Buckle up, dear reader. Yours truly is about to say something inflammatory. If you’re a screenwriter, you may even feel a raging need to tell me where to plunge my so-called “experience,” and that’s fine. That’s what the comment section is for. Hell, maybe I’ll take your advice. Maybe down the road, I’ll blog about what I learned from my disgrace.
But right now, dear reader, I’ve got the talking stick. Good, bad… I’m the man with the plunger.
Screenwriters need to start taking acting lessons. Right now. Before it’s too late.
Listen to Tennyson E. Stead tell his ‘Arriving in L.A. story here.’
There, I said it! I feel better already! Before I explain myself, I want to be clear that this post is not a condemnation of screenwriters.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever had a conversation about how movies are not what they used to be? Have you ever talked about how the people in power are career businessmen, and not people from showbusiness?
We all agree that Hollywood is slowly, steadily forgetting what makes a movie great. The people managing Hollywood, for the most part, did not grow up in showbusiness and do not have an ingrained sense of what makes performance work. And that’s ok. That’s fine, so long as creative people pick up the slack.
Folks online know me as the creator of an award-winning science-fiction webseries called The Starmind Record, and as the geek auteur behind the upcoming sci-fi heist movie Quantum Theory. My background is less well-documented, but it amounts to ten years of film finance and marketing experience, and twenty years of storytelling experience on stage and screen.
“Film finance, you say? Tennyson E. Stead can find the money to produce my screenplay!” If you’re thinking these thoughts, you’re not the first. I have read a LOT of screenplays, and more than 95% of the time I wind up sending writers the same exact notes. What’s more, they’re the same issues that make me grumpy when I leave a movie theater disappointed.
Most screenplays – the overwhelming majority – have passive characters. Most screenplays are about what happens to a main character, and how the main character’s circumstances change from act to act. That’s not cinema. Actors are not people to whom things happen. Actors do not perform an emotion, or an idea, or a state of being while the world around them changes. That’s modeling, actually. Some of the best actors are very in touch with their emotions – and come to think of it, those actors tend to get a lot of magazine covers. Some of the very best actors have no idea what they’re feeling, and are still amazing to watch.
So what DO actors do?
Actors take action.
Movies are the story of an action, whether it’s taken by an individual (Die Hard, The Godfather) or a group (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Dirty Dozen). What makes that action exciting is twofold – the investment of the protagonist in what they’re doing, and all the other actions that confuse and unmake the protagonist’s efforts. If Luke Skywalker wants to liberate the galaxy, it’s gonna be a lot more interesting with Darth Vader out there enslaving it. If Miles (Paul Giamatti in Sideways) wants to get his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) safely to his wedding ceremony, it’s gonna be hard with Jack destroying his marriage-to-be so enthusiastically. Conflicting actions, rather than conflicting ideas, are the essense of cinema.
Check out (from Quantum Theory) America Young’s
Film Courage article
‘Every Short Film is Too Long‘
These ideas are not new. The man most famous today for having written them down is Constantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor and acting teacher. People know him in this country for creating “The Method,” but the method as we understand it now was not the focus of Stanislavski’s work. In the end, his efforts revolved around simplifying the actor’s job to one core concept: ACTION. “An Actor Prepares” has been one of the most important screenwriting tomes in my creative development.
Screenwriters tend to write well, because screenwriters tend to write a lot. What screenwriters need to practice that other writers don’t is their mastery of action. In real time. Over and over again. Working the craft of action and conflict until it becomes impulsive is what the study of acting is all about. Without that basic foundation of action, structure is just a change of scenery. With action behind it, structure becomes a change in perspective.
There’s no business management program in the world that will start teaching classes in conflict creation, rather than conflict resolution – nor should there be. Business people are supposed to practice making life easier, and the ones who make life harder should obviously be fired. That’s why, little by little, Hollywood is forgetting how to make movies great. Storytelling is not about what’s easy. Someone who knows what they’re doing has to keep the focus on the action – and the conflict – of the story. Someone has to keep making things harder.
Check out more videos from this interview series
with Tennyson here!
Screenwriters. Screenwriters need to start taking acting lessons. Right now. Before it’s too late.
If you’d like to find out more about me, my ensemble, and my stories, we always welcome new friends in the industry and the audience to our online community at 8sidedforum.com. My webseries is about two documentary filmmakers investigating an extra-terrestrial intelligence, and you’ll find all the episodes on the forum as well, at Starmindrecord.com.
Make me your friend on Tennysonestead.com. and please, please support our upcoming feature, Quantum Theory. Quantum Theory is the story of two brilliant, goofy, passionate women of science who invent a technological means to alter and shape the very universe itself… until a defense contractor with unlimited resources and Orwellian ambitions pulls it right out from under them! I think you know what happens next – and you can find out more at IMDB, and at Quantummovie.com!
Thank you for reading, one and all – and thank you for being a part of this community!
Tennyson E. Stead
Tennyson E. Stead is a writer, director, and producer of film and transmedia. In his childhood, he spent all his time building cardboard spaceships and rescuing his sister in them. These days he does basically the same thing.
For any production to realize its full creative and financial potential, every creative element must reflect the overall goals of the project. Every great collaborative work was produced by a team of talented people, united by a common intent.
8 Sided Films and the 8 Sided Forum represent our collective stewardship over the stories born from intent too multifaceted, specific, or unique for studio production, and our commitment to honoring that intent as the foundation for a more personal relationship with our audience.
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Check out Tennyson’s Film Courage article ‘Why Nothing In Film Has Changed in 1,000 Years & Why Anyone Who Say Different is Trying to Sell You Something.’