Monday, November 08, 2010

Following up on Jessica Alba's dopey statement...

In light of master thespian, Jessica Alba’s recent comment that good actors don’t follow scripts and instead just say whatever they want, I’ve had a number of readers ask if that is true.


For the most part, no. Some improvisation does go on in features if the director embraces it. Mike Leigh uses this approach (although I’d be surprised if Jessica Alba even knows who Mike Leigh is). Many directors will allow actors to improvise during rehearsals as a way to help them lock into the characters but when the camera is rolling they go back to that pesky script.


Actors in CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM work off a detailed outline but rehearse and refine scenes until they might as well be scripted. Plus, Larry David uses actors who are well-skilled in working off-the-cuff.


I would love to see Jessica Alba join the improv workshop I attend. She might find that creating a character, moving a story forward, and holding her own with other gifted actors without a script requires more than nice breasts.


In the theater, actors must perform the script verbatim. But this doesn’t apply to Jessica Alaba since I can’t imagine her ever doing theater… except maybe a one-woman show as the Statue of Liberty.


By the way, I always find it curious that actors will claim, “I can’t say this” but in a play where they’re legally not allowed to change anything they somehow manage to deliver the lines as written.


In sitcoms, especially multi-camera sitcoms, it is imperative the actors don’t stray from the script because, among other reasons, cameras move on line cues. A hint to the studio audience that an actor is ad libbing is when three cameras crash into each other.


I wish those actors who dismiss scripts, like Jessica, could sit in a writers’ room. They’d be amazed at how much thought and time and effort goes into crafting each line. Debates over whether a certain word in a set-up needs to be in the middle or the end of the line. Long discussions on ways to make the lines sound more natural. The Jessicas would be surprised by how concerned we are with making the dialogue easy for actors to perform. If something is a tongue-twister or clunky we change it so they don’t have to struggle with it. On MASH, before we sent a script down to the stage, we read it aloud ourselves and tweaked any lines we felt the actors might stumble over.  You're welcome, Jessica.


Bottom line: I think actors who share Jessica Alba’s disdain for scripts are in the vast minority. Yes, there may be tension between writers and actors, but (if forced to take truth serum) I believe you’d find that most actors do have respect for writers and writers do appreciate the skill and discipline that actors exhibit to fully realize their characters.


Jessica, I just think you need to spend more time with writers (or any time at all) to really understand how they work. Fortunately, there are ten thousand of them who have personally volunteered to meet with you. That’s the kind of pride and dedication we take in our craft.

46 comments:

The Milner Coupe said...

She must be really awesome to work with (look at). You need to get with the program Ken. Think how easy your job just got. Buy a ream of paper. Put the name of a way cool movie title on the top sheet, and submit it. Done. Your keyboard will last forever!

Brian said...

It's been my experience that actors who work hard to stay "on script" give better performances than those who quickly disregard the words in the "blueprint".

I'll give one specific example, and one general.

Specific: Back when I was first learning how to write a script, I got a hold of an "A-TEAM" sample. The VCR had just been born, so I was able to carefully compare this script to the actual finished episode. George Peppard paraphrased or altered nearly every line. His performance came across as lazy and weak. Dwight Schultz, who played the crazy "Murdock", had by far the most dialogue and certainly appeared to be winging it. But ironically, his off-the-wall patter followed the script word for word. It was also the best performance in the episode. Coincidence? Maybe, but I doubt it.

General: Nearly every classically-trained British actor. Ben Kingsley has spoken about how hard he studies to get every word written in the script just right. No, not Shakespeare, his movie scripts. And it's worked from "Ghandi" to "Sexy Beast".

And guess which kind of actor most directors - and particularly writer/directors - prefer to work with?

John Leader said...

Okay. So, if you're going to make me put my reading glasses back on to read your blog, at least you could give us a better (cleavage) picture of Jessica Dimwits.
The "one-woman show as the Statue of Liberty" is hilarious.

Dave said...

Robert Downey Jr. said on Inside the Actors Studio that he memorizes every word -- to the point where he makes up an acronym and can recite every line -- correctly -- in a row.

Between Downey Jr. and Alba, I wonder who most people are going to take acting tips from?

Damon Rutherford said...

Ken's font size is no different than most other websites I visit. If one is complaining that they need reading glasses to enjoy Ken's remarks, perhaps one should use their browser's settings to increase their page zoom.

Lenscrafters does not approve this message.

David said...

As I'm sure someone said in the previous post's comments, Alba is not hired for her acting abilities. She can make up whatever lines she damn well pleases, and as long as she delivers it with pouty lips, the studio probably does not care.

This is fine, as it's nothing new. I just hope she's not oblivious to this fact, because that would be just sad.

Along the lines of Dave's comment (which is cool, didn't know that about Downy Jr.), I saw an interview with Christopher Walken, and he was talking about when he gets a new script. He reads it over and over again, in every different accent he can imagine, in a process of discovering the character "hidden" in the words. It was pretty cool hearing him talk about it.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people are overlooking a fairly significant omission on Jessica's part. She hasn't provided a list of movies that she's starred in where she's actually gone off script and ad-libbed. It'll be interesting to hear from other directors and actors who've worked with her in the past to see if she's actually walked the talk. My bet, in a few weeks she'll either recant or insist her comments were taken out of context. Given what passes for celebrity journalism she might even be right. We'll see.

Emily Blake said...

This makes me sad, because I really liked Dark Angel. She wasn't a diva then.

Stephen Gallagher said...

Mike Leigh uses improvisation extensively in rehearsal, but what he takes before the cameras is a well-honed and finely tuned script that he's crafted out of the process. The dialogue is nailed, shaped, polished. He can get quite huffy when interviewers assume that he just shoots the actors as they wing it.

Scott said...

This difference in philosophy might have something to do with whether or not an actor has _training_ (vs. someone who fell into acting through modeling or good fortune).

Stage plays particularly require detailed attention to the dialog to be effective night after night over long stretches. It doesn't prevent spontaneity for practiced performers, it simply gives them a framework for it.

Tim W. said...

I don't know Jessica personally, but in her defense, she is hot.

Michael said...

She never actually said that she does not follow the script. Her quote is "All the good actors I've worked with, they all say whatever they want to say". Maybe she is self-aware enough to realize she is not a good actor.

Not that I really believe that.

carcar said...

Before I started writing, I was an actor, trained at Carnegie Mellon. We spent years of our training on script analysis, building the characters from minutest details on the page, and we always worked from the full script when possible, even if we were just doing a scene. (I also got to do a master class with the above-mentioned Ben Kingsley later on in life and it brought my acting to a whole new level.)

We were Meisner-trained, so we also understood the importance of improv, but in that training, you also must know the script intimately, so you can depart from it and COME BACK TO IT.

One young writer I worked with said I was the only actor he'd ever worked with who thought like a writer. (Apparently he was right.)

But one of my classmates was Holly Hunter, and I'm fairly certain her methodology hasn't changed that much over the years. Several of my other classmates have also become writers, one pretty big time.

If she was properly quoted, she's managed to diminish both the job of actors and writers in one fell swoop. And if someone like, oh say, Christian Bale had said that, he'd be getting drawn and quartered by writers everywhere. Jessica is getting off way too easy. Helps to be pretty, I guess.

But I still find it unbelievable that she'd say something like that in a major publication. I hope. I really hope, her words have been misquoted somehow. If not, she's an idiot and/or is really determined to leave show business.

Ben In Melbourne said...

Wow, I really must be out of the loop. Until you put today's image up, I thought you were talking about Jessica BIEL. Jessica Alba? Who the frigging hell's that? I know, I know Google's my friend and all that...

I totally get your outrage, Mr Levine. I too am like a dog with a bone when it comes to pet peeves. But can I just throw in a few words of caution? What if, after this war blows over, it turns out that she's a sweet little thing who was misquoted, or worse? That she's not just a writer groupie, but is a massive fan of yours who's been having fantasies about doing you since forever? When her testosterone-fueled (not to mention jealous) legions of admirers descend here after her teary confession on Letterman, heh, heh, you may just need God to help you. I'm just sayin'.

Blaze said...

Anyone who has watched a minimum of three talk shows has faced a particular shock and disillusionment. Most actors are utterly incapable of forming a coherent sentence without a script, let alone whip up something witty or profound on the spot.

And who is articulate and who is not constantly surprises me...

amyp3 said...

Actors whom I might not mind going off my script a little bit:
Steve Carrell, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey.

Actors I would mind going off my script a bit:
Jessica Alba, Jessica Alba, Jessica Alba.

Anyone who has watched a minimum of three talk shows has faced a particular shock and disillusionment.

Oh wordy word. In just the past several months I've found my opinion of several actors I like going way down because they came across as rather coarse or just plain not well-spoken.

Mike said...

When I originally read this, I couldn't believe that she said that, because even though I never thought Jessica was the best of actresses, I always thought that she was, at the very least, capable and smarter than a post (despite perhaps the writers lack of power relative to others in Hollywood, why piss off that many people so obviously?)

But then I realized I was confusing Jessica Biel with Jessica Alba, and it all made sense.

I think this confusion alone provides all the explaining one needs to counter Ms. Alba's statement, but I'm glad Ken put so much thought into his own response.

Sebastian said...

To be honest I can hardly believe she even said that in the first place. Maybe she made an offhand remark, but to be honest I find it disproportinate that you use that single line of hers for two posts, not only one.

I thought about mentioning the benefit of the doubt after reading your comment(s) about it, but after I now read how Stephen Fry had to defend himself from allegedly thinking that "Women don't enjoy Sex" I simply had to come back and remind you that maybe Jessica didn't mean it like that. Because no matter what I don't think she's THAT dumb. And even if she is, if she IS that dumb, then I don't really see a reason for getting on her case a second time. It's one thing to mentioning the reason for getting into more detail, but you keep sprinkling in the negative comments about her. I don't think that's really necessary.

Anonymous said...

Will there ever be a day sir when you don't have to mention in a sentence MASH?. Over-done with-not funny. Also you sound a little too sensitive me thinks. If she's such a dolt, why bother writing about Jessica?

Phillip B said...

At a moment that I was considering stand-up, I had the chance to see Don Novello as Father Sarducci do six shows over the period of two days at a summer festival.

Every word, every inflection, every pause was the same in each performance. While he was very funny, suddenly it did not look like as much as it was really hard work.

My illusions that what I had seen on TV was totally spontaneous were dashed - Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters aside - and I kept my day job.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Anonymous...

Sorry, pal. She still won't sleep with ya.

The Same Chris said...

I too, give Jessica Alba the benefit of a doubt (i have just seen "12 angry men" a few weeks back ;)), because i dont think she considers herself a good actor. She says "all the good actors she WORKED with..."
From her IMDB-page i reason she might speak of Robert De Niro (it must be him). So, to find out if she is considering herself a good actress, you must tell me, if Robert De Niro follows scripts. Greetings!

Too Many Zombies said...

Surprised to read what Downey Jr. said on Inside the Actors Studio because I saw an interview with him on Iron Man and he said the first thing he did when he came in every day was tear up the script and throw it away.

benson said...

@anonymous #1:

I'm reminded of the famous athlete who claimed to be misquoted in his autobiography.

Jesssica Alba said...

That's not fair! I do know who Mike Leigh is.

Didn't he direct Brokeback Mountain and Do The Right Thing?

Anonymous said...

Well, at least you now you're being read:

http://blog.movies.yahoo.com/blog/88-jessica-alba-offends-screenwriters-with-her-comments-general-attractiveness

All over the map said...

I recall an interview with Jackie Gleason, when he dismissed the contribution of writers on the Honeymooners, saying that in one episode the cast went off script and no one noticed the difference.

Given how beautifully constructed the Honeymooners episodes are, Gleason's comments rang false -- I think he just didn't want to give writers their full due, for some reason.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're just mad that Jessica Alba would never look twice at you.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Thank you for mentioning that writers put a lot of thought into what they create. I've found that, in most projects, the writing is the easiest thing for the interested parties to criticize, especially among those who don't or won't appreciate how much knowledge and effort came long before the words were written.

They cannot see what lies behind the specific choices a writer makes, especially if that writer is also able to arrive at ideas and phrases quickly.

Not everyone can act, sing or create visuals, but since so many have written shopping lists, emails, community bulletins and post-it notes, I think some people assume they have the experience and skill to make the writers' words fair game. However, if an obtuse comment is challenged, they can always counter it with, "Oh, I'm not a writer -- you figure it out."

Often there's a domino effect when the words are altered without care.

And as far as magazines like ELLE are concerned, I can't help recalling a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Nora Dunn played "Pat Stevens," a former model (thank you) who recommended that aspiring models should read books whenever possible.

"Like VOGUE," she said, holding up the latest issue. "This a wonderful book."

Mac said...

When Ken Russell was shooting "Lair of The White Worm," Hugh Grant came up to him on the first day and explained why his character wouldn't say the things he did in the script.
Russell listened patiently to the whole twenty-minute explanation and then said "Who gives a fuck what you think, you c**t?" That was the one and only script discussion they had.
Granted, Ken Russell is nuts and I know it's no way to negotiate, but my God, some days you know where he's coming from.

Anonymous said...

Ken,

Just saw a mention of you in the write-up about this kerfluffle on some Yahoo movie blog.

http://blog.movies.yahoo.com/blog/88-jessica-alba-offends-screenwriters-with-her-comments-general-attractiveness

Perpexlingly, when quoting you, they decide to give your comment about Jessica's breasts the "$#^$& My Dad Says" treatment and actually greeked out the word "breasts" in the quote, making it seem like you said something dirty and inappropriate.

Strnagely, when quoting another comedy article on the subject, they seemed to have no issue with the word "Boobs."

I think you might want to contact them about this, as it looks like you made a raunchy comment about Jessica when, of course, you did nothing of the kind.

(Seriously, is there a MORE clinical term than "breasts"?)

-Garrett

Not-so-secret-Agent said...

Hey,Ken...
Jessica's no dopier than you, me, or anyone else. Why are you jumping on the Alba-Hate bandwagon? I expected better from you!

Some hate us for our "freedoms".
Others-like you, Ken, and many anti-Alba posters on this and other blogs-hate a few of us for our looks.
If Jessica's comment about top actors improvising is correct (and we have no way of knowing this unless she makes a clarification) so what?
She said that a script is more of a guide than a God. BFD!

Any director will tell you that big name actors improvise when they see fit and think nothing of changing the sacred canon called a "script".
That's news to NO Hollywood insider-even you, Ken.
Jessica has acted in the big leagues for many years, with varying success. How many of her critics can say the same? Few if any!
She knows more about the actual movie-making process then just about every critic, every screenwriter, every blogger.

Interesting phenomenon...
Over the years, Jessica makes the most innocuous, self-evident comments and critics have a field day. That's strange, because in interviews, her comments are invariably reserved, self-effacing, to the point, and generous to a fault.
Not surprisingly, her recent comments about big name actors improvising brings down the wrath of the assembled pitchfork & torch rabble of hack writers, wanna-be screenwriters, and outsider with-their-nose-pressed-up-to the-glass bloggers.

Fact: Jessica Alba is an attractive, competent actor who rises to the level of the script and production team.
The ignoranti chant in unison "She can't act" all the while top studio's and directors hire her.
She's not a top tier actor-not yet. But those who are routinely improvise scripts because...sit down for this...scripts are living documents not inerrant scripture that change when the director yells "Action!".

To her credit, Jessica's made a decent career in Hollywood despite looking hot, not smiling like a 20-something happy-face cardboard cut-out actress, having to act out crappy scripts, and suffering bad directors. Give her a quality script/director/co-stars, and her innate and underutilized intelligence will elevate her to top-tier status in no time.

Jessica Alba hate arises not from what she says, but from what she looks like when she says it.

Brian said...

To "All Over the Map": I don't know how much stock I would put in that Gleason quote. In, "Love, Alice", by Audrey Meadows said that near the end of his life, he started to misremember things and this was corroborated by his then-wife.

One thing that Jackie Gleason disliked was a lot of rehearsal. This did mean that occasionally that the performers went off script, but it seems it was done to cover a flub, not to "improve" on a line. I watched the "Captain and Tennille" show (and I lived, I LIVED!) just to catch the Gleason guest spot. At the end of the show, the credits read, "Special Material for Jackie Gleason written by Walter Stone. I would find it hard to believe that he disdains writers and by the same token has one of the old "Honeymooners" staff write new material for him. It doesn't speak well of his respect for the C&T staff, though!

By the way, should Ms. Alba take you up on your Statue of Liberty play, which I suggest should be called "Bartholdi's Babe", it would be best not to use this picture as an example:

http://www.supermantv.net/posters/merchandise/dvds/supergirl_dvds.htm

(note the arm holding the torch!)

Brian Phillips

Not-so-secret-Agent said...

Some hate us for our "freedoms".
Others-like many anti-Alba posters on this and other blogs-hate a few of us for our looks.
If Jessica's comment about top actors improvising is correct (and we have no way of knowing this unless she makes a clarification) so what?
She said that a script is more of a guide than a God. BFD!

Any director will tell you that big name actors improvise when they see fit and think nothing of changing the sacred canon called a "script".
That's news to NO Hollywood insider.
Jessica has acted in the big leagues for many years, with varying success. How many of you critics can say the same? Few if any!
She knows more about the actual movie-making process then just about every critic, every screenwriter, every blogger.

Interesting phenomenon...
Over the years, Jessica makes the most innocuous, self-evident comments and critics have a field day. That's strange, because in interviews, her comments are invariably reserved, self-effacing, to the point, and generous to a fault.
Not surprisingly, her recent comments about big name actors improvising brings down the wrath of the assembled pitchfork & torch rabble of hack writers, wanna-be screenwriters, and outsider with-their-nose-pressed-up-to the-glass bloggers.

Fact: Jessica Alba is an attractive, competent actor who rises to the level of the script and production team.
The ignoranti chant in unison "She can't act" all the while top studio's and directors hire her.
She's not a top tier actor-not yet. But those who are routinely improvise scripts because...sit down for this...scripts are living documents not inerrant scripture that change when the director yells "Action!".

To her credit, Jessica's made a decent career in Hollywood despite looking hot, not smiling like a 20-something happy-face cardboard cut-out actress, having to act out crappy scripts, and suffering bad directors. Give her a quality script/director/co-stars, and her innate and underutilized intelligence will elevate her to top-tier status in no time.

Jessica Alba hate arises not from what she says, but from what she looks like when she says it.

Ron Parker said...

Alba is destined for a return to TV. She hasn't had a hit in 2005 (Fantastic 4). Perhaps this script issue is why. Destined to return to TV - that'd make a good blog post

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the Alba re-statement either. But for the record, whenever I've taken a transatlantic flight, I've found it's easy to discover that there are LOTS of films that even if the actors are "talents" who can "improvise" (films such as the latest Adam Sandler, Kevin James, one. or anything recently with Will Ferrel ...and on and on) it's hard to believe there is a required script rather than just editing some lukewarm riffing around a "concept". Maybe there her comment rings true. There are ALOT of those films.
Dumb or not, I don't think Alba is very good at interviews and could benefit from a set of notes.

Ian said...

I think everything that can be said about Alba's statement - assuming it *was* her statement - has been said. Let's move on, shall we? Unless you have a picture of her boobies.

Joey H said...

Take a look at movie critic Richard Roeper's take on Alba:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/roeper/2874020,CST-NWS-roep08.article

I especially like this story in the column:

I'm reminded of a "Tonight Show" appearance by James Garner about 25 years ago, when Garner was promoting a fine little movie called "Murphy's Romance." After a clip was shown and the audience responded with robust applause, Garner said something like, "That was all in the writing, folks. Every word you just heard was in the script."

It was such a lovely and gracious thing for an actor to say. I guess that's why it's stuck with me all these years.

John said...

Looks fade and new faces and bodies are coming up through the DNA pool every day. My guess is around 10-15 years from Alba will be sticking very closely to the script, and will be lucky if it's at least a Lifetime Movie Channel original presentation, instead of Tuesday night dinner theater in suburban Chicago.

Anonymous said...

As an actor who never paraphrases, and has never worked with any actors who make up their lines, I will posit that she was... kidding? She had to be. At least a little.

lucifervandross said...

saw Alba at a script reading, and she just seemed so apathetic. But yeah, she isn't hired because of her ability to ad lib.

SandyB said...

Jessica Alba is also on YouTube taking part in a staring competition. Clearly she sees it as really important skill to be able to stare at a camera for 2 minutes! That along with the ability to ignore a script. I think she's a genius.

carol said...

I know that with copyrighted plays the theatre/actors cannot change the script, so why can it happen with movies/tv? Is it because it's more a 'work in progress'?

Second question - it could just be due to the nature of my favourite British shows, but it seems to me that British television writers get more credit than American ones do. Many times the writers are as least as important to the fans as the actors are. Stephen Moffatt being a good case in point. Do you think that's the case?

scottmc said...

Screenwriter John August('Big Fish' and 'Charlie And the Chocolate Factory) weighs in on Jessica Alba's statement at his web site. Among his comments:

You’re saying your co-stars who delivered their lines as written are not “good actors.” Awkward.

You’re setting dangerous expectations. So if an aspiring actor wishes to be “good,” she should say whatever she wants to say?
That’s pretty terrible advice.

Screenwriters can be your best friends.
We are pushovers for attractive people who pay attention to us. I wrote that bathtub scene in "Big Fish" because Jessica Lange made brief eye contact with me.
So if you’re not getting great writing — and honestly, you’re not — ask to have lunch with the screenwriter. I’ve seen you on interviews. You’re charming. That charm could work wonders.

Anonymous said...

Ken...welcome to the age of "hell...I am just as good as those snooty experts".
Seriously, this age we live in, more than any other I know of, it seems everyone thinks they are experts in ALL FIELDS of endeavour.
Albas' comments are par for the course. With the advent of the computer and "power point" everyone can make a presentation showing any damned weird thing they think is true, with graphs!
There is no longer any respect, or even thought that possibly a person that is professional might be better equipped, oh no...we all weigh in on comedy writing (because, hey..."I'm the final judge anyway of what's funny") it's as if we all are art experts because we have eyes. No respect for procedure either, the static method for insuring quality...honed over generations. Nothing matters anymore. Everyone is smarter than the folks that actually have taken the time to learn their craft or profession.

It's why there is more crap than ever before. Probably reality shows aren't helping either. I tried to watch a Big Brother, but I would have been bored stiff even if I were IN the room with them, let alone watching and listening to them "talk" and discuss things.
It's the age of the moronic Expert!

Mark Beer said...

Mark Beer said . Jessica must have been joking . She's an intelligent woman , and she surely doesn't seriously believe that the screenwriter's complex and meticulous craft can simply be replaced by an actor spontaneously coming up with dialogue off the top of his or her head .