A True Acting Tip from Larry Silverberg

larrysilverbergLarry Silverberg’s True Acting Tips has become a favorite amongst acting teachers, being used in their classrooms to generate a true conversation about the craft of acting. Larry, known worldwide as a master teacher of the Meisner Approach to acting, has written a book that instigates an exploration of the fundamental roots of human creation and the demands of entering the path towards acting with humanity and soul. Larry, Director of the True Acting Institute (www.trueactinginstitute.com) has trained tousands of actors and acting teachers around the globe and he is the Master Teacher of Acting at renowned Shenandoah University Conservatory of the Arts. Here now, a new “True Acting Tip of the Day” just for you!

Larry’s True Acting Tip of the Day

This morning, I read a lesson from the wonderful teacher, Pema Chodron and I thought of you dear readers and your interest in this thing I am calling “True Acting.” It has become clear to me over the years of working and teaching that the most resistant barrier to great acting is not an acting issue at all, it is a human one. Pema says it in this way, “…to remain open to the present groundless moment, to a direct, unarmored participation with our experience. We are certainly not being asked to trust that everything is going to be all right. Moving in the direction of nothing to hold on to is daring. We will not initially experience it as a thrilling, alive, wonderful way to be. How many of us feel ready to interrupt our habitual patterns, our almost instinctual ways of getting comfortable?”

How simple and profound these words, “Moving in the direction of nothing left to hold on to.” This reminds me of something I heard Rudolf Nureyev say many years ago. He told our group that right before every performance, he would work himself out to the point of exhaustion and then, in the performance of the dance, he would have nothing left to hang on to and he would SOAR!” Yes! And that is exactly the point, to soar in your acting!  This is the thing… to move beyond your old, habitual ways of being, to shift the frozen, stuck, protective armor of the mind to the side so that your creative self can function. My friends, this is no small matter and will demand a complete commitment and a relentless pursuit.  The DESIRE to enter this particular domain, the land of “nothing left to hang on to” is something no one can give to you – not your mother, not your teacher, not your guru – and only you know if it is of true interest to you. But I can tell you clearly, until an actor walks that ground, his work will remain pedestrian and uninspired.

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John Grant Interview

Guest Author: Below is an interview with John Grant, author of A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, on Paul D. Brazill’s blog.

PDB: Can you pitch A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Definitive Reference Guide in 25 words or less?

Nope. I can’t. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve . . . But I’ll see if I can at least keep this short. My latest book, published in October, is called A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide. It contains entries on about 3,250 movies, covering roughly a century of moviemaking, from the earliest protonoirs to recent neonoirs, drawn from all over the world.

As a sort of annex to the encyclopedia I’ve created the website Noirish, which is devoted to more expansive entries on a sort of ragbag of movies that are (generally) way out on noir’s fringes — too far out to have made it into the encyclopedia.

PDB: Which music, books, films or television shows have floated your boat recently?

The most recent piece of music to have bowled me over is Tubin’s Symphony #6. For the past few years I’ve been on a classical jag, although playing rock CDs occasionally. Among the latter, Vienna Teng’s Inland Territory stands out in my memory. Another to get played pretty frequently is Earth Opera’s self-titled album — which I bought way-back-when on vinyl, when it (ahem) first came out, and now listen to on CD.

I don’t watch TV much. I guess the last TV show I really liked was the first season of Sherlock. I wasn’t so enthralled by the second, but am hotly waiting for the third to reach these shores.

Books? I recently read Tara French’s The Likeness and loved it: a truly amazing piece of work, and bugger its occasional detractors. Rees Morgan’s The Freshour Cyclinders was good too. I’m currently enjoying the much more light-hearted Swing, by Rupert Holmes.

And movies. Friends – like Sam Juliano at Wonders in the Dark – have recently been talking about their Top Ten Movies lists for 2013. I don’t go in much for that sort of thing — if ever I try to make a Top Ten it ends up being a Top Sixty-Seven, and then I immediately change my mind about what should be in it! And, of course, by far the majority of movies that I watch are old ones, sometimes decades old. But my friends’ list-making activities got me to thinking about which were the movies I’d most enjoyed among the relatively few 2013 movies I saw. Of those, two stood out for me: Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep and Zal Batmanglij’s & Brit Marling’s The East. They have oddly similar themes, both being about radicalization and the difficulties of doing something to change a manifestly unjust, often brutal society without being demonized.

PDB: Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?

I think so — in fact, I think writers may be better objective readers than most. I certainly hope so, because I’ve done a lot of book reviewing in my time! (Indeed, there’s even an ebook of my reviews: Warm Words and Otherwise, published by Infinity Plus Books.)

To finish the interview, go to Paul’s blog!

A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir

Featuring rumpled PIs, shyster lawyers, corrupt politicians, double-crossers, femmes fatales, and, of course, losers who find themselves down on their luck yet again, film noir is a perennially popular cinematic genre. This extensive encyclopedia describes movies from noir’s earliest days – and even before, looking at some of noir’s ancestors in US and European cinema – as well as noir’s more recent offshoots, from neonoirs to erotic thrillers. Entries are arranged alphabetically, covering movies from all over the world – from every continent save Antarctica – with briefer details provided for several hundred additional movies within those entries. A copious appendix contains filmographies of prominent directors, actors, and writers.

With coverage of blockbusters and program fillers from Going Straight (US 1916) to Broken City (US 2013) via Nora Inu (Japan 1949), O Anthropos tou Trainou (Greece 1958), El Less Wal Kilab (Egypt 1962), Reportaje a la Muerte (Peru 1993), Zift (Bulgaria 2008), and thousands more, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir is an engrossing and essential reference work that should be on the shelves of every cinephile.

 

Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas

It’s Christmastime, which means gifts, spending time with friends and family, and watching Christmas movies! Luckily for you, Alonso Duralde, author of Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmashas compiled a list of non-traditional holiday movies for USA Today. He’s also being interviewed on the Turner Classic Movies program A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas, which is being aired tonight at 12:15 a.m. EST. You can find out more about the program here.

1988

‘DIE HARD’

When he was writing his book, Duralde often heard from people – usually in guilty hushed tones – how watching Bruce Willis storm the Nakatomi Building after terrorists strike on Christmas Eve became a December tradition. “It’s 25 years out,” Duralde says. “People can openly admit, ‘I watch Die Hard every Christmas!’ I don’t think that one counts anymore as being a different one.”

1994

‘THE REF’

The squabbling family members central to the film just can’t stand one another when a cat burglar (Denis Leary) takes them hostage on Christmas Eve and becomes a device to bring them together. As funny and harsh as the movie is, Duralde says, “it holds out the idea that this can improve and the family can fix itself and be better.”

To find out the rest of the non-traditional holiday movies that make up Duralde’s top five, go to USA TODAY

Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas

Don’t waste another second of your valuable holiday time on another boring Christmas movie. Film critic Alonso Duralde highlights the best – and worst – movies of the Yuletide season with this fun and informative film guide. Whether you’re looking for the classics, family favorites, holiday horror, Christmas-themed crime epics, or the most wonderfully awful cinematic lumps of coal, Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas will point you and your rental queue in the right direction. Whether your idea of a holiday classic is White ChristmasBad SantaDie HardEyes Wide Shut, or Gremlins, you’ll find the right film for you, as well as an exhaustively entertaining breakdown of the various screen Scrooges, from Alistair Sim to Jim Carrey to…Tori Spelling? And get ready to encounter movies you may never have heard of from the gritty noir Christmas Holiday, starring 1930s singing ingénue Deanna Durbin in her first hard-bitten adult role, to the loony Santa Claus, a Mexican kiddie movie in which St. Nick teams up with Merlin to fight the devil! Plot synopses, video availability, and fun facts – did you know the actor cast as Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life was also in the running to play mean old Mr. Potter? – make this a stocking stuffed with information you’ll turn to every Christmas season.

Crowdfunding Networking Party

Save the dates! Join Gini Graham Scott, author of Finding Funds For Your Film or TV Project, on Thursday, December 5th for a free party from 7-9pm to introduce the Crowdfunding Film Society, http://crowdfundfilmsociety.com, and its San Francisco Chapter, found at http://www.meetup.com/CrowdfundingFilm. On the 6th, from 10-4pm, there will be a program with speakers on crowdfunding, followed by a pitch to select films to be featured in the Film Society’s showcase to be promoted nationally: http://crowdfundfilmsociety.com/category/film. Below is a brief excerpt from Finding Funds For Your Film or TV Project

Creating a Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding, also known as crowd financing, involves individuals collectively networking and pooling their resources, usually through the Internet, to help the efforts of other individuals or organizations. While it has been used to fund all sorts of activities, from the creative work of artists and musicians to community programs and software development, it has become an especially popular means of funding films. For example, out of the nearly 6,500 individuals and organizations who met their funding goals as of November 5, 2012, about 10% of these were for films, or about 650 films.

Until recently, crowdfunding strictly required those seeking funds this way to clearly indicate that any funds received were to be considered contributions in return for rewards or voluntary donations to support the cause and perhaps receive recognition as a result. But on April 5, 2012, President Obama signed into legislation the JOBS Act, which permits equity crowdfunding, in which a company can sell small amounts of equity to a large number of investors. The SEC has been charged with setting forth specific rules and guidelines specifying what kind of investments are possible.

One rule that has already been advanced is that crowdfunding offerings will count toward the higher limit of investors permitted without having to register the offering with the SEC, permitting companies to raise money from publicity and other media such as the Internet. Moreover, crowdfunding offerings will count toward the higher registration threshold that permits up to 2,000 or more accredited investors, or up to 500 unaccredited investors, without registering.

This new equity crowdfunding approach is quite different from the contribution model of crowdfunding used so far, in that a company seeking money through equity financing can sell up to $1 million in securities in any 12-month period to an unlimited number of investors, rather than seeking contributions that involve no company ownership. Moreover, companies using the crowdfunding exemption must make this offering through an intermediary that is registered as a broker (who can promote securities and solicit investors) or a “funding portal” (who cannot) with the SEC. And in contrast to making donations in traditional crowdfunding, these contributors will be investors getting shares in return for their funding.

Generally, the advantage of the crowdfunding approach is that it reduces the risk of starting a company or seeking money for a film. It also helps to filter out the bad ideas, because they won’t find investors – although another big reason for not reaching your goal could be that people don’t know about your offering because you didn’t sufficiently promote it.

Finding Funds for Your Film or TV Project includes a complete overview of the many different ways to get funds for your film – from preparing the materials you need, such as business plans, private placement memorandums, trailers, sizzle reels, and crowd-funding pitches – to how to make effective presentations to prospective funders, from as family members, friends, and business associates, to angels, private investors, established producers, and film financiers. Scott provides a comprehensive introduction to the many options for fund-raising, and includes information on how to prepare the materials necessary, from business plans and Private Place Memorandums to video and PowerPoint presentations to using crowd-funding techniques.

Covered are these key topics:

• The overall film industry and trends in film production

• Deciding what to produce, preparing a script or treatment, determining your needed cast and crew, and coming up with a rough estimate of your budget

• Putting together the needed documents, including creating a schedule and budget, preparing a producer package, business plan, and private placement memorandum

• Creating a crowd-funding campaign

• Developing a trailer and sizzle reel

• Creating your marketing and promotional materials and getting a publicity buzz going

• Developing and presenting your pitch to prospective investors

• Closing the deal and getting your money

Happy Birthday, John Cleese!

John Cleese is 74 today! We’re celebrating with an excerpt from If You Like Monty Python… and a hilarious clip from his television special, How to Irritate People.

A regular recurring theme of British comedy is the effect of annoying personalities on the typically reserved, decorous English psyche. Brits have a cultural obligation to face every difficulty with a stiff upper lip, miles of calm, and a patience so wooden you could build a bridge out of it. While this can be effective in most social situations, difficulty occurs when a true irritant arises: someone so pushy, so persistent, so aggravating that he can’t be ignored, and yet simply punching him inn the face would be considered bad form. A fair amount of Monty Python’s humor came from such a conflict, and John Cleese’s classic farce, Fawlty Towers, is practically the definitive statement on the topic. It’s worth it, then, to see the seeds that would eventually bear such marvelous fruit: Cleese’s 1968 television special How to Irritate People. 

The slightly-over-an-hour-long show is compromised largely of sketches demonstrating various principles of the process of irritation, with Cleese introducing each sketch with a brief monologue explaining the central idea. There are irritating parents, irritating restaurant hosts, irritating party guests, irritating boyfriends, irritating garage mechanics, irritating elderly women, and so on. The special is hit-or-miss, as many of the sketches (especially early in the show) take the main premise too literally, demonstrating actually annoying individuals and behavior without providing much in the way of laughs. It gets better as it goes, however, and How to… is still worth seeking out, for a number of reasons. There’s Cleese himself, who occasionally looks a little stunned during his hosting duties (though this may be intentional), and the presence of Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Connie Booth makes this a sort of embryonic Python presentation. Plus, some of the sketches work very well, especially a bit about airline pilots near the end, which has Cleese, Chapman, and Palin all working together.

 

If You Like Monty Python…

From their perfectly insane television show to their consistently irreverent and riotous movies, Monty Python has owned the zany and absurd side of comedy since their debut. Their influence can be felt in every comedy show that followed them, from Saturday Night Live andSecond City television, to The Kids in the Hall, not to mention all the laughs writ large on the silver screen, where their brand of absurdity opened the doors for such people as Jim Carrey who made a name for themselves by pushing the funny even further.

This is the first book to look at everything influenced by the Pythons, but also at those who came before them – from the classic British comedies to the Marx Brothers, and everything in the Python universe, from Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda to Spamalot and BrazilIf You Like…Monty Python is a book for any fan who has graduated from the Ministry of Silly Walks and wants more.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Guest Blogger: John Grant, author of A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide, due on shelves at the end of October. Check out Noirish, John Grant’s noir blog that goes above and beyond the Encyclopedia.

In one sense a meditation on the roles of nature and nurture in the emergence of sociopathic individuals; in another an extraordinarily chilling depiction of the noir nightmare told with all the twisty nonlinearity expected of a neonoir.

All we know at first is that something dreadful has happened in the fairly recent past of solitary suburb-dweller Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton), something that causes neighbors to abuse her and even daub her house in red paint, something for which she feels such guilt that she suffers their torments in silence rather than retaliating in any way.

Slowly we piece together her earlier life with good-natured but insensitive husband Franklin (Reilly), their son Kevin (played successively by Duer, Newell and Miller) and their much younger daughter Celia (Gerasimovich). As a baby Kevin screams incessantly, so much so that Eva sometimes pauses beside roadworks so that the jackhammers, drowning the noise of her infant, give her some moments of precious respite. A slow developer, Kevin grows up with one seeming mission in life: to make his mother’s existence a misery. Periodically she snaps under his relentless pressure, on one occasion pushing him with such force that he breaks his arm—an offense which he covers up from others, ever thereafter using it as a means to blackmail her.

Around people other than his mother, notably his father, he’s a charming, affable, ordinary kid; whenever Eve tries to tell Franklin of her concerns he assumes she’s merely voicing her neuroses. Eva is the only one who knows what really happened to Celia’s gerbil, stuffed by the teenaged Kevin into the sink disposal unit, and to Celia’s eye, destroyed when Kevin poured sink-unblocker into it. The sole activity that seems to bring Kevin out of himself is archery; it is this activity that he will use to commit the hideous crime that lies at the heart of Eva’s nightmare.

Keep reading on NOIRISH!

Featuring rumpled PIs, shyster lawyers, corrupt politicians, double-crossers, femmes fatales, and, of course, losers who find themselves down on their luck yet again, film noir is a perennially popular cinematic genre. This extensive encyclopedia describes movies from noir’s earliest days – and even before, looking at some of noir’s ancestors in US and European cinema – as well as noir’s more recent offshoots, from neonoirs to erotic thrillers. Entries are arranged alphabetically, covering movies from all over the world – from every continent save Antarctica – with briefer details provided for several hundred additional movies within those entries. A copious appendix contains filmographies of prominent directors, actors, and writers.

With coverage of blockbusters and program fillers from Going Straight (US 1916) to Broken City (US 2013) via Nora Inu (Japan 1949), O Anthropos tou Trainou (Greece 1958), El Less Wal Kilab (Egypt 1962), Reportaje a la Muerte (Peru 1993), Zift (Bulgaria 2008), and thousands more, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir is an engrossing and essential reference work that should be on the shelves of every cinephile.

Bela Lugosi’s Birthday

Today is Bela Lugosi’s birthday! To celebrate the most legendary Dracula of all time, enjoy an excerpt from If You Like True Blood… by Dave Thompson.

DRACULA (1931)

Bela Lugosi may not always be viewed as the greatest cinema vampire of all time, and he certainly wasn’t the most attractive. But few of the actors and actresses who have portrayed a vampiric role, particularly among those who have taken on the best-known of them all (go on, guess), have ever seen themselves as anything but one more soul following in the footsteps of the most legendary of them all.

Bela Blasko was born on October 20, 1882, in the Hungarian town of Lugos. His stage name was thus a variation on his hometown, adopted following his arrival in America in 1921, by which time he had already made a string of movies in both Hungary and Germany.

Close to forty years of age, his impact on his adopted homeland was negligible. He made his Hollywood debut in 1923’s The Silent Command, but the talkies seemed set to murder him. His meagre command of the English language saw him confined to mere bit parts, and even there he struggled. Any lines he was given, he learned phonetically, but worse was to come.

Having been hired to direct a drama, The Right to Dream, Lugosi was fired when it became embarrassingly obvious that he was incapable of even communicating with his cast. He sued for wrongful dismissal, but the court could make no more sense of his complaint than the actors could of his direction. He lost the case and was forced to auction off his own possessions to pay the legal fees. Undeterred by such catastrophes, Lugosi remained on the fringes of the acting world, and in 1927, he was finally offered a role in which his heavily accented, beguilingly faltering English would play to his advantage, the title role in the Broadway adaptation of the smash hit London stage show Dracula. Appearing alongside Herbert Bunston (Dr. Seward), Bernard Jukes (Renfield), Dorothy Peterson (Lucy), and Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing), Lugosi was an immediate sensation. He remained in the role for three years, then returned to Hollywood in triumph to repeat the feat on film.

Dracula was a new sensation for Americans. We have already seen how, a decade previously, Hungarian director Károly Lajthay had adapted Dracula for a moving picture. Tragically, his Drakula is long lost, but its success can be gauged from the fact that just a few months elapsed before Friedrich Murnau recast the story as Nosferatu, while the London play (the first, incidentally, ever to win the approval of the Stoker estate) had been running since 1924. Now, finally, Broadway was thrilling to the vampire’s embrace, and when Dracula became one of the most successful stage plays of the era, Hollywood too was ready to succumb to the same savage seduction.

Universal Studios, the movie’s backers; and Tod Browning, the director, originally had no intention whatsoever of casting Bela Lugosi in the movie role, much preferring Lon Chaney Jr. He, however, was battling cancer at the time and was too ill to work. Other possibilities fell through. Finally, Lugosi was the only name left in the frame. He became Dracula—in every sense of the phrase.

It is impossible today to recapture the sheer power of Dracula. Again, vampire movies were new to American eyes and ears—had Nosferatu even been shown in this country before it was so rudely crucified? No, it hadn’t. Dracula, however, rode the renown of the stage show to the top of the box office, then rode its own moody atmosphere and unparalleled scenes of horror and ugliness even further. Overnight, Lugosi was reinvented from a litigious mumbler who once had an affair with Clara Bow to the hottest property in Hollywood, an international star who suddenly found he could take—or turn down—any role he chose.

It was a freedom in which he revelled to the full, although not necessarily to his own advantage. Among the subsequent movie offerings that he was offered, but rejected, was the title role in director James Whale’s forthcoming Frankenstein, turning it down in favor of a role in another European masterpiece, a remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, titled for its main character, Quasimodo.

Unfortunately, while Frankenstein rocketed to peaks approaching Dracula’s own, Quasimodo was never made, and Lugosi—who had seen that role as essential to proving he was more than a simple stereotype monster—would never really recover. Although he remained constantly in demand, he was indeed stereotyped—if not as Dracula, then at least as a mysteriously sinister Eastern European—and few of the movies he made throughout the remainder of his career ever allowed him to break out of that cliché. By 1948, Lugosi was reduced to caricaturing his finest moment in the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a depth that apparently horrified him so much that he would not return to the screen for another four years.

Lugosi’s genius, albeit one that led directly to his downfall, was that he was so eminently believable. No matter that the count, as played by the Hungarian, was subsequently to become punishingly parodied, not only by Lugosi himself, but by countless other would-be bloodsuckers too. Throughout the 1930s, when a nervously isolationist America was spotting fresh foes under every bed, Lugosi’s Dracula was flesh-eater made flesh. From the moment he first materializes in Dracula to that in which he is vanquished at the end, Lugosi not only overcomes any incredulity that his own audience might have felt toward the entire concept of Transylvanian bloodsuckers, but he also vanquishes that of any modern viewer. He was, quite simply, too damned brilliant for his own good.

Tiring of his exile, and with his bank account again in cobwebbed tatters, Lugosi resurfaced in 1952, finally forced to accept his fate by an appetite for drugs that demanded he take all the employment he was offered. And if the only work he could get was as a parody of himself, then he would be the greatest parody of them all. His every subsequent public appearance would find him clad in full costume, while the films he now made were purposefully calculated to play on his reputation: Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, My Son the Vampire, Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, and a pair of films with the eccentric Ed Wood, Glen or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster.

All kept the wolf from the door, but they weren’t enough. In 1955, Lugosi voluntarily committed himself in the hope of shaking off his dope habit. He succeeded, but at a dreadful cost. Having shot just a handful of scenes for another Wood spectacular, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Lugosi was felled by a massive heart attack. On August 15, 1956, the world learned that Bela Lugosi, as the song later reminded us, was dead.

If You Like True Blood…

If You Like True Blood… is a popular history of vampires in classical and popular culture, by an author who has been reading and watching such things since high school, and who seriously believes The Hunger is one of the best things David Bowie has ever done.

With chapters embracing silent movies and modern erotica, mist-shrouded myth, and gothic rock, If You Like True Blood… transports the reader from the moss-drenched wilds of Louisiana to the mountain haunts of Transylvania, via introductions to some of history and literature’s most accomplished bloodsuckers. More than 200 new-to-you stories, movies, adventures, and eccentricities are staked out in the sunlight. Exclusive interview material stirs fresh plasma into the pot, and selections from the author’s own collection of vampirabilia are among the many illustrations.

Anne Rice, Peter Cushing, Sookie Stackhouse, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Marvel Comics, Bram Stoker’s Dracula-all flit not-so-silently through these pages; Vlad the Impaler, the Countess Bathory, Mina Harker, and Roman Polanski. too. In addition, authoritative appendices offer up a guide to best movie, TV, and literary vampires out there. If You Like True Blood… may not grant you eternal life, but it knows plenty of people who can.