The second in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. Continuing with the Repetition Exercise, students are now instructed to incorporate a subjective point of view.
For more information, see our Meisner Technique Classes
The first in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. In this video we get a brief look a Meisner Repetition Excercise and how simple words can foster behavior.
Our job isn’t to create the words, the words are given to us – Elizabeth
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.
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.
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.
I think in the end, I have to give it to Ms. Davis . . .no . . . Ms. Kidman . . . NO . . . Ms. Spencer . . . . shoot. I can’t pick
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
An accomplished television, film, stage and voice actor, Thom Rivera is EMAS’ On-Camera Acting Instructor. Read more about Thom.
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!
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.
A 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.
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!
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.
Post By Elizabeth Mestnik
We are now in the middle of Awards season and it has me reflecting on my annual viewing of the Academy Awards broadcast. And I have one thing to say.
STOP MAKING IT A JOKE!
I mean that. Every year I watch, already inspired and awed by the creativity, imagination and craftsmanship involved in this year’s nominations. See, I am in the business, so I know just how much it takes to get a movie made, how many years of training…from the cinematographer to the actor in the smallest part, how many hours of toil at the computer by the writer and editors, how many hours of research and physical labor by the designers. I also know how, in many instances there are great financial risks for those who take a leap of faith to back a film that doesn’t scream “action packed block buster”. I know how artists live – scraping together a financial life to gift us with these incredible things called films. But we don’t hear about that.
We hear things like “Between all the nominees tonight you have made over 1400 films… and you’ve gone to a total of 6 years of college.” – Ellen Degeneres 2014. Because…well of course actors are uneducated idiots. Seth McFarlane had an entire song dedicated to actresses “boobs” in 2013, because well…that’s important. Jokes where actors are laughed at not with are the norm. And last year, as sympathetic as I am to the “Oscars so White” cause…Chris Rock spent a good portion of his opening monologue ridiculing Will Smith for boycotting the Award show, belittling Jada Pinkett Smith’s acting abilities and focusing on how much money Will Smith makes. Doing what everyone loves to do…reduce actors to a bunch of money hungry celebrity seekers. Maybe you could have really talked about why the racism within the industry is such an issue. Because what we do means something…filmmaking means something, about our culture and our society and when entire demographics are shut out of the story making – it is no longer our culture or our society being reflected. But you can’t have it both ways Chris and the Academy…it’s either a relevant problem – or it’s a joke. I just don’t believe it can be both. Hosts tend to always build up the meaning of the awards “Hollywood’s most prestigious honor” only to tear it down with the next joke. I LOVE Chris Rock – no one is smarter when it comes to placing issues of race in a humorous context…but you can’t just announce how racist Hollywood is and then minimize it by making it a joke in the next breath… It makes even the very real issue of diversity in film just another way to de-legitimize the entire system.
Almost every year I see the Oscars get detoured from honoring the artistry and craft to highlighting the worst issues about Hollywood, emphasizing every negative stereo type. We already have tabloids to do that for us day in and day out…lets have one night where this is seen as a noble endeavor, not just a bunch of dysfunctional narcissists throwing a party for themselves. How can you expect the audiences to respect us if we take a night meant for honoring our greatest and throw the focus onto all the hype we get fed daily.
There has been one exception I feel, and that was when Hugh Jackman hosted. He opened the awards show revealing to us how incredible and inspiring great performers can be, bringing other actors into the jokes, not making them the butt of them. I think that because he is such an artist and craftsman (a true triple threat)…his admiration for his fellow actors came through. Because he understands it from the inside out, his respect for filmmaking was most evident. He respects our business – and we did too.
Unlike the Tony’s or the Grammy’s– where you see the performances live and can see the sweat and talent that goes into each show, the television audience needs to be shown and told how “the sausage is made” in film. I’d love for there to be more time investigating the training required for different categories. Show us a sample of Lupita Nyong’os training at Julliard. Interview filmmakers about the risks they had to take to start their careers. Show us the noble toil.
This is an award show that supposedly honors excellence in the cinematic arts…but it has become an award show that jokes at the artist’s expense. It reinforces negative stereotypes, undercuts the power of the medium and needs to change direction to stay relevant.
I work with aspiring actors and directors every day – and I remind them every day of the importance of our artistry – to hold a mirror up to the world, to inspire and tell the hard truths. The best of them work tirelessly for years, not for celebrity or big paychecks but to have a voice in this world. It pains me that what is considered the highest honor that can be achieved in acting spends most of it’s broadcast time belittling what they aspire to. Because what the best in this industry does is not easy…it is not superficial and it is not a joke.
The founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik is an acclaimed actress, director, and acting coach . Having spent her formative years in New York City studying under William Esper, her commitment is to bringing the best of the Meisner technique and New York Acting to hollywood and the craft of acting more generally.
A character actor is a versatile, flexible artist who provides support to the story and star of a film. These actors must have the ability to play any role, from villain to hero to passer-by. Some, like Gary Oldman or the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, are stars in their own right. Others are not as well known by name, but are industry favorites.
The following actors are some of the best, most gifted actors in Hollywood. Movie-goers are virtually guaranteed a standout performance by each one of these outstanding supporting actors.
1. William H. Macy
Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award nominated William H. Macy does not have a face that is easily forgotten. Now the star of the Showtime series Shameless, the bulk of Macy’s work has come in the form of character actor in some of Hollywood’s most successful and critically acclaimed films.
Macy began working in the industry in the 1970s when he founded the St. Nicholas Theater Company along with his friend, the playwright David Mamet. Thanks to his versatility, Macy was able to succeed both on stage and in film. His credits include such notable films as Radio Days, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Air Force One, Boogie Nights and Room. He is arguable most known for his role as Jerry Lundegard in Fargo.
Macy earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.
2. Anthony Mackie
Like many character actors, Anthony Mackie started his career on the stage. A graduate from the prestigious Juilliard school, Mackie earned an OBIE in 2002. The following year he began his film career and has been steadily working since then. Though Mackie has had a number of starring roles, his ability to transform himself into any part that comes his way has made him an invaluable character actor.
Mackie’s film credits include 8 Mile, which was his first feature film. He also appeared in Million Dollar Baby, She Hate Me, The Fifth Estate and The Hurt Locker, a role for which he was widely praised by audiences and critics alike. Actor found mainstream success when he joined the Avengers franchise as Falcon.
3. Paul Giamatti
Paul Giamatti’s long career as a character actor began in the late 1980’s when he performed on stage while completing a Master of Fine Arts at Yale. His first film roles were with some of the most high-profile directors in the business, including Cameron Crowe’s Singles, Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite and Sydney Pollack’s remake of the classic Billy Wilder film Sabrina.
Giamatti has gone on to have one of the most prolific careers of character actors in the history of Hollywood cinema. He has shown himself able to portray comedic characters, like those in Big Momma’s House and The Hangover Part II. He is also powerful in dramatic roles, such as was evidenced by his SAG nominated Straight Outta Compton performance. Giamatti truly shines when he straddles the line between both, giving depth to each role he takes on.
Giamatti has also been a successful leading actor. His role as John Adams in the HBO miniseries of the same name earned him an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award.
4. Michael Peña
Michael Peña has one of the most versatile careers of any character actor working in the business. Peña moved audiences to tears in his role as real-life hero Will Jimeno, a firefighter buried under rubble for 13 hours in World Trade Center. He also made movie-goers giggle every time he appeared onscreen as bumbling, yet lovable criminal Luis in Ant-Man.
An expert in onscreen elasticity, Peña arguably displayed his acting chops best in the underrated television series Gracepoint. In this role, Peña played Mark Solano, a father whose son was recently found murdered. At times audiences wept for the man’s loss, but also wondered if he was the real killer.
Peña’s skillful acting has led to nominations for an Independent Spirit Award, an Imagen Award, an MTV movie award and three ALMA Awards.
5. Don Cheadle
Movie-goers have long been delighted, intrigued and engrossed by Don Cheadle’s performances. Cheadle’s ability to play any role he reads puts him in a class with the best character actors of all time. This career began in the mid-1980s with small roles on film and television. Within a decade, he had proven his acting flexibility. With roles in Boogie Nights, Devil in a Blue Dress, Rosewood and The Rat Pack, he showed that he could play dramatic, neo-noir, historical fiction and biographies with ease.
Other outstanding films include Traffic, Hotel Rwanda and Crash. Cheadle has also taken on television where he played the starring role in Showtime’s House of Lies. He saw massive box office success by taking over the role of “War Machine” in Iron Man 2, a role that he has repeatedly reprised.
Have a different opinion? Let us know below.