DEAD DAUGHTERS DP IN HOLLYWOOD
FEDOR LYASS VISIT TO LA REPORT, December 2006
After several preliminary meetings in Moscow with Gerard Michael MacCarthy, December 16, 2006 Russian DP Fedor Lyass checked into Hollywood’s boutique Grafton Hotel on Sunset Strip in the heart of Hollywood.
During a dinner meeting with International Film Workshop Hollywood partner, writer/producer Gabrielle Kelly, Fedor went over his agenda for the upcoming week, including seeing how a Genesis camera works, going to as many film screenings as possible and learning from the best in Hollywood about up to the minute developments in the cinematographer's craft.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 17, 2006
Breakfast at the historic Hollywood Farmer’s market where screenwriter’s and film industry folks gather was followed by a day of exploring Los Angeles from the beaches to the mountains ending with a private dinner Party at the home of the Chairman of the British Academy in Los Angeles, Peter Morris, attended by the Board of Directors of BAFTA. Coincidentally one Board member, Gavin Morris had written the script for WAR AND PEACE which allowed for some Russian themed conversation over dinner. (Photo: Gabrielle Kelly and Fedor in LA)
MONDAY DECEMBER 18
Together with assistant and driver Leigh Vega, a cinematography student at the Los Angeles Film School, and LA Film School lecturer and award winning Hollywood DP Charles Rose, Lyass set off to visit MOLE RICHARDSON LIGHTING (www.mole.com/home.html).
Mole Richardson is the prestigious lighting company that has, since its founding in 1927, been dedicated to bringing the finest quality light and power distribution equipment to the entertainment industry regardless of the technical demands of the medium or era. As it has been doing since the early days of the “Talkies” and now through the ongoing digital revolution in desktop filmmaking, their innovative staff constantly seeks ways to produce the right piece of equipment or type of service to meet the needs of Hollywood’s professionals. Owner of Mole Richardson, Larry Parker, met with Lyass and spent hours going over their equipment and sharing their expertise.
After lunch, Lyass was taken on a trip to Laser Pacific, a post production facility specializing in Digital Intermediate technology (Babel, The Black Dahlia) (www.laserpacific.com)
In the evening Lyass was Gabrielle Kelly’s guest at a private British Academy special screening of Robert de Niro’s THE GOOD SHEPHERD with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 19, 2006
The day started with a visit to The Los Angeles Film School’s one year intensive film making program located in Hollywood with sound stages, post production and production facilities and students from all over the world. A screening of Lyass’ reel was met with much enthusiasm by the young filmmakers and students.
After lunch at the film School, a trip to meet Rick Halpern, Education/New Filmmaker Program Manager of world famous Panavision. This included an intensive tour of Panavision including a detailed demonstration of the manufacture of their famous camera. In addition Lyass had the opportunity to see the Genesis Digital Camera which had been high on his list of things to do (www.panavision.com).
Later a visit to Ilya Friedman at Dalsa Digital Cinema allowed Friedman to demonstrate his invention, the Dalsa 4K Original HD Camera. This is the first camera shooting in 4K resolution (www.dalsa.com).
Following the meeting with Friedman, Lyass traveled to Gamma and Density Company where company owner and Russian DP, Yuri Neyman gave us an in depth demonstration of his Colour Correction Program 3cP that helps DP’s remain in control of their images through the dailies and color correction process (www.gammaanddensity.com).
Later in the day, Frank Drucker, a New York location manager and producer met with Lyass and discuss shooting on location in New York and Los Angeles and to go over how it is done in the USA. Lyass also met Larry Hama, Marvel Comics editor, screenwriter and storyboard artist, who recently visited Moscow as a guest of the International Film Workshop, to discuss upcoming projects.
In the evening Lyass went to a private screening of Darren Aronofsky’s ground breaking film, THE FOUNTAIN.
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 20, 2006
Moving out of the Grafton, Lyass relocated to Silver Lake, Los Angeles’ booming neighborhood of restaurants, galleries next to the famous Observatory where the Jimmy Cagney film WHITE HEAT was shot.
The Writer’s Villa, a 1930’s Mediterranean style mansion, is a private, word of mouth residence where artists and filmmakers from all over the world rent its unique suites and rooms by the day or by the year. At any moment New York producers, German actors, Danish production designers can be found watching movies in the beautiful living room or making dinner in its private kitchens. The Writer’s Villa became a home away from home for Lyass who went over his busy schedule sitting at a breakfast table each morning looking out over Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean.
The day started with a visit to film production legend, Technicolor, where Lyass was given a tour of the facilities and more DI information (www.technicolor.com).
A visit to the Geo Film Group focused on a demo of the Doggicam by Nick Farrell, Senior VP. He also demonstrated other camera mounts, a remote control head and illustrated how to program camera movements (www.geofilm.com).
A lunchtime meeting with director Nancy Stein allowed for a discussion of her upcoming project to be produced by Lucas (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, “Man on Fire”, “Ultraviolet”) Foster.
Later, a visit to post-production facility Fotokem included a Digital Intermediate demo session (www.fotokem.com).
In the evening Kelly invited Lyass to a BAFTA screening of “The Good German” starring George Clooney and directed by Steven Soderbergh and shot in the style of 40’s director Karel Reisz. Voting is in process for the BAFTA Orange Film Awards to be given Feb. 11th in London and Lyass was able to enjoy many of the screenings with Q and A’s with stars and production personnel.
THURSDAY DECEMBER 21, 2006
Following a detailed tour and demonstration at Clairmont Camera, one of the largest and most important camera houses in Hollywood, Denny Clairmont, President and Alan Herbert, Executive VP, took Lyass to a working lunch to discuss trends in HD and some of the potential Oscar nominations for cinematography. (www.clairmont.com)
After lunch, Anatoly Taldykin, President of Slow Motion Inc., took us to visit his camera rental and repair house and provided a full tour of their facilities. (www.slowmotioninc.com) (Photo: Fedor with Denny Clairmont and Anatoly Taldykin)
Later that afternoon Lyass was a guest of EFILM, which operates the most advanced digital laboratory in the world serving the motion picture and TV industry, all major Hollywood studios, indie filmmakers, visusal FX and large format filmmakers. They have pioneered numerous breakthroughs in digital imaging for film and continue to develop new tools. Owned by Deluxe their technical resources have successful delivered high resolution scans, pristine color timing, impeccable film recording and all related services.
Karen Murphy, Account Executive of EFILM gave Lyass a step by step tour of their post production facilities (www.efilm.com).
A meeting with Producer/Unit Production Manager/Visual Effects Producer David Dwiggins provided an opportunity to go over the production and post-production processes with this veteran of hundreds of films (Flightplan, Species III, The Bourne Identity). Spending time with Dwiggins allowed for questions about the whole process, not just the technical aspects.
An evening screening of “Screamers”, a documentary/rockumentary featuring popular Armenian rock band, System of a Down, directed by Karen Garapedian and shot by Charles Rose allowed Lyass to see Rose’s latest work. Shot in a cinema verite style, SCREAMERS was opening in Hollywood this week and going nationwide the following week.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 22, 2006
Young directors Trever James and Luke Rolds whose short film BLOCKBUSTERS is the winner of numerous awards and who are now represented by one of Hollywood’s top managers Zach Feuer resulted in a fun brainstorming session about one of their newest projects. Having seen Lyass’ reel they were interested particulary in how he shot in the tunnels of Moscow.
A screening of BABEL at the Directors Guild of America with Geoff Schaaf, cinematographer and director was followed by dinner with Schaaf and other cinema colleagues at Schaaf’s Hollywood home. His wife Dennie Gordon is a director of acclaimed TV series, “The West Wing” and feature films, “JOE DIRT” and “WHAT A GIRL WANTS”. Schaaf specializes in underwater cinematography so much time was spent on an impromptu work session about this subject. (Photo: Fedor, Gabrielle Kelly, and Geoff Schaff at Geoff's home)
WORKSHOP #7 - LARRY HAMA: VISUAL STORYTELLING - ART IN MOTION. THE MARS GALLERY, MOSCOW, OCTOBER 19-21; TERRITORY MODERN ART FESTIVAL'S 'TROJAN RABBIT' EXHIBITION, SIstern, OCTOBER 20-23.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2006
Larry Hama is well known enough in the USA never to have much of a problem at customs. While not everyone recognises his face (despite plenty of special guest appearances at comics conventions, arts festivals, lectures and master-classes, and a few select appearances on Saturday Night Live), a great number of males between the ages of 15 and 55 are pretty familiar with his name as author, editor and artist at Marvel and DC Comics on a range of titles such as Bucky O'Hare, G.I.JOE, Generation X, Nth Man, Spiderman, Batman, X-Men, Wolverine, Iron Fist, and The Avengers.
This recognisability was not so immediately apparent in Moscow October 17 when Larry arrived very discretely through the VIP section of Sheremetyevo for a three day master-class about visual story-telling and story-boarding. His visit to Moscow was all the more significant as, through the International Film Workshop participation in the Territory Modern Arts Festival put together by Kirill Serebrennikov, Chulpan Hamatova, and Evgeny Mironov, Larry was also taking part in the 'Trojan Rabbit' Comics exhibition where he would deliver a one and a half hour talk to the general public.
Comics culture is very much a minority interest in Russia. This partly goes back to the Cold War fable that comics were produced by the CIA to dumb-down the World's - and Russia's - youth. As a result, comics were never published as broadly in Russia as they were in other countries where, in places like France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, and South America, they are still valued as much by adults as they are by tenenagers and younger kids.
We had spent the last few months going back and forward with Larry on a programme that would give the maximum amount of benefit both to comics artists looking for sound practical advice for their story-telling and getting their work published, and also for film-makers who - by focussing on the image and not the word - would be able to better communicate their visual story without having to rely on dialogue and voice-over.
Larry had also spent many a long night scanning his work for Territory, sending through literally hundreds of pages which were boiled down to 18 or so covers and story pages for the purposes of the exhibition. But after atending the Festival opening, conducting the 3-day master-class, and then meeting the public at a one-hour appearance on Sunday at Sistern, it was pretty clear that comics are still a long way from being widely accepted either as an art-form, or simply a story-telling medium.(right: Evgeny Mironov, Olga Aylarova, Larry Hama, Gerard Michael MacCarthy at Territory)
Despite this low-key general response, Larry visit attracted the attention of hard-core animation and comics students and professionals. The Sunday seminar saw about 70 people interact with Larry, including one English speaking fan all the way from Brazil who - as it torned out - carries an original copy of Larry's 'Iron Fist' all over the world with him. The questions were similar to much of what had been asked by the journalists - are comics just for kids; what is Larry's favourite comics film; what work procedure does he use. People seemed a little unsure how to approach this somewhat 'new' subject matter for them, but there were still enough people asking for autographs at the end to show that if they hadn't quite known what to expect, Larry certainly had given them something to think about.
And that is exactly what he did during the three day master-class.
Larry had only been in Moscow a day and a half before the master class began with not much time to see anything other than an empty Georgian restaurant and a few Italian cafes, but his Gogolevsky Boulevard apartment views over Kropotkinsky, Prechistenka, and the Christ the Saviour Cathedral had given him enough of a sense that he was in Russia to face his master class group full of original insights.
A double capuccino in Coffee Bean on Sretenka was the starter motor for each of the three days. And those coffee brought on the adjustments necessary to tailor the pre-conceived plan to the needs of the people attending.
Larry started day one with an overview of his work. He showed some G.I.JOE material - a CGI, 44 minute promo movie based on his characters, and aimed at selling toys for the US company Hasbro, one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world. Larry explained how the deadline was delivered - a 14 month project was prepared in 9 weeks. How? By thinking 'out of the box'! There was no alternative. He and three co-writers flew to Paris where the film was to be produced and locked themsleves in a room with lots of yellow post-it stickers - the sotry telling cells they used to build up the body of the film. They had only the 'assets' to start with - 62 backgrounds and over 200 characters, as well as a set amount of vehicles that were already in production as toys that had to be included. But they had no story and very little time.
After three days of intense scripting and numerous meetings with Hasbro's reps. they came up with a story (and a provisional storyboard) which allowed the production team go ahead and start assembling the production. The film was finished in 8 and a half weeks.
The point of recounting this was to demonstrate the rule that Larry would repeat over and over during the next few days - there are no rules, and if there are, adapt them to suit the limitations you have been given. Miraculously, what everyone thought was a 14 month schedule was cut to ribbons.
Next we went through the Wolverine Sony PSP game which Larry had adapted from his original Wolverine work and partially from the perception of Wolverine from the X-Men movies. Here Larry was given the Wolverine 'maquette' based on a wire model around which a CGI 'skin' is created, resulting in a fairly realistic Wolverine incarnation. But without a story. Larry's one main issue with this project was creating a computer game 'hero' that had some depth, some history, and some kind of a future, in itself very unusual for a computer game, but which was appreciated by public and reviewers alike as the way forward. Larry had brought with him the entire 'script' for how the game was created which was eagerly absorbed by everyone present.
After lunch we started drawing or 'representing action'. Larry frequently pointed out that many people can draw a lot better than him, but a long time ago he discovered that drawing was not his forte, story telling and building character was. And so he tried to focus on that during his career which led to him not only becoming editor at Marvel, but also drew him close to many of todays leading directors both as a story board artists and a script advisor.
We went through an interesting exercise that was inspired by characters and situations given to us by those present. We ended up having Snoopy, Michael Jackson, and Bill Gates arguing who would go up to the microphone first at some celebrity party in a volcanic crater on the planet Mars. Who said comics people aren't crazy??!!
Given not exactly a typical set of events and characters, Larry quickly (in less than 5 frames) set up this action so that pretty much everyone in the room knew what was going on.
The lessons of the day - don't procrastinate; break the rules; mistakes are your mistakes, and only by them can you learn; find your own way to do things; 'draw' a story' so that anyone can understand it - a story board is a diagram or a set of univerally understood symbols - great drawing just burns up time.
Larry opens Terrotory's 'Trojan Rabbit' Exhibition at SIstern, assisted by 'Action' Magazine Editor, Olga Aylarova.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2006
The idea today was to get straight into drawing. Once again Larry gave plenty examples on the flipchart of how drawing well is not as important as being clear. Symbols and diagrams that are universally and instantly understood are the key to storyboarding anything. The less time someone has to spend decoding what is on the page, the more of a chance there is that the core information will get through.
To get us off the mark, Larry showed us a 'swipe-omatic' promo which he had put together for a horror/thriller project with a story built around a reality show set on an island inhabited by zombies. The 'swipe-omatic' was made of of slickly edited material taken from every source imaginable, but the editing, titles and sound quality was so high that it was almost impossible to tell that this was not shot specially for the project. This kind of tool is now used frequently in the US to give potential investors and producers a feel for how the finished product will look and it certainly gives a much fuller visual sense than reading even the most vividly written script would.
With the story clear from the swipe-omatic, Larry laid out the characters and the situation on the flip chart. The students were given the task of drawing a selected section from the story to make it clear the key elements being movement, environment, positioning, and showing the key clues to what was going on out of sight and out of shot.
This took up much of the day, going back and forward, addding details, and assessing the progress of each student. Larry's approach is very much stage by stage, developing in the students minds the right attitude to story telling. 'Make mistakes, don't be afraid of innovation, don't procrastinate' were the three mantras we heard over and over illustrated by examples of how various artists had moved from cliche to ground breaking symbolism which has bedcome a part of everyday culture.
Larry constantly re-iterates that his storyboards 'diagrams' and their contents 'symbols'. Drawing is something else to what we are learning here - we are trying to find univeral shapes that added together will mean something to everyone on a film set from the runnners to the producer.
WORKSHOP # 6 - GABRIELLE KELLY: THE ART OF PRODUCING, 5-8 SEPTEMBER, 2006.
WORKSHOP # 5 - STEWART PEARCE: THE ALCHEMY OF VOICE, 2-3 September, 2006.
TRANSLATION TO FOLLOW
02-03 Сентября, 2006
В Москве в Театре "ПРАКТИКА" Стюарт Пирс провел двухдневный мастер-класс, основанный на его методике «Алхимия голоса». Приглашенными российскими звездами кино, театра и телевидения стали Анна Михалкова, Дарья Мороз, Павел Деревянко, Ксения Алферова, Саша Ребенок, Мария Голубкина. На импровизированной пресс-конференции маэстро, подтянутый элегантный джентльмен с классическими манерами, собрал в круг своих учеников и под стрекот фотокамер продемонстрировал многочисленным журналистам некоторые упражнения, чем-то похожие на медитацию тибетских монахов, но явно имеющие практическое применение для любой творческой личности, в особенности актеров.
Около 400 лет назад вместе с возникновением философии Декарта - «Я мыслю, следовательно, я существую» - человечество отключилось от источника природной энергии, таким образом, ограничив свое восприятие лишь уровнем ментальности. Что такое личность или персона? Per sona – в буквальном переводе с латинского через звук. Все есть звук. Человек выражает себя через звук, и у каждой «пер-соны» есть своя нота, открыв которую, человек воссоединяется со своим источником природной энергии, его творческий потенциал открывается и развивается по «правильному» пути. Таким образом, концепцию Декарта можно развить - «Я мыслю, следовательно, я чувствую, следовательно, я существую» - такова основная мысль господина Пирса.
Ученики выглядели усталыми и счастливыми одновременно:
Павел Деревянко, актер театра и кино:
- Два дня без сна! Фантастический человек Стюарт Пирс! Есть в нем что-то такое шаманическое. Он открытый такой весь, раскайфованный! Говорит - вы прекрасны, любите себя, любите жизнь, любите друг друга. Вся комната наполнилась энергией, светлой, доброй. Его метод может пригодиться везде, на сцене, конечно, но и в жизни так же. Это касается не только сценической речи, но и жизненной позиции, это может быть интересно всем, кто хочет общаться, настраивает на ритм сердца.
Дарья Мороз, актриса театра МХАТ:
- Это некая система обучения голосовая, это философия голоса, философия самого себя, и философия актерская – как, каким образом воздействовать на зрителя так, чтобы это изменяло его сознание. По большому счету, этот тренинг - исследование собственных голосовых возможностей. Система тренинга через релаксацию, через ощущение собственного внутреннего пространства, тела, голоса звука, когда голос идет не из горла только, но задействованы и нижние части позвоночника и так далее. Для меня полное удовольствие было здесь позаниматься, и, кроме того, очень много нового я для себя узнала, какие-то вещи, которые я где-то слышала, сама понимала на интуитивном уровне. На тренинге их сформулировали, и я поняла, что я правильно, грубо говоря, экспериментирую сама с собой, и мои мысли по поводу воздействия звука на зрителя, каких-то энергетик – они верны. В основном все совпало, как ни странно, сильных противоречий не возникло.
Ксения Алферова, актриса:
- Это еще одна ступенька в профессии. Твоя профессия – твой голос. Таких школ очень много существует, они все переплетаются. Очень многое зависит от личности педагога. Стюарт сам по себе настолько интересен - и то о чем он говорит, и его философия и отношение к профессии актера!
Саша Ребенок, актриса:
- Через звук найти себя. В первый день мы освобождались от каких-то мешающих запутанностей, а второй день, когда уже все стало получаться, Стюарт сказал, - я научу вас быть без воска (прим. sin cere – «искренний», в буквальном переводе с греческого «без воска»). Когда делается статуя из мрамора, и вдруг неправильное движение, скол – все рассыпается. Что делать? Пользовались воском. «Я научу вас быть самим собой без воска. То, что у тебя снаружи и внутри – это одно и то же».
Анна Михалкова, актриса театра и кино, телеведущая:
— Любой опыт позитивен с точки зрения усовершенствования себя. Это некая возможность определить, где ты, любая точка зрения - она интересна. Голос очень важная составляющая часть для актера, для актера театрального в первую очередь. Для меня, как для человека в большей мере снимающегося в кино, была интересна сторона подачи голоса в театре.
ОБЕРОН ИНТЕРНЕТ ЖУРНАЛ
WORKSHOP # 4 - BARRY PRIMUS - ACTING FOR DIRECTORS
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2006
Barry arrived in Moscow Thursday last, June 8. Already he’s had a chance to get back into the swing of things with visits to the Moscow Arts Theatre (MHAT) and the Tretyakovskaya Gallery and plenty of walks around the city’s parks before launching into his second acting technique master-class here for THE INTERNATIONAL FILM WORKSHOP.
En route to the class, Moscow was – as usual – cordoned off in way or another, this time due to the Russian National Holiday effectively marking the day 15 years ago when Boris Yeltsin became Moscow's first President.
It’s an awkward trip to get to the 'Open World' centre from Barry’s apartment in any case, but being rerouted through the 3rd Ring Road adds a few extra minutes to the journey and brings Barry through what he describes as industrial areas which under usual circumstances he would not get to see. To the rest of us this is just a cobble stone back road from Paveletskaya to Tulskaya which leads us out a Danilovsky Monastery.
Much of what will be written here might seem to repeat some of the diary entries from the previous acting workshop. This is partly because the routine as such is quite similar. The first thing that will seem familiar is that almost everyone is late, but still we get started at about 10.15 with a class consisting of Motya (Natasha Moteva, actress), Masha Kuzmina (director/psychologist), Julia Yudintseva (actress), Vadim Ostrikov (student director), Igor Veselov (student journalist), Masha Kozlova (model/actress), Inna Shmul (student director), Kostya Shpekht (student actor), and - on and off - Zhivile (Zhu) Montvelaite (theatrical director), Lena Nayda (student director/photographer/lawyer), Lena Morozova (actress), Petr Khazizov (film producer/director/actor), Lena Subbotina (real estate manager/student director/actress), and Ksenya Belaya (professional choreographer/actress).
Despite some of the students missing the first day due to the long holiday weekend, we get off to a good start with those present doing exercises to break down contact barriers, each student telling a partner in turn about a favourite relative, a favourite place etc. The students are well-prepared and get into the swing of this quickly before Barry moved quickly onto improvs. to assess the level of the students.
The key element of today’s master-class, and what makes Barry so special, is the accent on the reality of the emotions and sensations the actor has to recreate, to actually experience to act out the role. This is the bottom line and what Barry both as actor and director looks for in any performance, believability, sincerity, truth. So much acting – especially in Russia - suffers from indicating, and from attending these workshops, the least the students can do is spot simulation a mile off, a great tool for directors to possess. But the purpose of the workshop is to get the actors onto another plane – to put them in touch with their ‘inner object’, to help them search for their motivation, for their characters’ reality – for the smells, tastes, and impulses that transforms a ‘scene’ into an ‘experience’.
There is always a bit of resistance on the first day. This work is very personal. It requires facing up to the true self, and recalling experiences which, by the nature of their resonance, are sometimes difficult to retrieve. The group is also unacquainted. And there are problems as always with those more inclined towards directing. The honesty and openness, the surrender of control are difficult for directors to submit to straight away.
We cover exercises that concentrate on sensory retrieval – a lake, a friend, an imaginary dialogue, trust; we do the ‘machine’ exercise – an eating machine, a love machine, a talent machine where, as Barry pointed out, from the gestures and sounds it was clear that the students saw talent as something cerebral and not something spiritual (that we will try to change). And then we did some more improvs., this time initiated by the students themselves, and some cold reading to shore down the day.
Two key quotes: Elia Kazan – ‘If he’s not got it in him, you won’t get it out of him’ and Meyerhold ‘The words are the skirt to the body of the action’. We can add a third: ‘Make it real!’ - Barry Primus.
TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13 & 14, 2006
Looking back on these two days a lot of what happened seemed chaotic in the best sense of the word. Indeed the very fact that this Diary is being written after events and not during them indicates that. There was no time or energy to assess on a daily basis what was going on. This was partly due to the changing shape of the group. Several of the students can’t commit to the full 6 days. This makes it more difficult to create an ‘organic’ group as each time a new person appears, the dynamic changes. It's hard for Barry to adjust as so much energy goes into each person. And the students are almost all new faces, we have a new location, and Barry has been traveling for several weeks now. And some of our students this time are resisting much more than before, taking longer to slip into a rhythm.
The group is made up of actors, directors and one or two ‘qualified enthusiasts’. The biggest problem we seem to face is with the directors who find it very hard to let go and get into the exercises. This can be partly explained by what is expected of directors in Russia where their process often demands them to be dictatorial, distant, and too involved with the technical side of the shoot. As a result,
they are often reluctant to get too deeply into the actors' process on set. This carries over into our workshop. It doesn’t interfere, but it is frustrating. Barry points out that the directors present could get so much more out of attending by surrendering control for a while, but during the course of the first few days this is virtually impossible to achieve.
By Wednesday morning, everyone has been allocated a scene, and an improv to help get under the skin of that scene. Barry is an astute psychologist and knows how to cast scenes based on the strengths and weakness the students have displayed up to now. The scenes all seem to ‘fit’ – LA Confidential, Jerry Maguire, Salvador, The Owl and the Pussycat, Ghostworld – plus some scenes from a script that is in pre-production here.
We have more professionals this time which makes the process faster and deeper. One other major difference between this group and the last one - perhaps for the same reason - is that lunchtime is used for rehearsal. This encourages and demonstrates the will of the group which, for all the teething troubles, is starting to show focus and self-generated motivation.
Wednesday afternoon sees a visit by a crew from the Russia Today channel who film an interview with Barry. There are unobtrusive and as always, the presence of cameras has its own interesting effect on the students. This is an acting master-class and hence the majority of the students seem to shine in front of the camera. However the cameraman seems less interested in the acting rehearsals than warm-up exercises which, taken out of context, might looks like something taken from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.'
The first three days saw Barry gradually draw the students closer and closer to their ‘instrument’ – gently provoking contact with memories and sensations that were set aside or hidden. Barry quickly wins the their trust, and they seem ready to explore what they have in them, and learn how to access it. Talking to the students at the end of Day Three, they seem more open, more in touch with themselves. They also understand how to access not only their own emotions, but the material they are working on.
THURSDAY, JUNE 15 2006
New day, new room, new start. Today Barry's wife, Julie Arendal, arrives to Moscow for the first time. Julie is an internationally renowned choreographer who, from the moment she walks into class, brings with her all the grace, intuition, and good humour that has taken her through a successful career that ranges from the hit musical 'Hair' to choreographing scenes with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie in Robert de Niro's new film 'The Good Shepherd'.
The new room is more isolated from the rest of Open World, and allows us to focus more. It's strange acoustics offer an opportunity to work on some sound exercises aimed at releasing the inner emotions. This keeps us busy for much of the morning before moving on again to rehearsals of the scenes, and improvs. While some of the students are coming and going due to work commitments, it's clear that we have a core group which is strengthened today by the addition of Lena Subbotina and Ksenia Belaya who are paired together for some cold readings and seem immediately to find each others pitch.
The rest of the day is spent going back and forward on rehearsing, switching partners at times to spice things up. Any signs of resistance have now disappeared. The students all seem to have got into the flow of thing and it is of great credit to the group, and to Lena and Ksushya, that they managed to find each others rhythm so quickly. By the end of Day Four, there are signs of harmony and like-mindedness. The students have all got what Barry's method is about and have witnessed for themselves, in Barry's demonstrations of how he would or would not act out a given fragment, that he possesses a range of techniques stretching from mime through parody and on into utter realism. As we leave the fourth day, there seems to be a lot more understanding by the students that they are indeed attending a 'master
FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2006
Barry had promised from Monday that Friday would be the day that the students would parade their alter-egos or hidden aspects of their personalities. We were a little late starting, but after some quick warm-up exercises, the students were given a few minutes to get themselves ready...
'The Provacateuse' meets 'Darth Vader' and 'The Black Princess' during a moment of reflection...
Barry and Ksyusha share their alter egos...
Phantomas deals with the paparazzi...
Barry lets the Force be with him...
Marie Antoinette or The Girl from Pigalle...
Apart from getting away from the seriousness of what we had been doing all week, this exercise worked really well in getting the actors in touch with their inner worlds, and making more accessible to them the parts of their personalities that they hide, deny or have forgotten. All of the actors certainly stretched their own limits. We have agreed as always not to go into too much detail with this. The photographs shown represent the lighter side of the exercise.
After lunch we returned to rehearsing scenes and now finally playing them out for real. By the end of the day we got through almost everybody. For the most part it became clear how the improvs had clarified motivation and behaviour for the students. They are now ready for the final day which will focus on Barry's summary and a filmed audition/cold reading for each of the students.
SATURDAY JUNE 17, 2006
Another final day. We start at 11 to give everyone time to prepare. The students arrive concentrated, a bit like sportsmen before a big final. There is an awareness that today is the last time we will see Barry here for some time, and all of the students want to get the most out of the day.
We start with a final bonding exercise, the students joining in a single thought that develops into a single sound, There is no fear, no shyness, it all seems to come out almost in unison, the group acting as one, great preparation not only for the exercises ahead, but for whatever lies beyond the completion of this master-class.
Barry goes through the scenes that hadn't been completed the previous day. Anyone who wishes can have a last shot at improving their performance with the material we have been working with all week. It's been a difficult six days for Barry, and not what he is used to in other places, but even as we draw to the finish, his energy and enthusiasm is on a high.
We come back after lunch to set up the camera and screen for the cold readings, effectively auditions played out with a one page script written by Barry. It's simple on the page, words without any real message, but that makes them so easy to assign sub-text to. The students choose an off-camera reading partner, are introduced to the director, Mr. Barry Primus, and then sat down in front of camera with no props. That fact is quite unnerving, as indeed is the size of the plasma screen we have as a 'monitor'. There's nothing to play with, and everything is on view to the other 'producers' as Barry describes them, waiting in line for their turn.
The net effect of this exercise is overall very satisfying, leaving each of the student actors hungry for more. We watch the material together, trying to follow the directions that Barry has given quietly to each of the students as they were filmed, creating situations and conflicts within a simple few words that give the one page script layers of depth and plenty of scope to implement what has been absorbed over the past few days.
We clear the room of equipment, joining in a circle to share our impressions of the week. The biggest compliment from the students is the unanimous opinion that there was too little time. Everyone present clearly want to go deeper, particularly after the audition exercise through which the 'before' and 'after' in-front-of-camera experiences could be compared with very positive results.
Barry graciously thanks the group and the organisers, noting the talent of the people he has met in Russia. He says he hopes to return in the future. We certainly hope he does too.
WORKSHOP # 3 - MARK TRAVIS - DIRECTING: FROM SCRIPT TO SCREEN
MAY 20-23, 2006
As Good As It Gets – Mark Travis, Take Two.
We had our trial run for a directing course a few weeks ago with a three day Mark Travis workshop built around Sam Mendes' 'American Beauty'. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and dig into James Brook’s 'As Good As It Gets' over six days, enough time to really start taking the script apart, find out what the characters are about, and start thinking about how we, as students and potential directors, would direct the movie.
Mark and Dasha arrived Friday (May 19) and we took up where we left off in April. Mark has been back to Kiev twice and over to Cornwall in the UK in the past three weeks, and the Film Workshop crew have been getting word out about the class almost round the clock since he left.
And word does seem to have got around. Visits to the ‘actorsworkshop.ru’ web site have trebled this month, and we’ve received over about 70 enquiries and applications for this workshop leading to 19 students enrolled for the full course.
The Open World Centre where we’ve relocated has equipped our space with all we need. The room is large and bright, and can be entered – once shoes have been exchanged for slippers - only by passing through the tranquility of the Open World reception area which immediately helps adjust the students’ mood and put them in a positive frame of mind.
To break the ice, Mark started off with a simple exercise to let everyone get acquainted. Actors would have leapt into this, but this is a directing course where that first contact, which should be so easy to make during the creative process, can often be the most difficult. The trick was simple - a bean bag and a circle of strangers. We threw the bag to one another while on catching the bag we had to say our names and what we do.
Igor, literary editor /film editor; Yevgeniy, Art Director of Open World; Lena, director of a real estate company/ student director; Masha, psychologist/ director; Lena, student; Nika, film directing student; Kostya, actor; Alla, designer /artist; Ru, student director; Igor, student director/ illustrator; Zhenia, advertising manager; Olga, Casting and Film director; Lucy, translator/teacher; Valodia, photographer/web-designer; Lilya, singer/student director; Julia, film and theatre actress; Valera, actor.
And then we meet Melvin.
A lot of time goes on the film’s introduction. The first five-ten minutes of 'As Good As I Gets' are set up to disarm any preconceived notions we may have because Melvin is played by Jack Nicholson. The opening builds - layer upon layer - a character that seems utterly nasty, psychotic, anti-social, and - at times - dangerous. But we still can't help...admiring him. He is saying and doing what all of us, at some point in time, would love to. We go into great detail with these opening shots because upon them is built the rest of the film.
This Workshop differs from the previous ones in so far as we have an entire script to get through in three days before moving on to directing practice. The work-load is set and defined by the amount of pages in the script, and we are working to a very precise schedule, meaning that the progress-rate is steady and methodical. We move through the script in chunks according to the Blake Snyder table Mark has brought with him. This is a useful tool to gauge the highs and lows of the film from the point of view of the characters and the story line. But it takes patience. This is no ordinary love story or melodrama which soon becomes clear from the omissions and additions made to the original script.
'As Good As It Gets' was called initially 'Old Friends', a title so bland that it's incredible any of the actors ever agreed to read the script. But Brooks has plenty of old friends of his own as Mark points out, as Shane Black and Lawrence Kazdan appear in fairly key cameo roles...
Breaking down the script takes up the full three days. Day Three is fragmented because of journalists from two magazines and the Russia Today TV channel making their presence felt, but all the same, the detailed analysis of the work of the scriptwriter, director and actor all give us a complete sense of what directing is about - part interpretation, part inspiration, part management. We sort through the key questions, the most of important of all being 'what if'? How many variations and alternatives can be spinning through the actor and director's heads just before 'Action' rings out on set...
There is a sense of a deeper understanding of 'As Good As It Gets' as we complete the first three days. We have taken the script to pieces and seen how the actors have the dialogue and through sheer skill made scenes that on paper were implausible work on screen (e.g. Frank convincing Melvin to take Simon to Baltimore). However, we have probably gone too far into it to be able to sustain three more days of practical analysis and direction, and the students know far too well how the actors approached the script to be able to be objective when directing scenes from the movie.
After some consultation, Mark and Gerry ask the students to use their day off to write their own scenes - two pages, two or three characters, any theme. On Wednesday we will read these scenes and use them to give the students real directing practice based on their own concerns and creative impulses. It's a break from the programme, but we ask the students if they have any objections and, unanimously, they accept the proposal with enthusiasm...
MAY 24-26, 2006
The day off didn't seem to take much out of anyone, but it was clear that the students were nervous about revealing their own work to the rest of the class. Some of them had taken the time to really craft something, and some of them had pushed the lines through as a last minute thing so as not to be caught with their trousers down before turning up to class.
There is little need to go into great detail as to how the next days went. We read through the scenes one by one. Mark was surprised that pretty much all the scenes could be used. In many classes from his experience only a few could be treated seriously. But here, partly due to the fact that several students were doing this for the first time, everyone seemed to have opened up when writing the material giving it a lot more depth than we had expected.
We needed an extra hour or so to get through everyone making a very quick move from our 100 metre room to a space a quarter of the size. And when we finished the last scene, we all realised that interesting and all as this had been, staging these scenes in this format would be just more of the same. After a few minutes consultation, we decided to hold a lottery next morning. Each director would direct someone else's scene, casting it afresh and adding a bit of intrigue to the process.
Thursday and Friday were spent methodically going through each scene, from the initial lottery, through casting and cold reading, through to mise-en-scene and the final 'as if we were shooting' stage. Some of the writers in the group were a bit upset at having their material passed on, but this was an essential part of the process, forcing the directors to really direct, to look for ways to enliven material that not only was not their own, but also had only just been created.
There was plenty of debate as the scenes were put together, but blood-shed was avoided as Mark steered the group through unknown waters. The key to his method is the endless search for possibilities - how to turn the action, how to deepen the actor's motivation, to make the lines have both real meaning, and also real drama.
The students seemed delighted with this experimental second half. Everyone had a chance to write, direct and act in a scene. A lot of this was filmed by Masha Kuzmina and the resulting short film will be on site soon.
WORKSHOP # 2 - THE DIRECTOR'S JOURNEY
APRIL 26, 2006
Mark Travis arrived yesterday evening in Moscow from Kiev. The Director's Journey is a three day course based on his bestselling books about the director's craft which promises to take us in a very short time over terrain that in most film schools in Russia is covered over several months.
The location for the workshop is ideal. The Elena Vrublevskaya Gallery has the perfect combination of intimacy, energy, and a city centre address. It is fully equipped for a workshop like ours and the blend of hospitality and the aura created by Alena Telpuhovskaya's Photo exhibition "Tibet. Touch" and "Gates. On the way to natural liberation" give us the perfect backdrop (Elena Vrublevskaya is also the president of Russia's TIBET HOUSE
). Fittingly for our Workshop, the first line from the written description of the exhibition is "A journey is always connected with the search, cognition."
We get to the Gallery at 9.40 to find 4 students anxiously waiting for us. These are new faces recruited following the success of the first Workshop, but where are the others?
Over the past six weeks an internet press release blitz to every TV station, film studio, glossy magazine, record company, and production facility in the land, added to posters in all the main visual arts institutes such as VGIK and GUU (RMA)
, have rapidly built awareness of what the INTERNATIONAL FILM ACTORS WORKSHOP is trying to do. This is not a vehicle for Hollywood production values, but rather an attempt to bring to Russian film-makers more ways to define and understand the art of storytelling through film than are currently available here.
By 10.10, the 4 faces were joined by another 14. Some couldn't find the Gallery, some couldn't negotiate the traffic or (the early start).
Despite this good turnout, we lost at least 6 more working directors and actors who had already enrolled to last minute committments, but all in all the room was filled and Mark made his introduction.
Mark's delivery is effortless, and that effortlessness is eased along by Darina Privalko who has travelled from Kiev to translate. By lunchtime, we have covered an overview of the film-making process, been given a detailed description of the mind-set essential for all film makers embarking on their 'journey', delved into the essential structural moments that should be present in a script, and gone into character objectives and obstacles. We have also started analysing the model script we have chosen for this workshop 'American Beauty', a scene from which is given to the students to breakdown in search of objectives over lunch.
The students return ready to tackle the scene and we fast get from the words on the page to the sub-text concealed beneath, the spoken word hiding the unspeakable thought, that thought for an actor the key to believable delivery of the line - any line. Soon, each word on the page becomes loaded with conflict, confusion, dilemma and dissent, the most innocent phrase gaining fast the ability to undermine, underpin, emphasise, exaggerate or destroy the emotional state of the protagonists, in battle, sparring with each other in these small rounds of emotional kick-boxing called scenes.
We go further and further into the script, and step back to discuss casting, working with the crew, defining the real function of the director, his/her brief on set, his obligation to the actor.
When we wrap up the day, everyone (exept for Mark it seems) is exhausted. The Director's Journey was pitched as an 'intensive' course - the students now say we covered two terms in one day.
TOPICS COVERED IN FULL: Script Analysis, Working with the Writer, Forming The Creative Team, The Casting Process, The Actor/Director Relationship, The Rehearsal Process, Visualizing your Story, Working with the Cinematographer, The Production Process, Post-Production.
April 27, 2006
We had a good start today. “American Beauty” probably isn’t the kind of movie you would watch usually at 10 am in a darkened gallery room when the sun is shining outside, but then again we’ve only got three days to get the work done. The first minute of the movie gives away the original plot of the screenplay, intended to be a murder mystery. The movie could have been shot a hundred different ways, and today would prove that each scene has infinite potential.
If yesterday we concentrated on general approaches to directing, who the director is, how he should read a script, how he should work with his crew etc., the lesson we learned today has far reaching consequences.
When was the last time any of us had had the time to sit down and analyse a film scene by scene, especially accompanied both by the production script, and Mark Travis who knows American Beauty inside out, both as a professional director and teacher, and someone who has access to the inside track?
Our greatest tool today was the pause button on the projector, guided by Mark's knowledge of exactly where the hidden secrets of the movie lie. Today became a day of rediscovery, a reinstatement of belief in the process of film making, and a shattering of prejudices - built up by years of disappointment in 'Hollywood' films, films in general, and the press who give so little time to craft when cash returns are the criteria for a movie's credibility.
Oscars are awarded it seems for lots of reasons, not too many of them being great film-making. That is a dangerous generalisation, but it reflects a weariness, here in particular, with a system that seems to reward conservative scandal, or clumsily presented innovation.
Kevin Spacey has a gift for choosing scripts. 'American Beauty' is a film about short-lived epiphany that seems to have not much going on but a good story, and great cast, and some dashes of colour to tie the whole thing together - red - the roses, the petals, the Mustang, the blood. We dismiss the rest out of habit. There could not be any allegory, symbolism (or beauty) in an American-made Oscar winner...
In breaking down the first five minutes of the film, Mark took a blow to our preconceived notions. We sat up as layer after layer was peeled away. We began to hear once again 'the language of cinema' and soon its half-forgotten dialect started whispering in our ears, strengthening the desire in most of the class to go forward, pick up a camera, and just make movies.
Mark challenged us to 'direct' the scenes in our heads. How would we do it? Where would we sit Lester? What way would he move through the set? Watch the editing...watch the camera angle, the use of light, the emphasis here on straight lines...Each shot is filled with information, subconscious indicators placed very consciously there by the director and production designer, and perfectly framed and shot by the DP, to add layer upon layer to the words in the script.
This was not so much a surprise to the class, as a relief. If we were watching Kurosawa or Tarkovsky, we would expect these things, but not of an American movie...or perhaps not of a commercially successful movie.
And so we spent the morning unravelling the mysteries of each shot, decoding the simple messages left there for us by the movies creators, and a whole half a day had passed when we got into rehearsing scenes with some of the actors present, before moving on to mise-en-scene, a lead in to camera technique
and the director's work with the DP which we will not have time to cover here.
We ended up the day with more analysis of the movie - the 'Couch' scene where Lester tries to rekindle some desire in Caroline. We went through it beat by beat, frame by frame now watching wide-eyed for anything the director might be trying to tell us.
We had to wrap at 6 to get to the MHAT Student theatre to see their version of Hamlet. The message of today helped even here. A film about epiphany had led to epiphany for all of us present. In Lester's office, as he sits in his little 'cell', the message is there for anyone with a desire to press the pause button to see....simply, always 'Look Closer'!
TOPICS COVERED IN FULL: The Rehearsal Process, Developing the Characters, Improvisations and Rehearsal Tools, Directing the Characters instead of the Actor, Staging and how it empowers and enhances a scene, The Director and the Camera.
April 28, 2006
Three days is not enough. It seems as if we have only just got going and now we are facing a sudden termination of a discussion that has only just begun.
The final day of any course, even a three day one, always starts with a sense of anti-climax. This wasn’t helped by the fact that two of our students were missing – Kolya Karpov flew out of Moscow this morning for a month of shooting, and Katya Karamurza got dragged away by the preparations for her White Trash for Cash fashion label 2006-2007 launch next week.
We got straight into analyzing more scenes from ‘American Beauty’. We started with the scene where Lester first sees Angela, starting with the contrast in how Jane and Angela watch the basketball game, through to Lester’s positioning in the car with Caroline, on to the crowd shot where Lester stands out thanks to his disinterest in what’s going on (“I’m missing the James Bond marathon on TNT”), to the magical surreal moment when Lester’s world is turned upside-down when he first sees Angela.
Mark went into all the details: the lighting; the actors positioning; the subtleties and contrasts in their reactions; the casting and directing of the extras; the editing technique to create the sense of fantasy/dream reality.
We moved on to the scene where Ricky is filming Jane from is house just before the Colonel thunders into to his room, breaking down the complexity of the set-up of the shots, and then analyzing the development of the scene stop starting to catch all the inflections of Chris Cooper’s performance. Later on we would return to the scene where the Colonel comes to Lester for ‘comfort’ where again the depth and range of the performance is in itself a master-class in acting.
Breaking down the details, many of them taken for granted on first view, seems like a fairly mundane process, but we rarely get the opportunity to do this, so the luxury of the pause button and 16 students all trying to decipher the information contained in the shot is fascinating. We don’t get to delve into each frame the way a history of art student would, and yet we find all the information there when we do look.
The culmination of the day was the ‘I want you’ scene between Angela and Lester. Again we watch the actors, stop the scene, look at their reaction, look at the shot set up, see how everything about Angela has changed so subtly: her clothes are ruffled, her hair is tossed, her chest is flat, the teenage vamp is now the preadolescent victim of her own ordinariness and inexperience.
The kiss scenes with the Colonel and then with Angela are where Lester really ‘gets back’ part of what he had lost, his compassion and his maturity. We’ve been with him for three days, and as the scene ends, we draw to the concluding part of the workshop, but without ever seeing his murder, perhaps an act of compassion on Mark’s part )).
Mark sums things up. Everyone is aware that 3 days isn’t enough time to go as deep as everyone would like to. We have covered the basics, a detailed overview of how a director and actor should approach a script, and we have seen in practice how the desire to collaborate, keep an open mind, and look at all the options increase the chances of the end result -always a fragile creationn - of being a good movie.
There is little opportunity for questions, but there is a sense that Mark is not here for the last time and that this was only an introduction to ‘The Director’s Journey’.
TOPICS COVERED IN FULL: Script Analysis, Character Development, Objectives and Obstacles, The Character Arc in a scene, Working with the Actor, Visualizing the Scene, Camera and Coverage to Enhance the Scene.
WORKSHOP # 1 - BARRY PRIMUS
FEBRUARY 27, 2006
The inaugural International Film Actors Workshop started this morning, Monday, with Barry Primus being photographed outside his apartment building on Tverskaya St./ Leontevskiy Pereulok in front of a portrait of Konstantin Stanislavsky whose Moscow apartment was situated down the block from where Barry is staying. Barry arrived in from Los Angeles after a long flight through Atlanta on Saturday, and has had only a day to acclimatise and run through some of the details about the fortnight ahead.
Day One is a tough day for everyone involved. So much of all this is new. Not the general concept, but the process of loosening up, opening up, and facing the parts that make up the whole.
We have a varied group of students - 3 males: 8 females - ranging in age from 18 to 46, their origins stretching geographically from the Baltics to the Urals. All are curious, all are looking for something other schools, other sources, other experiences, and other teachers have not yet helped them find.
The IFAW format is far less formal, less 'intellectual', more sensory, exploratory and - by Russian standards - experimental than anything else around. It is aimed not at theory, but practice, developing the students' ability to perform in front of camera, to trust themselves and reach deep into their own experiences when needed, using their own inner resources as the fuel for portraying a truth the audience can believe in.
The sun came out today. The morning, the first scented with Spring, was spent on introductions as sunlight poured through the skylights of the Art Play Gallery, formerly a Soviet textile factory now filled with the studios of experimental architects and interior designers.
The introductions were not just 'what is your name?', but 'WHO ARE YOU?'. Then on to exercises aimed at understanding the importance of interaction, of activity, of thought to the actor, followed by development of motivational reasoning, identifying and pursuing the goal, and a relaxation session before winding up for the day.
The Workshop is held in Russian. Exploring the human mechanism and developing acting technique through translation is a task, but Barry is taking it in his stride, helped by the willingness of the students to make the connection, and his own charm, energy and openness, his willingness to see goals and not obstacles, to greet each student as a friend and potential colleague, either on the theatrical or human stage.
We called it a day relatively early. There are challenges bigger yet to be faced, a fact accepted willingly by the students as they head out into the Moscow cold in search of monologues with meaning for Day 2 of the IFAW.
FEBRUARY 28, 2006
It's a long trip to Moscow from LA both physically and psychologically. Barry's ability to adapt to the change in temperature, time, and environment and start working more or less straight off the plane is something that has impressed the students and brought out the best in them.
Discipline is not a concept that is close to our participants; a 10 am start is later than we had planned, and about two hours earlier than they would like. They trickle in for 10.20 all having slept 3, 4 ,5 hours either because they are psyched up about the course, are working, or need to share their new experiences - hot off the presses - with the night-time inhabitants of Moscow's clubs and cafes.
30 minutes of stretching and warm-up was followed straight away by sensory work, locating that special childhood place where we all felt safe, where we hid, where we fantasized. Under our parents bed, in the long grass, in the cellar - the student-actors had to recreate these places, the smells and sounds that enlivened them, and the feelings they had 'then', flowing into and criss-crossing with the 'now'.
Today on the whole was when they learned to be time travelers. They discovered reincarnation without dying, and teleported themselves into other worlds, other bodies, and other states and moods simply by closing their eyes, opening their minds, and revealing both to themselves and their fellow students what it means for each of them to be 'me'.
Bravely the student-actors went further and further into the past, into the pain, humiliation, loss, joy, discovery of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, facing up to ghosts and monsters, angels and ideals created by others, and nurtured by themselves. There were tears; there was strain; there were warm smiles of recognition. There was plenty of laughter. That is what they came for - facing up to feelings that up to now they have hidden, learning to express them in the context of a role.
MARCH 1, 2006
Nobody had much time to notice that it was the first day of spring today. The workshop started almost on time with music helped along by an imaginary shot of tequila, rum or a sip of Bordeaux. Our student-actors - led by Barry - slipped into inebriation, slowly lost their inhibitions and shook off their morning sluggishness not just by listening, but becoming the music - intertwining with the beat, grabbing out to catch the notes as they floated by, using the penetrating quality and primordial appeal of the rhythm to amalgamate mind, body, soul and space, so that the senses were firing on all cylinders.
More work on monologues came next. In only two days it's clear that there is progress, effort is being made, and there is an attempt to absorb the information and advice passed on by Barry and implement it to the maximum.
A lunchtime stroll through the park at Pirogovsky against a cold, grey afternoon more like November than March got Barry some fresh air, a photo by an elephantine statue of Tolstoy, and a visit to a Russian Orthodox Church in the process of renovation. This was the break needed for Barry to clear his head and absorb more of the cultural nuances that make these student-actors differ from their counterparts anywhere else, while it also gave them the chance to reflect on how many different new directions Barry's teaching is taking them.
After lunch we returned again to monologues, finishing the first introductory round of readings. The monologues were well chosen, incredibly honest, self-effacing, and revealing demonstrating our student-actors' willingness to open up - declarations of trust and respect, ambition and intention.
By the time they had got through the monologues, it was already 4 pm and stamina was beginning to wane. This was rectified by a mass massage, each student-actor in turn being worked over by his or her classmates. This unexpected and invigorating turn allowed them continue with their first full scene, rehearsed in pairs. Although the class is moving through Barry's programme at a slower pace than planned, the student-actors are gaining courage and allowing themselves experiment. Another day will take them closer to losing their self consciousness, a necessary step to allow them more deeply explore their own experiences, the actor's treasure this workshop is try to unearth.
MARCH 2, 2006
The second day of spring started with a blizzard and virtual gridlock in the city. Barry was collected and delivered very, very late as hapless drivers turned Moscow into a cross between a bumper car playground and a high maintenance skating rink.
Things were not helped by the morning jam caused by the traffic police who halt everything but the ice on the Moskva River either side of the Kremlin when word gets to them that President Putin is on his way into town.
Today was difficult, but it was fun. It was no longer ‘I can’t do this’ but ‘Maybe if I try it this way…’ They started with yoga, stretching and exercises led by Marina moving quickly on to an exercise aimed at developing the senses – our actors moving through air filled with an unknown substance, digging, tunneling, struggling and floating, connecting the body-awareness of the exercises with the imagination. They chose bubbles, sand, dust, and even mercury. Then they sat in a circle imagining an object, a living thing – first a baby, then a baby hedgehog, then a living bagel (stranger things have happened this week!), and then a snake that when passed from hand to hand somehow left Barry’s finger bleeding and in need of a Band-Aid!
There is a lot of noise that distracts. Yesterday we had sporadic drilling. This was on a big scale - mineral ore exploration in our neighbours’ wall which seemed to start right in the middle of a contemplative pause, or a moment of artistic epiphany.
All around there are wooden floors, and it seems for sure that all people entering the building are issued with clogs and asked to walk half a dozen times past our door. And today all morning as we tried to settle into the workshop and remember the acting skills acquired over the past days, from somewhere came the melody of a mobile that seemed set into the concrete, buried in the wall, that rang out over and over again at sub-audible levels to the tune of one of Chopin's etudes, driving everyone mad.
The students in our group are beginning to believe they are in an Acting Workshop. One by one today we began to see the actor emerging, or at least the contractions starting. They are over coming self-consciousness. And there was pride, fulfillment and joy on their faces as they heard deserved applause.
The students are now reforming their thoughts to become actors in the earliest stages of evolution. They now have a grasp of the basics as they sat down for their monologues in front of their perhaps first audience and, once firmly located in their imaginary situations, searched for the truth that comes from the heart and is found between the lines.
Barry explores each of them. He pushes, coaxes, encourages and understands. He twists their expectations in directions they haven’t even considered, and they respond with the first hints of the acting craft. Barry has commented that many of the monologues are more ironic than he would have expected. He is taking nothing for granted and is very culturally sensitive. His respect for the cultural differences is clear to all the students and much appreciated. They too are fascinated by how this workshop differs from all the others Barry has taught.
To the end of the day, everyone worked hard on the monologues but the biggest difficulty is still a lack of discipline. This tempts the question what will happen when they really start to click?
MARCH 3, 2006
Stanislav Libin came in today to give the students some feel for the reality of television drama shoots in Russia. Stas' Columbia University Film School education coupled with his professional experience as a director with on of Russia's largest television production companies AMedia makes him ideal for drawing the knowledge gained from Barry's workshop closer towards practical implementation.
To start with Stas gave the students plenty of anecdotal material from his own experience. He is a great story-teller and carried forward his energy and enthusiasm through the day. His open and democratic approach built on the confidence gained by the students over the previous week, and he quickly gained their confidence.
Stas explained what directors and producers are looking for at casting sessions, that if an actor is asked to do something ridiculous, it is to test their openness and not make a fool of them. And he also pointed out that an actor who is self-conscious or too questioning, particularly in the world of high turnover TV production, will not go too far. Actors in the kind of serials he has directed like Sony Pictures/AMedia's Bednaya Nastya or Talisman of Love are often selected only because they look the part, and are rarely given character background or time to rehearse.
Watching some DVD material including a very slick documentary which Stas directed about the making of the television serial Talisman of Love gave the students a real feel for how a multi episode production works.
Barry was there all morning. He and Stas had talked in the run up to today, but there was still a question as to how results oriented the shoot planned for today would be. Barry divided the group up into pairs based on what he had seen in the previous days - Lena and Kostya; Natasha and Mila; Yulia and Andrey; Katya and Masha; and Marusya and Kirill. And so off they went to shoot two scenes Stas had brought with him with virtually no rehearsal and no real background details. All they knew was that the two characters involved were former lovers...
Stas set up the marks on the street. The road outside Art Play is jammed with traffic most of the day, and the footpaths are layered with ice which really is like glass underfoot. Kolya our DP managed well to run between the pedestrians and the traffic to get the shots as the cold kept on devouring his batteries.
Our heroes and heroines one by one freeze in the cold as they waits for their call. According to the script they have been waiting 4 hours on the street..
Stas and Kolya run through the same scene with Masha and Katya. Tugging, pushing, kicking and screaming, the tension was there for all to see.
The shooting started fairly late, but by seven everyone had had their chance. Editor Kirill had been quietly working away indoors, downloading the freshly shot material into his computer so that by the time the students were finished, the first mini-film was cut to some rough music. But everyone was cold and tired so we held over on the premiere until next week, deciding instead to show all the films one evening during Week Two.
MARCH 4, 2006
The Ides of March. Saturday. A late start for everyone. Barry walked up to Patriarch Ponds, infamous as the starting point of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, stopping for coffee in the Donna Klara Cafe before moving on to the workshop for 12.
Everyone was a bit giddy today, perhaps due to the late start. The first exercise was focused on 'Radiation' - the ability to project energy and connect with the audience. The students were asked to look for a place in the room that felt like themselves and explore it. Then they had to find someone who attracted them, and focus their energy on them, moving that focus to someone far away who needed their energy in whose direction they had to point, casting it as far as they could, through the floor, through the ceiling, through the centre of the earth, and into the furthest reaches of this universe, and the next.
They moved onto monologues. Lena, who had no previous experience of anything like this but possesses a burning desire to try, had delayed a journey to her 'dacha' out of town for her own birthday party so that she could show us her monologue. She had chosen a gentle but strong piece about eternal happiness, the ideal of bliss realised in the laughter and love of the inhabitants of the characters' imaginary home, a house in the near distance.
The result was extraordinary. Lena recreated for all of us an intensely tender and utterly believable few minutes which had the whole class moved very deeply. The monologue was from the end of Master and Margarita - from Patriarch Ponds to Art-Play.
The students went on to read through scenes. Barry has had limited material partly because he didn't know beforehand who he was going to be teaching, and partly because the translation process takes so long. A lot of material that is already in Russian is not suitable for this class, and the material he needs is still literally 'Lost in Translation' for another day or so. Barry had found a scene from a script he had written about Ukrainian emigres living in the US which had many layers and nuances that once explained made a lot of sense to Kostya and Yuliya who Barry had selected as partners.
As they went through it, the text began to come to life. There is still a lot of work to do, but the first reading was revealing enough. On Monday, the other students will bring in scenes they have selected themselves. Week two will now be focused on technique so that hopefully towards Thursday or Friday we can perhaps shoot a scene or two with the more accomplished students.
MARCH 6, 2006
The students started with yoga and stretching, moved on to an ensemble exercise, and - as final preparation for work on scenes - Barry asked the students to imagine they were eating different types of food - lemon, chocolate, banana, vodka (we are in Russia after all!). This helped them get into a more sensory 'frame of mind', essential for the process of building an imaginary sensory environment in which the scenes to follow would take place.
The bulk of the day after that was spent running through readings of the scenes Barry had selected for them from sources varying from his own script (which he intends to make partially in Russian) to existing films like Jerry Maguire, American Beauty and Ghost Town.
Barry puts a lot of emphasis on 'where you are' and 'what do you want', guiding the actor to create both the circumstance and setting and then believing in - not acting - its reality. The actor then utilises that reality as a backdrop for finding the goal - what is the actor trying to achieve in the scene - which becomes credible once the circumstance and location is fully formed
It's difficult for some of the students who have seen the original films to get away from the performances in them, but they manage well, .
slowly immersing themselves in the details of the place they have chosen as the setting for the scene revealing enormous progress.
It is very obvious that the openness and trust in the group created over the past week have been eroded a little by a whole day and a half of contact with the 'real' world outside over the weekend, and that the quantity of information absorbed in such a short time by the students is leaving one or two of them a bit confused. All the same, in a round of interviews filmed in the evening, each one of them seemed very clear as to what they were doing, why they were doing it, and more or less where it would lead. Rehearsals now carry on late into the evening, each 'pair' looking to create in as much detail the reality needed by them to make their scenes come alive.
MARCH 7, 2006
It might be straining the simile but the obstacles faced in the Workshop are at times a bit like the Moscow traffic that has featured in this Diary already. The traffic comes and goes, pops up in unexpected places at unexpected times, and seems to exist according to rules of its own that act independently of traffic lights, rules, regulations, and many years of experience behind the wheel.
The only absolute is that sooner or later it will move in the right direction, and you will get to your destination.
In all creative groups, sooner or later conflict will appear. The Workshop has been like a Utopia for over a week, a long time anywhere, but especially long given that we are in Russia. Conflict is part of the process, and it is also a means of self expression. We were struggling because three students were late. The group was handicapped and incomplete. It was also hurt by the fact that new openness it had found had been exploited by reality.
There was a nasty mood for a while today. We could all feel it. So Barry asked us to create an atmosphere around us - an atmosphere of joy, then of fear - and all there was was an atmosphere of conflict, or nervousness, so the group was asked to speak its mind and all the conflict came out.
There was a break, and after the break, all was back to normal. The bubble had been burst, and the traffic light that had flashed amber and red for almost half a day switched to green, and we were back working with one another, each student part of a group able to concentrate on the scenes.
After lunch, everyone now back on the same wavelength, we had Andrey and Kirill in American Beauty; Masha and Katya in Jerry Maguire, and Mila and Natasha in a scene they found from 'Moskva', a local movie adapted from a Vladimir Sorokin novel. Half the day went on reforming the group, the other half went on the group reaffirming itself, and each member of the group making his or her statement of affirmation, not through personal conflict, but through creative expression.
Today was a battle won, and a great credit to the group who can see the whole now more clearer than the parts, and which proved each students' clear progress as they played out their scenes with conviction, concentration, and credibility demonstrating clearly that in all of them, there is a young actor focused on a real and achievable goal.
In the evening Barry returned to the Moscow Arts Theatre. We got the good news that one of our actresses, Yuliya Dellos, has been cast in a big TV production to be filmed in Ukraine. Maybe she can take forward some of what she has learned with her, in which case the Workshop already can be of some practical use.
MARCH 8, 2006
Moscow is wonderful when there are no cars. Today the sun came out. It was International Ladies Day here, a strange but worthy National Holiday in Russia that left the streets all but bare. As each of our female students walked through the door, they were presented a bouquet of flowers and a kiss, fair exchange for the cakes, chocolates and snacks that almost magically appeared during the past days, smuggled in to the Workshop by our lady students for everyone to enjoy.
A few were missing following the previous night of pre-Ladies Day celebrations,
but Barry gathered the group and, aware of the occasion, started the day with relaxation and sensory exercises built around recalling childhood – finding a room, then an object that could conjure up real emotions.
We broke early for lunch. Each student knew auditions were ahead.
The tension of the day before well forgotten, everyone returned earlier than planned and we filmed nearly three hours of one scene shot with each students from ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. The results will become clear over the next few days, but the impression created from behind the camera was that each student has found a way to express their individuality, a point not lost on Barry.
The Workshop took all the girls for a meal in Suzy Wong’s, the local in-house restaurant, to mark the day. The guys headed off to the Russian baths to beat out the stress. There are only three days left to tune the instrument.
MARCH 9, 2006
Barry warmed the students up from 11 to 12 before Stas Libin came in to show the students the edited material shot last week - five versions of the same scene, tastefully finished in black and white.
Stas talked the students through each film. The reactions were varied, and those who hadn't seen themselves on screen before were unhappier than the others, although the overall standard was high and convincing.
Talk during the break for lunch was all centred around the films and it seemed to give the students a real sense of what they had been doing up until then, and also a gauge for correcting or adjusting their abilities.
After lunch, the students ran through the scenes they had been rehearsing again, this time for real. Te morning film show obviously had left its mark as most of the students seemed far more focused than before, clearly trying to improve on what they had seen.
MARCH 10, 2006
We decided to give the students a later start today. They were pretty tired after the past days of intensive work, and ten am is a lot earlier than most of them are used to starting their day. This seemed to help, although some of them were still late.
We arrived to a pretty dark building. An underground electricity cable had burned up in the neighbouring building taking out the entire block. The cable is 6 kilometres long, and no-one had any idea where the problem was, so we were told we might be without power for the next few days. This wasn't a huge problem for us as we had good light in the upper part of the space, but it means we have no music, no way to charge the camera batteries and, worst of all, no coffee!
Barry started with a warm-up, loosening the muscles in the arms, legs, untightening the spine, then the face, jaw, mouth, tongue. He asked the students to literally shake themselves up, and then find a partner and, while shaking, express their feelings. This got the blood flowing nicely and also banished any inhibitions.
The next exercise was ‘light and heavy’, harmonizing inner and outer states. The students had to walk up to Barry and say good morning, feeling physically light and heavy alternately. Then we moved on to an ensemble exercise, once again seeking out each member of the group, tuning in to their energy, and synchronizing movement.
Despite the lack of power, we sent out for lunch, and brought in some outrageously expensive espressos from a local Italian restaurant while most of the students wandered off to the 'Vodka Bar' - the nearest cafe with a generator.
There remained two scenes we hadn’t completed the day before. Mila and Natasha with their scene from ‘Moskva’, and Masha and Katya with their piece from ‘Ghost Town’. At this stage we have moved on to learning lines, and sticking to the script which both pairs managed while still retaining all the essential moments we had worked on during the previous days – being in the moment, achieving the character’s goal during the scene, and creating a real location around themselves.
After lunch, we moved straight into shooting. Barry had handed out scenes in the morning which first each pair read out cold. Running through the scenes very quickly, Barry asked each student to look for the main goal of their characters.
After some snappy rehearsals to set the marks, we started shooting immediately. The students were now in a situation that was a close to a television or low budget style of production as we could get it. They were called up in pairs and pushed for a performance while also trying to remember their marks and their dialogue.
One of the hardest aspects of ‘shooting’ for them was the waiting around while other people did their stuff. They are all used to begin active and so watching and waiting is not first nature. But for the most part they concentrated well, and were not put off by Barry’s role as the demanding director, on the contrary appreciative of the challenge and the sense of shooting something real.
To finish the day, Barry had given Yuliya and Kostya an improv. from his own script. They knew the characters well from the scene they had played out the previous day, but there was no dialogue, just a situation and several options for how things could develop.
The scene was played out with tenderness, ambivalence, desperation, and a startling reality, both actors delving deep into themselves to give a performance that had all the students spell bound, in particular because no-one, not even Barry, knew exactly where the scene would go.
We shut things down at about seven. There was a satisfaction in the air. The actors had come through a hard test and they knew it.
MARCH 11, 2006
The final day. Two weeks have flown past. The students are all facing up to the fact that their ‘new home’ as they call it, is about to close its doors for a while until the next course starts.
Today would be a short day. The students arrived in giddy form, filling the building with song as they prepared for the last day. There is no electricity again, despite promises that all would be well, so we start re-planning the evening party so that it can be held by candle-light...
The group is warm this morning. Barry runs them through some exercises to start with, loosening up as usual, and then creating ‘machines’ – a money machine, a music machine, an International Film Actors Workshop machine - the students joining each other one by one, repeating one movement and one sound as parts of the mechanism. Then they settled down to hear each other out. Barry summed up the two weeks from his point of view emphasizing that although each of the students have obvious talent, it takes a lot of work and training to turn that talent into a professional tool.
The last two weeks have given the students an introduction to both acting technique, and camera work. Each of them discovered how to recognize their inner resources, and each of them began to find a way to utilize them to create an understandable and accessible circumstance around themselves, a context in which they can ‘be’ lending a reality and authenticity to their acting.
From Friday’s shooting exercise, the students had a sense of what working with a director can be like, especially in a pressure situation. Barry explained that directors are all different, and that the main thing in working on set is to co-operate with the director and help him achieve the performance he needs while not surrendering the actor’s vision and sense of who his character is and what his goals are.
The students one by one thanked Barry for his work, his understanding, his patience, and his vision.
I was thrilled to work with this wonderful group of people. Each is special, unique, and with great resources both as actors and as people. And, I am grateful to Gerry MacCarthy for producing this event so thoughtfully.
There were two parts to the training in Russia. One, the work on each actor's instrument - which entailed exciting and re-enforcing the senses, and the actor's ability to experience. And above that, a general opening up of the actors so that they were more available to the work.
The second part was to concentrate on the skills of the actors in general and specifically as film actors.
We spent part of each morning doing exercises, group work, games, and then sensory work. Besides some specific work with individuals and specific problems, I was surprised how easily all this was accomplished considering this was all translated for me. Of course, most of this was the fact that Gerry is so keyed into not only the language, but the work itself.
The training of the actors, I think for many of them was new, and though it is an ongoing process (the group I believe is continuing on in Moscow right now). I was very pleased with the amount of opening up and freeing of the actor that was accomplished with the group.
There are some interesting differences between Russian and American personalities, which I observed while working. Differences in motivational factors, discipline (the Russian's seemed much more relaxed about these things than I've experienced elsewhere) and emotional responses. The Russians on the whole have huge emotional resources. Although being in touch with their anger is not a problem, expressing it is, and the men in particular seem more vulnerable than Americans.
Sometimes there is a lack of individual initiative - that's striking. But once they give themselves permission, their commitment can be strong and passionate. It's always dangerous to generalize about a whole culture, and I hope I will get a better picture on my next trip.
The work on the scenes was very interesting for me, and again, except for the initial confusion of translating scenes, I think this part of the work went off very well - better that I would've thought it had. There were various levels in the scene work, from real beginners to very skilled actors (one of our members-Julie-is doing a big series for television) But, everyone was able to progress through the scene work period, and the monologues.
The last working day, I quickly staged (as you would for low budget film) scenes from films. There were some technical demands made, to simulate some of the worst conditions and actor might come upon on a pressured film set. I believe it was a valuable experiment as some people related to me during the wrap up.
I thought the camera class with Stas, both complimented the work we were doing, and encouraged the actors in being able to see themselves accomplish a scene on film.
My hope, would be to continue with this group further next time into the area of film acting - staging scenes more completely so that they face the problems of emotional continuity, and getting a further feeling for the improvised feeling of film acting, and the subtle honesty that camera demands. However, the very foundations of all acting, are applicable both to stage and film. I think we learned that the scenes should be chosen earlier, and that we can use more Russian material.
I was thrilled to work with this wonderful group of people, each is special, unique, and with great resources both as actors and as people. And, I am grateful to Gerry MacCarthy for producing this event so thoughtfully.
And on a more personal note to the group-
I miss you all, I think about each one of you, and hope you continue your creative journey.