Many of my films feature kids. At CalArts I explored ways of working with young actors to develop a practice that would allow for authentic as well as creative performances; Beware of Dog was a practical exercise in this.
During the shoot, I experimented with two methods. Method 1: Coach the kids during the takes. Give them instructions and lead them towards the desired beats of the scene.
Method 2: Help the kids create the make-believe world of the story. Allow it to feel as real as possible. Work with the cinematographer (Amanda Treyz) to employ a flexible shooting strategy where the kids are free to follow their impulses. Press record and then get out of the way.
You can probably guess which one led to better performances. The imagination of the young actor is stronger than the best note or direction.
I employed this technique in my next film PEARL WAS HERE. To rehearse for the film, we did a series of improvisations where Sharon Eisman (Mom) and Miana Abramson (Pearl) explored their characters. Watch one of our rehearsals below.
During the film shoot, we shot with two cameras so that we wouldn't need Miana to repeat
her actions. The cinematographer, Kimberly Culotta also came up with a lighting strategy that required very little set up time. A friendly, calm crew helped to keep a soft tone on set that would not pop the bubble of make-believe. I tried to be a watchdog, guarding Miana's imaginary world from intruders, the most dangerous one being myself.
These discoveries left me wondering: -How can I give adult actors this same freedom to get lost in their imagination?-When the shoot gets complicated with difficult locations, extras, or complex camera and lighting set-ups... how can I protect the imaginary world of the actors?
Miana Abramson and Sharon Eisman in Pearl Was Here