Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Will "Before I Disappear" be as good a film as "Curfew"?

I'm drawing up my grocery list in preparation for a day of cooking turkey, but I just saw that Shawn Christensen's film Before I Disappear is opening this week and I had to say a few words. I saw his short film Curfew, which won more than 40 film festival awards before taking the Oscar for short film in 2012. It was very funny and clever and an example of what a writer can come up with if his take on life is prefaced with "What if....?"

Before I Disappear is Curfew taken to feature length. Here's the gist: "At the lowest point in his life, Ritchie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his 11-year-old niece, Sophia, for a few hours." (The film actually opens with Ritchie in the bathtub cutting his wrists. I will say no more.)

Christensen has added a few name actors to the feature, like Ron Perlman, but he still stars himself as Ritchie and has retained Fatima Ptacek as Sophie. I actually thought Ptacek was the weakest link in the short, because she seemed too much a show-biz kid, too much 10 going on 30. We'll see how she does in the feature.

The big question is, can you expand a short, snappy comedy and still make it work? We'll see. So far the feature has won 12 festival awards and the critics are mixed but generally positive. A lot of those who saw the short can't wait to see it. Me included.

Christensen graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York with a bachelor's degree in illustration (of all things.), but is proving to be a natural screenwriter, actor, and immense talent who is going to have a long and successful career in film. Whether it's writer, producer, director, star, or all of the above...who knows? But you are going to see his name a lot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

This Vampire Film Has Me Intrigued

I haven't watched a vampire film since Count Yorga, Vampire scared the bejeesus out of me as a kid by letting the vampire win. (What fun is that?) But what I've read about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, has me intrigued. This sounds like a brilliant twist. More later when I actually get a chance to see it.  As I said, lots of good films out, and women filmmakers!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Praise of Small, Funky, Creative, Inspiring Films

After starting off the year with the usual over-the-top CGI Superhero flicks designed to attract the easily amused, this has become a phenomenal year for small, funky, creative, inspiring films. My husband and I would rather eat popcorn in a movie theatre than dinner in a French restaurant, but over the summer there were weeks when we stayed home. Now there are so many choices!

The 2014 Oscars are shaping up to be a real horserace, although if Michael Keaton doesn't win the Best Actor Oscar for Birdman I'd like to see the performance that does! (More on Birdman in a separate post below.) Check out Naomi Watts both in Birdman and St. Vincent, where she does a brilliant comic turn as a pregnant Russian prostitute.

Has Filmdom discovered that a fine small film can turn a tidy profit with much less financial risk?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Suggestion for Marketing via Social Media

Arlan Godthaab, Vampire Hunter
A Los Angeles actor friend, Arlan Godthaab, posted photos yesterday on Facebook from "I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker," a horror-comedy now shooting in snowy Wisconsin, with a cast that includes Jacob Givens, Derek Haugen, Noel Carroll, and Keely Gelineau. These were interesting shots that not only made me want to learn more about the film but also got me thinking about how actors and production companies use social media to publicize their product. His is one way, and it’s a good one.

Yet most production companies, even the big ones, don’t yet get social media. Filmmakers trying to break into the business have enough on their plate just trying to figure out funding, casting, logistics, lighting, shooting, and editing. Marketing is rarely in the budget, so they don’t even think about it. They should. They have a whole team on set that can help get the word out about their production, but often the best most young filmmakers can do is set up a Facebook “fan page” and then ask everyone to “like my page.” In an incentive-based culture, that’s rarely effective because everyone is thinking, “What’s in it for me?"

Every person over age 3 has a cell phone with photo/video capability, and nearly everyone under age 80 has a Twitter account and Facebook page and more. (Judi Dench tweets, for heaven sakes!) Actors WANT that production still of their big scene. They WANT to tell people about the terrific new film they’re working on at the moment and the great production team that's creating it. They want to post it to Facebook, upload Vine videos, and tweet the news out to everyone they know! It’s part of driving down your IMDb rating and driving up your Klout number, which is why stars large and small are being advised to do it. These days a few savvy producers even consider an actor’s social media presence when casting their films…and say as much in the breakdowns!

So let me make a suggestion, maybe even a few….

Small production? Don’t have a recognizable star? Designate someone who's good with a cell phone camera to take production stills throughout each day’s shoot. (A production still is one with the camera and crew in the shot that tells everyone “See, I make movies!”) At the end of each day have them review the photos, adjust the sharpness and pump up the saturation with a cell phone app like Camera+, and then see that every member of the cast and crew gets at least one flattering shot of themselves to use on social media. (And “flattering shots” should be the instruction to the photographer.) Later, when you get to editing, have someone grab interesting screen shots from your outtakes and, again, email them to cast and crew who are in those scenes. You can also use all of these shots on your film production website and social media sites (and, yes, you should have all of those), make them available to the designer creating your poster, and use the outtakes in producing your trailer.

Work with your cast and crew to help shape the message and get lots of free and positive publicity (which helps in building audience anticipation and winning awards.) Talk to them. Get everyone pulling together.

Arlan, my best to director Clayton Cogswell and the whole Good Cops Entertainment Team at #HouseHarker. Looking forward to seeing the film.

Still photo by Jacob Givens from "I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker."   

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Classes in Washington, DC...the Demanding Ones

Acting is an ongoing education, not only in studying great actors in film and on stage but also in formal classes. We're always working on our craft.

A little play I was in last month won its one-act competition, with nice comments from the judges about my performance. It was the first time on stage that I was free of stress about my lines and about performing in front of an audience. It was enjoyable....exhilarating. Now is the time to pump up my stage work with a class that pushes me back out of my comfort zone.

I've been surveying local actors on which programs are likely to be the most challenging.  Here's what I'm hearing....

The Shakespeare Theatre Company: Accessible. Classes of 5-6 sessions. Great for the classics (and what actor doesn't need a firm foundation in the classics?). Learn at your own pace. Enunciate! Enunciate!

The Studio Theatre Conservatory:  Demanding. Not for the faint-hearted, or the thin-skinned. A full 3-year program, which they encourage beginners to take, or individual classes to round out the more experienced actor. Joy Zinoman and her faculty are known as tough customers (but I like tough customers). Just 8-12 students in each class, which is enough for good scene work and feedback, but not so many that you don't get enough time to perform.

#StudioTheatre #ShakespeareTheatreCompany #Actorslife

An actress is always learning her craft

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Non-Glamorous Side of Acting...

Up at 3 am. Camera ready and on the road by 4:30 to drive 81 miles to an early call and avoid much of rush hour. Astonishing how many cars are already on the road. Then a lonely breakfast in McDonald's, drinking coffee and watching the first gray threads of dawn break on the horizon. Worked from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., much of it in bitter cold and without a coat, then fought heavy traffic for 3 hours to get home. To get home dead tired.

I've known dayplayers and background actors  to be on the road 8-9 hours round-trip to work a film or TV show, which often means being up more than 24 hours straight, unless they can catch a catnap back in holding. It's called dedication.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Latest in a Year of Great Movies....Birdman

What a year for great movies! And what a feast for actors to watch and learn.

Saw #Birdman with my husband yesterday. Wow. That…was…different. Wow. My husband (he's the literary one) pointed out that it draws on the School of Magic (or Magical) Realism that was popular in Latin American literature in the 1940s and 1950s. Think Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Events occur as normal, then people begin to fly. Yes, it's that different.

Birdman defines "tour de force" on so many levels, right down to the titles. I can't even imagine what it took to light those tracking shots.

And Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts (This after her turn in St. Vincent. Fabulous!) The Brits have dominated acting for decades. Now the Americans are showing them how it's done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Other Sources for Acting Inspiration

Actors draw inspiration from many sources, including the fine acting to be found in silent films and old radio shows.  I’m a huge, huge fan of the radio drama, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, which aired from 1949 to 1962.  It's the story of an insurance investigator, but one that rivals any private detective from Sam Spade to Lew Archer.

I was in Nevada and Arizona a couple of weeks ago and stopped by the Lake Mojave Resort near Bullhead City, Arizona, because it was the location for several YTJD episodes, including “The Mojave Red Matter” and “The Red Mystery.”

Sixty years ago when it took 10 hours and $153.00 to fly non-stop from New York to Las Vegas, getting to the Lake Mojave Resort sounds like a trek to an exotic place.  Here’s an excerpt from “The Red Mystery” that mentions the resort:

“…the awesome beauty of the clear night sky over the desert with its billions of stars twinkling in the black sky above is something I’ll never tire of.  The stars seem close enough to reach out and touch them. As the plane hit the glide path down to the landing strip at the south end of Las Vegas the myriad many-colored lights of the city winked and sparkled like the lights on a gigantic Christmas tree.  Yeah, from the air Las Vegas, the fabulous city of chance, is just plain beautiful.

I’d like to have stuck around Las Vegas and tried my hand at some of the casinos and clubs along the gamblers’ alley they call The Strip, but I had other things to do. So, Item #2 is $50 bucks deposit on a rental car and within minutes after the plane landed I was heading south and east across the desert down toward Davis Dam, down to the Lake Mojave Resort. The desert, mile after mile of nothing but sand and sagebrush and Joshua Trees, of tumbleweed and cactus, of high plateaus and broad mesas. Here and there the skeleton of some animal that has perished in the remorseless, terrible summer sun.

And then suddenly, in the middle of it, the life giving waters of Lake Mojave.

At the south end of the lake, just above Davis Dam, is the resort, with its clean, comfortable motel, good restaurant, tackle shop, and dock, everything to warm the heart of a fisherman. Yeah, and in the bright light of the moon I could see the lake itself, calm as a millpond. That meant that, unlike the cold and snow I’d left back east, here it was warm and perfect weather for fishing. It took a bit of self-control to keep from driving right on down to the dock. Instead I drove in a circle around to the office where, in spite of the hour, someone came out to greet me…"

The reason he couldn't stop to fish was that he was tracking down murderers and racketeers. It was a wonderful show and Bob Bailey by far the best of the eight actors who played Johnny Dollar over its nearly 13 year run on radio. There’s more about Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar online on several sites devoted to old time radio. You can also listen to episodes of this and other shows - like Gunsmoke, The Six Shooter, Bold Venture, and others - at no charge at: It's wonderful acting.

I enjoyed walking about the resort and took a few photos.  Next time I’m in the area, I think I’ll try my hand at fishing for some of those “lunker bass.”

Lake Mojave near Davis Dam in Arizona