Actor Appreciation

In preparing to hold auditions for casting my next film called BLUE COPPER, I’m reminded of how much I appreciate actors. They all have unique personalities and varying skill levels, but regardless, they have a tough job. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the films and theatre performances we all enjoy. 

My first “directing” job was back in junior high school with a bunch of friends. One of the thirty-two kids that lived on our street was put in charge of house-sitting while a family on the next block went on vacation. Our friend informed us of their responsibility in the family’s absence and that they possessed the key. A dozen of us were convincing enough to take a field trip to explore the inside of the unsuspecting family’s home. 

We weren’t the type of kids to steal or ransack anything, we just thought it exciting enough to be in the house. How perfect—a new location for an imagined film set. I can’t remember what the story was about. However, I do recall directing the kids in a performance. Who knows if the owner ever found out what had transpired within the walls of their home! It was my first opportunity to work with actors, albeit my breaking and entering cohorts!

Until I took my first acting class way back in college, I had always imagined acting to be easy. Wow, was I ever surprised! It was hard work that took lots of rehearsal time and that discovery had nothing to do with talent. I have NEVER had the attitude that acting was easy, since then.

Years ago, I played the lead role in a couple competition short films. And, I’ve had my mug show up in the background of a few films. Even in the feature film we shot, I’m in the background a couple of times. One of those as a crazy person in an insane asylum. Of course, we joked that on Day 16 of shooting, that’s where I belonged! I digress.

About a year ago, I took an improv acting class with the lovely, Linda Waymire. Using my brother’s hippy lingo, “It was a trip!” Here I was actually doing scenes with real actors. It was so much fun. But, I had signed up for the course to help my directing. I had and have no desire to pursue a career in acting. I’d much rather be behind the camera than in front of it.

I’ve enjoyed being a part of almost forty independent film sets. Obviously, my experiences have been very different than participating on big studio projects. But, I love indie! My roles as writer, director, producer or some combination of those has kept me close to the actors. Because of this, I have met and worked with many of them in the local Arizona filmmaking community. Some of them have gone on to Los Angeles in search of furthering their careers. 

So, it goes without saying that I have a few thoughts on actors!

Auditions - For you non-actors, can you imagine walking into a job interview several times a week or a month? How nerve wracking. Of course, you do what it takes to do what you love. I wrote a blog a few weeks back called, It’s About Success. I talked about how it is essential to stretch on a regular basis to ensure growth. Well, I have to imagine that with every audition, most actors stretch themselves pretty well. The competition is stiff. 

Making final casting decisions after an audition is always difficult for me. Alas, those decisions are necessary. Actors have to be strong individuals that can handle a lot of No’s. Honestly, nobody likes to feel rejected. There are tons of articles available to help actors understand the reasons they aren’t selected from an audition. And, a lot of those reasons have nothing to do with the individual’s efforts. I admire an actor’s ability to continue auditioning in order to pursue their passion. 

Boy, memorizing lines. Now, that’s a talent in itself that goes without explanation.

At least for independent film projects, an actor must be resilient. A typical day often runs twelve hours. Only a portion of that day requires acting time. There is a lot of sitting around. So, actors must find ways to occupy themselves as the crew re-sets cameras and lights, time and time again. A non-film friend that came on set one day was amazed at one actor that napped sitting up in a chair. Because, of course, for us low-no budget indie projects, we don’t have funds for fancy actor trailers!

Actors need to have patience. It takes time to capture just the right shots required by the director. There can be technical challenges to overcome and any number of other issues. Typically this translates into multiple takes. Not having the luxury of shooting with five cameras to capture every aspect of a scene in one fell swoop, requires repeated performances. 

This leads me to my next point. I’m so appreciative of actors that are aware of continuity. Things that go unnoticed by most people, can mean frustration for even the best film editors. Unfortunately, some excellent takes are rendered unusable. For example, Actor Sally holds the glass in her right hand for half the takes, then switches to her left hand for the other half of the takes. A bare bones crew can mean no person dedicated to continuity on smaller sets. Many times the director, cinematographer, or someone else catches the inconsistency. However, occasionally these seemingly small details are missed. Ugh! So, those actors that pay special attention to those small details are so wonderful. One of my favorite actors, Jim Coates, is a master at continuity. This makes him a dream to edit!

Actors always have to look good. Even off set and at networking events or film festivals, they are dressed to impress. While I get to wear my comfortable jeans and not worry much about a bad hair day, they are always on stage. They never know when they might meet the next person they will have the opportunity to work with.

Another challenging feat for actors, is to totally immerse themselves into their character. This often means doing or saying things they normally would not in real life. That takes guts. It demands a special person to not worry about what other people think. After all, they are acting. It’s funny how we believe we get a glimpse of famous actors by the roles they play. But, we forget they are acting. Kudos to those actors that can do this—and another reason why I don’t act!

A talented actor embraces their character. That takes skill and dedication. But, this is their art and their passion. When their art combines with my vision, and together we find that sweet spot, what a beautiful thing. I ALWAYS get chills! 

Finally, these fine individuals must be able to handle the style of the director. Some directors articulate better than others. Some rant and rave while others are quiet and calm. There are those that have staunch methods for directing, while some are more simple. Everyone exhibits their own particular way of working with actors. But, all of us share the same goal and that is eliciting the very best performance possible. Therefore, I appreciate actors flexibility in responding to the plethora of communication styles utilized by their directors.

Personally, I like to have a great rapport with my actors. Not a combative one as some opt for. In fact, I prefer everyone to check over-inflated ego’s at the door. EVERYONE is important on a film set, no matter what their responsibility might be. It takes the talent of many to make a film. Ever sat through the entire credits of a movie?

Cast and crew alike are vital. It doesn’t matter if actors are leads, supporting, or extras…they all deserve to be treated as valuable. As an indie filmmaker, I don’t have much room for egos on set, they just get in the way and inhibit the creative process. 

So, a huge thank you to all you actors out there! I admire and respect each of you for all you do to enable us storytellers to bring our visions to the big screen. 

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