Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pissy actor

I'm not the only person who's been busy making a low-budget feature in Nottingham over the past couple of years. My friend Mark Devenport has also been working on a film, which is just nearing completion. Produced by Luke Dennis (of Anonymous Room Productions) and co-written with Tony Claasen (who also plays the lead role), Big Things is a comedy about a frustrated bike courier trying to make a low-budget feature film. Mark and his crew have been filming on and off for over two years, with a hardcore of crew, including DOP John Ross, who have stuck with the project for the duration.

Although the film involves a lot of people I know - Chris Cooke and Donna Bowyer have both done some additional camera work, Micaiah Dring (from 'Cry' and 'Mum, & Dad') plays Tony's girlfriend in the film, and Ruper Proctor (King of Short Film) and Johnny Philips, both from 'One For The Road' have parts in the film - I haven't been involved. At least, I wasn't until last week when Mark asked if I'd play a small role in one of the new scenes they're shooting for the film. Which is how I ended up dressed in a Seventies shirt and a pirate hat, as the shop assistant in a fancy dress shop for an afternoon last week. It was just a short scene, a couple of minutes long, between me and Tony. My direction from Mark was that my character was 'pissy' - he thought that was something I'd be good at. Although there was a basic outline for the scene and there were a few lines that Mark and Tony wanted to get in, it was left quite open for me and Tony to improvise the dialogue for the scene, which we managed to hone down into something workable (and hopefully funny).

I'm not an actor, although in common with most people involved in low-budget filmmaking, I've ended up appearing on screen out of necessity (or as a favour to a friend) a few times in my career. My last notable part was probably in another Mark Devenport film, 'Still Life' where I was dragged in at the last minute to play a guy auditioning for a role in a porn film. (It'd probably be wise to stress at this point that the audition was more like a job interview than anything more 'physical'). I was told to take my shirt off and put on a leather jacket, sit on a sofa and answer the questions fired at me. I decided that my character Terry Leather (a name we pulled out of nowhere, or more likely, from the fact that I was wearing the leather jacket) would be quite matter-of-fact about what he did, almost as though he considered it akin to plumbing. (Weirdly, a character with exactly the same name appears in the new film 'The Bank Job', played by Jason Statham. Probably with a shirt on.) (In the same film I also ended up being a body double for one of the lead actors, who had to go to work one day when he was needed for some scenes. I played his hands in a couple of cutaways and, with his hat on my head and a big light behind me, his shadow on the wall.)

Prior to that role, and probably the reason Mark thought I'd be up for it, I'd played the lead character in a film that I'd made called Valentine, which was all about a man tied naked to a chair. Not having made a film before (at that time), I had no idea about where to get actors from, and even less confidence about convincing somebody to take their clothes off and let me strap them to a dining chair, so I ended up doing it. (It was very tastefully done, though. Nothing to frighten the horses.) The film seemed to go well (despite the trauma of having to watch myself naked on the big screen at Broadway during one of the early Bang! film festivals), but made me certain that I didn't want to carry on acting in my own films.

In a way, although I've got no ambitions in that direction at all, I think it's good for directors to put themselves in that position (I mean acting, rather than being tied naked to a chair) - it helps to have an idea of what is going through an actor's head, at least to a small degree, when they're in front of the camera and being directed. Trying to remember your lines, stay in shot, not bash into the mike or the furniture and on top of that, be convincing, is a real job, and it's good to have that in mind when you come back to the other side of the camera.

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