Actors And ProductionThe best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and this is particularly true in the case of filmmaking. Even with the best production manager in the world and the most experienced crew, countless variables can still affect the successful outcome of a shoot. Rather than interpret these problems as havoc makers for your budget, consider the creative potential of difference and happy accidents. Make spontaneity and chance your friends!

Acting Spontaneously

Acting requires a certain skill set and, like any profession, these skills will improve, evolve and diminish over time. The cornerstone of acting is imagination. It may sound obvious but one can reasonably assume that in order to assume another personality, it takes imagination in order to begin the process of developing that character. A good actor will train the imagination like any other occupational skill.

Imagination is usually relegated as a purely cognitive sense, but consider the imaginative potential of the body. Acting involves the total embodiment of another character so good actors regularly allow their bodies to move creatively and resourcefully respond to a variety of environments and situations. Placing your body in a variety of situations and creatively improvising how your body negotiates space and time can help you practice this essential skill. Do this regularly to keep your body as imaginatively supple as you do your brain!

However, while it may be the actors’ responsibility to maintain a vibrant and responsive imagination, it is the director’s responsibility to foster this creativity and spontaneity on set and on camera. Directors must allow adequate time in their filming schedules to work with the cast creatively to explore their interpretations of the script and scene. Physically being on location will unveil a myriad of further opportunities for character interaction and scene development that could not be created while in the confines of the rehearsal room. Directors should encourage your key cast to regularly move beyond their preconceptions and to explore their physical environment as their character would.

Refusal And Resistance

If you have not already encountered resistance from your cast, it’s inevitable. This can arise for any number of reasons, both intentional and unintentional. The scene may bear too emotionally upon the actor and as a result s/he cannot deliver the material on set. The actor may disagree with the value of a particular scene within the wider context of the film and refuse to deliver the character or dialogue as dictated by the script. Whatever the circumstances, you can approach these situations in several ways but your foremost focus must be on providing an environment where an actor can comfortably move into the emotional state required for the scene. An actor that feels as if s/he is under duress to perform will never deliver a quality product.

As a director, however, you must ensure that the actor always focuses on the task at hand. Work with the actor and find out what is required for them to reach the state required for him or her to deliver the material. Use problems as an opportunity to develop new and innovative material. Extend the actor an olive branch and ask his or her opinions about how the scene should progress. Incorporate his or her ideas but remain strong and true to your own vision. Through cooperation and experimentation, you may be able to secure the best material of the production to date.

Improvisation in Production

Improvisation is usually associated with theatre sports or rehearsal, but do not underestimate its potential as a tool for creating a quality performance with the camera. Furthermore, you can extend improvisation beyond the scope of acting and into your production strategy. Allowing a degree of flexibility in your workflow will give your project enough space to foster “happy accidents.” You may have planned to film a standard interview but keeping an eye out for extra footage opportunities on the day will give you more material to work with later on in post production, giving your production a more individual, nuanced touch.

The key to achieving a successful shoot with a degree of spontaneity is to have a clear idea of your end concept. Clearly define what the goal of your end project is and then you can begin to look for ways to integrate chance into your workflow. When planning your filming schedule, ensure you have written out a clear shooting plan. Also provide yourself with enough crew support and equipment to allow the project to pursue shooting opportunities that may arise on the day–surprise interviews, new locations, lighting etc.

While certainly more expensive, consider the added value of investing in more camera crew members for your project. Particularly if your project is documentary based, each crew member you add to your team will double the amount of material that can be recorded. This will prove invaluable in the cutting room when perfectly planned shots have gone wrong and you need supplementary material to cover for them. More camera crew will also enable you to cover the event or topic of your project more comprehensively. Be organized but flexible.

Work With A Safety Net

If you are working with a particularly volatile (figuratively and literally) or spontaneous scene, always make sure you are working with a sound safety net to capture all the material required for your project. A safety net here means working with multiple cameras. If you are working with a scene that can only be shot once, save your production manager the inevitable heart attack by ensuring that your crew are well prepared and have all the equipment required to secure a successful shoot. For a large, complex action scene, multiple cameras are essential to compensate for the possibility of technical malfunction, unanticipated sight obstructions, logistical problems and so on.

You will also double the amount of material you can take to the cutting room later on. Regardless of your budget, you must always organize a test run in the days preceding the shoot. Organize the position of your camera crew, anticipate the in-camera action, and finalize the technical requirements of the scene. You will save your budget a considerable amount of strain while still fostering the spontaneity required for an authentic and powerful action scene.