Hooray for Hollywood

After my post yesterday relating my new-found respect for comedians, I was reminded of a similar epiphany regarding actors and acting.

Previously in my career, I had the opportunity to work as the Director of Security on some large budget films with major studios. Let me start by saying, I have never been enamored by fame or fortune. I have never asked for or wanted an autograph from someone or a selfie with a celebrity. Celebrity does nothing for me. In fact, I find it somewhat bizarre that we put certain people on a very high pedestal solely because of their fame. I have shared the same space with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Rosario Dawson, Sean Lennon, Kirk Herbstreit, and many others. And I have found that they are just regular people, albeit with exceptional skills for what they do, but no superpowers that I could recognize. But for some reason, many people are absolutely enthralled with celebrity. That fact alone made me a great candidate to provide security in these situations. I could remain focused on the task at hand and never broke my professional demeanor to become the starry-eyed fan desperate for acknowledgement from them. And to be honest with you, I think, to a person, they were all appreciative of being treated like a normal person in those moments when the spotlight was removed, and they could just be themselves.

Prior to my experience with these actors, I had always thought that they were just the lucky few, who by chance or circumstance were afforded a shot at the big time, and with it the fame and fortune that followed. But as we are all ‘actors’ in some small way in our lives, I did not consider their talents to be overtly unique.

But after many months watching them prepare and preform both in studio and on location for filming, I found a very different perspective and appreciation for what they do. As with comedians, the best of them make what they do look effortless. But I promise you, just like comedians, this is their art and their passion. They spend inordinate time, money, and effort in honing their emotive skills and looking for the next role to play. For method actors, the intensity in which they prepare is amazing. But all actors put a great deal of work into their craft. And that is what leads them to success. Sure, getting a big break can launch a career, but devotion to their art is what gives it more than a flash-in-the-pan longevity.

I believe my erroneous take on their skill set stemmed from a misconception I had with films and acting as a viewer. I could watch a film in its edited chronological order of events and easily mirror the emotions portrayed as each scene and plot turn naturally evoked similar emotions in me. I could feel drama build, experience sadness of loss or failure, rejoice in their triumphs. Watching a scene unfold easily evoked these emotions in me and therefore how hard could it be for an actor who would already be feeling the same thing. Sure, they had learned to hit their marks, over emote to sell it on the big screen, and the like, but emoting would be a natural response from anyone in the same circumstances.

Where I had gone so wrong was in thinking these scenes occurred in chronological order for the actor and thus the emotions flowed somewhat naturally. In fact, that is entirely untrue. While working on these films I became aware at how non-chronological filming is. Rarely does one scene get finished and they neatly jump into the next. Filming scenes is based on sets, time of day, availability of actors, weather conditions, equipment availability, and all manner of exterior forces. Scenes of an argument with a lover can be filmed on day one of shooting, with the resolution to that scene happening just prior to the film wrapping. These scenes can be separated by months.

An actor must enter the stage fully adopting the emotions set in the scene much earlier in the film schedule. They do not have the prompts of action or discourse that leads to naturally emoting in return. They must find this head space on their own in order to sell their performance. Imagine having a leisurely and enjoyable lunch with a friend where you laugh and talk together, then immediately flip and act like you hate them with all you are. Instantly take on the body language, facial expression, tone and timbre needed for this intense emotion of hatred towards them and sell it to the camera. It is not nearly as easy as they make it look.

Watching this in real time led me to recognize and appreciate the skill in what they do as actors. While we watch the completed film, we ourselves easily follow along with the emotional rollercoaster the story line feeds us. It is easy for our emotions to mirror what we see from the actors, and thus make us think it must be just as easy for them. But their scenes and the emotions they require follow no story line. They are short moments filmed entirely out of order and with little to prompt or cue the actor’s own emotions. The chronological viewing brings us to edge-of-our-seat moments in the film, because the actors step onto the stage and pull the suspense, tension, and drama of a scene from out of thin air.

These skills as an actor come with rigorous training, great practice, and a devotion to their art. Much like comedians hoping to make it to the big time, actors often spend years in lesser roles and small films trying to gain the expertise that may afford them the fame and fortune that comes with a recognition of their superior skills as an actor. They hone and practice their craft as fervently as any artist or skilled professional.

I had the opportunity while working for DHS to have some training I gave filmed for distribution to officers who could not attend a class in person. I had done this training a hundred times in the classroom and was admittedly an expert on the subject and material. However, when watching the film, I immediately recognized it as being flat and robotic. I had never been trained to emote and act in the larger fashion required to have it ‘read’ well on film. Luckily, the producer was able to help me adjust my ‘performance’ to make it a much more tolerable version and thus more likely to impart the information the training was designed to provide.

While participating in the filming of these large budget films, I also became aware of the number of people and the amount of time and money that is spent to provide these two hours of entertainment. On one film, we had over three hundred production staff working on location for over six months. The studio seeing to everything from meals and lodging, to education and medical attention. A major film is a grinding and tireless effort by a huge number of professionals. All in the endeavor to provide some escape and enjoyment from the entertainment they provide.

I am still not moved by celebrity, but I have learned to have a greater appreciation for the skill of actors and for the film industry as a whole. Now every film I watch is seen through a much different lens, and the exceptional actors are much more obvious. Hooray to Hollywood!

One Response to “Hooray for Hollywood”
  1. Jim Borden says:

    thanks for the inside look at movie production. it really seems magical, and now I know why there are so many names in the credits at the end of a movie! and as to celebrity, I think one person I would really want to meet is Bruce Springsteen…

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