Dialect Coaching: recommendations for actors & filmmakers…

A few weeks ago I asked a question on twitter regarding challenges you encounter surrounding your work and what a good situation would be.  I had some interesting answers but one in particular was impassioned.

Pamela Vanderway is a dialect coach and obviously has great avidity for her chosen work. I asked her if I could post her valuable response on my blog, and she agreed.

Voila:

“Trilby, you had asked me what the ideal scenario is for film projects when it comes to requiring actors to work in a dialect other than their own.  Each project will have special requirements, but in general here’s what really works well:

The ideal scenario re: employing a dialect coach  (aka dialect consultant) for film is to hire a supervising dialect consultant at the same time all of the department heads are hired — well ahead of actual production.

This consultant analyzes the script, alerting the director of dialect and language challenges (which can occur even when the script is written so as to require a General American dialect for each character since many box office sweethearts don’t naturally sport a General American dialect.)

The supervising coach (working with the director and sometimes the film’s star and/or even that star’s personal dialect coach) assembles custom recorded dialect materials that actors can emulate in order to enhance the story being told.

During this process special attention is paid to the many factors that influence the dialects of every character that will be seen on screen (such as place of birth, education, religion, affluence, family groupings, physical impediments etc.).

The supervising coach then assists the casting director during the casting process by attending auditions and helping the CD and producers determine which actors will most likely be able to deliver an accurate, consistent and integrated dialect in time for the shoot. The idea here is to cast actors who don’t need much or any coaching on set, as usually by the time the production gets around to casting the secondary and tertiary characters the shooting schedule is looming large!

The high profile actors who have been attached from the beginning of the project tend to succeed best when given 6 to 8 weeks to master and integrate a dialect. Because they are typically cast early on, they usually have that time available if everyone is ‘on it’ and gets them the materials and daily coaching they need. (The actors you tend to see winning awards prepare this early even when the production companies don’t follow an ideal course of action.)

Depending on the size of the cast, the number of locations and the preference of the director and the high profile actors involved, the supervising coach either coaches all the actors themselves (being present basically wherever/whenever the director is present for dialogue shots and in actor trailers/make-up trailers etc. working with actors in between). Or instead this supervising coach may coordinate a crew of coaches, keeping everyone on the same page in order to best serve the director’s vision and the story.

The supervising coach (and any coaches they supervise) also may provide detailed notes of dialect mismatches for editors to keep in mind as they edit, or the coach may be asked to watch a rough cut and indicate where ADR (looping) may be required due to dialect mismatches. The goal of course is zero dialect-generated ADR.”

Thank you, Pamela for discussing the importance of dialect coaching within the context of film production. As we have witnessed, as actors, and filmmakers, the better prepared we are prior to shooting the better quality the final project. If we are rushed on set, and ill-prepared, the important details, such as a dialect, will suffer and therefore decrease the credibility of the performance. As a result, the audience will not believe or empathize with the characters. Not a good situation!

Enjoy browsing through Pamela’s website for more tips and information regarding dialect coaching.

And… a little tidbit of my favourite actress (Meryl Streep) with all her dialects!

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Acting and The Physical Life…

Out of your head and into your body”.

When I heard American Acting Coach, Larry Moss emphatically state these words, during the recent Vancouver Acting School workshop, I felt a knowing thrill dash through my body. It’s the motto I constantly preach in my Buffoonery Acting Workshops – and it’s even imprinted on my business card!

Obviously, we still need our head but lately, the body seems to be a neglected tool in the practice of acting as was made evident during the workshop. Actor after actor was ordered by Larry Moss to commit more to the script and physicalize their process.

“Stamp your feet, and say your lines, stamp harder!”

“Do push-ups, feel your feet on the floor, ground your breath, pretend you’re a dog (isn’t your character dog-like?).

“Deliver your lines like a hyena.” “Sing your text!”

“Show me five ways you could sit in that chair.”

It was exciting and rewarding when actors dared to respond and venture into unfamiliar territory and frustrating if they resisted. You could see bodies awaken as they risked leaving their comfort zone (I call it the “safe zone”) and into brave action. Stories, scripts came to life.

It’s not about you! It’s about the story.” A simple gesture can illustrate an important story point. “It’s hot, really hot. Wipe your neck. Hike up your dress. Do something!” When the actor released her control and dove into the temperature of the play, more surprising moments naturally followed.

Larry Moss certainly affirmed the importance of connecting to the physical. “Watch Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman without sound and watch how they tell a story through the physical.” “Find the physical that tells the story that the verbal doesn’t.

My goal when I teach my buffoonery acting workshops is to get the actor way out of their physical comfort zone and get them to know themselves. My Porsche analogy explains it well. Let’s say you drive a Porsche but you drive it only downtown. You know it can go really fast but you don’t really know what it feels like. One day you go to the desert where it is safe and you put “pedal to the metal”. You sit up straight, hold onto the wheel like never before and you grasp the power of your car. You return to the city and continue to drive your Porsche, but now, you are different. You are at one with your machine. You have an alternate, connected energy about you.

This is exactly what happens once you find your bouffon. You go to an extreme in play, and in text, and then return to your normal self, and “normal” acting. The great by-product of this process is discovering unexpected sub-text in the monologue/scene exercises, leaving the actor with a terrific audition or rehearsal tool.

Buffooning Romeo & Juliet... guess who's Juliet?
Buffooning Romeo & Juliet... guess who's Juliet?

Chapter ten in Larry Moss’s book “The Intent to Live” goes into more depth on the subject of the physical life. He gives us specific examples of the story taken to another level because of an actor’s physical choice. “When your body’s lost, look for a choice…this is your talent.”

The Intent to Live
The Intent to Live by Larry Moss

Once again I thank Larry Moss for getting things moving, and re-confirming the work I do with actors. When I excitedly chatted with him about his work and my relationship to it via “Le Bouffon” his eyes lit up and he said, “Bless you for doing this work.”

Merci, Monsieur Moss…. I am honoured…

Thank you again to Vancouver Acting School for bringing a Master among us!

Create Your Own Door, & Open It…

When one door closes, another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Alexander Graham Bell

Thank you for the great quote Mr. Bell.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about those opening and closing doors. I’ve been thinking about the doors that have opened in my life and the doors that have been kept tightly closed. I’ve been thinking about some doors I should have maybe NOT gone through. And, some, I thankfully did go through.

As much as I can, and as much as I remember, I try to pay attention to any dusty lights suddenly extending my way from open doors. Sometimes, I’ve walked into doors, forced my way through doors, and found some doors just way too heavy to open. (I got my finger badly damaged in a closing door twice in my life because I was still trailing my hand as the door closed…hmmm… “don’t linger while the door is closing behind you”?)

Recently, I’ve watched others fall back in shock as doors have slammed in their faces just when they thought they were almost through. (Quick…look behind you! Maybe another door is waiting!!)

Can you relate?

Or, maybe it looks like there are so many doors open in front of you and you have to choose which one is seemingly the correct one. This can feel like playing Russian Roulette.

Sometimes, we wait too long for doors to open. We wait, and wait, and wait. Especially as actors, or people in the arts in need of others for their work to advance. We hope and wait. We get that audition and we wait. We get the call back and we wait. We wait for the jury to jury. We wait for the interview results. We wait for someone to tell us that we can practice our art.

Frustrating? I’ll say! You give power to someone you don’t even know in order to do the work you are destined for or are hungry to do.

A friend of mine who is also an Oscar winning actress was seeking work and wasn’t finding it. (Yes.. even winning an Oscar doesn’t guarantee you work!) Finally, she decided to create her own one-woman play. As she put it… she needed a job! A long story short, the show became a huge success and was requested everywhere. She had created her own door, and opened it wide. More attention eventually came her way and, of course, she was offered more of the work she had earlier been pursuing.

I look to the those imaginative pilgrims who boldly stride forth, and fling their own doors open and not passively wait for others to do so.

With some resistance, I was forced to open my own door several years ago because of a back operation. I had been doing work on film sets in costumes to help fund my theatrical thespian adventures, but after a long period of rehabilitation, and some permanent nerve damage, I knew I couldn’t costume supervise any longer.

So, I got entrepreneurial and started my own business – Hot Scarves ‘n Stuff, a special scarf with heat pads that I had created on a film set. I learned all the “businessy stuff”, and even did a business plan, but most importantly, I learned that you must love and be passionate about the work, which keeps you going through the tougher times.

Hot Scarves on Display
Hot Scarves on Display

Well, I didn’t love my “scarfy” venture enough. Try as I might, I just couldn’t sustain excitement for a fleece scarf. (What WAS I thinking?!!)

But, it did lead me to another venture that I do love- my buffoonery workshops. I had to open one door so I could get to the second door, which I managed to open on my own. (Thank goodness for those ideas that come in the shower!) I am hugely rewarded during my workshops when I get to watch others blossom in their “bouffoness” and become freer beings having fun!

Bouffons in Action!
Bouffons in Action!

The next heavy door I’ve created and I’m slowly pushing open, and I mean slowly, is a theatrical piece I’m writing for myself. Fear is the weighty material of this door, but I know I have to do this, especially as you are witnessing this statement!

What about YOU? May I ask you if this subject stirs some deep projects that have been brewing for some time or are you already boldly throwing doors open for us to watch? (I guess we all open doors at different speeds.) Do you perform work that feels extraordinarily satisfying?

What do think? What is the door you need to create for you? (…buying a canvas, going to a poetry slam, playing at an open mic?) Are you waiting for something? What doors do you want to fling open?

I think I used the word door way too many times in this post, but, there are not too many synonyms for “door”! Wishing you well!