I recently received an email with question from a student. The student felt that he was more comfortable on the analytical side of things, and wanted to know what he could do to strengthen his imagination, or make himself feel more comfortable using it.
I thought it was a great question, and I came up with some recommendations. I thought I would share the recommendations that I offered him here:
One thing I can recommend is a book called Playmaking. I encountered it one summer in New Haven. I was working with something called the Dwight-Edgwood Project , which in turn was based on the 52nd Street Project in New York. These projects involved mentoring kids in playwriting, so that they wrote 5 minute plays which were then directed in and acted by adults. There probably is a version of it here in LA, it has been replicated widely. Getting involved in that, and working with the kids, would probably be in itself a great way to awaken the imagination. But the book Playmaking is a handbook for the mentors, who were theater professionals of all stripes, not just writers. The book contains simple exercises to help students learn the basic concepts of dramatic narratives and get their imaginations going at the same time. I think the kid-orientation of it is very helpful for all of us serious adults as well.
Another thing that comes to mind is Miranda July’s website http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com/ It’s got lots of challenges or prompts for creative exploration that are more geared to grown-ups. They don’t accept submissions to the website of the projects anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still do the challenges.
You may have heard of the book The Artist’s Way. I can’t really recommend it all that highly though. I tried it for a while, and didn’t really feel that anything was unlocked, but maybe if I had stayed with it something might have. My cousin is a writer and filmmaker and swears by it.
Although I am a bit skeptical about the improv-teaching industry here in town, I do think an improv class can be a a great thing to do if you can find a good class. I went to a free workshop with a teacher named Bill Chait, just to see how he ran it as a marketing event, and was quite impressed with his insights and exercises.
Finally, I think taking a class in an art form that is not interpretive but essentially creative in nature, such as fiction-writing or painting or songwriting, can be very helpful. I think actors don’t do enough of this. Writers are told often to take acting classes, but I think it works the other way as well. An actor who understands firsthand what the decisions are that go into writing will look at a text with different eyes than one who doesn’t have that angle. Of course, you would want to get into a class that wasn’t too much about generic conventions (as many screenwriting classes are, alas), but rather about bringing your vision into being.
Obviously, there are other ways as well, but these were what first came to my mind.
I haven’t loved a Scorsese pic in quite a while, but this lecture is fantastic. It’s wonderful to see someone who is clearly highly specialized who has such a broad, even peripatetic view of what he does. You can watch it on the NEH website here.
Frank Capra said: Film is a disease.
SCORSESE: He went on, but that’s enough for now.
SCORSESE: I caught the disease early on, you know. I used to feel it. And they used to take me to the movies all the time. I used to feel it whenever we walked up to the ticket booth with my mother or my father or my brother. You’d go through the doors, and the thick carpet, to – past the popcorn stand that had that wonderful smell – then to the ticket taker, and then sometimes they’d get – these doors would open in the back and there were little windows in it in some of the old theaters and I could see something magical happening up there on the screen, something special. And as we entered, for me I think now, it was like entering a sacred space, a kind of a sanctuary where the living world around me seemed to be recreated and played out.
First of all, there’s light. Light is at the beginning of cinema, of course. It’s fundamental – because it’s created with light, and it’s still best seen projected in dark rooms, where it’s the only source of light. But light is also at the beginning of everything. Most creation myths start with darkness, and then the real beginning comes with light – which means the creation of forms. Which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and ourselves from the rest of the world. Recognizing patterns, similarities, differences, naming things – interpreting the world. Metaphors – seeing one thing – in light of something else. Becoming – enlightened. So light is at the core of who we are and how we understand ourselves.
Actors are frequently described as a species of storyteller. And there is an important sense in which that is true. Characters’ stories have arcs, we are told, and the actor needs to uncover that arc, and bring it to life.
But that’s only one aspect of what actors do. When we live our lives, moment to emerging moment, there is no story yet. No arc. Was it Kierkegaard who said that lives have to be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards? I believe it was. In those moments that we live through, one after the other, there is no shape yet, no arc, just an array of facts, and another array, this one of possibilities.
We meet each moment, as best we can. And how do we do it? We are prompted, by something inside. A hunger: for wholeness, belonging, accord with the world, something. Try to name it and it slips through your fingers.
That’s what the now is like: there’s the world, there’s this inner prompting, and then there is our action, our response. Later, much later, we arrange these prompts and responses into stories, which we tell for an array of reasons, as responses to prompts we encounter further down the road.
When we act, we try to touch our own promptings, our own hunger for belonging, for accord with our world, our own hunger to be enfolded in a harmonious whole the way we were once enfolded in the womb, and bring these promptings from this dark engine inside us to bear on someone else’s circumstances, someone else’s situation, someone else’s life, someone else’s story. Stories are great to watch, but a great actor invites us into that space of flux and danger, between prompt and world, where the story has not yet become a story; it is still a great question, a test of some kind. An actor who does this makes the oldest story fresh, and in her mouth the stalest of speeches becomes a song of arresting beauty and mystery.
A tall order. Acquiring the ability to do this at will, to repeat it as needed, within a broad range of narratives and situations, is earned only with extraordinary patience, dedication, and implacable resolve to keep moving forward. When I see a student take a step closer towards acquiring this facility, I am deeply, passionately gratified
A current student at Mother of Invention, Tessa Fixter-Coniglio, is in the MFA Screenwriting program at UCLA, and her screenplay Anita was just named a winner of the Screenwriters Showcase contest at the 22nd Annual Film Festival of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
The UCLA Screenwriters Showcase is a feature and teleplay competition for the MFA Screenwriting candidates, celebrating the work of entertainment’s newest crop of screenwriting talent. Student work is read by over 200 top industry judges (including agents, managers, producers and development executives), and the competition culminates in a gala event during the UCLA Film Festival in late spring.
At the event, the work of eight winning students is celebrated with a staged reading, along with presentations from faculty, prominent alumni and an annual honoree, who is presented with the Excellence in Screenwriting Award.
Past showcase winners have gone on to be represented by major agencies, and many have had their work optioned by production companies or studios. The UCLA Screenwriters Showcase is the best way for the industry to be introduced to the brightest new talent in screenwriting.
The winning script, in Tessa’s own words:
It’s called “Anita” and VERY loosely based of the dancer Anita Berber. It takes placed between 1916-1929 Berlin and tracks her life from when she was discovered at Maria Mossi’s acting/dancing school and began touring with Rita Sacchetto to her death from tuberculosis in 1929. She had a serious drug an alcohol problem as well…she was a morphine, cocaine and alcohol addict (happy lady ). After her death she was sort of forgotten but then some dance historians have tried to bring back awareness to her as she was influential on the expressionist/nude dance movement.
Heartfelt congratulations Tessa! This is wonderful!
Patti SmithAdvice to the young
“Build a good name”, rock poet Patti Smith advises the young. “Life is like a roller coaster, it is going to have beautiful moments but it is going to be real fucked up, too”, she says.
The American singer, poet and photographer Patti Smith (b. 1946) is a living punk rock legend. In this video she gives advice to the young:
“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work. Protect your work and if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency. Life is like a roller coaster ride, it is never going to be perfect. It is going to have perfect moments and rough spots, but it’s all worth it”, Patti Smith says.
Interview by Christian Lund, the Louisiana Literature festival August 24, 2012, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Produced by Honey Biba Beckerlee.
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Supported by Nordea-fonden.
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