As we enter the long weekend (at least here in the States), I thought it might be a good time to share some tips and advice from those who have achieved great heights in their chosen craft.
As always, discussion welcome in the Comments section below.
PS – For those celebrating the 4th, have a terrific (and safe) holiday weekend.
ACTING – 10 Monologue Tips from Ruth Kulerman
1. CHOOSE AN AGE APPROPRIATE MONOLOGUE.
Now I could do Juliet’s monologues deliciously but they’d call Bellevue or the loony bin, since if Juliet had a grandma it’d be me. Just because you can play 35 doesn’t mean you should choose Lady M’s letter scene–if you are 17 years old. The saddest audition I ever saw was an exquisite innocent angelic awkward 12 year old singing a sexy, come-on suggestive bump and grind number. I wanted to cry–but only after choking her parents and beheading her coach! Completely inappropriate, in every area. Age appropriate is a must for monologues. You can sometimes gender bend but almost never add or subtract too many years.
2. MAKE IT SHORT.
Cut, paste, chop if necessary. They truly can tell if you can act in about 10 seconds. Do not indulge in anything over a minute and a half. I recently chopped and hacked and pieced and pasted Constance (‘King John”) for a student so that her monologue would be more interesting, more dramatic, SHORTER than Shakespeare wrote it. The actress was horrified, bewildered. “Can you do that?” she quivered. Yes.
Nothing is sacred. You can add words, reverse line orders — drop in excerpts from other scenes. Merely state you are doing “an adaptation.” One of my most successful monologues inserts a short (maybe six measures) old British folk song in the middle and end of Mistress Quickly’s Death of Falstaff monologue (Henry V). Shakespeare wrote dozens of lyrics to be sung in his plays. He just didn’t happen to write this particular one. My feeling is that he would applaud the insertion — especially since it works!
3. TELL A STORY.
Yes, you can tell a story or create a whole range of colors in a minute and a half. Just don’t select something that rambles around and goes nowhere. Select a monologue that has more than one color: Remember the first rule of all acting is “Thou shalt not bore thy listener,” regardless of who the listener is — even those sadists behind the audition table who chose to hear monologues instead of sides. Your monologue must be interesting. If it is a chatty, breezy bit of fluff, find a spot for a bit of melancholy or a couple of lines with “edge” to them. Which brings us to…
4. KEEP IT CLEAN.
Do not select something splattered with curses or obscenities, something overly suggestive, outwardly suggestive, or just plain suggestive. One of my teenage male students just brought me a pile of monologue books to go through and select something appropriate for him to use when he auditions for drama school. I have found one monologue in two entire books, so far. The compilers are obsessed with sex and obscenities. “Oh, but,” you say, “so are 17 year old boys! Hence the topics are appropriate.” Maybe. In context of the entire play (which is a trifle too long for an audition!). But avoid obscenities at auditions.
Besides being sex laden, the works chosen in those two monologue collections were just plain boring. I am perfectly aware that one man’s “dull” is another man’s “delightful.” At some point you just have to trust the dramatic tastes of those whose advice you seek.
5. DO NOT CRY.
6. DO NOT LAUGH.
7. DO NOT YELL.
Let your audition committee cry or laugh but not seek under-the-table shelter because you are yelling at them. Being able to cry on cue doth not an actor make. Being able to yell doth not drama make. Don’t out-Herod Herod. That is, avoid something full of noise and bombast and sound and fury. (Reread Hamlet’s advice to The Players.) Think of ear drums. Think of tedium. They want to see if you can act, not bellow.
And if you have to laugh at something you yourself have said in your monologue, well that’s just pathetic. It also suggests you don’t trust either the material or yourself. If people are not laughing during your monologue, laughing yourself is like holding up an audience cue card. Personally I prefer dead pan delivery if at all appropriate in a comic monologue. (A sad reminder: a committee can laugh and laugh and still not cast you.) Do not let the committee’s response to your monologue be a Geiger counter to your chances of being cast.
8. AVOID DULL MONOLOGUES.
There are lists all over the place of worn-out, overused monologues. One way to avoid an overused monologue is to avoid the “monologue books.” I bought batches of them in London and adapted them to America (changing words like “lift” to “elevator,” if necessary.) Amazon has a UK site. Go surfing for a couple of monologue books. Why shop for monologue books at Amazon UK? Because most of their contemporary monologues won’t be known here.
9. CALL IN A COACH.
The safest bet is to take a dozen or so monologues and have a coach who knows her/his “stuff” look them over with you. Look. Not work on them with you (although that might also be helpful.) It takes about 20 seconds for a good coach to know if a piece will work in general and to know if it will work for you in particular.
10. LIKE YOUR CHOICE, IF YOU CAN.
And at the bottom of the list, right where it belongs, do something you like. Actually liking a monologue is not really terribly important. What counts is how well you do it and how interesting and appropriate it is. I am not fond of that Duchess of York cursing Richard III monologue, but it has landed several roles.
THEATER ACTING – 10 Tips From Olivier Award Winning Actor, Roger Allam
1. Learn your lines so well that you never have to worry about them.
2. Keep a notebook about the play, the character, the period, your moves. It'll help you remember what you have done so far – especially if you're having to rehearse in your spare time rather than all day, every day.
3. Never go dead for a second on stage. Even if you are doing nothing, do it actively. Listen.
4. If something goes wrong – say someone drops something – don't ignore it. Try to deal with it in character.
5. Warm up your voice and body. Get used to the size of the auditorium; if you don't know it already, go to the worst seats in the house and have conversations with people on the stage so you get to know what kind of energy is needed to be heard.
6. Be ambitious. The great actor, director and playwright Ann Jellicoe commissioned writers like Howard Barker and David Edgar, and put on magnificent, large-scale plays in Dorset that involved the whole community.
7. On the other hand, probably avoid Aeschylus's Oresteia or anything by the German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist.
8. Try not to worry about embarrassing yourself. That's a lifetime's task.
9. The Victorian actor Henry Irving said: "Speak clearly and be human" – but if you listen to his recordings, the boundaries of that are pretty vast. James Cagney said: "Never relax, and mean what you say." I think that's pretty good.
10. You are released from the miserable aspects of having to earn your living in this marvellous business called show, so have fun: be as serious as you like, but enjoy yourself.
SCREENWRITING – 10 Tips From The Great Billy Wilder
FILMMAKING – 10 Zero Budget Filmmaking Tips Courtesy of the Raindance Film Festival
1. The Story Is Everything
Nothing glues you to the screen more than a good story. If the story is there, does one really care about the budget of the film?
Stories and screenplays have four main elements:
Firstly, your story must have characters with a specific goal. A specific goal is one that can be measured, so at a point in time we can see whether or not the character achieves or fails to achieve the goal. For example, if your character’s goal is to move out of London – this is a weak goal. We all want to leave London. It’s dirty, expensive and increasingly dangerous. But if the goal of your character is to leave London by noon tomorrow, or else… then we have a goal that is easily measured.
Secondly, your story has a setting. The setting can be usual or unusual.
Thirdly, there are the Actions of the main characters and finally what they say, or Dialogue.
The trick of a good storyteller is to weave these four elements together so the seams do not show. When a writer achieves this, we say they have mastered the craft of storytelling. But not necessarily the art of storytelling.
2. Location Location Location
There are two expensive components to a film shoot. Image capture (camera) and the locations.
Moving a cast and crew from location to location is time consuming, and expensive, regardless of your budget.
If you can reduce the amount of location moves, or eliminate them altogether, then you are a huge step closer to reducing your budget.
Locations in this scenario suddenly have a huge impact on the script. To learn how, we need only to look at some of the most interesting films of the last few decades: Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It , Orin Pelli’s Paranormal Activity and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These films have one thing in common: limited locations. In fact, they would each make excellent stage plays. The trick, it seems, is to take a bunch of actors to a limited location and chop them up. When you do this, you will essentially be filming a stage play. But a stage play filmed as a stage play is boring. Turn your limited location script (which is essentially a stage play) into a movie successfully, and you will have, what the moguls in Hollywood call, Talent.
3 Image Capture
Choosing the camera that suits your script and your budget is simpler than ever before. Most likely you will be shooting on a digital camera. Two elements of any camera you should look out for are: compression and lenses. Remember that all digital cameras generate the same signal. What influences the image quality are the lenses you film through and the numbers of pixels per frame (compression)
The ultimate no budget camera trick is use a little known fact of British law: security camera footage can be recovered if you have been the victim of a crime. The UK is covered in security cameras, some private and some publically owned. By law, if you suffer a crime, the police will request a copy of the tape from the camera owner.
Recce the CCTV cameras in your neighborhood, write a screenplay, re-enact a series of ’crimes’ and presto – you will have your movie shot – for absolutely nothing.
It isn’t the look of skin on skin that turns you on in a sex scene. It’s the sound of skin on skin. Professional filmmakers spend much of their time considering and creating the sounds that go with their pictures.
It is a fact too that our brains are wired in such a way that when we need to strain to hear what the actors are saying, the picture goes dim. Good clean sound with interesting effects added in is the quickest way to make your images, even those shot on your mother’s humble video camera, look great.
5. The Bucks Are In The Music
The fact of film revenue and distribution is that the main revenue streams are from the sound tracks for your film. This is because the musicians unions are much stronger than the actors, writers and film unions. After you film leaves the cinema (if it was lucky enough to get there in the first place) the main revenue streams a movie generates is for the mechanical copyright royalties for the sound track.
Filmmakers are usually the last to understand how music royalties are decided, registered and administered. Explaining music copyright law is something that falls outside this short article.
Briefly, Filmmakers can get cheap of free scores by composing and performing it themselves. Remember that there are three music copyright streams: composers, lyracists and performers. Or, by getting an unsigned band to perform, or to acquire the movie rights to an existing band by contacting them through their agent, or estate if deceased. Research the track you are interested in through http://www.ppluk.com/
6. Get Organized
Nothing is more disheartening than showing up to help out on a mate’s shoot only to spend an hour looking for a screwdriver. Disorganisation is totally unforgiveable and easily preventable by advance planning. Make sure you know where everything is, and make sure everthing and everybody shows up at the right place at the right time. If this is not within your organizational ability, partner with someone who is.
7. Your Friends Cannot Act
It is always tempting to get a few friends together to make a movie and use them as actors as well. This usually leads to peril because your friends are not trained actors. They may have spent hours and hours with a video camera in front of the bathroom mirror, but they will not know how to act in front of a camera on a set. When your friends think they are acting well on set, you will probably be so shocked at their hammy performances that you will be unable to direct them without running the risk of destroying your personal relationship.
Far better to advertise for actor/collaborators at local theatre and acting schools, hold rigourous auditions until you find a stallar cast of talented unknowns than use your friends.
If you have a suitable script and some money, you can approach a casting agent who will then pimp your script and your project out to established actors who might we willing to do it for nothing if they like the script, their role, and have been offered a suitable cut of the profits.
8. Build A Following
In the good old days (pre-Valentines Day 2005) filmmakers would submit their films to a series of film festival and tour with their film building the hype for their film until they received sufficient distribution offers to finance their next project. By making and touring film after film, a filmmaker was able to build up a loyal fan base which would guarantee them and their producers a predictable revenue stream.
The explosion of social media has changed the landscape and created two types of filmmakers: those who loathe and abhor social media, and those who embrace it.
Contemporary filmmakers can use social media to create a following of people eager to sample and appreciate their latest work. Astute filmmakers employ two producers: one who deals with the traditional production work flow, and one who deals with social media.
A first step for any filmmaker is to register the domain name for their production company and film title, as well as Facebook and Twitter profiles. Often these are sold on to eventual distributors, as was the case with Paranormal Activity.
A great way to build your list is to comment on relevant articles, like this one. You can comment below.
9. Are You a Filmmaker, a Content Provider or a Communicator?
Whatever your goals are, remember that you need to decide what it is you are doing.
Filmmakers make films and hope to cruise the festival route until they are discovered and become festival darlings.
Content providers are professional filmmakers who deliver movies whether dramatic, corporate or documentary at a price per minute.
Communicators are filmmakers and content providers who have something to say using the power of moving images with excellent sound, well crafted stories and good sound tracks. Communicators will also consider a host of different mediums including short two and three minute episodes for mobiles (mobisodes) or internet (webisodes). Gaming and phone apps are also provide interesting storytelling possibilities with a host of different strategies for monetizing content current being debated around the world.
10. There’s No Such Thing As Luck
I believe that luck is earned through a combination of hard work and karma, If you maintain your integrity and your passion, success will surely visit you.
It’s A Wrap
Nothing is as powerful as a good movie. And by using the medium of cinema you are able to influence and change lives. It is people like you htat can make a difference and make this world a better place.
FILM EDITING – Some Tips And Advice From Ron Dawson
CINEMATOGRAPHY – 10 Tips From The Master, Roger Deakins
1) “To me if there’s an achievement to lighting and photography in a film it’s because nothing stands out, it all works as a piece. And you feel that these actors are in this situation and the audience is not thrown by a pretty picture or by bad lighting.”
2) “When you move the camera, or you do a shot like the crane down (in Shawshank) with them standing on the edge of the roof, then it’s got to mean something. You’ve got to know why you’re doing it; it’s got to be for a reason within the story, and to further the story.”
3) “There’s nothing worse than an ostentatious shot or some lighting that draws attention to itself, and you might go, ‘Oh, wow, that’s spectacular.’ Or that spectacular shot, a big crane move, or something. But it’s not necessarily right for the film — you jump out, you think about the surface, and you don’t stay in there with the characters and the story.” (Note: That’s a sort of a combination of #1 & 2—but worth repeating.)
4) “I am finding that my lighting becomes more and more simplified as I gain experience, which facilitates moving the camera more easily. I always operate myself and so I am very aware of the flexibility I need as an operator. With that in mind I have always tended to light for the situation and not a single shot. It is hopeless to light a close shot, however brilliantly, only to find that the lighting used can in no way be justified in a wider view.”
5) “On the Coen’s film that I am shooting right now we are averaging about 11 set ups a day whilst the screen time can vary from 6 minutes to 2 minutes depending on the scene. My set up time averages around 20 minutes. Normally the first set up will take the longest and my time will generally coincide with hair and make up time. For that reason it is usual to do the most complex or widest set up first. We rarely work more than 12 hours on this film and some days are shorter. The film has been very well prepared and I have a clear idea of the way we will shoot each sequence.” (Note: Comment was made in 2008 so that could have been A Serious Man)
6) “I have never been a fan of filters to soften an image. I used a black pro mist for a film I shot in 1985 and have regretted it ever since. I have done some tests with the Alexa ‘footage’ adding a selective amount of grain and I will be doing this for certain sequences of the film I am shooting right now. However, that choice is one of personal aesthetics and not because i feel the image from the Alexa looks too sharp or ‘electronic’.”
7) “I usually dim down a tungsten lamp if I want it to match a household practical source.” (The color temperature of the tungsten bulbs is slightly cooler than typical bulbs found in most houses.)
8 “Most of the films I have shot have been based in reality, so it follows that much of what I do is founded in a naturalistic approach.”
9) “There was no additional lighting used for any of the snow scenes (in Fargo)…we just dug out the snow, which was quite deep, to lay down dolly track as we needed.”
10) “I would suggest the choice of location is the most important one if you have little money in the budget for lights. You might consider the films of Terry Malick. They utilize very few artificial sources.” (Note: If I recall correctly, on The New World—which was written and directed my Malick—DP Emmanuel Lubezki did not use a single light and earned an Oscar nomination in cinematography.)
COMPOSING – Tips from film composer Heather Fenoughty
The sooner the composer is involved with the production, the sooner that the soundscape of the film becomes one of the priorities for the rest of the team. Often the director and/or the producer (or even the writer right back at the idea’s conception) will have a notion of the music or sound right from the start, sometimes a very clear vision of it.
However, production is geared up to serve the picture, there’s no two ways about it, and human beings, as brilliant and ingenious as they can be, can really only concentrate on one thing at once (if they want to do it well), so sound is quite often relegated to a lower priority.
Keeping in touch puts the film’s sound front-centre in their conscious minds from early on. I’m not talking about daily updates, and even if you don’t actually write any music at all until final cut it also keeps it in your mind too. It can allow your subconscious to mull over the themes, to bring up any questions about tone and purpose.
In turn, this will have the added bonus of making you more creative - allowing your subconscious time to bubble up with new ideas - and more efficient as you will have had ideas way before the deadline.
Rather than consciously racking your brains for ideas or resorting to stock phrases, it’s simply a process of getting it all these lovely, new, original ideas up and running in whatever sequencer you use (or on paper if you absolutely insist… but, to quote Toby in The West Wing, “paper’s for wimps” <tries to find sequence on YouTube to share with the world! Promise will find it eventually> )
On film - features and shorts - the director is king. Lots of bowing and “Yes, your Majesty, no, your Highness”. Mostly caviar and truffles. Mostly.
Ok, maybe not, but the film is absolutely his vision, his baby, his heart and soul out there for all the world to see. If it isn’t these things then it might not be worth the world seeing. It is the composer’s job, your job, along with everyone else on the crew and in the cast, to realise that vision.
No two directors work in the same way so developing a rapport and a sense for how your director communicates and works is pretty essential if, at the very least, you want to enjoy your job.
Having a back-and-forth dialogue with the editor is essential. When schedules are getting tighter and tighter and the deadline is looming, it’s often the case where I’ll work on sequences before the locked off cut. And what I do with the sound may then inform what the editor, under the supervision of the director, does with the scene - the pacing, the ordering, maybe even cutting a line of dialogue, and then that’ll inform my next draft and so on.
Lots of the editors I’ve worked with like to use a temp(orary) track to cut to, that will give a rough idea of tone and pace, and that might also inform the style and speed of music that I end up writing for the final cut.
This is the core of the musical score. Pin this down in your dialogues with the director and editor, and the music will write itself. If it needs to be sad, write something that makes you feel sad as you listen to it with the picture (if the picture’s not ready yet, the pictures as you see them in your head resulting from your early - see tip 1 - conversations with the director - see tip 2).
This sometimes actually isn’t the same as writing sad (or whatever the emotion is) music, though. If you’re underlining what’s already in the scene, why write anything at all? You might not even need to if the scene’s that good .
If the director isn’t clear about the prevalent tone/emotion in the scene, work out what’s the emotional journey through the scene, the highs and lows, the exact points at which it changes. But I’ve found it really has to be one emotion at a time. If you’re trying to create more than one, each becomes diluted by the other: it’s as if their emotional frequencies (sounds a bit new age…) cancel each other out and you end up with something a bit wishy-washy and generally unsatisfactory.
Is the music diegetic (of the world of the film, that the characters can hear, eg. on the radio) or non-diegetic? Is it there to heighten the emotion of a scene that just isn’t emotional enough on its own? Is it there to counterpoint the onscreen performances (eg. the character acts happy but the music is sad to illustrate what she really feels), to add another layer of meaning? Is it simply there to disguise a clunky edit?
These are all questions to consider, you don’t necessarily have to have answers to all of them straight away, but it’s good to put them out there and, if there’s time to play around with the sounds, experiment. Ok… maybe this is ideal-world scenario. Usually there’s little-to-no-time at all for experimenting so get answers to these by the time you’re embarking on your final draft of the score.
Some people really hate the sound of a harp. I don’t know why. I think it’s pretty. Or that Proteus oboe - hey Snuffy*, you know what I’m talking about…
When the deadline is looming and you’ve got a good chunk of tune floating round in your head and you’ve just got to get that genius idea down quick as possible cos the director’s round to listen to it in an hour… well, you get my point. Plus it really stunts your flow if you’re constantly checking the help file, and looks really rubbish if the client’s in the studio at the same time. You gotta work fast! Time is, after all, money, and all that…
If you’re at the stage where you’re composing for a feature (and it’s paid, not a freebie for the ol’ CV) then you’re probably pretty au fait with terms such as sample rate, bit depth, digital audio file format types, omfi files, SMPTE timecode, that sort of thing, and the procedures you need to go through on your specific kit to deliver your music files to the dubbing facility. If not, there’s links to click, there’s no excuse ;-).
This is all about setting the director and/or producer and/or execs minds’ at ease: you know your kit inside out, and you can deliver on time in a format that is most convenient and efficient for them. And so they can relax… where the music’s concerned anyways… who knows whether that distribution deal’s gonna come off…
Just to be on the safe side, check what you’re actually selling them. Intellectual Property (IP) and Copyright law is a bit tricky, and if you’re in any doubt at all about a particular deal or contract it really is worth getting someone in-the-know to look over it. If you’re in a musician’s union, such as the MU or the British Academy of Composers, they have a legal service for this sort of thing if you feel you need it.
I get my publisher to have a look at it, not only because they’re incredibly experienced in this area, but it’s also in their better interest to get me a good deal on the copyright side of things as that’s how they get paid from me, through broadcast royalties. And you can’t get royalties if you sell away your copyright.
So, as general advice which I’ve learned from experience, keep your copyright and sell licenses to use the music in association with the film and its advertising.
These can be exclusive or non-exclusive (this latter one is the best kind as then you can sell further licenses to use the music to other productions), are generally world-wide (or, as really extreme back-covering, state “throughout the universe” - talk about thorough) and for the lifetime of the copyright (or “in perpetuity”).
You can even have your own draft contract ready if you’re super-organised and well-prepared. Just in case.
Within reason, do as many revisions as time and money will allow. So long as you’ve had all the conversations in advance, everyone should be on the same page and it’ll just be instrumentation tweaks and timing edits. And the director can change his or her mind about the direction you’ve taken, and that’s ok.
Get really clear on the new direction and go with it. Even if you’re not entirely convinced: if the director wants more cowbell, put in loads more cowbell, really go to town on it, make it the best cowbell ever! If he loves it, it’ll end up in the final cut and then you’ll be glad you didn’t do just a half-arsed version .
The music you’ll cut can always be used in it’s current state or cannibilised for another cue or even another production; recycling is good for the planet (and your bank balance). Keep the director happy and he or she will come back for more, not just because your music is exactly what he or she wanted but because he or she enjoys working with such a professional, receptive, responsive and reliable composer ;-).
Thoughts, remarks, suggestions? Let’s discuss in the Comments section below.