What is it You Really Want? Finding Your Objectives

    If you’ve had any training in acting, you’ve come across the idea of objectives. While I’m not a master in using them effectively, I’ve improved and found principles I thought I’d share in order for you to act as believably as possible.

    Laura Bond, author of TEAM For Actors: A Holistic Approach to Embodied Acting, has a section in her book on objectives which helped me immensely. If you want further explanation, check it out here.

    Objective – Something aimed at or striven for

    Synonyms – aim, intention, goal

    People are governed by what they want. Every human being has desires and acts accordingly – they are our driving force. The same applies to our characters.

    Determining the objective of a character is a bit more complicated than thinking what your character wants in a scene. It’s easy to choose ineffective and weak objectives. Below are some guidelines to help you determine effective objectives:

    Where are your character’s needs rooted?

    First of all, you will need to understand your character’s basic needs and motivations.

    Is your character seeking to fulfill basic physiological needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, physical comfort) or is your character desiring security (shelter, order, stability etc.)?

    How about their social needs? Is your character primarily seeking love, acceptance and relationship, or is he/she really looking for ways to satisfy his/her ego (achievement, independence, prestige, recognition)?

    Is your character driven to gain more knowledge or striving towards beauty? What if your character can’t be bothered by beauty, but ultimately seeks spiritual fulfilment?

    Try to determine which of these needs your character is primarily seeking after, bearing in mind their needs and values might contradict your own.

    E.g. “My character wants to be loved.”

    Are you referring to your character in first person?

    Rather than talking about your character in third person, identify with him/her as soon as possible by talking about your character in first person. This obviously applies to your objectives as well.

    E.g. Instead of saying “She wants to be loved”, embody your character, bridging the distance by saying “I want to be loved …”.

    Does your objective call for your partner’s participation?

    This is straightforward. Don’t forget to involve your scene partner(s). The other character(s) is normally also the reason for conflict. If there’s no conflict, you will not captivate your audience.

    What is your character’s relationship to the others in your scene? What do you want from them?

    E.g. “I want him to show me he loves me.”

    Are your objectives focused on what you want?

    An easy trap to fall into is focusing on what your character doesn’t want. First, understand what he/she wants before you focus on the obstacles.

    Figure out the positive aspects of your character’s journey.

    E.g. Instead of saying “I don’t want him to fall in love with her”, say “I want him to show he loves me.”

    What is the desired outcome?

    What would be the perceived victory of the situation in the scene be for your character? What could the other character possibly do or say in order for you to feel victorious?

    Make sure that you have a clear picture of what that would look like. Be specific.

    E.g. Instead of defining your objective as “I want to be loved,” try “I want him to say ‘I love you’.”

    Is your victory difficult to attain?

    Creating a sense of urgency in the scene will aid you as the actor immensely.

    Actors normally call this ‘raising the stakes of the scene’.

    We have previously talked about imagining the perfect victory for your character. Let’s take it up a notch and make sure you’re selecting a victory extremely difficult to attain.

    You might set them so high, the victory will never happen. Allow for the possibility, that way it doesn’t become unrealistic.

    E.g. “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date.”

    Does your objective sustain the scene?

    In other words, do your objectives motivate your character throughout the duration of the entire scene? If the victory happens in the middle of the scene, your character would have nothing left to fight for.

    This goes further than the individual scene.

    E.g. The previous example “I want him to say ‘I love you’ before the end of our date” only works if the scene ends when the date ends. If the above victory happens in the middle of the scene, the objective does not sustain the entire scene.

    Do you have main objectives and scene objectives that carry your character through the scene/film/play? What are the general unsatisfied needs your character is wanting to fulfil, and what are the scene-specific needs in need of fulfillment?

    Are your scene objectives in line with your main objectives?

    Know the story.

    Of course you need to have a good understanding of the story and its intention in order for you to be able to choose strong objectives. Your objectives have to be in line with the intentions of the script and your character’s given circumstances.

    Practice.

    If you need to practise more, watch and analyze scenes of movies and other actors that were particularly engaging and see if you can find out what the objectives of the respective characters were.

    I hope these guidelines help when you’re stuck and need a little inspiration.

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    • Annette is part of the acting team with The Initiative Production Company. She is a German South-African, loves the smell of freshly baked bread and constantly has a list in her head of countries to visit and more languages to learn.

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