Friday, January 29, 2010

Film Flash Friday: Extras Series Finale

I absolutely love the idea of Extras. A satire on so many fronts: the film industry, actors, fame...the list could go on and on. I laugh, which is somewhat ironic, because often I find myself laughing at myself. In the Extras Series Finale, I found myself not laughing at all. I cried or frowned because I actually found there to be more truth than bitting humor. And it is much easier for me to laugh at hints of truth than at bare faced truths. Almost anything can be funny, but when the laughter fades and you find yourself living the reality laughter takes a while to build up to.

The Extras Series Finale did something I believe is the mark of a truly great made me reevaluate myself and the industry which can be more than just cold, it can be downright devastating. Acting is a careers in which you are selling more than just talent, or ability. You are selling yourself. Your teeth, your skin, your hair, your lips, your body are all on the market. Which can be why each rejection can resonate even deeper than "you're just not right for the part." It can often be hard to decipher which part of you was wrong for the part. My talent, my ability (things that we, arguably, have more of an opportunity to improve upon) or my look (a thing much harder to "improve upon").

Acting is a super competitive job, and some argue that it just comes with the territory. Every time I hear that I think of the Lily Tomlin quote, "The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

The ending of Extras was somewhat hopeful. The rat decides to exit the race. But it seemed to beg the question, is it possible to change the game without the game changing you? Is it possible to stay true to your values and be successful? Does adhearing to your own compass of right and wrong mean having to create a your own path, or are there already pathways already there for you to follow? Is it possible to make a living doing what you love? And if what you love begins to morph, to shape shift into something unrecognizable should you still try and hold onto it?

I really enjoyed the Extras series finale, and I am extremely happy that such a statement exists. It encourages me to reflect, reanalyze, and most importantly to question (even if I don't have any of the answers).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Playback Tuesday: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

I do love plays. I can always count on coming back to them no matter how much I moan and complain about the few that are very hard to read and understand. It's like having a running dialogue going on in your head. And I get to imagine each character (with help from the playwright, of course). I am familiar with this play, mostly because it tends to yields some very good monologues for many a young actress, but this was my first time reading it start to finish. I was entranced from the beginning. And by beginning, I do not mean page one of the play, but rather with the first introductory note by the playwright.

I absolutely love it when playwrights right introductions or notes or thoughts about the plays they have written. I feel as if there is something very special about that. A way for me to connect to the playwright, their emotions and feelings, without having them in the room. A way to bypass the question and answer after the reading, but still gain insight. The more I learn about the craft of play writing the more entranced I become with the playwright. How did their life experiences influence the play, the characters, the overall theme?

In the case of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Paul Zindel's past experiences with his mother and sister played a key role in forming his play. He says, "For me, the play continued to resonate on many levels. There was the unspoken, the personal, in which my sister had always been my hisotorian and guide...while our mother dreamed and held on to a bizarre, preposterous pride, some nights there would be no food to eat, no coal to burn."

He also talks about his influence on the character Tillie, "I sketched a speck of myself into Marigolds, changing my sex to become the fictional, life-affirming Tillie. And the lesson I learned by writing the play with thoughtfulness, honesty, amazement, and terror was that youth is resilient in the clutch of darkness. Between the lines was a love letter to my teachers and librarians and the entire public school system, the world that had been my, and my sister's , salvation from the madhouse."

He calls his introduction, Marigold's Revisited. Zindel goes back to watch a production of the play in 1996, the play was written in 1970 (and won the pulitzer prize in 1971). Paul Zindel died of Cancer in 2003. Marigold's seems to be a play that at once mirrors the trouble life he led as a child, and serves to encourage hope in others who find themselves in similar situations.

A good read indeed.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Paul Zindel

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Biz Monday Starter: Decimating the Arts through Lack of Funds

I begin this Monday morning with thoughts of the Arts. What is Art worth? It's funny to try and place a monetary value on Art. When I say Art, I am including everything from visual to performance to written works. Whether or not it is fair to answer that question, the truth is that there is a monetary value placed on the arts. Funding, whether through grants, government, or business, puts a value on artistic endeavors. Money makes the world go round, and it also makes the arts happen. In British Columbia, provincial arts are facing 92% cuts to their funds. What impresses me so much is how they are coming together to fight it! I am enamored with their artistic community and the way in which they voice their outrage.

Here is a video I pulled from this post on the Praxis Theatre blog...a constant source of inspiration.

They even link to this website where you can see a "list of prominent British Columbians and Canadians speak out against the cuts." 8% of the arts does not look promising.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Film Flash Friday: Feast of Love

How many movies are out there that I have no idea exist? It feels like every time I watch a preview, or browse Netflix I find some film that I have to see. Feast of Love was one of those films. I had never heard of it before, but the story looked interesting and Morgan Freeman was in it along with Greg Kinnear. So, onto my queque it went. I wasn't disappointed. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it a lot. It was a hopeful film that centered around the lives of couples. As interesting a subject matter as any. Which makes me ponder. How many movies are out there that I have no idea exist? And can I watch all of them in a lifetime? The film that I am watching for Friday is another one that I discovered by watching the previews from this film. Funny how that happens. My film world just keeps expanding and expanding. I'd love to hear about how people schedule film watching into their schedules. I am not particularly good about it. I have six films waiting for me. It's something that keeps me excited--even if I can't watch them right away, I know that they are there, waiting...and I can't wait to see what I'll find. Maybe that is some of the excitement about watching films you have no idea about. You never know what the movie is going to throw at you. Is it a romance film? A comedy? A drama? Will I like the characters, the acting, the writing, the filming, the editing, the ending? So many questions and then, hopefully, it happens. You sink into the film and allow the plot to unfold before you. That's how I felt watching this film. I didn't search out reviews or online summaries. I just watched the preview, got the movie, and watched it. A nice way to end the week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Playback Tuesday: Research

I finally finished the Harriet Tubman biography I had been working on since before Christmas. I know, it's not a play, but believe it or not my Harriet Tubman biography is related to the nature of the biz. As an actor, research is an integral part of any role. My ultimate goal when portraying a character isn't to necessarily be an expert in any one aspect of a character's life, but to come as close as I can to understanding a character and their motivations (I often fall grievously short but it's good to set high standards). When you think about it that's actually a rather daunting and difficult job. I have a difficult time just trying to analyze myself and my own "character" motivations.

Acting, in of itself, can be rather humorous to think about at first. One individual attempting to portray another individual. I use the word portray intentionally, because imitating is a word that I've found to be rather irksome. I want to do more than imitate, which implies this almost outward understanding of character. I want to know (or at least try to know) as much about a character's inner workings as possible. The funny thing about characters and human beings is that the knowledge and understanding that I attempt to pin down is impossible. Understanding seems to be much more fluid a concept so that there is always something more to know or add. Always some new place for the character to grow or expand.

I also find that there is a particular challenge added when portraying someone who actually existed in "real life." The excitment of knowing that the story being told actually happened. The scenes being played now may have been played out many years before. And even if those scenes weren't played out in exactly the same way it is interesting to ponder the possible similarities.

I read this biography in hopes of further understanding a character whom I had heard about, but never really took the time to discover. In earlier posts a discussion popped up in the comment section about heroism and what makes a hero. Whether or not tragic misgivings were needed to highlight the eventual rise (or decline of a hero). I am still not sure about the answer to that, but I am discovering that the more I learn about iconic individuals of the past their "humanness" seems to manifest itself in curious ways. Flaws, personal strife, or misgivings seem to, in an odd way, bypass the passage of time to create bridges connecting their stories to my own.

I must remember in the future not to ignore the power of the biography when it comes to film, theatre, and television. Many a successful production has come from such stories. I guess in the in end I am always taken aback by the power of the written word, and I am extremely grateful that I began Playback Tuesday as a way to force myself to read more.

As much as I love the biography, next Playback Tuesday I will reenter the world of plays. A good two (maybe three) week hiatus is long enough.

Harriet Tubman: Portrait of An American Hero
Kate Clifford Larson

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Biz Monday Starter: More Thougts

I posted about Avatar two weeks ago, and it looks like the film is still getting a lot of attention, both for its command of the box office and the way it has attracted award season buzz. Here are two more posts about the movie.

This one from Yahoo
An overview about Avatar and the thing known as Box Office Gold

And this interesting one from the NY Times. Do I agree with some of the things said in this controversial I still like better believe it!

Read 'em if you have time because they are great things to ponder as 3-D makes a grab for "the new wave of film."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Film Flash Friday: The Lives of Others

It is rare that I choose to write about a film that I haven't seen the ending to. To be fair, I saw about 5 minutes until the end of the film, and I was completely riveted. This film, about East Berlin before the fall of the wall, documents a time where the secret police owned the people and the information. Those individuals who didn't were killed, persecuted, or driven out. The cost of knowledge, ideas, and individual freedoms were great. To feel the pressure to fall in line with an accepted group idea, whether for or against the government, also was great. You were either with one or against the other, and the fascinating thing was to see an individual fight to stay neutral. The film begged the question of whether or not neutrality in hostile situations is possible. In the end it is up to the protagonist (and his ever present antagonist) to decide the fate of many lives. I love how the typewriter becomes the symbol for "truth" and how it plays a major role in both the protagonist's and antagonist's lives. As for the ending, I was highly disappointed with my (clearly scratched and damaged) Netflix dvd. There is nothing is more disheartening than being left 5 minutes from the ending of a film and finding yourself yelling empty curses at a machine. So, alas I read the ending online. The impact was not the same. This is the type of the movie that may need to be watched all over again just to get to the last five minutes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Playback Tuesday: Screenplay

Normally, Playback Tuesday involves the reading of a play or screenplay, but I thought that I'd like to extend it to books that have to deal with the any aspect of the Industry that I am curious to know more about. I was first introduced to Syd Field's book through a college screenwriting class. As you might imagine, I read very little of the book while I was actually taking the class. It was one of those books that we were strongly encouraged to read, but no assignment was directly tied into the reading of it. Therefore, I didn't truly discover how interesting the book was until a year after I had graduated. I found it, pages crisp, the new book smell still firmly intact, lying on a pile of other unused college artifacts. I am glad I rescued it. The book no longer has the new book smell, the pages are full of highlight marks and pencil stars, but I think it is much more happy. Syd Field is a man who is unafraid to use repetition to beat a concept or term into your head. I being, occasionally concept challenged, appreciate this greatly. If you are interested in learning about one man's theory (though generally accepted by Hollywood) about what makes a good screenplay or feel as if there is a screenplay lurking somewhere in the depths of your soul, this book is a great place to start.

For more info on the book:
Amazon Book Page
For more info on the man:

Syd Field

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Biz Monday Starter: Blogging the Industry

I was given a link to this blog and I immediately fell in love. The Entertainment Business can be rather closed when it comes to sharing information about the realities/requirements of certain jobs...I absolutely love how Jessica is so open about her design process and even has a post with common questions and answers. Did I mention how much I love people blogging about what they are passionate about?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Picture Perfect Weekend

I am off to watch more movies. Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Film Flash Friday: Avatar

I must admit that anything I say about Avatar from this point on can be hotly contested because I may have allowed myself to be blown away by the 3-D. This is definitely that movie where I'd like to kindly advise any person who hasn't seen the movie to not even think about buying tickets to the 2-D version--the 3-D version is worth the extra 2 to 3 dollars. (A slight disclaimer...for our 3-D experience glasses were a requirement...not the two tone ones from 70s, but glasses none-the-less so if you wear glasses already and don't have easy access to contacts I am not sure if it is the same.) So, before the film starts you get to see 3-D. Alice in Wonderland is a preview that stood out in my mind.

I wish I could explain the amount of visual detail that you as an audience member get to see and experience, or how visual effects can actually work to enhance the storyline of a film. I believe, though, it will have to be experienced rather than explained. The widespread usage of this technology will definitely have interesting effects on the film industry...despite the cost of the film, and the amount of money needed to just "break-even" it looks as if Avatar is a hit. How 3-D will affect films that rely less on action adventure to propel the story forward? I cannot say.

The biggest gripe about the film, is a common gripe for action adventure films...the story was weak. I, however, thought the story was just fine. A masterpiece, no. Somewhat predictable outcomes, villains, and heroes, yes. But for what it was, an intense action film that put the audience in a breathtaking world far away from home, it was great...and one could even, with little effort, take away some political undertones. One friend mentioned, the capture of Hawaii.

I liked it. I was left slightly speechless afterward, and felt like I had just witnessed some sort of monumental shift in film. It might also help if I added that I saw the film in Helena, MT. I had assumed that a place like Helena would have no theater with the capability to see 3-D...that I'd have to wait until I got to some bigger city. Oh, naive me...I forgot that you don't release a film like Avatar if only people in major metropolitan areas can see make sure that you give it every opportunity you can to be a huge success.

For Better Reviews/Commentary Check Out:
3-D's Quest to Move Beyond the Gimmicks, Dave Kehr

Avatar Review, Manohla Dargis

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Playback Tuesday: Arthur (1981)

I can't say that I am not a little surprised and confused about why the movie Arthur made into The Best American Screenplays. Granted, I've never seen the movie, and the script wasn't was just over-the-top. Maybe this is one of those times where my link to the 80s fails me? I know relatively little about the 80s, besides the fact that I was born in the decade. I can only hope that more context about the time period would make this comedy about a free wheeling, rich alcoholic playboy who manages to find love in a working class girl at the risk of losing his 750 million dollar inheritance more humorous. It's the way in which our beloved protagonist, Arthur, swings dangerously from one side of the pendulum to the next as he attempts to come to terms with a belated adulthood. He really is hot and cold when it comes to this love story that seems to get strength from everyone grabbing at some sort of stake in his wealth...including Ralph, Linda's working class, unemployed dad who so badly wants to see the couple work out because he dreams of "...Buicks, Florida, and fast food restaurants." It would seem fitting that the happy (read Arthur gets to keep his 750,000,000) resolution occurs when Linda and Arthur tempt his cantankerous grandmother into relinquishing the money by engaging in an open conversation about their children being "barbers or sanitation men." This, of course, will not do. Thus, the money is handed over quite peacefully. Despite this film winning two academy awards (one for best supporting actor and one for best original song), I dare say this movie would have a hard time getting made today. I never felt that the Arthur had to sacrifice anything. It seemed as if all of the sacrifices were made by others, including his faithful servant Hobson and the rich girl he scorned, Susan. And, because of his lack of sacrifice, I didn't feel sympathy for him, or truly believe that he was able to grow from his experiences. I can't say for sure if I am right, but a look at the movie poster for Arthur II (below) makes believe that perhaps I am.

Arthur (1981)
Screenplay Steve Gordon

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Biz Monday Starter: The Way Things Are Done

I found this article on the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's blog written by a script reader, Pat King, for the theatre. I like it when a somewhat mystifying process is demystified. I was struck by how many new works are being submitted, and how few make it to their stage. King sees his role as less of a gatekeeper, controlling what should attempt to come in and what shouldn't, and as more of an interpreter, a middle man in the conversation between playwright and theatre. He states, "To a certain degree, while I’d love to 'discover' a play that lands on Steppenwolf’s stages, my job is much simpler: to champion exciting, interesting writers that should be on our radar, and to articulate what makes their work sing." I also enjoy when he expounds upon the good, the bad, and the ugly when he says that, "...the very bad and very good scripts are a lot of fun, while the in-between are tremendously difficult to write about." A simple statement that makes a lot sense. Even when reviewing films, the mediocre is harder to categorize or even lampoon/exult...while most people (including myself) can find religious reverence in the stinkers/sinkers and the top of the barrel. Overall, this article also made me feel extremely indebted to the Steppenwolf theatre for having someone to continue the search for new works and to act as a mediator between playwright and theatre. I find it reassuring to know that somewhere out there is a theatre still very much engaged in attempting to introduce fresh works into theatre. As the film industry continues to make giant leaps forward, I believe that theatre must do the same. If not, the danger of creating a stagnant pool overused cash cows as the sole audience fodder becomes less of a thespian's nightmare and more of an American theatre staple.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Picture Perfect Weekend: Montana Winter

The new year is here and so is winter. Here is to a picture perfect weekend.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Film Flash Friday: Whatever Works

Woody Allen and Larry David doing a movie together should make for a delightful hour and a half--two cynical, balding men who love to talk about themselves and their world views collaborating on a film about just that. Unfortunately, Whatever Works reads less like a thought provoking, New York Comedy and more like a botched science experiment in which people's lives are pieced together like predictable, oversized play skol puzzles--perhaps in homage of the films title Whatever Works. This is certainly a film in which Whatever Works translates into everything working out in the end--even if the ways in which the resolutions occur seem to go completely against the grain of the characters. I am all for comedy, but isn't some of the draw in comedy, some of the humor, based off of this notion of truth in characters and characterizations? I find it hard to believe that a charmed (Mississippian no less) southern belle turns into a swanky NYC artist living with two men or that a botched suicide attempt lands love (literally). I guess what I wanted Woody Allen to do was to make me believe that such things were possible within the realm of the world he had created, but this film had more holes than a slice of deli swiss cheese. Larry David does do an outstanding job playing Larry David (or perhaps a younger version of Woody Allen). But, that is not enough to elevate this film, in my opinion, above a hodgepodge of interesting thoughts that were paired with a rather dull and predictable plot. But, hey, whatever works.

Whatever Works

Directed and Written by Woody Allen
out on dvd