ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
WRECK-IT-RALPH : FAIR AND BALANCED
My comments about Wreck-It-Ralph last month unleashed a bit of a tempest amongst some of my gamer friends. They are insisting that this is the best movie since, well, since ever! Because I have smart friends, I will take a second look at it shortly, but in the meantime, in the interest of being Fair and Balanced, I offer this link to a passionately pro-Wreck-It-Ralph article written by subscriber Danielle Williams. You guys will be happy to know that, in addition to the new Wreck-It-Ralph game, there is going to be a sequel to the movie featuring a new character: Nintendo's mega-star, Mario. I love sequels. Cars 2, anyone?
NORMAND, LOIC AND FELIX MAKE A HIT!
When parent company Google sticks a commercial on the front of your YouTube video, you know you have a hit. The Golden Eagle Snatches Kid, uploaded December 18th, was created by Normand Archambault, Loïc Mireault and Félix Marquis-Poulin, Centre NAD students in Montreal. Five million views! Good going, guys! And a round for the excellent good-humored teachers at Centre NAD.
Kim Masters, Editor at Large for the industry trade publication The Hollywood Reporter, wrote an excellent in-depth article about industry trends for the December 13th issue, and I recommend that everyone read it. Her bottom line is that over the past decade, Hollywood's studios have been migrating out of the movie-making business in favor of marketing and distribution. Disney released 12 movies (including live-action) in 2012. Ten years earlier, it released 22. Who these days is making movies for the love of doing it? If somebody had convinced Walt Disney that there is no money in animation, he would have made his movies anyway because he was a born storyteller. It has not been like that among Hollywood executives for a very long time, which is why the industry is poised to receive a new generation of born storytellers.
Lee Child is the best-selling author of the Jack Reacher novels and a master at building suspense. He explains how he does it in the December 9th issue of The New York Times. You may be surprised and enlightened, as I was. Smart person, even if he does mis-use the word "sympathy" twice in the article. Should be "empathy." I'm just saying. (If you cannot access the article at the link above, drop me a note and I will send you a copy of it e-mail.)
NEW ON THE WEBSITE
A side-benefit (or curse, take your pick) of teaching groups of animators is that many of you draw pictures of me. In addition to getting a teacher, my students have a balding, bespectacled, life model. It is time to start showcasing some of your work. If you have a caricature of me you would like to see online in the Acting For Animators website, scan it and shoot it over to me. My ever-creative webmaster, Tom Hardy, will make sure you get the exposure you deserve. Cheers!
And while you're on the website, check out our new Featured page celebrating an important birthday in the (pre)history of animation!
ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULE
February 18-22 Animex Int'l Festival of Animation & Computer Games, Teesside, England
March 25-29 GDC 2013 San Francisco, California
AN ACTOR/SHAMAN’S HARDEST JOB
Suppose for a moment you, an actor, are offered the role of Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Connecticut, murderer. First, would you accept it and, second, what would you do with it? How would you approach rehearsal? Where would you look for your analysis of this character?
Stay with me on this. I don’t mean to belittle the enormity of this act – it is horrendous – and I mean no disrespect to the victims or their families. But I am a teacher, and I believe there is a lesson here, not only for the actor/shaman but perhaps for society, too, as we try to deal with this act.
(There may never be a movie or play about what this person did on December 14th, but I would not want to bet against it. Hollywood has a way of looking for money wherever it can find it.)
So, theoretically, let’s say that you have accepted the role as probably the most daunting challenge of your career. What are you going to do? How will you proceed? Shakespeare advised that the actor’s job is “…to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2) By “nature”, he meant all of human nature, 100 percent of it, the good, the bad and and the incomprehensible, which is the category under which you will find this role.
In the aftermath of the massacre, many of what I call “the explainers” are appearing on television. Some of them are telling us that “evil exists in the world,” and that Adam Lanza is merely its human face of the moment. Some suggest that “if we put God back in the classrooms” there will be no mass murders. Many explainers are placing gun control laws – or the lack of them – center stage. We are seeing on TV many diagrams of the human brain, with the anterior insular cortex (the front part) being crossed out in Mr. Lanza’s case because he evidently lacked the capacity to empathize.
These explanations and exhibitions are helpful for people who are in despair and hoping for solace, looking for a psychic compartment where one might possibly place the purposeful massacre of young children. And rational people know that gun control should be part of any serious and strategic civic debate. Yet none of this will help you as the actor who must portray the killer. Your job is shamanistic. You have to come to your own understanding of how Adam Lanza justified his actions, and then tell the tribe what you have learned. You hold up the mirror and, if the members of the tribe can detect even the slightest reflection of themselves, you will have made a powerful contribution to our survival as a tribe.
Let’s talk about acting. We all feel slightly nauseous even thinking about what he did, and that feeling is 100 percent appropriate. We are hard-wired by nature to respond to the purposeful death of a child that way. The rest of the tribe may turn away, but the shaman does not have that option.
1. Adam Lanza was a member of our tribe, a human being. He was not normal, obviously, but he was nonetheless one of us. The actor must accept this premise because it is a prerequisite for understanding anything about the man.
2. All humans act to survive. Therefore, in Adam Lanza’s twisted value system, he felt he had to assert himself somehow. If he had simply wanted to die, he could have committed suicide in private. It is significant that he killed himself only when it was clear that if he did not do it, the police in the school hallway would do it for him.
3. Every person is the protagonist – the hero – in his or her own life. Villains do not think of themselves as villains, and a delusional person who talks to trees does not think of himself as delusional.
4. Children throw tantrums because they lack the words to express what they feel and want. A possible acting choice for this role is that the entire episode was a terrible and prolonged tantrum. If that might be the case, then he was an emotional child living in an adult body. For the actor to justify the murders, it will be helpful to connect internally with his own long-ago child self. One child might understand another in a way that an adult cannot.
5. Adam had a back-story, one that the actor can never completely know for obvious reasons. Therefore, he will conjecture a psychology based on the few hard facts that he knows. This is where the actor puts his own personal stamp on the role because no two actors will see Adam’s psychology the same way. This step is key to how the actor-audience aesthetic will play out.
6. His mother taught him how to have fun with an AR-15 assault rifle. The actor will have to make sense of this. Why would a mother do that in the first place? Could it be that she was seeking approval and admiration from her son because she no longer received it from her ex-husband?
7. By all accounts, he was withdrawn, quiet, reclusive. In that widely circulated class photo, he is the only one wearing a hat. Why? Could it be that he wanted to participate in life, to express himself freely, but lacked the necessary social skills to do that? Could this make him, in other words, the human equivalent of a volcano?
An actor must never say to himself, “I would not behave like this character behaves.” Instead, he must embrace the character, finding in himself the potential for that behavior. It goes without saying that no normal, well-adjusted person would do what Adam Lanza did, but the actor looking for common ground with Lanza will most likely find it in his own potential for madness.
The tribe needs its shamans now. The world around us is becoming increasingly crazy-quilt, and we do not know how to make sense of it. We know for sure that we cannot survive if we are unable to detect and deter the future Adam Lanzas. We do ourselves no favor by marginalizing him, which is really just a way of avoiding the problem. What on earth motivated him on December 14th? How did he get to be like that? The tribe, to survive, must face these questions.
It is time to draw a circle in the dirt. It is time for the shaman to go to work.
Until next year ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks