Filmmaking is for Warriors: Teaching

filmmaking-is-for-warriors_teaching

“Do you know any famous people?” the tiny child asks me.

“Famous people?”

I don’t know what else to say. I’ve been a filmmaker for 10 years, but most of the people I know aren’t plastered on the cover of People Magazine. I do know some actors who have been plastered all over the billboards in Kansas City, which is pretty cool. Mostly just because those actors are totally awesome, and it’s nice to see them achieve new things.

Inevitably, it doesn’t matter if I have an answer to her question, because there’s a half dozen more questions flooding my way. I wave my hands at the brood of small people and do my best to change the subject back to the class I’m teaching and away from my filmmaking career.

Teaching.

I started teaching theater and acting when I was 19. I shouldn’t have, really, because I had no idea how to teach. Those first few years my head was under water and the kids drowned with me. I’m sorry, kids, I didn’t know what I was doing.

But like Dory the fish said, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”

So I kept pushing my way through teaching, class after class after class. I taught basic and advanced acting, improv, film acting, film production, costumes, musical theater (as a sub, ’cause I don’t do music), black box and radio theater. I’ve assisted in directing shows. I’ve subbed for ages that I would never have chosen to teach – 4 year-olds are not my buddies. I’ve taught subjects I knew very little about and had to research – radio.

And then I was burnt out. And I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Kids take a lot of energy. Kids need a lot of attention and help. Kids are SO MUCH FUN TO TEACH.

Plot twist.

I love teaching. I love talking to those kids. I love playing games with them and seeing them grow. I love seeing how kids learn to rely on each other in theater. I love seeing how theater changes lives for the better – confidence, friendship, coordination, memorization, basic theater skills, communication, trust, loyalty, diversity and a host of other things. I’m sure people learn this stuff in sports, too, but I was a theater kid so I can’t speak to that.

I had a screenwriting teacher who loved his job. He really did. He loved interacting with his different students. I had another film teacher who loved her job. She was the most understanding teacher I think I ever had, always open to giving students a second chance to learn.

And I think to myself, why don’t more people teach?

Because every single person who loves teaching, also hates it. At the end of the day you feel wiped out, left for dead and drained. Your job is to push other people into greatness, whether that is in theater, writing, math, science, robotics, music, computer, filmmaking or military training.

People push back.

Sometimes they do it on purpose. Sometimes they’re just too scared, as some of the 8-year-old students in my class the other night.

The better you are at being a teacher, the more you hold yourself accountable to the things you are teaching. Your students are pushing back, and you are learning more than them.

That’s a cliche. I hate that cliche. It’s obnoxious. Obviously if you’re teaching a child multiplication, you already knew how to multiply. Duh. That kid didn’t teach you that.

But while you were teaching multiplication, that kid was teaching you patience, kindness and long-suffering, because that kid’s probably an aggravating little dude with a numbers complex that needs a reality check.

I subbed for a theater class this week and last. I haven’t taught in a very long time. It was hard work corralling all those little people. I was hungry and my throat hurt and I wondered why I would put myself through all this when I was still in my month of recovery.

But when I went back last night to teach, the kids told me I was an awesome teacher. Their words, not mine.

And I thought, I love teaching. Why don’t more people do this?

Advertisements

Fail the System: A short film with a long process

I’m working on the short film for October. I’ve been working on the short film for October since…June 12th. Originally I wanted to write a short about a very controversial subject that I have never seen in a film. But when I started writing Working_Title Red I realized that I had to have a primary storyline that was more accessible to a general audience.

I wanted to write a drama. So I started doing research on dramas, especially dramas that were dialog-driven, which is not the way I have been writing for years. The above show was recommended to me. I watched A LOT of it and found that the representation of family drama is the best I’ve seen onscreen.

This show, Broadchurch, was also recommended to me as a quality drama. It’s about a small English town that experiences the murder of an 11-year-old boy and struggles to come to grips with the reality. It is one of the most cinematically beautiful stories I have ever seen. The editing is superb, the acting is flawless and the writing is arresting.

It’s also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever watched and I had to take it in parts to better deal with the emotions it brought on (I don’t like watching things that make me that sad, but it was very good).

The following images I found as a reference for very good cinematography composition. The DefineFast Productions film will employ this kind of style.

So what is Working_Title Red about? Well, it became Fail the System, and it is about a sister and brother who work together to outwit a devious college professor and deal with some serious relationship issues. Yes, a drama. With dialog. Although it is not as dialog-driven as something like Gilmore Girls.

Since Your Sister Sent Me, a short film DefineFast made in 2013, I have not made anything this intense as a large-scale project. The cast and crew is currently being assembled for this and I am excited to see it become a reality.

Just a little info into the process of making a short film. As always, feel free to comment with feedback, critique or projects of your own!

For Actors

andrews pic from filming                         andrews pic from filming2

Tips for Film Actors:

1. Don’t look at the camera.  But don’t “ignore it” either.  It’s there, but it’s not there to your character.

2. Don’t sweat the number of takes.  Some of them were bad because of the sound or camera or a tiny bug that landed on the lens or the director was being an idiot or your shirt didn’t have enough blood on it.

3. Be an actor.  I mean, this is indy filmmaking, and sometimes actors are expected to help with the lights or whatever, but don’t.  Not unless specifically asked ahead of time.  You are the actor, you have a huge job already.

4. Relax.

5. Trust the director.  And the DP.   And the sound person.   And that guy back there holding a reflector or someone’s prop or all of the fake blood that’s about to be poured all over you.  In other words, LET GO OF YOUR SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS.  These people want to make a good film.  They want you to be good.  Let yourself be VULNERABLE.  What a horrible thought, I know.  But you are the actor.  Your job is to be vulnerable and let others film it.  And if you don’t trust these people enough to do that…ditch them and make movies with someone else.  Or change careers.

6. Be the character, don’t act the character.

7. The camera is your friend.  The emotions you show it are the size you would show a friend, not an audience 100 feet away.  Give your friend a break and don’t over-act.

8. You were chosen for this part.  Or maybe you weren’t, maybe you were the only option or that one director just really wants to see how you react to being covered in gooey, sticky, red-dyed corn syrup.  Either way, you are this part now.  Make it yours.  Stake your claim.

9. If the director keeps giving you direction, and you’ve done the take ten million times, TRY SOMETHING NEW.  Maybe the director isn’t especially articulate or maybe you just don’t get it.  Don’t give up or go all pity-party, TRY SOMETHING NEW.

10. Have fun.  If it’s not fun, get lost.

I mean it.

mine from filming

(BTW, I had the best cast and crew last week at filming)

Impossible Impossibilities

Making a film is impossible.  Come on, the only way Hollywood does it is to call on an army of thousands, millions of dollars from investors and the finest directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, actors and editors on the planet.  They have an establishment.  If you’re not in it, if you don’t know someone, if you don’t sleep with half of California, you’ll never be a part of filmmaking.

Right?

At some point, usually many points, artists are told something very similar to this.  I’ve heard it…a lot.  And I’ve bought into it at times.

A long time ago my mom taught me to keep going.  She did this through encouraging me to stay in choir, keep writing, take this class, oh you like to draw–take this other class, theater sounds good–here’s a theater program even though we can’t afford it.  So I’m going to work extra just so you can go.  She came to my shows, most of the time she had to–she was helping.

When I started making films, my mom started hosting actors.  She has been on set…many times.  She offers feedback on scripts, first edits, actors, and anything else.  She has acted in my films and recently co-wrote a short film with me.

It’s hard to give up on something when someone else refuses to give up on you.

Because of this, I am about to attempt an animated film.  Hand-drawn.

Yeah, I know.

Here’s a sneak peek of some of my conceptualizing.