Friday, May 30, 2008

Busy, busy - the show last night

Yesterday, I got out of work early to head down for another rehearsal in the city. I had spent most of my free time this week watching Michael Jackson videos to prepare for my role as a globe who wants to sing like the king of pop. (Yes, you read that sentence correctly.) So yesterday at rehearsal we worked through the show completely, and we worked some of those moves I've picked up into the show. We have a couple of rehearsals coming up in the next week before our performances in Trenton in mid-June, and we still have plenty of time to polish everything up.

We got out of rehearsal just in time for a costar and I to race downtown in time for the opening curtains of the shows we were seeing. I went to see the XXX's production of E. It is a show that I might possible be doing in the fall, so I was interested to see another director's take on the show. Especially from a well-funded theatre that has a reputation for excellent theatre. But the experience last night was very disappointing. The design of the show was amazing, and the most effective moments were the ones that were born out of the set and lighting. There was a moment in which the blue-washed stage was lit brilliantly by a wash of yellow. The effect was striking, and people in the audience actually gasped. There are also two sequences that are thrillingly theatrical, in which E's father builds her a room in the underworld made out of string. Such time and care is given to the moments, it is refreshing to see the director have the faith that the moments would play if given the proper space.

With all these striking elements, however, the production felt very hollow. Several of the leading actors weren't at all convincing in their roles, as if they were trying for something in high style and they never quite pulled it off. The scenes between father and daughter, as well as husband and wife, should have been touching and sweet, but they all felt forced. And with no emotional connection between any of the principle characters, I felt very little emotional connection as an audience member. Some characters broke out of the realistic mode, however, including the three-part "chorus of stones." Attired and interpreted as a trio of clowns, they were complete with baggy pants, oversized shoes, funny hats, and black and white make-up. They performed well as a trio, but I couldn't see how they connected into the rest of the world. And in the double role of "nasty interesting man" and lord of the underworld, XXXXX earns some of the shows more hearty and inappropriate laughs. It felt as though he were presenting characters from a standup routine as opposed to fully created performances.

The director of the upcoming show I might be doing was curious as to my thoughts. And as a result of the show last night, I think I can give him a very good guide as to the potential traps of this show. Our artistic sensibilities lie in the same directions, so I think that most of my thoughts would also be his. I'm glad I caught the show, even if it wasn't all that I thought it would be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The biggest Hail Mary ever

I went down to Philly this afternoon for an audition with the Philly Shakespeare Festival. I've known about this audition for a few weeks now, and I've been meaning to find some new monologues, work on them with a coach, and really hit the audition out of the park. Needless to say, I was a little too lazy and undisciplined to do all of that, so I ended up sitting in the waiting room with two monologues that I wasn't crazy about. I hadn't really rehearsed them either, so it was a big Hail Mary play. But when I stood on the stage and the speeches came out, they came out really well. There was a sense of playfulness about them, a sense of discovery and creation of the text. So the hail mary turned into a play that was dead-on. We'll see if anything comes of it, or if it fades off into the ether, but it feels really good to have given a solid audition to a company that I'd like to work with.


Sorry I've been away from the blog for so long, neither posting new entries nor even responding to comments on old ones. I'm normally much better than this, so by way of explanation I'll say that I spent most of last week in New York City. Seeing shows, seeing movies, sleeping late, that was pretty much the agenda for the last week. I have auditions, rehearsals, and even a performance coming up this week, so I'll try to keep going forward with reports as well as posting all those backdated reviews of the shows I saw this week. As well as my (spoiler-free) thoughts on "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Not that I expect to have much free time over the next few days, but I will see what I can do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The plus side of corporate America

This week, I went back to my job in corporate America, working for Pella Windows as a customer service rep. I've worked there off and on for the past two years, and they told me that they needed some part-time help for a while. With the acting and producing gigs falling a little light in the wallet (particularly the work on Changing Lane,) it seemed an easy way to make some money. I already know the job, I know the people, and, perhaps most importantly, the supervisors already know me. They have always been flexible when it came to allowing me time off for rehearsals and auditions. The job is also different this time around because it feels more temporary, even though we didn't set a specific "end date" for my employment. I have lots of things going on that I want to produce, fund, or develop, and so each hour I work in my cubicle is a concrete hour's worth of progress toward one of those goals. I'm on vacation next week up in NYC, so I'm sure there will be money involved there, but when I get home and start working on TOS, the game will be to spend as little money as possible, save as much as I can, and start building concrete progress toward my own goals for the year.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ending Changing Lane

Last Monday afternoon, I met with Rob to continue/finish our edit on "Changing Lane." When I got over to his place, I learned that he had been having serious computer trouble over the last few days. He thought his video card might have been giving him trouble, since his computer kept freezing due to digital distortion on the screen. Needless to say, with a contest deadline approaching, that was not something that I wanted to hear. We took the computer out to the local Apple store so they could spend thirty minutes deciding that they didn't have the part to fix it, and then we returned home with the still-busted computer. Hoping that it would fix itself, we turned it on for one last time. No distortion, no problem, and we started working. We came up with a short list of things we needed to correct in the film, but as we kept working, that list kept getting longer. It's not that we found more and more things that we didn't like about the film, but we kept spotting those little details that would make the movie all that much better when they were fixed.

We spent a long time on the closing credits sequence, both making the sequence time correctly to the music we had chosen, and allowing Rob the time he needed to learn how to use the 3D modeling program that we used for the sequence. Even though it was quite maddening to match the music cues together into a seamless transition, I think the final result is worth the effort. Once we hit the 4am mark in the editing process, we both decided that we might as well finish in that sitting. So we worked until about 5am, and then spent an hour waiting for the computer to encode the movie so it could be put on DVDs. Another hour later, we had a finished film as well as three copies of it. Bidding Rob a good morning, I managed to make it home around 6:3o in the morning. I literally dropped my clothes on the floor before I fell into bed, slept for about 30 minutes, and then I got up, got dressed, and got out the door for my first day back to Pella Windows. We had been editing for seventeen hours, and we managed to finish the project. It hit the mail the next day, and I'm really proud of the movie that we created. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, and the film came out very well.

Or should I say that our "competition cut" of the film is completed, and now it's time to work on the general release version. Not that it will have more scenes or different cuts, but it will feature alternate effects and perhaps a more finely tuned opening sequence. There were a few moments that got the "quick and dirty" treatment just because we were starting to run out of time. Rob and I discussed those alternate cuts, and now it's a matter of finding the time to put those finishing touches on things. We also still need to finish the promotional materials for the film, including a movie poster, and then we'll schedule the premiere and have ourselves a party!

And this is just me being paranoid, but I wish I had used overnight delivery to make sure it reaches the contest before the deadline. There, all said. Saying it out loud makes it better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reflections on a show gone by

I'm running pretty behind on twists and turns here, but I'll try to get back on schedule.

Last Saturday marked our last performance of TMS, followed by a limited set strike. We made sure to grab all our personal belongings that had been used for both costume pieces and set dressing, and then we helped our director get all of her stuff down the steps and into her car. We picked up our official show T-shirts, grabbed all the leftover posters that we wanted, and then headed home from the theatre for the last time. On the next night, we met at a restaurant near Villanova for a little cast party, with drinks, food, conversation, and ESPN. It was a nice, low-key way to say goodbye to the show.

Overall, I'm glad that TMS has come to a close. It was a tough experience for me, both for rehearsals and for performances. It was a frustrating rehearsal process that challenged me very much. The director and I worked in different ways to the show, and she supported a "straight line" approach as opposed to my own method of "smaller and smaller circles." I'll write a compare and contrast essay later, I suppose. And then the three week run was exhausting, both because of the intense focus that the show required as well as the limited number of shows per week. We had long breaks between performance weeks, and it is always hard to build a sense of momentum through those long dry periods.

And not twelve hours after the party broke up, but I was once again sitting in front of the computer to complete the final edit on "Changing Lane." But that is another posting entirely...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Editing sesson #3

Thursday night was my third editing session with Rob for "Changing Lane." We watched the film, and it was very exciting to realize that we had very few notes about the cut. We played with the timing of music, traded out the trumpet Superman march for a smaller, flute Superman theme, and then started working on the end credits. Rob had already color-corrected the film, so we tried to come up with something fun for the credits. An initial idea of a "comic book style" didn't pan out so well, but eventually Rob found a text style that would mirror the opening titles from the 1978 Superman movie. Putting them under the Superman theme, it was cool beyond words to see our names flying across the screen to that music. When I had to leave, Rob was working on the flying titles for the introductions of the actors. We said that they needed to be something that would be cooler than the flying text from Superman: The Movie, and Rob is working on something that certainly promises to deliver. I won't say any more about it, so as not to ruin the surprise effect from it, but it is easily going to be one of the coolest things ever.

Editing session #2

Last Tuesday, I sat down with Rob again to work on the edit for "Changing Lane." Since we had pretty much cut the whole film last week, we now had to look at more advanced editing ideas. Since pointing out that the edit is our third chance for rewriting the script, we took a closer view on that. We ended up cutting a few lines here and there, including one large piece of the conversation toward the end of the film. The characters had already reached a decision, and the extra lines were not helping tell the story. While they gave a little complexity and depth on the script page, the actors were able to bring those dimensions to the movie with the subtext in their lines. It ultimately made those few lines redundant.

We also had to solve a particularly tricky problem of continuity at the halfway mark of the movie. In her closeup of a line, Lucy took a swig of her beer and looked away from Lois. She reproduced that physical action in no other shot, so we had to insert another moment in Lois' closeup so we could match the action from one shot to the next. It took us (and by "us" I mean Rob) a good hour of hard work to figure that moment out, but it ultimately it works better than it did before. It was a great instance of a practical necessity producing the best of all artistic options. We took a crack at the opening credits, finding a really cool effect for them. It took a while for Rob to get the graphic for the title card correct, and while it still needs a little tweaking, it's heading in a great direction.

We also took a quick pass at laying in some music for the film. We found a piece for the opening, a nice set of riffs on an acoustic guitar. Rob and I went back and forth as to whether the music needed more than just the guitar, but I eventually convinced him to just put the track over the opening of the film and see what we had. After we watched it for the first time, we both looked at each other and agreed that it was perfect just the way it was. It goes to show that sometimes you can over-complicated things, and that the simple solution might just be the best one. We wrapped the work around 3 in the morning, but we have done more since this post. The deadline for the film is fast aproaching, so we're working overtime on this so we can get it submitted in time.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Finish to the weekend

Last week we finished the second weekend of performances for the show. My family and friends came to the show last night, and they all really enjoyed it. I went out for drinks with Tim, Daryl, and Becky from Cedar Crest College, and we had a great time. We talked about the show, upcoming stuff, and the next season up in Allentown. The semester is just coming to an end up there, so they were all in the middle of grading, final projects, etc. We chatted about that stuff for a while, and it was a great night. All their comments about the show were in line with everything that I had been thinking about it. And while the word "justified" is too strong of a word, I think the word is just "corroborated." Three professionals had the same reactions to the show that I did, both critical and encouraging, so it was fantastic to learn that my instincts were in line with what the pros thought of the show.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

That's better!

Last night's performance was not only better than Friday's, but it easily has a claim on being my best performance of the show yet. It felt very natural and very honest, although it didn't feel as "dramatic" as the performances last week. I'm not sure exactly how to describe that feeling, other than by saying that I didn't feel like I was forcing anything last night. The character of Ben was a little more "me" than he has been in the past. And while I'm not sure if that is the "correct" way to act, it was a method that was really working for me last night. I have more friends and family coming to see the show tonight, so I just need to make sure I get myself into the right head-space before the show. Something very much like last night...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

And the Razzie goes to...

Last night, I gave perhaps the worst performance of my career. So far, anyway. I completely reserve the right to suck big time in shows down the road, but up until this point, last night was probably the worst. Having said that, I want to make clear that this is not a "oh, poor me" entry, or a post where I want everyone to comment and say "I'm sure it wasn't that bad..." I am not fishing for compliments of any kind; I am being completely honest with my readers and telling them what I truly think. I also don't intend to offer any excuses for last night, and if that is how some of the story comes across, it is unintentional. I take full responsibility, and I revel in it.

Yesterday was a particularly hard day for me, in terms of my acting career. So when I arrived at the theatre last night (late, I might add), I was totally not in the right "zone" for the demanding performance of the show. So I got dressed, and while thinking of other things I finished the screenwriting book that I've been reading. The book, as well as the play I saw on Thursday night, was all about how to not only work in the arts but also have a fulfilling life outside of your devotion to them. And so when I went backstage to start the show, I wasn't really as focused as I should have been. And when we didn't get started until around 8:15, fifteen minutes or so after we were supposed to start, I confess that I had become completely distracted from the performance and the show. And so only a few minutes into the show, I realized how distracted I was. I normally don't hear or see the audience members when I'm onstage, but I couldn't ignore them last night. And so when I embraced the sheer folly of the acting moments, when I gave myself over to the crappy job I would be doing, then the performance paradoxically got better. I stopped trying to reclaim something that had been long, and I instead started honestly responding moment-by-moment to what was happening without any preconceived ideas about it. I won't lie; it wasn't a miracle of acting by any stretch of the imagination. No sudden epiphany here about the craft. Just a slightly bewildered actor trying his best to make it through the evening.

Tonight's show is going to be a better one. And, in fact, all of the ones coming up as well. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances last night, and I ended up doing the best job that I could. It's heartbreaking and heartwarming to think that all performers have bad nights, and that these sorts of stories come with the territory. Also add in the idea that I spent the rest of the night having a few beers, eating Doritos, and watching "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Things weren't so bad after that.

Friday, May 2, 2008

200th post!

This, according to the blogger website, is my 200th posting. And I will totally believe what blogger wants me to believe, if it means that I don't have to go back and count all of the entries one by one. I've been keeping this blog for just under a year, so 200 posts is arespectable number. I originally had thought that perhaps I'd try to post every day, but not enough happened on a daily basis to justify posts. So I'm sure that I'll post another self-congratulatory message when I reach my one-year anniversary, but for now I'll just move on to my rehearsal yesterday.

We had a brush-up rehearsal for "TMS" yesterday afternoon, which felt very useful in the sense that we got a chance to run through the show and run through all the lines. But in the other sense, it felt to be a waste of time because we've already been running the show. The director keeps giving me what I think of as "notes from acting class," making me feel like an acting student again. I might be getting defensive when it comes to these notes, and I'd be the first person to admit that. But perhaps the week after a show opens is not the most appropriate time to be giving notes on "how to act."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

First edit on Changing Lane

Can't you just hear the John Williams theme playing....?
Last night, Rob and I put in about six hours of work on the first rough cut of "Changing Lane." He had assembled the first half, more or less, and after watching it and going over some notes on it, we finished the first cut of the film. A few more notes on the progress, and we called it quits for the night. As Rob said, we were left with something that was a little more than a rough cut and a little less than picture lock on the film. There are still several elements that we need to add into the movie, but we've at least got something to work with now. (Part of the process was to go through the film and find still images that would be used as the marketing and promotional images from the movie. Some of those pictures accompany this entry.) We're meeting again next week to add those new elements into the film. We need to record and include a news broadcast that Lois is watching at the top of the film, as well as any musical cues or credit sequences that we need to add to the film. We're also looking at trimming the film down, since we feel that it might be running a little bit long. I would have liked to bring it in around the ten minute mark, but it's running around 15 minutes at the moment. I had wanted to cut several pages out of the script before we got to shooting, so I still might get the chance to do that during editing. We could also edit the pace of the film in the editing room, and we actually made some dialogue overlap to give it a stronger sense of drama; we raised the stakes. We also used the editing tools to give a little room to other moments, including Lois' rant to Clark as well as the moment in which Clark reveals his secret to Lois.
One of the fun (and challenging) parts of movie making revolves around that fact that the editor is the one in charge of organizing and pacing the performances. On stage, you speak your lines in order, the other actors respond to you, and the moments come to life as the cast and director have rehearsed them. But on film, the lines and moments can be changed, re-timed, and in some drastic cases even re-arranged. As Rob says, "the film is written three times: Once on the page, once with the actors, and once in the edit." He freely admits that he may have stolen it from Spielberg, as they've worked together often. But it's still true.

Now that we've put all the images and sounds into the correct order for our film, we now enter the world of fine-tuning and "tweaking" the product. In a big-budget project, we would now have a list of re-shoots: scenes, lines, or moments that we didn't get on the day when we were shooting. But because we're on a rush schedule for the contest deadline, we don't have the luxury of doing re-shoots. As a matter of necessity, we need to assemble our film based entirely on the footage and the coverage that we actually have. There were at least three times last night when I asked if we had a different angle on a scene, Rob told me that we didn't, and so we just cut around what we had. The final moment is working rather well, so I'm excited about that. And Rob's roommate laughed at the final beat of the film, so the first test audience to see the film gave us a good review. The best part of the night was just sitting down and watching the footage, knowing that we're starting to have a pretty solid film on our hands. There is still work to be done on the project, but it's good to know that we've got a good foundation from which to work.