I'm often asked by filmmakers, young and old, new to the game and experienced pros, how I motivate actors. So I've decided to write this blog to share two stories of how I best helped actors and actresses get ready for a scene.
When I was DJ'ing and composing music a few years ago, I wrote an album that was inspired by email communications I had with people responding to my fake, sexually-explicit, Craigslist ads:
- Granny wanted for glory-hole adventures. Must provide your own walls.
- Fellow nude chess players for pot luck party.
- Will you wear a diaper for me while I pour applesauce on your bottom?
I would post and, more often than not, have conversations that ran from the tame to the truly bizarre: some funny, some rather sad. You realize in the anonymous world of complex, "other-worldly" sexual interests, the loneliness of people as they walk the never-ending journey to find someone interested in burning their feet with candle wax while reading the Bible and licking them.
After compiling these discussions, I had the lyrics for an album which I called "Oral." The first video of the same name was to be women sitting in front of a web cam, sharing why they love giving blowjobs...
...while a masked maniac tries cutting their throats. Who was me.
You can watch it here:
One actress in particular, while beautiful and talented, was very shy because of the subject matter. I would yell "Action!" and she would stammer through her improvised lines. After the third or fourth take, I sat her down:
"Ok. What's your favorite dessert?"
Without hesitation, she responded.
"Excellent!" I said. "I love those too!" (I don't) "So here's what we're going to do...I want you to look at the camera and tell me why you love Rice Krispies...except, instead of saying 'Rice Krispies,' substitute that for 'blowjob.'"
Immediately, I could tell she was a different person. She looked at the camera and out came the most erotic description of those cheap confections I'd ever heard: she loved the taste of it in her mouth, how sweet it was, and the texture...how amazing it felt when the sugary goodness went down her throat after swallowing.
I jumped up and yelled "Cut! That's it. You got it!"
LESSON: Don't think about what motivates you. It's about what inspires the actor.
Pay attention to what the actor knows/shares about themselves and how it can relate to what needs to be expressed in the scene. While Rice Krispies have nothing to do with blowjobs (unless...well...actually...hmmm) the actress naturally loved them and a few changes to the words got all the passion she has for one, to be applied to the other. You can draw that out of a person quite easily if you know how to communicate with them on the level of their own desires.
I was assistant director on a film and we needed to capture footage at the local Dallas, TX nightclub, The Lizard Lounge. The main character was a scummy player that didn't really give a hot damn about any of the women he was trying to fuck.
I'm a firm believer in the organic and the importance of serendipity in the creative process. While you have to plan for some things, such as ensuring your camera is ready, lighting rigs are all set, and SD cards are empty and prepped, you also have to allow for the natural process of things to flow in life.
So with the basics covered, I wanted to use the natural environment, especially those who hadn't planned on being filmed, just hanging out at the club, having fun with friends and suddenly, BAM...they're in a movie.
You'd be surprised how easy it is to just walk with a camera somewhere, look at a person, and ask if they want to be in a film. Nothing gets them more excited than the prospect, the dim hope, of fame.
All we needed was a very pretty girl that was hanging out and willing to slap our actor. We walked outside to the porch, by the side of the club, when we found her bouncing up-and-down to the beat of the music...Full of life and the spontaneous we wanted. After agreeing to being filmed, I got into position and yelled "Action!"
Except when the time came to strike, she hit him in slow motion...a long, deliberate, gentle hit.
I yelled "Cut!" and walked up to her.
"That's fine, but you need follow through with a real slap, at the speed you normally would."
I got back into position and yelled "Action!"
And again...she slapped him with all the speed of dripping honey.
"Look." I said "Do you have a boyfriend?"
She looked at me with a childish bashfulness and started to stammer.
"Well...I...you see..." She looked away to a guy watching the scene.
"I don't want to take you home and I don't want to fuck you...I simply want to get this scene shot."
"Yes." She quickly responded.
"Imagine a woman has been flirting with your man and you're pissed. She won't take no for an answer and she refuses to walk away. Picture our actor as the obsessive drunk chick that can't take a hint. You've got one chance to prove to her you mean business."
I walked up to the guy who had been observing the scene and introduced myself.
"What's her trigger word?"
"What's the one word, that you know if you say it, will unleash hell fire at you?"
Without hesitation, he responded.
"Excellent. Thank you."
I walked up to her, looked her straight in the eye, and said:
"You're a cunt. That's what he (pointing to our actor) just called you."
I stepped behind the camera, looked in the view finder and saw a woman transformed. Her happy dance had turned into vibrating rage.
The result? She hit him so hard and fast he fell into the camera and then, onto the ground.
"Cut! We got it!"
LESSON: Sometimes you need to use a positive force to motivate and other times, you need to use negative inspiration to get someone to do what you need of them in frame. In the end, the only thing that matters, is that you got the shot.