VoyageLA’s In-Depth Interview with Elizabeth Mestnik

Voyage LA interview with Elizabeth Mestnik of EMAS LA

VoyageLA recently published another great interview with Elizabeth Mestnik, Founder and Director of our Acting Studio.

It’s a great, in-depth read that spans everything from  Elizabeth’s background & influences as an actor to her founding of EMAS and the values and beliefs that shape the way the studio is run.

Check it out the full read on VoyageLA’s site here.

Elements of a Great Script for Actors

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One of the most vital components to crafting your art as an actor is working with an excellent story. Even the best actors may struggle with films that have mundane, confusing or poorly developed plots. Reading script after script may leave you scratching your head, wondering which movie stories are the best to hone your craft and reach an audience.

Regardless of the genre, elements of a good movie story remain the same. Learning these elements can help determine which scripts offer the best use of your time. If you wish to lead your own project you should also ensure your story follows these basic rules.

An Opening Hook

The first thing a good movie story does is grab the viewer’s attention. A movie’s opening act sets the tone for the rest of the film. This does not necessarily mean that a movie must start with an exciting event or surprising twist. Screenwriters must simply pay as much attention to the beginning of the story as they do to the plot and characterization.

Excellent Character Development

A screenwriter should know his or her characters inside and out. Fully developed characters have motivations for their actions. They have genuine emotion, backstories and personalities that ring true.

Character development should not be confused with excessive or unnecessary exposition. A well-fleshed does not always need overly apparent details. Indeed, some of the most intriguing characters on film are those that are the most mysterious.

An example of excellent character development in film is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. There is little to no backstory available for each of the lead characters, yet their motivations and actions ring true. Tarantino took time and care with each role, even going so far as to give the anonymous criminals real names and backstories that are not necessarily revealed over the course of the film.

A New Way to Tell Stories

Storytelling is an art form that few can master. A story that is too simplistic may work well for young children, but will leave most viewers feeling empty. Using complexity to tell a story makes even a somewhat common plot seem refreshing and new. A good example of complex storytelling is seen in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. At its heart, the story is one of a struggling actress seeking revenge after heartbreak and rejection. Using a unique storytelling device, one that introduces the actress’s fantasy to the viewer before eventually revealing reality, turns what could be a common love story into a deeply moving film.

Christopher Nolan has made a career out of using complex storytelling techniques. A prime example is Memento, a simple, noirish revenge story. It is told using backward chronology. This was a technique that was seldom explored prior to the film’s 2001 release date.

Plotting and Subplotting

Complimenting a complex storytelling technique is the importance of a clear plot. Movies with muddled plots are difficult for actors and viewers alike. Most successful films have single plots that drive the story and subplots to keep the story interesting. A prime example of this is James Cameron’s Titanic. The plot of the story is seemingly the sinking of the Titanic, but in actuality the focus is on the love affair between the two protagonists. Subplots of a jealous fiance, a needy mother and a greedy treasure hunter only serve to highlight the main story.

A good movie story can, and in most cases should, be told in a linear fashion if it has a unique plot. This may be particularly important for fantasies and science fiction. Movies that already pull a viewer away from his or her own reality may create more problems if told in a way that is outside of the norm. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of using unique plots and characterization to drive stories with plots that pushed the viewer outside of their comfort zones.

The Importance of Believability

A good story is believable to the viewer. Characters should specifically behave in ways that would seem fitting for whatever situation they are in. This is as important for films with fantastical settings as it is for movies that take place in our world.

Movie stories set in the real world can take advantage of viewers already knowing the environment in which we live. That can be a downside to a storyteller who may wish to take liberties with reality. There are often problems with historical films that don’t portray past events in a realistic way.

Stories that take place outside of our world must build credibility, which can be difficult except for the greatest of screenwriters. An actor must sell the humanity behind situations that take place in outer space or in a world in which monsters exist. However, an actor can only be adept at this if the story is written in a way that allows viewers to accept this alternate reality.

Good movie stories are as varied as the people behind them. While the plots may greatly differ, the basics of an intriguing story told in an interesting way always remain the same.

LA Times: “Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, life is no act”

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Today let’s get a sneak peek at our founder Elizabeth Mestnik and her Meisner Technique class. Our founder and her teaching class was featured in LA Times earlier this week.

“To do truthfully under imaginary circumstances, that is our defining quality” – says Elizabeth.  According to her the truth and imagination come in close contact and what comes out is true feeling. Actors don’t pretend to feel sad, devastated,  joyous. The live those emotions.

“We work in a way that allows to truly get angry, truly get devastated, truly be joyous” – shares Elizabeth.

To see the full video by LA Times click here.

Academy Awards Discussion – Thom Rivera

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As the Oscars fast approach – we thought we’d get our On-Camera instructor Thom Rivera to share his thoughts on this year’s top performances:

THOM:  There were some tough choices this year because there were some many great performances and really, really good films. As always, these are my favorite performances, not who I necessarily think WILL win.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic – his work in this was simple, subtle, powerful, charismatic. I heard him with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW after seeing the film, and it all makes sense.

Runner up – Denzel Washington, Fences – This is probably my favorite performance that I have seen Denzel give (close race with Malcom X). He was powerful, flawed and not afraid to be unlikeable.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Ruth Negga, Loving – This was a tough choice, but I think Ruth Negga’s performance, especially after seeing the documentary of the real Mildred Loving, was spot on. sweet, yet strong, quiet power, grace, and a grounded optimism that was incredibly moving.

Runner up – Isabelle Huppert, Elle – Damn, this was a tough film to watch, but Isabelle Huppert was a powerhouse. A true master of film acting. She took me on quite a ride. If you haven’t yet, see this film.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight – He made a tricky role look easy. To play the opposites of that character so believably, so simply. Man. That said, I wish everyone from this film could be nominated. They were all amazing.

Runner up – Dev Patel, Lion. I thought he gave a strong performance, but wish his younger selves could be nominated as well.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – toughest choice to make this year.

Viola Davis, Fences – always gives such a truthful, powerful, heart wrenching  performance. Flawless.
Nicole Kidman, Lion – Best work I have seen Nicole Kidman do. It was a surprising, subtle, effective performance.

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures – Ms. Spencer makes it look too easy. So good.

I think in the end, I have to give it to Ms. Davis . . .no . . . Ms. Kidman . . . NO . . . Ms. Spencer . . . . shoot. I can’t pick

BEST PICTURE

Arrival – Amy Adams was so good in this and leads a strong cast. The picture was shot beautifully, imaginatively. The structure of the story was surprising, unexpected and gut wrenching.
Fences – Start with August Wilson’s words, a powerhouse cast, obvious love and care given to the process . . .
Hidden Figures – COME ON. They took a very well trod formula for a movie and elevated it to something so very, very good. And that cast! That Cast!
Lion – From opening frame to the end with the real life Saroo, I was entranced. The performances the director got out of the first time actors in this film was truly amazing

Moonlight – MAN. Powerful, moving, inspiring, story that has rarely is ever been addressed. Again, amazing cast.
It’s a tough call, but I think I have to give it to Moonlight

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An accomplished television, film, stage and voice actor, Thom Rivera is EMAS’ On-Camera Acting Instructor. Read more about Thom.

An EMAS Valentine’s Day Discussion: Romantic Movies

Seeing as it was our last EMAS faculty meeting before Valentine’s Day, we want to take a moment to have each of our acting teachers to share their favorite romantic movies & performances. We hope you might discover something new, allowing you to sink into a story of love, including the rough and the smooth :)

Have a favorite romantic movie ? Let us know what it is and why you love it!

Wherever you are and whoever you’re with, all of us at EMAS wish you the happiest of Valentine’s Days!

 

Tony Award Winner, Chris Bensinger, discusses Academy Award Nominations with Elizabeth Mestnik

With the Oscar nominations announced this past week, everyone (not just those of us in the business) takes a moment to reflect, analyze and appreciate the great films and performances that were released over the last year. In this spirit, we thought it would be interesting for Elizabeth and Chris Bensinger, EMAS’ newest faculty member and a distinguished theater producer, to sit down together discuss the work that they’ve admired in 2016.

 

EM:  Thanks so much for taking the time to give us your impressions of this year’s films.  As a 2 time Tony Award winner – It will be fun to hear what you have to say about another Award show.

CB:  Thanks – it’s been a good year for stories.

EM:  Absolutely – I love how many intimate tales, tales that are quite unique to each individual character are getting such universal recognition.  Stories that are a bit quieter and more soulful than we’ve seen in the past.  I am thinking specifically of Moonlight,Loving and my favorite of the year Captain Fantastic.  The characters in these films are what actors dream of.

CB:  I really felt that intimacy with Joel Edgerton’s performance in Loving and I’m disappointed he didn’t get nominated. He captured the quiet, unsophisticated, deeply expressed emotions of the time period and circumstance. His eyes led the way where his quiet subtle voice and cadence followed after. We see him thinking, processing, feeling through his eyes and not his words. Rich performance.  Viggo Mortenson- Captain Fantastic.  A mature, and again, patient and settled performance delivering a full commitment to this nuanced outsider in love with his children and in total fear and distain for our modern world.  His interaction with his children was so natural and mesmerizing. The kids were fantastic as well.

EM:  There is one scene in Captain Fantastic – where the camera settles on Viggo’s character Ben driving the bus – this is a non-speaking close up where he shows us every stage of grief. Again – it was all in the eyes- A stellar performance.  He’s a long shot – but I’d love to see this film get some more viewers and some recognition for it’s beautiful originality.

CB:  In a very different style of performance – I think Emma Stone has best Actress for La La Land… She swings from one side of the acting spectrum of human expression to the other with such compelling depth and ease. She astounds me. Here she manages to enter this world of fantasy with the absolute perfect blend of old Hollywood elegance to the “modern day woman”  filled with conflict and fast moving parts. Emma is exceedingly smart in her choices and her ability to convey that “it” quality where charisma meets craft, where outside beauty meets inside beauty.  I say this all the time to my students, keep forward, get it out, feel through your eyes.. “She had me at hello” and never lets go.

EM:  I wasn’t as big a fan of LaLa Land – I enjoyed it – but missed the dancing and singing that leaves me in awe (though I was quite moved by Emma’s song “Here’s to the Fools who Dream”).  Emma Stone is absolutely charismatic but when I think about what she had to portray verses what Natalie Portman, or Amy Adams or Taraji P. Henson (who should have been nominated!) did and it just didn’t have the same acting demands.  Though what struck me was the real diversity of film genres the actresses worked in, Romantic Musical, mystery (Elle), and 3 bio-pics with very different styles and povs.  Best Supporting Actress is also strong, but I think Viola Davis in Fences is the one to beat this year.  When you can identify the hurt, the rage and the love in one glance you are truly looking at a master of her craft.

CB:  Absolutely…but my favorite performance in this category was Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea.  She broke my heart in her quintessential poignant scene when the two meet up late in the film; she barely has enough breath to deliver her lines. Incredible. For that scene alone she should get awards.

EM:  Michelle chooses her parts so sincerely.  I have never seen her in a false moment.  Such a beautiful actress – vulnerable and strong.  Boy oh Boy…what about supporting actor – how do you compare Mahershala Ali in Moonlight to Michael Shannon inNocturnal Animals.  And Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors of all time (can we just talk about Crazy Heart?)

CB:  Jeff Bridges is one of the craftiest actors today. I put him up there in an elite category.  Just take a look at the moment his partner gets shot in his film Hell or High Water (which by the way was my second favorite movie of the year). Watch him shutter and absorb the trauma like he had been the one struck by the bullet while at the same time transferring his attention to the shooter.  Really good stuff there.  However, I would love to see it go to Lucas Hedges – he stole the show. I loved how he exuded such a protective coating to the immense childhood trauma. Here again, he allowed himself to sit in the moment allow us to catch up with his towering emotions delivered behind his veil of hormones and a drive to hold on to his community.  Loved his performance and very much look forward to his developing career.

EM:  So what do you think about best director and best film?

CB:  La La Land!  Hey, I teach musical theater.  What do you expect? When Damian Chezelle can transport the audience with complete emersion and entertainment into your cinematic world you deserve high plaudits. Damian deserves the crown this year. His use of pace (yet controlled) and musical numbers to transition scenes yet simultaneously drive the plot forward is a joy.  This film with a twinkle in its eye, set in contemporary LA with a nod to the 1940’s is a folly romp that will have you “singing in the rain” in Sunny LA.

Even with my bias…, La La Land is still is the best film of the year regardless.   What terrific filmmaking. An homage to old Hollywood and movie musicals yet is utterly fresh in approach. I was hooked in from the long opening musical sequence on the highway which took a lot of creative  courage  to the brilliant “what if” montage at the end. I was so enamored by the charm and elegance of this film. The musical numbers bind the plot and moved the narrative forward, which is exactly how it should be done. Not to mention, the chemistry between Emma and Ryan worked. The tone never waivers; lighting, sound, cinematography, editing, acting all working perfectly together… a masterful and utterly entertaining film. But… like I said, I am biased.


Chris_Bensinger_croppedA Tony Award winning theater producer, Chris Bensinger joined the EMAS faculty to help actors hone the skills that allow them to shine in Hollywood’s growing number of Musical and “Musical TV” productions.

Elizabeth Mestnik, acting coach The founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik has deep roots in the Meisner technique and extensive experience both as a working actress/director and as a teacher with a love for the craft of acting

 

Have your own thoughts on what performances deserve recognition? Let us know!

It’s not just about Acting.

Oliver

I want to share with you how important this work is that we do. As many of you know we had a very difficult day in our family yesterday. Our beloved dog, Oliver passed away. He was almost 15, and I had had him since he was three months old. My children have never known a world without him. We are all grieving, and it is hitting my daughter very hard. I am so grateful that I know how important it is to honor whatever feelings happen in times like this, to allow it, to accept it, to work with it, to work through it.

Many people try to avoid it, to repress it, and even though it meant that I sat in the bathroom of my sons school with him while he cried for 20 minutes …that was OK. I did not tell him to suck it up, or that it was OK, we just sat there on the tiny toilet and were sad and cried. He shared at the end of the day that he cried in class a couple times, and his classmates also cried about their own losses and he seems to be processing it really well. (thank God for Montessori school that is keyed into the emotional life of children as well as the academic)

My daughter, unfortunately, is in the throes of middle school. I think you all remember those years where you’re unbelievably self-conscious. She did not allow herself sadness at school. She just stuffed it down and stuffed it down all day until she got home at 6:30 last night and it all overwhelmed her and she’s not processing , she does not want these feelings. Before bed, it all came up again, and she balled for over an hour. It’s almost as though her inability to release emotions when it happened compounded them. But I just sat there with her and Hugged her and honored her feelings and cried with her too.

It’s not easy, to let these emotions roam free. But for my children’s sake, I am so glad that I am comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m glad I could sit there and not try to fix it. Meisner training taught me that. Sometimes this training is for more than acting.

~ Elizabeth

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