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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Conflict 101

After a couple of blogs about social media, I though maybe (just maybe) it was time for some... I dunno... acting content or something. I know, I know. I'm crazy like that.

Here are some of my thoughts on the craft. I'm going to run down a list of some of the basics for you, in a way that makes sense to me. Some of this may be super basic for you experienced actors out there, but it's always great to get another perspective on things.

First, good acting has all of what I call the three C's of acting: connection, communication and commitment. Today I'm going to talk about communication. Specifically about one aspect of communication: finding and clarifying conflict.

What is our job as an actor? Well, the way I see it, one of our jobs is to identify the central point of conflict in a scene, crystalize it and intensify it. I can't overemphasize this point: conflict is what makes an audience watch something. Why is football more interesting than golf? The conflict is clearer. Which would you rather watch, a sprint or a marathon? The sprint has more immediate conflict.

Why do men and women typically like different kinds of films? Because we see conflict in different ways. A guy says he just got into a fight and there's generally blood on the floor. Ask a woman about the fight she just had, and she'll describe a verbal barrage that left her opponent emotionally shattered. Different kinds of conflict, different films.

How do we know what the central conflict is? Well, that can be a tough one, and is open to a fair amount of interpretation. When in doubt, ask the director. But as we're practicing our craft, we need to learn how to read scripts to find the conflict.

Most trained actors know to use objectives.  We figure out what our character wants and then we pursue it. Generally, it's phrased like this: "I want...." That's a great start. But what happens when one character wants five dollars and the other wants help with homework?  There's no clear conflict, so essentially, they end up acting in scenes that are almost separate from one another.

A tool that I've found immensely helpful is to simply add two words to the phrase. "To convince." Every time we open our mouths we are trying to convince someone of something. Every single time. And in order to find the central conflict, we need to find the two opposing objectives. As an example: Romeo wants to convince Juliet that they need to act on their love right now. Juliet wants to convince Romeo that they don't need to act on their love immediately. Now we can play out the balcony scene with conviction and... CONFLICT!

Intensifying the conflict sparks our creativity. We come up with tactics (ways to accomplish our objective) naturally, organically. In other words, our bodies tell us without us having to think about it during performance.

There's so much more that I could say on this topic, but this is turning into a novel. So, for now, do pretty much the opposite of what we do in real life. Seek out the conflict and put it out there front and center! Your audience will thank you for it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Getting More Involved

A lot of you are joining me via Twitter or Facebook, some of you due to #MentionMonday on Twitter. So, here's the uncomfortable question that I need to ask you. What are you doing here?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing. I know there are many who say that if you're spending time on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace, etc., you're wasting time... taking time away from developing your career as an actor, writer, filmmaker, etc. They may be right.

They don't have to be.

Here's the truth: social media can change the way you network. There are a lot of people using social media. With Twitter particularly, you can drive traffic to your blog or website, that has content that YOU control (headshot, resume, reel, bio, etc.). You can develop a presence that goes beyond what you can achieve by doing drop offs all day in LA.

There are a lot of different ways for you to develop a following here, but the main idea is this: your tweets are a little bit like a television station. You want good content, not just commercials. If every other tweet is plug for your website, that's just rude. Give your thoughts, your ideas, you. Let everybody know what you're thinking. Some will respond.

Numbers mean something in the industry. Lots of followers=attention. You can also target who you go after and WHEN you go after them (after you have numbers, for example).

Also, just as a side note, follow back the people who follow you. It's just polite. If they end up spamming you, unfollow them or even block them if you want. But if they're liking what you're putting out there, be kind and let them know you're a part of the action. I know that it seems like having lots of followers without following makes you look important. Really what it tells anyone that knows Twitter is that you're kind of a jerk. #justsayin :)

So, be here, but if you're gonna be here, really BE HERE! And welcome! It's a fun ride. :)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Putting Our Stuff Out There

Most actors laugh inwardly whenever someone says, "But you're an actor.  You don't know what it means to be shy!"  We may handle it in different ways than others, but there are a lot of shy performers out there.  I'm one of them.

So when it comes to self-promotion, we clam up.  We're fine when we have our lines given to us, but this is real life, gosh-darn-it.  "No one can expect me to know what to say or do.  I'm an actor, not a talker!"

This is a problem, seeing as how the business of acting really is a business.  We need to be our own marketing team, at least until we can afford to hire one.  And even then, they won't care about our careers nearly as much as we do.

What to do, what to do????

Well, I've come up with one idea to get us in the practice of putting our best foot (foots, feet... you get the idea) forward.  It's a brilliant, brilliant idea if-I-do-say-so-myself.  It is called (drum roll please) #HeadshotTuesday.  It's a wonderful way for us to help one another and to walk the walk, instead of just talking the talk.  You're probably on Twitter.  If not, get on.  No, seriously.  Right now.

I know, I know, I said it too.  140 characters?  That's just dumb.

Turns out, it's not.  It's one of the best marketing tools since they started hawking wares on the boob tube.  So get with it!  If you're already on, great.  All's you gotta do is upload your digital headshot to Twitpic.  Then post a tweet with the link and #HeadshotTuesday or #HSTues.  Every time you see #HeadshotTuesday, retweet it to your followers, then follow the link, look at the headshot(s), and leave your comments. 

You can tell them what "type" it seems like they are (in your opinion).  You can share with them what's working about their picture, or even what's not.  However, please remember to be kind.  We're seeking to help one another, not brutalize those that need that help the most.  Also, please don't leave lewd or offensive comments.  Yes, guys, I'm mostly talking to you!  Let's be honest, the women just don't do that very often.

Oh, I guess that brings up another point.  Please don't post inappropriate pictures, either.  There's some latitude here.  For some, having a sexy headshot is exactly what they want to use to promote themselves.  Use your best judgment.  Your best judgment. :)

Most of all, enjoy it!  Have fun!  We're putting our headshots out for the world to see, but in a relatively safe environment of mostly actors.  I've got lots of ideas about how to expand this if it goes well, but it's all about helping out our community of fellow artists.  We're a tribe.  Time we started acting that way, right?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Laban's Eight Efforts

All right, actors!  Here's the deal.  Our movement through space is a little bit like a fingerprint.  You know how you can many times identify a loved one just by the way they move?

This is a great thing.  It's also something that limits our ability to transform ourselves as we embody a character.

So, how do we change our "movement fingerprint" while still being present in our bodies and allowing ourselves to be a part of the performance?

Tricky, eh?

That's where Laban's efforts come into play.  Laban breaks down the way we move using three different areas of analysis: space, weight and time.  Space can be either direct or indirect.  Weight can be strong or light.  Time can be sudden or sustained.  When you put these all together, you end up with eight efforts that classify styles of movement, as well as something of the personality of the person making that movement.

Direct, strong, sudden--------punch (thrust)
Indirect, strong, sudden------slash
Direct, strong, sustained-----push
Indirect, strong, sustained---wring
Direct, light, sudden----------dab
Indirect, light, sudden--------flick
Direct, light, sustained-------glide
Indirect, light, sustained-----float

Most of us generally inhabit one or two of these efforts (one when we're happy, another when we're angry :)) at the most.  The others are usually not as comfortable for us.  But as we start experimenting with these different efforts, we can learn to use all of them.  Using the efforts makes it possible for us to create wildly different physical performances, while still remaining true to our own unique and special quality that only we can bring to the table.

There's a lot more to be said about this one, so I think I may do a podcast on it in the future.  Keep an eye out for it, and please leave your comments, questions and requests here for me.  I want to know what's of the most interest to you.  I look forward to it! :)