If you’ve  read the August 22nd entry this post will be easier to follow.

As actors we’re storytellers. The best way to tell a story is to hook your audience emotionally. Once you’ve hooked them emotionally, whether you’re the protagonist or the antagonist, the audience will follow the story wherever it goes because they will want to see you win…or lose.

In the previous post we discussed the importance of listening. By developing your listening skills you increase your ability to make discoveries. By making discoveries, and continuing to make them, you add variety to the scene. Adding variety keeps the audience engaged. Keeping the audience engaged enhances the storytelling. Good storytelling helps boost ticket sales. Generating strong box office receipts makes you bankable. Being bankable makes you are a desirable commodity. Being a desirable commodity means you work…a lot.

They don’t teach this in acting school but it is a reality of the business. Most film stars have a break-through movie. And part of the reason the project was successful was because of their ability to tell stories. Short Term 12 is a low budget film in the theatres now that is going to transform several members of the cast into stars. Why? Because they have done a masterful job of storytelling. The director and writer certainly played a role but the actors (most notably Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever and Keith Stanfield) are the ones who made the story come alive on the screen.

In order to heighten their storytelling those actors made a series of discoveries. Those discoveries sparked an emotion and those emotions  influenced how the actors, as the characters, were going to deliver their lines.

We call this the Line-to-Line Objectives (L2LOs). Learn how to to use this aspect of the technique you will be a better storyteller – guaranteed!Actors and camera crew on a film set

How does the L2LO thing work? When you’re acting, each line you have—even the so-called “throwaway lines,” means something. If they didn’t, the writer wouldn’t have included them. Your job is to figure out what each line means based on what you discovered and the emotions those discoveries stirred up in you.

Here is a short scene from the wonderful indie film Georgia that illustrates this point. Written by Barbara Turner and directed by Ulu Grosbard the film stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham.

Georgia is a story of sibling rivalry. Georgia is a successful singer who, as far as her sister Sadie is concerned, has everything: a fantastic career, a wonderful husband and two great kids. Sadie, the younger sister, has a drug and alcohol problem and can’t seem to get her life on track. Down on her luck Sadie moves in with her sister until she can get back on her feet. This is not the first time Sadie has done this.

The following is the way the actress who played Sadie in my class broke the scene down using L2LO’s. BTW the scene is much longer than what is here but this will give you an idea of how to create and use L2LO’s.

The Moment Before – Georgia has gone to town to run some errands. Sadie gets high while Georgia is gone. Georgia comes home much earlier than expected.

Scene from Sadie’s POV:  I’m in Georgia’s room, in her closet, looking through her stuff. Feeling good. That ‘lude is kicking in. Gosh, she has some beautiful things. Oh, wow, look at this blouse. I am totally trying this on. Excellent. It looks great. What’s that? A car? Shit, it’s Georgia’s truck. What’s she doing back? Okay, okay, everything is cool. Let me check my eyes. Good, good. (Giggling) She’ll never know I’m stoned. Okay, okay, pull it together. Go downstairs and tell her what a good girl her little sister is. 

I discover Georgia is home. I feel fear (anxiety) because I’m high and don’t want her to know. And I feel joy because I’m smarter than she is and she’ll never be able to figure out that I’m stoned. I also feel joy because I did the laundry and she’ll be pleased to see that I’m helping with the chores. I rush downstairs, pleased with myself, and I blurt out… 

(L2LO – to boast) I stripped the beds.

You didn’t need to do that.

I discover, to my amazement, that she isn’t happy with what I have done. I feel confusion because I was sure my participating, my helping out, would please her.

(L2LO – to retreat, slightly) Yeah, well.
(L2LO – to validate my actions) Sure I did.

It’s pouring, Sadie.

I discover the obvious, it is raining, but I also discover her disappointment with me.  I feel sadness because I was trying to prove to her how worthy I am.

(L2LO – to remember) And you hang them out.
(L2LO – to reprimand myself) How dumb to forget.
(L2LO – to dismiss, lightly) Well, no harm done.

Georgia is staring at me. Are my eyes dilated? Does she know I’m stoned? I know that look. I discover she’s angry.  I feel fear and embarrassment. Fear because she may throw me out, embarrassment because I’ve broken my word. I need to change the subject, quick.

(Sadie notices Georgia staring at the blouse she is wearing.)

(L2LO to divert her attention) I borrowed this, okay?

Whatever, it’s fine.  You don’t need to clean my house, Sadie.

I discover that Georgia is disappointed with me, again, and that she is reprimanding me.  I feel anger because all I wanted was to be helpful. 

(L2LO -to shock) I was cleaning motel rooms.
(L2LO – to verify) Really.
(L2LO – to drive the point home) No, really.
(to mock) “Oh, God, Sadie reduced to that.”
(to taunt) Or, is there anything Sadie can’t be reduced to.

You want to give me a break, Sadie?

I discover she is angry.  I feel anger, too, because she thinks she is so above it all and has no idea what I have been through, what my life has been like. 

(to strike back) You want to give me one?
(to assert) I can feel what you’re feeling.

No.  No, you can’t, Sadie.  No.  You can’t feel what I’m feeling. You aren’t me.

You can see how the actress playing Sadie gave each line, not just each speech, but each line in each speech an objective. This created variety and the variety is what makes michigan-actorsthis, or any, scene interesting. And even though some of the objectives may sound similar – “to mock” and “to taunt” there is enough of a difference to convey a different meaning.

Pick strong L2LO’s and commit to them. This is a great way to make sure  your characters are saying what you want        them to say.

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  1. This is the most important exercise for me. It feels like writing a piece of music. Very specific and grounding. Thanks John!

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