The Art of Film-Making

I just recently had a conversation with my aunt who reminded me, once again, how little people know about the art of film-making. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing essential, but for an industry that lives on creating images and myths, I find it interesting how inadequate a picture it draws of its most crucial bees in the hive. We all know that actors are important, that they put a face to a story and fill it with life, but who would they play without a script, who would they be without a director who guides them through it?

I know, during awards season, certain names are mentioned from time to time – directors more often than producers, editors or cinematographers. Thing is, it’s a process to create a film and takes a village to carry it from that first sparkle of an idea to an actual theater near you. It often takes years to raise the necessary money and many films are never made for many different reasons – from the studio system until today, some things never change.

Generally speaking however, film-making is hard work and requires skill, sweat and imagination. You need enthusiasm, a thick skin and dedication, no matter what position you are working in. From the set runner to assistants or the wardrobe department, if you don’t love your job, it will affect the production. And while that may be true for any job, be sure to know that film people rarely work on a regular schedule and are constantly looking for a new project to sink their teeth into. So if you don’t love what you do, why bother? Why put up with the hassle of possibly never seeing your project come to life?

If you’re working in the creative industry, failure, disappointments and frustration are as common as the flu. If you can’t deal with it, it’ll eat you up. So no matter how, if you want to write, compose or act, direct, produce or design, find your coping mechanism, because success is not easy to come by. Surround yourself with supporters, not with people who like to bathe in the possibility of meeting celebrities. Casting shows and gossip paper articles about actors and their supposed fairytale lives have shaped many people’s perception of an industry that has always relied on reinventing their own achievements and popular faces. Don’t buy into what they tell you and learn by doing what it means to make a film. And if you can spare a minute, sit down and imagine how different your favorite movie would’ve looked like with a different cast, score or coloring – it may give you a perspective of all the jobs that were pivotal to make it. Just look at Perry Mason, at Warren William’s portrayal in the 30s compared to Raymond Burr’s two decades later. The same character performed in such a different style and manner. Both perfectly cast if you ask me, but still so unalike in their delivery.

And while I’m at it, I’ve always thought that Barbara Hale would’ve been a beautiful Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m convinced that Raymond Burr would’ve tackled Stanley Kowalski in a hauntingly impressive way. Daydreaming aside, I also appreciate the wonderful casting we’ve seen in both projects and give kudos to the casting directors who managed to merge talent with chemistry. The Donna Reed Show is another example of a job well done and so is I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, and Our Miss Brooks. For my dream project, I always cast Bill Williams for the lead in The Adventures of Tintin, a film I would have loved to make had I been alive back in the 40s – a film that was released as an animated feature last year and is a great example for the art of film-making.

Respect for Acting

As y’all may know by now, Friday is miscellaneous day. So today I am writing about one of my favorite topics: acting.

Acting can be a fun hobby but it is a tough job if you do it for a living, if you are a working actor fishing for parts or a newcomer who is barely scraping by. Personally, I love to act and I have great respect for everyone who does try to live by it. It is one of those creative professions that is often underestimated all the while it is the most popularly celebrated job in all of Hollywood.

Actors are predominantly associated with the projects they are working on although in essence they do not shape the film, play or program as much as is often insinuated in interviews and features. Without actors a script will not come to life however, no matter how good an idea the director has or how much money the producer provides. It is a very interesting job actually, exhausting at times, following orders yet breathing life into a character so it will be distinctively your own creation.

In my experience, every actor has a different approach, background and method to work with. And no matter how much training you get, every actor has to find what works for her (or him for that matter) best. So apart from never-ending practice, singing, dance or voice lessons, joy and the necessity of an undying craving to perform, careful observation and second hand experience may do wonders for your style.

“Eight Women of the American Stage – Talking about Acting” by Roy Harris (with a foreword by Emily Mann) and “Actors at Work” by Rosemarie Tischler and Barry Jay Kaplan (with a foreword by Mike Nichols) are two books I can recommend in this context, from the bottom of my heart. They give beautiful insight into the process of acquiring a part by a variety of great American talents such as Meryl Streep, Donna Murphy or Mary McDonnell.

Furthermore, I can highly recommend Uta Hagen’s “Respect for Acting” and “Challenge for the Actor”, two books that made a big difference for me and opened my inquisitive mind. Multidisciplinary shaped as I am, it was a great addition to the different methods I looked into in classes and on stage. Uta Hagen’s approach really pushed me forward and made me feel at home emotionally. It was the one method I finally connected with.

For everybody who prefers to see and hear more about her method, “Uta Hagen’s Acting Class” is also available on DVD. In my opinion, the DVD is a worthy investment and a helpful addition to her second book, “Challenge for the Actor”. “Theater of War” may be another adjuvant purchase. The documentary features Meryl Streep’s 2008 Central Park performance of Mother Courage and her journey of mastering that challenging character.

I really wish there was a book featuring my favorite classic actresses with interviews on their acquired wisdom in and expert approach to acting . Most of them got their training on the job and successfully so, and maybe that’s their legacy for anyone who wishes to follow in their footsteps – there’s no such thing as a studio system anymore, but individual classes are available everywhere and if you’re lucky the one or other extra or stage job in your area.