My research into mainstream vs. alternative cinema has proven to be  very rewarding especially in regard to the way in which  film production and film product are inextricably linked and that how a film is made impacts greatly on the qualities of the final film  produced.

This observation seems especially applicable with regard to how actors are employed in the film production process and how the qualities of the resulting movies made can be greatly augmented when the rules which dictate the levels of involvement an actor may have in the creative process are redrawn to allow actors greater creative participation.

This is especially apposite when considering the work of the 3 filmmakers – Mike Leigh, Ulrich Seidel and Scanda Copti  all of whom  deviate, to varying degrees, away from the mainstream ‘intensified continuity style’ production processes i described in my earlier blog, Alternative Cinema vs. Mainstream Cinema.

First Acting Session – TOMORROW! 

Anyway, as I will be hosting my first acting session tomorrow it feels like the right time to start moving away from theoretical pondering into a more hands-on participatory approach to acting methodology. With this in mind  I would like to use this current blog  as a place to  outline the alternative approaches to acting, script writing and film production of Leigh, Seidel and Copti – and to start working out how I will use these techniques during tomorrow’s session.

So, in no particular order are a few notes on their approaches to preproduction and acting methodology. Starting with –

Mike Leigh…

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The following chronological outline of Leigh’s approach to film development are taken from P. Clement’s book”The improvised play : the work of Mike Leigh” (1983) and R. Marchand’s publication (1985) Making Plays the Mike Leigh Way (1985).

1.Back Story Session – The first session is to establish existing characters with the Actors – Through one to one discussion, key character traits are communicated to the actor until an initial understanding of the character’s persona can be reached. It is important that the actors must not talk amongst themselves outside the workshops about character. Notes are taken and any new ideas and discoveries about character through these initial discussions are documented but set aside to avoid preempting the process.

2. Isolated Improvisations – Allow the actor to be the character without the pressure to perform – The actors are isolated in placed in a mundane setting with no direction for drama. This allows the playwright to witness their characters in moments outside of the story. Discussions are conducted with the actors during the exercise, concerning when the actor felt out of character. This is done to further the understanding of the character for both playwright and actor.” “Notes are taken on character as well as any impetus for potential conflict during group improvisations.”

3. Shared History Session – Establish shared history between characters by bringing selected members of the cast together. Cast members that share a joint history are brought together and through discussion of key shared moments in their past, a back-story is created. There should, however, be no discussion of emotion. Improvisations are conducted on this back-story, building a sense of familiarity and memory for the character. This again allows the playwright to experiment with story world moments that have occurred outside of the script. Discussions are conducted with the actors and notes are taken on potential story avenues as well as further impetus for conflict during the group improvisations.“

4. Group Improvisations – Improvisation exercises using all (and or different combinations) of the cast. This process is aimed at directly enhancing the plot and getting motivations of character clear and consistent. Actors perform improvisations in character with differing aims and goals given by the Playwright. For some cast members, this may be the first time they have met the other characters.” “Notes are taken by the Playwright to further establish character and any new potential scenes or storylines are documented for future drafts of the script.”

Ulrich Seidl…

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The following outline of Seidl’s unique approach to filmmaking  is taken from the ICA’s website.

1. Documentary Style –  The working method is: Shoot fiction films in a documentary setting. So that unexpected moments of reality can meld with the fiction.

2. No Script –  There is no script in the traditional sense. The script consists of very precisely described scenes – but no dialogue.During shooting the script is continually modified and rewritten. Seidl: “I see the filmmaking as a process oriented by what has preceded. In that way the material we’ve shot always determines the further development of the story.”

3. Actors/non-actors – The cast consists of actors and non-actors. During casting equal consideration is given to professionals and non-professionals. Ideally the audience should not be able to say with certainty which roles are played by actors and which by non-actors.

4. No Script – The actors have no script on set.

5. Improvisation – Scenes and dialogue are improvised with the actors.

6. Shoot Chronologically – The film is shot chronologically, making it possible to continually adapt and develop scenes and dramatic threads. The ending is left open.

7. Real Locations – The film is shot in original locations.

8. No Non-Diegetic Music –  Music is present only when it is an integral component of a scene.

9. Open Working method – The “open working method” also applies to editing. Rushes are evaluated and discarded at the editing table.The film is rewritten at the editing table. Several extended phases of editing are needed to identify what is and isn’t possible for the film. In this way, to take the example of PARADISE Trilogy, what had been planned as a single film became three separate films, each of which stands on its own, but which can also be viewed together as a trilogy.

10. Seidl Tableau – In addition to the fiction scenes, so-called “Seidl tableaux” are filmed – precisely composed shots of people looking into the camera. The Seidl tableau (which was born in the director’s first short, “One Forty,” 1980) has become a trademark of Austrian film and is now used by other documentary and fiction film directors. On each of his films Ulrich Seidl shoots numerous tableaux, even though they may not make it into the final cut.

“At some point I‘ll make a tableaux-film with all the unused tableaux-scenes that were shot over the years in all of my films,” he says.

Scanda Copti

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The following outline of Copti’s  approach to filmmaking  is taken from the Filmlab website.

1. Finished Script – Unlike other forays into improvisation, SC often used a very precise screenplay and a well-constructed plot that demands precise emotional responses from its actors.

2. Surprise – Often uses the element of surprise to direct actors for certain scenes to get authentic emotional responses  – his actors often acting out his stories without being aware that they were being directed according to a pre-written script.

3. ‘Real Fiction’ –  The film  (Ajami – 2009)  is a work of fiction which shows “real” people acting in situations that are orchestrated by the directors, but very “real” to the performers, resulting in the actors projecting emotions on camera that they actually experienced at the time.

4. Workshops – This was achieved over specialized workshops, in which the actors were brought to each character’s emotional and psychological state as written in the script.

5. Psychological Profiles – In these workshops, the participants didn’t learn about text, goals, mise-en-scene or acting tricks. The focus was on the psychological journey of the characters through dramatic role-playing. Eventually, each actor deeply identified with his or her character as though the character was an extension of their own personality.

When the cameras started rolling, something magical happened – the actors forgot that they were in a fictional situation and their minds believed that what was happening was real.

References 
Clements, P. (1983) The improvised play : the work of Mike Leigh, London: Methuen.

Marchand, R. (1985) Making Plays the Mike Leigh Way, Sydney; AFTRS.

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