An Ode To Acting

   Jon Favreau, the actor and director, and a man whose work I have enjoyed immensely over the years says every director should act. I cannot disagree with this. As a would-be filmmaker myself, I thought that it would be beneficial to take some acting classes myself. Unfortunately, though I was enjoying the course, midday through the course, the tutor decided to focus on poetry as the principal form of expression. I, philistine that I am, could not bear the thought of emoting poetry week after week, it is the one form of writing that I really cannot fully appreciate.

   In hindsight, I regret not sticking it out, because though even though I can marvel at a DP’s vision, and be wowed by a set designers or costumers’ eye for detail, be flabbergasted by a writer’s clever wordplay and ability to tell a story succinctly and subtly, the craft of the actor still remains, to me at least, a special kind of magic.

    I am not talking about your A-listers only. They maybe the draw, the ones who put bums on seats and keep the industry chugging along. They have to deal with the unrelated to the craft issues; stardom, maintaining a persona, always being on, especially in the blanket media age in which we live. Still, regardless how exceptional an actor/star maybe, their talent can only truly shine if those around them, the other performers, their fellow actors, do their part as well.

   Christian Bale is a, rightly, highly regarded actor. Aside from his infamous on set rants, he has turned in mesmerising performances in many films. One of his standouts of recent years was his Oscar winning turn in The Fighter as the real life Dick Eklund, substance abuser and trainer to Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward. Melissa Leo also garnered an Academy award for the same film, both were deserving of their accolades, but Wahlberg was equally as good in a less showy role. In fact you would be hard pressed to pick out a bad performance in that film.

   I’ll admit that The Fighter is probably not the best film to pick when speaking of the craft of acting. It is, after all, an incredibly well crafted film, where every element works. A better pick would be a soap opera or a made for television film. The expectation for these projects are different than those of a tentpole film. A made for television film especially, rarely raises the expectations of the watching audience. The actors, the ones we see in such fair, still have to give their all.

   It is the most public of jobs, on display for the entertainment and gratification of the masses, even when you do not necessarily believe in the material or agree with the story. Actors put themselves in the firing line. A bad film normally reflects badly on the actor, something Michelle Pfeiffer can attest to, as after her turn in the risible Grease 2 she did not work for two years.

   If it is not clear, I love actors. They bring the writer’s work to life and – more importantly – they live for that. The best ones, even the not so good ones, want to give a pleasing performance. They want to bring the character to life, they see things in the script that you may not of thought of, they bring perspective, they bring craft and caring. The rewards can be great, the success stories, the ones who light up our screens, these are the ones we hear about, the ones we see. So many, the vast majority, do it out of love, compelled to do it, ignoring the pragmatism of pursing a more amenable profession to do the one thing they feel they were born to do; act.

   Yet so many, the vast majority whose faces we may – sometimes – vaguely recognise, do it out of love, compelled to do it, ignoring the pragmatism of pursing a more amenable profession to do the one thing they feel they were born to do; act.

Artistic Borders

    Jules Winnfield, Zeus Carver, Mace Windu are all names that are familiar to film fans around the world. The Bible-quoting hitman, the reluctant, foul-mouthed, heroic, John McClane sidekick and the black Jedi. These characters, along with dozens – over one hundred – others, were brought to life by one man; Samuel L. Jackson.

   Samuel L. Jackson is one of the finest actors working today. He is also one of the hardest working having already appeared in over one hundred films with several either due to arrive in 2017 or slated for 2018. He is a man in demand. It was not always like that. Jackson achieved fame and acclaim late, not becoming well known until his mid-forties. A veteran of the business and having overcome substance abuse problems he had in younger years, Jackson wears his fame comfortably, exuding confidence and fulfilling the role of Samuel L. Jackson, movie star.

   Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, he is a regular in celebrity pages, on talk shows and in the press. He has talked of a love of golf, how seeing himself on screen is fantastic and fronted an important campaign highlighting awareness of testicular cancer. Jackson is no wallflower.

   Recently he has been in the press opining on the seemingly popular fad of casting black British actors for African-American roles. He asks, somewhat rhetorically, if African-American roles cannot be filled by African-American actors? Hmm. No doubt there are many African-American actors who, seeing the likes of David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Thandie Newton, John Boyega and most recently Daniel Kaluuya, have wondered what it is they have to do to be considered for such leading roles? Brush up on their English accents perhaps?

   Truth be told, Jackson’s comments are somewhat misguided considering his own situation. I doubt he is required to audition for the ‘Samuel L. Jackson’ like parts that are offered to him! Also in a country whose track record in race relations and African-American relations, in particular, is so poor, they still manage to have several notable figures who wield enough power and influence to not only get films made but bankroll them as well.

     With an entire network – BET: black entertainment television – dedicated to black televisual output as well as powerful producers and movers and shakers in entertainment, the avenues for black actors Stateside are many and varied, thus attracting talent from this side of the pond, where the opportunities for actors of colour are few and far between.

   Whereas the ‘Oscarssowhite’ hashtag was trending for the last couple of award ceremonies in the US, as actors of colour felt their contributions were being overlooked, here in Blighty such hashtags would be somewhat redundant as there is barely enough media featuring people or persons of colour to consider for awards.

   I suspect that Samuel had probably been hanging out with some of his lesser known black acting buddies and they got to whining about how them damn ‘Brits’ keep nabbing the plum roles. Samuel, being a good guy, felt that he could voice the concerns of some of his fellow black thesps, helping them out perhaps. He was wrong.

The Secret Service Of Seen It Before

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a peculiar film. Whilst highly enjoyable and well executed – by the ever reliable Matthew Vaughn – the story of a ne’er do well, diamond in the rough, London street youth, who is recruited to join the most secret of secret agent cabals, is entertaining yet immediately forgettable.

Taron Egerton –  posh playing street….irony? – plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, a going off the rails, scallywag, whose father gave his life saving Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a core member of the Kingsman. Hart, feeling guilty and indebted, takes Eggsy under his wing, offering him the chance to become a Kingsman. First he will have to pass the trials and beat out his rivals.

With this coming of age, finding-the-man-inside-the-boy story going on, there is also Samuel L Jackson’s Billionaire villain, Valentine to contend with. He has a plan to cull the planet, so as to save the planet.

The story is lightweight and a little nonsensical, not helped by an underwritten and frankly irritating villain. Samuel L Jackson plays the villain as a lisping, gregarious, violence averse, maniac. We never really care that he wants to destroy the planet, his argument for doing so seeming hollow, not even really believed by himself, which is the main problem. We do not believe Valentine as a megalomaniac.

Considering this comes from the usually highly reliable team of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who brought us Kick-Ass and X-men: First Class, this is definitely below par. There is no point at which you believe that the Kingsman will not ultimately win. The film looks good, if a little CGI heavy – exploding heads? Really? – and Sofia Boutella as the lethal, Gazelle, wielding blades where her legs should be, is fabulous. The action sequences are expertly executed as well, especially the utter mayhem that is the church test!

KIngsman: The Secret Service, running at around one hundred minutes is entertaining enough and is not a terrible way to kill a couple of hours. The performances are all good, if, in some areas, a little underwritten (which I hate to say, as I am a fan of Vaughn and Goldman!)I know it is based on a comic, but I feel they could have done more with the characters. If they make a sequel – let’s wait for the numbers! – hopefully it will be a more cerebral effort and a little less comic show.

On the day of the shoot.

A few pics from the day of the shoot.

Enjoying a brew.

Setting up opening scene

Director and cameraman conflab

Leading lady, Holly Ashman. Leading man, Neil Simpson

The ladies, Holly Ashman and Anna Reeve Cook

Nigel Rogers, the most excellent cameraman

Directing one oh one

More DIY directing….

Need a bigger tripod…

Always know where the camera is.

Fingers and all available appendages crossed.

There is just over a week until my second foray into filmmaking and I cannot wait to get it done. I am a little more apprehensive about this film as, like anyone else who has been in the same position, I want it to be an improvement on the first. I want the pace to be better, the performances better directed, the story to punch more, I just want it better. Hence the apprehensiveness. Plus I have been reading Syd Fields and have recently finished reading Blake Snyder, so my brain is awash with story structure and plot and conflict and moving the story forward and…well you get what I mean. You can almost study too much. The sheer volume of opinion and ‘right’ way to do things can be overwhelming. There are a lot of people, writing a lot of stuff, doing seminars, sending ezines, all purporting to be telling you how to break into television, film, Hollywood or all of them.
The thing is – and this why the market is SO big for filmmaking guru-ism – they are all right. Pretty much all of what you read or hear in seminars, online, in documentary interview or whatever, is well intentioned worked-for-that-person, nuggets of wisdom. Of course there are necessary elements; story craft, framing, beginning, middle and end, the things which should always be present. At some point, you have to do the deed and, if you enjoy it, want to make a career, do it again and again until you get good – or maybe – even great, at it. My road to ‘good’ begins next Saturday.

The road has an end, even if I am only in the middle!

The actors have been on board for an age. Initially, I had believed I had a crew, ready to go early to mid March. Then the cameraman got some work. No problem, I could wait. He contacted me; apologises, he could do another date. Okay, I could deal with that. Contact the actors, give them a new date, good to go. Cameraman comes back, got his dates mixed up. He can’t do the weekend he initially gave. Can do weekend after. Okay. Let’s do that. Actors agree, very accommodating. The cameraman cancels again. Says he will contact me and nail down a date. Hmm. Okay…..nothing. it was time to take matters into my own hands. The Web is a wonderful tool for the modern day, would be auteur. A quick Google for film crew people and a sign up to a filmmakers wannabe site – Shooting People – and I was advertising for a cameraman and sound recordist. After much toing and froing – everybody wants to know when the shoot is! – I have finally got a crew and a date. Still a couple of weeks away, so hopefully all will go well! It has been a long haul and it is only a five minute film! Got to love it.