Actors Need Some Backstory To Grab Onto

Actors Need Some Backstory To Grab Onto

    Being an Adman, I’ve been involved with something we in the trade call commercials or spots (let me know if this is getting too ‘insider’).

    One of the keys to creating a successful spot is casting, the hiring of actors to pretend they are speaking the words you’ve put in their mouths. To help actors, I write extensive casting specs so the person knows the backstory of the character and can deliver a believable performance that won’t suck.        

    Here are the casting specs for a spot we did recently. Feel the characters leap to glorious life!     

    OVERVIEW:  This spot is about people and their seemingly never-ending need to eat food (preferably good food that has not been poisoned and will pass through the bowels gently). As such, we should cast real people, with a strong bias toward people with mouths so they can appear to eat food. The ability to act like you’re eating food is a must!     

    OUR CAST:     

    Marcie––African American girl, age 8 or so. She has an innate sense of style and a passion for dusting furniture. Many of her friends feel she may be a little too attached to Swiffer cloths, but Beth Ann assures them she only “likes them” for light dusting duty.     

    Beth Ann–– Caucasian girl, age 8 or so. She is precocious, has an exceptional vocabulary and loves her family even though certain members are plotting against her. She’s something else!     

    Gammy–– African American woman, age 65-70. She is a passionate cook and a compassionate soul who sees the good in all people (except Ben Stiller, who she thinks is “pretty stuck on himself”). Gammy is all about the love of food, her family and the semi-annual sales at Linen & Things (where she has acquired a very impressive collection of “things” and some cheap towels and threadbare dishrags).     

    Susan–– An African American woman, age 35 or so. She is Marcie’s mother and Gammy’s daughter. She is a kind woman, warm, caring and not as tall as she looks. She is proud of her daughter and somewhat fearful of her mother ever since ‘the potato salad incident.’ She wishes she were better with numbers, but what can you do– you’ve either got the ‘number gene’ or you don’t. What are the odds she’d be born with it? Susan will never know, she’s horrible with numbers.     

    Robert–– African American man, age 35 or so. He is Marcie’s father. He loves action films, is a huge fan of James Patterson’s fiction and is quite adept at managing his minor bladder infection he’d rather not talk about.     

    Tracy–– Beth Ann’s mother, age 35 or so, who harbors some resentment that Beth Ann’s name is “Beth Ann” (she was named after her husband’s departed mother). Tracy wanted to call her daughter “Cinderella Sue Bethany” because she had never met anyone with that name. But, as Tracy is often fond of saying when she nips a cool cocktail, “Life is one miserable compromise and disappointment followed by another… and bitterness, rejection, agonizing pain and sorrow is your just  reward.”  She’s a ‘glass half full’ kind of gal!

    Ken–– Beth Ann’s father, age 40. He’s a gregarious sort, fond of quietly counting to 10,000 by prime numbers. He had a dog named Barney when he was a child. The dog was hit and killed by a garbage truck. Ken has hated garbage ever since and so refuses to throw anything out, including table scraps he’s saved for Barney.    

    Michael–– Caucasian boy, age 9. He is the brother of Beth Ann and coincidently, the son of Tracy and Ken. Michael is a quiet child making him the perfect companion on a trip to the library. He loves his parents but harbors some resentment toward his sister, ‘Miss Perfect Pants’, who he feels his parents show favoritism toward. Like on her birthday when she got a pony, a ride on a hot air balloon and a crisp $10,000 bill. On his birthday, he got the lid to a Heinz Ketchup bottle, a small length of mangled yarn and a pinky poke to the left eyeball.  

    That should about do it, actors. Enjoy your roles, become the character, live in the moment from moment to moment!   

   Finis.

 

Careful Analysis Pays Dividends For You

My Careful Analysis Pays Dividends For You

Four movies for your two eyes, two ears.

“Burn After Reading”– You need to manage your expectations on this one, people. It’s being marketed as a comedy. If you walk in, sit down, fold your arms and say “O.K., clown-boys, make me laugh!” you won’t enjoy this movie as much as you should. Yes, there are some laughs in “Burn”.  Some laughs. But mostly it’s a quirky character-driven intricately plotted web of intrigue, vanity and stupidity. 

This is the latest offering from Joel & Ethan Coen (who some call “The Coen Brothers”, I call them “Those Kooky Coen Kids”). They’re hot off the Oscar-heavy success of “No Country For Old Men” and here they definitely toss a change up from the heavy drama of that jewel.

I’ll eagerly to see anything the Coens make, after all they’ve made some of the most interesting and enjoyable films of recent times:  “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “Miller’s Crossing”, “The Big Leboski”, “Fargo”, “Raising Arizona”, “Blood Simple”, “Barton Fink” and more).

In “Burn After Reading”, you’ve got star power galore with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich. You’ve got nepotism with Frances McDormand playing a lead (she’s the wife of Joel Coen, but she’s always terrific and probably doesn’t need the inside connection). You’ve got great character actors in Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins and J.K. Simmons. You’ve got a free-wheeling story that just keeps spinning inter-connected plot lines and catapults the story along to a conclusion that is fulfilling, believable and as arbitrary as life itself.

I did miss Roger Deakins, who has been the director of photography for just about all the later Coen films. “Burn” does not have the cinematic grandeur and camera movement as previous Coen flicks, but it does keep you moving and guessing and enjoying the ride, so what the hell, enjoy your time off Mr. Deakins… but please come back soon. I miss you.

“Tropic Thunder”– There’s a reason this film is doing some serious box office business: it does what a comedy is supposed to do, give your lungs a healthy workout. This is one seriously funny movie.

But even if it wasn’t funny, it’s a pretty good action-adventure film thanks to some beautiful cinematography by two time Oscar winner John Toll and excellent directing by Ben Stiller.

Stiller co-wrote this yukfest with actor Justin Theroux and the incomparable Ethan Coen (moonlighting while Joel slept with wife Frances).

The premise of the movie is the making of a big budget movie based on a  best selling book about the Vietnam War called “Tropic Thunder”.  

The main attraction is Robert Downey, Jr., playing 5-time Oscar-winning Australian actor Kirk Lazarus. Kirk is the ultimate method actor so for the role of an African-American sergeant, he has a controversial skin- tinting procedure. Downey plays it to the hilt as brother fighting for The Man. But a white dude playing black does not play well with fellow actor Alpa Chino, who really is black, played superbly by Brandon T. Jackson. 

This is the year of Robert Downey, Jr. With this role and playing the lead in “Iron Man”, he stars in two of the best movies of the year, with another promising one (“The Soloist”) on the horizon.

Ben Stiller gobbles his scenes as the Sly Stallone-like mega-action-fading-star Tugg Speedman. His obsequious agent is ably played by Matthew McConaughey (who amazingly plays the entire role shirted).

Jack Black plays a drug addicted co-star who’s made his fame in a series of successful ‘fart films’ (can you say “Eddie Murphy”?) and now wants to be taken seriously as an ACTOR

And the big buzz of the film is Tom Cruise playing an obnoxiously overbearing ball-busting studio head. Cruise has great make-up, rage and screen presence, and you can tell he loved every minute of playing this outrageous jerk.

This movie is decidedly politically incorrect, raunchy, sophomoric and foul– so if you’re easily offended rent “The Sound of Music”, eat taffy and pray for a gentler world. But if you’re up for some good laughs and fun pyrotechnics, grab a chair and kiss a couple hours goodbye. It’s well worth the trip.

“Vicky Christina Barcelona” — Woody Allen is a machine who’s been churning out movies for 42 years. He earned his chops as a master of comedies, defiantly made a series of soberingly depressing dramas and has bobbed about with light dramas, comic capers and interesting character studies. This movie is one of his human stories.

Vicky is played by the beautiful Rebecca Hall. She’s a confident woman engaged to a Mr. Conformity in NYC. She is more pragmatist than poet. She believes she knows herself and her destiny.  She marches through life with firm footed certainty.

Christina is played by the luminous Scarlett Johansson. She’s a flighty insecure woman who is looking for love in all the wrong places but remains a hopeless romantic. She is open to possibilities and growth, unsure of every step she takes but knowing it will lead to something that could be better. She is an artist on her journey of discovery.

Vicky and Christina are enjoying a summer holiday in guess where– Barcelona (boy, the movie’s title gives away the entire story). They encounter an egocentric artist named Juan Antonio, wonderfully played by Javier Bardem (it’s hard to believe this is the same dude who lugged around the bovine-skull-crushing air gun in “No Country For Old Men”). He is on a hedonistic bender, on the rebound from a toxic relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (played by Penelope Cruz).

Juan Anotonio proposes a threesome to Vicky and Christina. He loses that proposal, but gets involved with each beauty individually. He and Christina become an item, his unstable ex enters the scene, more things happen and then some other things happen, too.

I’ll say no more except this movie is a must-see for anyone who ponders the human condition and enjoys adult stories that make your brain contemplate life. Good on you, Woody.

“In Bruges”– You’ll have to rent this puppy, but go ahead and get it in your queue today. This tale of two hired killers in the Belgium resort Bruges is a fun romp well acted by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell (his performance here is almost good enough to wipe away the stench and sin of starring in “Alexander”). Ralph Fiennes is their irate boss back in the U.K., and as you probably guessed, there is a racist dwarf (sorry, little person). 

It was written and directed by celebrated Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. This is an impressive debut for an incredible talent. It’s beautifully shot with a hauntingly beautiful musical score. Don’t even get me started on the impressive work of the Best Boy.

Give it a go. You’ll love being In Bruges, and won’t soon forget the trip.