the improvisational process
a path to truthful performance
Actor Matthew Chamberlain talks about his experience of developing the character Frank in Hook, Line & Sinker through improvisation.
Rob Marchand, CBI (Character-based Improvisation) coach, talks about the role of improvisation in filmmaking.
Actor K.C. Kelly on his experience of developing the character Jono in Hook, Line & Sinker through improvisation.
Actor Geraldine Brophy on her experience of developing the character through improvisation in Hook, Line & Sinker .
Filmmakers Andrea Bosshard & Shane Loader on making Hook, Line & Sinker , and using improvisational methods to develop character and narrative. (edited by Annie Collins)
Veteran editor Annie Collins on editing Hook, Line & Sinker
OUR INTEREST LIES in telling character-based stories, stories sourced from our communities where big themes play out in modest circumstances, stories that explore the human condition and have the power to move and touch us. Without extensive crews, large lighting set-ups, copious amounts of equipment etc. - all the trappings that are taken as the norm within the Hollywood model - story and performance are for us, our greatest resource and asset. This is where we have chosen to put our energy as filmmakers - into sharpening our abilities to tell a story through characters who bear the stamp of authenticity and truthfulness.
AS FILMMAKERS, the challenge we have set ourselves is to tell stories sourced in our communities and to draw authentic performances out of actors to articulate those stories with all the truth they deserve. You may be familiar with the films of British director, Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Life is Sweet, Vera Drake, Another Year). He pioneered an innovative and highly disciplined improvisationally based scripting process that results in the rapid and efficient development of detailed characters an narrative through the collaboration of actors, writer and director. Like our first feature Taking the Waewae Express, we developed the screenplay for Hook, Line & Sinker using this same process.
Actors love this process because they are able to fundamentally shape their characters; as writers we love it because of the wealth of narrative possibilities and great dialogue it produces, and as directors we love it, because it creates such layered performances. Our films have no goodies or baddies, only people (often misguided) operating from a position of doing their best as they understand it. We also love this process because from the very first step, all the characters and their preoccupations come out of the actors' connections with real people from their working and private lives. Both the narrative and the characters that emerge cannot be other than a contemporary reflection of the community in which we live, a reflection of our time and place. It makes for stories which are topical and characters whom we believe in. It is a way to tell those stories that exist around us in close proximity, that reflect our identity and articulate who we are with authenticity and truthfulness.
The process is an inversion of the normal way of developing a drama. Instead of beginning with script, we begin with casting. This is crucial, because the actors who work through the improvisational process are the ones who appear in the actual film. It is not a process whereby once the character is developed by one actor, that role can be handed over to another actor. Once cast, each actor brings to us a list of characters - all must be based on real people - with whom their working and personal lives have in some way intersected. It may be a woman walking down Cuba Street who has an interesting walk, a friend who is obsessed with fitness or an uncle who is always right.
As the directors, we have a loose subject which we want to explore. In the case of Taking the Waewae Express, it was boys and cars; with Hook, Line & Sinker it was work and worth. We keep this to ourselves as we don't want the actor to begin moulding their character to what they think the film is about. Then privately with each actor, we develop a character or an amalgam character from their list that will work in relation to our subject.
Once we are sure that each actor is confident in their character and has literally lived a few days in that character's shoes, we go into a highly disciplined process of improvisation in pairs and groups which become increasingly complex over a period of four to five weeks. Relationships evolve between the characters, narratives emerge. Our task as directors, is to guide the impros so they articulate the subject and choose which of the many developing narrative paths to explore further. Detailed notes and transcripts are made of dialogue and action which come out of the impros. These notes and transcripts are the basis of the screenplay. The writing process is a matter of distilling the best of the many long impros into succinct two or three minute scenes which have a narrative coherence. In order to maintain the freshness of the all the improvisation work, the actual filming is done within six months of the improvisations. As a result of this intensive ensemble work, we are able to shoot rapidly and economically because the hard task of developing character and performance has largely been done during the four week improvisational period. The actors are able to call on the real emotions and experiences resulting out of the improvisations, enabling them to move into character with ease. Our task at this point is to keep them connected to the intentions and emotions of the original improvisations.
a new way of scripting
how the process works