Sunday Dinner With The Morgans
Two weeks ago I was on a six day location shoot in Farnham playing another yummy mummy but with a lovely drug habit to fuel her obsessive nature and get her through living with her family. The best part of the whole project as that my husband in the short was played by , a very experienced actor who spent five years at the RSC, and known for Ali G, Peep Show, and is currently in Hollyoaks.) He is also Chair of The Actors Centre and has written a great book on being a Corporate Actor. This was the first low budget student he had made in 25 years so I really did luck out due to how professionally the great producer Jack Pollington and director Alex Forbes had approached him and the script itself. (This was also the second short film I have filmed in the first six weeks of 2014 so far where they had manage to raise Kickstarter funding as well)<!–more–>
I always find I learn something new on every shoot. Paul reminded me that in the midst of us actors trying to be as helpful as possible to the film crew, constantly pushing ourselves to give them what they need to make the project as great as possible in the tiny time frame, that with less experienced crew and directors on these low budget short film projects, we also need to honour ourselves as actors. Due to the lack of rehearsals you get on a film set, compared to the time theatre takes to embed the characters, the text and the blocking, the actor’s instinct to look or respond a certain way can be all a scene needs. Sometimes student directors and crew can be so focused on getting the shot that they shoot such long eating scenes from one angle that it is extremely difficult to keep all the continuity in your head and there is no one on hand to help. Then the actor spends the time in later takes worrying re continuity rather than the truth of her character. No one wants to be known as a pushy actor or demanding actress but we all learn from each other and directors do not get to watch other directors work in the way actors and crew get to learn from each other.
NOTE I just filmed a great commercial yesterday with a multi award winning director Joanna Bailey and an incredibly experienced crew and I was not about to stop the fast process with demands or suggestions. However don’t be afraid of ones own worth and instincts on a set as an actor. You are hired for the instincts you brought to the audition so trust them, take the director’s notes as quickly and fully as you can and be as helpful and open as possible. As an actor, you are not a supporting artiste, you have training and instincts and they want you to use it.
I was at a talk with the casting director a week ago and she spoke of getting a call from (Gravity director amongst many other great films) mid him shooting ‘Children Of Men’. There was a shot when there was news shown on a television screen and the reactions of the people watching it had to show the gravity and import of this information without any dialogue. However the supporting artistes did not give Alfonso what he needed, ‘I need six actors’ he said. Even though the six quickly found actors had no lines, it was their response that told the story.
Sometimes student or low budget filmmakers in their rush to get certain scenes in the can will forget or not yet have fully learnt about the artistry of an actor, what we can bring, the sheer power of a single look. You can have a great script and fabulous looking set but the film does not come alive until the actors walk, talk and respond physically and emotionally to their circumstances and to the other characters.
In October last year I was one of the actors asked to do table reads at the London Screenwriters , where certain scripts had been chosen to have professional actors and director work on it for 45 minutes. The experienced TV directors for the most part would happily edit away the script, cutting lines in front of the initially horrified but later appreciative screenwriters: showing how the actors’and the director’s instincts, the director’s blocking and cutting certain lines to tell the story better make for a better and truer storytelling of the screenwriters intentions. So working with Paul reminded me that I am hired for my instincts, my abilities to tell the character’s story my way and to honour that within reasonable limits and how each director likes to work.
I did a class with director who first of all wanted to see the actor instinctly do the scene in their own way before blocking it and working out how to film it. Also with TV director who is used to the fast pace of Television: he was incredibly clear from the top about the blocking and shots he wanted but he still wanted us to play as actors in the confines of the set. I did a TV Docu/Drama ’’ with Jeremy Freeston, which will be screened later in 2014 and the director suggested where I started from in the kitchen as my ‘lover’ came in but then he watched how we played it out, and then using that new information, he then blocked it.
I guess the fun is learning how each director works as there is never one way, and of course some actors/directors form great partnerships on the basis of enjoying the give and take such as the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp run of films.
The great thing re playing all these upper class yummy mummy roles is they hire some great location houses. This one had a pool but it was far too cold to go near it. Plus I met some amazing cast and crew, some of which I hope to work with again.
The worse thing about the Sunday Dinner With The Morgans shoot was the fact they squeezed me in skinny white jeans with sparkly butterflies on my behind. Less yummy mummy and more New Look, hopefully the fashion low point of this decade for me. However I wore it with pride whilst twisting a lot to keep those damn butterflies out of camera shot 😉
I was also reminded that people who have never loaned out their home for location shoots should understand just exactly how large, intrusive and loud a film crew will necessarily be as they descend with massive amounts of black equipment, some of which will come in contact with your shiny white walls.
If you do ever think about loaning out your home for a shoot I honestly suggest that you demand it is left in the same state as it was found and then leave the village! Being on set will only drive you insane 😉
Some pictures printed by permission of James Taylor Meme website,
Others I took or Alex the director did 😉