Film Courage: So I’m confused about this…I just have to ask (and that is) one thing a director does not want in their movie is acting?
Mark W. Travis: Yes. I have said this and maybe it upsets some people. Along with one of the most dangerous things on the set is an actor with a plan. But I also say what we don’t want on our movie is acting. But by acting…“acting!” I mean pretending. A manufactured performance.
Now it’s true, there are actors who have won Academy Awards for what I call acting because it is all so well-crafted and presented and considered and worked out.
I think what we really want to see, what I want to see…I’m not going to be startled by a brilliant “performance.” I am going to be startled by an extraordinary human being who reveals themselves authentically on screen.
When I see something that I wasn’t expecting, what I feel generally is coming genuinely from that character that was not planned. That was not considered. That was not honed sharply. It just came out. That’s what I want. That’s what I see in BLUE JASMINE or MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. I see moments like that that I just find chilling. That’s what I want. Now I’ve seen a lot of performers that are very manufactured.
There are some films and some filmmakers where that kind of acting is what’s required. You watch Wes Anderson’s work and stuff like that. That’s what’s required. That’s his style. Nothing wrong with that, that’s the style of that work.
You could even go back to Kabuki Theatre, that’s a style. What I am saying because what I want when I see a movie is that I want to feel that I’m in the presence of these huge genuine human beings and experiencing them deeply and profoundly and then it’s not pretense. It’s not calculated, it’s genuine. So, no acting, please…which means…you have to stop directing. Directors have to stop directing so actors will stop acting. Which means that’s why directors switch to interrogation and form a relationship with the character. Rather than the director telling the actor “Here’s what I want you to do.” The director is stimulating the character to go in and find what they do.
Film Courage: Okay, so instead of Casey Affleck’s character in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, if I’m his director, saying “You know what, Casey? I want you to look really depressed and I want you to be in this room with no furniture.” Instead I’m going up to him and saying “You’re life is bad. It’s fallen apart and you’re here alone in this dingy room?”
Mark W. Travis: Yes. I’d be saying to his character (I’ve forgotten the character’s name) but saying to Casey as his character “You’re alone in this dingy room….what the heck are you going to do? What are you going to do? Do you realize that everybody in Manchester By The Sea hates you? Do you realize that? And you’re going to go back there? What are you thinking?”
Now I am getting him into the chaos of the character. Then I say “Okay, let’s do the scene.” Now we are doing the scene now he’s totally in the chaos of the character and trying to fight through that chaos while he’s trying to fight his way through a scene simultaneously. Sort of like we all do in life every day.
We fight through our own chaos while we are trying to get through the daily chaos. He’s not thinking about acting. He’s thinking about survival. Seriously, how do I get through this? How do I get through this moment? How do I quiet the voices in my head that came through the interrogation? The voices are going mad in his head and he’s trying to quiet those down or sort through those while he’s trying to deal with whoever, this lady who needs some plumbing done.
Or whatever it is, that’s what he’s dealing with. He’s dealing with only what the character is dealing with. Not with what Casey Affleck is dealing with. Casey Affleck (in that moment) does not matter. And quite honestly, I can tell you as a director, at that moment when I was directing him, I don’t care what Casey Affleck is thinking. I don’t care what he is thinking about the character. I don’t want him thinking about the character. I only care about the character. I’m there to film the character, not to film an acting performance. It’s a fine line but it’s a significant line.
Question For the Viewers: What are your thoughts about what Mark says about acting in this video?
CONNECT WITH MARK W. TRAVIS
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™.