"Finding Focus"

Before commencing any shot a camera operator will zoom in on an appropriate element of the picture to do a routine focus check. Often the eyes of the actor are the target of this exercise. If they aren’t using a zoom lens then a clearly defined object might be placed on the same plane as the central image of the shot to act as a target (to focus on) or the distance can literally be measured with a tape. Obviously in any such process knowing what element of the picture is meant to be in focus is crucial for the shot.

Focusing a Performance
When actors need to focus their performance there is often some confusion as to how to go about it. Actors seem to be able to easily identify the times that they are not focused but often they are vague about how to fix the problem. The camera operator on the other hand has a very specific procedure to follow.

What’s a suitable procedure for the actor?

Recently I heard some actors explaining that during a scene they had been exhorting themselves to “Focus, focus, focus!” But when asked what they were trying to focus on they seemed baffled. Perhaps they were talking about concentration. Sometimes actors try to hype themselves up in the hope that more adrenalin in the system will enable them to concentrate, engage or focus better. This might work. But if they don’t have anything to actually focus their concentration on, then adrenalin or not, the original problem still exists.

A Rehearsal Room View
Rehearsal Room process is about the value of finding logical answers to performance problems. Once those choices have been made the actor needs to apply them in such a way that these new choices can then be played intuitively and openly. If only intuitive choices are made then it is very difficult to assess and adjust the outcome. Intuitive measures although important are unreliable on their own.

As with the camera operator, if an actor is having difficulty focusing then there are two possible causes –

  • the wrong object has been chosen to focus on
  • or it is unclear which element is the one that requires to be kept in focus.

Either way, for the actor the choice is the same. It is important to put some logical effort into establishing were the focus should be. If the actor is unclear where the focus should be (as with the camera operator) consulting the director might reveal the appropriate choice. Usually the areas the director will be dealing with will be –

  1. STORY – clarifying what the story is.
  2. THEME – clarifying what the story is saying.
    • Making sure that the listening is purposeful and complex.
      (Rehearsal Room process involves selecting a character ‘need’ that will achieve this)
    • Applying a colour to add further complexity to the character - i.e. the way the character is going about the need.
    • Pointing out the areas the character finds difficult or challenging to increase the drama and surprises.

Different directors have different ways of working these areas.

When all the ingredients are in place but the wrong element has been chosen to focus on, then the issue is a question of balancing the performance. The assessment process now involves -

  1. STORY – is it being told clearly enough?
  2. THEME – is it being explored?
    • Is it believably complex – is the subtext separate from the text?
    • Is there an imbalance between story and character’s sub-text (too much of one or the other)?
      Do the impulses need to be stronger and trusted more?
    • Is the performance externally focused so that it is readable to the audience.

These are all areas that can be assessed logically and intuitively but ultimately a logical course of action needs to be arrived at otherwise the choices can’t be implemented. For if they are implemented by an intuitive approach the likelihood is that the performance outcome will be erratic or if per chance it is successful on this occasion it will be difficult to re-create a second time. The manipulation of issues that can be logically identified is what gives the director and the actor control of their process.

So focus is not something that can be achieved on its own. It is the outcome of having an appropriately clear group of performance elements in place. If these elements have been logically organized then deciding which ones need more or less focus is an easy task.

January 2005

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2005. All rights Reserved.



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