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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I just finished updates to SOS United States. This new poster was designed by Daniel Elek-Diamanta.
June 17, 2017 | Categories: filmmaking, First World (movie), General, Justice is Mind, Serpentine, SOS United States | Tags: actors, ad agency, commercials, directing, ESPN, Evidence, figure skating, First World (movie), Justice is Mind, Kim Gordon, Paul Lussier, Serpentine movie | Leave a comment
With Vern last night after Robin’s performance in Death of a Salesman.
I first met Robin Ann Rapoport in 2011 when we were both cast in the independent feature film Noah. After production wrapped, I worked to get Justice Is Mind off the ground and started with the short film version Evidence. When Robin auditioned for the part of Margaret Miller later that year, she had changed her look to the point that I didn’t recognize her from a few months earlier (versatility!). After I cast her in the role, I forget who reminded me that we had already worked together. The rest is history, Evidence was released in early 2011 and Robin reprised her role as the intrepid journalist in Justice Is Mind in 2013.
With Robin Ann Rapoport in Noah.
Since Justice was released, like so many of us involved in the project, we keep in touch through social media. When Robin announced that she was going to be in Vokes Players production of Death of a Salesman, I knew I wanted to see her in it. I arrived about 20 minutes before the performance started and suddenly Vernon Aldershoff who played Henri Miller in Justice, Margaret’s husband, showed up! Vern pulls these surprise appearances more often than not. I still remember him showing up at a screening in Plymouth. The weather could not have been worse that day, but sure enough—here comes Vern! Needless to say last night was a great reunion and brought back so many memories.
Vern and Robin in Evidence.
As for the play? First, Robin portrayed the character of The Woman brilliantly. Having worked with her as an actor and director, I always see a new dynamic range to her performances. I’ve seen lots of plays in my day, but Vokes Players presentation of Death of a Salesman was mesmerizing. Robert Zawistowski’s performance as Willy Loman captivated everyone in the theater. When a performance is so good you forget you’re in a theater and believe you are watching real life, that’s when you know that every note has been hit. Kudos to director John Barrett and his team. And for such an intimate theater, the lighting moved the audiences effortlessly and seamlessly from one scene to another. On a scale of 1-10? 12.
Last week the foundation for my political thriller around the sport of figure skating started to take shape. With the website almost complete and the concept poster in revision, I reached out to some of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind for the short film version of this new production. Unlike the short film version of Justice that represented a couple of key scenes, this short is the first ten pages of the script that sets the stage for the feature length story.
Robin and Vern in Justice Is Mind.
As for staging, tomorrow I pay a visit to the Northstar Ice Sports in Westborough, MA as a possible location for this production. In addition to the executive director being my first skating coach, the operations supervisor was involved in First World. So, yes, it’s a small world!
The one thing about this industry that I have long learned is that it’s built on lasting relationships. Whenever I look to start something new, I always aim to work with those from previous productions. In addition to a level of trust on both sides of the camera, there’s the knowledge that a project can be seen through from start to finish. Of course, it’s also exciting to work with new actors and crew because you never know what one can bring to your production that can raise the bar even higher.
A location visit tomorrow. North Star Ice Sports.
August 7, 2016 | Categories: First World, General, Justice is Mind, political thriller | Tags: Death of a Salesman, Evidence, figure skating, film production, First World (movie), Justice is Mind, Northstar Youth Forum, political thriller, Robert Zawistowski, Robin Ann Rapoport, Vernon Aldershoff, Vokes Players | Leave a comment