Thursday, 11 November 2010

The gun and the whistle

The Words of Wisdom this week are 'Action' is not the starting gun, but 'Cut' is the referee's whistle. That's a couple of sporting analogies so let's explain them.

When a film is being shot there's a little routine that is run before every take. It's a dialogue between the director, or first assistant director, and the camera operator. It goes like this: "Quiet please! Turn over." "Running" "Action." The magic word for the actors is 'Action.' And at the end of the take there is another magic word: 'Cut."

How should actors handle these two magic words? 'Action' is not the starting gun. At the start of a sprint race, the instant the runners hear the bang, they hurl themselves out of the starting blocks and hurtle down the track. When you, as an actor, hear the exciting word 'action' resist the temptation to do something similar. If you have the first word, or the first movement, of the take, never initiate it until you are sure you are in character and in mood. Run in your head what has happened to your character in the few seconds before where the take begins, something said or something that's been done, and then, when you're ready, start. It's not a race.

And 'cut?' What's that got to do with the referee's whistle? Well, when you learn to play football you're taught 'Play to the whistle.' You may believe that the ball has gone into touch, or that a foul has been committed, but you might be wrong, so you keep on playing until you hear the whistle blow. So, similarly, when you get to the end of your lines in the scene, don't stop, remain in character and in mood until you hear the word 'cut.'

Why is this important? Because you're giving the editor material to work with. Next time you're watching a movie, notice how it's cut and how the editor has used the beginning and end of shots, often to effect by transmitting a mood that the audience will absorb unconsciously. If you don't provide editor with the material with which to do this, it can't happen.

'Action' is not the starting gun, but 'cut' is the referee's whistle.