Round Three: Production

Should You Rehearse With Your Actors at Length and Film Every Take? Or Keep Rehearsals as Brief as Possible?

YT: I’ve never had the luxury of lengthy rehearsals with actors. The most rehearsal I’ll do is over some phone and Skype conversations I have with them before they show up to set. Then we’re on the set and blocking the scene, we do it two or three times, we shoot, and that’s it. I have no idea what that world is like, where it’s, “Hey, let’s go hang out for a while before production and go through the scene.”

SS: Well, one thing I like to do is readings. So, you’ve written the screenplay and you sit with the actors, and you read them the whole screenplay. I’m very elusive when I read the characters, to show the actors what the tone of the film is going to be. If they have questions, it’s great to be in a reading where we can address those questions and talk about the why and how. “How would this go: Here, this character is sobbing—how would she cry?” You’re also figuring out characters’ physicality, ways of talking, clothing, and style (or lack thereof). When you’re making something like my film Magic Magic, which is very atmospheric, I had a specific homage to the films of Roman Polanski in mind, so that took more rehearsals to get it right.

When I’m on set I mostly shoot digitally, so I record everything. I never like to do unrecorded takes, because I have a fear that even if we’re just playing around during a take, there could be something so unique and beautiful there, so why not just turn the camera on? I like breaking the ice very quickly with the camera.

YT: I don’t shoot every take. So far, the process hasn’t worked against me; it feels more spontaneous when we don’t rehearse something to death. You just do it, and then as the director you can make small adjustments. A lot of this depends on working with actors who can get a lot out of the conversations we have before they show up on set. I haven’t been in the situation where by the time we’re on the set, and they block something out, it’s completely wrong or off from what I had in mind. It’s always felt like it was in the right proximity; it’s just a matter of finessing each take to get it where it needs to be.

SS: Still, the reading is just a reading. The actors are just planning what they’re going to do. And if they don’t do the reading, I can’t explain who they’re going to be. When I say “Action,” they’ll just be staring at the camera, like, “What the fuck do I do?” So the prep that I do is just to inform them clearly of who their character is, what these particular scenes are, and what the level of tension within their character is. That only helps them use their skills.

YT: It’s a conventional way of getting everyone ready, sure—so everyone knows what’s going to happen and where things are going to land. But the first time actors are actually in the same room doing their lines, it’s spontaneous for them: “Oh, it’s the first time we’re doing this.” It’s fresh. Then, when they do it two or three more times and we’re ready to shoot, we’re in that middle place of it still being fresh enough, but everyone feels like they know what they’re doing. In that sense, the process becomes a little more predictable: “OK, this scene is going to be what it’s going to be.” But I don’t feel like I missed out on finding surprises by doing it that way. And ultimately, it’s about trying to achieve the goal of shooting the scene on time, and then you move. 

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