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Fillum and Theeyater

Sorry so quiet lately at this Tohu Bohu. Busy, busy, busy. Enchanted April opens on Thursday, for one thing, and there are all kinds of other things as well.

Here’s a quick thing to pass along from rehearsal last night: one of the two-person scenes was going slowly, and our Dear Director diagnosed the problem as the actors listening, then thinking, then speaking. That is, person A would speak (I have a thorn in my foot), and person B would listen, process the information, decide how to respond, and then speak (a thorn?), followed by person A listening to the response, considering and then speaking (yes, I did say a thorn), followed again by person B considering and responding (well, I didn’t stick it there) and so on. Although all of the considering and so on was fine acting, she said, it was slowing down the scene.

This, of course, is one of the difficult things about acting to a script; the audience wants both (a) not be carried along by the dialogue without having to wait while the actor/character thinks, not a very entertaining spectator sport, and (2) to believe, at least temporarily, that the dialogue mimics actual conversations that actual people have (assuming it’s that kind of show). Actually, I think it’s a bit more complicated than that (who guessed?), and that the audience wants to believe that the dialogue is the dialogue that they would have, if they were in those conditions, because they are really that clever and funny and impassioned and persuasive and poetic, underneath.

But anyway, what I wanted to ask y’all about was your reaction to the Director’s next statement about that pacing and acting: that would be great on film, said she, but not it doesn’t work on stage. Now, on one level, I was just impressed by this as actor-handling, as both of the actors in that scene have worked in film. Still, I was wondering if it made real sense. I mean, when I say that thinking isn’t a spectator sport, clearly lots of people like those shots in film where a person is thinking, acting with her forehead and the corners of the mouth. The reaction shot. I’m always a bit irritated with them, honestly, although I don’t mind watching Person A while Person B is speaking, or watching Person A do that forehead-and-corners-of-the-mouth thing whilst carving the roast or manipulating the cards. But I recognize it as a thing that Great Film Actors win lots of awards for doing.

On the other hand, I think (I think) that in a dialogue, the pauses for thinking in between lines would be excruciating, however foreheady the actors were. Or is that just me?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I'm not sure about film, but it's been my understanding that there's a LOT of editing of the film between what the film actors do and what the audience actually sees. So I'm wondering whether the 100-250 ms pause which would make a scene drag are tightened up in post processing to 10-100 ms at the director's discretion, depending on what s/he thinks is needed for the scene pacing. An editor going through the film ms by ms can do that, and an actor with a poor sense of timing wouldn't be able to deliver the lines with that kind of precision.

So "it would work on film" because someone fixes it before the audience sees it. ;)


I am dubious of the film/stage distinction on dialogue pace. I would suggest, instead, that

a) the pace of the dialogue should be set, ultimately, by the needs of the scene and of the play or the film;

2) good acting entails thinking at the play's pace by the time performances begin. Method actors, especially, will (and perhaps must) start slowly, so that they can think through and figure out whatever the character needs to think through and figure out. Once they have done that, they shouldn't stop thinking, but they should practice thinking faster.

It may be the case that slow-paced dialogue is more common in films than in plays, but you wouldn't want to go racing through the dialogue in Pinter or Beckett or even some of Mamet, for example.

Films can afford slow-paced dialogue more readily than plays because there's less dialogue altogether in a fim, and films have a variety of visual devices for speeding up to a pace that races along much faster than dialogue. Plays can seldom get any faster than the pace of dialogue, and they are mostly dialogue, so they can't afford a consistently slow pace in their dialogue.


scenario is fixed in place on stage; film moves freely, zooming sound and vision, leading the viewer through the scene. the only guide in-person performance viewers have inside a scene is voice or extreme physical differentiation (being the only one waving hands, being the only one standing). most of the house sees the performance as a "long" shot. even at closest (up skirt, aka "medium-long"), the perspective is bizarre and yet still not visually arranged. the fear that someone will fall in your lap is distracting.


Well, there are people who talk rapidly and people who talk quickly, and if you're portraying someone who talks slow, you probably pause a bit more than if you're playing a Harold Hill. I don't know that there's a film/stage dichotomy per se (there are plays out there that can rivet with very little dialogue, and there are all too many snooze-worthy silent stretches in film).

peace
Matt


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