Monday, November 24, 2008

Acting Class by Milton Katselas

Milton Katselas. Acting Class: Take a Seat. Beverly Hills, Ca.: Phoenix Books, 2008.

This book presents the instructions that the author uses in his Acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

Acting brings out the genius from inside an actor. An actor frees a creative spirit when acting.

Stella Adler stated “I’m not teaching acting, darling, I’m teaching actors to be people.” This requires merging artistic skills with life knowledge to produce a performance.

Acting involves the actor as a person. Director Martin Ritt explained that “All you’ve got to be is mine the gold within yourself.
Creativity requires some to forget past life lessons that taught that one should have humility and modesty. Acting requires one to be a Mensch, or a full, caring human being.

Acting is the craft, technique, and process of acting work. Attitude is the artist’s feelings regarding the artist’s own life, feelings towards other actors, and feelings towards others in life. Administration is the chosen actions undertaken in the craft of acting.

An honest actor tries to feel the same feelings and live the same life as the character being portrayed.

Marlon Brando presented a height in personal acting with a wit that caught people off-guard.

Realism is acting as a foundation that includes intelligences, expressiveness, irony, humor, and unexpectedness.

An actor needs to understand the story and know what a real person would do during the story. Katselas explains this is the simplicity to acting, and warns that many try to make it more difficult.

An actor should be enthusiastic and have a good attitude towards acting. An actor should be pleasure to others in order to become successful.

Actors should maintain contacts with directors.

An actor needs commitment.

Technique is what helps an actor in creating the art of acting. An actor considers a Checklist for creating the art of acting, namely the Event, Evaluation, Behavior, Physical / Emotional State, what occurred prior the scene, Creative Hiding, Be a Person. Inner and Outer Life: The “Cover”, Who’s the Author?, Improvisation, Humor, Trust, Being Personal, Pathology, Objectives, Specifics, Use of Objects, Arbitrary Choices, Momemt to Moment (part 1): Belief, and Moment to Moment (part 2): Alternatives.

The Event is the scene’s location and what is occurring. The actor must relate to the scene.

The Evaluation is the appraisal of a scene.

Behavior is what a character does in a scene. There is the Apparent Event of what the actor physically does and the emotions shown in the Actual Event of the character’s motivation.

Stanislavski advised actors to follow “the line of action, the line of truthful actions, and of genuine confidence in them.” An actor uses the simplest of actions and words to present full emotions.

The actor must know the psychology of the scene. Director Elia Kazan stated “The job of the director is to turn psychology into behavior.”

The Physical/Emotional State concerns the actors condition, both physically and emotionally.

What Happened Before the Scene requires an actor to portray a role at a specific moment.

Creative Hiding is when a character hides emotions from other characters.

Be a Person requires portraying a real person. An actor should consider what real people do in situations. Stanislavski notes people often have a reflective delay.

Inner and Outer Life: “The Cover” is the subtext to a character.

Who’s the Author? Requires delivering the lines in an effective manner, often according to a voice an author intended.

Improvisation requires making dialogue appear real and spontaneous. Katselas recommends to “play the written scene, but use your own words to paraphrase the text”, “set up a situation analogous to the written scene”, “explore a part of the scene that is not included in the script but relates to your scene”, “explore another technique out of character”, and “realize what is expressed by action that is the opposite of expectations.”

Moment to Moment, Part 1: Belief requires a portrayal to be believable by an audience.

Moment to Moment, Part 2: Alternatives requires an actor to realize that real people don’t act in specific actions that they do so while weighing alternatives.

The author provides several acting exercises. One exercise is to sing while still and to relax and observe the small emotional impulses and note where tensions and emotions arise. Sing fully to loosen emotions.

Another exercise is to assume a pose from a picture and then speak as the person in the picture, being true to the character in the picture.

Another exercise involves the actor relating to and changing the environment of a scene by making it more personal. This may relax an actor and allow the actor to better absorb a scene.

Another exercise is to write and perform a monologue that tells something personal. This gives an actor practice in relating personal emotions.

Another exercise is to pretend to audition by acting without reading. Robert DeNiro advised for real auditions that “you go in, you read you do your best you can, you go home. You’re probably not going to get the job anyway”. When auditioning, Katselas states the actor should be enthusiastic and let the auditioners know the actor is interested in them. Also, don’t place much reliance on any feedback given, as an actor will never learn the truth as to what the auditioners discussed. Katselas advises actors to keep faith in themselves, to retain their dignities, and to be persistent.

Another exercise is to do improvisation with another actor. This helps actors to improve their impulses and learn how to stay mentally fresh.

Tense actors should try relaxation exercises. Tension usually is found around the mouth, back of the next, and around temples. Falling asleep can relax a person.

An exercise for actors doing a shoot is to run lines together without over-thinking the scene. Instead, the actors rely on their spontaneous impulses and reactions to each other.

Presentational acting involves showing emotions through visual presentations, such as gestures. Real or feeling acting also requires an actor to experience the role so the audiences see the emotions as real and not fake. The essence of an actor must go into each performance.

Stanislavski stated an actor should feel total relaxation when performing at the height of emotions. This requires a set attitude.

Humor can result from juxtaposing realities. An actor should plan the truth of a comedic situation and note that opposites can both attract and be humorous.

A director only provides clues to an actor on how to play a part. An actor needs to act with self-reliance and conviction.

An actor needs the proper positive attitude. A successful actor is 80% positive attitude, 10% talent, and 10% technique.

Stanislavski wrote that “The actor is still bound in his everyday life to be the standard bearer of what is fine. Otherwise he will only destroy what he is trying to build…Develop in yourself the necessary self-control, the ethics, and discipline of a public servant to carry out into this world a message that is fine, elevating, and noble.”

A positive attitude is important. Self-invalidation can destroy an actor’s performance.

An actor should learn how to discover casting calls, work well with an agent, contract people who can be of assistance, make friends with casting people, write good thank you letters after auditions and work, wear proper fashionable clothes, have good hair styling, have a website and other promotional aides, meet industry people, and lean about the craft. Persistent enthusiasm is a key. An actor should feel dignified about being an actor.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Soul of Screenwriting by Keith Cunningham

Keith Cunningham. The Soul of Screenwriting: On Writing, Dramatic Truth, and Knowing Yourself. New York: Continuum, 2008.

The author sees stories, movies, and psychology as parts of connected patterns. Screenwriters who write with strong convictions are often the most productive writers. A writer needs to tap into an internal creativity. Keith Cunningham states there are sixteen story steps to screenwriting.

The first influential book of screenwriting was ‘Screenplay” by Syd Field, published in 1979. The author believes these books like that teach writing techniques when it is really the process of writing that needs to be learned. This process includes finding storylines that work and knowing when to remove subplots that are distract from the story.

Cunningham warns against placing too much emphasis on analyzing existing good screenplays. Some good characteristics may be unique to the particular movie. A different story achieves greatness on its own composition.

A good screenplay will reach an audience and make them want to follow the characters and their story. Such a screenplay is considered as having “a path with heart.”
The author declares that screenplays tell stories. They must touch the emotions of the audiences. Audiences seek to learn about themselves and most appreciate stories that provide such insights.

Cunningham presents some important fundamental principles of screenwriting, A screenplay must have a natural energy that forms a good story that touches the human spirit. A writer needs both willpower and an intuitive sense for creating a story with good relationships amongst characters. A writer taps into a universal energy to create authentic characters. The screenwriter needs to internally feel and analyze the same emotions as exist in the story. Screenwriters allow the energies from their stories to emerge and use willpower to guide their characters to their goals. The audience through identifying with the story’s hero taps into the hero’s story and shares the hero’s emotions. The screenwriter experiences a psychological “flow experience” while providing each characters their voices. The process begins from an uncertain beginning. A writer’s inner life should be connected to the story.

Experiences in life provide insights that writers should notice. Writers should shape those experiences into adventuresome stories.

A screenwriter requires creativity. Bright ideas emerge from fertile darkness. The beginning of the story has much uncertainty. Writers face risk and overcome challenges while achieving creativity. Writers use observations to overcome resistance to finding new ideas. A writer’s internal energy can be focused on creating an energetic story.

A wrier subconsciously and unconsciously, instinctively projects when writing. Empathetic insight is at the core of writing. Empathy includes emotional connectedness to characters, a capacity to create appropriate analogies to situations since a writer likely will not have experience the exact same situations as the characters, and an understanding as to the appropriate degree of separation to avoid becoming lost within a character.

A positive process emerges from a screenwriter to creating a Hero’s Journey. A Call to Adventure moves a story forward. The hero needs to Cross the Threshold into a dramatic crisis situation. This is a crisis from which the hero can’t avoid. The hero then has a Descent into points of despair. The hero faces numerous trials. The hero then has an Initiation and Meets the Secret Master. A spirit guides the hero to act through the trials or initiations. This process transforms the hero. The Secret Master is the hero’s realization of a dramatic truth that allows the hero to overcome the obstacles being faced. The hero has a Return to the Day World where the hero realizes important insights. There is then a symbolic Sacred Marriage or Ritual Kingship where the realization is celebrated.

A screenwriter must know the true nature of the characters and how their natures relate to the story. The characters’ modes or motivations as guide by their self-images must be shown. The conflicts of the story will change these modes. The writer also needs to know aspects about each character which the character isn’t yet aware. The character should face a core of psychological conflict and values conflicts. The hero will be the Carrier of Values and face opposing vales that cause the hero to reach a new self-image. The need for self-actualization is a universal need with which audiences can identify. The hero’s needs propel the story. Mode tensions create conflicts, driving the hero’s mode toward achieving subtext to the story. There should be a resulting character arc that improves the character’s development. These universal needs project the character. An Antagonist appears as a Dark Mirror impeding the hero’s needs. The hero Reconciles Mode and Need with a Dramatic Synthesis.

The author desires for writer to think by using both sides of the brain, thinking visually and psychologically. This is different from most other academic approaches to screenwriting that approach screenwriting linearly and focusing on left brain analysis.

John Sayles, a screenwriter and director, connects all characters to each other. A Character Web is created. From this, a Story Molecule is created. Visual thinking develops roles between the characters. The Story Molecule explores Need competing with Mode. The Dramatic Trajectory escalates the Plot’s drama. Each character has a Point of View from one character’s view. A screenplay could show a Second Person Point of View which can permit parallel storytelling from several characters’ points of view. A screenplay could show a Third Person Point of View from the observations of a distant character. The Point of View provides a guide to the character transformation.

Some movies don’t resolve their stories. Some end with a dramatic resolution. The characters require Character Orchestrations within the Emotional Networks.

Character relationships can conflict and increase the Dramatic Stakes. The psychological Oedipal triangle of mother, child, and father is oft repeating in varying degrees that explore ego, anima, and shadow. Each character’s emotions conflict with each other. The story presents the Barometric of Change along with Orchestrating Subplots within the Emotional Network.

Ensemble Movies often present vast emotional networks amongst characters.

There are different levels of dramatic interest in constant motion. The dramatic conflicts can be shown through characters’ emotional networks. The Story Molecule presents hidden meanings driving plots. The external story is what is seen. The body copy of settings moves the plot and touches the viewers’ subconscious. The Story Steps create drama and alters the characters in the Story Molecule. The story goes through a catalyst event followed by a Threshold Crisis, a Core Crisis, a catastrophe, and climax. Dramatic momentum changes the man relationships. Foreshadowing can be used to peak an audience’s interest and move a story away from a linear progression. The hero goes through a journey that changes the hero, except in some genre and action films that instead rely on a peaking dramatic intensity raised by building outer actions. The Story Molecule becomes balanced, either on emotional or plot levels.

Story ideas are guided by idiom and genre. Idioms are film style constructions that present perceptions.

Realism is an impression of what is real.

Expressionistic films present stories in dream or nightmare terms.

Robert McKee observes there is no agreement on how to designate genres of films. Many films blend genres.

Thrillers and melodramas rely on emotions driven by audiences.

A main character does not always have to be active and facing conflict. A main character can be introspective. A main character can develop a presence, perhaps iconic or perhaps comedic.

A story is a series of events. A plot is a structure of growth in a main character through the story’s crises.

Howard Suber notes Act II has two different movements with their own separate feel and areas of action.

A hero’s journey consists of separation (desire), then descent (deception), then intuition (discovery), and then return (destiny). This is the three act operative convention.

A catharsis at the screenplay’s climax should create a resolution of the plot.

People have subliminal sexual cues where the nervous system responds in similar fashions to sexual responses as to dramatic responses.

A resolution doesn’t require a happy conclusion. A resolution requires achieving a better understanding of an issue.

A writer’s own energy creates energy for the characters they writer creates. This creative energy is where a writer’s dark anxieties and own needs filter into the story. Act I sets the conflict and brings it to a threshold crisis. Act II develops the crisis and drives it to catastrophe. Act III climatically resolves the conflict. All three acts consist of continuous dramatic action. Story Steps are major plot point sequences, which are Threshold Crisis, Core Crisis, and catastrophe, and climax.

A beat is a distant action created by a certain motivation, combining desire and dramatic action. Action is doing something in order to achieve a desire. Dramatic moments during a scene involve increasing conflict.

The 16 story steps are Establishing Function, the Catalyst that sends the hero towards a goal, Forward Movement of the actions the hero takes in responding to a call to adventure and the resulting consequences, a Threshold Crisis that conflicts with the hero’s forward movement, the Woundedness, the Shift to the Emotional Network (the Primary Relationship), the Reminder that Outer Plot Stakes are Rising, the Forward Movement in the Relationship, the Core Crisis, the Deepening of the Consequences, the Breaking Point, the Catastrophe, the Calm Before the Storm, the Climax, and the Resolution.

Screenwriting relies on a writer’s insights and abilities to create and distill a story.