Fictional Realm In FilmIn Sydney Pollock’s Sanford Meisner documentary, Meisner says, “Everything is imagination. Do you believe Hamlet existed?” The implication here seems obvious—Hamlet was a fictional character who didn’t exist. But because we often allow characters to become real to us, not as real as the people we interact with on a daily basis but real nonetheless, this statement may seem jarring.  The power of that reaction indicates the power of the fictional realm.

The fictional realm is as delicate as memory, and just as resilient. The imagination is autonomous and private, selecting its own course despite the demographic it intends to satisfy. The fictional realm is not so far away from our actual existence.  When we are constructing the fictional real, we are creating a real event, or a real relationship, or a real individual, even though it is fictional.

This is the reason why fictional characters like Hamlet can resonate so easily with us. We do not see them as separate than us, but as existing as completely and complexly as we do.  The capacity of our imaginations allows us to attribute real-life characteristics to something as seemingly far away as a new galaxy, like the ones constructed in Star Wars, or something as common and connected to us as the lives of individuals in one apartment building, like Krzysztof Keisowski’s DecalogueThe location doesn’t matter—what bridges the difference is the power of the individual imagination.

Creative Reality

“All of a sudden, there were individuals-Hamlet, Nick Bottom-who were similar to me, who had been embarrassed worse than me. All of the sudden, I could form a framework for my life through these characters.”

-Liev Schreiber

We have the power to construct a creative reality in our minds, whether participating in a scene or simply watching it.  Consider this exercise in changing the creative reality by changing your perspective.  Consider the scene in Midnight Cowboy, when Joe Buck is eating a meal made by Ratso Rizzo. You’ll recall the dialogue: Ratso says, “Eat it while it’s hot. Hot it ain’t bad.” Joe responds, “Smells worse hot ‘n it did cold.” Instead of assuming that the dialogue is focused on Ratso’s culinary expertise, or lack thereof, consider the difference in your perspective if you now knew that Joe and Ratso are consuming dog food. If the scene changes, and you understand the characters differently, that is the power of creative reality

Imagine now that you are an actor portraying one of the parts in that scene.  It would make no difference what the director told you about the scene, or what the property master had placed on your plate. Once you had constructed the creative reality of dog food in your mind, that reality would always be with you. If you are the director, no matter what modification the actors confidentially made to the line, in your mind you would be narrating a story of two men consuming a dog food meal together. Whether or not that exists on the script’s page doesn’t matter—what matters is the capacity of your imagination to create a very real event.

One of the ways to access this creative reality is to ad-lib lines. Doing so accesses an actor’s psyche, and the intuitive mind can help to construct this creative reality more effectively than the conscious one.

Ultimately, the foundation of art is life.  Everything you witness, observe, learn, or hear can become the basis for the creative reality you eventually construct.  If the creative world we create is real, so the real life we encounter can be replicated in art.  Multifaceted artists always rely upon life as the basis of creative truth.  As Shakespeare created a Hamlet who feels so real that we find it foreign to think of him as fictional, so do the best kind of actors, directors, and screenwriters.  They help us create a world that feels so genuine, so connected to our own experiences, that our imaginations easily translate them to into something as real as our own lives.