thank god the gold rush wasn’t led by a bunch of actors. sure, they’d have had all the right equipment and the most stylish mining clothes but when it came to the actual mining for gold, they’d have gathered up whatever nuggets were already scattered on the ground in front of them and called it a day. all the really good stuff’s not on the surface. it’s the same with their scenes. give an actor a scene and they immediately start mining it for whatever nuggets the writer put on the page. but any good writer will tell you writing’s not about what you write, it’s about what you don’t write. that all the really good stuff’s not on the page. that what’s on the page is there to pull you in and capture your imagination but that the real gold lies buried in the imagination – and that’s where the actor is suppose to come in. the actor’s suppose to supply the imagination. then why are actors so obsessed with creating one-dimensionally, which is exactly what they’re doing by creating what’s on the page? if the scene’s written as an argument and you choose to argue, that’s one dimensional. you’ll get the scene right but you’ll be flat. we’re not looking for actors that “get it right”, we’re looking for actors that “make it interesting”. any actor can get it right. brilliant actors make it interesting. and we’ll always cast the actor who knows how to make the interesting choice. that’s the actor that knows how to be cinematic. that’s the actor that the camera finds fascinating. that’s the actor it would be fun to create with. as long as you’re making a choice that’s appropriate for the world, the story, the characters, the last choice you should make is the literal choice, which is the obvious choice or the boring choice. right, maybe, but boring. or as the gold miner/actor might say: “just cuz it ain’t on the page, don’t mean it ain’t in the scene.” “John Swanbeck Directs Your Audition Repertoire” 12 Actors. 5 Weeks. Starts October 27th. Contact Virginia – firstname.lastname@example.org – for “Early Registration Discount”.
god. now there was an actor. oh, sure, he could have created human beings just following an anatomy chart, in the way most actors create the scene just following the plot the writer wrote. but if there’s one thing god knows, it’s the camera’s not interested in the plot, it’s interested in the story. creating the plot’s like a painter painting by numbers. they may get the picture right but how interesting is it going to be? and if a hundred painters paint by numbers the same picture, how are we going to tell any of them apart? and if we had to hire one of them, it wouldn’t matter which one we chose. we could pick the best one by putting on a blindfold and throwing a dart at them because they’re all the same. why do they do it? these actors who claim they’re artists but insist on creating by numbers. they do it because they’re obsessed with making the “right” choice. they’re desperate to get the scene “right”. they create out of fear of being wrong. you think god was nervous about getting human being’s right when he created us. hell, no. otherwise, he would have gotten us right. we would have been perfect, which, hello?, we’re not. we’re interesting but we sure ain’t perfect. and you don’t think he could have made us perfect if he wanted to. of course he could have. he’s god. but it’s obvious he was more interested in making us interesting than in making us perfect. besides, actors are always saying they want to create truth. truth this and truth that. but if you’re creating the plot the writer wrote, you’re not creating truth, you’re creating facts. you want to create truth, create the story. and the story’s not the “what”. the story’s the “why”. and you’re not going to tell me that god’s more concerned with facts than truth. course not. truth’s his thing. so here’ god, all about truth and not concerned with getting it right. then there’s most other actors, who say they’re all about truth but are obsessed with getting it “right”. what are they saying? they know better than god? come on. god’s a great actor. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the eBook – releasing Fall, 2012.
actors should mind their own business. they’re always sticking their noses into their characters’ problems, trying to solve everything. they want characters to understand each other and get along and forgive each other and bond and they’re never happy until all the characters in a story come together and hug. they’re a cult of “huggers” and if they had their way, we’d all be drinking the kool-aid. and they’re very cunning about it. they start with their characters but once they’ve brought their characters over to the “light side”, they try to hypnotize the audience into wanting to be nicer to each other, too. someone should tell them that trance-like state they believe they’ve lulled the audience into is referred to as “sleeping”, usually brought on due to boredom at watching people striving to get along for two hours. if the audience wasn’t so bored, they’d be furious. they didn’t pay twelve dollars, plus a fortune in popcorn and soda, to watch people hug. i’ll give actors this much, though, they’re relentless about it. you can’t turn your back on them for a second before they’re trying to coax their characters into making peace, finding common ground, achieving a state of harmonious relationship. they’re “emotional imperialists”, insisting that if the characters, and audience, would just see the wisdom of hugging, they’d want to be “huggers”, too. never mind the poor writers, who spent all that time creating conflict, only to have actors come along and smooth it all over with forgiveness and understanding. they’re typically a sour bunch anyway. obviously didn’t get enough hugs as children. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the Ebook – releasing 2012.
…an actor’s about to deliver a line. there’ll be lots of hills and speed bumps and winding roads, so hold on tight. with both hands. and they’ll be inflecting through the entire line, in order to make the ride more interesting, and emphasizing a lot of words to make sure you know how important those words are. so pay attention. oh, and there’ll be lots of stops along the way, so you might want to bring a good book. don’t ask me what the line is or what it means and don’t bother trying to figure it out for yourself. first of all, with all the stuff the actor’s going to be doing with the line, you won’t be able to follow it anyway. and second, what the line is and what it means can’t be very important because the actor’s more concerned with how much they’re doing with it than in the meaning or substance of it. and if the actor’s more concerned with what they’re doing with the line than in the line itself, well you should be too. after all, the actor always knows what’s best. don’t they? oh, and by the way, the actor’ll be taking you on that ride with every one of their lines, so you might want to rest up a bit before you watch them play the scene. and speaking of the scene, i know the writer put a lot of time and energy into creating it but why should you worry about understanding what the writer wrote. the writer won’t even be there when you’re watching the actor play the scene. they’ll probably be off writing some other scene that some other actors are going to have to do all that stuff with to make it interesting for whoever’s going to be watching that one. god, writer’s are so high maintenance. and such know-it-alls. i mean, you know what the writer would probably say to the actor who’s more interested in what they the actor are doing with the line than in the line itself? they’d probably say something like… the less you make of the line, the more you make of the scene. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the Ebook – releasing 2012.
said the camera to the actor. and who can blame the poor camera. the actor’s always clamoring for it’s attention. “look at me, look at me. love me. want me. hey, watch what i can do.” it’s gotta be like babysitting a five-year old. i don’t know how the camera does it. must be completely exhausting. and, sure, the camera tolerates it. it has to. goes with the territory. but it doesn’t like it. it doesn’t want to have to babysit the actor. it would much rather have a grown up relationship with the actor. a little give and take. a little back and forth. and maybe, just maybe – and i know it’s a stretch for the actor – just maybe pay a little attention to the camera once in a while. hey, there’s a novel idea. you know, try listening to the camera from time to time (and actors are always talking about what great listeners they are…jeez). if they did listen to the camera and maybe try to find out what the camera wants, actors would learn a lot. they’d learn that the camera isn’t completely taken with everything the actor’s thinking and feeling all the time. it would actually prefer a little mystery in the relationship. you know, to keep the spark alive, to keep the magic going. besides, you don’t think the camera has needs and wants. it’s human, too, you know. wait, what? well, maybe that’s the problem. maybe you should think of the camera as a person, with whom you have a relationship (another thing actors are always saying they’re so concerned with…really, jeez). at the very least, give the camera a little breathing room. back off a little. don’t be shoving everything in it’s face all the time. you’d be surprised at how much more the camera will like you, even love you. what do you think “the camera really loves him or her” means. because just like the rest of us, the camera always likes someone more the less it knows about them, the less that person wants the camera, needs the camera. we all want what we can’t have and same goes for the camera. because the camera’s like a cat. the more attention you give it, the less interested it is. ignore it and it can’t resist you. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing…
over-the-top doesn’t mean you’re making a big choice. it means your acting is flowing over the top of the glass, spilling all over the table, and running into our laps, which makes us want to jump out of our chair screeching and then grab something to clean ourselves off. and we don’t keep ordering the same drink, if every time someone serves it to us it’s making a mess. we order a different drink, or maybe patronize a different establishment all together. over-the-top is the last resort of the unimaginative. scratch that. it’s the first resort of the unimaginative. they can’t come up with an interesting idea, so they try to drown you out with a lot noise. they figure if they can’t intrigue you, surprise you, move you, make you laugh, they’ll smash it into your face and shove it down your throat. take that, damn you! a “big” choice is a “specific” choice sustained over the course of the scene, because if you sustain a specific choice, it overshadows everything else in the scene, which makes it loom large, thus big. even an initially small choice can become big, if it’s sustained over the course of the scene. the more you sustain a choice, the bigger it will appear, the more vivid, the more memorable. big isn’t the same as over-the-top. over-the-top is messy. over-the-top means you have no skill, no ability to play a choice artistically. over-the-top is the surest way to being forgettable. over-the-top doesn’t mean the choice is big. it mean the acting sucks. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the Ebook – releasing 2012.
you think actors like to shout with their voice, that’s nothing compared with what they like to do with their face. half the time you can’t understand what they’re saying because their faces are screaming at you. and not only do they like their facial expressions to overwhelm the lines they’re speaking (so much for trusting the writer and trusting the writing), their facial expressions are competing with their other facial expressions. the eyebrows are jumping up and down like worms on crack, their eyeballs move around in their sockets like a ventriloquist’s dummy, their mouths contort in the most unattractive ways (so much for looking good on camera) and, as much as they obsess about looking as young as possible for the sake of their careers, actors seem more obsessed with wrinkling their foreheads, which makes them look ten years older than whatever age they lie about being. where did they get the idea that acting was about making funny faces? as much as they talk a lot about things like “making it real” and “emotional inner life” and “organic moments”, put them in a scene or in front of a camera and suddenly next to them chimpanzees look subtle. maybe that’s what they’re doing…getting in touch with their character’s backstory all the way back to the monkeys they descended from. what do they think that thing is sitting on the tripod, with a lens attached to the front of it, and a director looking through it to see what the actors are going to look like on camera, in the event the director wants to see them in his or her movie projected on a huge screen, which amplifies everything ten times…like facial expressions that are already too distracting to begin with? “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the Ebook – releasing 2012.
actors are like street peddlers. always pulling something else out a different part of their clothing to make the sale. “hey, you want happy? what about sad? i know, angry. no, no wait, i got it…sarcastic. no? what about elated? disappointed? disgusted? i got it! bored!!! oh, wait. that’s you watching my performance. um…gimme a minute. i’ll get it. um…” it’s as though they’re throwing as many options as they can at the camera, the audience, at us watching their audition in the hopes that one of them will make us want to buy what they’re doing. they do it because they think variety’s more interesting than consistency. but think about it. how can something interest us if it’s never some-thing? in other words, we can’t be interested in something if it’s trying to be everything. it’s never something long enough for us to invest it. and speaking of investing. imagine i came to you and asked you to invest in my business and when you asked, “what do you do?”, i said, “let’s see i’m a dry cleaner and a dog walker and a funeral director and i make pizza and i clean houses and i’m a contractor and an accountant…” would you invest in my business? then why should we, the camera or the audience watching invest in your acting? you don’t know what you want. you can’t make up your mind. you can’t make a decision. and so you’re not that interesting. and we’re effing bored. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the Ebook – releasing 2012.
comic characters are more interested in wanting what they want than in getting it. which is why actors can’t do comedy. or have trouble doing it. or hate it. because their “process” requires they listen, absorb, process, and be effected by the other characters. comic characters never listen to anyone, never absorb anything, process nothing and allow themselves to be effected by no one. that’s what makes them funny. comic characters are so single minded in their pursuit of what they want, it becomes a matter of principle that they get it. they’re convinced they deserved it all along and that a great wrong will have been committed if they don’t get it. they become fanatical about it. that can’t really happen when the actor’s being effected by the other characters. and the more that actor listens, absorbs, and is effected by the other characters, the less we want to laugh because we’re wondering more and more what they’re thinking and feeling. and the more we’re wondering what they’re thinking and feeling, the more we start to care about them and the more we care about them, the more we worry about them. and if we care enough to worry about them, we won’t laugh. why would we? we’re not monsters. we’re on the actor’s side. if they ask us to care, we care. if they ask us to laugh, we laugh. and the actor’s “process” is designed to make us care. using it in comedy is like trying to give someone an orgasm by following the instructions for making homemade bread. not only won’t you achieve anything, it’s gonna be painful. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” – the Ebook – releasing 2012.
it’s better to be wrong & interesting rather than right & boring. the only filmmakers who want you to come into an audition and get the scene “right” are student filmmakers. and if you find yourself auditioning for a filmmaker that’s directing you to play the scene the “right” way or “as it’s written”, you damn well better know what you’re doing because they don’t. you’ll never “pop” under their direction. but actors walk right into it because they think we want to see the scene played “right”. what we want to see is whether you know what to do on camera and if you’re doing anything interesting while the camera’s pointed at you. we don’t watch your audition thinking, “hmmm…how well does that actor understand the scene?”. what we want to see is how interesting you are as you read the scene. we want to see if you “pop”. unless, of course, you’re auditioning for a student filmmaker or otherwise amateur. for the rest of us, it’s…do you know what you’re doing and are you doing anything interesting. you’ll never “pop” if you’re trying to play the scene “right”. how could you? you’re playing the scene as it’s literally written. you’re playing the obvious. and everyone else will be doing the same thing. you’ll be just a clone of an obvious choice. you’ll be boring. but you’ll be right. “John Swanbeck’s: How To Steal The Scene & End Up Playing The Lead” -the Ebook – releasing 2012.