The Director and the Actor/Notes to the Cinematographer

While previously I’ve focused on technical aspects of pre- and production, this time I will examine the importance of actors during production. Also, I will engage with the creative and technical differences between focusing on sound and sight.

In my reading of Mackendrick’s ‘The Director and the Actor’ (2004), a few points stood out to me as interesting. The idea that actors should have a general technical idea of how production works, and the usage of props to enact a more natural performance from the actors.

The idea that an actor should be able to have “the unselfconscious and automatic ability to adjust to the position of the camera, a sense of its place…and an understanding of continuity” (180) is a concept which I have only read in print for the first time, but something I’d always thought should be the case. Similar to a stage performer’s need to understand voice projection or blocking, a screen actor’s repertoire of skills should include the aforementioned awareness of camera angles. While obviously there are dedicated roles for these factors in filming – the camera operator, the continuity person etc – it would make the process a lot easier if the actor acts like, as Mackendrick suggested, an athlete in their automatic physical response when acting. Similarly, because of the ability to cut closer or intercut between visual aids in screen, actors need to be aware of constant scrutiny across every facet of their visual presentation as possible; they have to not only be “imagining” their characters (179-180) but they also have to perform and act out every part of that character in relation to the camera, and more importantly, the possibilities that the editor may create from their acting. As Mackendrick noted, subtext and nuances created in post-production editing does rely on the actor understanding that a meaningful glance needs to be conveyed through a series of cuts, not necessarily a moment of silence as the action is performed (181), and so the actor would have to, in this example, understand not only camera angles, but also how their action could be utilized to the maximum when cut between different angles. In this sense, Mackendrick’s assertion that an actor cannot not be informed in facets of technical production is incredibly insightful.

However, if an actor is not skilled, or as Mackendrick puts it, too “self-conscious” (or, inversely, too over confident) (186), there are ways in which the director, in working with said actors, can create a natural frame in which the actor can be in relation to the camera. With props, the director can essentially direct the actor towards a certain mark, and have them stay there for the duration of that mark while using or interacting with the prop. This, Mackendrick describes, has no inherent significance to the narrative, yet can occupy the actor’s focus and/or overall body-language in a more natural way (186). For example, when fiddling with a bottle top, or doing something like dressing themselves, the actor can much better pace and organize the way in which they shift focus from and to their co-star, and the prop/action at hand. It can also negate any over-the-top or unnaturally dedicated focus the actors may have with each other while on screen, thereby avoiding a “pretentious” cinema moment (187). This I feel to be a point that I would take on when I watch TV or film from now on. Especially in important dramatic moments, or even in innane dialogue, I will be watching for the existence of props that have no narrative meaning – ie, drinking coffee in the morning may have some narrative meaning in the sense that the character is tired, but picking at their toast would probably have no narrative meaning – but instead help create a paced and natural way that the actors speak to each other. This is also something which I wish I had read sooner, because in my short film for another subject, which featured dialogue heavy chunks, I didn’t direct the actors to focus more on their prop (or, for that matter, provide much prop) which would, in the next few weeks, provide a challenge when editing.

In Bresson’s 1986 ‘Notes on the Cinematographer’, a clear distinction is drawn between the virtues of sound, and that of vision. “What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear” (50), especially, draws attention to the separate but equally important roles each plays in a screenplay. This was something which was mirrored in screenwriting lectures, where I was told to not say what can be acted. This in turn translates to sound and sight, respectively, where we do not hear what can be seen (dialogue vs action), yet we don’t have to see what can be conveyed much clearer with sound (a series of actions where we can just hear the sound for it). Having not had much experience when dealing with sound, thinking about both visual and sound as separate parts of a greater whole is something I missed out on doing productions this semester.

Bresson also makes a point that “the ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer” (51), which extends upon the idea that sight and sound speak to different parts of the mind. Using this logic, that means if the scene calls for a lot of emotion, whether to reflect the character on screen or to evoke one into the audience, the is more effective to focus on a richer sound track than to, for example, show a lot of emotion-evoking imagery. However, the two should be working in sync as well – to explain that a character is energetic and cheerful, it’s better to show both the character being upbeat, using dynamic shots and cuts, and also an upbeat soundtrack with a fast tempo or a series of sounds that are quick (ie not long, slow sounds).

These ideas, while new, are ones which in some ways I’ve already implemented in my work. However, in future works I plan to pay even closer attention to these factors.

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My baby don’t mess around

[Hey Ya! – Outkast]

Today we went to escape the heat by going to Chadstone for the whole day. Mela arrive late and sad because she accidentally slept in, and then had to leave her new puppy Meg (which I met yesterday, and whose love I will slowly but surely earn).

We had some coffee and then curry for lunch, then she felt sleepy so she lied on my lap to nap. I felt bored so I took out my phone, opened up the eReader, and popped my amazingly light phone on her amazingly flat forehead and read Sherlock Holmes.

When the people started to congregate around the foodcourt, and it became apparent that the seats needed to be vacated, I woke Mela up with my tactful and accidental voice-command program which, on loudspeaker, screamed right into her left eyeball: WHAT WOULD  YOU LIKE TO DO?

We walked around for ages shopping, as I always do when I’m with her. She ended up buying a very nice tank top and a dress which we both nicknames Woodland Creature because it looks like what they would wear. When she was trying on the tank top, she was a bit iffy because she was worried how her arms looked in them, so I said through the changing door “if you say that one more time I will come in there and punch you.” I didn’t know a store assistant was right behind me and she laughed.

We got tickets to see Tintin in 2D, and had to switch seats three times cos our original seats sucked. I also managed to whinge some popcorn out of Mela, but it was so salty that we ended up eating only half and then cuddling in the over-aircon’d theater. The movie, dare I say, is astounding, and somewhat pioneering in terms of animation. The sheer detail that they paid attention to, like the way the hair blows in the wind, the expressions in the character’s eyes, the physics, and yet the limits they managed to stretch the suspension of belief with the action and the drama…all at the same time staying as true as they could to a 1940s cartoon series as they could.

After Tintin we visited Cindy at work, and I laughed when I saw she kept the sticker on her cap. Then we had dinner at the sushi train near JB, then went to say bye to Cindy before going home. Now, she’s playing guitar and singing while on mute, refusing to let me hear, and I wonder how her dog is…

Alex.

Keep it in the family

Today Mela and I went to see Crazy, Stupid Love together. It was the first time we went to see a movie together in the cinemas.

The movie was fantastic – and what else would you expect from Steve Carell? In an interview, he said that Ryan Gosling stole the show, but I think Carell still kept it his own. His comedic timing and facial expressions were still as on point as always. Julianne Moore kept up her end of the deal, portraying the infidel but regretting wife opposite Carell, mirroring his amazing skills. I have to say, though, spouse-wise, the chemistry between Fey and Carell in Date Night was much better.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s storyline was brought in almost as an afterthought – or so it appears at the start. But a twist in the plot – nothing Sixth Sense, don’t worry – saw that it was still brought together in a neat little bundle. Still, I feel that the structure could have inserted Stone and Gosling’s storyline a lot sooner, but as it were, it wouldn’t have made sense to do so.

It was a sweet movie, with the obligatory heartstring tugging declaration of love. The difference to the usual rom-com is that the main declaration was done indirectly over the phone in a manner more fitting for a couple who’s been married for 25 years. Nonetheless, the second declaration was done in front of a huge crowd with the cheesy “I should have fought for you” idea – I suppose there has to be a cliche moment somewhere.

In all, it was a very enjoyable film where the subplots were all brought together in one big climax. I would highly recommend seeing it, although perhaps not on the Xtremescreen – it costs too much.

Alex.

L-O-V-E’s not what this was

[Starstrukk – 3OH!3 ft Katy Perry]

Should I go meta and explain why I haven’t been writing? Nah, the truth is I have just been plain lazy.

I finished my assessments for Semester 1…last week, and despite the fact that it became a last minute rush, I finished to some degree of satisfaction. And now I am living in that blissful constant, where whenever I feel like I should be doing something, I don’t really have to do it.

Except, of course, I really need to get my exchange process going. Yikes.

So yesterday I watched The King’s Speech finally (obviously not in the cinemas), and I know I probably missed all sorts of auteur references and all that stuff, but the one thing that really struck me about that movie was how Helena Bonham Carter played her character’s love and support of Bertie. Without overusing physical affection, she managed to convey how much pain she was in to watch her husband stutter through his first speech, and how his victory is as much hers as Lionel’s. I think it’s a very succinct way to depict how, when it comes to monarchy, the Queen is usually pushed to the sidelines, when most of the time it’s her love and support that makes the King who he is – Helena Bonham Carter played her Queen with a quiet and determined dignity, never questioning her husband’s decisions, but always supporting him when he starts to waver.

And that’s my rant on that movie.

In other news, my friend Clem helped me get the game Portal, and I’m learning how to play it properly – kind of stink at solving the puzzle, but I think it’s a good game to get me used to FPS games.

Got my midnight tickets to HP7.2 already, and very excited to be going! I should probably start deciding if I will dress up, and if I do, how.

Alex.

Sitting Here Lonely With No One To Hold Me

[Control Myself – Maroon 5]

I went to see RED today with Catherine.

The cinema wasn’t very full – I think it’s at the end of its run – but I think that it was actually better off that way.

The movie, in my opinion, was actually really enjoyable. It didn’t go over the top with amazing improbably action stunts, but it did have it’s amazingly cool moments – Bruce Willis stepping out of a spinning car, calm as a hardwood coffee table, John Malkovich exploding a bazooka missile by shooting it dead on its head – but I think the best part was that they made it funny without appearing to try.

A lot of the humor were more subtle than in-your-face comedy – there were some reactionary expressions, meaningful silences, and some plain hilarious situations. There were times when the pacing of the dialogue, in trying to show that these guys were relaxed seasoned spies, was a bit slow, but mostly they made up for it.

And I think that John Malkovich did a pretty damn good job of being a paranoid retired spy who was “given a dose of LSD daily for 11 years”. I liked him since Johnny English, and every time I see him on screen I think “oh this should be good”.

I wouldn’t say go out of your way to see it, especially since it’s ending, but if it comes up as a movie choice on DVD night, pick it!

Anyway, after the movie Catherine and I had our newly made yearly tradition of a Nandos lunch together, and we had a good talk about Uni and her future choices. She did not laugh like Ernie once. I was disappoint.

Alex.

I can see your heart…

Today I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1, obviously), so I will warn you, I WILL be talking about the movie in here, so don’t read on if you don’t want spoilers.

Seriously.

To start with, I was already aware of the scene where we see Hermione wipe her parents’ memories. The thing was, I felt that it was going to be really heart-wrenching when I first saw a few screen caps of the scene, but they placed the scene really early on the in the movie, and it wasn’t as filled out as I thought it would be. It was still pretty sad though, and for people who didn’t know about the scene, it would have been a pretty heart-string-tugging start to the movie.

The wedding scene was cut really short – Harry wasn’t in disguise, and Viktor Krum wasn’t there at all – but I supposed that had to be done for timing purposes. Also, because it was a movie, it wasn’t logically possible to show the entire piece that Doge wrote on Dumbledore, so if you hadn’t read the book, you’d have to assume half the things written about Dumbledore – and you didn’t know about the baby sister at all. Aberforth was mentioned once, very briefly.

Kreacher’s warming up towards Harry wasn’t really shown at all, which I found a bit of a pity because I rather liked the Kreacher arc. Grimmauld’s place was altogether a very short sequence, put in only to let Harry know that the real locket is somewhere else, and to be a segue to the Ministry story. I was really disappointed, because I sort of liked the homely belonging that Grimmauld’s place actually provided, however short.

The Ministry scenes were changed quite a lot, in the sense that little details were taken out. When I read the book, the Ministry scenes were REALLY tense and scary, but translated to film, the whole sequence was actually funny – minus the parts after they were discovered, of course. While it was nice to be able to laugh a little, seeing as the rest of the movie is pretty dark, I thought that it was a pity they had to give up such a tense situation for comic relief. I suppose really what I wanted was Grimmauld’s place to be put in more, and make that amusing and funny, and then have a really tense Ministry sequence.

Speaking of funny and amusing, every-time there was a Ron/Hermione moment – and there were quite a lot of them – there was a group of girls behind me that ‘aww’d. It was kind of annoying.

The Ron/Hermione scenes themselves were not annoying. The one thing great about film is that you can actually see all the cutesy little things they do. In the diner, Ron tenderly wiped away a bit of blood on Hermione’s face, and later on in the tent, Hermione was teaching Ron the piano, and the expression on Ron’s face when he watches Hermione play was adorable. While Rowling wrote these in very well, it was even better to see it enacted.

Translation of words to screen isn’t easy – I mean, we’ve seen the Harry Potter movies flounder a bit in the previous movies, by literally putting stuff in the books onto the screen. There are a lot of things that writing just couldn’t bring out, and Rowling stayed away from them. So the small dance-scene between Harry and Hermione, even though it was awkward dancing and kind of out of place, I think worked really well. It’s a really sad and depressing mood that Ron left when he first stormed out, and everyone was feeling a bit sad at the time because Ron and Harry had a fight – I know I was really uneasy when Ron was angry at Harry in GoF – so having a giggle at Daniel’s atrocious dancing skills actually put a smile on both Hermione and the audience’s face.

One other Harry/Hermione moment that made my jaw drop was the make-out that they had in the vision the locket showed Ron. Noticeably naked (or at least semi naked, smoke covered the rest), Harry and Hermione was shown in a tight embrace and…really going at it. In the story, we all know that Harry and Hermione didn’t kiss, because it was just a vision. But in order to film it, Daniel and Emma actually had to…go at it. And they were GOING AT IT. The cinema was in a bit of a stunned silence, privileged usually to a sudden sex scene.

The one problem I had with film representations of a book is that sudden visions and flashbacks or whatever, those get really hard to see. The first time round, you’d have to look really carefully for the clues and pictures, so if you miss stuff, you’ll have to wait til you can see it again. It makes sense for the flashes to be hard to be seen, obviously, because they’re flashes, but it’s hard on the audience to take in everything suddenly.

And, of course, the Dobby death scene. I was very aware that the scene was written and filmed with the audience knowing that Dobby will die in mind. The way that it is executed completely brings to attention the very moment when Dobby will be killed – from the comic relief he brings when he shows up at the Malfoy Mansion, all the way up to the slow motion blade flying towards the group and Dobby Apparating out.

I won’t lie, I still cried when Dobby died – and even a bit before that. But I didn’t cry as hard when Harry buried Dobby as I did in the book – I think the emotional hit was more in the moment up to Dobby’s death than the burial for the film, which is fine and all, but I would have liked the film burial to be as hard-hitting as the book’s.

In fact, I think I first teared up when George got his ear blown off, and Lupin pushed Harry to the wall to make sure he was the real deal. The panic and desperation in Lupin’s actions, and the anger and vast sadness in Harry’s face was enough to really nail home how dangerous their mission was.

It was disappointing when the credits started rolling – I sort of wanted just a bit more for Part 1. I’d always thought that Harry getting all the information out of Ollivander and the goblin would be the end – sort of like a cliffhanger for what Harry will do next – will be the end of Part 1. I wonder how they’ll tie up Harry getting information as the beginning of a film? There is no way they’d do something as cheesy as “Previously, on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows…”

And, of course, as always, there are people who don’t have a clue what is going on. When the lights came on, a girl sitting in front of me said out loud, “that was alright, except I didn’t like Dobby. I was rather glad he died.” The moment she said that, a dozen people around her gave her a look and Dani and I hissed, “SHUUUUUUUUN.”

So, my last word? Go see it.

Alex.

P.S. Can’t wait ’til July 2011! More Ginny/Neville/Luna scenes. And more tears, of course, because after that there really isn’t any more of the adventures.