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.

You don’t want life to be easy – trust me!

BY ANNETTE LANGE

If actors didn’t struggle, they wouldn’t be able to represent the human race. I came across an interview by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation with Matt Damon in which he recounted his early endeavours with Ben Affleck to pursue an acting career.

After having no place to stay, “Ben showed up […] and that was when we were really running out of money. He was on our couch and […] he didn’t fit […] and all this shit was in our living room […], so we got really serious about writing. And that was the place where we sold the script [of Good Will Hunting].”

This was also the script that then won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Their sticky situation was a blessing in disguise for them and ultimately for us who watch Good Will Hunting and get an opportunity to understand characters like Will and Sean.

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All aspiring actors and creatives risk poverty and uncertainty when they choose to pursue acting/art/writing professionally. When successful actors are interviewed, it’s almost a guarantee they’ll be asked about odd jobs they had in the past to make ends meet.

I love to hear those stories. First of all, they’re hilarious. Second of all, it takes them off the pedestal I automatically put them on. Experiences I can identify with bridge the gap fame creates between celebrities and myself. It gives me hope. A hope to create something I never deemed possible.

A career in the film industry is hard – no doubt about it. It’s unpredictable, financially insecure and you will face rejection, criticism or concern from your family and friends. It’s highly possible you’ll have to defend your choice again and again and continually choose not to give up – the battle in the mind seems unending.

But, that being said, I am so glad this is the case… in theory more than practice…

However, times of desperation build our character. They force us to endure and to cling onto hope – if we choose to do so. Desperation causes us to wrestle with questions we want to avoid asking…

Are my current aspirations worth pursuing?

Why am I here?

What is the purpose?

What really matters?

Why am I who I am?

What is worth fighting for?

What do I want to see happen?

Where do I want to make a difference?

What can I offer to make that difference?

Boy, am I glad pursuing art is hard…

Art reaches hearts like nothing else can. It rises above being mere entertainment because it comes from a place of struggle. Not always financial struggle, but emotional, creative and/or philosophical  struggle.  When art comes from this vulnerable place – we can all identify with it to some extent or another.

Struggle makes you re-evaluate your choices. It brings the best – and the worst – out in you.

Desperation can be the biggest source of creativity – if you choose to channel it right.

In his pursuit to become an actor, Sylvester Stallone got to the point where he had to sell his dog to get by. That was also the time during which he wrote the script for Rocky. This in turn, garnered three Academy Awards… and he got his dog back.

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Jim Carrey discovered his gift for comedy during his teenage years when his family lived out of their van for several months because his father lost his job. Because of his boldness and commitment, we are able to enjoy his comedic and dramatic stories he tells.

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Charlie Chaplin grew up with an alcoholic father. His mother was mentally unstable and he spent most of his childhood in orphanages, yet that did not seem to hinder him from becoming the iconic actor he became. All his wealth “didn’t seem to derail his artistic drive” either.

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Dustin Hoffman “lived below the American poverty line until [he] was 31.”

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Halle Berry was a struggling actress in the beginning and found herself jumping from homeless shelter to homeless shelter.

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Morgan Freeman never fails to give absolutely believable and profound performances. But bear in mind, it took him 50 years of perseverance before getting ‘success’ in his career, if you count fame and awards as success.

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Obviously, these are success stories of actors we all know. They have a platform to share their experiences. But I always wonder how many success stories there are that we just don’t know of because the end result wasn’t fame, or an Academy Award.

Now, I do not wish poverty, depression or misfortune on anyone, but I do want to encourage those that are struggling to view this as an opportunity to rise above your circumstances and to channel your desperation towards creativity. Don’t dwell in desperation, but use the growth that comes from it to reach others.

Oftentimes comfort is the biggest threat to creativity.

Comfort and wealth isn’t bad. But don’t see it as the ultimate fulfillment of your life, enjoy it when you can, but don’t let it be a blockage to your creativity.

Failure, mistakes and struggles are so valuable – yet we’re so scared of them.

Desperation is a blessing in disguise – if you let it be a blessing. For all else, it keeps you down-to-earth, allows you to be human, allows you to learn from mistakes. It can be the most helpful springboard to reach and exhort others through your unique experiences and creativity, or you can let it define you and be a curse.

Channel desperation right. Choose to treat it as an opportunity. Celebrate the highs and lows of life – your own and those of others.

Viola Davis put it better during her Academy Acceptance Speech:

“I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

Don’t give up fellow Actors, Creatives and Dreamers!

5 STEPS TO CAPTIVATE AN AUDIENCE

written by Annette Lange

 

Movies have the ability to draw me into an imaginary world that makes me want to fight for the characters in it. And it’s especially impressive, when actors are able to create such a believable performance, I don’t even notice acting, but I’m more concerned about the story than anything else.

However, actors also have the ability to throw people off just as fast as they are able to spark their interest and have the audience on the edge of their seats.

Here are some tips for the actors out there that want to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances” – as good old Sanford Meisner would say.

 

  1. What is the context of the story?

 

The first thing you should be concerned about is the story you’re telling through your acting. Know that it’s not about you. The importance should be the story, not you as the actor.

Before practising any scene, make sure you know what the purpose and theme of the story is. What role does your character play in the bigger picture? What is their relation to the other characters?

Know the context before you learn the lines. This will also help you in memorizing your lines easier.

So, do me a favor and know the context of the story more than Squidward here.

 

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  1. Your lines – Know ‘em and throw ‘em

 

What immediately pulls me out of the story is when actors place emphasis on every single word of their lines.

When you really observe how people talk, you will notice they increase and decrease their volume, speed and intensity of their words. Sometimes they mumble, sometimes they emphasize. None of us really put emphasis on EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. AND. SAY. IT. WITH. THE. SAME. INTENSITY.

Remember that your character doesn’t have a script in the story. He/she is always reacting to something.

Know your lines well and respect the screenwriters who put the work into it, but make sure you know first and foremost know why you’re saying them in the bigger picture of the story.

 

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Remember the subtext. There is a huge difference between what is being said and what the actor is actually saying.  Play around with speed, volume, emphasis etc. Choose which words to put emphasis on, otherwise the audience will be distracted by your performance or bored. You don’t want them to look like Spongebob.

 

  1. Backstory – Why is the character the way he/she is?

 

This is one of the most exciting parts of acting. In a script, you will only get so much information about the character. So it’s up to you to create a compelling backstory that serves the story. I find that I can understand certain people so much better once I meet their parents or siblings and can imagine why they behave or react  the way they do in certain situations.

 

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If you have trouble identifying with your character’s choices, invent situations and relationships in their past that would have led them to the place they are at in that point of time. This will shift your focus from your performance to the thoughts your character would have at every moment in the scenes.

Remember, the camera catches the tiniest expressions on the face of the actor. The audience can tell the difference when the actor is simply delivering the lines or when the actor is really involved in the story.

 

  1. What does your character want?

 

Our behavior and our relationship with people is determined by what we want or what we need. And this applies to your character as well.

Knowing the objectives of your character is an extremely helpful tool that creates tension in the scene and therefore makes it compelling to watch. A lot of humor and drama results from different characters having competing objectives.

When you tackle your script, try to break it down and figure out what your character wants in the scene and how his objectives change as the story progresses. When you perform your scene, go after your objectives at all times – like Jelly fish…

 

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  1. Don’t predetermine your character’s emotions!

 

A big trap actors can fall into is forcing emotions and planning out what our character should feel.

I highly doubt you wake up in the mornings and decide you’re going to cry when you meet Jack, and are going to be annoyed at the sight of Suzan.

Never map out the emotions your character should or is going to feel. Emotions always come as a response or reaction of what’s happening.

It is far more gripping to watch an actor try to fight tears, rather than watching him/he explicitly trying to cry.

 

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So, as fellow actors, I urge you not to simply act out a scene the way you want it to look, but to focus on the story you’re telling – as believable as possible. Allow yourself to be a human – in life and in front the camera – it’s a vulnerable process, and I applaud you for that.

Make it count. Let go of your ego. Tell stories worth telling.