Friday, February 29, 2008

ON ACTING: Understanding Little; Understanding Much

The following is a duplcate posting from my personal blog, Cliff Osmond Unedited:

In my acting class I often ask a student: "How much do you understand yourself? Give me a percentage." The eighteen year old invariably replies: "80%". The thirty year old says "50%". The forty year old says "35". I pause and add; "I'm down to about

There are as many cells in the human body as there are stars in the universe. We are as knowledgeable inward as we are outward.

"The mark of wisdom is knowing how little you know." The mark of happiness is accepting--and cherishing--that reality.

Creativity springs from uncharted space.

ON ACTING: The Dam and the Flood

In our everyday lives we are all dams. Our deepest rivers of emotion are blocked behind concrete walls of carefulness, caution and reason, creating vast and blocked reservoirs of feeling.

So actors, when enacting human characters in a play or film, must remember to have emotional reservoirs AND dammed up walls: while activating great amounts of emotional water prior to performance, they must enter the scene properly dammed up as well; and then very importantly only as the scene progresses--as the conflict chips away at their dammed-up human nature, have created in them cracks in their cemented resolve--and finally, and always unwillingly, be unable to prevent a flood of feeling to overflow them at the climax of the scene.

Only bad actors enter a scene without a dam; and only bad actors seek a willing flood during it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

ON ACTING: When to Use Emotional Exercises


From: PatL
Sent: Sunday, January 20, 2008 11:22 PM
Subject: [Cliff Osmond on Acting] New comment on ON ACTING: Developing an Emotional Toolbox.

"RE your post 'ON ACTING: Developing an Emotional Toolbox':

Can you say more about WHEN you think of these things [emotional techniques or 'tools]? Are you thinking of them prior to the scene, or during the scene? How do you use these memories in the process of acting?"

PatL: I was going through some old email and realized I never answered you or thanked you for reading my blogs. To specifically answer your question: You think of these 'things'--emotional tools or exercises--before the scene. They should not be used during the scene; they are emotional PRE-paration; activity BEFORE the scene. Once the tools open you up emotionally preparatory to the scene--in effect, they help you become emotionally sensitive--the events of the scene itself, the words and actions bombarding you from the milieu and other characters DURING THE SCENE make you specifically emotional. Tools put money in your pocket; you only spend it when the scene requires it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ON ACTING: Looking for a Cheap Victory; and Avoiding the Price of Truth

An honest (good) actor enters a scene wanting to win easily and cheaply; to 'steal' a victory, as it were, incurring as little emotional cost as possible. Following that line of logic, an honest scene (that is, a scene performed by good actors) is like an auction: the bidding starts by both chcaracters at a low price, both characters hoping and striving to drive the other bidder out of the game without incurring too great an emotional exposure, risking too much by making too high an unnecessary bid themselves. BUT: because the scene is constructed by the writer to entail a bidding war (a dramatic conflict in acting terms), where both sides are desparate to win and capable of paying a high price (but only when necessary), the bidding grows step by inexorable step, incremental increase by incremental increase, until one wins and one loses...and...

Why do characters want cheap victories? Because all too often the inevitable price of victory (in life and acting) is often the highest price of all: self-revelation, discovering the truth about ourselves. Does anyone really want to know the truth about themselves? "Ignornce is bliss," Alexander Pope counseled us. Little wonder honest actors enter a scene carefully, hopeful of an easy, cheap and quick victory, while maintaining their most precious of valuables, their life-sustaining and necessary self-deceptions.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

ON ACTING: Rehearsal

In television acting and most low-budget (so-called 'independent-film') film acting, rehearsal time is relatively non-existent. Directors, writers and producers assume the actor has no problems. Why? Because time is urgent (the director wants all that is available for her/his technical needs) and time is money...and, moreover, most directors, writers and producers don't really understand and appreciate--and therefore don't respect--the effort and difficulty involved in the acting process!!

So actors, be prepared: Before an actor does a 'take'--performs while the cameras roll--the actor often only gets (1) one rehearsal before the director/cinematographer lights the set, and then (2) perhaps two rehearsals after lighting...the first one really being a technical rehearsal and not just for the actors per se. (And if you think you will have time to rehearse 'on film' during a plethora of 'takes', forget about it: most directors want--and expect--to 'print' the first 'take' and move on. And if the actor requires three or more 'takes' to get it right, that actor is judged severely.)

What should the actor do?

Rehearse a lot with the other actors on your own? Forget about that, too; most actors don't want to rehearse off-set. Why? Several reasons: (1) some actors feel they will get stale with too much rehearsal; (2) some are lazy; (3) some are too busy in the dressing room calling their agent and/or girl/boy friend; and (4) (and this is true more than actors are willing to admit): working actors are competitive rather than cooperative...and therefore don't want to risk exposing their good stuff in rehearsal and have the other actors co-opt it or find a way to sabotage it during filming.

Cynical? Perhaps. Maybe I just worked in my career with an unrepresentative and skewed set of actors who all failed 'sharing' in kindergarten...but...

I offer a corrective to all of the above: be a consummately trained, prepared and superbly talented and confident actor before you walk on the you can handle--survive the filming jungle--without minimal damage to your career and art from too little time and too much competition.

By the way, these harsh truths are not only exclusive to the acting profession; lawyers, doctors, executives and many, many other occupations inhabit and experience the same dog-eat-dog preparing and working conditions in their professional lives. People get paid 20% for the work they do, and 80% for with too-little-time-to-prepare and the misery of dealing with other people.

FINAL NOTE: The Screen Actors Guild doesn't give a separate award for "Ensemble Cast" because that condition is so prevalent on the set of a show!

Friday, February 15, 2008

ON ACTING: Testimonial

From K. in Dallas:

"Hi Cliff,

"I want to thank you for coming to Texas. The moment you started your talk on Friday evening I knew I was in for a new level of growth in my acting. Your words are so respectful to actors and you really 'get it'.

"I was already excited about the fun scene you gave me. What a great format: Get the scene early and come prepared. That is such a luxury for a workshop. Plus your generosity in letting me film FOUR TIMES!!!! Thank you, thank you!

"You also helped me clear up some things I wasn't sure about. Like using emotional memory for preparation and then leave it at the door. I'm also working on relaxing my facial muscles and the voice exercise.

"Now when I go to your website and read your Philosophy I can hear your voice (which is wonderful). Please come back again. Your workshop was truly a step above any others I've attended.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ON ACTING: The Tip of an Iceberg

The student actor said she wanted to be the kind of actress who could make the pen she was using in the scene exciting and meaningful, so that the audience would be mesmerized by it. How does one make the seeming insignificant--a pen is a pen is a pen--significant?! That, she said, was her measure of great acting.

A prop is the physical extension of a human being; as such it can be considered the tip of the human iceberg. If the human being is exciting, the pencil's use will be exciting; it will be a precice and exciting physical statement, an outward expression of the actor-as-character's inner feelings: similar in expressive emotional potentiality to the momentarily unremarkable sound of an actor's voice, her body movement, the fleeting expressions on her face that might otherwise be deemed insignificant.

The tip (prop use) of an iceberg is only as exciting (that is, frought with ominous significance) as the size and depth of the iceberg hidden beneath the water.

In actor's terms, the significance of a prop use (or, for that matter, the sound of an actor's voice, her body movement, her facial expressions; all of which can be considered the surface textual expression of an actor-as-character's life) will only be an exciting and meaningful--as a direct or indirect reflection of the actor's inner subtextual life--in direct proportion to that vast enmotional ocean swimming inside the actor at the moment of prop-use.

Several applied criteria might aid the actor in making sure the pen's will have potential for meaningful excitement: (1) make sure the prop-choice has outer significance to the plot (for example, the character may be writing a suicide note, a 'Dear John' letter, etc.), and (2) has logic and significance to the character as character (for example, writers always carry pens), and (3) there is great depth and profundity of the feelings within the actor-as-character at the moment of the pen's use. (Moreover, that excitement factor in prop-use obtains in performance whether the pen is overtly hurled across the room, or fidgeted with, covertly and absentminedly, and thereby revaling inadvertantly some deeply felt emotion.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

ON ACTING: Dramatic Timing

We often speak of the need for 'timing' in comedy: "You have to know when to 'time' the punch line"..."He has good comic 'timing'...etc."...but we rarely speak of timing in drama?

Like good comedy timing, good dramatic timing is a function of the consummately disciplined absorption and release of emotion.

In comedy, the punch line--the joke--comes just at the end-point of maximally emotional tension--which is just prior to the point where the audience would choose to release the actor-induced tension on their own; in comedy tension, if tension is too early released by a joke, there results too little laughter; too late a release, the joke falls flat.

In drama, the actor similarly releases his/her inner tension not into a joke but into the next line, or movement, or facial reaction, or prop manipulation. The 'action' results at the excruciatingly (and final) tense moment, at the point when the actor-as-character, feeling the real emotional tension of the scene, unconsciously--as in real life--releases the most effective outwardly-released 'action' at the other character, in the utterance of the line, or other physical movement.

In both comedy and drama, therefore, timing is an inner, unconscious, spontaneous systemic 'action', an all-too-human perfect-moment-of-release of the inner tension felt by the character(s) in the scene.

Good 'timing', like good acting, is always real (all good acting is lived onstage as in life...only more excitingly). Therefore, good timing, dramatic or comedic, finds its most fertile ground in the onstage emotionally brave; in those actors-as-characters willing and able to feel, sustain, absorb and release their emotion at the last possible moment of tension, thereby heightening the performance effect.

Actor (as opposed to character) uncomfortableness-with-emotion, becomes the death knell for good dramatic (and comedic) 'timing'. Emotional experience--the constant practice and development of both intense performance absorption and 'timed' release of performance-induced emotion--is the actors' corallary antidote.