I have the rare privilege of being invited to teach all over the world. Not only do I get to travel to some of the most amazing cities (I won’t bore you with the list here .. but I do often rattle it off in conversations either to impress my listener or send them away) and I get to meet some of the most extraordinary people. True, most of the are actors, writers and directors so to begin with we know that they are cut from a different cloth. But at the heart they are all passionate storytellers.
And during all these travels I am allowed (encouraged) to teach what I know, what I believe, what I believe to be true. And during these fifteen years or more of teaching directing feature films, or first-time directing or mainly directing actors, I have become slowly aware that my thoughts and ideas are changing, morphing into something that I had barely conceived years ago. At first I am a bit startled when new thoughts and ideas come out of my mouth. Often my brain is thinking “Wow, that’s a great idea. Where did that come from?” But I am humble enough or shrewd enough to just pretend that I’ve known this new idea all along. Then I go home and think: Where DID that come from? And, where am I going.
So it was about four or five years ago after about ten years of this peripatetic madness that I suddenly realized that I had stumble upon something rather miraculous. Now, you know I would love to claim that I came up with these brilliant new ideas, new approaches and new techniques. But the truth would be more like: “I stumbled over this thing in the road. I feel. I looked at what had tripped me up and decided to keep it and put it in my pocket.” So much for creative invention.
And along with these new techniques (which have become The Travis Technique which I will be revealing to you in very manageable bit-size steps) came new thoughts about this whole business of storytelling that we are so passionately addicted to.
And here’s a new one that came to me yesterday. In a moment of total bliss and relaxation (when is the last time that happened to you?) I suddenly had this thought. First, there are two kinds of authenticity.
One: Created Authenticity (is that an oxymoron?). Created authenticity is usually the world, the tone, the genre, the style, the environment of the world that we create in our stories. Whether it is on stage, in a book, on the screen or just in our oral stories it is a created and imagined world. We accept it as ‘authentic’ if it stays within the boundaries that we have set for it from the outset. Whether it be “Star Wars” or “Roger Rabbit” or “Casablanca” or “The Godfather” each of these has an ‘authentic’ world within which the story takes place. And we accept that world as being real for the time of the story.
Two: Organic Authenticity. This is authenticity that comes from within. It cannot be created and oddly enough it is even hard to describe or imagine. It is felt. It is vibration, tone, energy, honesty and carries a sense of existing from the beginning of time. It is what we look for in that other person. It is what many of us strive for in ourselves. But there is no road map, no guide, no formula to get there.
Now, here’s the new thought. We create stories (novels, plays, films, etc.) where we are all striving for a certain level of authenticity, both in the world of the story and within the characters. We (as the audience) know and accept the fact that the world of the story is a Created Authenticity. And that is fine with us. But, we expect the characters to bring to the story Organic Authenticity. And it is the Organic Authenticity of the characters that keeps us involved in the story, that takes us on the ride. If we feel that the characters are possessed only by created authenticity then the entire story falls apart and we disconnect.
There is a saying, “Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances” that attempts to describe every story. Not a bad statement when you think of it. But how about “Authentic people in an inauthentic world”. That is also what we are doing. The fact that the world is created, is inauthentic, is a suggestion of authenticity doesn’t seem to bother us at all. But when the characters display the same level of inauthenticity then the whole house of cards falls apart. Just take a look at the film “Pearl Harbor”. We know that all the battle sequences are created by computers, GGI, models, etc. We know that all those bodies flying through the air aren’t really getting hurt. And we’re fine. But when we witness scenes between our main characters that are as two-dimensional as the sets behind them we get angry, we feel cheated, we feel robbed of the very heart of the story. And spending another million dollars on special effects (instead of rewriting the script, working with the actors, or hiring a director who knows how to get authentic performances) won’t help the story at all. And we all go home wondering how we’re going to forgive ourselves for once again wasting another two precious hours of our life.
Tomorrow is Friday. We’ll see what the end of the week brings.