This concludes my five week series outlining the expectations I have for the actors I work with.
5. A Good Attitude
Of all the actors I’ve worked with in the last twelve years, the one who most exemplifies the principles I’ve laid out the past four weeks (Thorough Preparation, Full Body Performance, Camera Technique, and Film Literacy) is Tom Sizemore, most known for his roles in HEAT and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. He’s the lead in my movie Durant’s Never Closes and does a damn fine job “in my humble opinion” as Jack Durant would say. But what he lacked was a good attitude, an essential attribute for good and continual collaboration.
He’d frequently tell me to “F**k off” in front of the entire cast/crew. He’d storm off the set. Sometimes he wouldn’t come out of his trailer, a problem that required some very clever, unconventional methods for us to stay on schedule. And I wasn’t the only person who had to deal with his child-like temper tantrums and unexpected mood swings. I’ve never told most of these stories. I need to write them down in a book before I forget. I bring them up now only to illustrate that someone can be incredibly talented, a master of their craft, and I still would never want to work with them again.
Filmmaking is a challenging craft and having a good attitude on set is an essential weapon for helping you and your teammates survive it. Team is a good word for the collective cast and crew because I look at filmmaking as a sport and sometimes as war. The physical art form and its process can be compared to football, baseball, and countless other athletic contests. To succeed, you need to be in sync, you need to be a team player. As mentioned, I also equate making a film to warfare. I often text producer Dallas Sonnier, “I can’t wait till we go to battle again, Captain.” With no disrespect to our actual soldiers, filmmaking often feels like fighting a war without the fatal consequences. And who wants to be in the trenches with a self-centered person with a poor disposition?
I suppose laying out my definition of “a good attitude” is important: co-operative, flexible to the day and director’s demands, able to express one’s own ideas while remaining obedient to the decision makers, able to balance humor and serious concentration on set. I’ve thought about the latter attribute a lot lately. Humor is an essential asset in making movies and life in general. It cuts through the tension of the situation, like soldiers telling jokes in a foxhole, but it can’t distract from the mission. There are countless times on set when even my best actors were unable to “read the room”, joking around and being silly when we were losing light or clearly in a position that required complete focus. I can only speak for my own sets, not others, but I would advise anyone I work with to mimic my behavior. If I’m light and jovial, it’s safe to do the same. If I’m highly concentrated and quiet, you should follow suit. In essence, taking direction applies to more than just notes for your performance but how you should behave the entire time you’re working.
I understand how easy it is for actors to become locked in their own world, very insular and unaware of what’s happening around them. I joked with the cast/crew of this recent Kentucky movie that the best way to understand an actor is to “imagine a world where you are the only one who exists.” However, to be a great actor and someone I want to work with consistently, your attitude towards and awareness of others is fundamental. Perhaps awareness is the key word for everything I’ve written about these last five weeks: awareness of your character through preparation, awareness of your full body while performing, awareness of the camera and how to play to it, awareness of the history of the tradition you carry on, and awareness of the way you behave during the entire process.
I wrote about these principles to finally put to paper what has developed and circulated through my mind for years now. Going forward, these are the expectations I have for the actors I work with and the standards I plan to uphold.
This photograph of Shanda, John, and myself shows the kind of silliness that belongs on a film set at the right time.