Sunday, July 10, 2011

Last Tango in Los Angeles: A Lesson in Humility.

Last Tango in Los Angeles: A Lesson in Humility.: "Yesterday I had a long rehearsal for a short film I'm shooting soon, tomorrow, in fact. It's an odd little script, but quirky and amusing. ..."

A Lesson in Humility.

Yesterday I had a long rehearsal for a short film I'm shooting soon, tomorrow, in fact. It's an odd little script, but quirky and amusing. Something I don't get to do too often on film: absurdism. It's being directed by a very nice, polite to a fault, young graduate student. He had seen another film of mine at some point and asked me to do a role in his film. We quickly got the business stuff out of the way (it's just a short film, not much time involved, so I didn't even bother to forward anything to my agents - besides, I was flattered) and set the time for filming.

But then, much to my mild irritation, he called a rehearsal. At first I said no. I hadn't agreed to a day of rehearsal. For a short film? Nah, I thought, not worth it. But he persisted. Very politely. So I finally said, okay, I'll give you a couple of hours, but not all day as he originally wanted.

So around noon yesterday I traveled over to Pasadena and sat and did a table read of the piece. I was clearly the 'ringer' for the project, brought in to play the part of the loopy, silly, antagonist in the script, the 'working pro' around the younger, fellow graduate students also asked to do the piece, being treated with entirely too much cautious respect.

And as I sat there going through the eight page script, I realized how important this was to all of them, how passionate they all were about it, how grateful they were of my participation. And I had a very clear flashback of my days in school. I had written a one-act play, not a very good one but I didn't know that back then. I was directing it myself and had obtained permission to present it one-night-only in the studio theatre at college. I cast my buddies Robert Fiedler, Jeff Cummings and Dwayne Butcher in the play, all good actors. The play was about a half hour long. I rehearsed them hours and hours for it, days in fact. We poured over it. We discussed it. We placed every line under a microscope. We dissected it. We treated it as though it were Lear, Hamlet and Othello all bound together in one play. We wore our passions on our sleeves like undisguised war wounds.

And I remembered all of this and suddenly I felt very arrogant for being such a prick about reluctantly agreeing to their rehearsal. After a bit, the young director (who also catered lunch and had sent me several emails asking what I did and didn't like so he could get exactly the right thing) said, well, I guess we've taken enough of your time. They were going to keep rehearsing, continuing to go through the script, find every comic beat, over and over. I thought about that play, that little one-act that Bob, Jeff, Dwayne and I had done back in 1983, and I said, nah, no worries, let's just keep working till we get it the way you want it. And we did.

I wish I had one tenth of the single-minded devotion these young guys have for their craft. I envied them their naivety and confidence about what they were doing. They were making Citizen Kane, The Searchers and The Godfather, they were writing the final word on films. The fire flared in their eyes as they set shots, laughed at timing, brainstormed ideas, tried different camera angles, all as if none of it had ever been done or tried before.

I finally did have to leave after a few hours, but the truth is, I would have stayed all day if I could have. To be in the center of that unbridled pureness of intent, completely devoid of cynicism, clear-eyed and certain, not ashamed to show how important this was to them. Well, it was a dose of humility. And I was the one grateful in the end. Because it made me remember when I was that age and unafraid to wear my passion openly. I had not yet suffered the slings and arrows of the oft-repeated word, NO. No one had yet to say to me, 'you can't do that.' So I didn't know I couldn't.

In my blog yesterday I lamented the idea of 'working for free.' And yes, sometimes it is necessary to say no, I'm sorry, but I don't do that. But sometimes, sometimes, as in yesterday, working for free pays for itself. It pays for itself by being allowed to breath in that idea of work for work's sake. Excellence for the sake of excellence.

Now I haven't the slightest idea if this little film will be worth anything. Doesn't matter to me. The point is we're trying, me and these idealistic, young graduate students. We found ourselves believing in something, even if for a few hours. And most importantly, I found myself transported, quite unexpectedly, back to a time in my life when the work, the work itself, was the goal, not something to 'get through' so as to justify the paycheck.

Well worth it. Indeed, a welcome and humbling trip back 28 years or so when I, too, thought nothing was impossible.

See you tomorrow.