Honing My Craft – Scene #1 – The Understudy

I graduated college in 2002, and have more or less been telling myself I’ve wanted to be a writer / director of feature films since then.  In the span of that time, I’ve actually done next to no writing or directing.  I’ve become a great web developer, editor, moved to LA 2 years ago, and become an okay all in one director of photography / shooter.  In terms of writing and directing though, I haven’t been doing it.  Partly for financial reasons, partly because of time management, but probably most of all because of fear.  I’ve identified as wanting to be a director for so long, but have avoiding actually doing it thus far I think partly because of the fear that I’d be no good at it.  Everyone knows I want to make movies, I’ve been saying it for years and moved my whole life to a new city to pursue it…so what happens if I’m no good at it?  Well, to say I’ve had enough of that bullshit story is an understatement.  So instead of waiting, waiting for someone to offer me the chance, waiting for the perfect idea, waiting to get enough money and time, I’ve launched a new venture with friend and actor James Louis Wagner to just start shooting scenes.  Some for his reel, some for mine, and most of all to just start logging the hours on the road to mastery.  The only way to get better is to do it!

So that said, here’s our first scene.  Pulled from the play by Theresa Rebeck and shot in a single morning in March.  With each piece I hope to share a little of what I learned, starting with this one so check I what I learned below.

  • Trying to DP and Direct at the same time means both suffer.  Since I’ve had more experience DPing, it was safer and easier for me to end up focusing there.  Got some great feedback from the actors regarding this, and consequently am having other handle the camera from here on out so I can focus solely on directing.
  • Shot lists matter…and they don’t.  They’re only useful if you really put in the time and spend the hours blocking on location.
  • Theater and film really are different.  I love how this piece turned out, but the dialogue really does have a different energy than the more cinematic variety I’m used to.  Realizing how much value there is in me exploring more theater as so far when I experience it, it immediately helps me feel what would be more cinematic in any situation.  Honing that sense so to speak.
  • Being able to stay present in my body and with my experience as I see a scene unfold is challenging for me and something I need to work on.  Sometimes takes would go by and I realized I wasn’t even really present for what just happened.
  • For run and gun shoots like this, editing is WAY easier if I make sure actors don’t deliver lines why traversing the screen.  To keep things moving briskly in this format, for here on out I’ll drive to have actors quickly move to their next position before speaking.  So much motion happens in the cut anyways, it keeps scenes brisker.

That’s it for now.  Big special thanks to Lindsey Wilkinson, Matthew Lott, James Louis Wagner, and The Blank Theater.

Next up will be a scene from a short film I’ve been writing for a while now.  We actually shot it last weekend and I was pretty delighted with how it went.  The first time I’ve ever really seen work I’ve written translated to the screen by fantastic actors.  Stay tuned!

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