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filmmaking

New Direction

Denise Marco and Isabella Ramirez in Serpentine

Denise Marco and Isabella Ramirez in Serpentine.

This past week I was contracted to direct some commercial shoots through an ad agency. From a farm, to a school and a bank, each was a different experience. The talent for these shoots were “real” people not actors. The one thing that non-actors bring to a commercial for their own company is authenticity. If they don’t believe in what they’re selling who is? They also aren’t trying to create a character, they already are one.

All my films have had non-actors. In First World it was the equestrian. In Evidence it was a scientist as a court stenographer. In Justice Is Mind it was the pizza shop owner and MRI technicians. In Serpentine it was the skater and skating coach. In my view as long as you don’t ask for too much range, it usually works out fine. But that being said, it doesn’t matter if they are actors or non-actors, it all comes down to organization and coaching a performance.

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Brittany Wilkinson in First World.

There are some directors that are all about an obsessive amount of direction. I’ve seen this first hand as a performer. Sometimes I understand the level of detail they want, but often it’s just to demonstrate to everyone what title they hold on set. For me, if I don’t have any comment for an actor I’m directing that means it was OK with me. Particularly for non-actors, you have to find an emotional place for them to exist without thinking they are performing. For actors, who tend to analyze everything, I believe less is more. But in all cases, my one requirement is believability and when required a memorization of lines.

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Kim Merriam in Evidence.

In one of my films, one actor, who had the script for at least two months, arrived on set with almost no lines memorized. To say I was frustrated was beyond description, but the actor he played opposite was a true professional and thankfully picked up where he couldn’t. It was so bad, that we had to tape his lines to a window and shoot from an angle!

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Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier in Justice Is Mind.

As for lines, when I wrote Justice Is Mind the characters of Constance Smith and John Darrow had literal monologue after monologue and numerous other scenes with complex dialogue. But when Kim Gordon and Paul Lussier auditioned they brought such a realism to the characters that even I didn’t envision when I wrote the parts. It is no coincidence that I cast them opposite each other in Serpentine: The Short Program. At the end of the day, this is what a director lives for when casting—knowing you can cast actors without an audition.

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Paul Lussier and Kim Gordon in Serpentine: The Short Program.

This past week’s shooting reminded me of days long past when I directed my first TV commercial. It was a direct response spot for ESPN in the 1990s for the figure skating magazine I published. I fondly remember sitting in the editing booths with technicians going over one cut after another to a previously recorded narrator’s voice from a script I wrote. At the time I didn’t really know I was the director, but when I think about it they kept asking me if everything looked OK or if I wanted to try something different.  I now realize that they were training me on directing.

As they say, it all starts somewhere. And that’s what I told the talent I was interviewing this past week. Some may never be on-camera again, but there may be one or two who will remember the experience years from now when they are on network television.

Action.

SOS United States - UK Poster

I just finished updates to SOS United States. This new poster was designed by Daniel Elek-Diamanta.


An Exposition in Time

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World War II reenactors.

And so the new season started with a bang—literally.  Yesterday I attended the Massachusetts Military History Exposition in Orange, MA. This is the second year this group produced this show. While last year focused on World War II, this year’s outing represented a timeline of military history.  My favorite group was those representing the 16th century.

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Das Geld Fahlein

The group from the year 1528 called “Das Geld Fahlein” offered an excellent history on how troupes from those days were organized, compensated and fought. Imagine you are a knight in “shining armor” on a horse galloping towards several hundred of these 30 foot long spears and other types of sword defenses. It may have been low-tech even by 1528 standards but it did what it had to do—stop the enemy.

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World War II German field communications

Another area of interest to me has been about communications and infrastructure during World War II. I talked to a few reenactors at the German camp about some technical aspects of how they communicated back then. The distance limitation in radio communication and the shelf life of the field batteries was very interesting. Needless to say, there’s always something new to learn at these events.

Of course the highlight of these types of events are the battle reenactments.  While “Hollywood” would have multiple takes over a period of days if not weeks to shoot something like this, this is a one take moment. Once the action starts it just keeps going until there’s a victor.  Yesterday was also the first time I used Facebook Live. I broadcast the World War II battle and had viewers all over the country. You can watch the video at this link.

But through all the uniforms and equipment of wars long past, there is the educational component of these events that’s so important. It is through events like this that one learns about the issues of those times and what brought yesterday’s societies to conflict and then peace. Like my experiences last year attending these events, it’s the reenactors that bring them to life. Their depth of knowledge and passion is what makes for a most enjoyable experience.

As so many of my projects have some sort of military component to the story, while I have a great time at these events, it’s all about networking and learning about the talent involved. Why on earth would I seek to hire actors, get costumes and source equipment from the ground up if I could reach out to one of these groups?

Planning.

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Old Glory