The TV/Film industry is the evolution of the second oldest form of entertainment; THEATRE.
The elements of theatre are a setting (stage), an audience and an actor(s). In our medium the camera is the audience. Modern theatre is simply a feature film that never cuts out of the master. What has remained a constant through the hundreds of years of theatre is that the actors have the final say. The show is the thing and all the fine lighting, set design, photography and sound recording won’t mean anything without the performance of a human being transferring what’s on the page to the stage.
ACTION! (no pressure)
This simple phase initiates the “entertainment”. It say’s to the performer:
THIS is the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is the culmination of weeks or years of preparation. We’ve spent countess man hours and dollars to build and light a set, decorate it in a fashion to reflect the mood, tone and specifics of the scene. All that is left is for YOU to hit your mark, recite the dialogue without stammer, stutter or misguided inflection. If you have an accent from the region you were born in, divorce yourself from that dialect and adapt the generic pronunciation of each word (unless the character calls for a different accent, then do THAT). While you’re at it, your facial expressions and performance will also have to show the emotion of what the writer intended and the director wanted although neither have communicated specifics because they aren’t quite sure and want to “see what you do with it” then take credit for your creativity (but I digress). Your volume, tempo, inflections, hand and eye movements, looks, breathing and posture must be consistent with the character.
Ya gotta do it again.
Until you hear:
Then a frantic person with an open script marches purposely toward you and you realize that you may have leaned to the left when you took your off camera look toward the A list actor that won’t do the off camera lines and the stand in who was reading it has vastly different pacing, volume and diction than that of the principle or you said the wrong name of the antagonist that was changed two takes ago. Again you try to match everything and BINGO! Everything went perfectly.
NOW, it’s time to turn the entire thing the other way, put the cameras and lighting on the other side of the set and move the furniture, adjust the background actors and walls and do it again…
There is a disturbance in the force…
In February 2009 a video surfaced of the actor Christian Bales verbal pyrotechnics directed at the director of photography of “Terminator Salvation”. During an emotional and very important scene the DP was adjusting a light and distracted Mr. Bale and disturbed his performance. What followed was an F-bomb laden tirade. Perhaps my IATSE brothers and sisters will disagree but I stood firmly with Mr. Bale.
I asked myself if Carey Grant, Sidney Poitier, Barbara Stanwyck or David Niven would ever behave in such a manner. My response was NO; because our predecessors in our crafts had respect for the actors. The founders of the film and television crafts unions were about two generations from the time of exclusively live theatre as entertainment. They were well aware of the fragility of live performances. I can’t imagine a crew member on a set with Marlon Brando or Audrey Hepburn making a sound or movement while the cameras are rolling or the cast is rehearsing or defining the dialogue.
To the uninitiated acting looks easy. They show up, stand there, say some words and leave. How hard could it be?
The fragile world of make believe.
When Mr. Bale was performing an emotional scene he had entered a fragile world he alone was responsible for maintaining and as suddenly as the Big Bang the world vanished when an interloper from another dimension crossed through the forbidden zone.
Depending upon the depth of the material actors must enter a world that only exists as they build it. The challenges of defining and delineating a charter require them to crawl into the soul, flesh and being of an infinite number of entities with the only points of reference either research or history.
The world for whom only those who reside there truly understand. Personally I want nothing to do with living in a world that is as volatile, unstable and inconsistent as the make believe world that actors are required to inhabit.
Quiet on the set, please.
As a crew member I endeavor to support a safe, productive and creative environment for all of my coworkers. Experience has taught us how each department and craft functions individually and in cooperation. The actors are also my coworkers and hold the final piece of the puzzle that the carpenters, accountants, painters, producers, special effects, property, lighting, camera, production designers, art directors, graphic designers, wardrobe stylists, legal clearances, writers, directors, drivers, craft service, decorators, set dressers, laborers and all other departments have assembled to present a believable vision of cinema, television or live theatre.
Why do crew members talk on set during filming? I have no idea what is so important that must be discussed during the six minutes of a take that we as a production have spent months preparing for. It is not THIER work that is going on during a take, it’s OURS!
Actors rarely disturb the process of building, painting, decorating and lighting a set while we are in progress*. The least we can do is be as supportive of the end of the process as they are to the beginning.
*A certain well known actor I’ve worked with was a most chatty fellow. Between setups he’d start a conversation with any crew member and hold the persons elbow as to deny escape. I made a suggestion to the A.D. “assign” a background actor to him so he’d stop holding crew members hostage. It took the A.D.’s a day to understand but they eventually understood and gave him his own “detective” to talk to. I’ll tell you his name but only in person and I’ll deny it later.
Bruce Bellamy local 44 – 3rd, 4th or 5th best on-set dresser in the biz (depending upon how much coffee I’ve had and who else is available)
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