Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reading Sanford Meisner’s book on acting. He says that it takes 20 years to master acting. Not sure I would agree with that. I suspect it takes 20 years to master acting only if you’re 20 years old or younger when you begin and you never pursue any other career but acting

So much of this business draws upon personal experience and an understanding of the human condition. Someone who approaches acting after age 35, having worked as a schoolteacher or oil rig engineer or insurance salesman or whatever, having experienced years of success and failure, triumph and tragedy, has a far richer inner life to draw upon in creating a character than those who are just starting out in life and career.

I know I feel way ahead of the game when I act, in part because I have a stronger sense of self. I have a more mature approach to my studies. I can judge when a classroom exercise has lasting value and when I’m simply indulging the instructor in the latest fad.

And my acting is beginning to feel true – acting with the emotions, not the intellect; achieving that “public solitude” Stanislavsky talks about. I feel like I’m making rapid progress.

Two weeks to filming Clear and Sunny Skies. I can hardly wait.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Crying Time

No, nothing’s wrong, but I do need to cry – on page 5 of the script. I’ve been working very hard on this (take a deep breath, let the words come when you feel them) and so far it seems to be working, at least when I’m alone and trying to get the lines off the page. But how I’ll feel with a camera in my face is something else again. My character is a person who is very into self-control, so when she cries she’s also doing her damnedest not to cry. Letting it out and holding it in. Has anyone ever had to deal with that in a script? I would be interested to know how you handled it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Working on my lines this week for Clear and Sunny Skies, which starts filming the middle of next month. I must say the Guskin book has really helped me discover my character for this film. Ms. Porter is a fiftyish, newly retired corporate executive trying to figure out what to do next with a life that never had room for husband and children. Lots of inner turmoil. We’re shooting exterior scenes at Herrington Harbor on the Chesapeake Bay, which is a lovely resort area (Photo above left. I’m sure my yacht is in there somewhere!) Hoping for a “clear and sunny” day. Also shooting some interior scenes in a restaurant where I’m called upon to drink copious amounts of scotch whiskey, but not appear drunk. I volunteered to bring the Glenlivet – or rather the Glenlivet bottle filled with exactly the right shade of tea.

Contacted by a casting agency yesterday about a role in a film shooting in Baltimore next week. They must have had an actress bail on them at the last minute. I’m certainly looking for more film roles, but had to pass on this one since I’m gearing up for CASS and didn’t think I could learn the lines in time to do justice to the part. It would have had me shooting major roles in three short films within a two-week period. September 4th I’m in Philadelphia to record “The Voice” for Anthony Fletcher’s film Deadline (which is already up at IMDb, by the way.)

I need to line up film roles for October on. Toying with doing a play, or a public reading of a play, but really prefer to work on camera. I was reading film production news this morning and all the big productions lately are going to Louisiana! Phooey! The state must be cutting film companies an incredible tax break.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Very funny article in this morning's Wall Street Journal-Personal Section titled "Revenge of the TV Writers." According to author Amy Chosick, unlike screenwriters on feature films whose clout is practically non-existent, writers on television series reign supreme and mete out horrible on-screen deaths to actors who make themselves more trouble than they're worth. (Michael Moriarty?! No, I can't believe that.) Television writers have also been known to pattern despicable characters after film critics, former employers and that girl in high school who wouldn't give them a tumble. (Note to self: Never ever get on the wrong side of a television screen writer!) Anyway, I had a good laugh.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Patience. The next part will come along, and it will be exactly right. In the meantime still reading Harold Guskin’s book How to Stop Acting. I am so excited about this book. It’s an entirely different approach to creating a character. I read it with a pen in hand, underlining passages and starring sections that are especially important. (An awful lot of this book has been marked up, I tell you.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Guskin’s book in relation to the Robert Duval/Sissy Spacek film Get Low, which my husband and I saw last weekend. It’s a simple story extremely well done. Duval turns in such a powerful performance; he should get an Academy Award. And Sissy Spacek looks amazing. Twenty years ago she was all elbows and hard angles; now there’s this soft, round, womanliness about her that is just lovely. She is of the earth somehow. I want to see more of her in other films.

But, back to Duval. Guskin, at one point in his book, talks about “physicalizing” your lines as you read the script out loud – i.e. jumping, singing, making sounds and gestures as impulse and the lines move you. (Something that would benefit me especially since I’m at heart a shy person.) Well Duval, in this story he tells at the end of the film, makes this whooshing sound. I was just stunned watching it. It isn’t the kind of thing most people would do, but his character was so in the moment of reliving this incident from his past that it was like he could see everything again, fresh, and that sound was what he was hearing. It was so right. It made the scene so much more than just someone telling a story and relying on filmed “flashbacks” to show the viewer what had happened. With that sound, Duval brings you right into the story with him, moment by moment. Really remarkable.

One thing I’ve learned about acting – and I’ve probably said this before – is how hard it is. It’s hard even to be a bad actor (and I have much more respect now for bad actors!) But when you study it, and when you see acting done well….wow.

My husband and I talked about that film for a long time after we left the theater.

My home computer fried its brains this week - third time in seven years. It's in the shop, but I suspect the tech is going to call and tell me he can't resurrect it. Thinking about abandoning PCs and getting a MacBook Pro, which is what I have at work. This week's snag. Not insurmountable, just costly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Antsy. I need to line up more film roles and so far I’m not seeing any scripts with a part for me. You’d think I’d welcome a chance for some down time, but I really live for days when I’m shooting a film.

My husband and I saw L’Affaire Farewell last weekend at the only theatre close by that shows foreign films. The Other Guys with Will Ferrell was the only other option, but we finally decided to wait to see that one at the second-run cheap seats. I enjoyed Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction, but not too sure about this one. Family members give us movie ticket coupons for Christmas because we see so many films, but we think long and hard before deciding something is “coupon-worthy.”

L’Affaire Farewell was suspenseful and quite good. I found myself thinking as I watched it that this is why I go to the movies : to marvel at beautiful photography, take pleasure at a director who knows his craft, enjoy a story that makes you think and leads to conversation after the lights go up. No crashing cars. No flying dragons. No teen vampires. There’s a shot in the opening of three Soviet soldiers in a truck. The way the light off the snow frames the face of one of these young soldiers is rather breathtaking. It made me wonder if you can even do that with CGI. It always seems a little flat to me, even in 3D.

Not everything in the plot worked, but Director Christian Carion did a very good job of keeping me on the edge of my seat. Toward the end one of the main characters and his family are making a break for the Finnish border – dead of winter, middle of the night. After hours of waiting in line, their car drives slowly through the two border gates, even as the call comes through at the Soviet guardhouse to stop them (okay, that’s a little clichéd, but it still works). The POV is inside the hero’s car, sharp focus on the foreground, the road ahead completely out of focus. You see a light seeming to come toward them. But is it a fixed light pole? A truck with soldiers to arrest them? You don’t know. Carion holds on that shot for a long time. I thought that was nicely done.

Saw previews for a couple of others we may see – The Concert and Mao’s Last Dancer. Putting the Pathé film The Illusionist on the Netflix list. You can learn a lot from watching a good performance.

Weather is miserable. Four more weeks of the tropics and then Washington will wring itself out, the sky will turn crystalline blue and we head into fall. In the meantime, I read in the shade at noon with a hot wind in my face, wondering what this San Diego girl is doing here.

(sigh) At least I'm having a good hair day.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I've added production stills from The Shadows of Strangers to my August 2 post. The picture at left is NOT one of them.

The Shadows of Strangers is the feature-length film being shot by Rick and Jonathan Robinson out of Baltimore. It's an anthology of six interconnected stories. Mine was "The Story of Bella" about an Italian widow who has a late-night encounter with someone from her past. I liked the role. It's dark and a little weird.

I asked my husband what he thought of the photos. He gave me a long look, wrinkled his nose and shook his head. I reminded him that Ellen Burstyn got a raft of awards and award nominations, including an Academy Award nomination, for Requiem for a Dream, a film where she's made up to look like she put her finger in a light socket! (THAT is the photo at left!) We had a good laugh over it.

I promised myself I'd get organized today. I signed up for Performer Track to keep track of my contacts, bookings, and costs. Lots to key in before it starts getting "easy" as promised. Also need to find the $78 error in my checkbook. I'm off.

Friday, August 6, 2010

One thing I like about Tom Selleck's Jesse Stone series (one of many things I like about it) is the pacing. He takes his time to develop his character and the story. Also, apart from the tarty wives of the Paradise Cove council members, he uses actors that look like real people. I'm not against using actors who are young and attractive, but I wonder if we sometimes go down that road to the point where the characters become interchangeably attractive. There were three 20-something actors in an industrial I worked on last fall who were all about the same height, all with angular jaws, dark spikey hair, and two-day stubble. Two appear in one scene and as the camera cuts from one to the other you think you're looking at the same guy who keeps inexplicably changing his shirt!

British directors often take the view that average-looking people of any age can have riveting life issues, have others fall in love with them, and be generally interesting to watch. I like that. People are like furniture. You get a new cherrywood table and you're happy with its lovely perfection until someone leaves a wet glass on it and you get a foggy ring on the surface. Then the table is spoiled because all you see is the flaw. But give that same table 30 or 40 or 50 years, and many stains, scratches and dents and it develops this lovely patina. It becomes an old friend. It's beautiful even with the flaws (maybe even because of them)and when you touch it you feel the many hands that went before you over its whole existence.

I think Selleck himself is more interesting to look at and listen to today than he was 30 years ago. He now has this wonderful craggy face. He has more breadth and depth; his characters have more vulnerability. You can touch them and feel all the life experiences that went before. I wish there were more films and television series that appreciated that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

At the office on three hours’ sleep. Too much after-dinner caffeine last night. Plus I stayed up too late trying to finish The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a book I started reading while waiting for more acting books to arrive in the mail. I woke at 3 a.m. with Glenn Miller’s “Little Brown Jug” running through my head – specifically the trumpet riff that comes in somewhere in the middle. I credit my father for my love of music popular before I was born, but sometimes it intrudes. Fell asleep ten minutes before the alarm went off at 5. Tried parking under a tree at lunch time and closing my eyes for a few minutes, but still groggy.

I was thinking while that trumpet was blaring away of all the remarkably bad movies this summer. The Wall Street Journal had a piece on that very topic last week – “The Worst Year Ever for Movies” – or something like that. So much money spent. So much talent wasted. Even Inception failed to do anything for me. I got lost in the tangled plot 30 minutes in and there weren't any characters to care about. Marion Cotillard, who was so terrific in La Vie en Rose, was little more than a lovely prop. Michael Caine’s reassuring presence didn’t get enough screen time. You have to care about at least one character for a film to be successful. Gimmickry alone won't carry a picture. My husband and I watch 4-5 films a week - old ones and new ones. This summer there have been many weekends when none of the new ones felt worthy of the price of a ticket. Let's hope this is just a temporary condition.

I love films. I've seen several thousand and have favorites that I watch five or six times each year. I don't understand people who want to work as an actor or director, but have no interest in studying great old films and the actors and directors who made them great. The art form didn't begin with CGI.

I hope to pack in as many leading roles as I can over the next 6-10 months and move into films with bigger budgets. So far my booking/audition ratio is about 8 in 10, in part because I try to choose carefully.

Just before I drifted off to sleep I was thinking how much fun it would be to work with Tom Selleck on a Jesse Stone mystery. My fantasy. I like the series; it's very well done. He looks terrific too. The one flaw is the Stone character's ex-wife. Her babykins voice on the phone has got to go.

I'm babbling. Time to get back to work.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Being a Good Sport

Filmed over the weekend in Baltimore. Interiors for the most part, so they had to light it and shut off the AC to kill the sound. It’s now August. That meant two long days of filming in what felt like 90-degree heat and 90 percent humidity. Even my scalp was perspiring. As each day wore on my clothes stuck to my skin, my hair went limp and damp. I kept patting my face with tissue trying not to smear my makeup or get the powder wet when I reapplied it.
Too tired to drive home and spend the night in my own bed, so I opted for a somewhat seedy hotel next to the Baltimore bus station – chipped furniture and a bluesy saxophone recording playing in the lobby. Dinner at McDonald’s. I was missing my husband and bone tired and sympathizing with Private Benjamin (“No, there must be some mistake! I signed on for the picture with the catered gourmet meals and air-conditioned private dressing room trailers!”)
Being an actor is not for the squeamish and often means being a good sport about working conditions. It was an interesting script, the directors were good to work with, and the film has a gritty feel.
What have I learned? To trust my choices. That’s it’s easy to cry on cue when the words move you.
Meeting tonight with Andrea Ellis, who's directing a film I’m doing in September. This one is to be shot largely outdoors on a bench at a boat pier – I am so relieved!