Gavin Hood – Practical Advice and Inspiration from Eye In The Sky Director

Gavin Hood is climbing the ranks in the film industry, having directed some popular movies with tenacious morale.

I first noticed him after watching Eye in the Sky, which is about the disputes of modern warfare. I was thoroughly impressed. I don’t remember the last time I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of an entire movie. When I realized he’s a fellow South-African, I was intrigued even more – I have to admit I’m a bit biased…

The more I found out about him, the more reasons I found to acknowledge him and his work.

Gavin Hood is the kind of filmmaker who is in the business for the right reasons.

He is driven to create current and applicable content which is entertaining at the same time. When asked why he chose to direct Eye in the Sky, he commented: “It’s completely current and it’s about what’s really happening in modern warfare and it has elements of black comedy and farce that are grounded in real life.”

His choice to cast Helen Mirren (the role was intended for a male lead) as Colonel Katherine Powell was very strategic. He didn’t want to box the movie in as a war movie for guys.

He recounts saying, “I want it to be a movie about war but that it’s a conversation starter for men and women about a subject matter that I think is very topical.”

He’s also a filmmaker who works extremely hard to get where he is right now. When asked to give advice to aspiring filmmakers, he shared, “Unfortunately, […] there’s this notion that you can become famous and rich very quickly. It’s a curse I think. […]

The way you make it is by getting good at making films.

There’s no shortcut; just study the craft and practise and hopefully you’ll eventually connect with an audience. And if you don’t connect with an audience, you won’t have a career in this business.”

Hood with Barkhad

It took a while for him to gain international recognition. Even though he wanted to be an actor, he followed his father’s advice and “took his big mouth and studied law” though he only practiced it for 4 months. He was already 30 when he actually started studying screenwriting, cinematography and directing.

Although he knew he was always going to go into film, he doesn’t regret having studied law, instead he recalls, “it trained me in terms of thinking and story and conflict and moral and ethical questions.”

He continually emphasizes the importance of making films in order to connect with your audience. He himself is drawn to stories compelling him to think. “I personally, with my background of being a lawyer and growing up in the turbulent times of the 80’s in South-Africa, I tend to be drawn to […] stories that somehow challenge me in a moral or ethical way.

“Don’t tell me what to think, but present me with something morally or ethically challenging.”

He started small by making short films; The Storekeeper was one I remember seeing in Middle School. It left a big impression on me, not only because of the dilemma it presents, but because it was so close to home. It was a South-African story which could be understood universally.

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This is another thing I appreciate about him; he bloomed where he was planted. He started where he was and then expanded, instead of limiting himself to the small South-African film industry.

Tsotsi was his breakthrough film which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 – a film I highly recommend by the way…

It was again, an authentic story, but one exploring universal humanity.  

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“I really believe that we focus so much on differences and not enough on similarities. Most people, on a very basic level, have surprisingly similar needs. The need for companionship, dignity, love. And when these basic needs are not met, you find individuals developing a very distorted sense of the world.”

By now, he has other popular movies under his belt like Ender’s Game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Rendition.

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I celebrate people like Gavin Hood and believe there are many more like him out there who we simply need to discover.

Fellow filmmakers and actors, let us strive and work hard to tell stories worth telling. Stories that challenge people in their thinking to fight passivity.

Gavin Hood, I thank you for being an inspiration and persisting with a tenacious and creative spirit – all the best to you for your future projects!

Written by Annette Lange.

The Actor Every Director Wants

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Written by Charis Joy Jackson.

As an aspiring actor and part-time director, I’ve always been curious what other directors look for most in the actors they work with. Especially, when I see directors like David O. Russel working with the same cast in several films.

Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro all star in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy. While Mark Wahlberg stars in Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter. There are so many actors he continues to work with like Christian Bale, Lily Tomlin and Paul Herman.

What I wouldn’t give to pick David O. Russel’s brain!

I decided to ask a few director friends to see what they look for in the actors they work with.

Jason SolariThe Umbrella (2016) & The Out of the Woods Project (2017)

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Jason is one of my closest friends, so I’m a little biased about what an amazing director he is, BUT, I can say without bias that Jason has an excellent eye for finding amazing actors and getting the performance he wants.

When I asked him what he wants in an actor, this was his reply, “Comfortability. Someone who’s comfortable in their own skin and not trying to be someone else.”

This is an incredible key for every actor. Be comfortable in your own skin. The more you let your characters come from a real place within you, the more natural your character will be. Wise words from a wise guy.

Guillermo F. NavarroRelapse (2008) & Historias Invisibles (shooting next year)

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Guillermo is one of those directors, as an actress, I want to work for. He’s considerate and likes to play with a scene and explore what could happen. So of course, I had to ask him what he wants in an actor.

“I look for a solid acting formation. When casting, I don’t always have 100% defined what I want for that particular character. Furthermore, depending on who I cast for the opposing roles, it might change some aspects of that character. Therefore, I want to be sure that my actors will have the range to change the performance as needed.”

“Ability to take direction, ability to improv and ability to react. I look for a performance that looks and feels real. A good way to create a spontaneous action is to change an element in a particular scene (even a small one such as positioning, adding a pause or changing the speed of an action). A good actor will be able to take that small change and incorporate it to what he or she is already doing and use it to make that particular take fresh and real.

“To be a good team player, have a strong work ethic, and respect the rest of the cast and crew. Basically, to be a good professional and a good person.”

A key to being the actor every director wants is to be a good team player in all areas on set. To me, this is the key behind what Guillermo is saying.

If you are a good team player, you’ll have the ability to know when to improv and react to sudden changes in the story. If you’re a good team player, you’ll be able to listen well to your director and respect the rest of the cast and crew.

David L. CunninghamTo End All Wars & The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

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When I was in high school, I had the privilege of observing David in action on his first feature film, Beyond Paradise. He’s a phenomenal creative and definitely builds the creative community around him. He’s currently in production for his newest feature, Jo, the Medicine Runner, but took the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer my question.

“Authentic. Honest. Appropriate to the role, of course. Ideally, someone that’s also going to be a partner with you. Someone that brings choices to the table, but [is] willing to be directed.”

David L. Cunningham has worked with several amazing actors – Jim Caviezel and Keifer Sutherland, to name a couple – so when he says he’s looking for authentic, honest actors, he knows what he’s talking about.

So, can you be authentic and honest? Well, I asked my good friend Google to define these two words for me in the hopes it would give me an idea of how to be this kind of actor…

  • Authentic: not a copy of, but the genuine article.
  • Honest: truthful and sincere

A key to being the actor every director wants is to truly be yourself.

The genuine article.

Acting has been defined as living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. You can take this a step further. Going back to what David said, “Someone that brings choices to the table, but willing to be directed.

If you’re living your life truthfully and authentically, then you’ll have done your homework on the character and be able to bring in genuine ideas and be able to hold them with an open hand.

I hope this has been helpful to you, my fellow actors. It’s been a great reminder for me to live as authentic and honest as possible; to be a team player and to keep it real and relaxed.

After all, our whole job as actors is to play! So have fun.

If you want more of this kind of article, sound off in the comments below and we’ll see what we can do.

Stop In The Name Of Film!

written by Keaton Evans

 

YOU SHALL NOT PASS… if you’re an actor who is guilty of the following things you shouldn’t do on a film set.

 

I have seen some of these things on set and it’s definitely something to look out for as an actor. Unless you want a wizard to jump into your path, scream in your face, and block you from proceeding, don’t do these things when working on a film set.

 

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  1. Be late

 

A wizard is never late for anything, neither is he early, he’s simply a wizard! Now that might not be exactly as you remember Gandalf saying it, but it stills rings truer than The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that ol’ dope. That is, don’t be late!

 

If you are late then you waste everyone’s time, and in film, time is money, and money is everything, and everything is time. Be early to things, like five minutes. It shows courtesy to everyone who has devoted so much time and money to bring about the film, and it shows that you are responsible and will help you in getting more roles. When people see that you are responsible they will want you on their set.

 

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  1. Touch equipment

 

A wizard never touches equipment unless it’s a staff or a ring or a sword or a… you get the picture. A wizard, or at least the B.A. wizards like Gandalf, never touch anything they don’t need to or are required to touch.

 

Like wizards, actors shouldn’t touch anything on set but the props they have in the particular scene and the food from craft services. I’ve found it to be quite tempting and easy to see a crewmember struggling with something and you’re there and can easily help, but you shouldn’t, because of liability reasons and you want to avoid any accidents that can potentially come with handling equipment.

 

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  1. Make loud noises

 

The third thing that we shouldn’t do on set is make loud noises. On set there are many departments, and the members of those departments need to have good communication with each other. So if you are off on the side waiting for the next shot and you are screaming or laughing really loudly, it will be disruptive for the crew who are still trying to work to get the shot looking just right. Take a tip from the book of wizards: the quiet approach is the best approach. Especially if you have to sneak up on some mountain trolls.

 

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  1. Have an attitude

 

This one goes without saying. Gandalf’s attitude during the whole journey was impeccable, except for the part where he screams at Pippin for being, and I quote, a “fool of a took”. And like the mustachio woman we see above, attitude can happen on a film set. Naturally people are tired from shooting and actors can become tired from rehearsing and shooting the same exact take, over and over again. But still, don’t cop an attitude towards the crew, the director, or your fellow actors. We’re all in the same boat on a film set. We’re all here to make film and to create artistically. So don’t ruin the atmosphere by pulling an attitude.

 

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  1. Direct other actors

 

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a million times. Actors giving acting advice to other actors. It is supes tempting to do, I know. We are all guilty of doing it. But Merry and Pippin never told Frodo what to do, so we shouldn’t tell other actors what to do. The director is there to direct actors. We gotta let him do his job.

 

If the actor gets advice from fellow actors and then opposite advice from the director then that poor actor won’t know who to listen to. Same applies to the rest of the crew as well. Let the director direct, the actors act, and the swans swan. Being on set is going to be different than being in an acting workshop. On set you focus on all that you have done to create your role and not on the other actor’s performance.

 

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  1. Wander

 

#wanderlust am I right? No! Not on a film set. You as an actor have a place and a purpose and sometimes your purpose is being in your place. On set you will always have something to do. Even if that thing is waiting. If you do have to wait, then wait. Don’t wander away. You might get distracted by something happening off set or whatever you’re getting distracted by, remember to be in the place you are supposed to be in. It can be very frustrating when an actor isn’t where they should be when they’re called to their first position.

 

  1. Seek acting help or advice from anyone and everyone

 

This point goes with #5. Just as you do not give advice to others, don’t seek it from others. It’s even best not to seek too much advice from the director, or seek feedback, that is. The director will tell you whether he thinks you should change something, and if he doesn’t then usually it means he liked it. But yeah, don’t go looking for feedback or advice from the crew. Their job does not involve that in anyway, neither does yours.

 

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  1. Hold in questions

 

Holding in a question is a lot like holding in a 10/1. You just gotta let it out. If you have a question about your role or something related to what you are doing and it’s not obvious in the script then ask the director. In most cases he will be glad to help. But if you hold in the question and the take goes horribly wrong because you and the director weren’t on the same page then don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning with no gig.

Be like the BA wizard Gandalf. Don’t follow these steps and you won’t go wrong.
With these steps in mind…or out of mind, technically, you will avoid the major pitfalls of the modern film actor. Some of these points might seem kind of obvious, but be sure to take each one into account. Avoiding these steps will not only make you a better actor to work with, but it will also show that you know your way around a film set.

Why You Shouldn’t Murder The Director

There have been many a time where I have been in situations on set where it was really easy to be mad at the director. There are just certain things directors do that can make it seem they couldn’t care less about us as actors.

 

The thing is, it’s ok.

 

Every director you come across will work differently, but for the majority of ones that I’ve worked with, on student-made short films, the focus is on the camera and shot and not so much on the actor or his performance. That being said, there are some things to keep in mind.

 

Trust the director

 

The director has a specific vision that he or she is trying to make come alive. They take the script the screenwriters make and turn it into their interpretation. They work long and hard to make sure that vision becomes a reality, and it’s our job as actors to trust that the director knows what he’s doing.

 

This was difficult for me on the first short film set I was apart of. Everyone was still getting a feel of set life and how to make a movie, and it was a pretty unpleasant experience. The actors would be in the lights too long and breaks were few and far between. Actually thinking back, we never got a break while on that set.

 

During the process I was pretty upset at the director, but I also knew it wasn’t my place to say how things should be run, and so I sat there under the lights, sweating my butt off.

 

The thing I learned, was even if the director makes a ton of mistakes, we shouldn’t worry, but trust he wants the best for us, because he wants us to give the best performance.

 

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All of that being said, it’s still tempting to push the director off a roof when no one is looking. But here’s another reason why you shouldn’t.

 

It’s just you and them

 

When it comes to an actor’s relationship with the crew there’s only one person you really interact with. You guessed it, the director. Well, them and occasionally the first assistant director.

 

I was acting on a short film about a guy who couldn’t cook to say his life. On that set I remember I was able to share exactly what I thought about my character, who he was and every intimate thing about him with the director. She also shared her vision for the character, this person who she created from the heart. We had a moment before filming where we sat down and shared what we both thought.

 

It was sweet.

 

To me, that is the beauty of the relationship between actor and director. We are both working in film to present truth and to create. They aren’t out to get us killed or hurt or make us feel bad. Most directors want to intimately create with us the story they have taken on themselves.

 

We are both unique artists, where the goal of the director and the actor are essentially the same. I wanted to write this blog because I know it’s easy to get angry at the director on a trying set. It’s easy to view the director negatively, especially if they don’t listen to our interpretation, but the thing is, we are here to serve.

 

To me, that is the beauty of the relationship between actor and director. We are both working in film to present truth and to create.

 

Actors are servants

 

It’s never easy to serve someone who asks you to do things you don’t like or things you are uncomfortable with doing. It can even be a blow to your pride if what you are suppose to do as your character can seem humiliating. But when it comes to acting, we need to learn to let go of our pride and do what the director asks of us.

 

The beautiful part about serving the director is that in most cases, the director and actor are able to communicate what they think is truthful for a particular scene. It’s a special relationship where both are able to give their interpretations of something.

 

I worked with a director while doing a short film about suicide where the communication between him and us actors was actually really intimate and sincere. We were able to see his vision for the script and we were able to show him how we had developed our characters.

 

The unity between actor and director can be very strong if both are willing to share their visions with each other. So don’t murder the director. Instead choose to create with him. Here’s a picture of Christopher Nolan and Michael Caine chilling just like we should do with our director.

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Trust counters anger and frustration. At the end of the day, if you trust the director and the vision he has then you won’t want to murder him.
At the end of the day we are both here for the same reason. We both want to create a beautiful, truthful story. Even if it seems the director is out to get you and your little dog too, he’s not. He’s your friend. Don’t choose murder, choose friendship!