A few months ago I came across a casting notice for a book trailer. The name of the book was Heil Hitler, Herr Göd by A.P. Hofleitner and was based “on true-life memoirs” around a family in occupied Austria at the end of World War II. As this period of history has always been of interest to me, I submitted for the part of Herr Göd.
Shortly after getting cast, I started my research. When we think of the European conflict of World War II, generally we look at Germany and what was going on in Berlin. But how many times do we think of the average family just caught up in it? That was the genesis of the book.
Once I arrived to set I met director Rob Gooding and author/producer “Andy” Hofleitner (who, as fate would have it, I actually met earlier in the parking lot). Andy presented each of the actors and crew a signed copy of his book. It didn’t take long to realize the passion behind this project. Not only are the accounts in the book true, but the family in Austria is Andy’s. The author of the memoirs was his grandfather. The “props” used in the book trailer were the actual ones from the story with one piece signed by Hitler himself. The gravity of the story suddenly became real. To know that you are not only recreating moments in history, but are actually touching it.
A few days after the shoot I started to read the book. From page one Hofleitner brings the reader back in time to a family caught in the crossfire of war. The family is far from idyllic and this is what Hofleitner does so well. His words create real world, conflicted and complicated characters facing the impossible. But through it all they persevere under the most trying of circumstances. Hofleitner’s masterful way of setting up scenes and bringing the characters in had me riveted to the last word. There is an escape scene from a factory that was so brilliantly written it had this reader in the center of the conflict. To know as I was reading each word that each one of these moments really happened, one wonders how such atrocities could have happened in the first place. But they did and that’s why we must never forget lest history be repeated.
For me the most engaging character was Max. His voice from being on the front and witnessing the horrors of the war, brought reality home when he would recount stories in the seemingly quiet village the family resided. Imagine you are sitting in your back yard enjoying a drink and hearing horrors so far away they must be fictional…right? But then, in a moment, the roar of Allied bombers destroy the tranquility of the moment.
Book trailers are a smart marketing tool. To quote from C. Hope Clark’s latest email newsletter, “Whether you are traditional or indie published, it’s about reach, connection, and sales.” And that’s exactly what a book trailer does. It visualizes the story you are about to read.
The booking came through last week. I was cast as a NAZI officer in the upcoming feature film The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot. Other than the aforementioned designation, I didn’t know much about the part itself or even the film. Researching the film was easy enough, but the part remained elusive until I arrived on set.
Whether it’s a film of my own or one I’m cast in, I always arrive early. For me I like to get the lay of the land and get oriented to the surroundings, cast and crew. I knew this part was going to involve some sort of action when I found myself in hair and makeup getting a 1930s haircut. After being outfitted, I then learned what my part entailed.
For reasons of confidentiality I can’t divulge specifics. But let me just say this, my studies of World War II history, and in particular the rise and fall of The Third Reich, helped enormously. I only had to be told what the scene entailed and I understood what was involved with my character. I knew from that moment the mindset I had to find myself in and play it accordingly. There is no half way of playing a character like this, it must be 110% for authenticity. That moment of character happens when you put the uniform on to understand what it represented. At the end of the day we must never forget the atrocities of history dare they be repeated in the future.
As a filmmaker I was particularly impressed with the level of detail the director brought to this scene. He probably knew that certain details wouldn’t be seen on camera. But my guess is it wasn’t about that, it was about the actors believing they were in the moment. It is that type of detail that places directors like Robert D. Krzykowski above so many. It’s directors like this that you want to work with and give a performance that’s worthy of the efforts of so many on both sides of the camera. When the scene wrapped he thanked us all for being part of it.
When this scene was being produced I naturally couldn’t help but thinking of the time I directed Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind when he played a NAZI officer. I remember to this day the countless details from the uniform I ordered along with the action of the story itself. You only know if you got it right after it premieres. It was after the international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth when a few Jewish women came up to me after the screening to comment positively on how I struck the balance between that moment in history and the conclusion of the film.
The entire process of filmmaking is designed to provoke emotions. We either enjoy a film or we don’t. It’s called free will. Like we don’t burn books, we don’t ban movies. When Deadline reported that Gone with the Wind, in which Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award, was pulled from a theater in Memphis, TN because it was deemed insensitive, it’s clear that this theater and its patrons don’t want to understand history or the signal their action sends. Once you start going down this slippery slope, a return can be next to impossible.
By example I find, with the exception of Brokeback Mountain, most gay films to be ridiculous. It’s the same stereotypical story film after film after film. So you know what my answer is? I don’t watch them. There’s no mandate that because I’m gay I have to watch and support gay films. We either watch films that interest us or don’t watch. But the last thing we do is ban and sensor. Because there is one thing I do want–