"Consider the work of God;
who can make straight what he has made crooked?"
Ecclesiastes 7:13 (RSV)
Last weekend, Neal A. Corl, four of his film acting students, one other actor, and a highly competent crew of three--director of photography, camera man and sound man--shot nearly all of the principle photography for the feature film, MADE CROOKED, produced, written, and directed by Neal A. Corl, a man to whom I once felt conditional loyalty and with whom I am now rabidly in love. Do not mess with him. You'll have to go through me, first.
Under Neal's direction, we both improvised and worked from prepared text to film the story of a family with secrets--secrets kept from one another; kept from the world--who, under the guidance of apparent outsiders, bring them out into the open so that healing may occur. I play the father, a man haunted, in love with his daughter, disgusted by his son, terrified of his own fiance. He has done terrible things to those he loves. The best preparation I did for this role was to re-read the novel 'Revolutionary Road,' by Richard Yates, at Neal's suggestion. It's a heartbreaking book. The characters of Frank and April Wheeler were all I needed to know who I play, in this movie.
For most of the weekend, neither I nor Neal's other acting students knew we were making a film. We thought we were participating in a film workshop--an extended exercise--which might or might not have been edited later into a rough cut as a teaching tool. Somewhere in the course of the weekend, we each caught on (there was way too much interest in the camera work being shown by director and crew,) though I managed to more or less willfully tell myself that I WASN'T acting in a movie right up to 9 p.m. Sunday night, when we wrapped, elsewise I never would have been able to do it. I would have been too afraid. The crew knew from the first, though, and had been instructed not to let the actors know they were... acting. Sunday evening, Dave--the camera man--told me that on Friday he'd asked Neal how it were possible for his actors not to know they were doing a film, and Neal's answer was "they're actors," which is frigg'n hysterical.
I'll tell you this: I did my best work to date BY FAR this weekend. I found a marriage of emotional intensity and technique come together in my performance that I didn't know I had in me. I found out that I'm an actor; not only that, but a film actor, which is a life-changing thing to discover (and, on the basis of my experience here, I know now that I'm capable of performing the lead in Neal's film, PENDLETON, which we are planning to shoot a year from now--oh yes, Neal, we're making that film. Hell or high water, we'll get the money for it.)
• At first, having the camera on me so much was unnerving, but soon the camera became my ally. This was thanks in large part to the crew, who's professionalism, friendliness, and support made me and the other actors feel incredibly safe. It was also thanks to the improvisational nature of the scene work; that is, since there was no (apparent) shot list, if the camera found me, I knew that it WANTED to be on me. Instead of demanding a performance from me it nestled up to the performance I was already giving.
I did a LOT of close ups, some quite extreme. In none of them did I feel intruded on or pressured. Instead, each time, the camera was my supportive friend, wanting to hear what I had to say.
• One sign that tells me I have really been 'in the moment' is nausea. During and after intense scenes, my stomach would knot. Tara-the actress who plays my daughter--reported the same thing.
• I did feel pressure over the shoot to be a 'good playwright,' in that I wanted to 'think up' good dialogue, on the spot. This, of course, was a terrible way to think about it, so most of the time I was able to banish the thought. Nonetheless, I am proud of a couple of bits that I brought to the opening barbecue scene, which we shot on Sunday night, especially the bit about Rose and I not planning to have children. It landed on Rose hard and hushed the entire scene for one dramatically tense moment. I'm proud of it because it arose from having been honestly involved in the given circumstances all weekend.
• I learned a lot about the difference between trying to 'get it right' and 'discovering' what is in a scene. By trying to 'get it right,' I often came in with a powerful first take, but then had to work hard to retain some of that power in subsequent takes. Neal and I talked about this sometime Saturday night. By Sunday evening, I tried more to let myself use each take as a means of discovery--as I would a rehearsal--rather than as a final product. In the barbece scene, I think the approach worked. I still felt 'fresh' on the final take.
• For a while, I may be a 'one director actor,' since I trust both Neal and the highly talented collaborators with whom he finds to work. But, I love the feeling of a loosely-formed company that seems to be forming around Neal, so I'm happy with this, and, of course, there have been others who began as 'one director' actors (I'm thinking of Hal Hartley's early casts,) who later branched out.
• The secret to acting? Finding good people with whom to work and sticking with them. The rest is commentary.
• Go read Neal's continuing blog on MADE CROOKED, the link to which you will find at right, under "Current Projects." The film's title refers both to the characters' twisted journey to healing and the making of the film itself.
I am so happy and proud of us all that a lump sticks in my throat as I type. I am proud of my work here--without reservation. I cannot wait for my friends and family to see this film!
What more could I say?