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Home » Archives » December 2006 » Don't Look at the Mug! Don't Look!
[Previous entry: "What I Learned From Stephen Colbert"] [Next entry: "What's Wrong With Meredith Gray?"]

12/15/2006: Don't Look at the Mug! Don't Look!

There's a thing that happens that makes actors hate themselves. Sometimes, every now and then, in a big group scene, they'll turn and look at the actor who is going to speak next. Or they'll look at a prop the second before another actor moves to pick it up. Oh, gosh, they get so mad at themselves.

Just as actors try very hard not to let on that they actually know what's going to happen next, we can make our characters feel similarly moment-to-moment. Look at this little made-up exchange:

Are you crazy? We're gonna wait out here all night?

Hey, what kind of a stalker am I if I give up now?

There's nothing wrong with this. It's perfectly fine. But, if there's room in your script, I'm a big fan of the following kind of exchange:

Are you crazy? We're gonna wait out here all night?

It's not that cold. You've got thin blood, dude.

I'm not talking about the cold! I'm saying, you're a stalker!

And not a very good one if I give up now.

Barbara is missing the point of Melanie's opening line. The writer knows what Melanie is getting at, but is letting Barbara misunderstand for a beat.

I love to have characters misunderstand each other, mishear each other, and jump to conclusions that have to be corrected or which they correct themselves at the last moment. I wrote a Buffy episode once in which Willow momentarily misunderstood some "Kiss Rocks!" graffiti as an exhortation to kiss rocks, until the real meaning clicked into place. I always thought it was neat human moment.

Characters who always grasp the situation instantly, who understand each other's most obscure questions and who follow each other's logical leaps aren't behaving like the rest of us do. We can learn a little something here from our cousins the actors -- make sure your character is in the moment, not looking at the coffee mug that the other actor is about to start reaching for.

Lunch: A small drink and large fries from McDonald's. You know their fries are beef-flavored, right? Genius.


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