Roger Ebert‘s post about his
pets animal companions got me thinking.
A couple of weeks back, I spent a day in a Radio New Zealand studio
watching listening to a script being recorded. I spent most of that day with my eyes closed – but instead of falling asleep as I normally would, I found myself transported into a story that I not only wrote but thought I knew inside out. (That’s actors for you.) (And I guess radio’s not called theatre of the mind for nothing.)
Since then, I’ve become just a bit more conscious of what I hear. Small, everyday sounds like —
- The cccclicks of The Dog’s nails on concrete during our runs.
- The grunting-beakfuls as The Chickens scarf up their seeds and pellets.
- The low boaah-boaaahh of The Chickens as they go about their business.
- The Cat’s paws ghosting through the house.
- The Dog’s tail ffwhiffing across the floor as she sits, expectant.
- The kggghhh-snort-grunt of The Dog in contentment.
These give me warm fuzzies.
And when I work them into my scripts and they make it onto the screen without someone explicating it, I’ll be happy.
When making small talk at gatherings, once all the parties’ occupations have had their two questions, an inevitable question thrown in my direction is What’s it like to work with actors? My usual answer is that they’re a necessary evil – a cross to be borne in order for us writers to tell our stories.
It gets a laugh – obviously I don’t give this answer when in the company of actor/s – but just between you and me, I’m a little afraid of actors.
Being a working screenwriter might be all about getting paid and buying things on TradeMe but it don’t count for a slab of Whittakers’ finest if you don’t get produced. And to get produced, amidst the small army of collaborators who will trample your ego, mince your work, and sully your vision are… actors.
Unless you take up puppeteering, anime or cartooning, you’re going to have to accept the fact that someone – not a clone of you, not some doppelganger of you – is going to take your words and –
– and what? At worst, expose you to be the hack you’ve been all along.
At best – and this happens more often than you think – bring your characters to life in ways you never imagined.
Of course what you see in readings/rehearsal/shooting/editing it’s not what you had in mind. Those uppity actors are asking a million questions about motivation, moulding your characters this way and that, challenging the backstory you created. They’re taking over… and as they put a face and tic and walk to your characters, they’re irrevocably changing them.
Change is good.