was his person goal. His real life battle was to not
show his emotion and to stay in control. Actors in these circumstances
often feel they have to explore the display of the emotion. But
in this character it was the determination to not display the
emotion that brought the complexity to the battle and informed us of
the relationship that he was trapped in. In fact, the battle for control was
the most important element in this real life scene not the display
The drama of this documentary was specifically about the personal cost of a quest
to create a successful company. That was the story. The tension
that was created through this drama was the result of conflicting
character goals. Who would dominate? It became plain that it was a
story about the dominance of the character who wanted to stay
in control of proceedings. When he was on top he felt fantastic.
Initially his decisions generated millions of dollars of investment.
By the end he was still dominating but the business had failed.
Then he admitted that his worst moment was when his best friend
had said that he didn't trust him anymore. That was his worst
moment. But we understood from his choices that this was the point he felt least in control.
It's the way a character makes the next choice that reveals most about the real nature of the conflict.
Much can be learnt from the
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