Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Method


There was an article in this month’s Romance Writer’s Report about using acting techniques to help your writing, particularly the Method.

In the Method, you draw on your own emotions and experiences in order to recreate them on stage or on set.  The idea is to create a genuine experience of artificial circumstances.  Most actors have never been face to face with an alien race bent on destroying the Earth, but we’ve all been in situations where we felt overwhelmed and were determined to continue.  Most of the top actors in the world have trained in the Method and most of them say they use it.

I can see how it can be useful to writers.  To recreate experiences allows you to remember vividly.  Then you can describe how you felt: how your eyes stung from tears or how you couldn’t stop laughing at an inappropriate time or how your ribs suddenly loosened in fear.  It keeps you from being repetitive and makes it feel real.

Of course, sometimes making it feel real can be a problem.  There are actors who have plunged into severe depression because of the memories they were accessing.  The founder of the Method recommended not using any memory from nearer than seven years to avoid trauma but time isn’t always a guarantee of healing.  We all have painful things in our past and no matter how removed we are, it doesn’t take much to bring that pain back.  And, of course, you’re always looking for the most impactful memories to use.

It can also turn into an on-set problem.  This isn’t something writers need to worry about but actors should.  In one episode of Battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos is reacting to the death of another character.  He’s looking at this incredibly elaborate model of a sailing ship that we’ve seen in his quarters many times and you can see the pain building up in him and you can see that he’s trying to hide it and suddenly he just explodes into action, smashing the model off the table and bursting into tears.  It’s a wonderful scene, very emotionally moving.

The problem?  It wasn’t in the script.

If I remember correctly, that model was a thirteen thousand dollar model they’d rented from a prop shop.  And then it was smashed on the floor, requiring some quick and hefty budget readjustments.

But it was still a very moving scene.  It was one of the few times we ever saw Olmos’ character lose control which made it even more emotionally intense.

I have my problems (and they are big problems) with the writing on Battlestar.  But before we knew how messed up it was going to get, there were some incredible moments and some amazing stories.  Even pure crap can sometimes spawn a beautiful flower.

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