Unfinished Business-01

Unfinished Business: Losing the Day Player Mentality and THINKING BIG.

The past few weeks, we’ve had a rule in my classes:  Whenever anyone says “Sorry” the response is “EFF YOU”.  (Only we say a bad word instead of ‘EFF” – and it’s said with love and support)

Why?  It’s time for we, the Canadian Actors to unapologetically claim our spot.  There is no room to hold back or think small.  For the moments ahead it’s our time to think BIG. (And hey, while we’re at it why not from now on anyway – couldn’t hurt, right?)

These are unprecedented times.  Canadian actors are experiencing the biggest ‘moment before’ that we have ever had.  The lead of the play is sick, and it’s time for the understudy to prove that they are ready to carry the show onward.

As predicted in our first Ahead of the Curve Webinars in March,  MOW’s  are back first in force in BC, and  now getting up and running in ON.  I suggested that would be the case at that time pointing out that the logistics to set up a short term shoot (vs a TV Season), combined with existing infrastructure and overall willingness to rely on Canadian talent further up the food chain, would make these projects a natural for ‘first out of the gate’.

Now, the next stage we are seeing is that American TV series are starting to cast and bring production back.  Yes, in recent news there have been some bumps on the road which could cause some short-term delay.  That element notwithstanding,  THIS presents the opportunity we have been waiting (and hopefully preparing) for.

The opportunity is to have a much higher chance of booking those recurring roles.  The roles that so often we feel (through perspective adopted in a negative-thinking culture?) ‘go to LA’ or ‘go to New York’.  Not the leads or higher up regulars per se but that recurring guest star that will be in 5 /13 episodes for example.  American productions will need to rely on local talent for these characters.  

Why? 

Money and time.

Required 14 day quarantines are going to make it financially unrealistic to rely on non-local talent for these characters.  Think about that character who has 3-4 days on set for 5 eps, who traditionally in between work flies home to LA or New York.  To hire a non-Canadian for that role, production has to pay an actor for 14 days quarantine with each visit.   So, in the case of 4 days for 5 eps over a season, instead of paying for 20 days of work, hotel, per diem, etc etc, they would be paying for  NINETY DAYS.  That is not going to be a thing.

What does that mean….

Put me on the ice, coach.   Time for me to save the game. (yes I’ve mixed the initial metaphor, but come on, I’m Canadian and an actor how can I not use Theatre AND Hockey?)

So… now that we are pumped for the opportunity, let’s recognize that, although it’s certainly a prerequisite, we are NOT going to save the game on attitude.  It’s going to require delivering with total confidence the highest level of our best work and the crafting of the audience’s investment in future story.

FUTURE STORY

That’s a term I’ve been using a lot this year.  It came up as a cute play on ‘Back Story’ in classes and workshops this past pilot season.  It’s not exclusive to Pilots, though.  Future Story is in play for any character that needs to be around any time he/she emerges.  In pilots, we are so often setting up the potential relationships and plot that will hold an audience for multiple seasons.  Considering what the future chemistry and story exists between your character and all others is an important and often overlooked element of long term character composition.

This concept seems to run contrarily to what most of us have as our foundation of good acting with respect to scene structure. In scene study, we learn about the resolution of the scene.  Rightly (and vitally) so.  After all, this is the fundamental/foundational stuff upon which our entire craft is based.  Story structure is a thing.  Someone achieves their objective, someone fails to achieve their objective and so forth. Scenes take us through an  exploration of a journey to resolution.

That word, “Resolution” is a bit of a misnomer.  If we are not sharp, it will lead us out of a series too soon.

Within a story, and especially within a series, every scene needs to keep the audience invested in ‘what will happen next’.  If our characters are leaving our scenes completely resolved, with nothing further requiring attention, our services are no longer required.  Job done.  Day Player.

If… however, there is ‘unfinished business’ on the table…. well… we’re going to need you back.

Let’s think about the unfinished business for our scenes and characters.  For pretty much every scene, there is a Single Scene, Multiple Scene or Multiple Episode version available to you. 

Below is an illustration  to help you think about this.  First though, a note of caution:

**Don’t apply this stuff to characters that are so obviously serving the ’hit your mark and bark’ utility function.  That’s a short trip to being seen as an indulgent or green actor**

SETUP (same for each version):  Two LEAD DETECTIVES from the big city sit in a small town diner, discussing a lead in a case, George Jones…

SINGLE SCENE VERSION (Actor/Principal)

WAITER refills their coffee, the lead detectives look up from their conversation and ask if the waiter knows George.  “Oh sure, George Jones.   He owns the gas station on third and maple.”  Waiter places the check on the table and exits.

Great.  Everything is resolved.  The detectives have what they need to move forward.

The one scene version serves the utility of introducing or resolving a matter at hand for the regulars/leads.

MULTIPLE SCENE VERSION (Large Principal/Guest Star)

 WAITER refills their coffee, the lead detectives look up from their conversation and ask if the waiter knows George.  “Oh sure, George Jones….”  The waiter takes a beat, looks around the room, “He owns the gas station on third and maple.”  Waiter places the check on the table and exits.

What was the waiter looking at before answering that question?  Does he/she know more?  We might need to talk to them again later to see.  There is unfinished business with respect to the PLOT of this episode at play.  This waiter may be a suspect, a red herring, the actual killer, or just a more key witness.  

The multiple scene version delivers the required information but raises some questions with respect to the matters at hand.  Plot elements to be resolved after this scene is over…

MULTIPLE EPISODE VERSION (Recurring Guest Star/Series Regular)

WAITER refills their coffee, the lead detectives look up from their conversation and ask if the waiter knows George.  “Oh sure, George Jones….”  The waiter takes a beat, looks at DETECTIVE 1.  There’s a hint of electricity between them. Attraction?  Animosity?  Not clear.  WAITER looks around the room, “He owns the gas station on third and maple.”  Waiter places the check on the table and exits, looking back at DETECTIVE 1 before exiting.

Hmm…. What was the deal with the tension between the waiter and detective?  Odd.  Wonder if we’ll see them again?  Seems like they have a strong opinion about old George Jones too….

The multiple episode version delivers the required information but raises some questions with respect to the matters at hand AND leaves questions about the relationships with the series regulars……

Thinking about the unfinished business between you and the other characters and the plot elements leaves future story in play.  In this past week’s webinar my long time client Jessica Sipos (multiple series regulars and recurring roles ), used the expression “Beginning- Middle- Beginning” to describe the same thing.  I love that. It perfectly speaks directly against our tendency to wrap up and resolve ourselves right out of the story.

 

ENORMITY + AMBIGUITY = FUTURE STORY

We want to create the intersection of enormity and ambiguity.  Create a world of potential outcome (enormity) and have the discipline to allow for that outcome to be uncertain (ambiguity).  Don’t underestimate the discipline needed to allow for the ambiguous part.  The same way that we learn to resist the impulse to play the end of the scene (an emotional outpouring for example), we must resist playing the end of the character arc when we first meet them.  Breaking Bad wouldn’t have been much of a series if Brian Cranston introduced us to ‘Scarface’ instead of ‘Mr. Chips’ in season one.  (I love that Vince Gilligan’s pitch for that series was a character arc… “We’re going to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface.  That’s first show I ever heard of to take that approach.)

Audiences are engaged in what’s happening when they care and cannot predict (investment & uncertainty) what is going to happen.  When we under invest or over reveal, we are abridging what we have to offer.  We are ‘Day Playing’ ourselves. 

Canadian actors…. You ARE NOT  LIMITED TO DAY PLAYER.  You belong in the story. You have something more to offer.  Know that.  Eff the ‘sorries’.   Get busy getting busy.  You have so much unfinished business to attend to.  We want to watch you do it.

Now is the time to deliver.  Lights up in five… let’s step into them and shine our way into bright future story, OK?

 

 

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