Conversations with actors

One of my new favorite places online is the SAG Foundation‘s YouTube channel. Founded in 1985, the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, is meant to “enhance the lives of performers by investing in programs which help them in their professional endeavors and the communities in which they live.” Fortunately for us, not only do these events happen often — sometimes multiple events in a day — but the bulk of them are published here. No SAG card needed.

The pieces range from a series called “Conversations” — wherein an artist, or the cast of a production (from Portlandia to Broadway’s Something Rotten!) — take part in a moderated solo or panel discussion — “The Business” which focuses, not surprisingly, on the business aspects of production, as well as many pieces on casting, independent film production and distribution, marketing, auditioning, etc. It’s really a great resource, and the best part (for me) is that it’s not another run-of-the-mill panel that talks surface layer plot devices. Because it’s geared at actors and industry-heads, it gets down to the minutiae of production, casting, storytelling and loads of other behind-the-scenes moments you don’t typically find anywhere else.

Here are some favorites:




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First & Final Frames

“What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film?” – Filmmaker and cinephile, Jacob T. Swinney posted this video called “First and Final Frames” to Vimeo back in March, and since then, it has garnered some 1.6 million views.

Swinney says, “This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes. Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.”

Here are a few of my favorites:

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Though I come primarily from a writing perspective, beautiful cinematography has the ability to say a lot with no words at all and has always been an area to which I’ve been drawn. It’s fascinating how much is conveyed in just these few brief moments, not only the individual scenes but their placement in the film and the impact these moments have on the overall story. Seeing the first and final frames side by side adds a new dimension – how about that Gone Girl section?

Check out Jacob’s work, including other great pieces analyzing film techniques and/or explorations including: Tarantino’s Close-ups (the second, in a four-part series) and The Evolution of Batman in Cinema.

Ava DuVernay // 2015 SXSW Keynote

I love Ava DuVernay. I haven’t met her, so maybe this is weird and forward, but I do. I love her attitude and humility; the way she talks about her projects and collaborators; wins, losses; good weeks, bad weeks; the struggle to get where she’s at now and what it’s like when Meryl Streep wants to talk to you about your film.  (Here’s a Tumblr you can obsess over, if you’d like). We all struggle with life and “the process” and I don’t tire of hearing how people overcome their personal and professional challenges, or when they’re in a bad mood and want to stay in bed all day. For better or worse, those people encourage me.

DuVernay is an award-winning director, writer and producer of independent films like I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere (for which she won Best Director at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival), and most recently, the phenomenal Selma (becoming the first black female director to have a film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards).

Last week, she gave the keynote address at the annual SXSW Film Festival, an address she admittedly wrote only hours before. It’s a little over 20 minutes long, but it is packed with stories, insights and advice she’s learned along the way.

 

In typical fan-girl fashion, I really want to write it all out and tape it to my front door so I can see it every day, but I’m editing all week so these are just a few of my favorite moments:

Give your attention to your intention. “It’s so big for everyone, but especially for artists and creative types like us. [. . .] Whether you are conscious of it or not, your intention is the cause that produces the effect, which is your life. So if you are not paying attention to your intention then your life is a bit of a hot mess. That is what I’ve found.”

“Serve the story. You have to.”

There are dreams out there bigger than you even know how to dream. Don’t limit the dream with the small stuff. You have to open up and let your intention be beyond yourself because if your dream is only about you, it’s too small.”

On the Academy Awards: “It’s cool, it’s very cool. [. . .] But my work’s worth is not based on what happens in, around, for or about that room.”

There’s a Q&A portion at the end, which is equally enlightening as DuVernay answers questions on everything from how women were originally portrayed in early Selma scripts to the lack of studio interest in producing films featuring people of color. “Obviously,” she says, “The studios aren’t lining up to make films about black protagonists. Or about freedom and dignity as it pertains to black people and people of color being the drivers of their own lives.” And to diverse filmmakers wanting to see their stories told: “Stop asking people who don’t care about the work and do the work.”

Also: Check out this short posted last year by Academy Originals on DuVernay’s “creative spark” — It’s one of my favorite in the series and a good look into her pre-Selma creative process.

The Numbers are Dismal, Let’s Illuminate

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been following the response to screenwriter Julie Bush‘s post What It Means When a Producer Says They Don’t Hire Women Writers. The post was referenced in Danielle Henderson’s Fusion article Women Working in Hollywood: The Numbers are Dismal, and expanded upon by Bush in another post, Women in Hollywood: A Shit Show. If the titles of the preceding posts aren’t clear as to their collective subject, I’ll just say this: it’s hard out there for women. It’s worse for women of color. And these posts are illuminating.

These are not opinions, as the second article I linked to pointed out, these are quantifiable facts. There are numbers and charts and graphs and people with functioning eyes who indicate the arts and entertainment industries are decidedly male and decidedly white. This is likely status quo for most industries, but it’s a hard fact to come to terms with when you’re starting out in a particular industry, are within that industry trying to move up and feeling stuck, and it’s hard for women who have achieved levels of personal success but find themselves surrounded by many versions of the same person man.

The arts and entertainment industries are collaborative arts. It just makes sense – you’re better when you’re constantly learning and evolving and opening your eyes to new perspectives. If the industry is ever going to be more inclusive, it will be because it is saturated with people who do this. I’m actively seeking inspiration and motivation, and in my future posts, you’ll see the fruits of that effort. Here’s one:

The interview below is with screenwriter/director Susannah Grant. It’s fantastic. She’s written the screenplays for Ever After, 28 Days and Erin Brockovich (the latter of which she was nominated for an Academy Award); she’s directed episodes of Party of Five and the film Catch and Release and yesterday, it was announced that Grant will be penning an Anita Hill biopic for HBO Films, starring Kerry Washington, tentatively called Confirmation. I saw the link to this “lecture” in an article this morning and was sucked in for the 25-minute duration, which includes a brief presentation and a fantastic Q&A.

“Failure is constant, for everyone. And I mean it. Everybody fails at this all the time. Not just screenwriters, but I think anyone who tries to illuminate the  human experience in an authentic way. [. . .]

The popularity of your unique voice is not what matters. What matters is staying true to it — writing the voice that is uniquely yours.”

THE CREATIVE SPARK

I have always loved learning about the way other people work. It sounds a little weird, but I feel more motivated and inspired to do work myself, when I know I’m not alone, out there on an island thinking big thoughts, even if I’m doing exactly that. Earlier this year, I poured through Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, I read and post articles all the time about how things were created or where writers/filmmakers say they do their best work. My fascination isn’t simply restricted to the creative world – I pour over, with equal enthusiasm, blogs and tweets and books and photographs, of scientists and doctors and car mechanics talking about education and evolution in their respective fields. It doesn’t necessarily make me smarter about any of those things, but it does clue me in as to how other people think, where they begin, and how they overcome blocks.

When I was younger, I might have tried to imitate these creative do-ers. My bedroom was an ever-changing example of trying to get just the right “room with a view” that would produce page after page or scene after scene of whatever I was delving into at the moment. As I grew older, my process became less about how my room was arranged and more about making things make sense and whittling down big stories into smaller ones – in my current job, that can mean whittling down a story into 60, 30 and sometimes 15 seconds. But still, I’m incredibly motivated and inspired when I hear people talk about the way they work from seeing the photographs of the messy desk of Ray Bradbury to watching these mini-docs produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (aka, the Oscars) – on these screenwriter/filmmakers on their creative processes: