Acting : Going off script by Roy Lewis Garton

Roy Lewis Garton

Going off script

So how many of you have ever been allowed to go "off script" when filming? Did you have a flexible director that said "Hey, I liked that. Let's go with it." or was it "What the hell you doing?! That's not the line!" I have found in my years as an actor that the best films are the one that lets you develop your character that you were hired to play and allow a bit of flexibility in bringing that character out in your delivery and your style without compromising the vision of the writer and the director. I have worked with both types of directors in my time. The latter while stressful, I always gave him my respect and it took only once to realize that this was his project and you did it his way. You are the employee and he is the boss. Having said that, being able to throw an improv line in here and there to jell the shot or being able to bounce off say your partner in the shot if he or she blew a line to make it work makes things just that much more interesting. Acting also demands deep diving. Developing a vision that both matches your profile and that of the writer as well as the director takes a team. Stress really develops when you read a line and a shot is blocked and action is yelled only to have the whole thing done over and over take after take because nobody can agree upon what the shot should look like. You see it one way, the director sees it another way, the DP sees a better shot this way, OMG and you wonder why films cost so much. This boils down to the professionalism of the crew and production you signed on to do. Indies can be a lot this way. I work mostly in Florida. I am passed that stage of my life where I think I have to be living in a mansion in Melrose reporting to Universal. I would never stop anyone from that dream but I stay fairly busy between gigs here in the Sunshine State and Georgia. Share your stories about your life on set. I would be glad to hear them. Stay focused, stay in workshops, and break a leg!

Aaron Crown

Indeed, many famous lines where "off script". When your in it...I believe you can take it to a level that is best for the moment being that you the "actor" is experiencing things first hand. The actor brings life to the character.. and like a nature..sometimes it takes a unexpected course.

Thomas Bailey

I've found myself on both sides of this... some roles I have been turned lose after a little improve to just go nuts, and others, they were pretty strict on sticking to whats on the page. What I think it stems from is if the character is perfectly written, and well prepared for, it is easy to lose yourself in that character and those lines will almost automatically come out of your mouth. If you are left with questions on lines, or some don't fit with the image you have of the character, you're improv lines will probably be stronger... not because they are better, but because you believe in them more. I think the key is to shoot what is on the page, then do a few takes where people can flex a bit. Not only is it really rewarding for the actor to bring what is in their mind to life, but it also usually leads to some great moments.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

The story of the making of Witness is interesting - Director Peter Weir was notable for his momentary directorial imrovisations, most galling evidenced by Mosquito Coast - the film that followed Witness. However, on Witness the writers complained and exec. producer Pressman flew in and told Weir that he either made the film that was written in the script or he could take a walk. Weir followed the script - and the result, I think, is his best film - Dead Poets' Society notwithstanding.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

I disagree - I think everyone working on a story has a chance of adding value without changing the spirit and underlying meaning of the story, i.e.: its premise.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

i also disagree about 'most Aussies' thinking rules and scripts don't apply to them, but wonder what your experiences are that have made you think this.

Thomas Bailey

I think as an actor, if you can't improvise your character and keep within the context of the story then you clearly don't understand the character and need to do more work. Of course this doesn't mean you come to set and when you hear "action" you just start doing what you want. Unless the director has established that a improv environment is acceptable you should always stick to the script. I will say though, closing your eyes to what an actor could bring to the character that you as the director didn't think of could leave us without some amazing moments: Personally speaking, I operate this way. I feel like if I can't answer any question asked in character, I'm not ready. And while filming be they right or wrong, if I have an idea that I feel is coming from the character I'm playing, I try to bring it up to the director (usually you can tell how approachable a director is) to see if there is anything worth exploring because even if it's not, I learned even more about the character by knowing something he wouldn't do.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

The milk bottle business in Rebel Without A Cause, where Dean cools his head on the cold milk bottle was an improvisation that did not change the story but added greatly to what we felt about the character and his situation. I have noticed that there are some actors that are very good at improvising but not so good at acting what's written and vice versa. Interesting dichotomy that.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

Point taken - thanks

Josephine Pizzino

Film scripts rarely need the same kind of precision as stage plays. It's really awful to be waiting for your cue only to realize your cast member is off on some unscripted fantasy land, and everyone else has to work around where they're going. When the audience starts shifting around in their seats, it's because they're picking up on the confusion. But the film process allows for stop/go and revisions. I like the flexibility and also collaborative spirit which seems essential to good movies. Keep on rockin'!

Patrick Opitz

Stage directors I have worked with tended to want to stick to the script, while film directors I worked with have often wanted actors to be able to be the character, meaning improving (to a reasonable extent) want the character would say. All done BEFORE it goes on film, of course. Professionalism is about both creativity and discipline. Of course, I only speak from my experiences and don't claim to be an expert.

Harlene Hercules

I had the privilege of working on a short film where the director had decided to just do long takes while myself and the other actress just did our scene and she allowed us to continue talking, laughing and whatever was appropriate for our characters. We did these long takes several times and then it was a wrap for that scene. We had so much fun and it was a lovely relaxed scene about 2 best friends just having a chat in a café. For stage work, I do feel I have to stay on script...however we always have a bit of fun on the last night.

Georgia Hilton

some of the best stuff happens off script... I alway want my actors to have fun and go with it. The "rules" I set down for my actors are: 1. The script is the starting point, not the end point. 2. Go to town and have fun with it. 3. I WILL ask you to do a take or two "on script" as a safety. 4. If you do go off and down a rat hole...please just do it like you mean it and do it quickly. ( IE: don't take too much time to find your way back to the story line. )

Mary-Helen Norris

I find that allowing actors the freedom means you are going to get better quality acting from them, especially if they lack experience. As an actor, I love it when a director allows me to go off script because it begins to feel more natural, it brings the character to life that much more. Though I see why some directors want you to stay on script, I do prefer ones that allow you to feel free to go off of it.

Zimasa May

that's true i'ts like stage theatre

Clement Ofoedu

Hi Roy. I am a director who has an 80/20 policy. if you get 80% of the dialogue correct. small changes I go with. I guarantee you get the best more times than not, as its usually more natural to the scene and to the actor. Just so far as no big bullet holes. Like foul language that maybe inappropriate, and cause a headache during edit, as this will be related to certification The truth is the reason some directors are anal is fear. The studio options the rights to a screenplay, big money involved. They want to ensure that it all works. No one in the chain is willing to stick their neck out to change something, on fear of taking the blame on a failure. This is just wrong. Actors can bring a wonderful natural vibe to something. Always be ready to listen, but have the determination to keep on track A writer during writing tries to be an actor to get into the mind of the character. The real actor is doing the same only more so. So far as they have been briefed on the story arc , character journey arc and history and world of the character they are playing they should contribute well. Only a director should be wary of actors that limit the vision just to the scene and don't delve in deeper in to the world of the screenplay. You will have problems. But to be truthful that is rare. Actors are usually more critical of themselves than anyone else, and want to give it their best. They are delicate creatures, just learn how to communicate with them, and you'll get the best they can give. My best advice to directors is to pull not push

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