This term has been a very important one for Totally Lit!
In addition to opening the new school in Manchester, we have been looking at some detailed work with the students in both the London and Leeds schools. The theme for this term has been,"It's all about you", taking each student, individually and assessing them and concentrating on the most basic of things... ...improving their acting technique.
Working on camera is a completely different skill, to working live on stage, or in a studio space. It's not just about the size of the performance, but also about the level of awareness that is required, to understand what is needed from you, depending on how you are being 'shot', or 'framed'.
The area of the acting process that is exactly the same is the process for understanding scenes and the role of your character within a scene.
Some of the best work produced this term has been the work around "subtext" and "objectives". It has also been quite liberating for the students to look at scenes, based on how their character feels about the situation that they are in and where and how (if) it changes during the scene- what difference that makes to their character, or their character's objective. When given a scene, it seems only natural to obsess about how quickly we can learn our lines, but we rarely think first, about the character's feelings in the scene and where, or when those feelings change. If we can identify this, it gives us something to aim for in the scene and especially in an audition, as the casting director is certain to want to see how we show the changes.
One of the most important things that our students need to understand is that they are embarking on a course (in entering this industry) that is fraught with over crowding and mediocrity. Given that we are prone, in this country, to over celebrate mediocrity, or indeed, give credence to the notion that if you have queued up at the X Factor auditions, then you have earned the right to be famous, we are attempting to ensure that our students are in the top 5% of those attending auditions. The way that we do this, is to give them a sound technical training and a level of understanding that allows them to distinguish the difference between actual ability and over confidence.
It starts with a square. I asked one of our Manchester students to draw a square on the white board. The square, kind of resembled a square; there were four sides, there were four corners. It was a 'kind of square shape".
In order to achieve a perfect square, you need four lines/sides of equal length, four perfect right angles. The lines need to be straight. In order to do this and be certain that the angles all measure/read as 90 degrees, I would need a protractor. It requires an element of technique, to make a perfect square. We are aiming to make our students, perfect squares, not rough square shapes. If they are able to recognise the difference between the two, it helps tremendously.
On behalf of everyone at Totally Lit! we would like to wish everyone a Happy 2015! May the New Year bring joy and prosperity to you all.
As we approach a new term, we have a number of things happening, over a very short space of time and the students are going to be extremely busy.
We recommence classes on Saturday 10th January and will be getting to work on the students immediately, as this term is all about the 'individuals'. We have spent a great deal of time looking at 'ensemble', from the point of view that we are all part of the ensemble on a film set; the cast, the crew, the production team; we are all working towards a common goal, however, this term we are concentrating on the things that affect the individual actor.
Each actor will have their head shots done this term, as we ensure that we have everything in place for when the casting directors are attending sessions this term and/or delivering masterclasses. The students' profiles will all be online, so it is important for the students to realise that they are now a 'brand', or a 'product/commodity'. This is how they will be seen by agents and casting directors, so the image has to match the actor and vice-versa.
Having experience on set, or building up a showreel is only a small part of what helps you to get work. It is true that casting directors want to see examples of your work, as well as head shots that are a decent likeness and show an interesting side to you, however, they also want to be impressed by you in the casting, so we will continue to look at ways to improve each of our students' audition technique, alongside the technical acting classes. I don't think that many people are cast from their showreel alone.
We set our students the task of doing a self-tape and some of them have already had experience of doing this, however, not many of them will have had extensive feedback, previously and so, along with all and i really do mean ALL of their previous work which has been recorded, I have been watching countless clips closely, of each student, in order that they can get some really accurate feedback. I want them to see how they have each progressed.
When you work with people over a long period of time, trying to improve their work, you can reach a point whereby they feel that you are always pointing out where they have gone wrong, or made mistakes. It is vitally important that our students see just how well they have developed and how they continue to improve. It would be awful to be turning out self conscious actors who feel that they will never be good enough. The truth is, they are already special, that's why they are with us. It's time to do a very "un-British" thing and celebrate our good bits.
A few weeks ago we embarked on a filming schedule, which would allow us to film all of our students, in scenes, prior to the Christmas Holidays. This project is still ongoing and the first edits of the first 9 scenes look really good.
It is important to remind the students, sometimes, that the "be all and end all" is not their showreel, but more their application to the lessons and skills that they learn, not only in the studios, where we hold our regular classes, but also out on location, where the real test begins.
It's great when students leave sessions on a bit of a high, because they feel that they have had a good session, learning new skills. For me, however, the important part of the process, is when they can't quite carry the skills that they have attained in lessons through to a location shoot. It is an important stage for them, processing the skills and mastering them. There is an element of anticipation and anxiety that exists for all actors on their first day of a shoot and the skill is mastering being in control of your anxiety/fear/nerves- or whatever you wish to call it.
Some of our students have only been with us for 6 weeks and are learning this lesson very early, as it impacts on their performances. They are fortunate that we have both the time and the patience to allow them to struggle and then find a way of recovering. Many a time, in my own career, have I come home wishing I could do it all again, but better.
In truth, our students are really good and I am, not so much a harsh critic, but feel compelled to point out areas that they can and should want to improve.
Wanting to improve is the key, really. We have had a few successes in recent weeks, with some of our original students, now getting their little breakthroughs, with agents and work. Those that have achieved their recent successes, have done so as a result of improving in areas that they were not so strong, 12 months ago.
Our students are continuing to make a great impression on those who meet them, because their professional attitude and work ethic is apparent, immediately upon first meeting them.
Over the remaining weeks of this term, we will be continuing to film, but also running the regular classes and in those classes, we will be concentrating, as we have been for the past couple of weeks, on areas of weakness.
I have no doubt that all of our students 'want' to be good/successful, but they also have to 'want' to learn to be better. They have to 'want' to improve the things that are not easy to do.
Everyone wishes that they could just sit down and play a piano, or a guitar and it is the reason why so many of us don't manage to do it, because it doesn't come easy. Not even to those who have a natural ability. They still have to work at it, but they have the 'want' to work at it.
Eventually, those who really 'want' to be successful, will be successful in anything that they do. Those who want to improve as actors have no alternative, other than to improve and to 'want' to. Even if the process is less enjoyable than the end result, it's there… …if you want it.
Saturday 11th September
The discussion was 'frank', as usual and quite personal. Personal, because we discussed how each of the students participating in the sessions felt they had coped, as well as what they felt they had learned.
There were a number of things that were learned in both sessions and following those sessions, I had a keen desire for the students to enjoy their acting this week.- without the pressure of feeling that they were being observed, or 'analysed'.
Acting is a really fun activity. It's why we get hooked. Drama tends to involve lots of games and fun, exciting challenges.
When we begin applying the pressure of having to succeed in auditions, or having to compete to be able to have greater opportunities, it's a different matter. Carolyn McLeod mentioned the old adage that an actors life can be a case of 'Feast, or Famine'. One extreme to the other. She also gave some hard hitting facts to the students about what is expected of them at an audition, by a professional casting director.
We don't 'sugar coat' things at Totally Lit! and none of the creative team (all working actors) are being chauffeur driven, from place to place. There are times when we find it tough- very tough! We all have accepted that to be in this industry will require us to be 'on our game' in a casting, in order to be in with a chance of being chosen, or selected for a role. It's not the 'X-Factor'. We don't put in a few weeks hard work, in the hope of a successful and instant reward. We know that we are competing against other actors and we all work tremendously hard, even before being offered the job, to ensure that casting directors see us in our best light. If I want someone to pay me for the privilege of being in a show/film, then I have to be worthy. There are a lot of other people out there that can possibly do the same job as me. I need to have an 'edge', or at least come out of the room knowing that I couldn't have done any more.
I don't think that some of our student realised that there were so many people that they were competing against, just to be shortlisted to be seen for a film, or TV show? It's a very tough business and you have to be outstanding. So when some of our students had a bit of a terrible time in their casting sessions, despite being well prepared, they had learned a very short, sharp lesson. You have to be able to bring your 'A' game in with you.
Some of the mistakes were put down to nerves, but to be frank and honest- not good enough FOR THEM. Personally, I was pleased to be able to see just where "the wheels fell off". Nothing to worry about and with no job at stake and an opportunity to put things right, with a second attempt, we had reached that moment that we cannot simulate in class.
Some will have left disappointed. All will have left wanting to ensure that they are better prepared in future.
The truth is, that each of them had shown enough of their true potential, to impress the casting director. Some handled the pressure really well. Some learned hard lessons very fast. Some worked are to prepare, but are in need of help, when learning their lines. Simply having someone to read out the other persons lines aloud with you, whilst you are learning, can improve your performance.
None of our students have anything to worry about, as far as their acting is concerned. They all have tremendous potential and my hope for them, is that it always remains an enjoyable pleasure.
They're not here to show me how great they are. They are here for me to help improve them and their chances of working frequently.
The school has grown in size quite quickly over the summer. the new additions bring a new vibrant energy and, more importantly, new expectation!
We are about to embark on a hectic schedule of filming all of our students in showreel scenes, over a 28 day period. It's tremendously exciting. I hope to be able to keep up to date with the 'Blog' as we go along.
Saturday 20th September 2014
Today, we celebrate our first anniversary! It's exactly a year since we started regular classes at Diorama Arts Studios, for our London School.
On Saturday, we welcomed 9 new (prospective) students, to sample our work and we were delighted with the quality of the acting and as well as, the attitude of those attending.
It has always been of prime importance for me to be able to assess each student and continue to find areas in which we are able to improve them. This is a fine balancing act, as we also aim to bring out each student's own relaxed and natural personality. It is what makes each of them unique and interesting.
Saturday also allowed me an opportunity to gauge how our current students are doing, especially when paired with those attending the taster sessions. Having watched a re-run of each of the filmed scenes from this weekend, it is extremely pleasing to see just how much technique our regular students now have. Even those who have only been with us for 10-12 weeks. It also allows me to see clearly, the first steps that i need to take, in improving the 'new' students.
It's a really obvious thing to state, that acting is a technical art-form, but the challenge and the enjoyment, especially for me, is to find clear and effective ways of improving students, immediately. If they can understand what they have learned and accept that it is worth working through, sometimes difficult exercises, then the rewards are clear and almost tangible. Instant results (genuine results) also help build confidence. Having a welcoming group of students, who immediately embrace the 'newbies' and welcome them to the group helps a great deal too.
At the end of each session, when you have met a potentially new student, you have to ensure that they understand what it is that they will be letting themselves in for. Watching the students' work on Saturday, it's clear for me to see, what they will be achieving and how quickly that will happen.
I can look at all of the students and easily see how to help them- but this weekend, I was given a very clear reminder, by two, very lovely groups of young people, that a good environment helps a great deal. An environment that exudes immediate acceptance of each other and a willingness to make each other look good… …I cannot actually find the words to describe how good a feeling that is.
This term we have some very exciting work to do. All students will be filming showreel scenes, as well as having new professional headshots. Carolyn McLeod (Top Casting Director) and the amazing Judy Browne (NYT) will be delivering masterclasses in the next two weeks.
It just keeps getting better!
28th July - 8th August
It feels like an incredibly long time, since I last blogged, but so much has happened. I will attempt to fit it all into this blog.
We have uploaded to our Youtube page/channel, our first student scenes, which were filmed last term. You may have read previously about the long process from scripting, to filming, to editing and finishing. The results are quite remarkable and our students performances underline, not only their talent for screen acting, but also, how they have improved, technically, as actors.
On Monday (11th August) we completed filming on one of our scenes, which has been rained off, so many times. Eventually, we decided to re-write and change to an indoor location, but again, even before seeing the rushes, the quality of the performances was outstanding..
Much of my time has been spent travelling and filming, over the past couple of months- jumping between Totally Lit! in London and Leeds, but also spending a great deal of time filming as the new village policeman (PC Stone), in Emmerdale. It has been a welcome change of pace, although hectic and it's really important that our students realise that we are all still, working artists.
A few of our students have also had some very high profile auditions; for many of them, it's been their first meeting and the success, across the board has been very good. Totally Lit! is now gaining a reputation within the industry for turning out bright, organised, technically good and talented students. On each occasion the feedback has been extremely positive and casting directors are loving the fact that all of our students are producing high levels of performance, in an audition.
Summer School, in addition to being huge success, was an extremely enjoyable experience, for all concerned (artists as well as students) and the variety of classes offered the students the opportunity to work with a number of (and a range of) artists and experience, at first hand, what the desired level is, for someone wishing to work within the industry.
One of the highlights for many of the students was the impromptu visit of one of our patron's, star of the Harry Potter films, actor Matthew Lewis.
Matthew was in the building, rehearsing for the new series of BLUESTONE 42, which he will be filming, later this year.
Our new term begins on 113th September with a catch-up session for a number of students, who missed out on crucial sessions at the start of last term. It also allows us to fill the few remaining places on the course and bring new students up to scratch with our methods. It's not been too long since we broke up, but we are already gearing up for a few drastic changes to the way that we will be operating.
The Summer School allowed us an opportunity to trial some equipment, prior to starting again next term, which means that more of the sessions will be 'on-camera'. Given that we have gained more expertise in the 'sound' department, we are able to utilise the sessions and give our students more options for their showreels.
Next term also sees the visit of a top casting director (Details to be announced in the next blog) and a couple of visiting artists, including NYT Associate, Judy Browne.
Thats' for the next blog. For now, enjoy your Summer and keep safe!!
Saturday 14th June.
On Saturday, our students came together to meet actor Matthew Lewis, best known for his portrayal of Neville Longbottom, from the most successful film syndication of all time- Harry Potter movies, of course.
This session, hosted by Jez Edwards, as well as being an amazingly interesting and exciting insight into the high profile and hard working world of a child actor (at the top level of the industry), was also a masterclass in presenting.
The combination of a very bright, lucid and genuinely caring guest, and a host, prepared to do his research and happy to let the guest "talk", made for a really refreshing morning and afternoon of funny stories and a priceless, detailed insight into how a young person copes with suddenly being projected into an adult industry, where you are expected to combine your education and bring your 'best' performance, each time you arrive on a set.
The masterclass will soon be edited and placed on a private channel for our students to view again, and it was a continuous hour of non stop chat about all aspects of Matthew's career. Some of the questions from our students were about Harry Potter, inevitably, but most of them were about how a child copes, from the age of 10 yrs old, with the rigours of working alongside some of this country's greatest film and television actors.
Jez Edwards approach to the interview was brilliant. Taking Neville Lomnbottom's
Final School report and comparing it to Matthew's was both amusing and a stroke of genius, with the guest relaxing, immediately, making for a very comfortable interview.
All of the students were able to have photographs with Matthew and one of our other patron's, another former child actor, Gemma Bissix, who again popped in to support the work and the students.
Obvious thanks to Matthew, who again has come to offer his support to the programme and for being a really engaging and entertaining guest.
Also, great to see one of our creative team, showing our students, just how good you have to be, to make something look really easy.
In putting together a creative team, I wanted to find talented artists, whose work I admired, who had the commitment and passion for their own work, as well as a desire to improve young people's chances, by passing in good technique.
Each week that I spend with our team, I am reminded of their qualities. It is one thing to find people who can inspire youngsters at the beginning of their journey into this exciting and equally agonising profession. It is another thing to have that same team of artists, continually inspiring me.
We have great students and an amazing Creative Team.
Feeling very happy with this week's work.
Until next time!
Dealing with the nerves
One of the things that I am constantly reminding the students is that we, as actors, need to be aware of so many things. "Awareness" is the one word that I I repeat most, in classes.
This weekend we had "skills" classes. With our morning group, we looked at the first edit of their first set of showreel scenes. I asked the students to observe their performances and be honest in their self-appraisal. It proved to be an enlightening session, for this proved to me that their awareness of the technical side of the craft is improving.
One of the moments I would really like them to become aware of, is that moment that the door opens at a casting and the casting director looks around the room. How we appear to the casting director, can have a huge impact upon their impression of us. They are not just deciding on our acting ability, but whether we are going to fit-in, or stick out on a set.
There comes a time when you have to tell people 'how it is' and hope that they have the maturity to accept this. Some of our students will need to think about how they 'come across', when they are sat in 'standby' mode. People will be constantly judging them and an unfortunate idling expression may mean the difference between someone liking you, or not. It's all about awareness.
We chatted about things that we had already covered. It did not surprise me that some of our third term students had all of the correct answers to some of the questions that I asked about, 'How to prepare' for a casting. They know the answers, but when I asked them why they needed to do certain things, they were a bit stumped. Revisiting old ground and reminding students just why we give them certain tools is an important part of the process.
A few years ago, I employed an actress for a whole season, at a theatre in Lancashire. One day, I was directing her in a scene, where she had a rather large monologue. I tried to help her during the rehearsal, to get an understanding of how to break the speech down. I demonstrated a particular technique, to which she replied, "Oh I don't need to do that. I did it at drama school. It was an exercise that we did one day".
In my reply to her, I tried to explain that when you leave your formal training, you leave with a toolkit. Your training has introduced these tools to you and demonstrated how you could use them, should you need them. It is your responsibility to master these tools, if you wish to improve. Certainly, you should utilise them, if you have them. If I am paying someone to be an actor, I expect them to do your homework.
We constantly remind our students that the hard work, sometimes, is proving, at an audition, that you are capable of bringing a performance to the production. The real work begins, before you arrive on set. You don't turn up on set to rehearse. You turn up with your performance and you take direction.
That means that you utilise whatever tools you have, to ensure that you produce a performance that reflects that which is prescribed on the script.
Our afternoon group are half way through their first term. They worked with script, in front of camera, briefly, for the first time on Saturday. They are half way through an exercise, which I will feedback on, once completed.
Until next time...
It's All about the 'Team'.
I came across this picture on twitter today. It was posted during our lunch break, on the first day that we held auditions for the very first class, back in September.
In taking our responsibility to help young people into the industry seriously, I feel that it is extremely important to ensure that the people that come in to the room, bring something valuable to the table. I realise that everyone who visits the website can see just exactly what we have all been up to, professionally, since we started off in this industry, but when i think about the diversity of the work that we, as a team have experienced during our whole careers, it makes me realise that the strength of our programme lies in the strength of the team.
We have been very busy during the last couple of weeks. A time that has included us working on filming schedules, scripts and location hunting for our students who will be filming over the next seven weeks. We have also been planning our latest Masterclass, which takes place on 14th July, with actor and Patron Matthew Lewis.
The major activity that has taken place has been the editing of the showreel scenes of our first group, in London, which leads me back to the whole 'diversity' angle of this blog. In the editing of the showreel, there are many, many factors to be considered. These showreel are the calling card, not only for the students, but also the organisation. We pride ourselves on producing quality work and our students understanding how high a level of performance that they need to produce, consistently, to be successful, as actors.
As important as anything else with the filmed scenes, is the audio. Getting it balanced can be as time consuming as any other element and sometimes the only way to fix it is to re-record.
Some of us (in the team) do ADR work occasionally. ADR is additional dialogue recording, to either give background characters a voice, in something like a pub scene, or it's to re-record a line that has not been clearly picked up, or is now going to be changed; where the actor may have to 'Lip-Sync" with the action. It's not the most glamorous aspect of the profession, but it is, fortunately, still a job that only actors can do. Our London class will, this coming week, be doing a bit of ADR, as we put the finishing touches to their first round of filmed scenes.
This will mean that the students will, for the very first time, get to see the first 'rough' edit of their scenes. We have been careful not to let them see anything, other than the odd set of rushes, in order that they experience that feeling of having to wait to see their handy work. It is something that we as a team are very used to. You turn up on set, you do your work and wait, sometimes up to ten months, to see what kind of performance you gave and whether the editing meant that you were favoured or not. There are tricks that you learn, to ensure that an editor has the option to "stay with you" in a scene. It's one of the first things that we tech our students.
This weekend, they will get to see how well they have managed to utilise the tools that we have given them and where they think they need to improve.
We look forward to seeing our students again this weekend. Also, we want to wish a couple of our students, the very best of luck for a couple of BIG castings this week. They know who they are!!!
This is our company Blog, re-capping previous weeks sessions.