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Fun and (Improv) Games On Set

Comedies - where mischief-makers, jokesters, and original thinkers come out to play

I love working on a comedy. Not only is the material pretty funny, but the goings-on behind the scenes can rival anything that eventually shows up on film.

The producers of my latest short film knew this to be true. That's why they created a fun, almost goofball atmosphere for their cast and crew. They trusted that the actors knew their characters through and through, but they wanted those characters to be off the leash, so to speak. They wanted to see these characters in unscripted life and how they would react in unpredictable, surprising situations - in other words, like regular people.

Some actors may balk at that. But for those of us who've been trained in improv, it was a golden opportunity to let loose and play with the material. And play we did. We took the silliness off set into our work, which raised the energy considerably. We connected better with each other and came up with some pretty interesting stuff, parts of which were certainly usable and others ... well, it was a good exercise in experimentation. The director would stop and whisper in an actor's ear every so often to do this, say that, just to see how the other characters would react. He got some terrific takes that way.

Have fun! Improv = training + a devilish sense of humor

Get to know your character inside and out

Improv is a glorious thing, but you have to know a few things before diving into it.

First, know your character and your place within the overall story. See your character as a real person with a full life. Use whatever clues are in the script, whether it's description or in the dialogue of other characters. How is your character viewed by everyone else in the story?

Then ask yourself: what's your background, including family, point of origin, dreams, goals, and past struggles? What's your character's perspective on life? What are the objectives and obstacles being faced now in the story? Based on your character's personality and foibles, how would you react to different types of events?

Take your character to new places

You also want to figure out how your character feels about everyone and everything else happening in the story. We all react differently depending on different circumstances. Play around with different emotions and take your character to new places within the storyline. Sometimes you'll be the victor, other times the poor schlub getting the raw end of the deal. Just like in real life. The trick is to be true to your character and to live that person's life within the scenario at hand.

Just remember to stay within the storyline unless you've been given express permission to expand beyond it or even change it altogether. The director probably wants the same outcome, so that one scene build to the next. The spontaneity stays within the storyline and supports it, rather than dominates or drives it elsewhere.

True responses are often the funniest. And in life, they often come when we're not even thinking about them.

Enjoy yourself! Funny comes when we're not trying

The key to improv is to keep it light, fun - and enjoy yourself! If you're making a comedy, you'll know - or discover - that funny situations often arise unexpectedly. Yes, brilliant comedic writing and careful rehearsals birth amazing stuff, not through careful rehearsals, though comedians and brilliant actors do both very well.

The other key is to really listen to what the other characters are saying and doing. Play off each other and react to whatever is going on. Even the smallest instinctual reaction can be hilarious if it's authentic.

Improv games teach the "yes and ..." response. Keep the game going. If one person says or does something outrageous, go along with it. Accept it and take it further, whether to exaggerate whatever's going on or take it in a new direction. Same with improv within a filmed story. Take in what the other person is saying or doing and react to it as your character would. Even if you're reaction is just a facial expression, it's something and often all that's needed.

True responses are often the funniest. And in life, they often come when we're not even thinking about them.

Laura's Quick Tips

  1. Play! Don't take yourself too seriously. Let your real self shine through.

  2. You have to know the rules to break them. Know your character and storyline - then push the limits. Or go beyond.

  3. Have fun. The joy you feel in your work is contagious.

Too few comedies - film or TV - are made here in Atlanta. Great dramas, but outside of local improv companies, comedies are few and far between. So when one comes along that you're cast in - hoo boy!! Fun times for all. Especially when the director lets the actors improvise and bring their own unique takes on the material.

Improv is great fun ... and terrific training whether you're crafting acting skills or wanting experience pivoting to the unexpected. You can Read more about it here >

Laura Doman smiling

I'm Laura Doman, a former tech industry sales executive, hands-on mom, voice & TV/film actress, and improv performer. I create memorable characters that tell my client's stories, from the friendly CEO touting new upgrades to your sassy best gal pal dispensing some necessary, real-world advice...Let's Talk!


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