Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's my motivation?

Well, my acting on the HBO show "Westworld" is done. And even though it was hot and dusty, and there was a lot of "down-time," I will miss the other actors I met, as well as the crew. And speaking of the crew members - it can be of real benefit for us actors to get to know the names of the crew members and treat them nice. When there's a problem, or something you need - like a bottle of water when you're on set, or someone to do a last minute check of your wardrobe, the A.D.s, and wardrobe and makeup people will be there for you.

Depending on the size of the crew, and how much time you are spending on the set, it's not always possible to get to know everyone - even the key crew members - like the D.P., the first A.D., the script supervisor, or even the director! These people are usually very busy and rarely have time to hang out and chat like we actors can often do.

In fact one of the biggest surprises an actor gets their first couple of times on a professional set is how little contact we might have with the director. I learned why the first time I was on a big film set and then a commercial set.

I, of course, asked the director - what do you want me to do? And by that I meant, my character - what kind of emotion and reactions, etc. And the director said, "Do what you did at the audition. It was great - that's why we hired you." It blew me away that the director didn't want to discuss the role and "get into" the essence of the emotional arc, and all that actor-type stuff.

What about the stars? Well, they usually meet with the director before they are hired and that is when they have a discussion about the story and the role. Maybe. Unless you are doing something you are known for, like physical comedy. Then the director is mostly going to trust you to do what you already know how to do, and he will mostly be concerned with the action stuff.

This doesn't mean he or she is a bad director - it's just that most films, many TV shows, and even some commercials, are very complex and there are so many details the director needs to focus on, he just doesn't have the time to discuss every scene with every actor. 

Note: The director on my last project came over, introduced himself and shook my hand. Nice guy - but very busy.

And what about where to move for the camera? That's mostly the job of the first A.D., who has already discussed this with the director, and knows what the director wants. "The first" (as he's called) is usually the one to call "standby," (which means get ready everyone), "background," (this means the background actors should start moving), and "action!" (Which means the principal actors start doing their thing.) Then at the end, the director will say "cut" to the first, who then yells, "Cut!"

In fact, the set I was just on was so big and complex, with so many actors (both background and principal), that the first A.D. had to use a microphone attached to a bullhorn, in order for everyone to hear him call the cues.

So, what does all this mean to us actors? It means that although we may occasionally be on a set where we get to discuss the details of our role with the director, most of the time we need to be prepared to bring what we did in the audition to the set. And that often means making our own choices about things like motivation and character arcs.

There's an old Hollywood joke that goes:
Actor (to the director): What's my motivation?
Director: Your paycheck. 



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