Film Courage: You’re saying the interrogation process works when there’s another person interrogating them?
Mark W. Travis: Yes.
Film Courage: Let’s take something where…slightly different scenario…maybe I am making a different way around it in that…let’s take a movie like THE REVENANT and let’s take Hugh Glass’s character before the bear attack. He’s alone in the forest. How are you interrogating Hugh Glass to stumble across the bear or encountering it in some way? How are you getting him ready for this scene?
Mark W. Travis: Okay…first I am just getting back to what you said in the beginning about interrogating involves someone else. The interrogation process is usually between someone who is not in the scene and the person who is in the scene. So whether there is one person in the scene or 12 people makes no difference. Each actor needs that other person and it’s usually someone who is not in the scene.
But getting to how do you interrogate someone to play a scene like Hugh Glass’s scene where he is going through the forest (the woods) and then he’s attacked by a bear. One thing you’ve got to be very clear about, the interrogation is pretty simple yet profound for a moment like that. But first of all you’ve got to remember in any scene, the character that you are interrogating does not know what’s coming up in the scene. This is a problem between the character and actor. The actor knows. Leonardo DiCaprio, he knows exactly what’s going to happen. There is going to be a bear and he’s going to have to fight it off. Got it!
The character doesn’t know that. This is the power of interrogation. I’ve got to get his mind back into the character’s mind and away from the actor’s mind. What the actor knows (this is a little detour), what the actor knows what’s coming up in the scene, the lines I have to say, what I have to do, that’s all there in the background, okay. It’s not driving anything because it can’t drive it, because it’s not known by the character. I will trust that it will always be there. I will trust that the actors will always say their lines. They’ll follow the stage and they’ll do the mechanics. So it’s not the mechanics I am worried about, I’m worried about the mindset of the characters. So interrogating Hugh Glass before the bear, I have to know and so does Hugh Glass have to know, what the hell are you doing? What are you doing? Where are you going into and what are you expecting?
Now in the interrogation I could say okay I could be talking to him where are you going. Okay you’ve got to go. You’re going to get that? Let’s say he’s looking for food! I’m just making this up because I don’t recall what he was doing, he’s just moving but Hugh Glass knows what he’s doing! Even if we look at the scene we’re not sure…he knows what he’s doing and through the interrogation I am going to plant in his mind or inject or question and we’re going to establish through me and Hugh Glass what he’s doing, what he’s looking for, right?
Now through that interrogation I could start to insinuate potential danger, you know? “You’re all alone. You’re all alone out here. I mean, what if something happens?” Now he knows as the actor I’m setting the character for what the environment and what’s going on and actually setting the character up for the scene. The actor knows that because there is a bear coming. Hugh Glass is just saying “Yeah, I know I’m staying but I’m fine. I’ve got my rifle. I’m fine.” I said “You sure? Could you handle something…what if an Elk comes?” I want to get him into our mindset, a specific mindset of my choice. The mindset could be “I’m fine. I’m in no danger at all.” That’s one mindset!
Another mindset is “I know I’m out here alone and I shouldn’t be and this is the stupidest thing you should ever do.” That’s a different mindset!
Where do I want to take him? What mindset do I want to put him in? I can set up that mindset and then the beauty of interrogation is you work with the character, you’re interrogating the character and you set up a mindset, a belief system and attitude just before the scene. A lot of actors will talk about that moment before the scene where what they are thinking about just before the scene, the interrogation. I can create that, anything I want and then what I do (which I love) is then I send them into the scene naive.
An actor will go into the scene with a plan. This is disastrous because when’s the last time you went into a 3-minute moment in your life with a plan knowing what you were going to say and what you were going to do and how you were going to react. We don’t do that! That’s not authentic, “It’s acting.”
My job is to send my character into a scene naive having no idea what’s going to come on because I want the genuine authentic reactions to be events that happen to the other lines that are said, to the attack of the bear, to the realization that he’s been stupid…whatever. I want it to happen authentically. I don’t want him to plan it. The actor will try to plan it. The character can’t plant it. So if I get him in the mind of the character believing something totally different than what’s going to happen then he will react to every single moment authentically and it will probably surprise him and it will probably surprise me. The guarantees I can make to every director. If you work this way and you send a character into a scene, naive without a plan, knowing that yes the actor will say the right lines and do the blocking and do all of that. But without a plan for the emotional journey he’s going to go through. How he’s going to react to anything with no plan I’m guaranteed number one: the actor will not know what he’s going to do…at all. Certainly the character doesn’t know because the character is just going through it. Actor one: you will not know what he’s going to do but everything he does will be authentic and that’s what we’re going for and then you get to choose in post-production as we’ve talked about before which moment and then when you do take two you set him up slightly differently, a different mindset. Maybe a more cautious mindset this time for Hugh Glass. Maybe a mindset of deriding himself “You stupid, okay what are you doing out here?” Trying to convince himself he’s going to be okay and he shouldn’t be out there. He will react differently then. If you do it three or four takes like that and he reacts differently and you’ve shot them all, you realize the range of material you’ve got and it’s all authentic. You can build the most beautiful scene possible.
Question for the Viewers: How is this directing style the same or different from what you do?
MARK W. TRAVIS is regarded by Hollywood and independent film professionals internationally as the world’s leading teacher and consultant on the art and craft of film directing. He is known as “the director’s director.”
Fueled by the desire to generate organic and authentic performances in an instant, Mark developed his revolutionary Travis Technique™ over a span of 40 years. Not limited to filmmakers, The Travis Technique™ has proven to be an essential set of tools for all storytellers, writers, directors and actors.
Mark Travis has taught at many internationally acclaimed film schools and institutions, including Pixar University, American Film Institute, UCLA Film School, FAS Screen Training Ireland, NISS – Nordisk Institutt for Scene og Studio (Norway), Odessa International Film Festival (Ukraine), CILECT – The International Association of Film and Television Schools, and the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (hosted by Griffith University Film School, Brisbane, Australia).
Productions directed by Mark W. Travis have garnered over 30 major awards, including: an Emmy, Drama-Logue, L.A. Weekly, Drama Critics’ Circle, A.D.A, and Ovation awards.
His film and television directing credits include: The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Capitol, Hillers, and the Emmy Award-winning PBS dramatic special, Blind Tom: The Thomas Bethune Story. Also the feature films Going Under (for Warner Bros. starring Bill Pullman and Ned Beatty), Earlet (documentary), The Baritones, and The 636.
On-stage, over the past 20 years, Mark has directed over 60 theatre productions in Los Angeles and New York, including: A Bronx Tale, Verdigris, The Lion in Winter, Mornings At Seven, Equus, Café 50s, And A Nightingale Sang, Wings, Linke vs. Redfield, The Coming of Stork and others.
Mark is the author of the Number-One Best Seller (L.A. Times), THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors. His second book on directing,
DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS (published in April of 2002) is currently used as required text in film schools worldwide. His third book, THE FILM DIRECTOR’S BAG OF TRICKS: Get What You Want from Writers and Actors was published in 2011. Mark’s popular DVD, HOLLYWOOD FILM DIRECTING, is available now.
MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors.
MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors. ELSHA BOHNERT is Chief of Staff of Boyden Road Productions and the director of The Travis Story Center in Los Angeles, California. She is the author of DON’T TRIP OVER THE GARDEN HOSE (Deuxmers 2013). Her stories and poems have been published in literary journals and she is an award-winning visual artist as well, with works in public and private collections throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Elsha teaches workshops in “Art & Writing for Healing” and is the only teacher authorized by Mark W. Travis to teach the “Write Your Life” Travis Technique™.