31 January 2012




"He be boxed."

That's what the black attendant at the Chicago city morgue said about corpses heading out the door in coffins, according to a guy who used to be a reporter there.

"He be boxed."

If you're going to be a dog . . .

'Another bar, another long bygone year. Being young and naive, I was still at the age when my primary strategy for dealing with really hot women was flattery, eagerness and niceness. A friend of mind gave me the advice that the hotter as girl is, the more I should treat her like I would treat an ugly woman. And if she’s really hot, I should be borderline cocky and arrogant. This seemed counterintuitive, and I was skeptical, but I told myself I’d give it a shot sometime.
'So on this night it was my friend Beethoven (short for The Beethoven of BitchesTM) and me drinking in a Brooklyn Bar. It was a decent crowd with some definite cuties.
'Beethoven and I were sitting at the bar catching up. A hot hipster blonde and her friend nearby were getting hit on left and right by guys and playfully shooting them down. This was a giant ego boosting night for them; you could tell this was their normal Friday night routine: go out looking hot while teasing some eager, desperate guys they had no plans of hooking up with. There was a group of typical guys standing behind our chairs with their backs to us, and Hipster Blonde and her friend were on the other side of the guys getting their asses kissed making small talk. Hipster Blonde squeezed around the group of guys and interrupted Beethoven and me.
'Hipster Blonde said to me “Do you mind if I put my jacket on the back of your chair?” My first instinct was to eagerly say “Sure!” Then I remembered the advice about treating a hot girl like an ugly girl and acting arrogant.
'I looked at her expressionlessly. “Let me think about it.” I turned away as if visibly annoyed and in deep thought. She stood there holding her jacket in her outstretched hand, speechless and with an expression of utter disbelief. I turn back at just the exact moment before the silence would have gotten uncomfortable and say playfully with a smirk, “Yeah, I guess you can.”
'She playfully replied “Oh really? Are you sure it’s okay? I’d hate to inconvenience you.” I knew she was intrigued She probably couldn’t remember the last time I guy wasn’t eager to give her whatever she wanted. Or acted totally unimpressed by her.
'We bantered and traded barbs for a bit, and then just when it was getting good I said “All right, well you should get back to your friends,” and pointed at the crew of eager cornballs she was just speaking to. Her friend was still with them, alone. Before she could respond, I turned back to Beethoven and went back to our conversation.
'10 minutes later she came back, this time with her friend. It was obvious the friend was being brought over to get a look at me and give a second opinion. Women love getting the friend’s second opinion and approval.
'She interrupts us again. “Hey, I came back to get my jacket.”
'Exasperatedly, I say “You again? You’re just full of annoying requests, aren’t you?” I turned to her friend. “Is she always this demanding? How do you put up with it?”
'She and her friend gave each other an expression that’s a mix of mock shock and laughter. They were loving the cockiness. I’ve got them now. She smiled and teased, “You’re just mad because I’m prettier than you.”
'I gave her a slightly bemused look, scanned her from top to bottom like I was evaluating her, then rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” I charmed them both a little bit more, made them laugh, then turned back to Beethoven and my drink. In my head though I was thinking, I can’t believe the more I act like a dick, the more it works. How much farther am I supposed to go with this?
'Hipster Blonde took her jacket, and she and her friend walked to the back of the bar where the couches were, occasionally turning back to look and giggle. I didn’t keep the conversation going because I knew it was a given she’d make an excuse to come back. I wanted to convey to her that I had zero neediness and unlike most guys was not desperate.
I walked to the back of the bar 15 minutes later to go to the bathroom. From my peripheral vision I saw Hipster Blonde and her girlfriend in the corner, tapping each other, whispering and pointing at me. Now I knew I really had her. All I had to do is wait for to come to me. It was a guarantee.
'Sure enough after I returned to my seat at the bar, she came up behind me the moment I sat down. She asked if I had a light because she wanted to go out and smoke. I said no. She didn’t budge. I just kept hitting her with cockiness, aloofness and little playful teasing insults, and she just seemed to be loving it.
'No one was more shocked than me. I just couldn’t believe that this approach was actually working. It just seemed wrong and counterintuitive and the opposite of every piece of dating advice I was ever given in my life. I’m pushing my luck, I told myself. I better switch gears before I blow it. Even though my new approach was working, I told myself it couldn’t keep working and reverted to the typical approach. I decided it was a good time to give her a compliment.
“Hey, remember when you said I was mad because you were prettier than me? Well, I didn’t want to admit it, but you are quite pretty I’ve got to admit.” I gave the compliment with a nice, earnest grin. I figured after all the arrogant cockiness and insults, she deserved and would appreciate some heartfelt sweetness.
'Her expression changed abruptly. Smile left, jaw dropped, silence. She suddenly looked disappointed.
'She leaned in close and said slowly, in a low voice, “If you’re going to be a dog, be a rottweiller. If you’re going to be a bitch, wear a skirt.” Then she walked away.'

30 January 2012

Stairway, by Robert Doisneau

The Stairway, Robert Doisneau

Mercenary or prostitute

... How about the nonbarbell class: Quasi-mercenary class, proto-prostitute class, protomercenary class. Is mercenary or prostitute a fitting designation?
x...x Class: An economic condition of making more than minimum wage and wishing for more wealth. Workers, monks, hippies, some artists, and English aristocrats escape it. The middle class tends to fall into it; so do Russian billionaires, lobbyists, most bankers, and bureaucrats. Members are bribable provided given an adequate narrative, mostly with use of casuistry.

26 January 2012

20 January 2012

16 Horesepower: Wayfaring Stranger

David Eugene Edwards sings.

Almost better than Burl Ives.

I take an acting class, last scene

My scene partner and I prepped some more. I put together props and a costume, deciding to ditch my glasses and slick my hair back which makes me look thuggish, fitting the role better. A kind of nervous anticipation settled in during the day of class, surprising me. After all, the stakes were pretty low, and even a total failure wouldn't have much consequence. Still, there they were: opening night jitters.

The class itself fell into the familiar pattern: run the scene, take some notes, make some improvements. All of the actors performed better -- their best so far. Still, that simple issue of variety dogged most of the work. Before the teacher got to work on them, the scenes tended to hit one note.

Part of the reason for this flatness was that the scenes were dead. That is, instead of living in the scene, creating moment by moment, the actors were trying to recreate the scene -- the one in their imagination, or the one that had worked so well in rehearsal.

Variety's the spice

In talking this over, one fellow student put it well: I hear the scene in my head, then I try to play that. That is, you have this ideal version, and you aim for that. This is a mistake. The instructor was diplomatic in addressing the issue. The direct version would be: You have to live in the circumstances of the scene, with whoever's on stage with you. You can't can a performance, you have to react and listen to what you're partner's doing. Just like real life. Even ignoring someone is a reaction.

The common prescription was to increase the stakes. Make what the character wants matter more, or make failing to get it hurt more. Obstacles create energy. 

She also had actors play the opposite -- take what you had thought was the action, and reverse it. From loud, go soft. From fast, try slow.

Our instructor pointed out that you have to be in a different place at the end of the scene than where you began. That is, if you start out happy, for example, you should end up sad -- that a scene involves a change.

If you want your partner to play something, jealousy for example, it's up to you to make her jealous. You have the responsibility of acting in a way that will provoke that in your partner.

Above all, you need to be flexible and crafty and original in pursuing your objective. Try out different tactics for getting what your character wants.  Don't always go with your first choice -- maybe another, better choice is waiting, ready for you to dig it out of your imagination.

I had an example of this during my own scene. To recap, my character is trying to blow off a woman he slept with and in creating trouble for his step sister. She has some information that turns the scene around and gives her the upper hand at the end of the scene. So, in the win/lose binary scenario, he loses.

But, my objective is to win. So, even though the scene has my character failing, I have to struggle in every way I know how to put him on top. Because, that's the guy as written. He's not taking things lying down. My physical action is to stand and leave the cafe. That's not helpful, either -- it seems as if he's leaving with his tail between his legs.

A week earlier, I tossed a couple of dollar bills on the table -- or rather, at the woman. I could tell from the reaction of the other students that it worked. The women, in particular, found it insulting.

We ran our scene, and it went well. the vibe from our audience of students was solid, the work flowed, and my partner and I were in the groove. But, that didn't mean it couldn't use some work. I'll spare you some of the tweaks, except for the final part.

I pulled my move of tossing a few bills on the table and at the woman. I even had them ready in my pocket to go, as part of my prep, something I'd just read about in Stella Adler's book. Boom, out come the bills, bam! on the table. Take that!

Only, the instructor didn't think it was strong enough when we got to that section. "Don't let her win!" she said. "She's winning!" So I'm stuck on stage, groping for inspriration and then I just pull out the rest of my bills and make it rain on the table, flipping them out faster than a Vegas poker dealer wings out cards.

It worked. The pressure plus a memory of some rap video gave me the clue, and -- (not to make a big deal out of my little moment of invention, because it's not, it's what any good actor would do for hours a day)

What I learned

Actors are deeply exposed. Now, you do hear this a lot. But until it's you, under the lights, little old you with your skin full of fear and emotions and yearnings with your face and your voice under scrutiny as you try to create something in real time -- well, you just don't know what exposed is. 

Actors need good feedback. When you're acting, it's hard to tell if what you're doing is working. That's why directors are useful. Or audiences. But in film, there isn't an audience to give you a reading. And if you're in front of an audience, you want to be sure that what you've chosen to do will have an effect.

This was something that confounded me through the whole course. I'd think or feel as if what I was doing was creating the desired effect. For example, I thought I was projecting dominance. But then, the teacher would say I wasn't. Frustrating. Then, I'd find another pose, bigger, more spread out -- and, yeah, that was more dominant. This is a basic example, of course, and maybe you should be so totally in the moment you're not aware of anything else. I don't know. But, it really helps to have someone give you a response, or a check, even if it's only on the "Is my fly zipped?" level.

Thoughtful repetition helps deepen the work. Yeah, I know. That's why they rehearse. Only, in a standard Hollywood film model, they don't rehearse much at all. Lumet used to have a two to four-week rehearsal period before shooting, and that boggles everyone's mind. I guess actors can be skilled enough to drill down and nail it right away, or they simply play a type and give that same type performance. But I don't know how you can really understand a piece without running through it several times, thinking about it, feeling your way around the actions and the text, experiencing how it goes with the other people in the scene. 

The play I worked on was good, but not necessarily a Profound Work. Yet, each time we rehearsed it, we'd notice something different.

I didn’t find any obvious candidates for casting in upcoming projects. In past classes, I have cast fellow students, with mostly good results. So, I didn’t meet that goal. But, the class had fewer students than other classes I’d taken, so perhaps it’s the law of averages at work. Fewer students mean less chance of a real talent showing up. Unusually, the bulk of the students didn't aspire to an acting career. They were hobbyists.

But, I did brush off some rust. I learned. And the simple act of working on a scene was valuable, not only for acting, but for writing as well. 

Other posts about this class:

Acting Class 1

Acting Class 2
Acting Class 3
Acting Class - Thinking
Acting Class - Rehearsal
Acting Class 4

08 January 2012

02 January 2012

Schrader's outline for Raging Bull

Paul Schrader’s heavily marked-up outline for “Raging Bull” for which he shared writing credit with Mardik Martin.
“It’s part of the oral tradition,” Mr. Schrader said of his process. “Rather than writing my way through an outline, I tell my way through, and then each time I tell it, I re-outline it.”As the “Raging Bull” outline shows, Mr. Schrader had the thrust of each scene, as well as key lines of dialogue (“If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win.”) already worked out before he sat down to write. (Alas, we couldn’t tell from this image how much of Jake La Motta’s helpful description of how to cook a steak had been composed at this stage.)Mr. Schrader also gave an estimated page length for each scene as well as a final count and a running tally of total pages, which he said was crucial for pacing.“It’s very important to calibrate these events and when they’re happening,” he said. “Somebody says, ‘I don’t know why this scene doesn’t work,’ and you say to them: ‘It’s very simple. It should have happened 10 pages earlier. Then it would have worked.’”The final shooting script for “Raging Bull” was “more or less” what was submitted, Mr. Schrader said, though Mr. De Niro and the director Martin Scorsese made further changes during filming. “The only way you could get a final draft of that screenplay,” Mr. Schrader said, “would be to transcribe it from the screen. As opposed to ‘Taxi Driver,’ which is actually quite close to the script.”