This was my last email to the Spring Directing II class of 2008 at the Art Center.

Ok guys,
You may be spread across the country at this point, but I wanted to sum up some thoughts for you (because you’re going to miss these emails....well, maybe not, but you may find them helpful at a future time.)

There are still some points of confusion (especially about working with ‘feelings’ with actors) that I want to address – and then I will be sending each of you an email about my thoughts on your individual growth – in this term and as a director in general. These will just be my personal take from having watched you and supported you for 14 weeks.  Nothing to live or die by, but I mean it to be helpful feedback.  I truly love getting feedback and am always adjusting as I go, and that’s how I offer my comments - as  a perspective you may or may not  have, hoping that it’s constructive & helpful.

But first, I’ll repeat that I enjoyed watching ALL of you grow – individually and as a group – this term.  It’s what the class is about and I strongly encourage the ‘family’ vibe – because, let’s face it, you all are going to be who helps you get your vision done – for the next few years at least, so it’s been a treat to see how you worked it all out and support each other and do it naturally and easily and without the thought of complaint.  That alone is gold.

Ok, now some last stuff......(Abazar (& Griff?) don’t have to read past this point, but you might want to save it for future reference.)  Everyone who has said they’re making a book out of it can begin to plan the back cover as this be the final chapter.  (Insert sigh or celebratory sound here.)    

This is the place to SPEAK THE SUBTEXT – not to rephrase the dialogue.  (That’s ok, too, but) the point is that this is where they say (in their head) what they CAN’T say out loud.   We ALL have that.  (You are having that right now as you read another long friggin email!)  This will give INSIGHTS into HOW THE CHARACTER REALLY FUNCTIONS.    Most of you got this and had fun with it and I think it helped you, but a few of you seemed to miss this point and I’d like you to benefit from it.

FEELINGS?.......when to talk about them, when not

Ok, now I know this can be confusing – i.e. When do you or can you tell an actor what you want them to feel????
Again, you’re out of my class now, so you can do whatever you want, but some of you REALLY need to learn this to take your directing to another level.

STORY ARC — just write the main points of WHAT HAPPENS.  And your story will be a connecting of those dots.  This is what happens (on the outside.)  Remember our one-liners?  Well this is telling the story of the scene in 3-5 sections – each one being a major point or shift in the scene.  Ex:  Boy meets girl, girl rebuffs boy, boy keeps trying, earthquake happens, boy gets girl   No need here to go into what the characters are thinking, feeling, realizing – that’s the character arc.  This is just the story – what happens.

CHARACTER ARC – will be the INSIGHTS & FEELINGS of the character – as they CHANGE & PROGRESS through the scene.
The Story Arc is what’s going on on the OUTSIDE, the Character Arc  is what’s going on on the INSIDE.

This is for the DIRECTOR (– i.e. You can share this with the actor, but the ‘danger’ part comes in when you describe a specific feeling to an actor because they will be tempted to play ONLY that feeling – and THERE IS NO SUCH THING.  There is ALWAYS an EMOTIONAL CHORD (stef term).  We always have many feelings happening at the same time, maybe with one or two dominant ‘notes’ but it’s always a chord.  Life just isn’t that simple.  )  

Thus I think each director should have the Character Arc clearly in your mind and that’s a main way that  you know you’re getting your story – especially when you have to shoot out of sequence.  That’s DOESN”T mean you tell the actors the feelings you want them to play (see #6 below about Given Circumstance & Interior Monologue.)  Telling an actor to play an emotion – in their character arc – encourages the actor to think of their IDEA of that emotion – and try to LOOK LIKE they have it –i.e. Indicate.  Spare them this.   Spare us all this.  It’s not pretty.

OBJECTIVES – This is what they want from the other character and NOT A FEELING.  
It’s something you want them to
SAY OR DO.  To want someone to feel something permanently is like wanting a rainbow in your kitchen.  Nature doesn’t work that way.  Feelings come and go.  We try to make people feel thinks to get something, but not as an ultimate goal.  The objective has to be tangible and something that can be accomplished IN THIS SCENE.  (So if you find yourself saying “I want him to respect me” or “love me” - how do you know he does?????  He will SAY or DO something.  Go for that!  That makes the acting very real and exciting and motivated.  Helps pull the action forward in a dynamic way.  The actor is more immediately involved and not off thinking out the ‘idea’ of love or respect.)

‘ACTIONS’/’INTENTIONS’/HOW TO GET OBJECTIVE -  HERE is where you can talk FEELING, but NOT what the actor should be feeling – instead HOW THEY ARE TRYING TO MAKE THE OTHER FEEL.  Please note the word “trying” - it’s an attempt, not a fait accompli.  WE can never know exactly what someone else is feeling.  (Ask any man who's been in a relationship with a woman.)  We can only guess & try & prod/poke/comfort, etc. and then PAY ATTENTION to the OTHER PERSON to watch, to receive, to take in what they are doing.  This is what creates connection and spontaneous, unselfconscious acting.

How do you get an actor to have more of a feeling?  GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES!  Paint the situation!  Leslie pointed out to me and the class, how I get the ‘tone’ of the situation as I describe it – for ex:  “everyone has always treated you like shit and today this happened to you and this and this, I mean give me a fucking break!”  - in that example, I combined “Given Circumstance” with “INTERIOR ONOLOUGE”   - the actor hears that, feels that, and gets it – and then doesn’t ‘play frustrated’ (which is the death of a scene.)  

If the actor is playing a feeling you don't want – feel free to REFLECT back to them the story you are seeing, and then proceed with above (for example, “As I watch you, I feel like I'm watching a man who is afraid of the other man, and is trying to please him.   I’d rather have you get him to tell you what the fuck he plans to do.”  or something like that.  (Ah, I see I’m going for the ‘f’ word to make points.  Or keep you awake, who knows.)

How to use the FEELINGS that are ACTUALLY happening -  IN THE SCENE.  Here, I’ll remind you of the young blonde girl that Jon first cast in his second scene who started crying as I was painting the given circumstances for her.  She related to it.  I had her TUNE INTO what she was FEELING – WITHOUT LABELING IT (which REDUCES it to an IDEA).    How did I get her to tune into it?  I had her notice how she felt in her body.  I had her notice the flashes of images that were coming to her – maybe some internal talk.  That helped guide her onto the/an emotional path that worked for her in the scene – to make her acting more real and closer to the story we wanted to tell.

This is
ALSO the way to get an actor to RECREATE something that you REALLY LIKED. If they did what you wanted perfectly – ask them what their thoughts were?  Were there IMAGES?  Was there a WORD or PHRASE that came to mind?  If so, write it down and repeat it back to them when you want them to re-create it.  

Something else you can do – but can get a bit tricky (and this is on the advanced side – but if you’ve acted, you’re probably sensitized to it – maybe not) – and that’s to tune into the BODY SENSATIONS associated with Feelings.  In other words, if you were watching and the actor had this complex moment – you could ask them what they felt in their body – in terms of, for example, a clenching in the jaw, a tightening in the chest, a flush in the face, a heaviness in the stomach.  The ‘tricky’ part is when the body sensation gets labeled as a FEELING/EMOTION – i.e. Anger, fear, sadness, and then you can trip back to the

So my suggestion is to stick with
what they were thinking – when you see what you like  - to help them recreate it.  And also when you see them actually having feelings that they are not using.  

The THOUGHT PROCESS is a powerful vehicle for helping guide an actor
to having FREE, NATURAL and SPONTANEOUS FEELINGS that are appropriate to your story.

And lastly, and most importantly, you have to

PAY ATTENTION to see if what the actor is doing is TRUTHFUL and TELLING YOUR STORY.  (!)

If they are not – look at the list of 7 above.

A big part of this class was about learning these things (in addition to other things in your schematics, but there seems to have been – for a few of you -  a bit of confusion about communicating feelings to actors as some of you were still telling people to play them on your 3rd scenes.)

Now put this in your Directing II scrapbook and go to town.

Hope you all have a GREAT BREAK.  (I’m heading out for 8 days in solitude on a mountain over the ocean – can’t wait!  Talk about no emails!)  See you around the Art Center, but more importantly – please keep in touch – I’d like to know about your projects, etc.
I look forward to seeing what you put out there in the world.


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