Sunday 10 July 2016

Building a character

So...   my first feature film! Wow.

My long-standing dream had finally come true and I got the chance to start preparing building a character for my first full length feature! The joy was double, as not only did I have the good fortune to work with a great collaborator, Bernd Porr, but I was also given the freedom to explore my character without really any restrictions as such.

Having never prepared for something so 'important' in my life before and not having anyone at hand who'd shot a feature film and could give me some tips of direction, coupled with the fact that I am an extremely stubborn person with a very strong sense of personal conviction, who hates following trends and copying others, only meant one thing -I had to find my own way of building a character and preparing for a role.

Never once did I pick up any of the Stanislavski books I had from my College years or watched youtube videos of other actors giving suggestions and telling you how 'they' did it. No. I thought to myself - 'you'll pull together all the experience you've amassed as an artist, actor and individual throughout your life and your performance training and do the best job you can out of it. There's no point looking 'outwards' at this stage, when all the knowledge you need resides within you already. All you need to do is trust yourself and find a way of unfolding your creativity; transmuting it into the task at hand -creating a new individual from scratch -your character.'

So I decided to recreate the 'Universe' of the film (all the places and spaces where the characters live and operate in) in my own set-up. For that purpose, I booked a rehearsal space for the duration of three weeks, where I would work every single day until the official shooting of the film began.

I had created separate sheets of paper, with a generic outline of each scene (if you imagine a brain-map or a skeleton of a concept, branching out to little pockets of detail), pointing out the main themes and highlighting them with bold markers, always written in capital letters (so as I would have a main heading that would instantly draw my attention when looking at it). Beneath each heading, I would restrict myself to writing a phrase, a few words or a maximum of a sentence that would give out a little more information regarding that brief section of the scene (just enough to get me a little deeper into what the scene is about but not too much so that it would visually clog up the sheet and result in me looking at it for more than a mere few seconds at a time).

I had 'blue-tacked' these sheets on the walls of the space I was practising in, placing them in chronological order of the story. I used them as an instant reference point whilst going through the motions of the story from the beginning of the script till the end.

Another thing I also did, is that I divided my rehearsal space into 'grids'. Or, in a more theatrical terminology, I had blocked the entire film script as a journey throughout the space I was in. I was fortunate enough to have had a rather spacious room in all directions, so I did my best to utilise the expansiveness of it and make it part of my characters journey.
Also, because of my applied arts/design background, my perception is very heightened when it comes to visual stimuli and I tend to decode/interpret things through shapes and structural grids.

So, additionally to the reference sheets of through-line of story and thought-process, I also created a little 'pathway' for my character to go through. The pathway would start from one end of the room, allowing myself to delve in all the motions and events of the story as I was walking through it, changing directions in the space, and eventually culminating at the other end of the room, which would also mark the end of the story.

I would kick-start my day by bringing myself into as much of an intense 'focus-mode' as I could, a meditative state almost, to aid my smoother and deeper transformation to the energy and essence of the character I was working on.

The first thing I would do as soon as I got into the space would be to put my headphones on and start doing some movement-release exercises, whilst listening to the music I had chosen for my character. I would let those movements gradually lead me into discovering the movement style of my character and keep working on that until I felt ready to take this into further action and eventually into running the script from beginning to end. 

This arrangement was in essence the main chapter of my preparation and working on the character of Anna. A lot of other more specific details regarding my approach to the work at hand and to character building could be added, but that would lead into me treating this as a personal journal and I shall spare you the experience! ;)

I hope you've found this helpful in some way and that the rehearsal process might resonate with some of you!

It certainly proved to be of utmost help to me, as it eventually lead to me winning a best actress award in a feature film, which I suppose, would be any aspiring actors/actresses ambition. Or at least, one out of many!

Best of luck with your endeavours and keep working hard and dream big! Pays off in the end.

Much love,

Vx  :)

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