Act your way out of a paper bag


“He couldn't act his way out of a paper bag,” is an expression that always makes me laugh. But what does it really mean? I believe it means an actor must start from simplicity, stripped down in order to achieve authenticity and then build the character from there. Unsuccessful actors won't even be able to find their way out of a paper bag if they can't do it.

Today I heard an interview with film director Kenneth Brannah talking about the success of his films, even high concept fantasy films, that are well-received by critics. The interviewer asked if Brannah's experience on the stage helped root his films in authenticity no matter the subject.

I paraphrase his answer here. “It comes from the center of things. For example: even if there is an ice castle or Thor on a rainbow bridge with horses and fighting and the universe collapsing around him, we start from two people just having a conversation. Forget every green screen thing around the actors and all that distraction. We strip it way. It’s just two people talking, listening to each other and we see how that works out. What is the intention of the scene? What are we trying to accomplish here with these two characters and what is the point of this interaction. How do we listen to eachother and react honestly? Then we add layer upon layer and no matter how fantastical, we’ve never escaped the truth of the scene and the honesty of the performances.”

The striking similarity to marketing isn’t lost on me here. Like film, we markerters need to start with the core message before we add the visuals and the fantasy so to speak. What are we hoping to accomplish here? Is it coming from the truth at hand and the honesty of the interaction with the audience? What is the root of what we are trying to say? Can we answer this truthfully? If we can, then we add all the other elements: courage of position, cleverness of thought and striking visuals with characters juxtaposed against each other or their settings.

Then we deploy that creative across the channels: marketing, advertising, social media, publicity.

It’s all a performance of honesty.

It’s not about the fantasy. To the contrary, its about the truth and honesty that live within the fantasy.

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