Workshop for filmmakers and theatre professionals
THE CHARACTER-BASED IMPROVISATION (CBI) WORKSHOP
ZAGREB, JUNE 2014
A 5 day intensive workshop for actors, directors, filmmakers and writers.
The workshop explores the Character-based Improvisation Process,
as pioneered by the British Director, Mike Leigh.
It’s a means of creating detailed, complex characters, and of making a film or play as well.
Here’s a process that allows actors and filmmakers greater creative freedom; it empowers and liberates actors, enabling them to achieve performances that are spontaneous, immediate and truthful. In addition, the process provides a way for a director, whose eye is on the film or play that will be created through this process, to maintain a creative overview and to build on what the actor does. Both actors and filmmakers benefit from the creative partnership formed through CBI Process.
What is the Character-Based Improvisation Process?
Character-based Improvisation (CBI) Process begins with the director working directly with the actor, one-on-one, to create a character. There is no script, and the focus is on the whole character: where they grew up, what their parents are like, etc, etc – and moves through all aspects of the character’s life. Discussions with the director, research by the actor and a great many improvisations enable both to construct a detailed character. There is no script and seemingly there is no emphasis on drama for its own sake – though all the elements of future dramatic development are being sown into the character’s very being. Initially, each actor works separately with the director so that the integrity of their character is not affected by knowledge of other characters: this ‘secrecy’ becomes another tool in the construction of character – and is a very effective acting aid. Because of the way the improvisations are structured, the actor’s understanding of the character – and the character’s emotions – becomes really strong. All the while the process is drawing from ‘lived reality’ – life as it is observed to be.
The philosophy behind the Workshop
The workshop is a practical investigation of the CBI Process. It is dynamic, informative and interactive – participants have direct, first hand experience through progressive character and scene building exercises. At the heart of the process is an improvisation-based method founded on logic and common-sense and drawing from real life. Yet every aspect of the process has equally great value for the actor or film-maker who is working with a script. The many tools within the process can be applied directly to any project they are working on.
The workshop is intensive, experiential, the atmosphere is one of trust and great good humour and participants find themselves bonding with others in a creative, collaborative way - sometimes leading to partnerships for new projects. The creative energy released by the workshops is immense, it provides terrific empowerment and self-affirmation to all participants – who go back to their own projects with renewed enthusiasm and plenty of new tools to play with. Every step of the workshop provides director, writer and actor with new opportunities to explore and play, to be reconnected with their skills and potential in an excitingly different way.
The workshop also encourages the actor to work towards screen performance. Many of the exercises within the workshop are based in ‘realistic transactions’, allowing the actor to discover for themselves the scale and tone of their own acting. The actor is able to experiment in a safe environment. In addition, the scenarios the actor encounters through improvisations show how the unexpected is a creative tool for the actor, taking them away from any predictability in their performance choices.
The great value of the process is that individual parts within it can be used in isolation by the actor - whether working on conventional scripted material, ensemble pieces or improvised dramas. The tools actors acquire through the workshop will be of immediate practical use in their subsequent work. These include:
- Re-affirmation of the actor as artist
- Ownership of character
- Adding depth and complexity to performances
- Accessing spontaneity
- Improving communication with the director
- New perspective on texts
- Assisting with preparation for auditions
By the end of the workshop participants should have greater confidence in their own skills, a new perspective on character and character-building, and – through a complete understanding of the Character-based Improvisation Process – an alternative way of interpreting characters in scripted material.
For Directors, the benefits are found not only in the specific steps of the process, but in a whole new foundation for director-actor communication. The ongoing interaction between the two means the Director has unusual depth of knowledge of the actor and the character, has a means of incorporating the actor’s contribution into the drama and has the additional benefit, through the many improvisations, of trialling dramatic solutions to narrative problems.
- Improving communication between actor and director
- Providing a new approach to script development
- Finessing Performance
- Demonstrating how improvisations can really deliver results
- Adding detail to scripted material
- Exploring the unexpected
- Auditions & Casting
For the writer, it provides an extra dimension to script development; demonstrates how character detail can be added to the script, and how bringing the character to life in non-scripted scenes throws up new possibilities for further writing. Of course the process also demonstrates how to create an entire film through on-going collaboration between filmmakers and actors.
A Statement from Workshop Director, Robert Marchand:
“My own passion for this process is because it reconnects the director and actor with their pure creative impulses in an environment where discovery, experimentation and risk-taking can be safely investigated.
We live in an era where – for better or worse – ours is a film industry. Both directors and actors are often reminded that the business aspects of filmmaking dictate how a film is made. Once a project is green-lit, the organisational apparatus of production swings into action and though the director is at the centre of events, she or he is often swept along by process, while the actor can feel a degree of presumption about their craft. In either case, there is a risk of negating what some would say is the raison d’être of both:
The profound rewards of the creative act.
Character-based Improvisation is a way of working that not only enshrines the creative satisfaction of filmmaking, but builds the organisational apparatus around it. And what I do through the workshop is to demonstrate how every step in the process is a creative tool in its own right, enabling director and actor to work, each in their own way, without collision with the other. And they can do this, (no matter what the project), with confidence and control – and have a great deal of artistic satisfaction while doing it.”
Origins of CBI Process
Mike Leigh at the Toronto Film Festival with acknowledgements
The originator of this unique process is the British film director, Mike Leigh. His body of work has been an inspiration to me throughout my career and more recently a major reference point in my PhD. Here’s an extract:
“Leigh’s films appear to have some constants associated with them: these include complex characters and strong performances by his actors; characters and situations that focus on the ordinary in everyday British life; a seeming verisimilitude within any given film in relation to the ‘real’ world (and how this conforms to audiences perceptions of their own worlds); and how his films appear to reflect the changing cultural and political landscape of Great Britain. As Andy Medhurst observes:
…although all Leigh’s characters inhabit social and cultural identity categories…they are never allowed to overshadow or hollow out their emotional, domestic, familial and interpersonal singularities…we respond to the characters as individuals rather than filing them away as types. (Medhurst, 2007:177)
At the time I first saw Leigh’s films, I felt the results of his process presented drama in a different and exciting way; in particular, the worlds depicted in these films had a kind of reality and immediacy which scripted drama often lacked. The characters behaved seemingly unpredictably and had a complexity that I wanted to achieve in my own films. Leigh has described his films as ‘aspiring to the condition of documentary’ (Miller, 1996) and it was their apparent verisimilitude that appealed to me initially, even though in time I recognised their careful construction.
I am also greatly indebted to Mike Leigh, firstly for advice and discussion on occasion, but most comprehensively for an inspiring body of work and for opening the door to an enlightening filmmaking practice.”
Reciprocal Fluxion, Flinders University Drama Centre, 2013.