How do I do a good dying scene?

by Miranda
(Louisiana)

QUESTION:

In a movie my brother and I are making a few of the characters have to die and I would love to be able to tell them as well as practice myself on being able to complete a death scene properly.
Please help!

ANSWER:

What kind of dying scene is it? Do the characters die suddenly or a slow death? Is it a natural death, an accidental death, are they killed? If so, is it by gunshot or some other way? The answer to these questions will make a big difference when you direct your actors in these scenes. For example, if you're dealing with a sudden death, they really have to let themselves be surprised each time by what just happened to them, so instead of concentrating on "how to die", help them really focus on the task at hand or what their objective is at the moment they get shot or stabbed or whatever the situation may be.

Dying scenes are hard. If not done properly, they can easily look comical, so a good way to approach them is to ask a lot of questions from the actor first, so they can really be in the moment when they do the scene instead of indicating. Here are a few questions you can ask:

- Does your character realize right away what happened to them? A lot of the time, when we get in a major accident, there's a delay between the time we get hurt and the time we realize the extent of our predicament.

- Is your character in pain? What's the level of pain (from 0 to 10? Is it excruciating immediately or does the pain slowly intensifies? Is there a point when the pain stops?

- Does your character realize they are dying? If so, when do they make that realization? How do they feel about it? How afraid are they? How angry? Etc.

- A lot of people say that when you die, your whole life goes before your eyes. You can take your actors through a visualization exercise while you ask a lot of questions and ask them to see in their imagination all the images the characters see before their eyes in their last moments of life. To make the situation more realistic, you can also lead them through a sensory exercise to explore the pain.

You may also need to look into stage combat techniques if any of the dying scenes involve fights or falls. There are some great resources on the internet like this video on how to fake a fall.

Finally, another thing to take into consideration is the style of your movie. Is it a horror, thriller, drama? This is all going to come into play when you direct the actors.

Have fun!

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