14. Subtext + Room for the Actor
Subtext + Space for the Actor
LEAVE ROOM FOR THE ACTOR
“An old Hollywood expression goes: ‘If the scene is about what the scene is about, you're in deep shit.’ It means writing ‘on the nose,’ writing dialogue and activity in which a character's deepest thoughts and feelings are expressed by what the character says and does-writing the subtext directly into the text” (253 McKee).
If the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re writing good shit F
SUBTEXT: “Leave room for the actor. This old Hollywood admonition asks the writer to provide each actor with the maximum opportunity to use his or her creativity; not to overwrite and pepper the page with constant description of behaviors, nuances of gesture, tones of voice: Bob leans on the lectern, crossing one leg over the other, one arm akimbo. He looks out over the heads of the students, arching an eyebrow thoughtfully: BOB (phlegmatically) Blaa, blaa, blaa, blaa, blaa. An actor's reaction to a script saturated with that kind of detailis to toss it in the trash, thinking, ‘They don't want an actor, they want a puppet.’ Or if the actor accepts the role, he'll take a red pencil and scratch all that nonsense off the page. The details above meaningless. An actor wants to know: What do I want? Why do I want it? How do I go about getting it? What stops me? What are the consequences? The actor brings a character to life from the. subtext out: desire meeting forces of antagonism. On-camera he'll. say and do what the scene requires, but characterization must be his work as much as or more than yours” (383-384 McKee).
“Actors are not marionettes to mime gestures and mouth words. They're artists who create with material from the subtext, not the text. An actor brings a character to life from the inside out, from unspoken, even unconscious thoughts and feelings out to a surface of behavior. The actors will say and do whatever the scene requires, but they find their sources for creation in the inner life. The scene above is unactable because it has no inner life, no subtext. It's unactable because there's nothing to act” (253 McKee).
“Good actors will not step in front of a camera without their subtext” (McKee 254). “There's always a subtext, an inner life that contrasts with or contradicts the text. Given this, the actor will create a multilayered work that allows us to see through the text to the truth that vibrates behind the eyes, voice, and gestures of life” (McKee 256).
PERSONA & SUBTEXT: “This principle does not mean that people are insincere. It's a commonsense recognition that we all wear a public mask. We say and do what we feel we should, while we think and feel something else altogether. As we must. We realize we can't go around saying and doing what we're actually thinking and feeling. If we all did that, life would be a lunatic asylum. Indeed, that's how you know you're talking to a lunatic. Lunatics are those poor souls who have lost their inner communication and so they allow themselves to say and do exactly what they are thinking and feeling and that's why they're mad. In truth, it's virtually impossible for anyone, even the insane, to fully express what's going on inside. No matter how much we wish to manifest our deepest feelings, they elude us. We never fully express the truth, for in fact we rarely know it” (256 McKee).
THE UNSAID: “Consider the situation in which we are desperate to express our truest thoughts and feelings—psychoanalysis: A patient lies on a couch, pouring his heart out. Wanting to be understood. No holds barred. No intimacy too private to reveal. And as he rips terrible thoughts and desires to the surface, what does the analyst do? Quietly nods and takes notes. And what's in those notes? What is not being said, the secret” (256 McKee). “Unconscious truths that lie behind the patient's gut-wrenching confession. Nothing is wh at is seems. No text without a subtext” (255 McKee). “Subtext is present even when a character is alone. For if no one else is watching us, we are. We wear masks to hide our true selves from ourselves. Not only do individuals wear masks, but institutions do as well and hire public relations experts to keep them in place” (257 McKee).