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.

Barkhad Abdi – How to get awards without training

BY ANNETTE LANGE

In order to win the Bafta Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and get a part in popular movies, one must simply do the following:

 

  • Come from a difficult background in Somalia and flee to Yemen to escape sudden civil unrest and war
  • Win a Green Card Lottery and move to Minnesota at the age of 14
  • Learn English from TV shows and rap music
  • Become a limo driver, DJ and sell phones to make ends meet
  • Respond to a casting call for Captain Phillips and give the best performance out of 700 fellow auditioners to get the role of a Somali pirate
  • Co-star alongside Tom Hanks and give an excellent performance
  • Improvise iconic lines to add to the believability of the scene

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This, in a nutshell, is the story of Barkhad Abdi who made his major debut in Captain Phillips, without any acting training or experience prior to his role as ‘Abduwali Muse’. And, besides winning the Bafta Award, he got nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award as well.

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I love stories like his. People like Abdi are very refreshing. They haven’t been sheltered from the world, they had other things to worry about than staying in the loop with the latest trends. And when success comes to them as a surprise, it is an even more joyous achievement.

 

When asked about his response to co-starring with Tom Hanks, he recalled thinking, “I can’t believe I’m in a scene with the Forrest Gump guy.”

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I first noticed Abdi in Eye in the Sky and I was extremely fascinated by his performance. When I realized he hadn’t been trained professionally, I was even more impressed.

 

The little training he had in preparation for Captain Phillips happened in the month prior to filming. Abdi had to learn to swim, handle guns and operate a ship. He only met Tom Hanks on the first day of shooting, so I bet his nerves helped him to create such a convincing character.

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There was a lot of doubt whether he would actually be able to make a career out of it, or if it was just a one-time golden opportunity.

 

His salary for his first performance was only increased very little from the mandated Screen Actors Guild (SAG) minimum of $60,000 for a feature film. Even after his success, he was struggling financially.

 

He couldn’t even go back to work in his brother’s phone shop because everyone wanted to see him instead of buying phones. He seemed as if he was back to square one after reaching fame.

Perhaps his experience of reaching fame but finding it harder than expected could be compared to his experience of coming to the States:

 

“When I was leaving Yemen to come to America, things were tough. My dad had just been laid off, and it was a challenge. When I lived in Yemen, I thought America was a perfect place. Everything was bigger and better. I dreamed big. The American dream, you know? You have to work hard for your dream to come true.”
And he is working hard. I’m sure many directors have an eye on him after his performance in Eye in the Sky. And fortunately, his future looks promising as well. He has more acting projects lined up such as Hawaii 50, The Place that hits the Sun and the Sequel to Blade Runner. May the list go on and on!

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I am excited to see more of his acting. May he never loose that tenacious and creative spirit and continue to inspire fellow actors as he continues in his journey!

Natalie Portman: Shredding Stereotypes

BY CONNOR CAMPBELL

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It’s a bit odd to think at one point Natalie Portman was not a household name nor considered a great actress.

Upon first glance, you may see her as the Oscar-winning actress from the psychological thriller film Black Swan or you might see her as Padmé Amidala from the Star Wars prequels.

These two films couldn’t be more opposite of each other and Natalie Portman’s journey between them is nothing short of incredible.

Regardless of your opinion on the Star Wars prequels, they did not have a good effect on Portman’s career. There could be any number of reasons for this, but let’s not dwell on those.

Instead, let’s look at how Portman shook off the stereotypes and proved the critics utterly wrong.

“…No director wanted to work with me…”

In 2014, Natalie Portman revealed that after the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, no director wanted to work with her and she, like everyone, thought she was a horrible actress.

You may have different reactions to that statement, but it was definitely a near universal thought. Many people, Hollywood filmmakers and moviegoers alike, drew the conclusion that Natalie Portman was not a good actress.

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With the impact and buzz from large films such as the Star Wars prequels, Portman’s career and reputation suffered despite some great performances in other films.

Portman was metaphorically dragged through the mud having to appear in other two films in the prequel trilogy. Critics jumped on the opportunity to make more claims against her acting abilities, completely ignoring some of the incredible work she was doing in other films.

But despite being perceived as having a lack of acting ability, Portman was slowly building a foundation for her to shake off the effects of Star Wars.

The Way Back

In 2004, Portman had roles in Zach Braff’s Garden State as well as Mike Nichols’ Closer.

Garden State was well received and currently holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was also an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

This film came out a year before Revenge of the Sith, but Portman’s performance in the film was ignored. People were still convinced that Star Wars was the limit of her talent.

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For her work in Closer, however, Portman won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and was also nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.

While the film was not necessarily well loved, garnering only a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film’s cast were highly praised, specifically Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.

So finally, Portman was being rewarded for her hard work and acting abilities.

But unfortunately in 2006, the year after the release of the third Star Wars prequel, her performance in the cult film V for Vendetta was once again criticized, with one critic going as far as to say: “Portman still seems to believe that standing around with your mouth hanging open constitutes a performance.”

Portman didn’t let this get her down, however, and kept working. She joined a handful of projects over the next few years, ranging from Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and the 2009 film Brothers.

Gone Mainstream

Then the moment came. In 2010, the Darren Aronofsky directed film Black Swan was released. The bizarre and creepy psychological thriller starred Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel.

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Portman straight up shined in the lead role of Nina Sayers and was highly praised from critics everywhere. Even critics, who did not enjoy the movie, commented on Portman’s great performance.

The role of Nina was unlike anything Portman had ever done before. She remarked that that was one of the reasons she took the role. Black Swan gave Portman a chance to prove to the world what she was truly capable of.

And prove that she did. Portman won numerous awards for her performance, including the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. It was finally the moment of recognition she deserved.

While technically Portman is only credited as one character, she does truly embody both the White Swan and Black Swan during her on-screen performance. Portman also spent approximately six months in training and preparation for the role and lost 20 pounds to better physically portray a ballet dancer.

So despite the criticisms she still may face for films like the Star Wars prequels, no one can now doubt her acting prowess or how dedicated she is to her craft.

Black Swan was a triumph on many levels, but Natalie Portman’s outstanding performance gave the film that extra “it” factor. The film firmly cemented her as a great actress, shredding the stereotypes she had fallen under earlier in her career.

The Future

So where does this leave Portman? She has continued to appear in a variety of films, including Your Highness, Thor and its sequel Thor: The Dark World, Knight of Cups, and Jane Got a Gun.

Other earlier films I would recommend checking are Where the Heart Is, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Other Boleyn Girl.

Next she will be seen in the biopic Jackie, a film based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

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The film has already been getting some early Oscar buzz and was quite well received at its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Of course most of us have yet to see the film, but no longer is Portman’s acting in question or taking heat. I look forward to seeing Jackie and her future projects and trust that Natalie Portman will continue to prove to us that she is a phenomenal actress.