Why ‘The Last Jedi’ Is The Star Wars Movie We’ve Been Waiting For

BY JAMES PRESCOTT

The Christmas season is fast becoming associated with popular movies, such as the Star Wars franchise, and this year is no different. The Last Jedi, the eighth chapter (and ninth movie) was released earlier this week, and I was lucky enough to see one of the first showings, at 0100 on Thursday morning.

I’m not sure I’ve felt quite as nervous and excited going into a film. I had no idea what to expect. I stayed free of spoilers (as this article will do), if there’s one movie to avoid spoilers with, it’s this one.

I’m glad I had no preconceived ideas of what it would do, because director Rian Johnson does an excellent job of turning all of them on their head, in what is an epic addition to the Star Wars saga. It’s the longest film in the franchise, but it earns its length, and the pacing and story are strong enough to keep you engrossed all the way through – I barely noticed the time passing.

The previous chapter, The Force Awakens, now feels more like what it was, a gentle re-introduction to the franchise, based on a familiar formula. This is where the real story begins, where we begin to see a real progression in the story – and it’s worth the wait.

The Last Jedi bears no resemblance to any predecessor. This is a great thing, and makes the film a real game changer. Johnson takes the franchise in new, bold, and interesting directions, and there are no rules he won’t break to do so.

The film begins with the resumption of hostiles between the First Order, the successor to the Empire, and the resistance – now led by General Leia, Organa, played by Carrie Fisher in what is a phenomenal and deeply moving last performance – with final scenes tenderly and beautifully handled by Johnson.

But the real story, of course, is happening down on the island, where Rey meets Luke Skywalker, and goes on a journey of her own. Without giving the game away, as time goes on we begin to understand more of why Luke has disconnected himself from the world, and Rey begins the journey into her own identity and exploring her powers, and her past.

And the other big story arc is Kylo Ren, fresh off killing his father Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kylo – or Ben Solo – is a dark, conflicted, tragic figure, struggling to find his true path and the call to darkness.

In many ways, both Rey and Kylo are both on the same journey – trying to figure out their place in this story, both powerful with the force and wrestling with the call to explore their powers, tempted by the raw power of the dark side.

We see more of the history of both Kylo and Rey in this movie, all linked together by Luke, brilliantly played by Mark Hamill in arguably his best performance yet in the franchise, in the middle of it all – in many ways a broken man also wrestling with his own demons, yet trying to bring wisdom and guidance to Rey.

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One thing which impressed me hugely in this movie is the balance between light and dark in it’s tone – and this balance is in many ways an underlying theme of the entire movie. It’s one of the darkest Star Wars films, but it combines this well with, mostly earned, laugh out loud moments, and tender, intimate and deeply moving scenes.

This movie had me scared, in fits of laughter, and in tears of both joy and sadness, all kept in perfect balance. It’s very rare for a movie to combine these three experiences without going too extreme into one area, but The Last Jedi does this perfectly.

The Force Awakens feels like mere prologue to the events of this movie. The Last Jedi is without doubt the biggest, most epic Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. It’s also one of the most spiritual and mythical of the Star Wars franchise, exploring deep philosophical and spiritual questions, without becoming too self-pretentious. But it combines this with lots of action, great fight sequences and lightsaber duels, and the amazing visuals we’ve come to expect from Star Wars – and some surprises too.

The real genius of this movie though, is how Rian Johnson takes all the fans questions and expectations and predictions of what will happen in this movie, and about who the characters are and what they will do, and turns them all on their head. He also, with great subtlety, takes the audience down what looks like one path, only to turn a completely different way to what we expect.

Some hardcore fans won’t like where this movie goes, simply because it shifts the franchise in a whole different direction. By the end of this movie, we’re in new territory for Star Wars, yet there is no doubt that to be true to the heart of what Star Wars is, it’s where the story needs to go.

Many criticised The Force Awakens for being too much like a predecessor – I suspect some will apply the exact opposite criticism to this movie. But such criticism isn’t justified in my eyes.

The Last Jedi is the Star Wars movie we’ve been waiting for – a truly fresh addition to the story, which takes the saga into new places. It’s an epic, thought provoking, innovative, action packed, sometimes funny, mythical and at times deeply moving addition to the Star Wars franchise, and will leave you with many more questions for J.J. Abrams to answer in Chapter IX, in two years time.

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You Are Responsible For What You Create

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Creativity, art, storytelling and cinematography  is a fascinating world with seemingly no limits. It can heal, harden or soften hearts in ways nothing else can. With this ability comes great responsibility.

CREATIVE FREEDOM

Most of us are fortunate enough to be allowed to create whatever we want. As wonderful as it is, it also creates the potential for danger and room for abuse. Hence the stigma of artists seeing themselves as above society’s rules and seeing no need to abide by them.

This entitlement for creative expression is often a breeding ground for selfishness and not of use to anyone. The options for artists to create are limitless and should by all means be explored, because it can simultaneously be a breeding ground for beauty.

MANUFACTURING CULTURE

Creative freedom shapes a culture and its humanity. One could almost say artists manufacture culture, because they help define cultural attitudes.  Art, (in this case film), is the most accessible form of art and is not exclusive to certain social classes or ages.

There are countless movies which have impacted society and led to a change of law, culture or perspective. To name a few, after the release of Fatal Attraction, divorce rates dramatically decreased, Anti-interracial laws were abolished at the release of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Philadelphia provided a platform to discuss the taboo subject of HIV/AIDS, and the Star Wars saga was undoubtedly a contributor to popular culture.

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OUR RESPONSIBILITY

And as present and future culture manufacturers, we have a responsibility towards our audience for what we create. Don’t simply create something without taking its consequences into consideration.

Filmmaking is hard work. And if you’re already putting so much effort and work into it, why not make it about something that will contribute to the betterment of humanity? Think about what your story promotes.

NO COMPROMISES

I’m not advocating you push for a certain message, because then your art becomes manipulative and self-promoting. It’s not your responsibility to change the whole world or create something which is forced. By all means, don’t produce something that is not genuine. Don’t compromise your uniqueness, but ask yourself if your uniqueness is being used to edify your audience.

MY PERSONAL INSPIRATION

A wonderful example of someone who has a great balance of art, personality, edification and truthfulness is Taika Waititi, director of Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilder People and  and most recently Thor: Ragnarok.

Waititi doesn’t apologize for who he is, but he doesn’t use his uniqueness to prove himself to anyone either. His stories are relatable and humorous, but they carry so much emotional weight. It doesn’t feel like he is trying to push a message on his audience, but they are left with food for thought, or at least a softened heart.

CONCLUSION

Your viewers are responsible for what they take away from the movie as well. But you’re still responsible for what your audience gets to see.

It is a great gift to create, and I admire everyone who is bold enough to create and vulnerable enough to show it to others – but, just be aware what your audience is left with when they go home after having seen your film.

You have the power to be an inspiration – whether is it temporary or long term – so let it move your audience to contribute to the betterment of humanity, no matter how big or small.

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.”

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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.

How to Discover the Subtext of a Script

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Subtext is arguably the most important focus for actors to grasp in their acting. The iceberg serves as a simplistic illustration, showing the subtext as the majority of ice which lays underneath the surface or words of the script.

The most common mistake for actors to make is to cling onto the top portion and go off the words alone. As soon as we read a script we figure out how the words should sound, instead of finding out the “why” behind the words. The “why” behind our actions.

This is how you find the why, and why it is so important.

There’s a million ways to say “hello”

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An example of subtext and not reading it comes from the classic line in a ton of scripts: “Hello”. Now here’s the scene: Jim meets Pamela at a train station and says the greeting.

Without digging and looking into the subtext of the scene, I would say hello like a greeting. That would naturally be the first thought most people have when they see the word. However, oops! plot twist. The “Hello” line was really a code to signal the sniper to hold their fire and spare the life of Pamela.

Thing is I would never know this just reading the line, I would need to do some digging to find the juicy piece of subtext meat. Here’s how.

Do some digging and ask the tough questions

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The best thing you can do in order to find subtext is by asking a bunch of questions. Ask questions about your character, about the circumstance, the relationships between the characters, and your motivations and goals.

To find out what’s really going on underneath the scene you need to comprehend how things actually work in life.

Using substitution will aid you in understanding the subtext of a scene. How would you personally react in this scene, or in these particular circumstances? Have you ever experienced something like this?

For example, I was workshopping a scene from the movie Wall Street, as part of a university project, and the subtext of the scene included the themes of betrayal and hurt between the characters. The girl and guy were previously in a relationship but now they differ when it comes to their work.

I thought about how I reacted when I felt betrayed by someone, similar to the guy in the scene, and it really helped me.

The hidden gem is your foundation

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From my personal experiences, I learned when you study the subtext and marry it with the physical action in the scene, you will remember your lines like there’s no tomorrow.

Here’s another thing to remember: when you’re in the scene you must trust the subtext you studied will remain with you during the scene. Let your focus be on the other people in the scene and what you’re doing and let go of the subtext. It’ll stay with you as you practice living in the moment.

The subtext, once learned, will be your foundation. Once you know the why, everything else will start to piece together.

Subtext is vital to learn. Don’t rush the process of studying your script, but ask the hard questions. It’ll take time to figure out what’s going on in a particular scene, it’ll take a little digging.

But the digging is worth it when you find out the precious subtext in the end. To me, finding the subtext in a scene is like finding buried treasure. It’s a precious gem just waiting to be discovered.

Subtext should act as your support. Don’t look to your words for your support. When you focus on the lines, they will try their hardest to escape you. But when you focus on the why of the scene, and everything that’s going on underneath the surface, you’ll find your anchor, and it will make a world of difference.

Actors, I cannot stress it enough: discover the subtext!

 

Top 10 Movies Every Actor Should Watch and Why

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Who hasn’t deeply been touched by beautiful cinematography, amazing performances by actors and successful adaptations of extremely creative and ingenious screenwriting?

Films speak to everyone on a deep, personal level. They reveal, celebrate and criticize humanity and are therefore a powerful tool.

If you’re an actor, you’re probably driven by the same desire to tell stories worth telling. I’ve compiled a list of movies that will challenge, inspire and help you in your endeavour to become a better actor.

1. Sophie’s Choice

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There are so many reasons to watch this film, if you haven’t already. Pay close attention to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s performances. Their characters are so multifaceted, complicated and emotional, and both are able to portray them convincingly. Streep nailed not only the Polish accent when speaking English but also when she spoke German.

2. Wall-e

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This movie is an excellent reminder of the importance of story. The immense impact this film has on the audience is incredible. The actor is not the most important part – the story is. And it can be told without words. Films should be made to create a connection with the audience. The actors are merely servants of the director who carries the vision.

3. The Descendants

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In this film, director Alexander Payne chose to leave the camera on the cast longer than what would be a good point to yell ‘cut’. It’s fascinating to see how the actors explore this opportunity. You often hear the saying ‘the magic happens outside of our comfort zone’ and this is a perfect example.

4. Drinking Buddies

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Drinking Buddies is an example of successful mumblecore. What this means is, the performances are natural and more realistic because there are guidelines instead of scripted dialogue. Watching this will inspire you to really listen and react to your scene partner and see what happens. Don’t be scared of improvisation, it’s a breeding ground for magic to happen.

5. La Vie En Rose

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Marion Cotillard’s performance blew me away when I saw this film. No wonder it garnered her an Oscar. Her commitment and dedication to portraying Edith Piaf is inspirational. It’s a perfect example of Ugly Acting. She does not look flattering in her performance, she masters the degression of age and sickness and makes very bold character choices. I’m a strong proponent for watching foreign films as well, and to start with La Vie en Rose is an excellent choice.

6. Bronson

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Confidence is a key lesson that improved my acting, and Tom Hardy’s confidence in this movie is incredible. He seems to have completely forgotten the camera. His performance is raw and unforgiving. Also, Bronson is just one bizarre human being, and to understand his psyche and wrestle with the character development must have been a challenge.

7. Sunset Boulevard

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This is a classic black comedy and, even though it is an oldie, it still shows the ‘behind the scenes’ of Hollywood/Stardom quite plainly. It shows the extent and consequence of Norma Desmond’s love for fame, herself and greed. Stardom is fleeting, the fruit of pride is disgusting. Mommy Dearest explores this topic as well. It is definitely a topic every actor needs to grapple with for their personal life.

8. Singin’ in the Rain

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Whether you are fan of musicals or not, you must have seen this movie at least once. Film is first and foremost entertainment and should appeal to your audience. Gene Kelly is a wonderful example for his standard of excellence. Only dreaming for a breakthrough in acting will just continue to be a dream if you don’t work on your craft.

9. Amadeus

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Amadeus discusses many topics worth mentioning. But what struck me while watching the movie was observing how both Mozart and Salieri failed to steward their talents well and as a result, both their lives end tragically. Instead of composing for the love of music and others, Salieri chose to let comparison and jealousy get the best of him. And Mozart indulges so much in the futile pleasures of life, it results in a disgraceful death.

10. Kramer vs Kramer

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What’s fascinating about this movie is, it refuses to take sides. Humans are intricate, complicated beings. Their personalities and decisions change. There isn’t always a black and white, right or wrong. The focus is not on the child who suffers from his parents’ divorce, but on the ‘grown-ups’ who cry out for just as much attention and identity as the child does.

Read Roger Ebert’s review for a further exploration of the film.

Bear in mind

This is a very limited list and not ranked in any way from best to worst or vice versa.

My advice to you – watch ‘em all. But be strategic with your choice of movies. Watch good ones, watch bad ones, popular movies and unpopular ones, independent and foreign ones – but watch them all with a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness and take away from them what you can and apply to your own craft.

How to Make talking to yourself genuine and authentic

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Fellow Actors, nobody wants to sit through a stilted performance of a lifeless monologue.

On the other hand, there is nothing more fascinating than watching an actor embody a character through monologue successfully. It’s incredible when he/she presents the character’s thoughts through his/her physical presence, imagination and inner activity – not just the words of the monologue.

This being said, here are helpful guidelines I summed up from legendary Uta Hagen’s take on performing monologues. By monologues, I mean any scene in which your character is alone in a given time and place and finds him/herself talking out loud for a specific reason at a moment of crisis.

First and foremost, it’s important we know:

WHY WE TALK TO OURSELVES

Talking to ourselves is always an attempt on our part to gain control over our circumstances.

These circumstances can look very different. They can be boredom or a tragic situation.

For example, when I’m in a hurry, my verbalisation of, “Ok, I’ve got my keys, my wallet… where’s my phone?” is merely my attempt at organisation. In the case of a dramatic monologue, Uta Hagen explains “it’s that you are in crisis and need the words to help you find answers.”

So, when you tackle your next monologue, make sure you determine and are aware of your circumstances – or your ‘crisis’.

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The next important aspect is observing yourself and others and knowing:

WHAT TALKING TO OURSELVES LOOKS LIKE

A big temptation for actors is putting too much emphasis on the actual words. Uta Hagen describes it as “mostly a subconscious procedure that makes you verbalize” because it is an involuntary process, most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

Because we are often so caught up in our thoughts, words are merely the byproduct of trying to figure out a situation, or an emotion we are submerged in. It is, in other words, an overflow of our thought process about the circumstances we’re currently in or an experience we’ve just had.

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This is why it’s always important to take into consideration that:

OUR WORDS NEED PHYSICAL PRESENCE

In her book Respect for Acting, Hagen emphasizes the importance of partnering physical action with words: “I strongly recommend that the scene be found physically before you approach the verbal action […] you do not come into the room in order to talk to yourself [emphasis added].”

Generally, people aren’t actually physically still when they talk to themselves.

You will make life much easier for yourself if your words are accompanied by physical activity. You don’t have to finish the activity, but it will help in your character’s attempt to gain control over his/her circumstances.

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Even though physical presence is essential, be aware of:

THE DANGER WITH PHYSICAL ACTIONS

Partnering actions with your words does not mean you have to physically act out the words. Or as Hagen puts it, “Don’t illustrate the life you are verbally fantasizing.” This is an easy trap us actors can fall into. You don’t need to show your audience what your words mean, which brings me to the next point of danger.

In a monologue, your character is alone. He/she knows exactly what is going on and doesn’t need to explain to anyone the whole story. But, obviously your audience still needs to understand the context. This is why Hagen advises to “let the humanness of your behaviour reveal the necessary events” in order for them to understand the story.

I’m aware of the trickiness of partnering words with actions, so allow me to share:

HELPFUL QUESTIONS TO ASK IN PREPARATION

Similar to Hagen’s previous advice to start with the physicality of the monologue first, ask yourself:

“What would I do here if I didn’t talk?”

Start with the physical presence first, and at some point, as Hagen reassures us, it’s going to be easy to start talking.

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Consider what the real reason is of why you’re doing these things under the given circumstances in order to allow any verbal fantasy to take shape.

IN CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, don’t forget these guidelines aren’t meant to stress you out. They are there to help you make your performance as believable as possible in order to tell a story worth telling.

Have fun in your journey of exploring and imitating human behaviour, in order to let the stories you tell. Be an inspiration to your audience.

How To Dirty Your Actors Without Using Dirt

Written by Keaton J. Evans.

Across popular movies there have been teams of make-up artists getting the right look for characters who seem to never take showers. I’m talking Sam Neill in Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Matthew McConaughey in Mud, and Jack Sparrow.

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You get the point. Whenever a character rolls in the mud or falls off a pirate ship, there needs to be an authentic dirty look for the character.

I researched different ways to get the dirty look for any upcoming short films where I would need to portray a character who skips on the washing.

Here’s what I found.

Before I get into the steps of applying make-up, you’ll need to find these supplies:

Supplies needed:

  • coffee grounds
  • loose tea leaves
  • lotion (sunscreen)
  • brown eye shadow (I used Vino colour)
  • wet sponge
  • willing victim…er, helper

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After acquiring these supplies you’ll be ready to start with step one.

Step 1: apply eyeshadow

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In this step, you’ll use your index finger to apply the eyeshadow to the parts of the face where you think someone might get dirty. I noticed that the forehead and the upper parts of the cheekbones get dirty more than other parts, also the nose.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty then you can choose to use a small make-up sponge.

Gently rub the eyeshadow back and forth over the surfaces you think is best. After doing this in all of the appropriate areas you’ll be ready to move onto the second step.

Step 2: mix lotion with coffee grounds

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For this step, first ground the coffee beans, preferably of a darker variety, and then mix with the lotion. I used sunscreen in this step, and it worked well. This step is quite messy.

You don’t need to use much of either. Small chunks of coffee and a bit of lotion should do the trick. After mixing the lotion with the coffee grounds, then move onto the next step of applying.

Step 3: apply the mixture

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As far as applying the coffee/tea and lotion to the person’s face, you’ll need to do step 2 a few times, as there may be a few spots to cover.

Do a little mixing, then a little applying. A little mixing, a little applying, you get the drift. Apply the coffee and lotion to the same places which you touch in step 1, to have those layers.

Add to any place where you think dirt would be, say if the victim fell down face first into the dirt. With the coffee grounds, you don’t need to apply heavily, just a few small chunks here and there, unless you really want you character to look like dirt was just caked on.

After doing this enough times you should get a result similar to this one. (For me, I was trying to get a “stuck-on-a-deserted-island-for-years” look).

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After you’ve gotten all the shots you need with your actor, wash the makeup and coffee off with warm soap and water. Once you’ve washed the coffee and lotion off as well as the make-up, be sure to dry with a clean towel.

And there you have it! You now know how to make your characters look as dirty as ever, and best part is, you don’t even need to use dirt!

What is nice is you can also apply the make-up in a variety of places on the face as well as a variety of thickness, to get a unique look for each character in your film.

Hope this makeup tip helps all you independent filmmakers out there who are trying to get that professional look.