[Filmmaking A to Z by Vic Alexander]

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Directing Actors -- Guerilla Style

Begin with a couple of actors, then look for a third one.

The first two actors could be anyone, preferably a boy and a girl -- the easiest story to tell: boy/girl.

Go out with them and take your digital camera; but always have an Arri 2c or similar camera with you, just in case you got something. Make sure you have a 200 ft or 400 ft roll loaded up and ready to shoot.

Give your actors some lines. Jot them down on location preferably -- after you have locked down your two actors.

It's ok if you have written a few lines down for them to do, but don't write the story beforehand, because you don't know who your actors will be or what the story will be at this point.

Ask your two actors to rehearse the scene, the scene that you have just jotted down. They will most likely mess it up -- you can assume that -- but tell them, "Great! I loved the way you did that!" They will be inspired or stunned. That's good, you want that.

Now, fix the scene. Tell them how you want them to play it, how to do the scene your way. It should be what you thought about when you heard them first rehearse it.

Remember, this is all you have, the two actors, and the story you come up with will be based on this first idea you put in their minds. (You didn't buy an Academy Award winning writer's script, so forget it.)

"Is this it? Is this the filmmaking you talk about?" you might be asking.

"Yes, it is."

Because what do you want, do you think you can make a movie about a subject that you selected beforehand? Or perhaps you think you can make a movie based on a script you wrote? Or even a screenplay someone else wrote? You don't have the money to make such a film; that's why you're here reading this. (You'd be surprised what you can buy for a couple of thousands of dollars.)

The short of it is that you won't be able to control such a movie. First of all, you don't have any money, and if you did, why would you want to throw it away? Nobody is going to buy your movie, nobody is going to distribute it.

You are a guerilla filmmaker after all. This is about making a guerilla film.

If you have connections, sources of money, you're not a guerilla filmmaker then. I will write another page about low budget filmmaking for you. We're talking no-budget here.

Back to your two actors. Ok, so now go ahead and roll some tape. Let them do the scene they have rehearsed.

You will notice that the scene plays out better now. Why is that? Because you wrote the scene, you gave the directions and now your actors know how to interpret your lines.

That's great for them; but you don't want that. Change the meaning of the lines, throw them for a loop and ask them to do something completely different.

See, you don't want the actors to know what they're doing, because they will become the director, they will direct themselves; they will direct your movie for you. They're trained by the industry to do that. They have attended cold reading classes. They know how to get the job -- before they know how to act. But let's give them some credit; let's say they have taken other classes, with method acting coaches, or even have a degree in drama.

Ok, back to our two wonderful actors (they're wonderful because they have agreed to be part of your dream; now make them part of your dream.) However, I don't care how attracted you are to either one of them: they are actors, don't let them take away your job from you. Love them, but keep them from crossing the line into your territory (you're the auteur, the visionary director, etc.)

This is your movie, direct it the way you want, so when you show it at a festival or to a buyer, you can be proud of it.

Now, you're making your movie. You start out with two actors -- you have to make sure that they will perform and that they will be there for you. You don't want them to disappear on you before you have finished your shooting. So tell them from the start about the shooting schedule and all that.

Make sure what you shoot on the first day of production can be turned into a movie; otherwise don't even begin. It's ok to stop filming on your first day and call it a wrap. You can always put it on Youtube as an example of a dud. There is something to be learned from that, and it's entertainment after all -- just make sure you have the release forms signed (I forgot to say that, because I was in a hurry -- don't be too much in a hurry -- you always have to have release forms with you when you're making a guerilla movie.)

Now, as to the third actor. Yes, there is to be a third actor (you can have more, but you know, you don't have money to burn; actors cost money to feed, etc.) -- yes, add a third actor, someone who will force some action or create a situation -- you know, some kind of trouble ... or let's call it drama. You need drama, that's what all filmmaking is about.

The third actor is critical. You can pick this actor at a later time (after you have started shooting), or you may have him or her on your mind from before. He should not be compatible with either of your first two actors, the boy and the girl. You want your third actor to be different and antagonistic to one or both of your characters (not in real life, of course).

Now, when you look at the scenes you've shot (don't let the actors see them -- just you), decide if you have something going. If you do, pull out the Arri 2c and shoot some film. Get an establishing shot to begin your movie with. So your film will have that great 35mm opening shot, the luscious film look!

If the actors have done a real nice job, and especially you're sure they're coming back and looks like they're going to finish the movie, go ahead and shoot some more scenes with them in 35mm.

Eventually, you will be adding more 35mm shooting to your movie. If you get picked up or find the money, you can even reshoot the whole movie in 35mm; but don't go over budget -- you're still making a Guerilla Movie. Of course, you might be saying, "How am I going to make a 35mm movie with no money." Well, you have a point, but a no-budget movie is a no-budget movie; your actors aren't Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. So you might have to spend some money on the 35mm rawstock and lab....

Oh, and don't forget, I sell short ends at a fraction of the cost of  new. Here's the page where you need to go now and order some film: http://www.releasing.net/rawstock/ Don't worry if you don't have a movie planned yet; you can put the film in the fridge ... and it will inspire you to go on and make a movie. Remember, you don't need a script, so what's holding you back?

As for actors, go to Actors Access and register a project. The actors are out there, believe me!

Aug. 29, 2011

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