An intensive workshop in Character-based Improvisation has taken place last week in Ha Noi. Led by Australian director Robert Marchand and open to young Vietnamese actors and directors, the event was part of a non-profit series of activities to diversify filmmaking approaches. Marchand spoke to Culture Vulture about the project.
What is character-based improvisation?
It's an alternative way to create drama. Instead of working with a writer and a script, the director works directly with the actors to create characters. So the characters are very detailed. We try to make characters as realistic as possible. At the beginning, I may only have a small idea of what is going to happen. I know the kind of movie I want to make and who is in it. But I'm going to discover many things through developing the characters.
Improvisation plays a big part in this work. There are many different kinds of improvisation. This one is called Character-based Improvisation.
Characters play a very important role in forming the content of dramas, don't they?
Yes, they do. This technique works really well for realism-based dramas. It is not so good if you make a James Bond film or a Hollywood movie.
If you see any of Mike Leigh's films, they are different. Often characters stay with you after the film is over. You go away thinking about it.
That's a lovely thing for the audience. They get more than just a movie. They think about it afterwards, even argue with each other about it.
I'm doing this workshop because this process is full of great tools for actors and directors. They can draw on these tools to make their work much richer.
How are Vietnamese actors and directors adapting to it?
They understand how it works and in general, they have no trouble adapting to it. It is a process that liberates actors; it empowers them and gives them more opportunities to create and play.
When you have a script, the script limits what you can do. Characters can only do what the script says. With this work, we can investigate many other things. Later the director might say, "I like that! We're keeping it!" So the actors have a strong feeling of being creative artists in this process.
This group clearly enjoyed themselves. I think if you talk to them, they may well say they have learnt lots of things that enrich their own acting process. The idea is they use this to make their performance stronger.
To some extent, the workshop is unique in Viet Nam. Could you explain why?
It's unique for a number of reasons. One reason is because I like to bring actors and directors together in an environment that is not an audition. When actors and directors meet at an audition, it's a nervous time as they are assessing one another.
Here we create an environment where directors are able to see how actors work whilst actors get used to directors' being there. They begin to understand each other much better.
It's rare that directors and actors come together in a working collaboration like that. I'm very proud of that. I've run over 80 of these workshops in the last ten years in Australia, New Zealand and the US. I'm beginning to expand my borders as I've just returned from a Europe tour to France, the UK and Croatia.
What do you expect will be the outcome of the project?
We have six young directors participating in this workshop. I think they have gained knowledge and tools that they can make use of in their own way. Every director is different and has his or her own way of working. I hope when I come back next year to see how they have used the tools. The technique has great potential in Viet Nam. — VNS