Friday, December 30, 2005

My Studio Runneth Over

2006 looks to be an exciting year at the Neal A. Corl Acting Studio, or NACAS as I've been referring to it privately. Naco is slang for a crude, uneducated peasant in the Mexican vernacular of Spanish. The feminine plural of that seems to be an appropriate name for the studio in some fashion.

Scene Study is at capacity and I've had to bring back the On-Camera class sooner than I hoped. I backed off of the studio a couple of months ago and refocused my commitment to it. I made it less about me and more about the work. I spoke of this problem with my attitude toward my directing work recently. The studio has always been about the work in theory. In practice however, I find that I must be ever vigilant about keeping the focus on the work. It is tricky to bring myself to it without making it all about me. So it is for actors as I reported in my previous post Don't Bring Me Down.

I make it about me in various ways. Am I earning enough money doing it? Is it for vanity or for love of the craft? Are my students worthy of my commitment? Is it in balance with my other ambitions and responsibilities? The answer I consistently come to is that I have something to offer and I continue to grow. I also realize that if I close the studio it is very unlikely that I will open one in the future. Teaching is something I do not wish to let go of impulsively. I'm entering my fifth year as an acting coach. Which is but a beginning. Quitting now would be short-sighted.

None of this pessimism is pressing at the moment for I am inspired anew by the quality of the work, the commitment of the current crop of actor-students and the new blood. Our work will continue much as it has over past years but with deeper focus and greater permission to take risks. It is my belief that it requires a tremendous amount of courage to be an artist of any ilk. I can supply or infuse courage no more than I can bestow talent. I can, however, create an environment that supports the development and emergence of both.
In addition to accepting the responsibility of that challenge I will be making some changes to the physical space and the curriculum.

To make room for everyone I considered moving to a new, bigger studio. I decided not to for a couple of reasons. Primarily, in order to devote the energy required to maintain the aforementioned spiritual and emotional balance I must conserve my energy. Finding, moving and recreating a new studio space is no small undertaking.
Even should I move into a bigger space, I can not give the personal attention that I currently strive to more than six scenes in an evening. I also realize that the intimacy of the current space helps to focus our attenion on the work at hand. There are no distractions nor is there any place to hide. Upon further consideration, I find what I considered one of my studio's weaknesses to be one of its strengths. Lastly, if you'll indulge a little wavy-gravy, those walls and floorboards have a certain memory. The studio has become haunted by our triumphs and our failures, our obduracies and our generosities. I have grown in that room as teacher, actor, director and human being. Likewise, I have seen that transformation in several actor-students.

I considered regaining the Green Room, which I let go of a few months back to curb my overhead. It comes at a fairly high cost for what amounts to a coat room. Instead, I've decided to invest in some lights and a light board. I am hanging a simple truss and will be requiring my students to consider and shape the light on their scenes. In doing so we'll be focusing on an important area of stage craft as well as defining the space better.

The other change of 2006 will be a two-part reading assignment each month. One of the readings is an assigned play. We'll start with Shakespeare. In 2006 we should make good headway into the Bard's ouerve. We'll start with the five tragedies, beginning with Hamlet in January and closing with Romeo and Juliet in May. We'll do some comedies over the Summer and the more popular histories in the Fall. I will give informal oral pop quizzes more to inspire participation than to evaluate scholarship. We'll devote some class time the final class of each calendar month to discussing that month's play. The second reading assignment each month will be to read a biography or auto-biography of the student's choosing. Teddy Roosevelt, Aretha Franklin, Jackson Pollock, Marlon Brando -- I could care less. We'll work that reading into a monologue presentation.

I'm looking forward to it.

Happy New Year and Thank You for being part of 2005.

Yours Truly,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Master Says 008

Be of love a little more careful than of anything.
e. e. cummings

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Holding the Frame

"I didn't think the actors held the frame in such and such shot. You were wide on your coverage and I trusted you had good reason for it. But I didn't get anything from the actors. I wasn't buying their interest in one another."
-- comment I received yesterday about one of my short films.

I had a few responses then and since that I'll share with you in the order they came to me.

a) American audiences can't stand to hold on a wide frame.

b) The actors, due to their lack of experience, were so intent on keeping all of their actions straight that they lost their focus on one another.

c) The lighting was flat.

d) I was too busy behind the camera, art directing and running the set that I let the actors down.

e) Taking angles on actors creates the illusion of depth on the two-dimensional screen. I shot them in flat profile.

f) Everything is the responsibility of the director even if it isn't under his or her control. Always. Always. Always.

I'll tell you what, I've sure gotten a lot from showing my work to people lately, as painful as it's been. I know: No pain, no gain. It's allowed me to consider and reconsider my choices and perspectives. None of this is news to me. But these things must be not be forgotten nor taken for granted.
An old timer once told me there is no one task in filmmaking that can't be learned in a few minutes. It's just that there are thousands of tasks that must be masterfully executed at any given moment.
I've been thinking a lot about how to make sure the actors hold that frame. Their inner lives are not entirely my responsibility, but be it theirs, mine or ours together, if it's happening I want to frame it for the best vantage.
I revisited Full Metal Jacket this afternoon and noticed Kubrick took angles on everything, every shot. Of course he did. A book of his photographs from his work at Look Magazine in the 50s when he was still a teenager was just published.
Something else really cool about the film - D'Onofrio has the hint of the crazy look in his eyes right from the start during the hair buzz montage.

Hoping you all had a Happy Christmas.
I'm on my back with the flu.

Signore Direttore

Friday, December 23, 2005

Reel Agony

Over the past couple of days I've been showing some working film professionals my films and music videos.
A few years ago I got together with my friend David Perez, aka Shadi. We showed each other our reels. His was impressive. He directed the Beastie Boys video shot in a salt mine in New Zealand as well as many other very cool, widely seen music videos. I, on the other hand, chatted all the way through my reel. Qualifying, justifying, annoyifying. He let me know my running commentary got in the way of his forming an opinion of my work. (Likely my sub-conscious intention.)
Point taken, Dave. Thank you.
Since then, I really try to just put the reel or individual work on without a word, unless it is indeed a rough cut or pre-sound sweetening, and let the viewer take it in. Which, I have to say, is agonizing. Ugh.
Yesterday I showed a film that I need to fix something in the transfer before I show it to people. I answered a very pointed question about one of the shots regarding the eyelines. He referred to the shot as the one with the crazy eyelines. I told him what I was intending to show in the shot. He nodded. And I second guessed myself about it for the next two hours. I realized in between fits of self-doubt that I am not allowing myself to be involved in a process with other filmmakers when I don't show something that I don't feel one hundred, or even seventy, percent about. I could take his input as something to take a look at or as the anitdote to the validation I'm apparently seeking when I make approval the be all and end all of showing my work.
About that crazy eyeline: it is a bit crazy, certainly unconventional. I know why I shot it that way. And I'm open to hearing a better or more effective means of communicating the intended disjointedness and separaration between the characters. But I have to get my work out there to have that dialogue.
That old business about being good enough is a real nuisance.
I truly doubted if this person would want to work with me after seeing the film I showed him yesterday. The thing is, that choice is his and so far he hasn't informed me that that's the case.
This morning I met with someone else and showed him everything I've done. After the first film, I stood behind him in silence. Waiting. Silence. Agony.
Wow. That was really cool, dude.
Thanks, but you can see how Honcho Studio Exec wouldn't see … BLAH BLAH.
I'm sick of it. I'm really sick of all this self-doubt and fear.
I'm making this about me and that is a problem. It's about the work and the work on my reel is done. I am going to be proud of it and learn from it. Or I am going to feel bad about it and resist growth. My attitude -- that's about all I can change. I am not going to reinvent myself in the next few months, at least not in any organic way, so I might as well enjoy the successes I have had. Which are plentiful, if not up to my own expectations.
I deserve more. I don't deserve this. I deserve more. I don't deserve this. I deserve more. I don't deserve this.
Clearly, being right-sized doesn't come easy for me.
Thanks for your support.

Merry Christmas,
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Let's Go to the Movies!

A line from one of my favorite films. Can you name it?

Actually people are going to the movies less and less. Box office numbers are rising because of inflation, but bodies walking throught the door are decreasing by 1.1% annually. So by about 2036 we'll recall going to the movies fondly as we do things like smoking in bars and dancing cheek to cheek.

I've always enjoyed going to the cinema. Always. When VHS came out, I wasn't that into it. My mom rented a VCR to watch Mutiny on the Bounty. Which was cool, but the small screen really had to fight for my attention. The scale was lost. Televisions were often small with rounded screens, the images were cropped and dark. What many people saw as convenience, I saw as story interuptus. "Pause it while I go to the bathroom." That reminds me of students that tell me they read part of a script. Do you go see part of a play or a movie? Since televison and home video, I guess so.

Don't get me started on the creation of content to be viewed on iPods.

Theatrical release formerly counted for more than 50% of a film's revenue. Increasingly, the theatrical run is a form of advertising for domestic and foreign video sales. Foreign sales have grown exponentially in the past ten years. Further contributing to the move toward high-concept films.

Let's go to the movies! may soon become let's go to a film festival. While theatre attendance dives, film festivals continute to multiply and thrive. What I've often derided as money making schemes by the presenters and, or showcases of horrendous DIY films, may well be the preservationists of the sacred cultural act of going to the movies.

Viva la cinema!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Papa Don't Preach

I've been losing sleep. But I made up my mind. I'm keeping my baby. I'm gonna keep my baby. Mmmm.

Don't fret, this isn't about baby June. She's well and safe and the least intrusive little addition to our family yet.
The baby I speak of is Original Glory. I got the next call yesterday. Long ago when I committed to this path, I naively thought that there would be The Call or this magic moment that success would come. What I've discovered over the years is a series of calls and meetings that all keep me moving forward, yet the supposed arrival I envisioned remains elusive. In that regard it is easy to let anticipation and doubt cancel out the good feelings I could enjoy after calls like yesterday's.
The literary agent at Gersh with whom I'm working called and left me a brief message. I've been at times anxious to call her my agent, alack she is not officially my agent at this time. I've been told that at the point that an offer is made, Gersh, and I, will determine whether or not they are to represent me. Anyway her message was, I have one note for you on Original Glory. Oh, here's a cool thing. I called back and said, This is Neal Corl returning a call from Sandra. Her assistant said, Hold just a moment please, Neal. And put me right through! If you've ever had to call an agent or studio exec and had to get past their gatekeeper/assistant, the fluency of yesterday's call was pure joy.
Anyway, she gave me the one note, praised the rewrite I delevered a few weeks ago and told me to expect some meetings in the New Year. Oh goody gum drops! Then the hammer dropped. Are you attached to direct? I hope so. (The answer is yes. The answer is not Maybe or I Hope So. The answer is YES. I'm keeping my baby.) Have you directed before? Yes, not a feature, but shorts andmusic videos. Can you send us your reel? Yes. It won't be right away, I want to make sure it's updated. Okay great. You have a happy holiday. We'll see in the New Year.
That's terrific; right?
It didn't turn out to feel so good for me. I was filled with doubts about my reel, remorse at not having done more and better work and the fear-driven idea that I would rather abdicate my choice to direct now than be denied by someone else later. I start thinking of how to get over. To be sure, directing a studio-financed feature film is not to be taken lightly. I can not speak with absolute certainty that I'm capable of accomplishing it.
But what is it that I preach? Oh, that the results are not up to me. That my job is to prepare to the best of my ability and to accept the decisions of those casting or financing the project. Wanting to be certain of the outcome is a form of tension. Tension is the enemy of the artist - a schoolyard bully just waiting to be tangled with. Do not engage the tension bully!

Dear Universe, please allow me to practice what I preach.

Ciao amici,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, December 15, 2005

In One Eye ...

... out the other.
Too many films are no more than candy for the eyes. Even if a film is meant to touch our hearts, it too often plays but the strings of our sentiment, forgetting to trust our hearts to respond.
It seems the type of film that many see as the antithesis of the In one eye out the other variety is the film that makes its audience think. David Walker of WW is a big fan of this type of film. I don't think a film should make us think too much. Why do we have to figure everything out all the damn time? Dreams are not logical. Human behavior is anything but logical. Why then must a film be logical? Carl Jung claimed he was much more attached to his dreams and to his inner life than to the many awards and famous people he met and analysed. Fellini kept beautiful dream journals. Perhaps I digress.
It is difficult to let go of our disproportionate dependence on our visual sense. Acting students often get stuck in what I call the tractor beam. They sit staring at each other waiting for something to happen, thereby cancelling out most of their impulses.
Go ahead, let your eyelids droop for a moment and sense something different and in many ways more full.

A Big Pizza Pie,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 007

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple : on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
(It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.)
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Don't Bring Me Down

Stella Adler says that acting is at once all about us and nothing to do with us. I'm with her on that seeming contradiction.
Last night in Scene Study two actors were working on a scene from Cindy Lou Johnson's play The Years. I've assigned it many times over the years that I've been teaching and therefore know it well. I've even worked on it myself as an actor way back when.
One of the actors used herself very well. She even surprised herself a few times. She suggested her objectives to herself and then became suggestible according to both the given circumstances and the moment. She allowed it to be all about her and yet in the end it had nothing to do with her. In short, she brought herself up to the character.
Her scene partner, on the other hand, played one note all the way through. To his credit, it was a wonderful note for the middle third of the scene. When I gave him my notes during the critique, he stiffly defended himself that he was honoring his instincts. Poor actors always honor their instincts. They ignore the structure of the scene and bring their character and often the entire scene down to themselves.
Poor actors forget the second part of Adler's Paradox.

A River Dertch,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 006

I think an artist, or any man really, has to face doubts and problems steadfastly. He has to accept his own war, as opposed to glossing over conflict by pacifying and calming it. I think that's what gives dignity to the mission of the artist, and to the mission of being a man.
Federico Fellini

The Master Says 005

I'm not going to bring peace but war to your souls.
Ingmar Bergman

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wonder - ful acting - land

Pardon the poor tmesis attempt. I watched Wonderland this weekend. The film by Michael Winterbottom about a family in South London. The life of John Holmes starring Val Kilmer is also called Wonderland. I am not talking about that Wonder - what all the f**king hype was about -land. Not at all.
Winterbottom's Wonderland is a tour de force of fine acting. Simple performances. Trusting the moment and the camera. Clearly established relationships and circumstances without the crutches of backstory exposition. Emotions expressed truthfully. Check it out.
The actors in this film may well have done the homework assigned by Uta Hagen -- identifying and understanding the given circumstances of the text. They were also capable of doing what Uta fails to deliver -- finding ways to suggest those facts to oneself and trusting one's own abilty to absorb that information without intellectual involvement and interference.

Ciao amici,
Signore Direttore

Monday, December 12, 2005

Why Actors Shouldn't Read Books on Acting

As an acting coach and director I encounter two things all too frequently. Actors visibly pausing to think before each line they deliver is the number one offender. The second is questions of which books to read on acting.
None! Acting is not an academic subject. Nor is it a wholly intellectual pursuit. What's more, there is no comprehensive book or method of teaching the craft of acting. Actor-Students in search of developing their technique approach a text with the goal of being a better actor. What's wrong with that? A lot, frankly. Wanting to be better creates a lot of tension in the actor. A lot of reliance on the brain. And since most actor-students are not yet versed in doing two thngs at once, all that thinking cuts them off at the neck. Instead of an actor or a player before us, we have a thinker.
Another problem with it is, it's lazy. But maestro they're showing inciative! Bollocks. They're looking for a way to evade the work at hand, for the easy way out. Yes, they need to read. Good actors are good readers, certainly. I'd venture to say that great actors are great readers. Do you know how many actors I've taught that could name, let alone have read, Shakespeare's five tragedies? Want to read a good book on acting? Try King Lear. Want to be a better actor, read the play out of which I just assigned you a scene. Harold Clurman claimed to read a text he was to direct five times before he gave it any conscious thought. I often discover that students read the text of the scene and merely skim the rest of the play or screenplay.
Tune in next time for The Limits of Uta.
Ah, it feels so good to be up on the old soapbox.

A River Dertch,
SIgnore Direttore

Monday, December 05, 2005

June Charles Corl

Born healthy and happy Saturday evening at about 7pm in our home.
Delivered by yours truly. What a thrill!
Mommy did a great job and is recovering well.

Grazie al universo!
Signore Direttore

Friday, December 02, 2005

Shout Out 001

This one goes out to my man Andrew Dickson.

If there was a better person that I could have met when I returned to Portland last year I'm not sure who it could have been.

Through his friendship and generous spirit I have come to know many of the people that I mention in my previous post.

Thanks AC!

Your loyal compadre,
Daddy Fool

A Trickle of Sweat

I'm sure you didn't drop in on my blog to hear folk wisdom, or perhaps you did as I seem to drop a good measure of it into the mix. Today's, and many a day's, admonition: Don't sweat the small stuff.

There's one of those indie film showcase events coming up. It's being put on by this woman that is pure hustle but, from my perspective, completely without professional experience and aptitude. She rings me every other day at my day job asking us to sponsor this event. She has managed to convince many of the other professional rental houses and production companies to join her for a sizable fee.

She was working as an indie film casting agent a few months back. I exchanged a few emails with her regarding a role I submitted for when I was doing a bit of acting in June. It was chrystal clear to me that she was pure bluster at the time. "You really should come out for this. No there's no sides, because so-and-so wants to get to get to know you. Oh you know how to do a cold-read without looking at the paper? Well, still just do a monologue. It doesn't matter if it's a little rusty. You just don't want to miss the opportunity to be seen by this director even if you don't get cast." I passed as graciously as possible. Then I saw some of this great director's work. Not as horrendous as one of the films that I've seen which is part of the showcase, but no where near great. Even for Portland.

Okay. Okay. She's full of it. At least one of the films being showcased stinks. So what? I don't know. Because of my position at my day job, I need to play nice. So I am. I politely put her off, telling her that we will try our best to attend the event, but that we are not in a position to be sponsors this year. There's another company in town that would be all over this, but she hasn't contacted them. Nor has she contacted me regarding my acting studio. DJ will be there, so you know it's going to be a first-rate affair. (Might as well fire off a couple more shots while I'm sniping.) Anyway, if she's so on it, why has she missed these other potential players?

I just can't bear to attend another one of these Portland Indie Film events. I'm doing my thing. And I'm feeling more secure in doing so without the affirmation or posturing of the more pretentious local auteurs.

I'm working on a new feature script that could go Hollywood or could be produced locally with some actors coming in from LA and NY. Neil Kopp, a very talented young producer based here, just agreed to produce Crudo, the short that Cassidy and I workshopped over Thanksgiving. Neil produced Old Joy, a feature shot here last summer, which just got into Sundance. Old Joy stars former student Tanya Smith. Greg Schmitt, one of the partners at Gearhead and a shooter that recently lensed a Tony Hawk commercial, has agreed to shoot the short.

So I'm going to stick my nose to the grindstone and keep typing away on my scripts. And saving my pennies so we can shoot Crudo on 35.

Ain't got no time for the small stuff.

Thanks for helping me work it out,
Signore Direttore