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Rough Sketches and Rehearsals

I once had a conversation with a director who just completed a frustrating day on the set.  A young actress he was working with had delivered a heart-wrenching performance in a scene where she watched her father die. Unfortunately she did this during the rehearsal and was never able to recapture the moment when filming began.

“It was stupid of me to let that happen,” the director said.  “Rehearsals are not performances!”

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On set in a Slovakian castle

It was a lesson I took to heart when I started directing.

It’s also one I think about frequently when I’m at the drawing board.  I’m fascinated by parallelism in art; how principals from one discipline can be applied to another.  For instance, if your intention is to create inked drawings, then the inks are the performance and the roughs are the rehearsals. Artists have different opinions on how tight they should make their roughs before the finishing work begins.  If someone else is inking your pencil drawings then the answer is usually “pretty damn tight”.  Even if you’re inking your own work, a lot of professionals feel it best to leave nothing to chance. Others think you can save valuable time by doing the cleanup work last.  But the most compelling argument to me is that by leaving something to be discovered in the inking stage, your line can have more vitality.  The ink line is the version of your work most people are going to see.  It’s essentially the same as saving the performance for when the cameras are rolling.

How much work should you put into a rough sketch, or a rehearsal?  The answer to both questions is relative to your level of experience.  In the above mentioned example of the frustrated director, the actress he was working with was talented, but hadn’t done a lot of professional work. I believe she was anxious to show she could deliver the emotion. And she did. But only the people on set that day got the benefit of witnessing it.  She learned from this incident (I directed her many times in the years that followed and never saw her make the same mistake again).

Seven Extraordinary Things was my first graphic novel (although I’ve been drawing professionally for decades) and I wasn’t confident about inking.  I tended to refine the drawing before I committed to the final line.

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Oddly enough, I didn’t refine the shading. Most of the black and white contrast in the panels came as a surprise to me. It had been my intention to keep the inking simple. I didn’t succeed.

The objectives for sketches and rehearsals are exploration and structure.

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Rehearsing a scene with Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai

When working with actors you spend time exploring possibilities.  What might the character have been doing before the scene began? What if this sequence was about revenge?  Maybe these two characters had been sweethearts in grade school. You discuss options and opportunities with your cast before, during and after the time you work on the staging.  I find I get the best results when I give actors precise blocking (enter on this word, turn to face her at the end of this sentence, leave the room as soon as he starts to reply) but with the disclaimer that it is only a starting point.  In most cases this kind of dictatorial staging frees actors from the mechanics of a scene and allows them to concentrate on their performances, but it works best when your cast knows you’ll be flexible and not force them into something that feels awkward.

With drawing you want to explore poses and compositional placement.  You can try drawing an arm in three different positions to see which one feels strongest.  The structure are the things like perspective, anatomy, the folds in clothing, and those difficult ellipses that will make that coffee cup look like it’s sitting on the kitchen table.  Work out all of the mechanics, but leave a little to be discovered in the final stages, so finished art looks both spontaneous and solid.

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An actor came to me right before we were going to shoot a scene where he had been captured by three beautiful female spies (it was that kind of a show). “Do you think I’ve slept with any of them?” he asked.

“Every one,” I replied.

He nodded and stepped in front of the camera.

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