One interesting session at the recent ASPERA Conference in Brisbane involved Michael Sergi talking about his research. Michael, who is the Director of Film and Television at Bond University, has a focus on the actor/director relationship in screen production. I was struck by similarities between some of his conclusions and my own research into improvised performances in filmmaking.
Michael, who has extensive experience in TV drama, wanted to understand better what he did as a director and how he KNOWS a performance, when you have to make judgments in real time in the middle of a shoot. He described how most directors he talked to located their ways of knowing about performance within their own bodies. This sense of embodied knowledge has been much written about by theorists of practical knowledge such as Donald Schon (1983) and Pierre Bourdieu (1980).
Bourdieu has also written about the linearity and non-reversibility of practical knowledge as among its key features. This was one of the main issues I focused on in my research around the production of the film How To Change The World, where most of the performances were improvised. I used the concept of the ‘moment of practice’ to express what is going on every time you do a shot, or do multiple takes of a shot. For the director, the decisions made in this moment can have far-reaching consequences for the production. The decision-making is informed by a complex web of prior experience, abstract and embodied knowledge, as well as collaborative relationships. As Michael says, it is striking that the actor/director relationship, which is so central to the filmmaking process, is so under-researched.
Bourdieu, P. (1980). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, p.81
Schon, Donald A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York, Basic Books Inc.