Friday, March 12, 2010
Tension in Writing- Scripts need tension. Tension does not mean necessarily stress though. Tension is put simply "unfulfilled action, promise, or need". Writers need to create interactions between characters that are not comfortable. Characters need to be insensitive, angry, emotional, uncertain, anxious, and uncomfortable with each other. Lines need to be skirted if not crossed and the more dangerous a situation, the better. This doesn't mean necessarily threat of life or limb, but being ostracized out of a relationship, circle of friends or society as well.
In short, characters need to be committed and there must be something to lose for tension to exist.
Tension in Acting- Actors without tension read lines. Actors without tension vary their voices but do not vary their reaction to the lines. Actors without tension come across as flat, uninteresting, or narrators of their parts instead of active participants. As an actor, ask yourself exactly what your character feels about the other character you're interacting with. What is your history with that character? What is your response to the line being said to you? Are you annoyed? Are you being judged? Are you being ignored? Is your ethics being tested? Your devotion? Your vision for your future?
Actors create tension by considering the lines given them and responding appropiately and sometimes with multiple takes to allow the producer to pick something that fits.
It has been said that Tom Hanks has done bad movies, but has never made a bad performance, because each of his responses have been real reactions of the character that betray more of what's going on than just the words.
Does the way you say your line create a mood to your scene? Does it clarify the character? Don't add emotion just to emote. Create a scene with your emotions within the scene. Decide where the highest emotional point is and work towards it. And always... always.. always... tell the truth of that emotional scene.
Tension in Production- Productions create tension through a few elements.
a. Tight Dialog
b. Painful Silence
c. Mood Music
d. Sound Effects
a. Tight Dialog means making sure that the lines run tight together, overlapping at times. A good editor will cut what appears on the page to be good dialog but turns out to slow a moment or a scene. They will be ruthless storytellers in getting to the heart of the scene even if it means making broad cuts.
b. Painful Silence occurs when a character is faced with a truth they do not want to reveal. If someone asks another character "Did you kill him?" and there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, a three second pause may be enough to force the character to admit it. Just slightly longer than you think people can stand is often where the "painful" comes in. Silence and pauses give the audience a moment to catch up and feel the tension of the scene and realize how hard or awkward the next moment of reveal may be.
c. Mood Music can be one of the chief elements of setting tension. Music should not be recognizable, and preferably be low enough that it in no way interferes with the rest of the scene. Do not let mood music raise to the level of a character itself. It needs to set the scene. It needs to be closer to setting, like the wind or the hum of a reactor. It needs to hit people on almost an unconscious level instead of running like a freight train through the moment.
d. Sound Effects can create tension. There is nothing like the echo of gun fire without any dialog to give it context to create images of tension and concern for the listeners. Answer their questions after you use the sound effects to paint the scene. Give context eventually, but don't be afraid to let the sound effects build or punctuate tension.
Tension is what invests the listener in the production. Without it, the story falls apart no matter how great the voices are, how brilliant the script is, or how innovative the production may be.
Tension is king.