This week on DEO LIVE I was so excited to interview actor Theo Bray. You might recognize Theo from his acting in The Network as well as Wyatt’s Fort Season Three where he played the awesome Uncle Bob. Not only is Theo a great film actor but he is also a regular theater performer as well. How he has time for all his acting work, I have no idea. But you can check out his reel here.
I was so excited to have him come into the studio to discuss with me his top four important things for any actor, new or professional, to add to their acting arsenal. We also chatted about his new web series Kalah Keys. I’m so excited to bring you this interview. Enjoy the interview and check back in with more new DEO Live videos each week on DEO.TV
Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, Venice—even the world’s most glamorous film festivals got nothin’ on the local.
Recently, I attended the Three Rivers Film Festival in Pittsburgh, PA. 3RFF is a small scale film fest comprised of a collection of independent films. I saw prize-holders from Toronto as well as Pittsburgh produced shorts. My first night there I walked into a crowded little lobby on the second floor of a film school. A young man shouted over the heads in front of him to greet a fellow film student. Two white-haired women talked excitedly to each other as they scurried toward the will call table. Little did I know, I’d being seeing these faces a lot more. In fact, I would see them in the lobby of every theater I visited. It’s just the nature of small-scale.
If you are an aspiring filmmaker or even just a good ol’ film enthusiast like myself, local film festivals are a great idea. Here’s three nuggets to consider the next time your city’s festival pops-up.
1. Learn about film companies and supporting organizations in your region
Are you new to the city? Are you new to filmmaking? Supporting companies and organizations exist in nearly all major cities. Representatives may show up at panel discussions or lobby booths to promote their companies. Getting connected with these can help you with your career. Whether you are an actor, screenwriter or director you can find an organization that can serve you and you can find ones that you can serve. Organizations like Steeltown Entertainment Project (of Pittsburgh) programs tours and seminars. They even pioneer new film and TV ventures. Projects like this offer educational opportunities for multiple age groups. Perhaps, they may be able to get your current film-dream off the ground.
2. Meet people you can collaborate with
It takes a village to raise a… film. These smaller festivals magnetize indie filmmakers. You might meet aspiring directors and writers at Sundance, but going local means you can connect with people—ones with whom you can easily collaborate. At the 3RFF I learned about a ‘crew connect.’ At these events you can meet camera operators, lighting technicians, set designers, etc. that live and work in your region.
3. Attend forums that discuss filmmaking in your city
At 3RFF I attended a forum on filmmaking in the Pittsburgh area. The panel comprised of four directors (Mike Gasaway, Christ Preska, Charlotte Glynn and Melissa Martin) took questions from the eager audience members. Might I add—at smaller festivals you are more likely to get your questions answered just do to the sheer number of attendees. Anyways, Glynn talked about how she derives stories from the inspiration of specific Pittsburgh locations. Gasaway and Preska suggested the audience to find cheap/free sites where they can film. They shared some of the sites they had found in the area. Martin helped the audience think about funding. She recommended historical and activist organizations that might be eager to fund certain types of films. Each city has its own problems and perks.You can discover helpful insights at forums. Experienced filmmakers are face-to-face present at local fests.
We all know that film festivals are fun, whether you are a filmmaker or not. There is nothing like laughing and crying and cheering and booing with an audience full of film lovers. Yet, these local fests can also be informative. Look for opportunities to get involved with agencies, organization and crews in your area. And by all means…have a blast!
A tidbit of wisdom I wish I had heeded early on is ‘Do the small stuff well, first.’
During a lunch break on set this last week the cast, crew, and I found ourselves discussing some of the small student films we have been a part of over the years. More often than not these student films entailed drugs, gunplay, blood effects, action sequences, screaming, and so on. Another thing these films had in common was the fact that most of them did not do well in the end. Despite the awesome camera and sound equipment, the final destination for these films was a dusty shelf rather than the film festival circuit.
While it was fun traversing these memories and laughing about the ridiculous mistakes these projects involved it did cause me pause for thought. Why did these films not do well? Was it the acting? Directing? Writing? Everyone involved had worked their hardest to create a good final project but ultimately, failure. I too have films on old hard drives resting on dusty shelves that I am very glad haven’t seen the light of day. How embarrassing if they did. But one of the blessings time and experience have given me is the ability to look back and recognize that these films failed for one primary reason; we didn’t do small well, first.
A newbie filmmaker wants to dive in and do the next Jason Bourne / Lord of the Rings and they falsely believe that the guns, violence, and effects into these stories will push their film to success. It’s easy for the newb filmmaker to focus on these flashy shiny elements rather than on their technique; can you do simple dialogue scene well? Can you do shot, reverse shot, well? Can you do simple walk-and-talk sequences well? Can you light a scene, block a scene, frame a scene, mic a scene; can you do these simple small things well?
Usually the answer is no. We’re too busy figuring out the best way to punch a guy, fire a weapon, wreck a car, or do chase sequences.
A word of wisdom; do small well, and do that first. Focus on the actors and the dialogue. Focus on the framing and lighting. Take a simple plain ordinary scene and make it extraordinary to watch. If you can pull that off then maybe, just maybe, you will be ready to do big stuff well too.
So put away the guns and corn-syrup blood and tell a simple story about a few people doing simple domestic things and see if you can do it well, and maybe in the end you will be directing the next Jason Bourne.
Slate’s are a lifesaver. OK, not the slate itself.
In fact, with the advancements in digital filmmaking a lot of small crews aren’t even using a slate, opting to clap their hands to sync the sound instead. Whether you use or don’t use a slate is up to you, but in case you’re interested I added this nice little video below from No Film School on how to use a slate like a pro.
In this post however, I want to talk about the precious few moments of time that happens when the camera rolls before the slate and after the director yells ‘Action!’ This few moments is called the ‘Slate Piece.’
On a typical set the camera rolls along with the sound for a few moments before everything is ready and the slate person then goes up to do their job. Often times the cameras are already pointed where they need to be with the actors or subjects in focus, and usually, in my experience, it is a perfect candid relaxed moment; the director hasn’t yelled ‘Action!’ so everybody is chill waiting for the clapboard to come and go. These are gold moments.
During the editing phase of one of my first films I came to this intense scene between two actors and I realized I needed a cutaway shot from one guy to the other, but in looking through the takes I couldn’t find a sufficient cut. I was completely stuck. I needed a moment where the actor looked at his hands, adjusted his shirt, looked around the room, or scratched his nose; something, anything. But in every take the actor was flat and I couldn’t find anything to cut to.
So what to do? Go back and shoot the scene again? Not an option. (Most of the time this isn’t an option.)
So I went back to the raw footage of the shots before the slate entered and started scrolling through the takes and suddenly, there it was.
The actor, waiting on the crew to finish, looked over to the corner of the room and rubbed his forehead. A perfect unscripted, unplanned moment. I snatched it up, placed it in the film, and the scene played out well.
Since then, I have made it a habit to roll the cameras early. Of course if you are shooting on actual film, then this might not be an option for you (film is expensive!). However, if you are shooting digitally you can do this all day. Roll early while the actors are settling in to their first positions. You never know when they might do something interesting that later on will be a huge blessing in the editing room.
Every so often people ask me about the things I love and hate most about my job as a filmmaker so I thought I would share some of my answers to these commonly asked questions.
What do you love about your job as filmmaker?
Filmmaking is all about creation. I love creating things, seeing something where there was once nothing. I love being surprised by how things come together, and they always do come together, even though more often than not there have been problems and difficulties that looked unsurmountable. I love stepping back and watching the final product, seeing all that hard work come together in a nice polished way, seeing the story unfold before me as a whole. The outcome is always unexpected. I like wearing jeans to work every day. I love the crazy chaos that goes into productions. I like the changes in scenery, the surprising places that you end up for film shoots. The most fun part though is working with fun creative people. In this line of work you come into contact with some of the most fun, talented, creative people. There is no such thing as lone-wolf filmmaking. It’s about teamwork and using the talents of all the people around you to bring a story to life, and when you get a bunch of people’s grey cells churning on how to tell a great story, amazing things can happen.
What do you dislike about your job as filmmaker?
Details are the worst. I am not a detail oriented person, I am more a big picture person, but in this line of work you have to deal with the millions of details like it or not. Details are everywhere, in the workflow, in the production, in the never-ending paperwork, even in sharing a project with the world there are details. So your only choice as a filmmaker is to get them done, like it or not, because they have to get done and unless you’re J.J. Abrams, no one’s gonna do it for you.
What does a typical day look like for a filmmaker?
No day is the same. That’s one of the things I actually love about this job. It changes every day. Most of the time I am working in either pre or post production. Production weeks are super fun, being in the field, out of the office, working with cameras and people, and getting to say, ‘Action!’ Most of the time though, you are either preparing for a shoot, (locations, props, actors, writing, etc) or polishing a project (editing, coloring, recording, music, rendering, etc). It might not be the most glamorous job on the planet but each step is rewarding in its own way.
Where do I see the filmmaking industry going in five years?
There’s never been a better time for filmmakers. The movie industry is more and more pushing towards individual selection online, meaning people are only viewing/paying for the channels they want. Cable networks are suffering as companies like Netflix and Amazon are growing and producing more and more original programming. The reason that this is good is because programs that people like will get picked up and promoted and more and more work will be created for a filmmaker who finds a supportive audience. Programs that no one likes will get dropped faster and stop taking up space because the viewer demands the content, not the big networks. So as a filmmaker the goal is simply to tell a great story and get it out there. If it’s good, the audience will come.
Failure is Good. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
I was rummaging through my attic searching for Christmas decorations last month when I once again stumbled upon My Box of Failures. I call it My Box of Failures because that it precisely what it is; a box filled with items from my dozens and dozens of failures; business cards of companies I started that failed to take off, film ventures that were once promising but never came to be, log lines from scripts that never saw the light of day, etc. Every year I stumble into this box and I think to myself, ‘You should throw this thing away. It’s depressing.’
But I don’t.
I can’t. In fact, it is crucially necessary that I not only remind myself of my many many failures every so often, but I truly dwell on them. Failures are like scars; a permanent reminder of something that happened, a story in and of itself. They are painful, embarrassing, and unattractive. For some, failure might be the end, but to an artist, failure is part of the story. Failure is what drives an artist to try again, to get up, to do better, to achieve more, to go bigger, farther, to try something new. Most importantly, failure is immeasurably valuable; it is a lesson learned, a mistake that we will not make again, a bit of wisdom we did not have before.
All too often I see people very much afraid to start, unable to write the first line, or step out and get started because they are afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of failure. Let it come. Success will make you feel good but failure is the better teacher and motivator.
A few years back I started Jiu Jitsu. For the first three months it was truly depressing, tapping-out multiple times every match, always feeling out of shape, losing again and again. Even wrapping the white belt around myself was embarrassing, almost like broadcasting to the world, ‘Yup. I’m new here. I don’t belong. I’m not any good. Please don’t look at me.’ Then one day, I tapped a guy out. All of the failing for months vanished from my mind as I realized, ‘I’m getting better. I earned this. I’m not what I once was.’
Now, years have gone by, and I see the new people come, wrapping their white belts around themselves; day one. Many of these guys will make it for a month or two and then I will never see them again. They tap out early and go home. They can’t deal with the failure, the inadequacy, losing. But if they do not get up and try again, if they do not come back, if they avoid tapping-out by staying home, they will never experience victory. The guys (gals too) that excel in jiu jitsu are the guys who realize that losing is is as crucial to victory as victory itself.
So, all of you in the filmmaking world, I want to encourage you to get out there and fail.
Filmmaking is not about the equipment. I know that may seem crazy, after all, you kinda need a camera to make a film. Yes, you will need some sort of camera, but these days, in the all new accessible world of filmmaking there is entirely too much buzz & focus over the camera, lenses, and sound equipment. So for a moment, lets forget about RED, GoPro, Zeiss, Movi, and the rest of them and talk about what truly matters; story.
Check out the libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, Hulu, etc. and notice how many truly pathetic miserable movies are out there; hundreds of thousands! Why so many horrible movies? Because getting good equipment is easy and telling a truly good story on film is not.
Years ago, I took a freelance film gig involving filming a musical extravaganza and at the time I had a basic DSLR, viewfinder, and nothing else. Not even a tripod. Guerrilla filmmaking at it’s best right?
I’ll never forget, this guy appeared out of nowhere, like Dumbledore apparating next to me (if Dumbledore exchanged his wand for a super-awesome camera). I looked up from my camera and there he was, all smug and stuff. (OK, actually he was very nice and not smug at all, but in my mind he was totally smug). He had a large Manfrotto tripod with an expensive Benro video head mounted to a slider which I barely noticed because I was too busy staring at his camera; a Canon EOS C100 with attached EF 100 – 400 f4.5-5.6L telephoto lens. My jaw dropped. Or, at least I think it did, I don’t really remember. If it didn’t drop, it should have.
Suddenly I felt junior varsity. This huge crushing wave of inadequacy crashed over me and I felt small, tiny, embarrassed that I would be here filming this musical extravaganza with my puny toy camera. I felt like one of those people who shows up at the gym on January 1st as part of some new years resolution, with all eyes staring at me, the guy who is clearly out of place.
I believe the guy asked me some nice questions about how I was doing and the weather but I didn’t really pay attention because I was too busy trying to shrink away into a dark corner somewhere. I finished filming that day but I can say my confidence in myself as a filmmaker took a severe hit. I was pretty depressed getting home and I kept wondering to myself, ‘How am I ever going to get enough money to buy all the right (expensive) equipment it takes to be a filmmaker?’ Maybe you have had this same question. Maybe you price things on Amazon and B+H every week like I did. Maybe you have a wish list hanging on your wall like I did. We do these things because It is easier to focus on all the things we do not have rather than get to work making films with what we do have.
Fast forward a few months. It just so happened I got a call from the people who had hired the professional guy-with-super-awesome-camera requesting that I edit his footage of the event along with mine. I remember sitting down, loading his video files onto the computer and my first glance through all his shots. I remember thinking, ‘These shots don’t appear superior to my shots.’ In fact, I don’t think the average person would be able to tell the difference between the two. “How could this be possible?” I thought. He had the camera. He had the equipment. He had everything; and yet, side by side, my footage from my tiny insignificant toy camera was every bit as good. In fact, speaking with some bias, I thought some of my stuff was even better.
This is how I learned this lesson in filmmaking; filmmaking is not about the equipment. Film is about telling a story with truth, beauty, and conflict.
Sure equipment helps, but there will always be bigger and better cameras. Someone will always have a better rig or setup, better locations, better actors, better everything. So don’t focus on what you don’t have, get out there with what you do have and tell a beautiful story. The truth is, whoever tells the story the best, wins.