Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Golden Age

Merry Christmas, everyone! (And just about Happy New Year)

One of my Christmas presents this year was the complete collection of Superman serials from the 1940s. I had this box set on my Amazon wish list for years, so long in fact that I
had completely forgotten about it. I was very excited to open up the present on
Christmas morning, and I started watching it that afternoon. For those of you who don't have it, you can check out the trailer online, and I'm also sure that a little hunting across youtube will turn up most of it. The characterization of Superman is very much in keeping with his early appearances in the comic books, where he is known to carry criminals through the air, smack people's head together, and leave the villain hanging from lampposts.

Fortunately, this serial hits all of those wonderfully fis
t-pounding moments from the old comics. The movies were made in the late 1940s, they are Superman's first live-action appearance, and they are hugely entertaining. Each serial is 15 chapters long; each chapter runs about 15 minutes. If you don't know anything about the old-time film serials of Hollywood, you should click that hyperlink and go find out.
(Also, shame on you for not knowing.) Episodes were shown every Saturday morning at the mo
vie house, with the end of each chapter enticing you to return "next week, for the next thrilling installment of [INSERT NAME HERE.]" A fun sidenote, the film serials are the origin of the word "cliffhanger," because the cowboy-hero would literally be hanging from the side of a cliff at the end of one chapter, leaving the audience to wonder how he would ever survive! At the beginning of the next chapter, the cowboy-hero would climb his way to safety, and the adventure begins anew.

This discussion of cliffhangers allows me to provide a link to the best, most amazing, awesome, cliffhangingest cliffhanger of just about all time. It's this one.

But back to Superman.... To preserve the intended viewing style of the Superman serial, I've been watching one episode at a time. Sometimes more than one in a single day, but I always let a little time pass between episodes. Each chapter follows a very clear formula, and when you watch too many of them at the same time, the formulas become very apparent. But spreading them out over several days gives them the illusion of originality. And when I remember how they were originally meant to be seen, they are much more enjoyable.

The only other serial I own is a VHS copy of The Shadow, starring Victor Jory and Veda Ann Borg. I watched this when I was in high school, and I really studied its story structure and scriptwriting. I was very interested in the idea of a modern film serial, milking it for all the cheesy and repetitive goodness that it would offer. I put that project to bed for a long time, but now I'm starting to wonder if there is a way to produce it under the Radio Hound banner. It would be a fun retro project, if I could figure out a great way to market the finished film.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In another few years

I am a fan of the works of Noel Coward. I've only been in one of his shows ("Hay Fever" at Hedgerow Theatre), but I have enjoyed all of his shows that I have read or seen, and I've heard great things about the recent production of "Brief Encounter" on Broadway. So it was with a whole lot of excitement in my heart that I headed to Delaware to audition for a leading role in Coward's farce "Blithe Spirit." I saw a production of the show many years ago and I really enjoyed it. Coward writes very funny characters and very funny dialog, and I think that I'm very suited to play one of Coward's leading men. I can tap into the wit and intelligence of his characters, but also their senses of panic and desperation as things fall apart around them.

So I went out to the audition today armed with the script pages and a mug of coffee, and I had a really good time. I worked with a reader on a scene between Charles and his wife, and then I took a very fun crack at Charles' monologue where he is talking to the ghosts of his two dead wives. I had a nice rapport with the director, we talked about our mutual friends, and I think I did a decent job with the character. Coward has a way of writing comedy that I really enjoy and connect with. Sadly, his leading men are all generally closer to forty than thirty, so I might not be the right choice for the role this time around. But in about ten years or so....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Avengers... ASSEMBLE!

I've never been a fan of either roleplaying games (like Dungeons and Dragons) or party games that involve acting (like Celebrity.) Because I'm an actor, games like that have always felt a little too much like "work" to me. I've always imagined it being akin to a bus driver relaxing by going for a three hour drive through busy city streets, stopping every few blocks. But my long-standing prejudices aside, I headed out in early December to join a dice-based roleplaying game that combines Marvel and DC comic book characters together in a shared universe.

I played Starman (William Payton), a minor character from DC comics circa 1990. He's essentially a normal guy who ended up with superpowers, including flight, invulnerability, and the ability to project heat, flame, light, and radiation. (Hence the name "Star"man.) When he realized he had these abilities, his sister Jayne helps fashion him a costume and he becomes the hero known to Phoenix, AZ as "Starman."

It's quite a costume, isn't it. God bless the early 90s in comic books...

After some chitchat and dinner before we started gaming, we hopped right in with the time-honored game of "screw with the new guy." I was the new guy. Starman was in trouble almost right away, and there were more than a few tense moments as he tried to figure out who everyone else around him. (Those people turned out to be Captain America, She-Hulk, and Deadman.) In fact, Starman is the only one of the heroes of our group who does not have his own wiki entry.

The game, which went until about 1am, was a whole lot of fun. It was a challenge to get into at first, especially since I was playing a character who was much more of a re-actor than a prime mover. But once we got into the story, acting the character became much easier, and I really started getting into a groove with it. And even past the "acting" part of the roleplaying, I started getting into the hang of how superhero characters behave and act. I was coming up with creative ways to use my superpowers, and also advancing the story in what I thought were very "comic book" ways.

We have more sessions scheduled for the New Year, and I'm looking forward to them. Far from feeling too much like the day job, it was a lot of fun to release my creativity and pretend to be a superhero. I was so into the role that whenever Starman was flying, I would actually lift my feet off the ground and sit on the edge of my folding chair so I could really "feel" what it would be like to be Starman in that moment.

Yes, I'm a geek. But an unapologetic geek.





Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Trip into the Past, Fashion-Wise

On Thursday morning, I headed up to Easton, PA to be a model for a photo shoot for historical clothing. A friend of mine works for Reconstructing History, a company that specializes in creating historical wardrobe for either re-enacting events or costume balls. They make clothes from all different eras and countries, and they hired me to be the photo model for some of the outfits that they sell on their website. The clothes themselves are all beautiful and completely accurate reproductions; they do amazing work. After an hour of driving and an invigorating coffee, I got to the storefront in Easton, met Kass, (who owns the company), Bob (whose clothing I would be wearing), and Chris (the photographer.) We talked, got to know each other a little, and then we got down to work.

Over the next four hours, we worked hard and constantly. I had to get out of there around 2pm for another commitment, so we were shooting fast and hard. And I was having a lot of fun as we were going. I'm the sort of actor who responds very strongly to wardrobe and costuming. Whatever decisions I make about a character are always informed, and in some cases completely changed, when I get the character's clothes. I've been very protective of costumes in the past, including taking care of my own uniform when I played Iago, trying to get the outfit as comfortable and as lived-in as possible. Clothes really do make the man.

The photographer was really great, and we worked on putting a lot of character into the still photos. I had to show off the clothing, but I had to do that by fully inhabiting and creating the character who would wear those clothes. We used props, different poses, and lots of hats poised on my head at rakish angles (because they didn't fit on my head.) The official photos will be posted on their website (www.reconstructing history.com), but they did allow me to take some photos of my own of some of the different outfits I modeled. This was in exchange for plugging their website. Did I mention that the website is www.reconstructinghistory.com? Go visit them now.

And here are some pictures. First up is a formal dinner outfit, complete with tails, hat, and legitimate stiff-front shirt.

Second, a morning suit from the early 20th century. I was tempted to sing "The Life I Lead" from Mary Poppins. I did.

Third, as Mr. Darcy, or Horatio Hornblower, depending upon your preference. I imagined myself as Hornblower. Hence the sword.

And finally, a piece from even further back in history. This one is affectionately referred to as "Little Boy Blue."
Go check out their website for all your historical costuming needs.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Co-Producing

Some time ago, I met Justin and Chris, some fine folks from NYC who make movies together as Hard Boiled Productions. We met at a networking event where people took turns showing the short films they had completed. I had brought The Chrononauts and they brought their short film Duty Noted. I was really impressed with their style and their creativity, and we've stayed in touch since then. In fact, Justin has written three radio scripts for Radio Hound Productions, including "Under the Lamplight," the recent finale to Scream Til You Die Shocktober. We grab drinks when we are in the other's city, and I just went out to support them in early October at Project Twenty1, a Philadelphia film festival.

But it was when I saw their latest short film, "Time In," that I sent them an e-mail telling them how interested I was in working with them. I had originally meant for them to consider me as an actor for whatever they were producing next, but Justin sent me a script that he suggested we turn into a co-production between Hard Boiled and Radio Hound. His script is set in suburbia (which I have access to), and focuses on the dynamic between a somewhat-estranged brother and sister who have to deal with each other during the Christmas holidays.

What started as a cool idea has been a very active e-mail brainstorming sequence. The three of us trade emails about the script, the film, and the details of producing it, and our brain trust of film making is certainly coming up with some fun ideas that are making the original script stronger. We have tentative plans to film the movie over a weekend in January, but we're still trying to work out some logistical details of the shoot itself.

I'm really digging the idea of working with them. I've admired their work for over a year now, and I've gotten to know them both as really awesome guys. I'm also used to producing the Stray Dogs Project largely by myself, so I enjoy having collaborators who are developing the script and the project with me. We're also trying to get the project going pretty quickly and wrap it up pretty quickly, trusting to momentum to carry us forward. It's still a little too early to announce anything for sure, but it's an exciting project that might be coming along. Stay tuned for more.


The In-Between Times

For actors, one of the challenges they face is filling the time between acting jobs with other gigs that can pay the bills. Some people work a 9-5 "day job" in order to rehearse and perform at night, some are lucky enough to have a flexible position with a temp company, and some are even luckier to be performing constantly. As I juggle temp jobs and freelance writing assignments, I am lucky that one of my friends is the production manager at a theatre in Philly. Whenever a show closes at his theatre, I can usually get a day or two of overhire work taking apart the old set.

Normally it's just a few days of heavy lifting and unscrewing flats from their supports. Sometimes we have to lower pieces down from the ceiling and then cut them up with the saw so that they fit in the trash can, but normally it's not very taxing work.

Not this time, however! This time they had put down an entire floor for the set, so our first day was spent prying up about a hundred pieces of fake hardwood flooring. Once that was finished, we had to pull up thousands and thousands of staples that had been holding that flooring down. And if that sounds terrible and difficult, it's mostly because it is. We worked for hours, only to find more staples that we'd missed. And when we pulled down more pieces of the set, we found staples in them as well. It felt like the entire theatre was put together from staples alone. Well, staples and wood glue.

I got four days of work out of this strike, which equals a nice little chunk of cash. I have a gig tomorrow morning as a model for historical costumes, which I'm really looking forward to. I'll try to snag some photos of my own to post and share, but I'll be sure to link to the official ones when they get posted. It's going to be a fun time!