Monday, October 18, 2010

Matching the Medium Shot...

I finished my last day of filming yesterday with this new film.  I had one last interior scene to be shot.  I play a very smarmy, dismissive, asshole of a guy, an office boss, the kind of guy that doesn't even respond to 'good morning' because he thinks it's beneath him to talk to underlings about anything except work.  I've had bosses like that in my life, probably most of us have.  Really unhappy, miserable, soul-sucking people. 

Working in film is relatively new to me.  I've done fillm and television work periodically throughout my life, but it was always incidental.  It was never something I sought out.  Of course, that comes from a general way of thinking prevalent in both NY and Chicago.  But LA is not NY or Chicago.  Film is what people do here.  Theatre is incidental.  God knows the money is a helluva lot better for film and TV work.

I was chatting with a buddy of mine late last night after filming all day.  He's done quite a bit more of it than I have.  And I confessed to him that I really love it.  And I do.  I am, however, really, really ignorant about it.  I like to consider myself a fast learner, though, and I'm learning a great deal about it every time I do something new.  And I learned something new yesterday.

Now, when I say 'I love it', I'm talking about the actual filming.  As one might guess, it's all about conserving one's energy until the word 'action' is shouted.  Sometimes hours go by between shots.  Yesterday was no different.  We were shooting in an office in downtown Burbank all day.  Myself and another guy in the scene and dozens of extras.  Technicians were scurrying around doing technicial stuff.  The principal actors (me and this other guy) were parked in a plush room by ourselves and the extras were in a big, break room on the other side of the offices.  The continuity person and the Second AD were coming and going throughout. 

But anyway, back to what I learned. 

In this particular case, and I don't know if it always works like this, the 'medium shots' were done first and then all the close-ups, over the shoulder shots and coverage shots later.  In the first 'medium' shot, I'm in a conference room with a group of young executives and I"m being an asshole at the front of the table.  Being generally negative and saying things like, "If you wanna keep your jobs..."  They are all brow-beaten and a bit anxious because I'm the kinda guy that likes to make everyone feel inferior...again, I've known so many people like that in my life.  It wasn't, to say the least, an acting stretch for me.

But I was using glasses in the shot and put them on and took them off three times.  Reading glasses. 

After that shot we started on the coverage shots.  The continuity person (a very nice woman with an incredible eye for detail) was on me like white on rice.  Everytime, for the rest of the day, that we did another shot of that scene she was right beside me telling me exactly where I took my glasses off, on which word, when I put them back on, with what hand, which hand I used to pick up a folder, etc.  My, oh, my.  While not exactly distracting, it did give me a whole new level of things to think about. 

So what I learned, that I suppose I already knew but hadn't given a lot of thought to, is that whatever I do in the first 'medium' shot, I'm locked into for the all the other shots.  It's really just common sense, but I'm a sort of a 'let's just turn on the camera and see what happens' kinda guy.  Even though it obviously behooves the actor to know exactly where the camera is and what the frame looks like, I tend to get focused very quickly and then ignore all that to the degree that it's possible.  Eventually, I treated it all as a sort of intellectual exercise.  And rather than be annoyed by all the constant reminders of when I did what and on what word, instead I found it utterly fascinating. 

Also, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, the old adage, 'save it for the close-up' is so, so true.  That is the moment when absolute, precise, exact concentration and honesty is demanded.  For this project, the director (and I know this isn't always true), a veteran of many films (I can't say his name until the film is released...I signed a legal document saying I couldn't publicly discuss the director, plot or production company), was a really easy going guy that trusts actors.  His focus was about 90-10: 90 percent on all the technical stuff and 10 percent on molding the performance.  At the end of the day he never invited the actors to see what he filmed.  But for some reason he and I really hit it off.  We ate lunch together and chatted about films and plays and whatnot.  He told me something interesting.  He said if he's casting a film and looking through a resume, he skips all the TV and film credits and looks for extensive stage credits.  Why?  Because he says those are the actors, generally speaking, he's not going to have to baby-sit.  Stage actors are trained to do it alone.  To immediately swallow themselves in the work itself and not worry about the camera and the crew watching and all those other things that jerk an actor out of a scene.  And, as an added compliment, when the final, 'let's print that one' was uttered, he asked me to come back and look at the scene.  He told me he never does that, for the most part, but he knew I didn't have a huge background with the camera and wanted me to see what I had done.  When we finished watching all the 'rushes' he said, "You're going to be doing a lot of this.  You're completely natural in front of the camera.  I wanted you to see that."  And while not terribly comfortable watching myself work, I have to admit, it looked pretty good.  That is to say, I wasn't watching with a critical eye of what I did, but rather was watching to see what 'that guy on the screen' was doing.  And I didn't like that guy, that character.  I wasn't critically watching me at all, but rather some nefarious, suit and tie guy, being an ass.

So despite all the tedious waiting and standing around, I really loved the actual spurts of filming.  And, as I said, when all is said and done, the money ain't bad.

I'm off today to audition for a stage play in Redondo Beach.  Big, big theatre.  Great contract.  A play I've done many times before.  It plays right up until Christmas which is perfect because then Ange and I are flying back to Missouri for the holidays.  The timing couldn't be better.  The day after I would close (assuming I get the part, and egotist that I am, I always assume that) we fly out to the Ozarks.

And Thursday I'm called back for a small, supporting role in a film that would require me to fly to the mountains of Utah to do some work on location there.  The trick these days is to keep juggling all the balls in the air and hope there aren't too many conflicts.

Plus next Saturday and Sunday we're auditioning abour a hundred actors for two of my plays that are going up in a staged reading capacity.  The name of our new company is 'The Gathering.'  These reading will be our first venture.  It's all very exciting, actually.

LA is in the sixties these days, gloomy and overcast.  Native LAers are treating it like a blizzard, all bundled up and wearing sweaters and uggs and trench coats.  I'm treating like good sleeping weather.

See you tomorrow.