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I’ve started doing a “Best of” post for the past few years, so here it is for 2009. You can read the entirety of 53 weeks of posting in the pdf of Redefine-2009.

Best Monthly Focus – Improvise
My favorite monthly focus was back in July when I did something improv related every day of the month. It led to over 90 hours of improv, 23 shows seen, and 7 performances.  It was a blast.

Best Weekly Project – Solve a Rubik’s Cube
Ok, so maybe I’m a geek, but one of my favorite things from this year was learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube.  Why? Because it provides a mental challenge (and something I can do on conference calls at work), fills a childhood dream, and attracts the ladies… one of those might not be true.

Best Decision – Shoot from the Hip
It was a close call for the best decision of 2009; there was the AIN conference, the goal to improve my tastes, and of course having Chick Fil A for 3 times in one day.  But ultimately it was my decision to the do the Shoot from the Hip project that I think was the best.  Not only did I get a chance to learn more about film, play 2 major characters in a movie, and have an absolute blast, but I also decided to take Magnet Classes as a result where I’ve met some amazing people and really grown as an improviser.

Best Personal Development – Tasting More
I’ve had the same general tastes in food for my whole life.  The practice to try more foods and drinks has led to some interesting revelations, wider variety in food options, and a few gross faces.  Say what you want about my eating habits, but at least I’m trying, right?

Best Travel – Milwaukee
2009 was another year of fun travel.  I went to Cincinnati (no surprise), Philadelphia, DC, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Portland, and upstate New York.  Of all the trips, Milwaukee was my favorite as I was able to do non-stop improv at the ComedySportz tournament and meet some awesome, like-minded people.

Best Improv Show – BASH
I’ve seen a number of amazing shows this year, but the most impressive was definitely the one-man improvised musical starring Blaine Swen.  It was hilarious, heart-felt, and incredibly inspiring.

Best Improv Performance– Duo Show at The Creek
I was fortunate enough to perform a lot this past year.  Some shows went well, others not so much, but my favorite show I performed in this year was a duo show with Woodruff at The Creek.  I might have had funnier shows, but it was the most fun and showed I could rebound from one of my worst shows (which took place about an hour earlier).

Best Movie I Saw – Avatar
While it may not be the most original story, Avatar is a great example of original storytelling.  Fusing real life and CGI, the movie takes you to a new world that you feel apart of.  Definitely my favorite of 2009.

Best Book I Read – Story
I got through a number of good books this year (Outliers, In the Blink of an Eye, Sorrows of Young Werther to name a few), but my favorite was Story my Robert McKee.  It changed the way that I watch and understand movies and anything else with narrative structure.  It’s a fascinating perspective.

Solve a Rubiks Cube

Though I no longer posted a joke every day in 2009, I did start to use Twitter more.  Some of the tweets were informational (like every time I was at Shake Shack), and some were just observations or thoughts that I had.

Below are my best tweets of 2009.  You’ll notice that I started having better tweets later in the year when I finally started using Twitter for more than just status updates.

My Best Tweets of 2009

subway tip #241 – even if someones ipod is loud enough for everyone to hear, it is not a radio and you should not make requests 8:39 AM Jan 15th, 2009

if a tree falls in the woods, and theres no one around, do the other trees make fun of it? 9:12 AM Mar 5th, 2009

just had an ekg, yeah you know me 11:57 AM Apr 1st, 2009

24 and halo. its like i never left college 11:58 PM Apr 20th, 2009

i wonder how mlk jr got to dreaming about civil rights, my dreams are always about work or showing up somewhere naked 7:53 AM Sep 17th, 2009

people who say “someone has a case of the mondays” give me a “case of the mondays.” 11:49 AM Sep 21st, 2009

and with the coats come the uggs. ugh 8:52 AM Sep 29th, 2009

saw a commercial for product that grows your eyelashes. seriously? eye lashes do not need viagra 8:36 AM Oct 2nd, 2009

anyone know any midgets? I want to befriend one to get over my fear. does that make me a bad person? 2:54 PM Oct 4th, 2009

if someone is appointed to a position, and then removed from power, are they disappointed? 6:35 PM Oct 7th, 2009

Gave a homeless man a pack of Disney Princess fruit snacks on the subway; now we both have a story to tell our friends. 3:47 PM Oct 12th, 2009

the band earth wind and fire was two elements away from being able to call captain planet. 2:31 PM Oct 20th, 2009

i always forget my umbrella. i blame resident evil. 8:31 PM Oct 24th, 2009

not a fan of tights under shorts. just wear pants. 11:59 PM Nov 6th, 2009

advantage to working from home: pizza rolls for lunch. i am half man, half child. 1:39 PM Nov 9th, 2009

primordial dwarf just gave me attitude for telling him the elevator was going down. wanted to say “dont get short w/ me” but didnt 4:50 PM Nov 28th, 2009

november only has 30 days in it. i know this because of my knuckles. 1:26 PM Nov 30th, 2009

i just took a step and realized i missed biggie. i guess diddy and faith evans were right. 2:31 PM Dec 3rd, 2009

i wonder if animals wonder what its like to be human like i wonder what its like to be an animal. i wonder if stevie wonders this too. 10:28 AM Dec 6th, 2009

great start to humpday / pants and shoes soaked from the rain / should have worked from home #haiku 9:27 AM Dec 9th, 2009

forgot how big things are in the midwest. the stores, the portions, the people… 11:08 AM Dec 23rd, 2009

so now the question is, what do you do on Christmas Adam? 2:26 PM Dec 26th, 2009

just tried alligator. if youre wondering, i did say “see you later…” before eating it. 12:02 AM Dec 31st, 2009

Instructor: Louis Kornfeld
Date Taken: November 2009

After going through the curriculum at UCB, my biggest weakness as an improviser was reacting emotionally.  After great experiences with Shoot from the Hip (full of Magnet people) and the Dynamic Duos class, I decided to go through the Magnet program with an emphasis on improving as an emotional player.

I was able to skip Level 1 and started with Level 2.  Here are the notes.

To find out more about the Magnet training program, go here.

Class Notes

  • Start your scene by reacting to something that has already happened
  • Don’t present your idea, embody or be the idea
  • Take a suggestion and think about the emotions it inspires
  • Deal with your own honesty on stage
  • Your scene partner on stage can be your “suggestion”—take what you notice about each other and personalize it
  • Theres enormous value into trusting your instincts and reactions to what your scene partner is giving
  • Make an offer and then pay attention to their reaction, that’s your new suggestion
  • “How well am I performing” is one of the most worthless questions in improv.  If you are asking that, you aren’t paying attention
  • Scenes shouldn’t be hard. they should have energy, not effort
  • Law of adjacency – given one very specific detail, there is a another specific detail that is related to it.  Improv is communicating those adjancecies
  • You can “sell” anything to the audience if you commit
  • The one thing we don’t want to be on stage is neutral. don’t be the “too cool for school” attitude
  • Take full ownership of what you do on stage
  • Specific thoughts lead to specific action. if you make a decision in your mind as to what’s going on, it will inform your decisions
  • Big truths are made up of a bunch of tiny truths
  • Positive emotion is not a weak one
  • Don’t forget the different shades of an emotion. be specific—gloom is different than depression
  • An emotional reaction gives you another thing to explore. explore how you feel about what’s happening on stage
  • Strong reactions beget strong reactions. when you don’t have them it forces you to have to think instead of reacting
  • Dirty little secret of improv: it doesn’t really matter what your reaction is so long as its committed
  • Heightening = magnifying the behavior
  • Theres a lot more power in exploring what you’ve already created instead of just creating new ideas
  • Improv is not just about making shit up, its about using what you have

Continuing on the theme of me not really helping much to create it, but it being awesome and promoting The Movie, here’s the Movie Poster made possible by Rob Hugel, Don Fanelli, and Keith Bethea.

600 the movie

Instructors: Neil Casey and Dyna Moe
Date Taken: October 2009

Straight out of my first 501, I was selected to do the The Movie form, and found it is a blast to play and can help you become a better improviser regardless of what form you’re doing.  I feel like I was stuck in my head for most of this class (possibly due to my lack of deep movie genre understanding), but still learned a ton. 

Find out more about UCB’s training program here.

Note: This level of class is now known as Advanced Study Performance and can be any type of performance. Our class focused on The Movie form; although the notes are in regard to the form, they’re also good to keep in mind for other forms of improv.

Class #1

  • simplified version of the form: scene paint 3 scenes, then tell the title, then we act out the scenes (with the characters that were in it)
  • don’t puppet the people in the scene, just describe what the audience can see
  • same thing as all improv, there are no take backs
  • your title is your last chance to help solidify the story and the genre
  • “you can trip in improv, just don’t fall. if something comes up justify it and its not a mistake”
  • don’t feel like you have to come up with a great screenplay and surprise the audience with plot. the fun of the form comes from seeing how you explore a genre

Class #2

  • if your 3 scene paintings establish the hero, villain, and object/macguffin then you’ll make it eaiser to tell a story and know the genre
  • there are certain characteristics to identify hero (light, handsome, doing something nice) and villain (ugly, wears dark, doing something mean)

Class #3

  • be efficient. if its not genre, character or game specific, you don’t need it
  • your scene painted scenes should be far apart from each other. we want the characters to have to “travel” to meet each other
  • we follow game in this form. we don’t have to create a super plot, that will come from the genre.
  • PLOT DOES NOT MATTER!

Class #4

  • take the genre specifics and figure out how to turn it into game and heighten
  • opening focuses on setting up genre
  • middle is all about genre game
  • end is about the big finish
  • the first set of scenes are your backdrop for the rest of your movie. that means don’t follow plot
  • don’t try to combine  two genres, just do one well. it doesn’t have to be more clever than that.
  • you can give gifts to the other scenes by referencing them
  • its up to anyone to decide/say hero/object/villain. its up to everyone to support it.

Class #5

  • back line has to be active in the climax
  • end the movie saying “the end” and the booth will black out
  • the plot is moved by the cuts and locations you make. play the game in the actual scenes
  • the villain has to be villainous / evil. the hero has to have a want
  • make stories / plot as simple as possible
  • play your role!

Class #6

  • its everybody’s job to decide what movie we’re doing
  • if we don’t have a clear idea of what the movie is after the title, were behind the curve and need big decisions
  • when you realize what movie it is, its your job to make moves that let your fellow players what it is

Class #7

  • the genre is like the “real world” in normal improv, ie it is the baseline
  • you don’t want everything to be silly, make an honest take on the genre and find the one specific thing you are going to heighten and play
  • even when things get intense or energetic, you have to all be on the same page
  • the biggest key is to just dive in and have fun

Class #8

  • hollywood is racist. in many genres the race of the character can matter
  • the climax should come at about 20 minutes in
  • skip the extraneous details in the scene painting, keep only the essentials, but with that, be specific
  • its ok to lose characters as you go. just keep the important ones (hero and villain)
  • like always, play the laugh to find your game

Show #1

  • make sure you use the suggestion somehow so its clear that you are using it
  • when you’re playing the hero, its often the straight character
  • give the hero scenes where he can be the hero
  • the villain has to be strong and pursue his evilness
  • allow yourself to look stupid within the confines of the genre
  • inhabit your character

Show #2

  • even if you’re having fun, don’t forget to play the form
  • avoid competing with each other on stage in terms of moves
  • the camera angles buy you time! they give you time and improve your show
  • you gotta know the why’s 

Show #3

  • if you set up game moves, don’t forget to play them throughout because its low hanging fruit
  • be precise with your moves, p’s and q’s

Show #4

  • even with an interesting character, don’t forget the games of the other people
  • heighten and explore your games
  • drew: be more aggressive, be willing to give bigger reactions
  • help each other with your games by putting people in interesting scenes or combinations of characters
  • name each other
  • if you find a game you don’t want to play, you have to make sure you find a new one to replace it

A promo video for one of my improv groups, Slapstick Picnic.

You should never date a(n) …

  • Optometrist because you’ll never see eye to eye.
  • Historian because she records everything you do.
  • Proctologist because she’ll be a pain in the butt.

Instead, you should date a(n)

  • Police officer because she has her own handcuffs.
  • Stock trader because shes used to the ups and downs.
  • Construction woman because she knows how to screw.

I just got back from the Shoot from the Hip project and had an amazing time.  Not only did I meet some great people and make a pretty solid movie, I learned a ton.

I learned more about filming in 10 days than I could have by reading 100 books.  Here are some of the bits of wisdom I picked up on making a film:

Acting

  • Just like in improv, you have to interact with your fellow actors. Be paying more attention to them than yourself.
  • Once you connect to your characters background, motivation, and objective, it becomes a lot easier to react as they would.
  • Be willing to have fun with your characters and make interesting choices.  Something as simple as having skittles with you can turn into a symbolic moment for the movie.
  • When shooting the film out of order, remind yourself in each scene where you are in the story so you still have the right progression as a character.
  • When improvising scenes, establish the important beats of the scene that need to be hit and then go. On the next takes, keep what worked and refine what didn’t

Editing

  • If you create a consistent hierarchy of folders on all of the computers you are working on, it will make it easier to transfer files and save the Final Cut Pro project files.
  • Watching your edits on a big screen will help you identify small fixes such as needed cuts or audio issues.
  • At the end of the day, continuity is less important than the performance. But it is what will set your movie apart from being amateur.
  • If you “notice” an edit, it’s not good.
  • Multiple camera angles make switching between takes easier. Also having shots of the other person (and not being able to see the speakers mouth) allows you to use the best dialog without worry about syncing.
  • Just like in improv, reactions make the joke. Your edits should include the best reactions.
  • Cut in the middle of dialog when possible to maintain audio continuity for the audience. This also looks more professional and allows you to see reactions.
  • Shots without actors acting or speaking can be used to round out the movie (things like establishing shots)
  • If you sync all of your angles into a sequence you can quickly jump back and forth between the two angles.
  • One way to do editing is in the first pass “edit for radio”–just worry about getting the audio where you want. then you can adjust the video as needed.
  • When possible, the editor should be the one to log and capture video since they will need to be watching all footage anyway to do their editing.
  • When editing as an ensemble, you can create a master editing list that assigns scenes or chunks to each editor.

Directing

  • When shooting two camera, if the OTS or CU shots are shot at the same time, then its easier for the editor to do back and forth edits (as opposed to shooting one cu and one wide and switching back and forth btwn takes).
  • You can use lighting, sound, and camera placement to help tell your story.
  • Allow for time to improvise in scenes. The best moments of the film can come from completely improvised bits in the moment.
  • Having multiple cameras is easier on the actors, helps with continuity and shortens the shoot time, but is more footage for the editor, requires more people and potentially restricts the types of shots you can do.

Production

  • Being able to do every role helps you appreciate them more and realize what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  • The more filled out a continuity sheet, the more helpful it is to the editor.
  • To help the editor, create a document that lists which tape and scene numbers were used for a particular scene.
  • The setup is usually what takes the longest, not the takes. If the director can pre-plan as much as possible the crew can get there and set up. The talent can then come in once its setup (assuming they are rehearsed and have also already talked with the director).
  • It can be tough to balance wanting to be efficient and stay on schedule and also taking the time to have fun and play with different decisions and options
  • For scheduling, print each scene on a single strip. Highlight the different combinations of INT/EXT and DAY/NIGHT.
  • Group each location time together and piece together the scenes that can be shot together.
  • Organize all of the scenes into respective days taking into account location, time, characters, and costumes.
  • With an ordered scene list, list the needed crew people for each one (and call time if different).
  • The assistant director is there to make the directors job easier. They’re the ones that keep things moving, on schedule. They have to be more in command even if to the point of sounding like a jerk.
  • The AD yells quiet on set and then roll cameras. When the cameras are rolling and focused on slate, they each say speeding. The slate person then reads the slate information and drops the clapper. The camera people then get to their frame and say frame when they are there. The director then says action when ready and cut when done.
  • The clapper is incredibly important when using more than 1 camera. The visual helps with the editing process for logging and the clapper hitting is the first nonblurry frame and is what allows you to sync audio at the sound of the clap.
  • When slating, its better to actually clap the sticks instead of letting them fall. This will help in editing because the clap will be more succinct and the top won’t bounce.
  • Having a list of all of the beats of the movie is important. Then ultimately having a list of every scene plus a couple of sentences about the crux of the scene, major character changes or information, and any key lines
  • Masking tape on floor can help you set your marks (even for things like tripods).
  • Script supervisors are responsible for continuity of things like costume, actor movements, props, etc.
  • You can take digital pictures to track prop locations and wardrobe.
  • Slating at the beginning will help editing (both on camera recording and on the log).
  • Script supervisor can also track how each scene went (good takes, mistakes).

Lighting/Sound

  • When first setting up a scene, first try to control the environment (sound and lighting).
  • Light is like water–you can have direct hard light or when you bounce it off something, it will spread and also become softer.  Gels can change the ambience of the light.
  • Work to make your lighting and sound seem realistic (you almost don’t notice it).
  • Top and back light can make someone pop out more.
  • Use a blanket on the wall or floor to try to muffle any echo in a room.

Writing

  • To determine the plot, think of each storyline separately and decide on each of their resolutions. Then list all scenes and beats for each one and match up where they overlap.
  • For the story, write down all of the scenes on small cards and then rearrange them into the flow of the movie.

Camera

  • For each location (and really any new shots) the camera settings for light and sound should be checked.
  • To get focus, zoom in on your main focus point, get focus and then zoom to frame.
  • Main types of shots include wide/master, establishing, closeup, ecu, two shots, over the shoulder.
  • Remember the rule of two thirds when framing.

Instructor: Armando Diaz
Date Taken: August 2009

Inspired by the likes of 2-Square and TJ & Dave, I really wanted to try out 2-person improv.  Not only is it amazingly fun and challenging to do, it also helps you become a stronger improviser for any form.

The following notes are from my first class at The Magnet Theater. Learn more about the Magnet training program here.

The Dynamic Duo class is focused on teaching how to do a 2-person improv show. You sign up with a partner and work with them for 4 classes, and then do a 2-person show along with your fellow classmates.

Class #1

  • Two options for duo shows: 
  • (1) Long, slower paced, such as 1 scene with 2 characters 
  • (2) Faster paced, multiple scenes and multiple characters 
  • Starting slow helps you work on the fundamentals 
  • A 2 person scene has to be interesting. Try to find that first interesting thing
  • Be vulnerable & sensitive to everything your partner does 
  • Be aware of the subtext of your character’s choices 
  • Beginnings are 90% of the success of a scene 
  • Object work: make us see where you are 
  • We tend to favor dialog, don’t forget physicalization 
  • Your environment can inform your scene, can give you something to go back to 
  • You can have multiple characters in 1 environment 
  • Use different parts of the stage to define different parts of a location 
  • Having characters in a certain part of the stage makes it easier to go back to other characters 
  • For second beats, assume something has happened in between 
  • Your environment really helps establish where you are and is very helpful when you want to connect scenes 

Class #2 

  • Each scene you want to find something strong 
  • Always remember status 
  • The game deals with pattern of behavior (point of view) 
  • Don’t talk about a concept, explore it 
  • The most interesting part of any scene is the characters’ reactions to things in the scene 
  • Make a choice of who you are 
  • At the top of scenes, it’s even more important to make declarations 
  • Avoid telling the story of your character, show it 
  • There’s a tendency to want to describe or explain your game, but its more rewarding if you just do it 
  • The details can really tell you about yourself, scene, or partner 
  • Personal details make your characters come to life 
  • Specific details are less risky than generic details 
  • Your object work should be good enough to define your location without you having to verbalize it 
  • Your first beats of scenes should be separate and distinct. it  gives you more variety when you bring them together 
  • Opening options: monologue, documentary, ms jackson (hot spot based on suggestion), invocation

Class #3

  • Start with a want or destination 
  • Your first scene should give you lots of possibilities 
  • Start with relationship between 2 people 

Class #4

  • Don’t worry about where your scene is going or how funny it is, worry about knowing your character and your relationship 
  • The objects in your scene can be extensions or at least tell us more about your character 
  • Monoscenes can still have beats that just happen in real time 
  • Edit on a laugh. you can always come back. 
  • Make your characters more distinctive so you can easily recognize them 
  • When you leave a scene and come back, give yourself the gift of time lapse and be in the middle of something 

Instructor: Tara DeFrancisco & Rick Prouty (CSz Chicago)
Date Taken: July 2009

Every year, ComedySportz has a tournament where all of the city teams get together to play, take workshops and hang out. This workshop was part of ComedySportz Tournament 2009 and covers tips on auditioning, for both shortform and longform improv.

Workshop Notes

  • Many auditions generally aren’t “warm” 
  • Generally about 10 people per audition 
  • Your audition starts well before your audition 
  • Your biggest demon in your audition is yourself 
  • 2 biggest things: 
  • (1) Make someone else look good 
  • (2) Do something for yourself (give assists and score goals) 
  • Annoyance Theater style:  Improv is like a plane crash—put your mask on first, then the child’s 
  • Audition Notes: 
  • Step forward, wave and say fact about you. In your “intro”:
  • A. Project and Confidence 
  • B. Have strong Vocal Quality 
  • C. The more real you are the better; don’t be “bit focused” 
  • The key is to be genuine 
  • “Psych out” tricks auditioners do: Not laughing; Calling out 1 person at a time; ”Please hold” and then whispers; ”We’d like to see ___ again.” 
  • Biggest keys: Confidence, projection, acting ability, make your scene partner look good, commitment to scenework 
  • ALWAYS Warm up before your audition