Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Back Story

The BACK STORY initiates the creative process of the actor (all creativity starts with impulse.) 
ü “Imagination and creativity are guests that do not like to visit lazy people.”
ü “Until the Actor loses all Awareness of the ‘Self’, the Character will never come to Life.”
v “The Kiersey Temperament and Character web site”, (
v “The Little Giant Encyclopedia Of The Zodiac”
The actor creates (in writing) a complete biography of the character from birth up to the time the story takes place as well as a psychological profile.  Primarily the actor should be interested in what the character is like or what makes him tick.  What are his goals, what are his desires, wants and needs in his life.  What are his mores, habits, manners, lifestyle and values?  What interesting things have happened to him in his life that makes him unique?  How does he respond and deal with conflict, crisis, fear and love and why.  (Commonplace is not interesting)  He must even create anticipation or dread of future events for the character; what is the character looking forward to (or dreading), what goals (specifically) has he set for himself in his life, what does he anticipate is going to happen to him.  “Always give the character a secret that only he knows.”  Always give your character a secret he knows about the other character(s) that the other character(s) doesn’t know he knows.
The study of character should be from the inside, not from the outside!  “Always work from the inside out; if you work from the outside in, all you have is a dry husk.”  A character is a blank canvas upon which the actor paints all of the emotions, details, fantasy memories and characteristics at his command.  The actor is the brush: emotions are the colors; the character is the canvas.
In order to create a complete character, you must research and look for or create new habit patterns for the character; even if it is only seeking out and talking to the type of character you have to create.
A BACK STORY can easily (and should) exceed 50 pages because the actor must create, as part of and in addition to Research, memories; 
v Assumed Fantasy Memories for the character that have nothing at all to do with his own memories except for some physical memories. 
v Knowledge Memories.   Knowledge memories are anything the character knows or has learned in his life and even what he wants to learn.
v Emotional memories are absolutely vital to the character in the development of the BACK STORY.  Weak or shallow emotional memories set the stage for the actor to “break character” and use his own memories.  Emotional memories (causal stimuli), must be painstakingly created if the actor is to avoid “breaking character”.  The actor must realize that his character needs a balance of memories, using the “Yin and Yang” principle, creating good or happy memories as well as sad or traumatic memories for the character to utilize in playing each moment and it is the strength and clarity of the memories that keeps him in character and in the moment.  Emotional memories create the basis of the character’s personality;  how he responds to crisis, to conflict, fear, to love and to what automatic choices he will make when playing the moment (A character’s choices will always naturally flow from the character traits you establish in his BACK STORY).  Personality defining memories usually have occurred by the age of twelve.  “The response of the character to any given situation within the context of a scene comes from the preparation of the BACK STORY.”
v Anticipation or dread of Future events is the final section of “Memories”.  Your character not only has a life (the BACK STORY) that precedes the story, but also that life must and will continue after the story.
Everything the character has done in his life or anticipates doing, the actor must know and therefore has to create; the actor must decide what skeletons the character has in his closet, what things the character is most proud/ashamed of, etc.  Once adhering to the given circumstances, the actor can basically play God, he can create any memory or thought for the character he chooses, there is no right or wrong, (there is only too little) so long as he begins with the given circumstances supplied by the writer.  In order to become and be the character, the actor must know everything about the character and the beauty is that the actor gets to create it.  You must know the character better than you know yourself.  It is a wise person who knows others, but it is an enlightened person who knows himself.
It is the character’s lifestyle that dictates what the character’s personality is like and what choices he will make and this is where the character becomes unique and original.  Don’t create a unique or original character for its own sake, the character must fit and flow with the story and the other characters.
The actors should make JOINT BACK STORIES for the length of time the characters have been together in the story.  “PEAK” memories.  Physical, Emotional, Anticipation and Knowledge.  JOINT BACK STORIES are absolutely vital to the emotional base between characters.
Audience Apathy:  The thing an actor should hate and fear most is audience apathy.  When his audience doesn’t care about his character; love your character, hate your character or at least find your character interesting, then the actor has failed in his creation.
Emotional Characteristics Outline:
·       Strengths/Weaknesses
·       Introvert or Extrovert (Personality category or type)
·       How does the character deal with anger?
Ø With Sadness?
Ø With Conflict?
Ø With change?
Ø With Loss?
Ø With Love?
Ø With Fear?
Ø With Confrontation?
·       What does the character want out of life? (Goals)
·       What would the character like to change about himself or in his life?
·       What motivates this character?
·       What frightens this character?
·       What makes this character happy/sad?
·       Is the character judgmental of others?
·       Is the character generous or stingy?
·       Is the character compassionate, cruel or indifferent?
·       Is there character generally polite or rude?
·       Is the character easy-going or irritable/grouchy?
·       Is the character self-conscious?
·       Is the character confident or insecure?

Extra Notes:

1) When speaking to an actor off-camera, look into one eye and stick with it.

2) Film acting is, in large part, reacting and listening.

3) While rehearsing something with a fellow actor, if a crew member can come up and recognize you’re rehearsing vs. having a real conversation, then you aren’t doing it right.

4) An actor relaxes in front of the camera by concentrating, and knowing that you have no enemies on set, everyone’s on your side and doing their best to make you look your best for the movie.

5) The camera catches everything you do, so don’t be afraid to play things subtly.

6) If you’re going to smoke on-screen, you must plan it absolutely perfectly, don’t mess up the continuity.

7) All actors steal certain gestures and behaviors from other actors — but the best actors make these gestures their own. Steal from the best, and make it your own.

8) You can make four pictures as an actor in the time it takes a director to make one — so if you’re an actor planning on becoming a director, consider the financial aspect.

9) A majority of movie acting is relaxation. If you’re knocking yourself out, you’re doing it wrong.

10) Theater acting is an operation with a scalpel; movie acting is an operation with a laser.

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