Friday, March 19, 2010

Structure Makes Your Improvisation Work!

So, going to see a performance of Improv at IOWest is amazing.  I suggest going Tuesday nights at 9 to see USS Rock and Roll and Local 132.  There have been several times I've brought friends fresh to improv and they could not believe that every word was made up - had never existed before this performance, and will never exist again (unless, the performance was filmed of course)   It is an amazing feat, as improvisors move, speak, emote, seemingly plot, and express theme, broader meaning, the whole deal, with NO discussion - nothing more than eye contact.  These teams I'm recommending do a form called The Harold.  This is a form developed at IOWest (when it used to be Improv Olympic) by Del Close, the original IOer.

What is the Harold?  An opening, three "first scenes" a game, three "second scenes" where the characters or locations of the first scenes come back, another game, and the final coming together of all three plot lines as they affect each other in often hilariously and profound ways.    A couple of details, the second beats may often be the longest beats in the piece, time to develop characters, situations etc.  The third beats are where everyone's story gets wrapped up. ; - )

Well what have we here?  Yes, we have structure.  What else might we have?  How bout a want and a need.  The way to have powerful themes is to begin with a callow character who actually changes in the third act.  The way I teach my students now is that this transformation occurs when the want collides with the need, and the Hero has to relinquish her want or "die".  In improv, it may be as simple as, girl who wants friends and tries to get them by being mean, realizes she should be nice.  But once we meet her in the first act, we want to see her come back in the second "beat" and see the consequences of her meanness.  It's only in the third act, as we wrap up in improv that we see our hero transformed, see her realize that because she needs friends, she needs not to be mean any more.  Okay, that's a super basic example, but improv CAN be simpler than Doc, but also can be more more challenging and complex.

Okay - so how does this apply to me and my doc you may be asking?

First of all, what this means, no matter how organic your doc (cause improv is the epitomy of organic) you will make it better by having a structure.

Let me tell you.....I always used to think that you just start shooting right?  Well after years of working on trying to edit docs for people who "Just Started Shooting" I realized that they had spent their valuable time and resources - and often the time of others - and even if the filmmaker started with a GREAT idea, if they didn't fully develop the structure for their film BEFORE they start - if they didn't think about who could take us into this world and have a transformation - then - unless you are INCREDIBLY f-ing lucky - you won't get that.  Sure, some people are in the right place at the right time, but you're too smart and too good to leave it all to chance.

So, number 1, step out on stage with all the players knowing the structure.
number 2, choose characters with strong wants, and strong needs.  Know they will stick to those through the first two acts.
number three, make theme - or saying something about something, more than the immediate scenario at hand - a goal.

If you can take these three things and apply them to your documentary BEFORE you start shooting, or at a far distant least, AS you shoot, then you have a shot to have the main elements that make a great film.

 To review - you want:

1) a hero who has a transformation   and 2) a film that transcends it's subject, that is about more than it appeared to be at first.

(What do Want and Need have to do with Structure?  That will be the next post! )

These are there things that make great documentaries delightful, and if you know about them, and are looking for them, even PLANNING where they will emerge BEFORE you choose a subject, or start shooting, BEFORE you're done shooting and start editing.

Some examples: Times of Harvey Milk and Unknown White Male along with When We Were Kings are terrific examples of Want Need, Structure and Transformation, and that delightful moment when you realize that this documentary you are watching is about more than what you thought.

So, take your check list, think about what you are doing, and really have fun with it, and make your film with more than "just" a good idea.

These are all the things we work on in the Doc Workshops - so please feel free to send an email for more information about the next workshops.


幸雨 said...


Anonymous said...

No pains, no gains...................................................

Anonymous said...