Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Don't Ask Dakota

Once a month my church has a movie night. Since it's a big church with lots of Hollywood insiders, they frequently invite people connected with the movie to appear as part of a post-screening panel discussion.

I recently attended their screening of The Secret Life of Bees. Good movie; not what I thought it was going to be.

Their panel this time consisted of some USC scholar no one cared about, the writer-director of the film, and Dakota Fanning (the star).

This is not a name-dropping post.
I am not going to gush about Dakota.
I did not meet Dakota.
I did not get Dakota's autograph.

During this panel, I noticed something stupid about the way people interview actors regarding their roles. All questions seem to be some variation of:

"Your character was such a deep, complex person with so many issues and such a fascinating history. How do you inhabit a character like that, make it your own, and reveal it on-screen?"*

So poor Dakota had to spend the entire evening MAKING STUFF UP—because how do you tell a non-actor about your craft? Acting is a completely mysterious profession if you aren't an actor. I mean, if you asked a writer something like:

"How did you craft such a complex, haunted character with such a fascinating history?"

she would probably say something like:

"There's this girl I knew, who went through something just like this, and there's this other guy I know who has this character trait, and I sort of smashed them together into one uber-interesting amalgamation for your entertainment."

An actor can't say that. She can't explain how it is that she can convincingly portray someone she isn't. So she has to say things like:

"You know, I really thought she was sooo fascinating, and I really respected her character despite the choices she made, and I came to this place of understanding, so I really felt like I connected with her, flaws and all."

Which is a sentence crafted to sound incredibly artistic and sensitive while being, in fact, COMPLETELY DEVOID OF MEANING.

Just shows you how smart actors really are, that they can come up with this kind of bullshit on the fly.

*The correct answer to this question is: "Hell if I know. I'M AN ACTOR. If I could explain it to you, that would mean acting was EASY, wouldn't it?"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Shootin' in the Rain

Instead of going to see some low-quality remake last Friday, I worked an infomercial shoot. Another thing that happened that day: RAIN.

For any non-Angelinos out there, I should clarify that it never rains in LA. This is one of the things that makes it such a great place to shoot movies and TV—you can schedule your shoot whenever you want without worrying about being rained out.


So it rained all day at the shoot, which was in Agoura Hills, at the house where they shot the last season of The Bachelor. Most of the shooting was going on inside the house, so the rain didn't really hurt our schedule.

LUNCH, HOWEVER, was outside. So we lowly PAs had to set up all these tents and tables and chairs IN THE RAIN so that the crew could eat while trying to avoid having their plates fill up with leaking rainwater.

By 11 a.m., I was quite wet.

Don't shoot in the rain.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Mysterious Behavior of a Literary Agent

In November, my newly-acquired agent (henceforth known in this blog as AGENT) sent out a script of mine (SCREWBALL SCRIPT) to several production companies. He sent me a list of the companies, along with the names of the executives at those companies who were in receipt of the script.

A couple weeks later, I called him up about something else, and we had the following conversation:

AGENT: And you know that DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE at PROMINENT PRODUCTION COMPANY wants to meet with you, right?
ME: ..... No.
AGENT: I sent you an email about it, didn't I?
ME: (Checks email) ..... No.

He then told me that DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE wanted to meet with me in January, after the holidays had passed us by. So when I got back in town after New Year's, I gave his office a call.


This always happens when I call his office phone instead of his cell phone, which in my naive midwestern way, I think is more polite and should be done whenever possible.

But this time, I thought I had a good reason why he would respond, i.e., the possibility (however slim) of me getting paying work.

I think to myself: "Even though I'm not making this guy lots of money (translation: no money at all), wouldn't it still be in his best interest to CALL THIS WOMAN AND GET ME INTO HER OFFICE? What's his deal?"

But I don't like to be a pain, so I didn't call him back again right away. Three weeks later, I try again, this time on his cell phone. AND HE PICKS UP.

ME: Hey, AGENT—remember how EXECUTIVE wanted to meet with me?
AGENT: Oh, that's right. Thanks for reminding me.

See how easy that was?

And the moral of that is (said the Duchess) twofold:

1. Sometimes you have to politely bother your agent if you want him to remember everything you need him to do.

2. If you have his cell number, CALL IT, YOU IDIOT.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In Which I Return to Blogging But Don't Talk Much About Screenwiting

If you're ever trying to use the OS X Terminal to delete invisible files from a hidden folder that pretends the files aren't even there, and you become convinced that it would be a good idea to type the following command:

rm -rv *

DON'T DO IT. You will spend the next 10 hours sitting at that computer running Data Recovery Software and hoping you don't have to tell the guy who hired you to edit his documentary that you lost most of the footage through sheer stupidity.

This is a perfect segue into mentioning that I moved to LA six months ago and am scraping by a living in the film business through a combination of Production Assistant and Editing work.

I could go on about it, but that would be BO-RING.

I'm editing two feature movies right now—the one where I just lost all the footage (and that is now supplying me with the free time to write this post), and another one.

The Other One is a film shot by this Art Director I know. She said to me one day (truncated version of hybrid email/face-to-face conversation follows):

ART DIRECTOR: Hey, I made this short film. Wanna edit it for free? *
RYAN: Sure! What's up with it?
ART DIRECTOR: It's a half-hour drama about a woman who yells at a homeless lady and then feels bad about it, so she goes on a journey to find homeless lady and give her back something she dropped.
RYAN: Sounds EXCITING! I'm in.
ART DIRECTOR: OK.** Here's the script. Don't mind that it's 45 pages long; that's just because I'm not good at formatting a script.
RYAN: Cool. I'll get right to it.

Almost needless to say at this point, her movie is not going to be 45 minutes long. It's going to be more like 60 minutes long. Because while she was correct about her lack of formatting expertise, she was wrong in her assumption that this would make her movie SHORTER than the page count of the script.

So I called her back a couple days later and said: "Uhmmm ... I've done eight pages worth of script and have 25 minutes worth of movie. I think this is going to be a feature."

The awesome part of this story (to me), is that this lady actually shot a feature film, BUT DIDN'T REALIZE IT. She thought it was going to be 25-30 minutes. ACTUALLY AN HOUR. Awesome.

So now I'm editing a feature. And another feature.

If I can recover all this footage I deleted.

*Syntactical challenge: This sentence contains two word pairings that are difficult to pronounce. See if you can figure out which ones!
**Spelling note: I hate it when people spell the word: "OK." But I recently learned that this is actually correct. The people who spell it "okay" are wrong. So now I'm trying to force myself to do it right, however painful.