The Creative Process for Breaking Down a Character/Scene

Hi Everyone!

I was recently cast for a short graduate thesis film at New York Film Academy called Terrorists Anonymous dir. Rafa Garcia.

For every character, I always go through a breakdown which combines facts given by the script with my own creative interpretation of who I am and what am I doing in the scene.

It is a fifteen step process based on the Uta Hagen technique which can be quite time consuming. However, even if it provides me with one moment of pure inspiration during the scene, then it will all be worth it.

First off, here is the factual breakdown of what the plot is and who I am.

Logline: What could not go wrong on a Terrorists Anonymous session? Our 8 terrorists meet another week with their therapist Sean who takes them one step closer to recovery. But they might just be one step closer to death.

[ NAKATOMI ]
(Asian, 20’s)
Nakatomi was born with a computer as his best friend. He never played at a playground with friends, neither practiced any sports. But he had a large group of friends online, he didn’t need anything beyond the world wide web. For him, real life is all fake, and reality is online. He gets what he wants, has cyber sex with models, transfers money to his account when he needs it, and when is required, he messes around with CIA and FBI data archives.

Moreover, I’m  described as very well dressed in the script where is another hint about my personality.

Now we have our facts. Everything else is up to me, the actor, to deliver my creative input. Here we go! We will go through two things: A CHARACTER BREAKDOWN AND A SCENE ANALYSIS.

CHARACTER BREAKDOWN
Autobiography
a. Nakatomi Park, born in Seoul, Korea, 2/14/1990. Valentine’s Day.
b. I was a foster child for the majority of my life until I ran away and came to the United States.
c. Not religious.
d. Did not have much money, but after I got my first laptop it changed my life. I always played games on it, and began to learn how to launder/make money from it.
e. I’m a virgin in real life — but don’t consider myself one because I have cyber sex whenever.
f. I attended high school in Korea, but never completed it.
g. I love computer games and technology. I began assembling computers when I was 12 years old and selling them online. I was an expert at Starcraft. I dislike social events outside of my network online, because I am well known, popular, and liked online. In the real world, I’m a bit insecure because no one knows my achievements.
h. I have a girlfriend online that I met through World of Warcraft. I’m in a relationship with her and plan to meet here in real life soon in the near future. I’m part of a clan in World of Warcraft, and we are incredibly respected to be the best players in the game.
i. I feel like I’m very important, respected and well known in the online world. However, I’m a little curious about this other world that I don’t often go to.
j. I think it is funny to mess with the FBI and confuse them by hacking their site and putting a bunch of funny photos on it. It is even more funny to make top level executives who think they are the shit humiliated by hacking into their private lives. Behind a computer screen, I have power and control.
k. I’m nervous when I get outside of my known world. It is frightening but I don’t want to show this fear because I am so powerful when I get behind a computer.
l. At this point of the script, I am someone who is trying to figure out more about this other world that I haven’t really been in. I’m nervous, curious, and want acceptance and assurance.
m. I changed from earlier in the script — because first I came in a little insecure but overcompensated to try and show people I’m not afraid of anyone. Then I saw the bomb… and thats the beat change…
n. My dreams are to seek respect in not just the online world, but also this one on earth. I’m afraid, but have too much pride to show it. I need human contact. REAL human touch. I’m not satisfied. I want more. I desire a real girlfriend, in real life. One that I can physically touch and hold.
o. HUGE problem is my inability to connect with people in the real world. I create a wall between myself and others in order to protect myself from being hurt. Protect my vulnerabilities. I have so much emotional pain because I’m torn between my reality and I’m beginning to question it.
p. My objective is to seek acceptance and befriend others in this world. Try it for once.

SCENE ANALYSIS

1. Where am I?
I am in a group therapy session with seven other terrorists. I see a bunch of chairs arranged in a circle facing one another. I hear the other terrorists chatting to one another, while some remain silent. The weather outside is dark, gloomy, and cold. It is night-time.
2. What is my imaginary wall?
In this scene, because we are on set and facing each other, I will not need to create an imaginary wall.
3. When does this take place?
This takes place in modern day, October 19th, 2012. It is at 7:00PM. After dinner. It’s a Friday night.
4. Who am I at this point of the script?
I’m a computer genius, but seeking for something more in my life. I decided to come to this meeting because I’ve come to the realization that I want more than just to be with my computer for my entire life. I am someone looking for real human companionship, yet do not want to expose my vulnerability that I have no real friends outside of the computer world.
5. How have I changed from earlier in the script?
This is a short film, so the script encompasses the entire scene. Therefore, earlier before this scene I was someone who spent my entire day on the computer playing MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI, etc. I frequently visited adult chatrooms, purchased everything I needed from e-commerce, and was an incredible skilled hacker who could access any secure database.
However, I have increasingly changed and become depressed because I want more with my life instead of this fantasy world on my computer. I want companionship that I can physically touch. I’m physically deprived.
6. What are my relationships? How do I feel towards all other people, places, events and things in the scene and script?
I feel like I am smarter and better than the majority of people. I can do almost everything through my computer and many of my primal needs are satisfied.
LUST: I can satisfy my sexual needs through cybersex; power and money through hacking and launching huge terrorist cyber attacks on any website. Access FBI secrets within seconds. I can achieve fame for being one of the most notorious hackers of our generation.
GLUTTONY: I eat, sleep, and do whatever I want whenever I want. I have complete financial security. I have so much excess of everything that much goes to waste.
GREED: I have all the material wealth I need. I can hack any bank and transfer a million dollars to my bank account within minutes. I can buy anything. I wear the most expensive clothes — suits are my choice, and drive the nicest cars.
SLOTH: I rarely go outside because I don’t believe that is real life. I don’t play sports, or hang out with friends — unless it is online.
WRATH: When I am upset, I can blow up buildings, shut-down cities and cause massive havoc.

WHAT I’M MISSING:
PRIDE & ENVY.

ENVY
: No matter how much I can do in the cyber world, I am missing one important thing. I am secretly envious and curious about what I don’t have. Physical relationships with other humans. I can satisfy any emotional relationships, but I am envious that people can feel one another in the non-computer world. I want this — or at least be able to understand it.
PRIDE: It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).
For me, I fulfilled my desire to be more important and attractive to others in my cyber world. Every in the non-cyber world is inferior to me. However, I have begun to question this fundamental belief that I have had ever since I’ve been a kid. I’m afraid to go out of my box and into a world that I might no longer be the most attractive and powerful person. I may no longer always be in control.

7. What secrets do I have?
My deepest secret is that my confidence that the cyber-world is everything has begun to sink. I’ve achieved everything possible in the cyber-world, and now I find myself thinking more and more about this other world I live in — BUT there is a problem. I’ve never been vulnerable in the cyber-world… but I have a fear of this unknown and perhaps I may find myself in a situation that is out of my control if it isn’t in the cyber-world.

8. What is the moment before?
Where have I just been (the past)
I was playing Diablo III in Inferno mode in my home and just beat the final boss, Diablo, solo.
Where am I now (the present)
I am in a group therapy session for the very first time. This is the most social interaction I’ve had for a long time.
What is the first thing I need (the future)
I need to be accepted by everyone here.

9. What is my scene objective?
Overall script objective?: I want to gain acceptance in this social group.
Internally: I want to gain this acceptance and understood by others. This leads to action and a external objective for me to befriend everyone, charm and defend.

10. What are the obstacles?
I don’t know how everyone will react to me. My social skills are not great outside of the computer world. I don’t how to interact with people in this world.

11. What are the actions?
To befriend. To charm. To defend myself.

12. What is the subtext? The underlining meaning of your character’s lines? Do you mean what you say or do you mean something else? TBD.

13. Do I make any discoveries in the scene? TBD.

14. What techniques might I have to use in this scene?
Inner monologue on what I’m doing here and what I should say. I’m uncomfortable because I have not been accepted by anyone.

15. Do I have any activities to do in the scene?
I’m constantly playing with my phone because it gives me security to hold on to it. It’s like holding onto something that makes me comfortable and allows me to relief tension.

Technique: Creating Behavior

Instructor: Susan Rumor
COMMIT 100% TO YOUR CHARACTER
Its undeniable that humans all have basic needs and you do whatever you can to get these basic human needs or else we die. We need support, safety, sex, nurturing, companionship, power, socialization, community, etc.

There are three specific things that create this behavior that you must acknowledge before this behavior can naturally stem from your soul.
1) Character – your autobiography. Knowing your personal life, heroes, what makes you laugh, etc.
2) Facts/Circumstances – Scripts will give you a certain number of facts and/or circumstances that you need to stay true to as you build your character. You can’t deny the reality of the script – for example if the story is set in 1800’s earth, you can’t have a cellphone… Seems pretty intuitive, but not always as cut and dry.
3) Objective – We always have an objective in life. I want acceptance, I want understanding, I want to kill him, I want to make love to her.
→ Once you establish your character, the script will lead your through the rest of it. All you need is the behavior, and then you can trust that you put in the work and the rest will simply fall into place.

What we want and need are always based on our conflicts. Unfortunately, we always have problems preventing us from getting what we want. I want to date this woman – but she has a boyfriend. I want become a respected actor but I have no finances. Always start with your problems. The more specific we are in our work, then things happen clearer and faster.

Look at three objectives:
1st objective (script objective); look at the overall problem.
2nd objective (scene objective); look at the problem that will occur
3rd objective (opening objective); what’s the first objective in the opening, and what just happened. It gets you living in the very first beat.

Example: CAST AWAY

1st objective: I want my life back. The overall problem is I am stuck on this island by myself.
When you can’t get what you want, you feel pain.
The hardest part is getting your objective from your head to your soul. This can only be done through extensive character work.

For your objective…it can be derived from your problem preventing you from reaching your objective. Check the objective against these helpful hints.
1) Is it important to my character?
2) It must lead to action.
3) It must have an obstacle.
4) It must be positively phrased.

Master Class

Instructor: Aaron Speiser

Scene #1: Two guys are stretching in a park after biking 20-something miles. They are friends and one of them always gets the girls and the other guy who had been married for six days already had his wife leave him. Even worse, the reason she had been having an affair with him is because he is better in bed.

  • They begin by sitting on a bench.
  1. Get rid of these benches… if you are professional bikers and just biked 24 miles are you really going to be sitting on a bench in central park? No. You would probably be sitting in the grass isolated from large crowds of people and stretching.
  2. If you’re really stretching.. then really stretch. Make it real. What are you stretching for? Make it real.

In the beginning of the scene, the guy whose wife left him begins it by looking very depressed and miserable.

  • The first beat is the most important! Stop acting on emotion and telegraphing to the audience what you want them to know! It is so boring to immediately show the audience you are in pain because you just gave it all away. What is actually interesting is being in so much pain but trying so hard not to reveal it.
  • Never focus on pain because we mask pain, and try our best not to focus on it. When you are stressed, frustrated, or in pain what do you do? Sit there and think about it? NO! You try to do activities to take your mind off it so you don’t have to think about it. Do you immediately go to your friends and act like the world is ending? Or do you hide it and hope that they will be able to see through and ask you whats wrong?

Why do we go to our best friends when we have a problem?

  • In the scene, there is an extreme contrast. A man with a lot of woman and a man that only HAD one.
  • In the scene, the guy who always gets girls doesn’t know his wife just left him. He’s a typical bro and thinks his friend is still married by asking, “How’s married life!” The real question here is… does the friend really give a fuck when he says it? NO! He’s just making chit-chat not expecting anything. Do not anticipate the future of the script.
  • The friend came to him because he doesn’t know what to do. He is confused and lost. You don’t go hang out with your friends for no reason and he certainly doesn’t want to be alone otherwise he would be. He wants company…why? He wants someone to talk to feel better and seek  advice from.

Finding the Rage in You

  • We all have real rage/wrath. Do you know when you talk about something and suddenly this rage comes right back over you? Let this primal nature take over.

 

Scene #2: This is Africa. The scene between an African warlord and a white journalist in a bar. He walks to where the white journalist is sitting with his beer in hand and immediately sets it down in front of the woman.

  • This is a strong movement! Even though it is simple, just setting down your beer, it is a heavy powerful behavior. Has she invited you to sit down, so then you set down your beer? Do you normally go to a talk to a woman at a bar by immediately setting down your beer on her table? Or do you wait and see if she gives you to signal first that it is OK and she is interested.
  • You must know your surroundings in the scene. Would you really talk so loud about blood diamonds in Africa to a warlord while in a bar?
  • When the warlord decides to leave because he finds out she is a journalist, the actress grabbed his shirt to physically restrain him. LOL! That is acting! Not reality. Does a little white girl really try to physically restrain a man who kills people for a living?
  • MAKE IT REAL.

Stage Directions

  • Just because the script says you are laughing doesn’t mean you should be laughing. Furthermore, the person playing opposite to you should not ask the question “Why are you laughing” even if it is in the script if the other person isn’t laughing. That isn’t real and you are clearly not living in the moment.Act and React.
  • In the scene, the African asks her if she wants another drink, but during the scene it is still full. That is bullshit, fake, and not real stuff.

 

Monologue (Brought back from last week): About a military captain and his father.

  • It is common for us to get our voice up in our head and raise our voice when we are angry.
  • But as men… we must find our voice and it must come from the balls. Deep and powerful. Otherwise you sound like a pussy.

 

Scene #3: A man who never gets laid but tries so hard. He finally has brought a girl back to his place and is trying to get her to go in his house.

  • Don’t decide emotions!
  • Don’t play a characture, play a character. A little goes a long way so keep it simple.
  • For example, if you have to play a man who has never slept with a woman then just use yourself and the script will give you the words and we will obviously see that you haven’t slept with a woman and what kind of guy you are. You don’t have to play a characture of some nerdy loser. Look in the mirror, you are a loser.

 

Technique: Inner Monologues

Instructor: Susan Rumor

You know you’re in your head when you feel like you’re watching yourself act. Then you are not truly in the moment.

Close-ups

  • You’re either there or not there
  • Think about specific thoughts and the more specific the better. This is different from normal thinking because you are preoccupied with something.
  • You are so preoccupied with something that you are not thinking about other shit. Just thinking to yourself.
  • The simpler the better.

What is a good time for an inner monologue?

  • When you’re alone.
  • When you’re in a scene, and someone is talking to you.
  • Really be thinking and make it natural and real. Our thoughts are often a roller-coaster.
  • Be sure to know your inner monologue before you enter the set!

Subtext

  • The meaning beneath your words. In life, people ask us how we are, and we say, “Good”. Does this really mean we are doing well? Or does how we say it and our body language demonstrate how we really feel. It is the same in a script. When you are reading dialogue and it says, “I’m doing well” but given your previous circumstances you can’t just assume that you are actually ‘doing well’. That is up to your interpretation.
  • In another example, we often say something nice to someone,  but it isn’t too difficult to detect the true meaning beneath the words. Don’t fall for this in a script either.

The Power of Helplessness

  • Never play a mood. You cannot go into a scene saying, I’m going to be sad now. Do you do that in real life? It isn’t real. In fact, when we are sad or depressed we try even harder to surpress these feelings and pretend that everything is OK. However, what happens when we do this close to someone that knows us well? They aren’t fooled…they detect the subtext immediately.
  • Be in the moment, and let thoughts affect us.

Tension & Nervousness

  • It blocks our thoughts and is our enemy.
  • Let things affect you.
  • Don’t think of too many things. Instead in your inner monologue, let it be specific and repeat the same things over and over again. The more specific thoughts the more specific the behavior.
  • Example: Recap the first time you lost your virginity –> What should the inner monologue be? You should be thinking very specifically — where you were, what you felt, recreating even the specific music that was playing (for me it was a Justin Timberlake album). The more specific the better because the audience can see your inner monologue.

 

 

Master Class

Instructor: Aaron Speiser

Opening Lecture:

Booking the Room

You are not going to book the audition. Often times auditions already have someone attached to the role. Instead, it is important to get called into an audition and book the room, meaning to impress the director, casting director, producer, etc. The reason this is important is because you can book the room, and get called in for something else eventually.You have to at least get up to bat if you ever want to hit a home-run. Send a thank you note after auditions that went well.

What is acting? We define it as: to create truthful behavior in the imaginary world of the script. 

Scene Work:

Monologue #1

A military captain angry with his father for knowingly sending bad engine parts which should have been recalled costing the lives of his friends.

  • As an actor, you can often have dialogue such as, “I could rip your tongue out” or “I could kill you.” However this doesn’t have to be literal in your acting. We often say things but don’t actually mean it to be physically threatening. Do not act out words on a surface level — it is always about the subtext.
  • When someone says, “I want to know the reason” it does not mean they want to know the reason. It is not the discussion and even if we do find out the reason it doesn’t necessarily make us feel any better. Instead, it is simply a vent – if you care about someone you ask these questions because if you didn’t care you would have just broken their nose already. An example would be your girlfriend cheats on you, and you ask “I want to know the reason you did this to me?!” After you find out the reason, often times that is not going to make you feel any better if not much worse.
  •  Life is simple: you need respect, power, survival, affection. Acting should feel as you are improvising. It isn’t that difficult.

Actors Acting versus True Feelings

  • Yelling and other examples of acting do not necessarily create true feeling. Tension has no real meaning in this because yelling in a scene doesn’t move us and give us real pain and emotion.
  • JUST RELAX, TALK & LISTEN
  • If you want/have an impulse to leave, well just fucking leave then.
  • Commit to your actions, don’t be inhibited.

 

Scene #1

A college-aged guy continually cheats on his girlfriend and she finds out. He is a moron and doesn’t understand anything. So how do we play ‘an idiot’?

  • Easy. Want to see a stupid person? Look in the mirror. We can all look like and be an absolute moron. Listen, react, think and just don’t understand anything. Simple as that.

 

Monologue #2

The monologue from the movie, “The Hurricane” where the boxer is giving his speech to be released after being in solitary confinement for years.

  • Stillness is power. Absolute stillness is incredibly powerful, especially on a extreme close-up. Be centered and still, this translates directly into power.
  • Be aware of body language. Small things have great power as well.

Technique: The Fourth Wall

Instructor: Susan Rumor

The fourth wall is referring to audience dimension that actors must deal with. It is part of the environment. In film it is everything behind the camera such as your crew. In theatre, it is your audience.

Great actors will use the imaginary wall because the camera wants to see life and it allows you to open up to it. The camera will pick up your inner emotions because it can see into your eyes. By picking stationary points in the fourth wall in the audience, it allows you to have places to rest your eyes while you are talking or thinking. Often times, we find ourselves looking down when we think, but then the camera cannot see our inner emotions because it can’t see our eyes! This makes the scene much more interesting!

The strategy:

  • Pick three stationary points on the wall. This creates focal points (without these, you will see people, so w/ the focal point it allows your eyes to rest)
  • Do not stare at the object, but instead simply allow your eyes to rest on it while you speak.
  • Try to make these objects part of the scene and be able to draw emotional responses from them. For example, make one of your focal points a fridge and then be specific as to what is on that fridge? Photos of your significant other? Bills? Other meaningful things to help you stay in your world.

A few technical aspects:

Primary versus Secondary 

  • Primary objects means you see the (eg. smoke) or when you reference it. This way, both actors must both be using the fourth wall technique and looking at the same spot. Another example is if you use a clock as your object, and then observe what time the clock says. It turns into a primary object.
  • Secondary means that you can use your own fourth wall and the other actor has no idea.

Additional Notes:

  • You should be creating the 4th wall way before you use it or not.
  • In your scene, don’t talk about what you are seeing. That isn’t what is important in the scene.
  • Remember: Don’t force your scene to happen, allow it to naturally develop.

**Assignment

Create a character that has never existed before. Use your gender, age group and conduct some simple research. Bring the character to life in 2 weeks and utilize the autobiography checklist. During class, you will bring full costume, props and plan on picking something to demonstrate that you do in a 5 minute time frame. Add layers to the character.