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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Visual Thought Learning, An interesting method for directing actors

Tifa Cosplayer 3VTL, short for Visual Thought Learning, is a rehearsal tool devised by Annie Murtagh Monks, my teacher for Directing Actors class, a year and a half ago. And to me, it definitely changes the way I've always thought actors should be directed.

Basically, the whole point about VTL is to aid actors in remembering their lines, and allowing themselves to get more into character, immersing themselves completely into the scenario as presented to them in the screenplay. It isn't about memorizing your lines like a robot, but feeling and understanding why your characters are saying those lines in a particular scene. For VTL to work, the best method is to make sure the actors haven't read or memorized that particular scene.

To perform a VTL session, what you do is to have your actors sit closely to each other so that their knees will touch, and that they won't cross any part of their bodies. Then, sitting beside the two facing figures, you will read the script to them.

1) But actors are not supposed to try remembering the lines read to them.

2) They should imagine and picture the scene while it is being read to them.

3) The scene will be read to them by the director three times.

First time: The director reads through a scene. When a character of an actor speaks, the director will put his hand on the actor's shoulder. But once again, the actors don't have to say anything, just imagine the scene.

Second time: The director reads the scene again. This time when the actor's character has a line, the director places his hand on the actor's knee. The actor should just listen, get the thought, and when he is connected to what his character wants to say, deliver the line as his character would. Note, the director has to read it in a monotonous manner as he is NOT showing the actors HOW to say the lines.

Third time: The actors remain silent whilst the director speed reads through the scene. All actors have to do is to picture the scene and see the scene in their minds.

Then let the rehearsal begins, the director will tell the actors their first lines and they try to see what comes back to them. They don't have to worry as the director will prompt them.

Now I wonder how do the other directors actually direct their actors. Are there any other methods that they plan to share with the others?

Tifa Cosplayer 6Personally, the actual short film I last directed, Forced Labour, was more than a year ago, and since then, I've been learning many things that can hopefully help increase my filmmaking skills. Directing actors is something I was pretty weak in, hence everything I learnt in my Directing Actors class had been absolutely enlightening.

For example, I'm not supposed to ask my actors to act out EMOTIONS ("be happier!" "be angrier!" "be sad!") as they are way too vague and difficult to pull off (they can ask: "how happy?" "how much angrier?" "how sad?"). Emotions are usually byproducts of actions, hence most of the time, directors should use verbs when directing (like, "to irritate", "to cajole", "to impress", "to seduce", "to antagonize" blah blah) or use 'as ifs' ("do it as if your cat had just died" "do it as if you have just won the lottery" "do it as if you've just gotten laid") for the sake of helping actors visualize what they have to do even more.

These are all pretty basic stuff, but you'll be surprised how many aspiring filmmakers, or student filmmakers, have made mistakes such as these.

On the other hand, the following are some things I've started to do nowadays when dealing with actors.

1) I don't send them entire scripts, probably just a summary of the full story, or a few scenes. That's because letting them know how the film will end will ruin the suspense for them, preventing them to invest full emotions into their character. It was a mistake I made with my last short film, Forced Labour. Since all actors knew that their characters were going to become buddies in the end, they didn't allow their actors to show genuine hostiliy or hatred towards one another.

2) I usually come up with a character background for the actors. Even if the backstories of those characters aren't even mentioned at all in the film, at least actors can act them out like fully fleshed-out human beings.

3) Use VTL during rehearsals. (of course!)

Anyway, I will be shooting Vertical Distance, a Woody Allen-esque romantic comedy that involves a neurotic shorty with Small Man Syndrome and his slightly taller girlfriend this weekend, so I'm absolutely pumped to put what I've learnt into use. Wish me luck, my dears.