Actors vs. Writers

As I director who writes my own stuff (or am I a writer who directs my own stuff?dunno) I encounter that age-old dilemma of having to communicate to actors what I want.

Because I am a writer, I don’t really need actors to “interpret” the script and create a character for me.  I already know the character. And because I am a very detailed writer, I always create more background to the character than most actors will.

Thus begins the actors-as-performers vs. actors-as-mimes argument I sometime have with myself.

I have several actor friends who, being actors, take the actor’s side.  That’s understandable. We’ve had many interesting and heated debates about their claim “oh, you need to learn how to communicate with your actors so they will create the performance you want.”

Now, to be honest, I have, on occasion met that claim with an eye roll.

The battle I have within myself is this: I don’t want actors to recreate my characters, I like them the way they are. In fact, part of my dialog for that character is their mannerisms, even down to a raised eyebrow, a cluck of their tongue, or a twitch.

It is here, at this troublesome point, I understand people like James Cameron when they say “I want exactly this, and nothing else.”  Well, that’s great when you have completely CGI characters you can animate and program every little gesture, blush and raised eyebrow.

Not so easy for actors.

I am not a scriptwriter first.  I  don’t just have a neat idea and scribble down some disposable dialog. I am a novelist first.  That means I’ve already created every single dimension of the character: appearance, hopes, fears, reactions, mannerisms, speech style, inflections, cadence, bearing, tone, temper, wardrobeall of it.

With my first film Shroud I did not unload all the pre-history of the characters in the film on the actors because, honestly, I had way too much more to do on any given day.

Moving forward, I think I will adopt a different rehearsal tack so I can comfortably empower my actors to design along my dotted lines, the character the film requires.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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~ by David Jetre on February 15, 2010.

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