Sunday, July 29, 2012

Son of Thunder

I got down on my knees to receive communion at Trinity Church on Friday and saw that I was kneeling on St. James.

Okay, I wasn’t actually kneeling on the Apostle James, son of Zebedee. Poor guy had enough problems without me getting on his case.

No, this was a cushion bearing his name—one of 12 that line one side of the altar--and of all the saints I could have picked to rest my rickety knees upon, it seemed appropriate that I came down on St. James, who, together with his brother, John, were known as the “Sons of Thunder.”

St. James figured prominently in my life last week. In addition to communion, I had my second crack at film directing at the School of Visual Arts on Wednesday, which was the Feast of St. James.

I’ll be honest—it was a rough night. I didn’t feel terribly confident, but admittedly I was trying something a little different.

I was doing a “walk and talk” where one actor walked toward the camera delivering his lines. My previous scene had been shot on a tripod—or “sticks” as they say in the business.

I was very nervous. One of the actors showed up and told me he hadn’t read the script yet, which was interesting since I handed it in over a week ago. Fortunately he only had a few lines.

But it was more than that. I don’t think I was sufficiently prepared.

I believed I could direct the scene because I had written it, but our teacher, Todd Stephens, had told us that even when you write the script, “you, the writer, have to hand the script off to you, the director.”

And he is so right. Directing is an entirely different job from writing. The writer sits in front of the computer and creates the script, but then director takes that script, assembles a cast and crew and creates the film.

We shot the scene in a full-blown tavern set that the SVA has on its sixth floor and during one of the takes I saw myself on the hand-held monitor I was carrying, which meant I had walked into the shot.

Apparently this is called a “bogey” on film sets, making me the bogey man.

I was starting to feel like the Son of Blunder.

Cut and Run

“Where’s my eyeline?” one the actors asked me, and naturally I had no idea what he was talking about. Luckily Todd was there to explain that this is the direction where the actor is looking while performing.

“This shit is hard,” I whispered to Todd.

I felt rushed to get all the shots done before class ended and there was a moment—a very long moment-when it seemed like everybody in the room was looking at me for guidance—and that’s because they were.

I wanted to look up to the heavens and scream “St. James, get me out of here!”


As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I am not a natural leader. After all these years as a reporter, I never had an interest in being an editor.

I know what a scurvy lot reporters are and I don’t want to give up writing so I can spend my day chasing around them shouting “where’s that story?”

But leadership is what directing is all about. Todd told us about a major studio film that’s having a lot of problems because the director lost control of the crew.

I don’t want that to happen to me, so that means I have to change and acquire new skills. Basically all the stuff I resist like it’s an invading army.

I was very lucky to have such a great crew working with me. Todd came in a few times to give me much appreciated—and severely needed—guidance and my confidence started to grow. I put more authority into my voice as I said “action” and “cut.”

We finally got the last shot—the Martini—and called it a wrap.

My father—James--used to say that tests tell you what you know and what you don’t know. I had quite a test on Wednesday and I learned there’s a lot I don’t know about directing.

But this was a great experience, allowing me to make my mistakes in a controlled setting before going out and wreaking havoc in the real world.

I’m no saint, but given a little more time, I think I’ll make a hell of a director.

4 comments:

Ron said...

Rob, and yet, another fascinating post about your film class!

I love how you cleverly wove the name 'James' throughout this story!

And I think it's awesome that you're learning, growing, and evolving as both a director AND a human being. I'll tell ya, when I was still a professional actor, I learned not only to develop my craft, but also about ME. Acting always pushed my insecurity buttons; making me stretch beyond those insecurities. I always knew I had the talent, but lacked the confidence. However, in time....I slowly developed the confidence. The longer I did it, the more confident I became.

It's the same with anything we try NEW. It's the 'journey.' As you shared, allowing ourselves to make mistakes, enables us to grow.

And hey, I'm so impressed that Todd Stephens is your TEACHER! I've seen several of his movies.

"I’m no saint, but given a little more time, I think I’ll make a hell of a director."

You GO, boy! And I know you WILL!

Have a grrrrrreat week, buddy!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, thanks for sharing you acting experiences. Stretching beyond our insecurities is the key to a successful life--and I have to do it more often!

Todd is a fabulous teacher. Caring, articulate, and low key--I really lucked out when I took this class.

Have a great week, buddy, and thanks for stopping by!

Jay said...

Well, I know I wasn't there, but I am VERY impressed! Yep, even though I've never attempted it, I do know that that shit is hard. Sounds as if you did OK in the end though, which is the main thing, because (let's face it) everything we attempt, until we're accomplished, is a learning curve. The fact that you recognised this and realised just how much that 'test' had told you about how much you didn't know, means that you're going to be pretty good at this!

Rob K said...

Thanks, Jay! T took the class so I could make my mistakes under controlled conditions--rather than out in the field. I realized that writing is one thing and directing is most definitely another. As hard as it is, I feel great knowing I've got someone like you in my corner.