Thursday, April 27, 2006

Class was hard last night

I had a one-session workshop with Will Wallace last night. I really like and respect Will, and get a ton out of his workshops each year.

And last night's class was ... really hard. Seriously, I was up all night, and my stomache's in knots.

I mean it was a good class, too, and I may write some more about the details of the class later, but I need to talk about what messed me up.

We were doing my scene, and I wasn't getting where I needed to be on my own. Will gave me three rapid fire directions, which I took in-stride with the scene, and created three immediate levels of texture to my performance.

We got done with the scene, and Will said, "Gah, Adam! You took the direction and you did it! In stride, in the scene, you got there! But you don't let you give yourself that same direction, and you don't let you do something with it."

Probably one of the better summaries of where I'm stuck right now.

I know I get stuck in my head. I know that problem is not unique to me among actors. I knew that's one key area I needed to work on when I talked to my agent last week about what kind of coaches I should be thinking about. She told me I need to work with folks that can get me out of head.

Hey, it's OK if I recognize I've got a problem; I don't need other folks pointing it out to me. Which Will also did after the exchange above. And right before a really cool guitar analogy that made a lot of sense to me.

This isn't limited to my acting.

It's my life. That's why acting is so important to me.

I'm a head person. I'm a leader and an intellectual and while I'm also driven out of the need to act ethically and morally, I can get pretty separated from my heart in work, religion, relationships.

Acting gets me my heart back. For me it links the mind and the soul and makes me more of a whole person and gets me closer to myself and other people and God.

This is so important to me -- not just for the Craft, but for me.


I was working through so much stuff last night, and was getting frustrated about things like I felt like I had made some pretty strong choices for my scene last night, but they were the wrong choices (acting is relative). And I get frustrated that I feel like I keep making the wrong choices.

And that's usually where I stop -- frustrated and stuck.

But not last night. Oh, no -- Last night was "Epiphany/Grow-up Night #372". Last night I started to dig into why "I keep making the wrong choices."

I think in scene work I keep looking for that hook in my real life that makes the scene "come alive" for me. The way that plays out is something like I find the germ of something (selfish relationship fight) and over-amp it for the scene (husband/wife divorce scene).

Which is fine, except for me (wait for it) ...

I try to make the scene happen, rather than let the scene happen.

There. That was one of my big ephiphanies. But it couldn't stop there. Noooo -- Now I needed to figure out how to let the scene happen, rather than make it happen.


Thinking nonstop about how I'm stuck in my head is probably not a good way to get unstuck in my head.

I am so freaking tired ...

Good audition ...

I just had a really good audition with Scott Rice (Synthetic Pictures), Beth Sepko, and Sheila Steele over at Beth Sepko Casting.

Rice got quite a bit of festival buzz for Perils in Nude Modeling, and his commercial stuff seems to get a huge, positive comedic kick from his narrative work.

The guy was genuinely a pleasure with whom to audition, and seemed to be having fun auditioning people. Beth and Sheila are absolute pros, which makes an audition rock.

Plus, Scott's done a spot for Activision, and I'm a video game junkie. So that made me more excited to audition for him (no, I realize it could have been just a gig for him, but the thing is fun and slick -- check it out at Synthetic Pictures ("ACTIVISION - GINA").

Oh, the audition was for the Austin American Statesman (Central Texas newspaper), and is full of witty double entendres ...

"I Wear Makeup ..."

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gus Van Sant

Tonight's Austin Film Society/University of Texas class speaker was Gus Van Sant.

Gus. Van . Sant.

Van Sant is the director behind Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, Good Will Hunting, Elephant, and a bunch of other great stuff.

Tonight wasn't so much of a historical walk through of the guest speaker's filmography (though there was some of that), which was a nice change of pace.

We watched some of his early stuff, including Junior, a short of his cat chasing light reflected off his guitar as he played a song, which was part of his experiment in creating $50 films.

Van Sant did marketing in New York for a couple of years, then moved to Portland, OR -- he said he felt it was better to live and make films there, and not be aware of Hollywood -- at least at the time.

When asked how he got Drugstore Cowboy, he pointed to the festival success of Mala Noche, and said he thought people (producers) are honestly looking for films that work.

"They can see the script for what it is," he said. He said they're looking for the unseen, where everything else (story, cinematography, casting, acting, and editing) come together, and he feels Mala Noche demonstrated that.

He further noted that when you watch a film, "Most of the time, you see the holes, because you're forced to -- they're too big."

We watched a couple of clips from Drugstore Cowboy (the opening voice over montage and the "dog hex" scene). Turns out the opening intro 16mm flashback/forward montage was filmed by all of the actors, and they at first didn't know what they were going to do with it, but used the footage and the last-minute voice over to help set up all characters to appease the studio execs -- "The voice over is about 'Executive Notes'."

"I believe in a lot of what executives like. I don't dig my heels in and fight, which I see a lot of filmmakers do. You might as well try it. I can always take it out later."

We watched the campfire scene from My Own Private Idaho, which it turns out River Phoenix re-wrote and set the shots up for, and Van Sant supported.

We then transitioned to Gerry, the 6-minute, single shot, no dialog Salt Flats scene. Long, and not real accessible, but a fascinating clip. He said they also shot the film in sequence, with him editing at night, so after the first week, they had a rough cut of the first 30 minutes of the film.

Gerry and Elephant are "different" films, which Van Sant said were liberating him from "the list" way of making a movie, where working through a film in a deterministic way isn't "fun" -- it's a akin to working through an errand list, where "if you can get milk and batteries at the same place -- bonus!"

He spoke about his more commercially accessible films (To Die For, Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrestor), and said Good Will Hunting was actually a film he did "for the people". He considers it a Marxist film, though "it ended up being somewhat Capitalistic."

He also said the Weinsteins tried to pay off Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, so they could put Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in the roles. Thankfully, they declined the offer.

We also got to see a clip from Paris, je t'aime (2006) (segment "4th arrondissement"), which was fun and quirky short with heart.

During the Q&A session, some interesting stuff came out.

Like on directing Nicole Kidman (To Die For) -- "Directing Nicole ... there was no directing going on. She already had it." She evidently showed up with 6 months of rehearsing/coaching, and 12-15 exercises per scene.

"She was an anchor, which I've never really had with other actors."

He did say he had his best collaborative relationship was with Phoenix, and mentioned one professional Swedish actor (whose name I'm embarrassed I didn't catch), who would do anything requested, without fear of appearing silly -- which led to this generalization about actors:
"If you ask them to do something that makes them feel silly, only the bravest
will do it."
He compared that to "less professional" (fresh) actors, who don't know it's hard to take themselves someplace, so they just do it.

I really enjoy hearing directors talk about actors, and I took away stuff to watch for, and to have fun with.

Overall, Gus Van Sant was a joy. He was comfortable in his own skin, fun, and very sharing of his experience and philosophies.

Good way to spend an evening.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mark Cuban

I'm pretty inspired by Mark Cuban's speaking in last week's Austin Film Society/University of Texas class.

The class started out slowly (rolling traffic light black outs delayed Cuban getting to UT, the proctor played waaaay too much of The Eagles' "Life's Been Good" before he allowed Cuban on stage, then he asked for applause from the fans of the Cuban-owned Dallas Mavericks (which was fine), but then asked where the Spurs and Rockets fans were (which led to, uh, arguably louder applause).

From founding system integrator and reseller MicroSolutions (and selling it to CompuServe, Inc./H&R Block for $6M, to founding and selling to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock, to saying the hardest thing anyone can do is be an actor, to founding 2929 Entertainment, to buying the Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures chains, to purchasing and re-energizing the first hi-def satellite network HDNet, he got my creative and entrepreneurial juices flowing.

By his own admission, there wasn't a time in Cuban's life "where I wasn't entrepreneurial."

On the entertainment front, Cuban made news recently with the controversial "Day-and-Date" release of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble in theaters (Landmark), television (HDNet), and DVD (Magnolia Pictures). Normally, distribution channels each get their own window, and theaters in particular don't like their already (and, I would argue, self-caused) shrinking profit window mucked with. Outside of Landmark, 70 theaters in the nation showed Bubble.

He admits it's a challenge: "How do you help people get movies, how they want, where they want, when they want, and have it have value at every point in the distribution?" (Cuban doesn't include Video-on-Demand (VOD), which he says removes tiering value for Day-and-Date.)

I was interested in the details of how Cuban moved into each vertical space, like with 2929 Entertainment, limiting risk and learning a little on Godsend, getting a little riskier and learning a little more on Criminal (great and under-rated film; Warner Independent did the film and John C. Reilly a big dis-service in their lack of commitment), and I'm looking forward to next 2929 releases We Own the Night and Akeelah and the Bee.

Cuban likened acting to corporate business, which (unlike sports, he said), "You only need to be right once."

"[Actors] just need to find that one thing that works for them."

So, Cuban has done a lot -- what's his secret?

"I'm a big believer in learning," Cuban said, "Most people keep doing things the same way. But if you can stop, absorb it, analyze it, you're ahead of the game."

And later, brings it back to the fact that he spends 70% of his time on the film side:

"Nobody's smarter than the [film] business."

Which has recently driven him to read about the film business for hours at night before bed.

Other tidbits from Cuban:
  • "The first challenge for an independent film maker is not to lie to yourself."
  • "Independent film makers need to realize theirs is not the only money in the value chain at risk."
  • "Right now, to distribute a movie there are gate keepers no matter what -- Whether it's a big movie or a small movie."
  • "To develop an hour drama right is about $750K per episode."
  • A new HDNet Films reality TV series is in the works, with Dennis Rodman "Rodmanizing" straight-laced folks (a la Queer Eye for the Straight Guy).
  • On his and his partners'/companies' mission: "Where we see hypocrisy, let's try to free people from hypocrisy."
  • Unlike the disappointing (and, I would say, a bit hypocrital) message of a lot of AFS/UT speakers, Cuban said college is important, if for no other reason than "The point of college is to learn how to learn."

I got the sense that is something looks hard, Cuban looks to whether that's a reason to do it.

"I just like to take on controversial subjects. Period."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Corporate Inspiration

These inspiring words yesterday from the Chief Marketing Officer from BigHugeCorp, on the revamp of our bonus and incentive plans:
"Many people believe a meritocracy is an appropriate structure within which to work."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fun with messing with people

Today is a fun day for messing with people.

I'm a pretty clean-cut guy by nature of my position at BigHugeCorp. But today, I'm unshaven, hair unkempt, wearing work jeans and an untucked button down. People have stopped in the hall, stared in the stairwell, told me I look like I just got out of bed, and asked if I'm "okay".

Not that the point was to mess with people. I actually had two things going on today.

  1. I had a meeting with my agent, where one of the topics was what the more relaxed look for my new headshots should be (this).
  2. There's a lead for an indie short for which I hope to audition, and this is how I see the guy.

Side benefit is I get to mess with people...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Process Improvement: Can I Make . . . "

"Process Improvement: Can I Make a Difference?" -- Do I really need to spend days in Vegas for training topics to which I already know the answer?

march of the pigs

Turns out Nine Inch Nails "march of the pigs" is a good get-ready-for-the-corporate-idiocy prep tune. Who knew...