A longtime online friend of mine Mike Krumlauf is making a feature film called External Memory and has two parts up on their youtube channel. He emailed me today asking for feedback and since I rarely have the time to take people up on that request, I thought I’d post my feedback here incase it’s helpful to anyone else also learning to make films.

External Memory

So Mike, I watched the two parts. Nice work guys. Some good shots. Getting hit by the car and him running through that garage and jumping all looked really cool. The story is not bad either. One thing to be careful about is having your story be too preachy. You know how in a fable, there is always a moral to the story. Well I think you should resist the temptation to have super clear morals. It’s not bad to have them when your writing but really, if you make the characters real enough in terms of writing a very complex and dynamic character then the morals of the story will all be implied and you wont have to articulate them so much. But this becomes even more of a challenge to keep feeling real when you introduce non-realistic elements which seems to be at the core of the style. So your going to have to create a balancing act between the invented reality and realistic characters that feel like people we know as the audience.

There are a lot of acting and directing tricks to make what ever your script is come across as extremely natural and believable. Try these two things with your actor. Play an acting game called “I see, I feel”. You can do this at your rehearsals with the actors.

Two people sit down across form each other and stare into each others eyes. It’s okay to blink but you can not look away. Do this in silence until it becomes comfortable. Then one person says “I see somebody who is…” Then the other person says, “I see somebody who…” and you basically just fill in the blanks. You can start with very physical observations like, “who is wearing a baseball cap.” But then you evolve into, “…someone who is a friend.” But basically just say whatever comes into your mind with out thinking or censoring. Then you move to “I feel…”. The two people trade off saying things they feel.Now these should all be things the real people really feel, not the fictional characters. Maybe someone feels glad to be in a movie maybe somebody feels stressed about school, whatever they really feel. Then finally, as an option, if there is a certain mood they need to capture for a scene, they can start throwing back and forth, “I feel…” and describe how they know the character is supposed to feel. At this point they need to insert their own true selves into what the character is supposed to be. At this moment they’ll be both. They’ll be themselves operating as real people, but also the character in the head space the character is in. And thats where you want your actors to be in this kind of fictional work. Essentially just themselves but in state that the character is supposed to be in.

You can even do this on set just before a take if your actors have previously done this.

Now here is another thing you can do with actors. You can hypnotize them. Learn online about how to hypnotize people because thats basically what directing is. You should be able to find some audio and video tutorials on that. Once you know basically how to do that. You can get creative with what you have people do. The thing about hypnosis is that you don’t really make people do things, you just make suggestions that they willing go along with and they fill in all the blanks. So it can be very minimal. And you can do very creative things with it.

For example, what if you had convinced your actor momentarily that he was an orangutan physically but that verbally he was a drill sergeant. The angle that tells him to jump. This would produce a stronger presence we’d be able to connect with as the audience. His arms might swing in a bit more of an intimidating way and his weight might be exaggerated as he jumped in front of your lead to stop him from continuing. And the orders coming out of his mouth would have an authentic authority because for a moment your actor really would believe that he was a drill sergeant. And then if you didn’t like that take, you could hypnotize him to be a whole different combo for the next take. All of this can be worked in in rehearsals with your actors.

And a final directing tip. Be sure to not give too much direction. People generally aren’t as aware of their mouth, eyes and limbs as we are watching them. So it kind of freaks people out to say, “do this with your mouth.” Instead, get used to throwing abstract ideas at your actor that have nothing at all to do with the scene. You can even do this in the middle of a take. Just be sure to always speak loud and slow because during a take hearing what a director is saying can be difficult.

An example of that would be when your actor wakes up on the roof. Artistically you might decide that when asleep he’s in a gentle state but when he wakes up he’s sort of jolted by this weird reality he’s stepped into. So when the actor is laying on the ground, you can say, “your on vacation.” And say it as a directing instruction. He might say, “what do you mean.” But if you work this way with your actors a bit, they’ll eventually learn that you give them things that can evoke a feeling for them. If the actor knows how to take that kind of direction and you’ve sort of hypnotized them, then in their minds, they will suddenly be totally relaxed and on vacation and that will change look on their face pretty noticiabily and you’ll know if you have what you want. This is referred to as an “inner secret”. It’s something the audience will never know they were thinking but at the same time, the audience will be affected by the fact they were thinking it.

Another thing that struck me was the lack of peoples eyes. Something weird happens with the eyes of human beings where when we look at them we just understand where they are coming from. So cinematically this should be taken advantage of. Get a little closer when you can. And maybe even have a reflector on hand with a PA to bounce some light into peoples faces. Your using available light pretty well and exposing well and color correcting pretty well, but if you get a little bit more light into the eyes, then the audience will be able to see where the characters are coming from. And while your directing, you’ll also be able to watch their nuances yourself to see if it’s all convincing and if you need to stop and enhance the performance with some more direction.

Thats about it, good luck with all your filmmaking and with this feature.

From time to time I might use my blog as sort of an online film course so part of the vision there is that other people chime in and also give feedback to the work. So again, here is the link, go watch for yourself and then come back and post some thoughts below.