Recently, I shot my first ever short film. “Your first one ever? What’s taken you so long?” I hear you probably not ask. Yes, I’ve been trying to get a showreel together pretty much ever since I first heard the term mentioned, nodded knowledgeably, and then went home and Googled it, about eleventy years ago. It’s just that I’ve done mostly theatre so far, and holy McKellen does live theatre look eggy on film.
Given that there are more new castings each day for short films than there are for any other type of production, it is weird that I haven’t managed to stumble into one until now. My almost total lack of film experience, which makes me about as desirable to casting filmmakers as baths to cats, could perhaps offer the first clue to this conundrum. On occasions when a director has overlooked this and called me in to audition, I have probably shouted down the camera as though trying to make sure the people on the back row of the Lyttelton can really hear my lovely nasal plosives, because that’s what my theatre-based training said to do. On the occasions when I’ve been cast in a film, the shoot has always been cancelled. One time I got an email less than an hour before the call time to tell me the shoot wasn’t happening. Another time, the director postponed the shoot, then texted me two weeks later to tell me he’d recast my part and shot the film without me. I’ve been dumped in nicer ways than that.
So turning up to the shoot last week and actually finding a student film crew there ready to make a film was a really lovely surprise. In fact, they’d been there for an hour already, constructing the desk I was to sit at and erecting all manner of expensive-looking equipment. After a briefing from my very supportive director (he’d rightly heard that we actor types are spectacularly volatile and needed careful handling), I was ready to shoot the first scene.
Because I am a true professional, I had learned the whole script the night before, with a Baileys in one hand, going “shit shit shit what’s the bloody line” about every nine seconds. But the beauty of film is that you often only need to remember a few lines at a time. Easy schmeazy. The flippity of this is that you will need to say those few lines over and over and over and over again: there’s the actor rehearsal, then the tech rehearsal, then another tech rehearsal because the actor walked into the boom operator, then as many takes as it takes to take a decent take. If you didn’t know those lines before, they’re pretty much tattooed on your frontal lobe by this point.
It was great to be able to get a second and a third and a fourth shot at a scene, rather than having to wait to do it tomorrow night, like in theatre. However, despite the crew seeming to be absolutely on their A-game, talking in a mysterious language, the only bit of which I understood was “Action!”, I couldn’t help worrying about light, and noises in the background, and continuity, and whether this was the angle from which my nose looks as if it’s been put on wrong. I guess it takes a lot of film experience before you can really forget that the crew is there and that what you’re doing is being committed to celluloid (pff, celluloid? You mean megabytes, grandma) foreverandever. I think I’ll always prefer live theatre, which is the literal antithesis of foreverandever, because there’s no backup, so the performance is more immediate and urgent. But then knowing that there is a crew of ten people all working to make your acting look better is also pretty sweet. I just hope they can fix my nose in post.
Photo by Horia Varlan on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.