Screenwriter and producer, Jacob Kamhis, has been a student at The Acting Center in Los Angeles. We caught up with him in L.A. following his production of two renewable energy documentaries being broadcast by a TV station in Honolulu. He also has had writing assignments, including a recent action-adventure screenplay for a production company in Beijing, China.
JK: When I switched from magazines and newspapers to screenwriting, I saw a lot of competition. People take classes in screenplay structure, character, dialogue and other areas of technical expertise. To work with more producers, I wanted an edge. I enrolled in the classes they took and added acting. A writer should self-educate, watch good shows and understand the market. But I felt being an actor was key to understanding what an actor needs in a screenplay—especially A-list actors seeking to advance or maintain their careers. They drive financing so the screenplay is bought and the movie made. Producers thrive on unusual and intriguing characters. But if you’ve written anything, you probably have heard: “We have seen this before.” How are intriguing characters created? To me, it’s a philosophical question: Can a writer create new and intriguing characters for actors without knowing what an actor does?
TAC: Why did you choose The Acting Center for acting and scene study?
JK: A friend told me about The Acting Center so I checked it out. Up front, it was clear the instructors do not tell the student how to act during the daily training and scene sessions. Instructors will not critique a student, especially when the student fleshes out characters and everyone watches. Instead, the student hones acting skills by virtue of The Acting Center’s body of exercises. Just like writers, actors embark on a journey in personal and professional development. If one person shapes and molds every acting student, then all we have on the big screen is the same old stuff. However, the instructors do provide an acknowledgment for the work or effort the student shows. I knew my material was well received — even when I started. I felt good about it and was eager to advance. I also liked we could remain true to ourselves, which instilled confidence. Self-defeating thoughts like “Am I doing this right?” vanished the first day because I was in charge. In one class, we watched a movie at home and discussed the characters as a group the next day. Listening to the others showed me what about the character turns actors on.
TAC: How do you use acting and scene study techniques when you write or produce?
JK: Screenwriters are taught there should be a lot of “white” on a page. That means unnecessary information or over-description slows the read. Scene study lessons honed my skill in putting on the screenplay page only what should be there. During my student productions at The Acting Center, I practiced including only props that added depth to the character or mood of the scene. I now use clues and subtle symbolism that immediately connects with an audience or makes them wonder. Since practicing the scene study, my scene writing is tighter and flows better.
TAC: What was your favorite aspect of The Acting Center classes?
JK: I really enjoyed the monologues. I’m not an emotional kind of guy, but I certainly expressed emotion during the scenes. It was a personal breakthrough. The audience loved the performance much to my surprise. And that achievement actually elevated my writing. Acting and scene study, in my opinion, are valuable for any endeavor. They are communication.
TAC: Did acting and scene study classes change your life?
JK: Writing starts with the distance between your head and the computer. But that space has to grow larger, much larger to encompass characters, story, locations and their inter-relationship. The Acting Center extended that distance — broadly. Warm-up exercises shook off constraints of the regular world so we could form the world of the character. Fleshing out characters using traits was often challenging so you had to dig deeper than ever. Class scenes at the end of each evening allowed you to work on your character or just be in a space of your own choosing. When everything fell into place, there was a lot more to write about. I also became more outgoing with people in general.
TAC: So what class is next?
JK: Improv. During pitches and events, producers want to see a spark in the writer. I want to be more entertaining. The more tools you have, the more you can do in the entertainment business.
TAC: Any words of advice for aspiring writers?
JK: When you write, you are creating something out of nothing. Success without overcoming barriers is not possible. Have a great time succeeding!
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Student Spotlight – Jacob Kamhis