ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
A FEW TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME DIRECTORS
A long-time friend called me from California the other day to tell me he had just completed his first directing gig, and it was for a game mocap session. After a few telephonic high-fives, we started talking about how the session really went for him. He did a great job, which is what I would have expected from him, but I could tell that he had a bad case of "first time" nerves. The first time is a big learning experience, and he'll do better next time, I'm sure.
It is likely that some of the subscribers to this newsletter will get a shot at directing one day, so I figure this is as good a time as any to toss out a few pointers.
Regardless of what you are directing -- mocap session, a stage play, live action movie -- you will be guiding actual live human beings into a performance in the present moment. That is quite a different experience from directing animators. So, let's start with this: If you are a first-time director, pretend that you have done it before. If your performers sense that you are uncertain about what to do, they will get tense, or they will begin second-guessing you. Directing is not a group activity. As the director, you call the shots and establish the dynamic on the set. As the old deodorant commercial advised, “Never let them see you sweat!”
It is important that your performers receive direction from only you. If half a dozen observers on the set start whispering into talent's ear during coffee break, it will make them nervous.
It pays to know the background and experience of your performers. My California friend was doing a mocap session and did not personally cast the performers. He learned the hard way that they did not have much acting background. Mainly, they were athletes, which is a very common casting choice for mocap sessions, and he didn't know that a director must talk to athletes in a different way than he would talk to trained actors. You can tell an athlete how to move, but you tell an actor to focus on objectives and actions. You never should tell a trained actor how to move, especially if you want a good performance. Trained actors do not think about their bodies when they are acting and, in fact, it is considered an acting error if they do. So you, as the director, need to know the result you hope to achieve, and then you direct the actors so that they will naturally deliver the result you want, but without trying to play the result.
And there is this: No matter how much a performance sucks, always tell talent that things are going great. Never ever say things such as, “Hmmm….no, that wasn’t what I want. Try again.” You are guaranteed to get a worse performance the next time if you go down that path. Regardless of what the performer is doing, let him or her know that you approve and that everybody is having a good time. If you aren’t getting what you want, then try, “Great! We’ve got that in the can. Let’s try a couple of takes just letting all the stops out, and see what happens.” Every take is a new and exciting and fresh event, even if you have been working on the same shot for five hours.
Non-actors, athletes, gymnasts and such, tend to over-act because they think that is what you want. Keep your direction positive. If you want to calm a performer down, try simply wasting a take or two in which he is invited to just do whatever pops into his head. Let him pretend to be acting on ice skates if he wants. I’m not kidding! The idea is to divert the performers attention away from his performance. A trained actor understands that already, but the kind of people you may put in a mocap suit do not.
Never tell a performer to “relax!”. That is like telling a nervous lover to hurry up and get an erection. And it is likely to have the same kind of result. The trick to relaxation is to not think about being nervous and tense. The way you do that is come up with something new to focus on mentally.
The director, in addition to calling all the shots, is also sort of like the hostess at a debutante party. You want all the guests to have a good time, including producers, company outsiders, lovers, technicians, riggers and your coffee runner. The dynamic on the set is a trickle-down kind of thing, starting with you, the director. If you are a demanding, humorless and inflexible jerk, your set is going to be a miserable place, and people will say bad things about you behind your back.
Success and failure are self-fulfilling prophesies, and your first time as a director will be the proof. You’ll be brilliant, I know you will.
Now go out there and direct one for the Gipper.
Until next month...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks