Monday 31 August 2009

Actors & Their Egos

The actors I love working with are the ones who turn up, maybe ask a question or two -- and then I don't see them for a while. When we're ready to shoot, there they are. "Action!" is called out and then the actor becomes the character.

That is all an actor is. Just like a man sweeping the streets is someone who sweeps the streets, and just like a Police officer is someone who arrests people and does his best to prevent crime. To put it even more succinctly; an actor is someone who plays a character whilst a camera is rolling. The problem is, some actors are not content with being a character on screen, they also want to be one off of it. They begin to play the role of an actor.

In Hollywood, of course-- actors have privileges. When Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp are on board, their names and their performances guarantee a large chunk of income for the studios, so the actors are treated amazingly. They're driven around, given giant trailers, given anything they want. They want a call girl? They want drugs? They want a monkey that can juggle? You got it. These actors are so important to the productions and to the people financing them, that anything will be done to keep them happy. An extra $5000 for a better hotel room is no problem when the actor is bringing them an extra $50million in box-office revenue.

The problem is that sometimes actors who are starting out are influenced by this, they think that this is how an actor should behave, to expect privilege. I have worked on absolutely zero budget films with first time filmmakers.. and it's 3am, in a freezing cold field. The Director and Producer have not eaten in three days, the camera man's feet are so cold it could well be trench foot, but the actors are wrapped up in warm blankets, drinking hot soup. Meanwhile, little Abdul, the 17 year old runner, hasn't eaten, slept or been allowed a toilet break in four days.

Sometimes, you see it the minute an actor walks on set. They'll turn to the nearest person and say "You think I could get a coffee? Two sugars." And sure enough, they'll get what they want. No-one is quite strong enough to say, "Sure, the kitchen is upstairs."

Don't get me wrong, there is a hierarchy on film sets, and it's there for a reason. When you're in the middle of a scene, it would be inappropriate and time-consuming for an actor to make their own coffee. But when the entire cast and crew are on a break and the actor is standing right next to the coffee they have no right to expect anyone but them to be making the coffee. Someone needs to tell them, "make your own coffee, it doesn't interfere with you saying words in front of a camera one hour from now."

The industry is flooded with young, upcoming actors. If you put an advert out for actors, you are bound to have thousands of messages flooding your inbox. The majority of the time, they all sound the same. It's not their fault, it's just that they're all in the same boat. They're young, talented, eager for roles, and look very attractive. Finding someone who truly loves films and the acting process is tough, they don't always jump off the page. But then, neither do the actors you want to avoid. Sometimes you can see their ego just from their emails, but sometimes, you won't see it until they audition. An actor with a large ego will ask a lot of questions, and some of these questions will be an attempt to catch you out, to make you look like you don't know what you're doing. Ego-driven actors can be very insecure deep underneath everything, and if they make you feel belittled; they feel better about themselves.

I should add the point that we're all insecure. Actors, Directors, Road Sweepers. We all have our issues. The problem is, the ego-driven "I deserve special treatment" actors use their insecurity to make everyone else feel bad.

One of the biggest problems is that a well-trained and clever egotistical actor will be able to hide this trait throughout the audition process. They'll be happy to take the role, even on a zero-budget short where nobody is getting paid. Here, they are able to feel vastly superior to everyone, because they feel like they've done you a favour. This is especially true if back in 1997 they did a Colgate commercial and got $5000 and a big-trailer. You are below me and I am doing you a favor, thinks the actor.

Can someone get me a tea?
I need an hour to make some calls.
I'm coming in late tomorrow.
How about shooting it from another angle?
Back on the set of some obscure film from 1998 they always made sure we had.....

The thing to realize, and I am talking mainly here about the low-budget-we-are-all-in-it-together-arena is; WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER. None of us are getting paid much, none of us are sleeping, none of us want to be carrying equipment through the mud on a rainy night at 4am, but we are doing it, together. As a group. The actor is part of that group.

Even if the actor is Tom Hanks himself. Tom would have known, upon signing up, that this is a film being made for $500. Therefore, Tom isn't going to get his trailer. Tom isn't going to get to go and make calls for three hours as there is such a tight schedule.

The egoic actors are one of the sad parts of the industry. It's not always just actors; you can have any role on a set and you can be angry that you're not getting paid more, bitter that the food isn't as amazing as that big-budget shoot you did last year, disappointed with how your career is turning out. But it gives you no right to think you're better than anyone else on the set.

If you are in a big-budget film, by all means, enjoy your privileges. You'll be surprised to find that many of the actors are very modest and humble about the wonderful things they are given, which is exactly how all actors should be right the way down to a first-time student film. Actors, like everyone else on the set, are normal human beings. The whole team are on set for the same reason, the common goal of making a great film. Remember that's why you're there, and think about you wanted to be treated and treat others.

Acting is not about privilege. It's about doing things in front of a camera. That's all.

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Saturday 29 August 2009

'How I Got Lost' Trailer.

I really, really, really, really like the look of this film.

Seems to be doing a few film festivals at the moment, not sure when I'll actually be able to see it, hopefully sometime soon!

Care to share?

Friday 28 August 2009

Should they really be making all these Holocaust films?

When 'Schindler's List' came out it touched everyone in a way that I don't think any film ever had before. It proved that a film can have a lasting effect on its audiences. It proved that a film can make a difference in the world. The one thing we know for sure about the Holocaust is that it must never be forgotten, and what better way to do that than have the world's most successful film director Steven Spielberg making it.

I do a lot of work with Holocaust survivors, and I have been involved in some film projects about it too, but I often find myself asking; should all these films be getting made? There was a time when I would always have said a definite yes. I've done work in schools where I've seen children having absolutely no knowledge of the attempted extermination of the European Jews and it brings me to the conclusion that we should keep on making these films, keep on getting them out there.

I didn't like "The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas," it seemed distastefully Hollywoodified to me. But then, I was doing a workshop with Holocaust survivors in a school last year and the students were really passionate about it. These children were beginning to have interesting ideas and lots of compassion towards Germans, whereas I remember when I was in school we were all "I hate Germans!" which was based mainly on ignorance and stereotyping.

Let's cut to the chase though. The Holocaust films coming out of Hollywood today aren't being made to honour the memory of the millions who were tragically lost. They're being made to line the pockets of the producers with lots of money. Far from being like Steven Spielberg, crying during scenes whilst filming in Krakow, Poland-- they're sitting in their warm Hollywood studios raking in the cash.

From a storytelling perspective, the Holocaust is gold. There are so many millions of untold, complex stories-- and they all revolve around the power, relationships, good versus evil, alienation, confusion, heartbreak, death, etc. Everything you could want from a story you can get, easily, every single time - whenever you venture into the events of Hitler's Final Solution. But this doesn't make it okay.

I find myself asking that a lot now whenever I see a World War two film. Is it okay when a stupid, pathetic horror film like "The Unborn," takes the Holocaust and uses it as a device to illicit more emotion from its audience? Is it okay when Quentin Tarantino has revengeful Jews running around scalping people's heads for fun in 'Inglorious Basterds'? Is it okay when Tom Cruise and his co-stars are playing Nazi's but have perfect American accents, in 'Valkyrie'? You see, the Americanisation of the Germans in 'Valkyrie' wasn't so that people could understand the events better, it was so that the film would be more marketable.

The Holocaust survivors are still here, with us. They are still coming to terms with what happened and they are still sharing their stories. When they share them, there is nothing more heartbreaking or profound. When you hear a Holocaust survivor tell you how their family got shot in front of them, how their kids were taken away-- the importance of it hits you. It impacts your life in ways you couldn't imagine. I don't feel it is fair to these people to turn the death of six million Jews into big screen fodder that lines the pockets of filmmakers with millions and millions of Dollars. The subject is too important for that.

Do I think films should be made on the subject? Yes. Films like 'The Counterfeiters,' help us understand, they help us learn and they help us grow. In the film, Salomon Sorowitsch and Adolf Burger are two Jews who are counterfeiting bank notes for the Nazi's. They do it to survive, it's their only choice. But the two characters are caught in their belief systems. Salomon does what the Nazi's want, because he feels it's the only way he is able to survive. Whereas Adolf has major problems with it because he feels it is unethical and helping the German war-effort. The palpable conflict between the two characters is mesmerizing and you can't help but put yourself in their place and question what you would do. That is powerful filmmaking -- and it's important filmmaking. Perhaps the difference is that this film, like the incredible 'Downfall,' was made in Germany by German filmmakers. The German attempts to understand their history through these films in recent years is remarkable, gut-wrenching and moving. The films are important. The same, I feel, cannot be said for the constant Holocaust themed movies rolling off of the Hollywood production line.

It's time to stop and think. The Holocaust MUST be remembered and we MUST find ways to make sure future generations learn about and feel about the Holocaust. But we must do it right.

Care to share?

Thursday 27 August 2009

The Bizarre Nature Of Creative Juices.

Yesterday, the Director Of Photography of my latest film was coming round to grab some footage and take a look at the rough edit. And I was like 'Aghhhh, this film looks like crap.' So to make myself feel better, I rushed to polish up a montage scene I'd been meaning to do. It looked great. And then the DP showed up.

And he liked what he saw from the roughest of rough edits. We chatted some more, threw ideas around-- and then I closed Final Cut Pro. But as I did, it asked me if I wanted to save my changes. I figured I'd already saved my montage bit so I said 'No.'
So the DP went home and that was that.

And then today, I jumped back onto the edit, only to discover, of course, that the montage scene wasn't there. I was immediately grumpy and angry and began throwing my weight around. But luckily I don't weigh much so it wasn't a big deal. Anyways, I got my head together and set to work.

But I couldn't! I couldn't edit the scene, because I knew I'd already done it. I kept going back to it again, but my head was like "No! No Way! You've done this! I don't want to do it again!." I threw one shot into the edit, and I was immediately told, by myself, "This sucks, this looks like shit. Yesterday was better!."

This kept happening and I just knew I wasn't going to get it done today so I gave up. Instead, I felt a desperate urge to watch a movie. I chose 'Reign Over Me.' Not totally sure why, I just really fancied it.

I watched twenty minutes of 'Reign Over Me.' It was definitely the right choice as I was loving it and connecting with it deeply. But then, suddenly, these wave came over me. A wave of purpose and feeling and creativity. That voice in my head had changed his tune rapidl. He was saying 'go and edit! go and do it now!' And I suddenly felt certain I could get the montage edited even better than yesterday. At this exact same point the Dave Matthews Band song 'Two Step' sprang into my mind. YES! The perfect music to go with this scene! (of course, I won't be able to afford the rights to it but it serves as a good temp score for my composer later on).

I edit. I edit quickly. It looks GREAT.

And I can't help but be a little fascinated by my process. Probably because I have no idea what my process is. Did I need to watch twenty minutes of an Adam Sandler flick? Did I need to go through that, 'this looks like crap!' rampage in my head or could I have skipped past it? Was it something about 'Reign Over Me' or could it have been another film? Why did the DMB song enter into my mind today and not yesterday? If I had remembered to save my work yesterday, I wouldn't have had to re-edit it today-- so would I not have thought to include the DMB song?

I'm not suggesting you can answer my questions, I just find the whole thing pretty fascinating. If I could figure this all out maybe I could edit films ten times as fast.

Care to share?

Saturday 22 August 2009

Reasons why 'Home Alone' is possibly the greatest film ever.

In case you've forgotten, here are some magic moments which help explain why 'Home Alone' is amazing.

Culkin miming 'White Christmas' in the mirror.

The party that never was.

Joe Pesci covered in feathers.

John Candy continuously talking about Polka music.

Culkin saying to the cashier; "Ma'am, I'm eight years old. You think
I would be here alone?" (scrunches face) "I don't think so"

"I'm gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your lying, yellow, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead! "

People continuously crashing into the statue.

Last, but not least - my favourite moment...
"Fuller, go easy on the Pepsi!"

Care to share?