“It’s all just moments. We’re all just living in moments…” a reflection on my press conference at Thru the Stones weekend

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TTS Press Conference Dec. 3, 2016

Debbie Ford, Grant O’Rourke, Terry Dresbach

Sitting by the fireplace at the Isle in Bettendorf, Iowa, I was discussing inspiration for this blog with my friend Jane.  I had been lucky enough to be asked to be part of a press conference at the Thru The Stones Fan event with Grant O’Rourke and Terry Dresbach.

“Grant had a very interesting response to my asking about the difficulty of filming out of sequence.” I said.

We were interrupted by folks on the look out for coffee before they caught a taxi to the airport.  We offered to watch their luggage while they snuck into the casino for the only coffee available at that early hour of the morning.  Settling back in my chair, I continued to explain what I had heard Grant say.

“He didn’t seem to think it was that big of a deal.  He said you get a good sense of who your character is and how he serves the story and then act that moment.”

Jane nodded her head listening to me intently like she always does. It is one of the biggest reasons I love her.  She is genuinely interested in how and what I think.

“I told him I thought it would be difficult and that I had the idea it would be easier to build a character chronologically, but he made a very good point.  He said, “It’s all just moments. We’re all just living in moments anyway”.  I’m thinking that might be a good title for the article and a good metaphor for the weekend.”

We were interrupted again by a group of ladies we had met who needed hugs good bye before they left for each corner of the country they came from.  Lots of “so nice to meet you” and “follow me on Twitter” and “what a great time” were heard.  I gave a final hug to one of my readers I was privileged to meet and as she moved away she looked around and said “so many great moments”.   Well, that was just too much of a coincidence and it cemented my focus for this reflection.  This weekend was full of moments both great and small to be treasured and remembered.

First, let me thank the folks that worked so hard to give Outlander fans a great experience.  Thank you very much to Debbie Ford, Gin Wray, and Sandy Belshause, their families and friends like the neighbor who convinced Deb to read Outlander and the gentleman who was the voice of the convention.

Back in July, I received an invitation from Debbie to be part of a press conference at the convention.  Of course, I jumped at the chance to interview Terry Dresbach,  Outlander on Starz’, costume designer.  Like many of you, I have been interacting with Terry on Twitter and learning a lot about the business of costume designing and film making in general. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her and Iowa isn’t all that far from Ohio and so, I started making plans to attend.

Previously, I had plans to attend a talk given by the show’s writers in LA that totally fell through and so, I was very cautious about telling anyone this was happening until it actually did!  I got confirmation just a couple of days before the convention that Grant would be at the press conference.  I happened to be at my granddaughters’ basketball game when I opened the email and I thought out loud, “I’ve prepared some things to ask Terry, but I have no idea what to ask an actor! ”  My fourteen year-old granddaughter was sitting beside me with her boyfriend. “I’ve no idea,”she said.  However, her boyfriend seemed to have a clue, “Ask him what his favorite color is.  You can learn a lot about someone by asking them their favorite color.”  I thanked him with a straight face, but  thinking about it on the way home, I broke into a smile and thought that he might actually have come up with a great ice-breaker!  I thought I would tell Grant the story and then ask him what his favorite color was with the added warning to be careful with his choice because I would be psychoanalyzing his response later!

I never got the chance to ask the question or break the ice because I didn’t need to! Grant and Terry hadn’t seen each other in awhile and they just started talking to each other and reminiscing about life on the Outlander set and about one of Terry’s parties. It was a blast to watch them interact.  They were definitely at ease in each other’s prescence and there was a lot of teasing, smiles and laughter.  It was obvious that they both felt good about the working relationship between all those involved in the production. Grant shared that he had been convinced that he was going to lose his job and that he didn’t relax until two weeks had passed and he was filming the stable scene with Cait because Steven Walters, Angus, had told him that after two weeks it was too expensive for them to replace him! LOL!  They both shared bits and pieces of life behind the scenes that made what we see as a glamorous job a bit less so.  There appears to be a lot of standing around in the cold and mud and rain waiting.  Terry shared that Cecil B DeMille said ,”the most fascinating day on set is your first and the most boring is your second”.

Terry said that on Outlander everything has its own rewards and challenges.  And, in response to my question she added that filming out of sequence is the norm and that she thought it would be easier to film chronologically, so that, for instance, you wouldn’t have to film a Boston May in a Scotland November!  But, that it doesn’t happen that way. This led her to tell a funny story about her not realizing things were filmed out of sequence on her first job as a costume designer.  She said she loaded up a car with costumes and took them to the set and then didn’t bring them back the next day because she thought they were done!  They both discussed the importance of costumes in creating a character. She designs the costumes with the character and their place in the story in mind and shares the “why” of her costume choices with the actors.  She then went on to share how she loves it when the actors start to make the costumes their own.  Grant shared that he was very big on being able to dress himself.  It sounds as if their were discussions about whether or not Rupert would have worn this or styled his hair thus, etc.  and some changes were made.  He said he had started to make the costume his own by always carrying his tam in the same place inside his plaid whether he would be wearing it in the scene or not because Rupert would have always carried it.  There were a few more laughs over the fact that he said he hated to wear that bonnet. “NO!  Not the bonnet!  I don’t want to wear the bonnet”, he jokingly whined.  Terry talked about how Stephen Walters wrapped his plaid around a special rock he had been given which is an old Highlander way of holding the plaid in place called a pauper’s brooch.  The two shared a story about the time Stephen lost his rock and everyone was scouring the set for it!   “Looking for a particular pebble amongst other pebbles”, Terry laughed.

I learned that Grant thought the best episode in season 2 was Prestonpans and he was grateful to hear that we were moved by his performance.  In fact, he said he used to listen to pod casts, but stopped when he was listening to one on Prestonpans and they never mentioned Rupert!  (I made a mental note to check my blog on Prestonpans)  I learned that this was his first time in America which really shocked Terry and I overheard him ask Debbie how much time he had after the press conference because he really wanted to get some ribs.  She assured him that they knew a guy who would take care of that!  He is so quick and seems a very down to Earth guy with his priorities in place ( hope the wee man enjoys his cup).  Terry was funny, charming, and generous with her answers.

There weren’t any great revelations about season 3 shared, as expected and as it should be.  However, what was very obviously revealed was the care, dedication and love that each puts into their craft.  My overall impression of my time spent with them was that they were two people who work hard at their jobs and try to do the best they can just like the rest of us.  Terry strives to do her best job as a designer and Grant wants to serve the story with his acting.  The fact that we all find it so fascinating and that the show is so popular is just a bonus.  I’m convinced they would be giving the same effort, care and concern to whatever project they were involved in. They seem to have a sense that what they do will be farther reaching than they can imagine and are humbled to be part of something bigger than themselves.  They know that they are here because Diana Gabaldon wrote these wonderful books and they want to serve the story and the fans well and with love.

As moments go, I was grateful to be living this one.  We are very lucky fans.

Stay tuned part 2 coming soon!

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Selling Outlander to the masses…Or Selling Out?

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untitledYesterday, it was revealed that Outlander was the new cover story for Entertainment Weekly.  Good News! Or, at least it should have been.  I found myself very conflicted.  My first reaction to the picture of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe’s steamy portrayal of Jamie and Claire was positive.  They are very beautiful people and it is a very striking image.   This was a cover of a national magazine and people who knew nothing about the books or the show would be seeing OUTLANDER! in the headline and then see that image…I began to feel uneasy.

I just happened to be getting ready for a meeting at work when the image popped up in my feed. With my sense of unease starting to work its way into a full blown feeling, I turned my Ipad screen toward a coworker who knew nothing about the show. “What do you think this TV show is about? ” I quizzed. It took her less than a second to answer.  Hearing the word “sex” a crowd gathered.  They all nodded their heads in agreement.  No one, I repeat NO ONE asked what show it was or expressed any interest beyond looking at the picture.

I, however, made the mistake of looking beyond the picture.  I looked at the head lines of the article. “Our favorite Kilty pleasure is back!”  sigh…cheesy…”all the Time-Traveling, Bodice-Ripping scoop on the Season”...grrrr…again….by Lynette Rice…a woman…sigh… “What’s Next for Claire and Jamie Hint: He’s wearing pants 😦 … JHRC!!!!!! …sigh…AGAIN with bodice-ripping and kilts.

I took to Twitter to express my dismay.

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I expected dissenting opinions.

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But….

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but…others don’t and they certainly aren’t going to know much about the story from this cover.  I tried to put a positive spin on the situation, as I am wont to do from time to time.

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and….

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still…, an uneasy feeling persisted.  I tried to sort through my thoughts and feelings.  Was it about the sexy pics? Well, sort of.  Let me try and explain.  I LOVE the sex in the show and books.  The idea that a married couple can be passionate and sexy and committed to each other? What’s not to like? And, the chemistry between those two actors is a joy to behold.  But, here is the problem.  The tease for the article entitled “Inside the wild, sexy world of Outlander” insinuates that sex is REALLY the ONLY thing the fans really care about.

So what makes the drama, which attracted more than five million multiplatform viewers per episode, such a kilty pleasure for fans? While the network and Moore would like to tout the show’s heady and historically accurate content, most fans point to the fantastic chemistry between Heughan and Balfe.

Most fans? Was there a poll I missed? I suspect that they went on social media and took their cues from the vocal minority that shout for more sex and romance between the two main characters and less about …well…pretty much anything else.  I believe that there is an ocean of fans who aren’t as vocal, but who do want more.  In fact, it’s the real reason they love the books and the series because it IS more.

I found it ironic that I posted my dismay on Twitter right after I had retweeted congratulations to Outlander for its Women’s Image Network WIN award wins and nominations for film and television.  The nonprofit organization celebrates, “media and deserving individuals who promote gender parity to advance the value of women and girls.”   Outlander was being recognized for its portrayal of women and its promotion of women as writers and directors.  Think about that incongruence.  So, I’m left with trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

WHAT I SUSPECT

  1. Based on the quote from the cover teaser, I’m going to give STARZ the benefit of a doubt…again and believe that this isn’t the promotion they were looking for.  However, they are promoting the fact that the show made the cover.  And, I’m curious, what is their plan? This doesn’t appear to be the kind of attention that will get the show taken seriously.  Are their numbers so bad that they need an immediate fix instead of cultivating an audience that wants to see something more meaningful than other people’s junk?
  2. The magazine wants to sell magazines and sex sells
  3. There is something more insidious and more disturbing going on here.

If you were around back when the series was first filmed and then reviewed, you might remember the frustration fans experienced reading write-ups on the series by critics and entertainment journalists. It was truly a lesson on what the industry thought of a show they knew was being marketed to women. It was insulting to say the least. They questioned the show’s worth if men couldn’t be convinced to watch it (by the way they are, but that is beside the point).  They stubbornly hung on to the idea that Outlander was a Harlequinesque bodiceripper that would only appeal to middle-age bored housewives. Here we are after a very successful first season that garnered critical praise and multiple awards including three Golden Globes nominations and we are still fighting the bodice-ripper image …why?

 

Romance authors lament the lack of seriousness given their chosen genre.  I have nothing against Romances like all literary genre there are poor examples and good.  I have enjoyed reading quite a few over the years.  But, Outlander does not fit neatly into that genre.  There is certainly a relationship at the core of the story, but unlike a Romance novel, Jamie and Claire’s love story doesn’t stay in the falling in love honeymoon phase. Thank The Lord.  As some of us were discussing on Twitter, if they had, the stories would have held our interest for no longer than the time it took to read them.  Instead, many of us re-read  Diana Gabaldon’s books over and over and never seem to tire of what is revealed between those pages.  Herself writes about what happens after people fall in love. She writes about the dynamics of enduring love, complicated relationships and the irony of life. This is what truly engages her readers. She gets deeper and that is what fans hope to see on the screen as well.  Despite their differences, today I am struck by a similarity between  Romance novels and Outlander.  They both have an image problem because they are being marketed to women. Unfairly, that means they are deemed to be less worthy as a genre and  film.

Previously, I’ve written about Hollywood’s issue with women and how it runs deeper than just parity in job opportunities and pay.  It is how women are portrayed and …marketed to.  Women and their value are held in low esteem.  My guess is that the coverage of Outlander by EW is systemic of Hollywood’s continued issue with women.  They know the show’s extremely large fan base is predominately women.  So, what could women possibly be interested in?  The “the show’s heady and historically accurate content” or the two main characters getting naked? I think we know which way EW answered that question.  Did they watch Outlander fans’ support for the show and its stars and salivate at a chance to get a piece of that popularity pie and the money that goes with it?  What they failed to understand is the love and loyalty for this show is based on a dream, a  dream that a wonderful book would be shared in a visual format and the world would get to see Jamie and Claire’s story of adventure and survival and …enduring and committed love.  Yesterday, many fans expressed the idea that if this attention gets us more seasons of Outlander then so be it.  We all know that sex sells.  It’s nothing new.  On the surface this seems reasonable, but I’m getting that uneasy feeling again. I fear that this attention can put the show on a slippery slope that may lead to pressure to actually turn the show into what they think folks want.

Jamie and Claire have a very vibrant sex life and I’m enjoying the hell out of watching it!   Quite frankly, I was relieved when I found out Starz was producing the show because I knew we would have a chance to see some of the best love scenes ever written (IMHO) come to life.  The Wedding Episode was glorious.  But, sex really isn’t what the show is about!  It is a wonderful part of the show, but it isn’t the only thing worth watching the show for, but I’m afraid that is the impression this cover and tease are leaving.  The magazine comes out Friday, so I guess we’ll see what they actually said, but I’m not very hopeful they moved away from the “chemistry” angle.  I realize this is just one magazine and there will be more opportunities to sell Outlander to the masses,  but I really hope this doesn’t become a trend. They will probably sell a lot of issues, some because of the titillating pictures, but I believe many will be sold because Outlander fans support Outlander and want it to succeed.

Here is the most ironic thing of all.  I believe Outlander fans would have bought the magazines if they had decided to put a picture of Culloden Moor on the cover.  But, I guess we’ll never know because they chose to market it to “women”.

 

P.S. Well, the article wasn’t too bad! It was certainly better than expected given the cover headlines.  Just wanted to thank everyone for their respectful discourse.  You certainly don’t have to agree with me, but I appreciate your respectfulness!

Outlander’s acting…How do they do that with a camera in their face?

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I’m amazed.  I’m amazed every time I see a behind the scenes photograph of the actors of Outlander. It amazes me because the reality of filming seems so intrusive.  I am amazed that actors who have microphones hanging over their heads and cameras in their faces can manage to make a scene feel real and intimate.  My understanding of the challenges an actor faces has increased and so has my respect for their skills. You’ve heard me say before that I’m curious and that I am often inspired to look a bit deeper.  Today that inspiration came from this picture. 

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It is a simple scene and yet for me it helped clarify what is actually happening during filming and it is far from intimate.  In fact, it appears to take a village to raise a film. Movies take years to plan, months to shoot and thousands of people to create. On average the top films of the past two decades have each had 3.5 writers, 7 producers, 55 people in the art department, 32 in sound, 55 in camera / electrical and 156 in visual effects. There are 19 people listed for hair and makeup alone and 37 in the camera electrical department for Outlander on IMBD. The list of folks working on the show is pretty impressive and worth a look. Suffice it to say, there is a crowd surrounding these actors most of the time.

You are probably aware that the author of the Outlander series of books, Diana Gabaldon, was asked to write scripts for Season 2 and had the experience of filming those episodes.  I was entertained by her less than glamorous pictures of traipsing through mud and her Scottish weather uniform including her pink boots. ( btw, I found a great blog about a typical day on a set. https://www.friendsinfilm.com/typical-day-on-set )

Quite frankly, it looked cold, uncomfortable and sounded like a study in patience when she explained that the same scenes were often filmed over and over. Her day started early and ended late with her falling across her bed sometimes too tired to eat. For the actors who have to get into makeup (I’ve read it takes somewhere near 4 hours to put the prosthetic on Sam’s back) and costume, I can imagine it might even be more time consuming and more exhausting. Despite all this they must be ready to be in character and stay in character on demand and get up and do it all again the next day. Ron Moore talked about the stamina it took for Cait to be in almost every scene, I’m starting to really appreciate what he meant and why Sam and Cait appreciate having a co-star that is a friend.

I’ve  written a bit about how costuming and set design can affect an actor’s performance http://wp.me/p4mtBT-Zo ,  http://wp.me/p4mtBT-Yx . I’ve even written about different schools of thought on acting and a bit about why someone might want to act http://wp.me/p4mtBT-Pd .  I can see how certain acting techniques could work, especially as a stage actor performing the same material night after night, but this acting for a film series seems to be a different animal.  For instance, how does filming out of sequence affect your performance?  I would think that you would need to act in some sort of chronological order to build upon what happens to the character.  The only response I ever got to that question was from Terry Dresbach, Outlander’s costume designer, who told me she has never been part of a production that was any other way.  After following this show’s production for the last couple of years, I’ve come to understand the “why” of filming out of sequence, but I still don’t know how it doesn’t negatively impact actor’s performances.  The fact that Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and all the others are able to get inside their characters’ heads on cue continues to baffle and as I said….amaze.  How do they tune it all out? How do they make us believe those emotions are real?

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Outlander has gained a reputation for portraying its story in an honest manner.  The scenes feel like what might actually happen between real people including the sex.  I’m astonished to realize that what appears to us as romantic and passionate and intimate was created in a room with directors, camera people, sound guys, etc.  I found it amusing when Ron Moore said they wanted to give the characters some privacy and so they made the crew skeletal! Skeletal there’s a relative term! LOL!

Yeah, we got to get it right. But the subject matter — Caitrna [Balfe] and I have never done anything like this before, so it was a bit of a learning curve. We were lucky that the director, Anna Foerster, was good. We did a lot of rehearsals. We discussed how we wanted it to work. When you watch the episode there is a progression in the way that Jamie and Claire get to know each other. Their relationship grows quite quickly so by the end of the episode, you can see that they’re basically making love, it’s not just consummating the marriage.    Sam Heughan http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/outlander-sam-heughan-jamie-claires-732878

I’m sorry, but if I’m wearing nothing but a modesty patch simulating sex with an equally naked co-star and people are filming and giving me instructions like hold him here, touch her there, I’m going to have tough time not being embarrassed! Get it right?! Yeah, they got it so right I felt slightly voyeuristic watching!

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I found some great insight in an article in the Atlantic.  It took a look at the emerging interest in the psychology of acting and how it could give us insight into the science of why people do the things they do. The article asserts that acting is just a different way of looking at human behavior.  What I discovered is that becoming a character isn’t easy and not without cost, especially when playing scenes like episode 15 and 16.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/how-actors-create-emotions-a-problematic-psychology/284291/

I found myself getting a little worried about our actors while reading this article, but I’m happy to say that it ended by concluding that good acting may be less about becoming your character and more about simply concentrating.

“Intensity gets misinterpreted. Not all acting is necessarily extremely intense. But it is concentrated and very much about being here, now.”

The toll of at least temporarily living in a character and world you’ve created is emotionally consuming and an actor needs to cultivate ways to disengage from their work of acting.  I’m happy to say that our actors appear to be aware of the need of self-care and I love that they share that they laugh on set, eat healthy, hike Munros, drink the occasional whiskey, and spend time with family and friends who know who they were before they played Jamie, Claire or Black Jack.  I still don’t understand how they do it, but wow, they are good at it and this fan is grateful! 

 

EDIT! EDIT! EDIT!…Outlander’s Deleted Scenes

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“So, what do you think of the deleted scenes folks are posting? ” I asked my Twitter friend.

“I know! I really enjoyed the gag reel and the table read.” my friend shared.

“Haven’t seen those, but I can tell you if you needed a lesson on why a scene should be cut those were it! ”  I announced.

“You haven’t bought the DVD? ”

“Not yet…why? ” I questioned…hearing the odd tone in her voice that marked a possible boo boo on my part.

“Ron talks about why each scene was cut.” she said confirming my “I boo booed” feeling.

“Well, I guess that shoots a hole in the blog I JUST wrote about why each scene should have been cut!” I moaned. ” Maybe I ought to go buy it?… Well…crap….”

Okay…I haven’t bought it yet, but I watched.  You know what?  I still think my points and post have something valid to say.  So, bearing in mind I wrote this BEFORE hearing Ron…here’s the blog

Season 1 part deux has been released and so has a flurry of deleted scenes.  I’ve watched them all.  Afterall, the day is long and the night “withOutlander” is upon us. I’ll take what ever they want to give me.  In addition to watching the videos folks posted, I also read their reactions to the scenes.  Most of what I’ve read has run along the lines of the “what a great scene I wish they would have left it in it would have really added to the story” variety.  I have to say I disagree. If ever there was a way to silence my editing doubts this was it.

In every instance, except the Claire and Murtaugh scene, I could see why the scene was left out.  And quite frankly, I wish I could un-see them! Here’s why.

I’m starting to see the value in an edited scene. Diana has pages to explain.  She has time and space to write details and explain motivations. Without that luxury, editing becomes very important especially in a visual medium. More words, more images, can muddle the impact of a scene. A moment can be lost by trying to get in one more thing.  A character can be changed by one word or one action too many.  I’m starting to see that my wish that they had more time may not necessarily mean the story would be better told. Oh, there are a few scenes I’d still argue for, but, overall the ones they chose to tell are conveying the right emotion and motivation.

I’m starting to believe there really can be too much of a good thing. Even too much Outlander! ( I see you doing the devil thing with your fingers)  Sometimes less really is more. Leave me some mystery!  Some of these scenes just revealed too much! Diana doesn’t tell us everything and there is a reason for that. It keeps us wanting to turn the page and has kept us all making inferences and conjectures about her characters and story for years.  A TV series has similar goals. They want us to tune in next week and if people are buzzing about the characters and story and wondering what will happen next then great.

The deleted scenes I saw took the characters in directions I didn’t think fit.  Claire came off too aggressive/passive aggressive and just plain insensitive.  Jamie’s character really wasn’t helped with the Gellis scene  ( He was hiding? Our Jamie?).  That same scene would have ruined the moment at the witch trail when Gellis sacrifices herself for Claire.  Too much too soon.  Would Geliis really have threatened Jamie over Claire? And, I liked the idea that only Claire knew Murtaugh’s real reason for devoting himself to Jamie. Having Jamie know Murtaugh had the hots for his mother just didn’t seem right for their relationship.

Overall, I think these scenes just confirmed for me that the process of adaptation is WAY more difficult than just choosing scenes.  What works on the pages of a book does not necessarily work on a screen.  And evidently, sometimes what is in written in a script doesn’t necessarily work on the screen! One of my readers, someone in the business, wrote this in response to one of my articles about the success of the adaptation and I thought it spoke to this post too.

I know there are folks unhappy with the adaptation.  The biggest sticking point as far as I can tell is the perceived lack of development in Jamie’s character.  I’ve had my own issues with his development, but I really thought that “The Reckoning’s” switch in POV went a long way in remedying that situation.  We have heard Ron say “we had to cut that for time” and folks are quick to point out a scene they felt could of or should have been cut to make time for the scenes they felt were necessary to the story.  The reality is that “Book Fans” aren’t the only ones viewing the show and a broader “viewing” audience has to be satisfied. And…someone has to call the shots.  I’m coming to understand that “calling the shots” is more complex than we can possibly imagine.

There are so many factors, so many variables and it’s easy to armchair quarterback.

But, critique is good. Discussion is good.

We all have our opinions and I find mine has changed over time with the education and unprecedented access to the making of this TV series we’ve been afforded. It isn’t my book, but I once heard the Matt B Roberts, Outlander writer and executive producer, say (definite paraphrase here because I’d never find that tweet again), that the show is like a child.  You can see the parent in its countenance, but it isn’t the parent it is its own person.  I get it.  And, I would add, what a delightful and precocious child it is!  I’ll be back for season two!

The One Where I Talk About Outlander’s Acting and the Actors Using the Five W’s and How

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So, the dust has settled a bit on Episode 15 and folks are girding their loins for 16 because EVIDENTLY those critic/reviewers’ warnings forgot to mention that episode 16 is just as harrowing as 15.  (Way to suck us in with the light at the end) Anyway… ( she says while adjusting the gird loining, which we all know can chafe a bit), what I’m still thinking about today is the performances. Which is what I think most people are still thinking about today…those performances! I was as staggered by the acting as I was by the visceral story that was unfolding on my screen.

I know there is this common belief that a viewer really shouldn’t notice the acting because if you do then somehow your disbelief didn’t get suspended enough.  Maybe that’s true, but I’m pretty sure I bought what they were selling!  My appreciation occurred upon reflection. Like I said before, the dust has settled and I can’t get the performances out of my mind.  And….per usual…it made me curious.

Like,…how did this guy

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BECOME this guy!?

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One my readers commented, “It’s like they swallowed the characters!” I believe my response was, “So, that’s how they do that?!”

I want to know HOW they do that and WHY they do that!  As a teacher, I’ve often instructed my students in the use of the five W’s and How method employed by journalists. I think its use is appropriate for my exploration of acting as it pertains to Outlander on Starz:

WHO:

The Lovely and Talented Caitrionia Balfe

The Lovely and Talented Sam Heughan

The Lovely and Talented Tobias Menzies

WHAT:

Stellar acting performances in Outlander on Starz

HOW:

My lite research lead me to some information that suggests that there are at least eight major ways to learn and approach the craft of acting. No one way seems truly better than another and I was left with the impression that it was all a matter of personal preference. Here are the top eight and brief defintions:

Constantin Stanislavski’s

This method is a blend of spiritual realism, emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and practice.

Lee Strasberg

This method was built on Stanislavski theories and asks actors to magnify and intensify their relationship to the material by using emotional experiences from their own lives.

Stella Adler

Ms. Adler’s method sort of takes a step back from the Strasberg model and emphasizes imagination in addition to recalling personal emotional experiences. In other words, you don’t HAVE to have experienced something to imagine how it feels.

Sanford Meisner

Meisner teaches his students to “live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances.” This method is all about being in the moment and reacting (this is my guess for what Sam and Tobias used in filming the episode 15 dungeon scenes).

Michael Chekhov

This method focuses on using both the mind and body and encourages actors to be consciously aware of their senses.

Practical Aesthetics

Developed by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy, this method uses elements from both Stanislavsky and Meisner. It teaches actors to use a four-step process to analyze a scene and focuses on what is actually happening in the scene and what is desired of the other characters (wait…maybe this is the one they all used…?…I’m so confused).

Uta Hagen

This method encourages actors to find the “truth” in a scene and then substitute their own experiences and recall of emotions.

Viola Spolin

This method focuses heavily on improv and teaches actors to live in the moment. They are encouraged to respond quickly and truthfully to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

What ever method was employed, those who were on the set, many veterans of filming difficult scenes, were struck by the actors dedication to their craft. In a recent Zapit interview Chris Hayner noted the scenes and filming was intense,

“… it was interesting to observe Menzies and Heughan during breaks from filming. Even when sitting right next to one another, the two completely ignored each other. “We didn’t talk a lot outside of doing the scenes,” Menzies reasons. “We tried to keep it as fresh as possible.” Taking it one step further, he refrained from interacting with just about anyone, instead keeping his mind trained on the character and scene.”

The entire article can be read here:http://www.zap2it.com/blogs/outlander_wentworth_prison_tobias_menzies_darkest_scenes-2015-05

Whatever method they chose to employ worked because it felt REAL. The actors fade away and it is Jamie, Claire and Black Jack. What I’m sure is a lot of hard work looks like magic to us!

Outlander 2014

Outlander 2014

WHY:

I want to know what motivates someone to become an actor or actress. So, I started to do some reading. I read some blogs written by actors and acting teachers, some magazine articles and even some interesting research on the psychology of acting. Some of the most interesting stuff I read came from a trade magazine called BACKSTAGE. 

My reading lead me to a couple of conclusions:

1. If people go into acting for fame, fortune or a need to feel love and acceptance they are liable to be disappointed because these things truly are fleeting.

2.The only real reason to act is because it brings you joy and you will do whatever you need to do for the chance to act and can’t see yourself doing anything else.

I noticed that the same words kept getting repeated when people tried to describe “why” they act. People said they acted because they wanted to create, to express themselves, to have fun, to learn what it means to be human, to meet new people, and to actually discover themselves. A lot of these writers described their satisfaction in creating something that might actually impact people’s lives.

There are actors or actresses out there that are definitely in the limelight and receiving all the benefits that come with fame. You will often see them in one big budget movie after another. However, there are also actors who would welcome fame if it came, but don’t let it drive their career choices. In fact, there are a lot of actors who take roles simply because it gives them the chance to play a character they find challenging or tell a story they find interesting and box office be damned.

Funny, those are the same reasons why I write. I love it. I’ll do whatever I need to do to continue to be able to create because it brings me joy and book deals be damned! (just kidding if anybody wants to give me a job writing, I’m open for a lunch meeting on Thursday..oh hell, who am I kidding…any day…just call me any day)

I’ve been hanging out on social media reading and writing about Outlander since Diana announced the series was a go. In fact, my very first tweet went out to Sam the day he was cast. I think I said something like “Congratulations on becoming the face of Jamie Fraser. Gulp. #afanfromOhio” and, because I know you’re wondering, no, he didn’t answer me. I secretly believe it’s because my tweets look like this to him;

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DirtyButton.com

I remain a Sam #Twirgin.

But, I digress. The point I was trying to make was that I’ve had a chance to watch these actors from the beginning. I’ve read their interviews and tweets and…seen the choices they’ve made in their acting careers.  I’m proud to say “Our Actors” appear to fall into the group who aren’t letting the desire for fame guide their career choices.

Caitrionia Balfe has said she has always wanted to act. She thinks she knew what she wanted to do even when she was a precocious child in Ireland. At 30, she figured if she wanted to act it was probably now or never.  She moved to LA and started taking acting classes. In a recent interview, she described her acting ambitions.

“I got to a point in my life when I thought if I don’t try it now I might not get the opportunity to do it again. There was a feeling amongst my friends and industry people whom I came into contact with that ‘oh it’s tough for women and it’s tougher again for women of your age’ and all of these things. But I’d never been interested in being a starlet; the people I’ve admired had long careers and it shouldn’t matter how old you are for those things.”

The entire interview can be read here: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-news/im-still-waiting-for-the-flood-of-male-adoration-caitriona-balfes-difficult-road-to-acting-stardom-31228831.html

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I know that she admires Patrica Arquette’s independent career choices and didn’t find being a super-model very satisfying. I wonder if she knows what a fantastic role model she is? (and knowing her penchant for self-deprecation, she would probably laugh if she read that)

Sam Heughan, went to university to be an actor (he actually had an instructor tell him he couldn’t act! I KNOW! shocking!). Before Outlander, he was going about his career playing a variety of roles ranging from a drug dealer to Batman to a Prince that some lucky girl got for Christmas.  He was acting, but had remained pretty well under the radar, so to speak. When he was cast as Jamie, some of the descriptors thrown around about him included the term “unknown” actor.  He definitely is getting some attention now and if Outlander fans have anything to vote about it it’ll stay that way!

During the drought, you know what drought I’m talking about, Sam did an independent film called When the Starlight Ends.  I found these comments by Adam Sigal, its writer and director, (Starlight was his first film) to be very revealing of Sam’s character and love of acting. The following is in answer to a question asked of Mr. Sigel in an exclusive interview by @SamCaitLife

I actually met Sam long before Outlander–I want to say about 5 years ago. At the time, he was a semi-struggling actor in Los Angeles for pilot season. He got hold of Starlight from a casting director friend, and he really loved the script. At the time he wanted to do it, but I was dealing with producers who really wanted massive stars in the lead roles. About a year or so later, Sam messaged me on Facebook and mentioned he’d just booked a new show he, “thought might be a big deal”. He didn’t tell me too much more, but when I saw a bunch of my friends posting about him on social media, I knew he really had! I reached back out to him, asked if he still wanted to do Starlight, and he said absolutely! Pitching the project with him on board made it easier to find money for it. I’m still in awe of the fact that Sam stuck with me and still agreed to do the film, even after booking Outlander, and with the fact that he’s on his way to becoming a megastar.

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The entire interview can be read here:

https://samcaitlife.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/exclusive-qa-with-adam-sigal-the-director-of-when-the-starlight-ends/

Recently, when asked if he thought playing Jamie was his most challenging role, he responded by saying not really because “each role comes with its own challenges”.

Tobias Menzies is probably the most “famous” of our troupe.  He’s played characters on several big budget series like Rome and Game of Thrones. After the showing of Episode 15, Tobias was interviewed… a lot…and as a result, there are a lot of really great interviews out there this week and not one asked him if he would wear a kilt (thank God)!  If you want to get a good idea of why Tobias acts read some of those interviews.  I was struck by the cerebral and scholarly way in which he discussed acting. He has a real passion for what he does.

Despite having some amount of fame and an “impressive” resume, Tobias actively seeks out challenging roles that don’t nessecarily come with a big paycheck or a big stage.  One his more recent ventures had him acting on a bed in a hotel room in a play called Fever at the Mayfair hotel.  He performed a monologue to a maximum capacity audience of…28.

The Fever at the May Fair Hotel

In an interview about a a recent role, he was asked if he would like the kind of fame his co-star Kira Knightley enjoys. His response? “Would I want that? Absolutely not. Then again, do you want recognition that allows you to do the work you want to do? Of course.”

The entire article can be read here:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1376878/In-taxi–actor-Tobias-Menzies.html#ixzz3aaARtDGb

On Saturday night while we were all glued to our TV sets drinking whiskey and hiding behind stuffed animals or significant others, our trio were not.  They were out and about watching Grant O’Rourke, an Outlander comrade, perform a play. I know it’s silly, but that makes me so proud.

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WHEN AND WHERE:

Well, that’s easy to answer, on Starz of course!  They’ll be playing a marathon this weekend so you have a chance to see all the fantastic performances again. Plus,it’s another great excuse to drink whiskey. The finale is scheduled for 9:00 EST on May 30th. And then the l o n g e s t  drought ever recorded in fandom history begins.  You remember all the craziness of the last drought? Yeah, well…lots more fans…and time ….

AND, OH WHAT THE HELL, LETS THROW IN AN OPINION PIECE:

I don’t pretend to know anything about what kind of performance would earn an actor an Emmy, but damn….I gotta think these would be in the running. Outlander and its actors have continued to be brave about enacting difficult or controversial scenes. In fact, their efforts have been nothing short of ground-breaking. So, I’ll be doing my part in the fan-dom’s efforts to get these actors an Emmy…because that would be nice and might help them get the chance to do what they love some more. #EmmysforOutlander

Why hammers and nails are important…. a look at Outlander’s production design

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Note: As you probably know I’ve been out of commission, but I felt like writing today, so I finished this piece I started awhile back!

So, I was on my iPad scanning for Outlander season two news. I’ve been anxiously awaiting a look at Terry Dresbach’s costume designs for Season two. Outlander in Paris was going to be so different from Outlander in Scotland and as lovely as the costumes were for Season one, we just knew the Paris court was going to be more wonderful than we could imagine! Even Terry thought she had “outdone” herself! So, when I saw a link on Twitter to our first pics of Claire in Paris, I quickly clicked!  I was a little startled to see this!

EW Claire Paris

My first response was ” what the? ” and the second “why?”.  The green screen behind the dress did nothing to flatter Caitriona Balfe or the dress she was wearing.  The situation was soon rectified and we were treated to a lovely picture of Claire in an appropriately French room.

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However, as it often happens in this fandom, the green screen pic started a flurry of rumors and conjecture.  Was Paris going to be CGI?! Why else would they have Claire on a green screen? Terry tried to get ahead of what she KNEW would happen by tweeting that all sets were created by Jon Gary Steele, production designer.

Too late…at least for my curiosity’s sake…I wanted to know more about that green screen.

I knew that green screens are widely used and with the advent of more and more sophisticated technology it is often difficult to even know when a green screen is being used.  It seemed to me the use of green screens provided some definite advantages for film productions.  The screen allows the production to move to locales without actually packing up the whole kit and kaboodle and going there!  It seems more cost effective. So, I wondered why it seemed important to Terry that fans knew the sets were created by Gary Steele? What advantages did hammer and nail sets offer a production versus ‘virtual” sets?

My research about production design started by drawing from my own early experiences watching theater. Overall, my experiences were very positive.  I saw a great version of Fiddler on the Roof performed on a thrust stage at Kent State and some great small productions in Pittsburgh and Cleveland where I was so close to the actors I could have touched them.  As I said, mostly positive experiences, except for…one… I was invited to see an Italian opera and…well…let me explain.

It was my very first opera and I was very excited! I knew I wouldn’t understand the language, but my friends assured me I would understand what was going on.  I’m sure that might have been the case, but for one thing.  For whatever reason, the production designer created  a malt shop for the opera and the performers were “teens” in poodle skirts and pompadours.  Believe me when I say this choice did nothing to advance or enhance the narrative.  I spent the entire production confused and baffled. I was really afraid the quizzical wrinkle between my brows wasn’t going to go away because I had REALLY tried to figure out why we were in that malt shop! Obviously, it made an impression on me, but not for the right reasons. What I learned that night was that production design can greatly impact the story being told.

I needed to know more about how production design affects the narrative being told so, I began reading. I very quickly realized that production designers have to have one of more difficult and yet, potentially satisfying jobs in film. These “jack of all trades” folks better be able to use both sides of their brains! Production designers are part architect, artist, McGyver, super collaborator, mathematician, expert on visual psychology and have the ability to see both the forest and the trees! These are the people who control the visual feel of a film. They can be the folks who talk the producers into malt shops and poodle skirts or…not.

Thank God.

Now, feeling a bit better informed about production designers, I set about to find the advantages and disadvantages of using a green screen vs hammer and nail sets.  During my reading, a theme began to emerge; actors and acting.

Acting is a craft. What determines the difference between a good performance and a so-so performance is the actor’s  ability to make us suspend our disbelief. We need to feel as if these are real people in a real place. There are things that help an actor with his/her craft like being able to play off of other actors (my fav Outlander scene is the fight at the river), costumes, being in a particular locale and performing on realistic sets.  These things can help actors create and stay in character and help them create realistic performances.  Green screens…it appears…aren’t very helpful in this endeavor. I read article after article about how difficult it was to act in a film that involved green screens. The following excerpt addresses the reality of performing on a green screen.

“Forget the scene partners. Forget steeping yourself in the atmosphere of the set. Instead, try rehearsing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet opposite a tennis ball, because in today’s digital Hollywood, actors not only need to know how to relate to other actors, they need to know how to deliver an emotionally convincing performance against thin air, a void that months later will be filled in by a computer.”   HOW TO ACT IF YOUR CO-STAR IS A GREEN SCREEN  May 6, 2001, Micheal Mallory. Special to the L.A. Times

One of my favorite pictures of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe is the day they first saw the set of the Great Hall.

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To me their faces say it all. Their reaction to the set confirms what it means for an actor to be acting on “hammer and nail” sets versus a green screen. They had to be excited to see the quality of Gary’s sets and feel what this would mean to their performances. They were going to be able to look around and feel themselves to be in 1743 Scotland. I remember Lotte Verbeek saying in one of the early promos that it only took her moments to get into character because the sets were so realistic. She said she would forget it was a set.

It isn’t hard to see why the reality of playing a scene in a set like this

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or this

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is more helpful to an actor than performing on a green screen.  I found this excerpt from an article about what it was like to act on a green screen very enlightening.

“Moving through doorways shaped like trapezoids without penetrating the scenery was a challenge,”…. “It was a bit frustrating to get the hang of paying so much attention to tape marks [and] hanging strings to represent your boundaries and still focus on being honest and truthful about your life as the character.” IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN By Ben Rock | Posted April 7, 2011

Ron Moore, executive producer for Outlander, said in an early promo that they were going to try and convince the audience that this really happened to Claire. His choice to film in Scotland and remain as historically accurate as they could was crucial to immersing us in that belief. Gary’s production designs then brought it all to fruition. He helped create the alien world of 1743 with hammer and nails and plaster and…vision.

I know there are times when green screens can be very useful in telling a story visually, Colum’s and Ian’s legs come to mind. However, I can’t help but believe that Sam and Tobias’ performance in that dungeon cell were enhanced by being in the dark stark space Gary created for that scene. It felt real.  The sets Mr. Steele created for Outlander must  be a gift to the actors.

Because the actors were able to move through real space, we viewers were able to take inventory with Claire in her surgery, help prepare a feast in Mz. Fitz’s open hearth, dance on stage with Claire or wait our turn to pledge fealty to Colum in the Hall. Gary’s version of 1743 Scotland was breathtakingly believable and I can’t wait to dance with Claire in Versailles and nurse along side Buton.  Green screens have their place, but i’m grateful that it has a small place in Outlander.

P.S. I have I told you how much I love this puppet show!

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Here’s to the costumes…what a fan learned from Outlander

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My maiden voyage into fandom has been filled with treasure troves of friendship, self-discovery and unique opportunities to learn the lay of the land that is film-making. In short, Outlander on Starz has been a singular experience. One of the reasons this experience has been so positive is my  interaction with the author and the folks making my favorite book come to life on the screen. I never dreamed I would have such access and the reality of their willingness to talk with and share with fans has resulted in a life-enriching experience.

Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for the show, has been one of the more open and accessible folks.  She very quickly realized that fans were genuinely interested in what she does and how she does it. She has been open to questions and even started a blog to help satisfy our curiosity about her creative process TerryDresbach.com. I have laughingly said she is like the Wizard of Oz and has let us see behind the “creative curtain”.  She has let us into her world of research, sketches, swatches, and interpretation. It has been fascinating.

Like many fans, I’ve been oh-ing and awe-ing over her creations. I’ve listened to her explain her creative choices and how she has blended historical accuracy with the needs and the realities of making a film. I’ve learned a lot, but per usual for me, there was an “aha moment” that caused me to look a little deeper. It was this.

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I’ve heard Terry say that costume design is about telling a story and I guess at some level I understood that, but this was the moment I think I truly understood what she was saying. HER COSTUMES HELP TELL THE STORY. Yeah…we understood that…I can hear you saying, but for me it took this minimal costuming to clarify what I learned.

“What is it that costume designers truly do for a production?” was the question I clarified for myself when I heard Terry explain this scene. Her choice to let these characters be clothed in pale linen and their own skin allowed the viewer to focus on what the actors were saying.  We were not distracted by the “costumes”. However, I’ve come to see that her design was about more than that; there was a connection to the Abby and the practicality of nursing Jamie’s wounds and innocence and intimacy and vulnerability and unity with the set design and….probably a lot more.  The thought that went into those simple garments staggers.

Here, in this scene, I understood the genius that is her costume designing.

I’ve come to understand that it isn’t about parading beautiful clothes across the screen, but about helping the viewer become immersed in the character and story. She makes her costuming a seamless part of the storytelling. Sometimes, she chooses to make something stand out on purpose and sometimes, like the abbey scene, the costumes make the scene standout by making the costumes not stand out.

I wanted to know more, so I did a little lite research. I read an interesting excerpt from the book Filmcraft: Costume Design  by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the 2015 Edith Head Award for the Advancement and Education of the Art of Costume Design recipient.  Ms. Landis says that the role of a costume designer is to design the people in the show.  She says that film costuming serves two purposes,

” …the first is to support the narrative by creating authentic characters (people); and the second is composition, to provide balance within the frame using color, texture, and silhouette.”

The abby scene illustrates this point perfectly.  Terry’s choice in color and simplicity helps, “support the narrative and create a unified fictional space”.

Now, I’m thinking…where else did I see this color and simplicity? When I realized where, it literally brought tears to my eyes…the Wedding.

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Once again, her design tells the story of intimacy, innocence, and vulnerability.  There is nothing in the design to get in the way of the words and yet it enhances what is happening on the screen.

Her designs are helping to create authentic people within the parameters of a historical period and with an idea to each character’s personality and place in the story. A case in point is Black Jack Randall and Frank Randall.  I remember Ron Moore, the executive producer who just happens to be Terry’s husband and the person who thankfully talked her into designing for this show, describing his watching Tobias Menzies trying on his costumes.  He said he quickly went and got Terry to see Tobias, “doing it again”. What he meant by this was the transformation that seemed to occur when Tobias put on his costumes. He stood differently,…his body language was different.  The costumes helped him create and become his character.  Terry “designed” Black Jack Randall and Frank.

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I’m starting to notice other little touches and nods to character, color and texture in her designs. I was admiring the elaborate and beautiful wedding dress when I realized Terry was telling the story of two weddings! Both in silver! And, both were telling something about Claire’s role in two different time periods.  In 1945, Claire is wed in a beautiful silver suit with simple lines that is as modern and confident as she is herself.

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In contrast, in her 1743 dress she is completely the opposite.  Once again dressed in silver to be wed, she is anything but modern, simple or confident.

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She looks like a fairy-tale, but the elaborate gown only accentuates that she is a stranger in a strange land. I can’t help but speculate about what else this deliberate design choice was saying about Claire and the story. Is it that the more fairy-tale like dress foreshadowed the fantasy quality of Jamie and Claire’s relationship? Is the rushed and simple wedding significant of Frank and Claire’s doomed relationship, etc…

Once again, costumes help tell the story and design the “people”. A costume designer’s job is to help realize the screenplay, but, I’ve learned that isn’t an easy thing to do and my respect for Terry and the job she tackles has grown!

…A designer’s work is inextricable from the theatrical context and collaborative interrelationships in which they work—the dialogue, the actor, the cinematography, the weather, the season, the time of day, the choreography of movement and a dozen other dilemmas all present challenges… Deborah Nadoolman Landis © 2012

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Terry doesn’t do this all on her own. Her designs are brought to beautiful fruition by a very talented team. I’m sure her love and appreciation of them is great. The quality of workmanship is obvious and their dedication to their craft very much appreciated by this fan! They make me proud!

So, here’s to the costumes, their designers and makers because of you Outlander is beautiful and the characters and story have a soul.