For the next 2 weeks we are going to be looking at the Mike Leigh Project. Mike Leigh is a director and writer from Salford. He is 73 years old and is still creating original work. “Most of his work in theatre and film is done without any initial script. He and the actors improvise their characters and the scenes under his overall control.” Here is Mike Leigh’s step-by- step method of working:
One on One
After Leigh chooses his actors, he works with them on a ‘one to one’ basis. He asks them to come up with a list of people that they know well or who they have briefly met.
The list is then whittled down and shortlisted. With improvisation the actor uses an amalgamation of characteristics or traits from these individuals, and with the guidance of Leigh, creates a final character.
Build the character
The actor, with the help of Leigh, builds an elaborate alter ego, mapping out the character’s life in fine detail. Their background, parents, upbringing, education, social standing and the list goes on.
Leigh will then set up a range of improvisations so that the character can build and begin to ground itself. This ‘one on one’ process can last for months and is done separately from the other actors.
Improvising with the other characters
When they are ready the character will then be gradually introduced to the other characters used in the film or play, again using improvisation. They are sent out in the ‘real world’ to interact with each other and even the unsuspecting public.
Collect best lines and moments
From these improvisations, Leigh makes notes. The best lines and moments from the improvisations are then distilled and scripted until a basic outline of a film or play is formed.
Specific scenes filmed
Specific scenes are then reenacted, loosely scripted and are then filmed. For a theatre piece, a script is devised for the actors the learn.
From the hours and hours of footage, a final film is edited and cut together. Although this missing footage, is not seen by the audience, it has helped the actor create and strengthen the character.
Homework last week was to write down 3 people that you know really well and that you see on a regular basis. If you haven’t done that, you can do so now. Looking at your list work through the physicality and vocal qualities of these 3 ‘characters’ and create a timeline for them. Choose one which you would like to work deeper on- make sure you give yourself a challenge!