Thought I’d just report after back after the recording session with the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
I think it went terribly well. I got everything I hoped for and most importantly some extra stuff too that I didn’t know I needed, and didn’t ask for - always extremely satisfying.
We didn’t actually have a huge amount to do this time. Both the actors are well into their roles by now, so it’s relatively plain sailing. Also, it’s much easier for everybody because we’ve shot so much of the film now - almost half.
And I can show a rough-cut of a completed scene, which makes it much easier for the actors. They can see exactly how their performance works out when it’s transported to the screen.
I could kick off the session by showing the great scene - which is now half finished - where the Captain and Victoria fist meet. They both laughed a lot (well, I guess you do when the director’s sitting behind you looking anxious) and it got everybody in the mood.
In animated films there is this tendency to record all the actors separately. I won’t pretend it’s the ideal arrangement, but it does actually work out in the end. If you get the actors together, if they’re playing off each other, you get spontaneity, energy, chemistry - maybe a little healthy competition. In this session we had that - a real bonus.
In a more typical session, I can only get one actor at a time. In that case, up steps Ben Whitehead who ‘reads in’ - that’s to say he acts all the other parts. Ben is an actor in his own right, who has become a crucial part of the Pirates team. He’s been ‘reading-in’ for what? More than two years on this movie I should think. He’s an absolute pillar of the production, knows the script and story as well as anybody, and in addition to his read-in role, also plays The Fusty Scientist, a Beefeater, the Burly Pirate… and probably more people whose names I can’t recall. He’s all over this movie!
His job is to remember the way all the other actors have played the scene in the past, and try to inject speed, energy and the correct emotion. It’s a really important job.
So if only one of the main actors is present, then of course they’re only doing their half of the scene. When Victoria first met the Captain - - - well they didn’t actually meet at all. Both halves of the scene were recorded separately.
For a director - well for everyone - this makes things pretty tough. I don’t really know how the scene is going to play out - not exactly. I’ve got an idea of course - honest but I don’t know exactly. (And by the way if I did know exactly, I don’t believe I’d get the best out of the actors.) So I need to ask them to try it different ways. I’m kind of searching / feeling for the comedy or the drama.
The bottom line for a director is: you tend to end up sounding pretty stupid and uncertain of yourself - just possibly an accurate picture. You find yourself saying “OK you’re really furious in this scene, just let all the anger flow out” and then 5 minutes later you’re saying “OK, maybe the anger is all under control after all, you’re suppressing it” and the 5 minutes later “How about with a laugh in your voice, you’re not really taking this scene too seriously” - and then in desperation “Could you do it I a high squeaky voice?” or “Could you possibly sound a little more Swedish?”
The truth is, I don’t know exactly how this scene is going to play. I don’t know what the other actor’s going to do yet. So can you do it in different ways and I’ll work it out in edit afterwards.
There’s much more to it than that of course. Ideas don’t come all at once. It’s great if you’ve got the time, and the actor’s got the skill, and you’ve got some helpful suggestions to make to let a scene play out and find the fun in it as you go along. You explore the scene, finding out things about it you never realized when it was only on paper.
I love it when actors play with a line, improvise a bit (or in some cases a lot). Very often, the spontaneous, improvised take or the off-the-cuff comic aside is the one you end up using. There are several good comedic lines in the movie which have been improvised by the actors.
But naturally, I’ll take all the credit if I can.