GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Action/ReAction: Examples of responsive reactions

There are three phases to an actor's performance: Listening (or observing the actions of another character), reacting to what has been said or done by another actor and, finally, speaking your own dialogue or performing an action. The clips here from my movies and TV shows demonstrate examples of responsive reactions; an actor reacting to the dialogue of another actor. The reaction can be long and articulated or short and to the point--almost subliminal. In either case, it is performed after the other actor speaks and before you speak your own dialogue.

This take is from a scene from my movie Exigence. It is a good example of "responsive reactions" per my Action/ReAction technique for actors. A responsive reaction is performed a half beat after the other actor concludes his or her speech or action (for example, if he pulls a gun on you or waves 'hello') and before you say your dialogue.

This scene from my movie Point of Departure shows responsive reactions in a completed scene. Notice that I purposely removed her reaction before she says "Why is that?" and again before ""Where is he now?" so the next reaction would have more force. In the next two exchanges, using the responsive reactions escalated the emotional tension and amplified the impact of the scene.

A responsive reaction can be subtle and of very short duration or it can be profound and lengthy conveying multiple unspoken thoughts to the viewer (watch some of Marlon Brando's performances as he was brilliant at this)--it is up to the actor to orchestrate his or her performance. The responsive reaction is, I believe, the most important phase of the performance because it allows an actor to communicate something to the audience that isn't contained in the dialogue.

In my feature film The Dearly Departed, Debbie Hartner's character receives some astonishing news from a stranger who has come to her door. The magnitude of her responsive reaction tells us all we need to know.

In this segment from my TV series Clip Joint, notice how J.T.'s reactions escalate as the character fails to get his instructions correctly.

In another scene from Clip Joint we see Duke Maltin, Kevin Courtright and Dean K Rudenauer along with other Clip Joint Players--I especially like Kevin's Action/ReAction with Donna Cherry--she asks a question to which the answer is 'no' but Kevin eloquently displays a train of unspoken thought without which the scene would have meant nothing. Clip Joint theme by Michael Chanslor...

I was shooting a dinner party scene for my movie Woman on the Beach one evening in a house in the Malibu hills overlooking the ocean. The scene showed a well-known artist played by Margareta Sjödin (who happens to be a well-known artist in real life) introducing her new romantic interest--a football player--to a circle of her cosmopolitan friends comprised of an art critic, a gallery owner, an art publisher and a publicist. The conversation was erudite and intentionally focused on the inner workings of the art world. It was a moment in the story where the new boyfriend is being tested to see if he could hold his own in their court.

More important than what was being said by the characters was the way it was being received--the unspoken undercurrent of opinion, pride and prejudice should be palpable and would predetermine the future of the relationship in question. After shooting all the dialogue, I had the impression that the scene was incomplete and hadn't captured the dynamic of judgment that I wanted. It was already late in the evening and I was loath to rewrite the scene. After some reflection, I came up with a solution.

I put the camera on one of the actors at the dinner table--first in a medium shot, then in close-up--and filmed a variety of reactions by asking him to smile, look to another actor for his/her reaction, show me you don't like what you heard, show me you just got stung by a remark, look surprised, etc. I then filmed each of the actors in turn getting an abundance of reactions not knowing which I would use but feeling I had more than I needed to make the scene perform its function.

I never had as much fun editing a scene as I did cutting together that dinner party. The interaction was excruciatingly revealing in a way and to an extent that dialogue could never have accomplished. That night, the Action/ReAction technique I created and refined for actors was born. Audiences became so involved with the characters in that scene that I knew the technique had to be incorporated not only in the way I would shoot movies in the future, but also in the way the actors delivered their performances to me and other directors with whom they would work.

I didn't realize it at the time but these reactions along with the other elements of the technique would be indispensable in branding actors and helping to create a demand for them not just from audiences but from those who hire actors to do the work.

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