Friday, 1 October 2010

On Acting...

I've been wanting to write this since last Monday but then I lost interest as I convinced myself that it's a boring thing to talk about and I only wanted to write about it to express my thoughts on the matter.

But then we had one of the three actors in a shoot no-show on Saturday and it brought my desire to write this back to life - it was clearly meant to be written and maybe had I put this up before the shoot - the actor would've turned up!

Anyway, my experience making this film is something I'm finding hard to describe. It isn't weird or normal or anything. Everything's just worked out and, looking back, it doesn't feel as though it was as much work as it actually was. I guess the best word to describe the experience is that it feels right. It doesn't feel like I'm pretending and the footage that's slowly coming out so far demonstrates that.

But my main concern going into scAIRcrows was the acting. You know, I can write whatever I want and I can film whatever I want as long as I have the money to throw at it but at the end of the day, it's effectively a shared piece. Because I can't possibly fill every role behind and in front of the camera. I have to put the film into the hands of others. And yes, ultimately, it's my hand guiding the entire thing but it can never be 100% mine for the fact that there are other people involved.

My approach to this, except in a few circumstances where what I envisaged absolutely had to be shot, is to let the actors bring their own ideas to the table. In what we've shot so far, I could tell everyone exactly how I wanted it to play, could've asked for take after take of lines read differently until they matched that perfect image I had in my head but for me personally, that's not the right way. I stress, for me. It might be accepted that it's generally the wrong way to work with actors, I don't know. What I do know is that every single person we took on 'got' the film. And also beyond that. And rather than restrict that and tunnel it into what I thought it should be, I thought it best to let the actors go with it - knowing that they weren't going to veer off wildly.

If you've been following the blogs and Facebook/Twitter updates, you'll know that 6 mins of the film is in rough cut and I've been showing this footage to people that aren't involved with the film. And the feedback's been fairly positive. There's a few things I recognise still need some work but then I've never said that it was finished footage. But, the one thing that keeps being mentioned is the acting. Everyone is amazed that I managed to work with actors as good as they are and the word 'natural' pops up every time. I'm sketching out a feature with someone for late next year and they said that if we had acting of that caliber for this feature project, we'd be sorted. And I'd like to think a very tiny part of that is down to me not forcing them to play things certain ways, not stifling any life that's present...

My point so far is that I'm more than happy with the acting in the film. I don't need to write this. If I wasn't, I'd just keep quiet. And I'm not even writing it for the benefit of the actors because I genuinely have no idea who is reading these. I'm saying this because it's the truth.

We've found that casting the remaining roles has been trickier than the leads. Initially, we offered them all to the people that came down and auditioned for the leads. Understandably, the majority weren't happy taking smaller parts but a good few were which I think reflects well on them. Because let it be said that we didn't come across anyone in the three days of auditions that we thought was bad. I'd even go as far to say that the majority of them could play lead roles - but they just weren't suited to the leads in my script. And I think that's a key point to make, people weren't turned down because they were bad, they didn't get the part because they just didn't suit it. With the right role, I could see myself working with most of them as a lead. Much like I'll never be chosen to write/direct a romantic comedy. Doesn't make me bad (though that's open for debate!), it's just not an area where I'd fit. And so, for the people that recognised that and saw that we still wanted to work with them - I think it says a lot about their professionalism that they were still happy to be involved and not look down on the project.

We lost a few of them en-route. The more it happens, the more I begin to doubt the reasons for not showing. I believed people at the start but now I don't anymore. And that's really bad but that's what it's come down to, people have made me cynical. But we've battled on and I think we're nearly there now with only one particular stand out problem - detailed in the blog on shoot day five: http://scaircrows.blogspot.com/2010/09/shoot-day-five-25092010.html

But, getting to that point is where I had my first unfavourable encounter with an actor. We'd put out an advert to a few places for this part. It was a small part, was in a three page scene with a fairly consistent amount of dialogue. I asked for video auditions and this is where I got slated - by someone who was over 50 and clearly was never going to be considered for the part.

He told me I had gall asking for a video audition, that no actor worthwhile would want to be in the project being unpaid and told me to get real.

Okay, the film's called scAIRcrows and it's about flying scarecrows. Either people are going to get it or they aren't and I totally accept that a lot of people won't. I'm expecting criticism on it. And so, I wouldn't have risen to these bitter rantings had they not gone beyond the film itself.

So I replied in a very polite, well written response explaining exactly why I was writing back and the guy admitted surprise at my response.

The first thing that really got to me and was the only thing he needed to say to get my back up was the comment about worthwhile actors. I thought it was a terrible thing to do, to put down other actors just by their association with this. And every single person that has worked on this thus far has been more than worthwhile. It's whether I make the film worthwhile the only doubt on the horizon. So I had to defend the people that I've worked with - not too sure what the definition of worthwhile is anyway? I think, not even considering acting quality, anyone that bothers showing up is worthwhile. I'm not paying anyone so what can I expect from people? That I got the acting ability too was just a nice bonus. I realise I'm lucky and will be forever grateful to every single one of my 'worthwhile' actors.

The other thing was this resistance to video auditions. I admit that this seems like a slightly more contentious area.

The way I view it is as follows - this may or may not come across as controversial, I don't know - I doubt it but we'll see!

We're now in the day and age where even if you don't own a video camera, you know someone that does. Guaranteed. Whether it's an actual camcorder, a video phone or the video function on a stills camera - everyone has access to video somehow. No-one could tell me that if they don't own any of the above, they don't know anyone that does. So, I don't think it's a problem of sourcing the technology.

Is it a matter then of professionalism? The argument from the actor was that there's showreels to help you decide. But I'm not viewing those showreels and then deciding to audition them, I'm making a final decision on a part and need something. I can't really afford to hold auditions for every bit part in the film (bear in mind that when I say bit part, each role carries across at least two or three pages) nor do I have the time. So why is it such a bad thing to ask for a video audition? I know it may be a relatively new thing (if indeed it is) but technology moves and so everything has to move with it.

And the reason I ask for it for the bit parts is that I've been paying for insurance and permits for these shoots, it costs money. My own money. Not a single penny from anyone else has funded this film. No company involvement or anything. My complete and utter risk. And I think, for that risk, I need some insurance that these actors can be trusted. By asking for a video audition, the very act of them agreeing to it and providing it proves to me that they're interested in the project and prepared to put a little bit of effort in to get the role. I've mentioned it before but it's what made Blue Jigsaw the clear winner for us for the role of Damon, the other guy we were considering refused to do a video audition, believing his showreel to be good enough. It wasn't. But that was beside the point. He expected me to take a risk with my money on him with absolutely no indication of how serious he was about starring in the film. He may well have been the greatest actor in the world but his attitude lost him consideration for the part.

And yes, I do appreciate that these are smaller parts but again, to me they're not. I wrote them into the film for a reason, if they were insignificant, why bother putting them in? So, is it not right for me to seek some assurance that people are serious about the project? That's a fair thing for me to expect surely.

I did get a slight us versus them vibe from it, the evil directors exploiting the poor unpaid actors. I've said it time and time again, I want to pay people and that's no lie. In a smaller production, I will but in something that has over ten speaking parts, the film simply wouldn't get made. And if that was the case, no-one was willing to do it so it didn't get made, so be it. It wouldn't change the fact that I couldn't pay people. At least now, the film has been made and everyone has a bit more working experience with something to show for it at the end. And maybe a little more exposure (guys - I've name dropped you all on this blog whenever I could!). So everyone wins. And if it all somehow goes horribly wrong, the leads lost a weekend of their time, everyone else a day. I've lost months of work and a few thousand pounds. So I can totally empathise with unpaid actors. And this film won't make it's money back unless it somehow wins prizes at festivals, if it gets that far... That's not the intention with making this anyway - it's just to finally create something.

Also, I do unpaid work with no financial benefit to myself - I film all the The Citizen Smiths gigs (http://www.thecitizensmiths.co.uk/). The fact that I'm friends of one of the band members means nothing as far as my reasoning for doing it - I'm doing it for myself to get practice and build up confidence shooting in a very pressured situation (no re-takes!). Of course it's obviously to help them out with content too but I recognise that in a creative environment, every opportunity is just that and sometimes it's worth sacrificing the material benefit for it. But yeah, I sit behind a pair of cameras for the entirety of those gigs, one static, one manned for close ups so I know what it's like to put all your effort into something for nothing more than to see a product that you're hopefully happy with at the end of the day. I can empathise. I understand.

So these video auditions offer some insurance. Not much but it's better than 'no, watch my showreel or get someone else'. The only other problem I can see with video auditions is that you're handing footage of yourself over to someone who could then disseminate it. Which is a fair enough argument but doesn't that also hold true for the person videoing live auditions? I still have all the audition tapes from the scAIRcrows auditions. I wouldn't dream of giving them to ANYONE. Even the producers don't have a copy of them. Likewise, I wouldn't let the video auditions leave my hands. There's one or two I would like to post but that will be after arranging it with the people in question. I guess it's a matter of trust I suppose and I imagine that most filmmakers out there can be trusted as can most actors. There's always going to be an element of untrustworthy people - there is in all walks of life and unfortunately, we'll all encounter them at some point probably, especially in a creative environment where people are vulnerable (actors and filmmakers - I wouldn't want anyone distributing the scAIRcrows script and I have to trust that everyone that has a copy won't do that. Realistically, it probably wouldn't get too far but that's not the point, I've surrendered a piece of work that's personal to me and put it in the hands and trust of strangers). It's just the nature of the beast.

The outcome of this is probably the funniest thing. Though I justified myself to this man, this being my first film, I'm unsure of 'acting etiquette'. Is it rude to ask for video auditions? Unprofessional? Because he sowed the seed of doubt in my mind, we hired someone based on a showreel (turns out it weren't the guy in the showreel too!). And guess what, he didn't turn up and the other two actors, the two that had both video auditioned did! So maybe in this instance, I was right. Might have gone against etiquette (if it exists) but when I did what I wanted to do, I got what I wanted. When I didn't, I didn't.

Last time I ever take a 'professional's' advice.

Goes to show you that I've got a better handle on this thing than it might seem to the outside world!

So those are my thoughts and feelings on the matter of unpaid work and video auditions.

What I would really love and encourage would be for an actor, whether they've worked with me or not, to guest blog on this subject from their point of view. Disagree with me, agree, if you want to do it, write it and I'll post it exactly as it comes in to me. I want to show that I'm open for debate on this and don't want to just give my side of things without the other side sharing theirs. Like I said near the beginning about letting actors do their own thing within reason - I'm open to thoughts and opinions so any actors out there, take this as an invitation to have a go or to agree. I see everything about this project as a learning experience and enjoy seeing different sides of a story.

I've lost sight of how long this piece is but I felt it an interesting break from the relatively update oriented blog this has become in recent weeks.

See you soon for your next slice of sc-aerial terror!

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