I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro is one of the most important films of the decade thus far. Based on author and social critic James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, and directed by filmmaker Raoul Peck, the documentary discusses what it means to be black in America, from slavery to the Civil Rights Era to present day. Samuel L. Jackson gives an impassioned narration, bringing life to Baldwin’s words in only the way Samuel L. Jackson could. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, this powerful film is a must-see.
Baldwin’s book Remember This House, which he was still working on when he died, makes up much of the film. The book is written from the perspective of three black Civil Rights leaders, all of whom were close friends of James Baldwin, and all of whom were murdered in the 1960s. These men are Medgar Evers, who was killed in June of 1963; Malcolm X, who was killed in February of 1965; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed in April of 1968. Throughout the film, Baldwin’s words are used to help us reach a better understanding of who these men were, beyond the characterizations that modern society has come to know. For example, we know that Malcolm X and Dr. King had competing philosophies throughout their lives, but when each of them died, they both saw and understood the world rather similarly.
Casting director Mel O’Neil of Mel and Liz Casting joined us for our January 2017 seminar, where she gave us lots of helpful hints and useful information. Let’s check out some of her wisdom below!
1. Getting an Audition Is Like Winning the Lottery
Sometimes, actors tend to be nonchalant about having an audition. But the fact of the matter is that of the potentially thousands of talent that were submitted to a given role, if you are one of the lucky few to get an audition, you have essentially won the lottery. Don’t take that for granted! Show up ready to go, and be grateful for the opportunity!
“We have plenty of matches in our house.
We keep them on hand always.
Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,
though we used to prefer Diamond Brand.
That was before we discovered Ohio Blue Tip matches.”
So begins Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s newest film about a bus driver/poet named Paterson living in Paterson, NJ. Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays the titular character, with a superbly nuanced performance that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. The poems used throughout the film, all written by real-life poet Ron Padgett, are elegant, understated, and almost dreamlike. Paterson is a beautifully told, intimate story that contemplates the poetry that exists in everyday life.
The film opens on Monday morning, as Paterson wakes up next to his sleeping girlfriend. We watch as he goes through the course of his day, which includes writing poetry, driving a bus for the city, spending time with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), unenthusiastically walking his girlfriend’s dog Marvin (Paterson does not like Marvin), and having a drink at his local watering hole. After Monday concludes, the movie continues to take us through a week in the life of Paterson, the ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the poems.
The wonderful casting directors Maya Adrabi and Lindsay Bronson joined us for our November seminar to share some of their wisdom and experience with us. Let’s see what they had to say.
1. Make sure all of the dates work for you.
If you have an audition, then a callback, then an avail, and then you get booked for the job, and then you tell your agent that you have a trip to Europe that week, you’re doing things backwards. When you get an audition, make sure you check all of the dates and make sure that they work for your schedule. If the dates don’t work, tell your agent (or if you submitted yourself, tell casting) and things might still work out for you. But things will certainly not work out for you and your professional relationships if you hold that information until you get booked for a job.
Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s first film in five years might be his best to date. Manchester by the Sea is a subtle masterpiece about grief, family, and reconnecting with buried emotions. Casey Affleck is terrific and deserving of the early Oscar buzz that his performance is generating, and Lucas Hedges is fantastic, as well. A film that is both tragic and uplifting, Manchester by the Sea is not one to miss.
The film opens with a flashback. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is on his family’s fishing boat with his nephew Patrick (the young version, played by Ben O’Brien) and his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), with Lee and Patrick bonding over shark mythology. Later, we see Lee in his new environment—the somewhat catatonic janitor of an apartment complex in Quincey, MA. Soon he gets a phone call, and we know the news is not good. His brother Joe has passed away due to congestive heart failure, a condition that we learn he has been suffering from for some time now. With this news, Lee winds up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, his hometown, and a place he has not been in a while due to tragic circumstances that unfold in flashback throughout the film.
American Pastoral, written by John Romano and based on the book by Philip Roth, is a fascinating but uneven look at a family in 1960s America. There are some good performances throughout the film, and the cinematography by Martin Ruhe is excellent. Even though the film never quite takes off, its examination of the American dream in one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history is definitely worth a look.
The film begins like a hazy dream as Nathan Zuckerman (played by David Strathairn) makes his way to his high school reunion. Zuckerman reminisces fondly about a local legend, Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor, who also makes his directorial debut with the film) a sports hero and a man destined to be great. Soon, Nathan runs into his old friend and Swede’s brother Jerry, who gives him the bad news that Swede has passed away. It turns out that Swede, despite being primed to live a life of happiness and privilege, wound up being surrounded by tragedy heartache. Jerry tells Nathan the whole story, which encompasses the main plot of the movie.
Soon after graduating high school, Swede marries his high school sweetheart Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and they have a daughter Merry (played by Dakota Fanning, in the best performance of the film). Merry has a stuttering problem, which her therapist believes can be attributed to a desire to live up to her parents’ expectations. Merry’s relationship with her mother is cold and distant, while her relationship with her father has issues of its own. Most of the action in the film takes place in 1968, a politically and culturally chaotic time (and quite apropos for the film to come out this year, with all that is going on in the country), and Merry becomes involved with a radical political organization in the city. When a local business owner is murdered by a bomb, the police show up at the Levov residence looking for Merry. Did she have something to do with it? This question is at the center of the remainder of the film.
American Pastoral has interesting moments throughout, but it never quite gels. The performances are pretty good across the board, although neither McGregor or Connelly are fairly wooden in their portrayals of Seymour and Dawn. Fanning is excellent as Merry, as are Ocean James and Hannah Nordberg (who play Merry at ages 8 and 12, respectively). The character of Merry is at the heart of the film, and Fanning must go through an incredible transformation—from innocence, to disillusionment, to a soul that is lost and gone forever. This is quite a task for the young actress, but she pulls it off beautifully. If for no other reason, the movie is worth seeing for her nuanced and tragic performance.
The movie plays out like a book, which makes sense because it is based on the 1997 Philip Ross novel of the same name. This weakens the film at times, however, as we feel like passive observers watching the action unfold. Part of this is due to the historical nature of the film, with the narration making us feel a step removed. While it may work well in novel form, bookending the film from Nathan Zuckerman’s perspective, a character that we never meet in the 1960s world of the story, gives the audience a sense of disconnect. A great example of bookending a film in the current time period, while flashing back to another era, is A League of Their Own. But that works incredibly well because we see the entire film, including the beginning and ending, through the protagonist’s eyes. In American Pastoral, on the other hand, a side character takes us into and out of the main arch of the film, so we are left feeling somewhat empty when all is said and done.
While this is not a great film, it is still a good one, and there are enough elements at play that make it worth watching. The setting of 1960s America and the search for an American dream that may not even exist is extremely relevant in 2016 America, and Dakota Fanning is terrific as the tragic Merry Levov. You do not need to see this one on the big screen, but it would be worth a rental at some point down the line.
The incredibly talented and knowledgeable casting director Vicki Goggin joined us for our October seminar to share some of her wisdom with us. Let’s see what she had to say.
1. There are a lot of myths out there. Don’t believe them.
“They” will tell you a lot of things. But what do “they” really know, anyway. Whether it’s “smiling isn’t in this year” or “always have a picture of yourself playing tennis”, “they” might not know what “they” are saying. So don’t believe the myths!
2. It’s so easy to put a reel together these days, you might as well have one.
You might have editing software on your computer, or you likely know someone else who does and can edit a reel together for you for relatively cheap. And if you don’t have any footage yet, just shoot something yourself and use that. Just get yourself on camera.
3. Your personality is more important than the lines.
Knowing your lines in an audition is important, but not as important as showcasing your personality. In commercial casting, the audition is nothing more than a vehicle for your personality. Don’t try to play a “character”, just be yourself. You’ll be amazed at the difference that makes.
4. Every line in a commercial is the answer to a question.
The dialogue in commercials don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a much bigger conversation. A good trick to help this shine through is to ask yourself the question that came before the line. That way you have a reason to say it. So if your line is, “This soup is delicious!”, maybe you are answering the question, “How does that soup taste?”
5. 3 Second Rule: After your last punctuation mark or word, stay in the moment
Just like you do in real life. While using a button at the end of a scene might not be the best idea, it’s a great idea to stay in the moment, even when you’re done saying your dialogue. You might find a moment that the director hadn’t thought of, and you will definitely be able to share even more of your personality.
While everyone remembers the headlines hailing Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger as the heroic pilot behind the Miracle on the Hudson, Clint Eastwood’s new film Sully, based on the book Highest Duty, written by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, takes a closer look at the man behind the miracle. Tom Hanks is stellar as always in the title role, while Eastwood’s pacing and attention to detail make the film considerably more dramatic and tense than you might imagine it to be—particularly during the scenes that take place during the aftermath of the accident. While it is unlikely to garner too much awards-season attention, Sully is a taut and engaging drama that is sure to please audiences all over.
Southside with You
Summer, 1989. Do the Right Thing tackles race issues in America and puts director Spike Lee on the map. Janet Jackson’s hit song “Miss You Much” plays on radios across the country. And a 28-year-old Harvard Law student named Barack Obama goes on a date in the Southside of Chicago with his summer advisor, Michelle Robinson. Southside with You is illuminating, entertaining, and the film’s leads, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers, are both terrific. Opening in a limited number of theaters, this is definitely one to check out on the big screen if you can.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Barack Obama (Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Sumpter), each in their element as they prepare for what they both classify as “not a date.” As each gets ready, we get a great sense of their environments and how they interact with their loved ones. Barack is calm and cool as he smokes a cigarette and talks on the phone with his grandmother, who warns him that he better not be late for his date or he’s not going to get a second one. Michelle gets ready and keeps telling her parents Marian and Fraser (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edward Van Lear) that she is Barack’s advisor and that this is definitely not a date, just two colleagues going to a meeting, even though she is clearly dressed for a date.
It was terrific to have casting director Gabrielle Schary come in for our June seminar, as she shared with us some great tips to succeed in the commercial casting world. From questions you might get asked at an audition, to current trends in the industry, take a look at the Top 5 Takeaways from our seminar with Gabrielle Schary.
1. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself.
Gabrielle (and many other casting directors) like to ask actors questions about themselves, to get a better idea of their personality. Oftentimes, you will not get a lot of copy in an audition, so you might be asked questions such as, “What was your best day ever?” or “What scares you the most?” Just relax, and be ready to talk about the real YOU.