While shooting ‘Your Mario Dancing’ (currently in post-production) I realized that our rehearsals had burnt out some great moments that worked on the basis of my non-actors authentically reacting to situations.
They already knew what the other one was going to say or do, and one could sense it. They were delivering, not engaging. It felt dull. Good results popped-out again when I suddenly changed the direction of the scene; either by restricting their lines or changing their actions in-between takes or, more aggressively, while they were performing.
I then decided to cut-off the rehearsals and to build-up the scenes on-set. In terms of money and schedules, I was happier. At the same time, I struggled with the idea that the next take would move us further away from finding a more interesting result, which is not the healthier way to approach every scene. I did work perfectly for a couple of them.
On the other hand, a number of filmmakers whose works I treasure, such as David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick, Roy Andersson and Ruben Östlund have found their own treasures by shooting uncountable takes throughout hours or days. From their experience, reported in interviews and documentaries, I am working on figuring out how to approach this method in order to learn when is the right time to use it and how to get the most out of it, plus its drawbacks.
Not David Fincher
I have to ask you about ‘the takes issue’. You famously have a lot of takes.
My philosophy is… You spend two hundred thousand dollars on a set. You are going to put it on a sound stage that costs you five thousand dollars a day. You are going to put eight thousand dollars on the lights. You are going to bring a hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar crew in. You are going to bring actors in from all around the World. You are going to put them up in hotels, they are going to come there. And the idea is to get them out as soon as possible? If I fly you in from Iceland and we are supposed to do one day, I want to make sure that we get it.
My process is about; I am going to give you seventeen, eighteen, twenty five bites of the apple because, if you are smart, and you are conscientious, you have worked out in your head, as an actor, what it is you want to present me. And there is always this thing of: “Yeah, I’ve gathered my senses and I’m ready to show you my wares”. And I almost always feel like it is bullshit. I almost always feel like it is controlled. So what I want to do is go: “Great, show me that! We’ve shot seven takes, now let’s start.”, you know.
“I know you won the Oscar last night in the tub. You’ve figured out what this is going to be. But now I want to get beyond muscle memory. I want you to know exactly where to sit in that chair, because it’s your home, so you come in and you throw your coat in the couch. When you’ve done that fifteen times, it starts to look like you live there.”.