When I watch auditions and an actor hits a line with trained intensity and force, I see the words on the page. I can visualize what the writer has written—because the actor is trying to emulate the writer’s words and not create a realistic character.
And especially if there is an exclamation point at the end of the line!
Actors enter the audition space to deliver an exacting, faithful rendition of the words and punctuation on the page. But you must use the sides as a vehicle to communicate a character, and not simply as words on a page.
It is like an artist striving for photo realism in an oil painting. Where is the individuality? You have forsaken the individuality of your version of the character, in preference, for punctuation perfection.
So as a guide, here are some of the big traps that you will find in sides.
1. Lines with exclamation points. Actors think an exclamation point means volume. No. It can mean, in varying degrees, indignation, surprise, astonishment. If you choose volume, then you are painting by numbers.
2. Lines that suggest EMPHASIS by having a WORD in CAPS. This communicates meaning. It is a guide to understand the character’s intent. Not that you should RAISE YOUR VOICE at this moment.
3. Lines [BEAT] that contains the bracketed word “[BEAT]”. This is a figurative beat, not a literal beat. It does not need a pause. It shows the character has a broken train of thought, is lost for words. Not that the actor should methodically pause for two seconds.
4. Any line with…an ellipsis. See the reasoning above!
5. Lines with “Oh my God!!” or “Oh no!!!” or “What?!” Again actors run straight for the volume button on their performance remote control—especially when lines combine multiple question marks and exclamation points. The character is exhibiting dismay, confusion, disbelief. This is not give license for an actor to shout—though this is often the favored option taken by actors.
6. Lines that use the phrases “hang on” or “wait a minute.” Don’t say each word. It is a dawning realization for the character. The character is gathering thoughts. It is not a statement.
If a character is going through emotional turmoil or emotional upheaval, it is impossible for a writer to put on the page the exact rhythms of the dialogue the character experiences in these moments.
The use of exclamation points, CAPS, etc. are to enhance the reader’s experience of his or her reading of the script. The performance of the script needs a different interpretation.
Your task is to decipher the emotional goal of the sequence. You must deliver that emotional journey. That journey will be informed by the screen writer’s dialogue, but it must be enhanced and communicated by you.
It’s the actor who creates the character’s rhythm, not the writer.
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