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Rolling…and action!

June 2, 2013

I vastly prefer theatre to film, I still feel camera work is important to have (besides, my roommate will be doing her student film next year and I would love to work with her!) in your toolbox. They are Venn diagram worlds, with some overlap and I’m blogging today to explore the differences I’ve observed for acting and writing.

Writing:

Last semester, I took a script-writing class to fuel my creative writing energy and because my theatre department severely lacks a playwriting class. This particular class, as it turns out, was intended for Video majors who need to know how to write a script before they can direct and shoot their own films. The class itself was still really interesting and it was great that I got to take it with my roommate (I even got some good scripts worked on!) but it was very obvious that I was a theatre person trying to write for film.

If you crack open a George Bernard Shaw play and read a page of description about the set and the characters, you know this is definitely intended for the stage. Film scripts are much more streamlined, intended to just capture the essence of a shot before moving on.

Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw:

FREDDY. Oh, very well: I’ll go, I’ll go. [He opens his umbrella and dashes off Strandwards, but comes into collision with a flower girl, who is hurrying in for shelter, knocking her basket out of her hands. A blinding flash of lightning, followed instantly by a rattling peal of thunder, orchestrates the incident]

THE FLOWER GIRL. Nah then, Freddy: look wh’ y’ gowin, deah.

FREDDY. Sorry [he rushes off].

THE FLOWER GIRL [picking up her scattered flowers and replacing them in the basket] There’s menners f’ yer! Te-oo banches o voylets trod into the mad. [She sits down on the plinth of the column, sorting her flowers, on the lady’s right. She is not at all an attractive person. She is perhaps eighteen, perhaps twenty, hardly older. She wears a little sailor hat of black straw that has long been exposed to the dust and soot of London and has seldom if ever been brushed. Her hair needs washing rather badly: its mousy color can hardly be natural. She wears a shoddy black coat that reaches nearly to her knees and is shaped to her waist. She has a brown skirt with a coarse apron. Her boots are much the worse for wear. She is no doubt as clean as she can afford to be; but compared to the ladies she is very dirty. Her features are no worse than theirs; but their condition leaves something to be desired; and she needs the services of a dentist].

THE MOTHER. How do you know that my son’s name is Freddy, pray?

THE FLOWER GIRL. Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y’ de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel’s flahrzn than ran awy atbaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f’them? [Here, with apologies, this desperate attempt to represent her dialect without a phonetic alphabet must be abandoned as unintelligible outside London.]

.

Inception, by Christopher Nolan

INT. CORRIDOR – LATER

Miles and Cobb stand by as STUDENTS file out of a lecture.

MILES

Ariadne…

A young woman carrying books turns. This is ARIADNE.

MILES

I’d like you to meet Mr. Cobb.

She sizes him up with quick eyes. Offers her hand.

ARIADNE

Pleased to meet you.

MILES

If you have a few moments, Mr. Cobb has a job offer to discuss with you.

ARIADNE

A work placement?

COBB

(smiles)

Not exactly.

I got called out on my more theatrical writing…a lot. It didn’t help I didn’t understand camera technicals, like angles and cuts. I’m used to an audience who sees everything while the camera shows the audience exactly what they are supposed to be seeing. Big picture vs. small picture, almost. But being a theatre major actually made me a better storyteller as I would challenge a character’s motivation and the plot themes of the script.

While I would like to write as a playwright and poet, film and tv (and even webseries) have their own purpose in storytelling. I like to think of film as a play told through a filmmaker’s medium but tv really allows you to explore a character’s potential and allow plots to overlap and strengthen the show’s concept. While taking this class, I actually started writing a potential webseries for myself – I like that I could self-produce it much like theatre and share my work with websites like YouTube.

Acting:

I did an on-camera workshop recently, to help me adjust to the specifics of camera work. I’m used to having and being encouraged to use the whole space in an audition while on-camera auditions require stillness within the frame and on your mark and speaking to the reader off to the side.

I still prefer stage to film but seeing myself on film helped me pick up my little idiosyncrasies that I wouldn’t have noticed for myself otherwise. It’s a great tool for self-evaluation and with everyone’s smartphones these days, it’s not difficult to whip out a camera and film yourself either!

I’ve also been working as an extra in friends’ films. Nothing difficult because I’d be another body to fill the space most of the time. Still, it gives me more familiarity with how filming works.

My favorite extra work though by far, was being a bandit in a D&D concept parody film. I was part of a gang that attacks the heroes in the woods and robs them of their magical gem. I was still a body to add to their bandit numbers – until we got to the fight scene. I put my combat minor to good use; the other actors were untrained in stage combat so when the directors asked if anyone might want to do a flip for this shot, I rolled up my sleeves and stepped forward.

I really, really enjoyed doing the battle: not only did I get to start the battle with my stunt flip, I also got to do quarterstaff fighting against the major characters, choreographing our moves through the big battle so they wouldn’t be distracted or injured trying to wing it. Although there was a lot of similarities between stage combat and film combat, it was weird how they were able to stage it. Depending on the camera angles, they were able to make sword stabs look like direct hits instead of looking obviously bad misses. Also, because the focus was on the scale and overwhelming surprise of the attack, the camera doesn’t need a continuity explaining how I moved from one fight to the next; you just change the camera angle and character pov.

And those were my recent adventures into the world of film! It’s made for some interesting ventures (I can’t wait to see how the fight scenes look on camera) but I need to focus on (writing episode 2 of my webseries!) the last few weeks of my semester: singing, stage combat, more ushering, job searching and finals.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 3, 2013 7:52 am

    I did a Theatre major and Film Studies minor while I was in Fredonia (as you already know), and even though I’ve never done any film work outside of classes, I found the experience of learning about both valuable to obtain. I also had that same problem taking script-writing. I was the theatrical person trying to write a film script in play format. It’s a tough transition between the two.

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