In yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter, there was a roundtable of Emmy-winning and potentially Emmy-nominated actors (deadline for Emmy nomination ballots is in about a month, and the trades are both publishing many articles pertinent to the process as well as reaping beaucoup bucks from For Your Consideration ads). The discussion, which was actually pretty interesting (and you can read at the Hollywood Reporter website), included Ted Danson (FX’s “Damages”), Alec Baldwin (NBC’s “30 Rock”), David Duchovny (Showtime’s “Californication”), Blair Underwood (HBO’s “In Treatment” and ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money”), Mark Harmon (CBS’ “NCIS”), David Spade (CBS’ “Rules of Engagement”), Neil Patrick Harris (CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother”), Bryan Cranston (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) and Rainn Wilson (NBC’s “The Office”).
The discussion, at one point, veered off into talking about whether the divide between television and feature acting is breaking down. Spade talked about going where the good scripts are, Baldwin talked about the immediacy of the acting process in television (“a movie really is about sitting around”), Wilson talked very intelligently about the audience’s investment in watching a film and how television doesn’t require so much of their attention on character arcs.
Duchovny finished that part of the discussion with the following:
Duchovny: Ultimately, I think film becomes an editor’s medium. You give them 15 takes and then release control over it. On TV, the actor really has more control over the whole process.
Wow. I’m rocked on so many levels by this. First of all, it’s nice to see that someone who has produced, written and directed as well as acted, is aware of the importance and power of editing. It’s also interesting to see that he feels that the actor has more control over the process in television. Surely, the secondary characters in THE X FILES and even every other actor in CALIFORNICATION (a great series in which Duchovny’s “control” may come more from his executive producer role) might disagree with him.
But the innate point that he is making is really quite fascinating — that from the point of view of the actor — television elevates the actor’s involvement above what they would normally have in a film.
Now, I’m not sure that I agree with him on this. The stories, for instance, of Edward Norton’s involvement in the upcoming HULK and on AMERICAN HISTORY X are legendary by now and any star of significant power is going to be involved in the editing process, if only through intense notes with the director, producer or studio.
But the interesting point that Duchovny raises is whether, from the actor’s point of view, having too many takes of a performance removes that actor’s ability to shape a performance.
I’m actually going to be discussing this point in more detail in my book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT (Peachpit Press), so you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to see how I figure this all out. But I have to say that, on balance, I agree with him in the hands of a mediocre or bad director or producer/showrunner. The point is to put everyone on the same page, so that the actor’s performance works within the context of every other creative art on the film. Improvisation has a great part in filmmaking. Editing is all about shaping a story from a multitude of choices.
I’ve seen both students and professional directors be stymied by too many disparate choices. Sometimes that comes from basic indecisiveness as a personal trait. But more often than not, it stems from being unsure about the kind of film that they wanted to make.
More about this in November/December (you can keep track of the progress of my book by looking at the Lean Forward tab on this blog).