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  • Xander Turian

Raindance MA in Filmmaking: Part 6 - NMM, Final Dissertation "The Film"


Negotiated Masters Module - Dissertation


Building on my current experience as an actor and a filmmaker, how can I ensure that my co-actors and I deliver strong acting performances in my proof-of-concept short, The Gig while mitigating the challenges of also being the film’s director?


Xander Turian

Student nr: P2618742


03/05/2022

Word Count: 15125



MA in Filmmaking with Raindance, De Montfort University


 

Table of Contents


Table of Contents 1

Introduction 2

- Background..…………..………..……………………………...2

- Academic Journey...……………………………………………3

- Objective..……..………………………………………………..5

- Learning Outcomes...………………………………………….6

- Deliverables.…………..………………..................................7

Rationale 8

Methodology 10

Process and Findings 11

- Learning Outcome 1...………………………………………...11

- Learning Outcome 2...…………………………………………21

Conclusion 39

Bibliography 42

- Books...………………………………………………………….42

- Web Resources..……………………………………………….42

Filmography 44

- Films……………………………………………………………..44

- Videos……………………………………………………………44

- Courses/Workshops……………………………………………44

Appendix 45

- 1) Skills Audit………..…………………………………...……..45

- 2) SWOT Analysis..……………………………………...……..45

- 3) The Gig - Script Reading (Draft 10)………………………..46

- 4) The Gig - Cast Script Readthrough (Draft 11)...................46

- 5) The Gig: Rehearsal Workshop with Mel Churcher……….47

- 6) Pitch Deck v.1………………………………………………...48

- 7) Moodboard…………………………………………………....62

- 8) Concept Artboard……………………………………………..63

- 9) Pre-Viz Video………………………………………………….64

- 10) Shotlist………………………………………………………..64

- 11) Shooting Schedule...………………………………………...66

- 12) Best Take Sheet……………………………………………..67

- 13) Test Audience Survey……………………………………….68

- 14) Updated Pitch Deck.………………………………………...73

- 15) The Gig (Film)………………………………………………..92


 

INTRODUCTION


Background

I began my career within the entertainment industry as a musician, writing songs, coming up with music video concepts and performing for audiences around the world. I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset and when my music career began to take off I was the one who took control over the direction I wanted to take my band, Our Untold Story. It was through the journey of self-producing our records, negotiating our deals, starting my record label to be able to release our music, and then starting my production company to create our music videos, that I found my way into acting and filmmaking.


After co-producing my first feature film, Sargad, in 2016, I went on to direct my own short film. I decided to apply the same techniques I had when I produced the first demo with my band a few years earlier. That demo became our debut EP, which I then managed to package in such a way that it has since sold and streamed over one million times across the world. My idea was to create a micro-budget film that looked good, contained a great soundtrack and then market it to the best of my abilities. This is exactly what I did and Rotten Love went on to receive 22 nominations and 17 awards over the course of its 2-year festival run. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6791446/)


My reason for choosing to create my own films was to be in control of my own career and to give myself the opportunity to explore a wider range of roles as an actor. After acting for two years in student films and my own self-funded projects I pursued theatre training in Stockholm for one year, before dropping out in order to transfer to the Acting for Film program at Prague Film School. It was during my time at PFS that I was cast in my first major production, Amazon Prime’s Original Series Carnival Row where I worked alongside Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevigne under the direction of Jon Amiel. Since then I have been cast in The Defeated and Atlantic Crossing and was also brought back for the second season of Carnival Row. After graduating from PFS in 2018, I founded The Global Acting Studio (www.theglobalactingstudio.com) as a platform to network with other actors and continue working on our craft by sharing and implementing techniques and resources.


My overall MA Goal is to showcase my acting and directing skills through the development and production of a calling card short that I can use as a proof-of-concept to further my career in the film industry.


I had originally planned to work with a professional stunt coordinator and action screenwriter to create an action and fight oriented proof-of-concept short focusing on character-driven action sequences. However, due to the COVID restrictions, I was unable to continue with the stunt and fight design due to the need for space and human contact. This led me to adjust my focus and create a calling card short that instead used my musical background titled “The Gig”*. This short was co-written by me and Rhys Whomsley, an MA student at UAL/LCC who also has a background as a musician and actor before moving into screenwriting.


*Logline: Backstage before the showcase gig that could change their lives, Xander must learn to let go of his ego and work as a team with his band, or else risk losing everything and ending up alone.

Tagline: You either succeed together or fail alone.



Academic Journey


“What common elements are used to make strong and compelling, character-driven action films on a low budget?”


In my Research Report, I studied elements that are commonly used in character-driven action films and also researched directors who had built their careers on the back of low budget action films. My hypothesis at the start of the module was that the limitations of lower budgets would force the filmmaker to seek out more creative decisions and that, by focusing on character, any action is only included because it is essential to the storyline and therefore justified in a way that appeals to a larger audience. My previous research highlighted that general audiences are turned off by gratuitous violence. When audiences connect with characters they are more engaged with the story and are therefore more forgiving of high levels of violence. Through my studies of the structure of storytelling within the action genre, in combination with comparisons across the early works of directors such as Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter, I learned that using creative, guerilla-style filming techniques to solve problems and drive the story in an interesting way can heighten the experience for the viewer. I also gained a deeper understanding of the action genre.



“How can I, as an actor and creative producer, work with a screenwriter to create a strong treatment for a character-driven short film with me in the leading role?”


Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, my NM1 was going to focus on the design and creation of my stunt set pieces before working with a screenwriter in NM2 to create a story around the action. Instead, I decided to work with a writer from the outset to develop a character-driven Proof-Of-Concept treatment that I could act in. To accomplish this, I worked with a writer named Niklas, looking at various story structure methods including; Frank Daniel’s 8-sequence approach, Ackerman’s Scenogram, the Uh Oh, Oh Shit, Oh My God approach developed by Dov S Simens, as well as Joseph Campbell's Story Circle. It was this last process we chose to use for our script. I also created a One-Page-Pitch using the SEAM Method. During this module I learned a lot about story structure and character arcs, I also learned the importance of contracts and copyright law as I had sadly neglected to have one in place with Niklas.



“Considering my background in music business and acting, what skills do I need to create a development process as a producer, to create and market my own film projects?”


Halfway through NM2 Niklas and I parted ways and I needed to find a new writer. To avoid making the same mistakes, I chose to focus on the skills I would need to develop a successful project as a producer. I researched writers’ agreements, created a brief and hired a new writing partner (Rhys Whomsley), designed a pitch deck using artwork created by an illustrator (Emma Vukman) and put together my core production team consisting of an assistant director (Johanna von Salmuth), line producer (Stephanie Russ), set designer (Kelly Loi) and director of photography (Saul Gittens), with crew agreements in place for each person. Having regained control over my project, my confidence was restored after several months of worry and I enjoyed a new boost of energy. This allowed me to focus on developing my project “The Gig” to the standard I was originally aiming for at the start of this MA.



“How can I implement unconventional funding sources in combination with standard film financing to raise my production budget?”


In my learning plan, I originally outlined a focus on funding during NM2, but due to necessary changes, I decided to move this work to NM3. Because I have had some minor success in the past funding smaller projects, my goal with this project was to raise a larger budget than I have previously worked with. To do that I needed to look into various forms of funding available, such as grants and soft money from sources like the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Swedish equivalent (SFI), as well as crowdfunding and other unconventional methods to include sponsorships and in-kind partnerships. By using the guidelines outlined by the BFI application, I created a funding plan that used social media and PR to build a following for “The Gig”, starting with the built-in fan base of my band, Our Untold Story, which the film fictionally dramatises. We designed our crowdfunding campaign using the materials created for the BFI application and the artwork used in the Pitch Deck in NM2. Following recommendations made in consultation with Grace O’Keefe at our partner platform, Greenlit, we had a soft launch through the month of September/October during which we contacted our closest friends and family to raise these donations first, before publishing the campaign publicly in November.


The campaign only raised £970 which was not enough to cover the costs of production. We did however manage to obtain the backing of the London-based production house, ProcamTake2 who sponsored us with all of the equipment we needed, including the Arri Alexa camera and our director of photography (DOP), Saul Gittens. After a pitch meeting set up by my co-producer and assistant director, Johanna, CEO and owner of the company, John Brennan came on board the project as executive producer. Thanks to this, and the fact that all of our cast and crew worked for us in-kind, we were able to minimise our budget from almost £50k to under £10k. This I paid for using my own personal investments.



Objective

The objective of this Masters Project is to direct the calling card short “The Gig” with an emphasis on the delivery of great performances by my co-stars and me.


My MA Enquiry is:

Building on my current experience as an actor and a filmmaker, how can I ensure that my co-actors and I deliver strong acting performances in my proof-of-concept short, The Gig while mitigating the challenges of also being the film’s director?



Learning Outcomes


LO1: Using Judith Weston’s Directing Actors and Mel Churcher’s A Screenacting Workshop, what rehearsal tools would allow me to improve my scenes and block them effectively during rehearsals in order to bring out the best performances from my cast and myself during the production process?


Questions I aim to answer

- What tools and methods can I use and have in place to elicit great performances from myself and my co-actors during production?

- Will I get a stronger performance by focusing on a specific method or technique, or by combining multiple approaches?

- How can I use improvisation to strengthen the script and performances of myself and my co-actors?


LO2: How can I explore the production and editing process from the point of view of an actor directing myself, without being influenced by self-perception of my own performance, while implementing my learnings from LO1?


Questions I aim to answer

- How can I best implement my learnings from LO1 while on set during the production process?

- Should I bring in an external acting coach to the set?

- Who else could I bring on board who could help improve my performance and everyone else’s?

- What are the steps necessary to include in the post-production process?

- How much should I do myself in terms of the editing process, and how much should I delegate?

- Should I involve any external opinions in the process, if so at what stage and how would their input be implemented?


I have identified my learning outcomes and inquiry questions based on my skills audit (appendix 1) and SWOT analysis (appendix 2).


Although I have previously worn the hats of each role as producer, director and actor, I have never taken on such an ambitious project. As I have discovered through the process of my previous modules, this level of work requires far more focus, energy and time than I had previously anticipated.


Deliverables:

- Masters Reflective Report (Approx 15,000 words)

- Video Playlist of Rehearsals

- Updated Pitch Deck

- Final Edit of The Gig (Or work in process edit)


 

RATIONALE


As my primary career goal is to be a working screen actor and acting coach at the higher education level, it makes sense to focus on how I can improve my own performances as well as working on the skills required to support and guide the performances of other actors. Therefore, I will transfer my focus in this module from producing and dive deeper into my own performance as an actor directing myself.


When considering the pitfalls of taking on multiple roles on a film project, Tommy Wiseau’s infamous film The Room (2003) comes to mind. However, in a 2019 article written for the BFI, Annie Mullineux writes that “the last decade has been a boom for actors directing themselves. Following in the path of icons such as Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood and Barbra Streisand.” She continues by mentioning the directorial debuts of actors Drew Barrymore (Whip It 2009), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon 2013), Angelina Jolie (By The Sea 2015), Denzel Washington (Fences 2016), John Krasinski (The Hollars 2016, and later The Quiet Place 2018), and Bradley Cooper’s take on the classic, A Star Is Born (2018) which follows a similar theme and storyline to my film The Gig.


Mullineux concludes the introduction of her article by posing the question “Does self-directing reveal a complexity in the actor’s performance?” Judith Weston writes in her book Directing Actors that “Actors want a director who can tell good acting from bad.[...]A director who is unable to recognise emotional truth in an actor is a drag on that actor’s creativity and a serious roadblock to successful storytelling” (Weston, 2021, p.7). Mullineux suggests that “Good acting is so often in the transient moments that can’t be explained; good directing is resting the world that can make these moments flourish. With all this in one brain, why wouldn’t it work?


Larry Moss writes in his book The Intent To Live: Achieving Your True Potential As An Actor that “Career survival, over the long run, depends on your commitment to developing a command of your craft[...]Every actor needs support to grow, and that support has to come first from themselves and then from directors, teachers, coaches and other actors. In television dramas and movies and feature films, economic pressures require the work to be done very quickly. To actors especially, this can seem rushed and even unfair.” (Moss, 2006, p.237) Moss continues by pointing out that “Films rarely have a rehearsal period.” This echoes my experience on larger scale productions within the industry, including my time acting opposite Orlando Bolom in Carnival Row (Amazon Prime 2018) and with Tayler Kitsch in The Defeated (Netflix 2020).


Director and actor of the Brazilian film Alguém Qualquer (2014), Tristan Aranovich discussed his process with me during a workshop in 2018. He stated that his solution to directing himself in the film was to have a rigorous rehearsal period where he included his crew as well as the cast to ensure everyone was completely clear on the vision he had for the film. He also entrusted his DOP and assistant director to deliver that vision during principal photography, freeing him up to focus solely on his performance while on set. Moss echoes this when he wrote that “the rehearsal process gives you the opportunity to study and explore[...]with other actors and the director. It gives you a place to try out your homework and to discover new choices.


In her book, A Screenacting Workshop Mel Churcher writes that “[...]film is a real testing ground for actors. You have to find a way to get, very quickly, into your role - to learn the techniques that you need when you’re going to shoot, probably, in short, little bites” (Churcher, 2015, p.xiv). This leads me to pose the question;

What are the best techniques for getting into your role, and how do I implement them?


Tony Barr argues in his book, Acting For The Camera that “most acting teachers begin with exercises of one sort or another.[...]and I have come to the conclusion that those methods are not the most effective ones and are far too time-consuming. When students spend their first months, or in some cases years, on exercises[...]As a result, when the students progress to scenes, their focus is all too often on the exercises that will help them achieve the necessary sensory and emotional values in the scene, and the listening process becomes secondary, when in fact, listening is the all-important aspect of an actors work” (Barr,1997, p.12). If Tony is correct in his statement, then I must discover how to practise the art of listening from the perspective of an actor and assist my co-actors to do the same in my role as director. On the subject of listening, Larry Moss writes that “[..]if you are acting with a partner, you are so connected to them, so focused on seeing and listening to them, that you never miss a truthful response.[...]you never get lost in your own thoughts instead of listening to the other actor.


 

METHODOLOGY

LO1: Oct ‘21 - Jan ‘22

- Workshopping my script with understudy actors

- Test various exercises and techniques outlined in Mel Churcher’s A Screen Acting Workshop and Judith Weston’s Directing Actors.

- Assess the rehearsal process in order to create a format that translates the performances of my co-actors and myself to the screen and does not harm the creative flow of the actors through over-rehearsal.

- Get feedback on my process from industry professionals including my co-workers at MetFilm School and a 1-on-1 with Mel Churcher.

- Hire a DOP that can focus on delivering the technical aspect of the film in line with my creative vision.

- Communicate my vision clearly to my cast and crew, making sure to include them in the rehearsal process (Technical Rehearsal?)

- Look into the potential of hiring an on set acting coach to assist me and my co-actors with the performance aspect.


LO2: Jan ‘22 - May ‘22

- Film The Gig (16-21 January 2022), implementing my findings from LO1 while on set.

- Catalogue and assess the filmed material and create a first rough edit to see how it all fits together.

- Look into the post-production process and hire an editor and other team members required to bring out the best possible result.

- Test-screen versions of the film with focus groups to discuss performance in order to get the best takes and final edit.


 

PROCESS AND FINDINGS


LO1

Using Judith Weston’s Directing Actors and Mel Churcher’s A Screenacting Workshop, what rehearsal tools would allow me to improve my scenes and block them effectively during rehearsals in order to bring out the best performances from my cast and myself during the production process?


Having spent the better part of 2021 developing the script for The Gig together with screenwriter, Rhys Whomsley, and sending the various drafts out for feedback from friends in the industry and professional script readers, it was time to bring the words off the page, get the story on its feet and breathe some life into the world we are trying to create.


Judith Weston writes that “rehearsal is a chance to try out choices for spines, intentions, metaphors, as ifs, for beats and transitions, for emotional events [...] The purpose of rehearsal is not to nail performances, but to warm up the relationships, If the characters are in a family, nothing beats improvising ordinary family situations. Ditto for coworkers, roommates etc.” (Weston, 2021, p252) or bandmates in our case . Echoing this statement regarding the use of improvisation as a rehearsal tool, Mel Churcher states that “you need to start by exploring the scene as if it were real life, not worrying about how it will be shot or limited by the constraints of the camera. Most actors know how to improvise, but not necessarily the most useful way to use it as a rehearsal tool” (Churcher, 2015, p136).


Reflecting on what two of the most prolific acting and directing coaches currently active in the industry today have to say about the benefits of using improvisation as a rehearsal tool, I decided to explore the benefits it may have for the performances in my film. I had already cast my lead actress, Issy Stewart, in the role of the band’s drummer, Clara, but I still needed my other two actors for the roles of bassist, Johnny and stage manager, Alex. For this project, I wanted the very best cast and crew in order to elevate the final result of the final film. This drove me to look at casting BAFTA-winning or nominated actors and team members, as I felt these accolades would offer well known and trusted benchmarks. To attract this calibre of people, I needed to entice them with the strongest possible script. I felt like I was in a catch-22. I believed that through the rehearsal process we would discover where we could strengthen the story but to have the rehearsals I needed my cast. I shared my thoughts and fears with my academic advisor, Stéphanie Joalland, who recommended that I use understudy actors initially as they would be cheaper and more willing to give their time to the exploration of an unfinished project, rather than spending valuable time attempting to bring on bigger names at an early stage. At the time I was teaching in the Screen Acting BA (Hons) program at MetFilm School, London and 11

had my eye on two highly skilled students who I asked to read the current draft of The Gig and provide their feedback. I also offered them the opportunity to workshop the script with me. Our first step was a full readthrough of the script via Zoom (appendix 3 & 4).


Screenshot of cast zoom readthrough of The Gig Draft 11


The experience of hearing the words out loud, coming from someone else's mouth for the first time was invigorating and eye-opening. It made it clear that there were some vital plot points that needed revisiting and that the dialogue needed a major overhaul.


● What is Xander’s arc in the story?

● Why is Johnny missing?

● What is Clara’s main want/need?

● How can the dialogue be adapted to show the relationships between the three characters?


While I was studying screen acting at Prague Film School, I remember being told by casting director, Nancy Bishop, that an actor should come with their own version of how they see the role being played, and then they can take on any notes from the director as to how they envision the character. I tested this in reverse from the point of view of director, to allow my actors to read the characters their way in the first reading, and then I gave my notes and thoughts. This process allowed me to see ideas that they had that I may have overlooked. Feedback from the actors later revealed that this tactic had also enabled them to feel inspired and free to create and play. This, in turn, built their trust in me as a director while further inspiring my trust in them as actors. Having the insight of three other actors, who each came with their own interpretations of the story, of their individual characters and of the script as a whole, provided me and Rhys with fresh ideas which we were able to discuss and implement in the next draft of the script.


Improvisation as a rehearsal tool

As I would be acting in the leading role of the film while also directing myself, I planned to take the advice of Tristan Aranovitch and attempt to use improvisation as a rehearsal tool.


Improvisation is the creation and execution of actions and words in the moment without a prior set plan. The circumstances are often given but the words and their use are your own. Improvisation can be divided into two categories: external and internal.

External improvisation is what you do with other actors to deepen your understanding of character, relationships and circumstances. Advanced by the Commedia dell’Arte in sixteenth-century Italy, it has become a particularly useful tool in rehearsal for both screen and theatre work. The more context created around a script and the more you develop shared experiences and memories with your fellow cast members to inform and enrich your performances, the more truthful, complete and colourful your performance will be. Improvisation is a useful way of creating context and breadth but, due to a lack of time, resources and availability of fellow cast members, it is not always possible to improvise around enough of the script. Through internal improvisation, you can consciously create memories and events as if they have really occurred and reinforce them using sense memory and fantasy. By employing your imagination, you can conduct this internal improvisation on your own, inventing and living the circumstances in your mind as if they were real. (Dresner 2019, p128)


In her book A Screen Acting Workshop (p.136), Mel Churcher outlines some improvisation exercises that I wanted to try in person with my actors.


● Improvise to fill in gaps in your knowledge of the past.

● Act out key moments from your life journey (either mentioned directly in your script or that you imagine) that have shaped you.

● Improvise scenes to build relationships.

● Act out any stories or anecdotes that you recount in the script so that when you tell them, your energy will go outwards, moving between the pictures and sensations of your past and engaging with your listener. You won't be trying to ‘see’ them for the first time.

● Act out what you have been doing just before the scene or the moments you refer to in the scene.


While developing the script with Rhys, I had created detailed backstories for the members of the fictional band, that I felt would be grounds for how they might react in the given circumstances of the script. For example, I had imagined that Clara and Johnny were old friends from a creative arts university where they played music together and that was why Clara suggested Johnny for the band when they needed a new bassist. In the script draft we had at that time, there was a flashback scene that served as exposition to show the first time Clara introduces Johnny to Xander at a bar, and Johnny is late to that first meeting, causing Xander to find him unprofessional. This set up the storyline around why Xander is frustrated at the fact that Johnny is missing when they are about to go on stage, which is the primary obstacle in the film.


We started by improvising the bar scene first and then, having discussed the above-mentioned aspects of the characters’ history with Issy (Clara) and Samuel (Johnny), I asked them to improvise a few moments just the two of them, imagining their time at Uni, their first meeting, the first time they played music together. We then improvised the bar scene again with all three of us to get a feeling of how our interactions differed from the first time. We discovered that there was a deeper feeling of truthfulness in the interactions, primarily between Clara and Johnny. They felt more connected. This led me to feel that we were onto something. I wanted to do more and also find a way of encouraging that same level of connectivity with my character. So, I attempted a few improvisations with Issy, imagining Clara and Xanders’ first meeting, how Clara joined the band and also another flashback scene from the script where Xander is at work in a record store and Clara calls him to say that they just booked THE GIG. The exercise was a lot of fun, and I definitely felt a deeper connection with Issy as our characters. However, I found that I was far more interested in observing the other actors' work from the point of view of the director, rather than working on my own performance. At the time, I was not sure if this was due to the need to keep switching hats or if it was out of ease or fear of my own capabilities when compared to my other amazing co-actors.


We met a few more times and worked on several variations of reading the script out loud. We rehearsed scenes directly from the script and improvised the scenes to work out the physical blocking, camera positions and dialogue. In order to focus on the performances, I got Samuel to play my part, which allowed me to look at the role of Xander from an outside perspective while also getting a third party interpretation of the character from someone other than myself. This was a highly interesting and strange experience that turned out to be one of the most valuable exercises of the entire process. Seeing the character come to life in front of me, rather than just watching myself on camera, I was able to analyse the character and the strengths and weaknesses of the story arc and dialogue without any bias or distraction from my own ego.


Meisner Technique, listening through repetition

Another method that I chose to test with my actors was the Meisner Technique Repetition Exercise, developed by renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner. Meisner is famous for saying that Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances and developed his technique around the basis of being truthful, relying on the actors' natural impulses and focusing on external sources of inspiration, with actors reacting to their fellow performers and their behaviour. Much of Meisner Acting is based around improvisation, enabling an actor to be spontaneous and respond to live moments as well as rehearsed situations (City Academy On Meisner Acting).


The basic exercise that Meisner developed to train the actor's responses is called the Repetition Exercise. In this exercise, two actors stand across from each other and respond to each other through a repeated phrase. The phrase is about each other's behaviour, and reflects what is going on between them in the moment, such as "You look unhappy." The way this phrase is said as it is repeated changes in meaning, tone and intensity to correspond with the behaviour that each actor produces towards the other. Through this device, the actor stops thinking of what to say and do, and responds more freely and spontaneously, both physically and vocally. The exercise also eliminates line readings, since the way the actor speaks becomes coordinated with their behavioural response. As the exercise continues over time, more detailed imaginary circumstances are added to the exercise, and it gradually becomes a kind of improvised scene. When this is fully developed, the actors are ready to start working with actual scripts (Meisner International, What is Meisner 2016).


The Meisner method of acting is useful to create a natural connection between two actors. I find myself using it as an icebreaker exercise that almost forces two actors to observe one another and truly feel the other actor by listening, both to their partner and also to the impulses their own body and mind are sending through their reactions to their partner. I have since begun to use this method regularly in my acting classes with my students and plan to educate myself further in the teachings of the technique. When using it in our rehearsals for The Gig I was able to get to the root of the inner emotions of each of the characters by digging deeper into the layers of their inner workings.


What I began to realise at this point was that I was working with the other actors while almost completely neglecting my own performance. As the entire purpose of creating this POC film is to be able to showcase my skills as an actor, I came to the conclusion that it was time to bring in an experienced, external eye to take the rehearsal process to the next level and allow me to step fully into the role of actor.


An External Eye

In her book Directing Actors, Judith Weston encourages her readers to take or create a workshop in order to practice rehearsal techniques. I asked her about this during an online seminar she held for the Sundance Institute and she suggested I work with someone I trusted who could identify ways of pushing my current rehearsals further while also allowing me to take a step back and focus on my own performance as well. During my time at Prague Film School I arranged for Mel Churcher to come and teach a workshop at the school, we have since stayed in touch, so I reached out to her and she offered to help me with this module.


Mel began by providing me with some feedback on the script over an impromptu phone call, which was sadly not recorded. The biggest takeaway from the call was that Mel believed the three flashback scenes were not needed in the short form version of the film as she felt it was additional exposition that was trying to force-feed the audience. This echoed the feedback provided by my academic advisor, Stéphanie Joalland who also suggested that these scenes were not necessary and that I should instead focus on finding a way to make the primary timeline as strong as possible. Mel continued by saying that although she didn’t feel the scenes were needed in the script, she did see positive aspects of using them as rehearsal scenes in order to strengthen the backstories and relationships of the characters.


Following our call, we organised a rehearsal workshop day with the cast (appendix 5). At the start of the session Mel clarified that her role was not to assist with the practical sides of the shoot, such as blocking or camera positions, rather it was to “make actors as safe as possible in the world [you are creating], and to help find an air of play and exploration while creating and focusing on the world, relationships - the bits that are not mentioned such as the past and internal aspects, the physical through bodywork, the internal through emotional improvisations”.


Rather than rehearsing the scenes from the script per se, Mel suggested we work on the five points from her book as outlined above:


● Improvise to fill in gaps in your knowledge of the past.

● Act out key moments from your life journey (either mentioned directly in your script or that you imagine) that have shaped you.

● Improvise scenes to build relationships.

● Act out any stories or anecdotes that you recount in the script so that when you tell them, your energy will go outwards, moving between the pictures and sensations of your past and engaging with your listener. You won't be trying to ‘see’ them for the first time.

● Act out what you have been doing just before the scene or the moments you refer to in the scene.


She suggested focusing on developing the relationships and building the world that exists beyond the words on the page because “The stronger the drives are underneath, and you don’t necessarily need to show it to the other characters, but the stronger the drivers are internally then there is this energy that really makes it fly. I think if you choose things that you kind of like, or sort of feel then what is the point? You need to find things that are really strong, to raise the stakes”, she explained.


After discussing various methods and ideas, we had a readthrough of the script during which Mel would jump in with suggestions regarding how we could implement improvisations to work through connecting beats from the script to memories and moments of the characters’ pasts. We also made notes of thoughts that we each had as we went along. This process was incredibly useful for me as Mel was asking questions about the story and characters that I hadn’t thought of, and I was forced to go deeper into the specific meaning behind every moment or beat. What I discovered during the session was that it also gave the other actors space to ask questions and provide their own ideas and suggestions while finding clarity in their own processes. This revelation rings true to what Judith Weston writes about the rehearsal process being a warm-up not just for the scene, but for the actor-director communication onset (p253). The discussions that came up allowed us to workshop the script in a way that felt as though it was a real collaboration and I felt a sense of deeper bonding and spark from my fellow actors.


In terms of my own performance, I felt nervous and had a hard time letting go of the control internally. Although I was able to let Mel lead the session, I can now tell when looking back at the recordings that I would be defensive about my vision and struggled with separating myself as director-actor. During the reading, there were times when Mel would make suggestions about backstory that she believed would strengthen the spine of the story, and I would reply in terms of how I saw the moment play out practically in terms of blocking, camera movements and would constantly refer to the feature film version of the story.


I am very grateful for the moment when Mel pointed out to me that this short film doesn’t have to be exactly as it would when it becomes a feature film. Instead, she suggested I focus on the short as a stand-alone story with its own arc. She also told me not to worry about the camera or blocking at this stage as it is irrelevant because when on set she said we may be standing or sitting, the lights may be moved or the space requires a different setup and the plans may need to be adjusted. She told me that I needed to focus on finding the energy of the scene and what is at stake instead. She told me that this is often an issue that she sees when actors direct themselves and preceded to work on some breathing exercises with me to shift my focus from the “big picture” and bring myself into my centre, focusing on the here and now, allowing me to just be my character in the given circumstances of the current scene.


Evaluation

All in all I found the rehearsal process to be invigorating and refreshing. The process showed me holes that needed to be filled within the story which I had been unable to see previously having been so close to the material for so long. Working with fresh eyes and with external coaching provided a new outlook that I feel will guide me through the next phase of production.


Using improvisation as a rehearsal technique has created freedom to explore and a deeper understanding of our characters. I feel that my other actors have a clearer understanding of my vision for the film and through this process, we have been able to bring to life the world that has so far resided solely inside my head.


Having this clearer understanding of my vision has also enabled me to discuss it on a deeper level with the rest of my crew. As a result, they too should have a better understanding of how we can capture this world and bring it to the screen.


During this process, I have been analysing the material from so many new angles and discovered new layers and depths to the story and the characters. I now feel that I have such a clear idea of who this version of Xander the character within the world we are creating is, that I am confident I can jump between the role of actor and director with relative ease when we come to shooting The Gig in January.



LO2

How can I explore the production and editing process from the point of view of an actor directing myself, without being influenced by the perception of my own performance, while implementing my learnings from LO1?


John Brennan of ProcamTake2 provided us with all of the equipment we needed to shoot The Gig. He also provided us with his own in-house cinematographer, Saul Gittens, who came on board as our director of photography. With Saul on board, I achieved my goal of having a BAFTA-nominated person on the crew - which ultimately led to us being able to hire top-class crew members that were willing to donate their time for the opportunity to work with him. Ultimately, this allowed us to achieve a far greater level of production value in proportion to the monetary budget we were able to raise.


We were able to bring John on board as a result of the work that was done in my previous modules when developing the concept for The Gig. The creation of the pitch deck (appendix 6) and my ability to clearly communicate my vision and the goals for the project, beyond “just making another short film”, all influenced this. John connected with the overall scope of the project which, in addition to the possibility of further developing the concept into a feature film, includes the creation of a comic book version of the story, and a festival release strategy with a proposed music tour with Our Untold Story playing a show in each city the film is screened to generate a buzz and cross-promote the film and the band simultaneously.


During our first meeting, Saul told me that this was the first time he has been assigned to work on a student film, emphasising that it meant that John truly believes in the potential of the project. Hearing this gave me a boost of confidence in myself and my vision. In the past, this would have caused my ego to soar but instead, this experience has actually grounded me throughout the process of the project and provided me with additional clarity. It has allowed me to be more clear and concise with my team in terms of the outcomes I wish to achieve.


Coming with an extensive background within the industry as a top-tier cinematographer, Saul's experience and technical knowledge provided the project with fresh ideas that pushed the envelope at times. Saul is a very enthusiastic person, brimming with new concepts he wanted to try in terms of lighting setups, composition and shots. Bringing so much experience and our primary sponsorship with him, I was initially unsure how much I was required to implement Saul’s ideas I found myself struggling to balance my own vision with this new input and was afraid of turning into a “yes man” and losing control. I overcame this obstacle by first communicating my fears with my co-producer and assistant director, Johanna. She listened to my concerns and suggested that I just be open with Saul. As he would be my eyes on set, it was vital that he and I were 100% on the same page in terms of the outcome and it is my responsibility as the director to make sure I communicate properly and truthfully. So that is what I did. Sitting over a cup of coffee I laid out my concerns and thoughts to Saul who, to my great surprise, was completely understanding and told me that he only ever gets this enthusiastic about projects he is passionate about and that I should take it as a good sign. He also told me that he will spout ideas and that I can take them or leave them as I wish. Having everything out on the table like that provided me with a sense of relief and gave me a new level of trust in the collaboration. At the end of our meeting, Saul asked me to create a shotlist and provide him with my moodboard (appendix 7).

The Gig Moodboard (appendix 7)


I sent Saul the moodboard that we created for the pitch deck and also provided him with our concept artboard (appendix 8), but struggled to create the shotlist and ended up procrastinating and putting it off for an embarrassing amount of time. Although I knew exactly what I wanted to create, I felt that by putting it into words it was becoming too real and the idea of it being bad prevented me from doing the work I needed to do to actually make it at all. My next meeting with Saul was a walkthrough of The Questors Theatre in Ealing, West London, which would be our primary shooting location. I had already seen the theatre previously during our time scouting for locations and was therefore able to use the time to pre-visualise how I wanted to block the scenes. I used my iPhone to film concept videos of how I imagined piecing the shots together to create the one-shot feel inspired by Birdman (2014) that I wanted to capture. After the walkthrough, I edited the videos together on the iMovie app on my phone to create The Gig Pre-viz video (appendix 9). Being at the location, with an active aim of visualising how we were going to shoot the film, I was able to see the shots more clearly in my minds-eye. This allowed me to finally create the shotlist (appendix 10).


Having seen the location and discussed the shots I wanted, Saul was able to begin planning how he would set up the lighting. Following the teal colour scheme created by Emma Vukman, he began to put together his equipment list to send to John at ProcamTake2. As he was thinking of what equipment he wanted, Saul asked if I wanted to have a dolly and we discussed creating a Spike Lee-esque dolly shot (Lambert, 2011) of my character, creating the sense of me floating through the main corridor of the venue at my lowest point in the story. I liked the idea as the ten-page script has us passing through the same corridor four times in total.So, adding an artistic, almost psychedelic stylised shot in the middle would not only break up the monotony of travelling through the corridor but also add another dimension to the overall visual aesthetic of the film.

Denzel Washington, Inside Man (2006) - Dolly Shot


Xander Turian, The Gig (2022) - Dolly Shot


Teamwork makes the dream work

During our tutorials, Louise [Salter] would often reiterate that teamwork makes the dream work, to such an extent that it has become almost like a mantra for me. In the same way that Xander, the character in the film, must learn to overcome his narcissism and come to the realisation that you either succeed together or fail alone (the film's tagline), I too have had to work on letting go of control and trusting those around me to do the job that they have been hired to do without being micro-managed. This has always been a challenge for me because my experience in the past has been that if I haven’t done something myself or micro-managed those around me, the results have ended up being subpar or incomplete. This tended to mean I had to redo a lot of work myself which meant I became frustrated at my friends and collaborators and ultimately ostracised myself by pushing them to the point of no longer wanting to work with me.


Having to switch pathways twice over the course of my studies has taught me patience. Working with a variety of people and being faced with a global pandemic has forced me to be self-analytical and made me find a new approach to achieving my goals. Realising this, and being aware that I have already taken on an incredibly large feat in producing a project in which I will be directing several actors including myself in the leading role, I knew I needed to build a strong and reliable team that could support me through the process so that I might focus on the performances of myself and my co-stars while on set.


Having Saul on the project was a big step in building my dream team, both in terms of his technical knowledge on how to bring my vision to the screen, as well as his experience working with a variety of people in all kinds of productions over his twenty-plus years in the industry. His reputation and clout brought in high calibre crew members who wanted to work with us and his insight helped inform our decisions around who to bring into the camera and lighting department. Saul told us that, for him to be able to deliver the quality of work he wanted for the project, he would require an experienced gaffer with whom he could communicate his vision for his lighting set-up in such a way that he could delegate the work. This would free him up to focus on the camera and the shots. He also requested a knowledgeable 1st AC (first assistant camera) that would be able to handle pulling focus on the lenses he had chosen for the style of shots he wanted to create, as well as a hard-working 2nd AC (second assistant camera) that would be responsible for lens and battery changes, and for correctly slating each shot. Shot slating involves writing down the relevant information of the set-up, such as the scene and take number for the shot on the clapper board, before placing it in front of the camera and reading off the information and “slating” (clapping the board shut in order to sync the sound with the image in post-production) and is a highly vital task needed to properly catalogue each shot filmed to ensure it can be found later when editing the film.


The clapper board for The Gig


Sound can be a powerful element in film. It can immerse an audience in a unique world, help tell the story and move the storyline along. Sound can also help create emotion and set the tone of the film. A film’s sound is just as important as the visuals on screen (Rothstein, 2021). Poor sound can ruin an otherwise spectacular production[...]Films are produced using three types of sounds: human voices, music and sound effects. These three types of sounds are crucial for a film to feel realistic for the audience. Sounds and dialogue must perfectly sync with the actions in a film without delay and must sound the way they look. If a sound doesn’t quite match the action on screen, the action itself isn’t nearly as believable (The Importance of Sound, n.d.).


Considering that sound is such a crucial factor in films, and with my own background in music, I knew I needed to make sure that we got the best possible sound for The Gig. Since my directorial debut in 2017 with my short horror film Rotten Love, I have always used Swedish film composer and sound technician Andreas Gyllström, for my personal projects. After reaching out to him and discussing The Gig, he was excited at the idea of being part of the project, as he too comes from a background as a touring musician before he transitioned into the film industry. Rotten Love was also his first film project. Unfortunately, when we made the decision to shoot the film in London, instead of Stockholm, the cost of bringing Andreas and his equipment over for the production would have been beyond our means, so we needed to find somebody local instead.


During her time in the Practical Filmmaking BA (Hons) program at MetFilm School, Johanna [von Salmuth] got a job as the dance choreographer for a musical feature film titled Desiderata where she met sound technician Mark Adams. Being a writer/director himself, Mark found his way into sound after discovering the impact poor sound can have on the overall outcome of a film. So, to ensure he maintained control of the final result of his own materials, he began to record his own sound for all his films. Mark was hired to work on The Gig.


Having another multidisciplinary filmmaker on set would mean that I had an additional person who understood what I was working towards and the hurdles that come with such a feat. For Mark, having a director who focused on the importance of sound gave him the confidence to speak up when he believed the sound to be subpar on any given take. Because of this, I gave Mark permission to call cut or hold during takes if he believed that there was a sound issue that needed to be resolved, even if the shot looked great from Saul's point of view in the camera.


I already knew I wanted my co-producer, Johanna, to be my 1st AD (first assistant director) as this is a role she has held professionally in the industry since 2018. The 1st AD is the one who creates the shooting schedule (appendix 11) and runs the set, making sure everyone is where they need to be and everything is done in the time allotted to ensure all the material needed is filmed before wrapping. It is a very stressful position as they are usually the person that everyone complains to or about. The 1st AD often has to be “the bad guy”, suggesting the shoot move on or a scene be cut entirely when time is running out. The reason I wanted to have Johanna in this role is that she is super organised and, because she is also my life partner, she knows me and the way I work very well. She is, therefore, able to anticipate my needs. On larger productions, there is usually a 2nd AD (second assistant director) that can assist the 1st AD with tasks such as sending out the call sheets (a daily email to cast and crew stating the times and places for the next day). Johanna managed to find a recent graduate from London Film Academy who was eager to learn the role.


When going through applications for AD’s we met another enthusiastic industry newcomer, Esteban [Rueda], who wanted to get more on-set experience so as to learn what he would need to become a director himself. Esteban told me that he wanted to work closely with me so that he could observe how I would juggle the various roles I was taking on and showed interest in the role of script supervisor. The script supervisor (also known as continuity) closely monitor[s] what’s happening to check no dialogue is overlooked and the actions and eye-lines of the actors match. They keep detailed written and photographic records of dialogue, action, costumes and props. All camera and lens details are noted along with the slate and scene number information (ScreenSkills, n.d.).To prepare for his role, Esteban attended the Raindance, Script Supervision and Continuity Masterclass with Timothy Hunt, which I too have taken part in previously so I might better understand the importance of continuity in films. Esteban and I met frequently in the weeks leading up to the start of production, discussing the script, my vision, the shots and all of the little details for each beat (moment) in every scene. Because I would be “in the scene” and unable to watch the monitor when filming, I made sure that Esteban was 100% clear on what I wanted to capture in every shot. I also told him exactly what information I needed him to keep an extra eye out for and take notes on so that we could go through it together after each take as I watched the playback and enable me to make adjustments to my performance and anything else in the scene.

Left: Esteban Rueda on the set of The Gig (2022) Right: Xander and Esteban watching playback


To help create the world that my co-actors and I would inhabit, we brought in a production designer and set dresser. We believed the first production designer we hired was experienced and would bring additional knowledge and insight into the creative process of designing our sets. However, we soon discovered she lacked technical knowledge, and instead of being able to delegate the task of creating the props list and other required documents, Johanna and I found ourselves having to teach her how to use Google Drive and Zoom. The lack of organisation shown by this individual caused us more stress, instead of less, which only became worse when, tasked with sourcing the required props she began sending us individual emails with suggestions for each prop. Not only was it frustrating having to wade through an endless bombardment of emails titled URGENT, but the props she suggested were not in line with our proposed vision and way outside our price range. Eventually, we decided to part ways and began looking into alternative solutions.


During our location recces at The Questors Theatre, we had been shown their props department and I remembered seeing a few pieces that could be used to create our primary set where the important dialogue-heavy scenes would take place, the backstage room. After speaking with our contacts at the theatre, we scouted the props room, making a list of what we wanted to hire and were then sent a very reasonable quote of just £150 for our whole wishlist, for the entirety of the shoot. Sadly after this good news, our set dresser notified us that he had to pull out as he had been booked on a paying job that overlapped with our shooting dates. The solution we decided on at the time was that Johanna would be responsible for the costumes, and I would take care of the props and set design. This worked well as Johanna loves clothes and, while working in the role of costume supervisor in a few student films, has found that she can source items by posting in local area forums asking for old clothes in return for collecting them. She then sells any unused or unwanted items online and uses the money to purchase specific items she is unable to get donated. Using this method allowed us to keep our costume budget to a minimum, while still creating the style I wanted for each character.


A few days prior to our first shooting day in January, I received an email from a production designer asking if we were still looking for someone. I told her that we had already sourced most of our props and costumes, but did need a set dresser and that her creative input would be welcomed if she was still interested. Kelly [Loi] ended up creating some unique props that we were unable to source, from scratch and played a fundamental role in creating the backstage set with me.

Left: Kelly Loi on the set of The Gig Right: Prop beer bottle, designed and created by Kelly Loi



Issy Stewart, Xander Turian, Saul Gittens and Ben Grady on the “backstage” set of The Gig (2022)


In my experience working on film and television productions, the days are often long and tiring. So, to keep energy levels and morale at peak levels food is key. On low-to-no budget film productions, however, food is often the area that is either skimped on or even completely overlooked. As my entire crew would be donating their time to the project in-kind, Johanna and I wanted to make sure that everyone was well taken care of and had healthy food and snack options available throughout the days. To achieve this we brought on a production manager who could assist Johanna with making sure that everything ran smoothly behind the scenes, finding a catering company and collecting the lunch orders every day. We were also lucky enough to have two fresh Raindance MA students who wanted some practical on-set experience come on board as PA’s (production assistants) - also known in the industry as runners because they “run” back and forth between departments performing tasks that are needed to keep the production “running” smoothly. I also had my assistant producer Stephanie [Ruß] on set making sure that I kept warm between takes, had everything I needed, and was staying hydrated - basically being my brain while my actual brain was pretending to be the character version of Xander.


Left: PA’s Tessa Leier & Zoe Abrigo preparing props for The Gig (2022) Right: Stephanie Ruß


In LO1 I wondered if bringing an acting coach to the set would be beneficial in terms of enhancing the performances. In the end, I decided against it because I wanted the other actors to have confidence in my directions rather than rely on the input of the acting coach. A circumstance illustrated by the infamous struggle Laurence Olivier had with Marilyn Monroe's acting coach Paula Strasberg, on the set of his 1957 film, The Prince and the Showgirl (Furness, 2012). I also didn’t want to risk spending too much time on set focusing on my own performance and neglecting the other areas of the production that would require my attention. I did however have an additional 1-on-1 session in the new year with Mel Churcher prior to filming so that I could have a refresher following our improvisation rehearsal workshop the previous autumn.


On Set

We shot The Gig in five days, commencing on Monday the 16th of January and wrapping on Friday the 21st of January 2022. Thanks to Johanna’s impeccable planning, we were able to have a 9 am start time every day, with a one-hour lunch break, and were able to wrap between 5-6 pm - a working day that is almost unheard of in the industry. Making sure that we had a good selection of quality foods throughout the day ensured that everyone was happy and eager to work.

The craft services (snack table) and lunch spread on the set of The Gig (2022)


Investing time putting together our dream team paid off. In the words of Saul Gittens, we were a well-oiled machine. Due to the size of the venue at the Questors Theatre, we needed to use walkie-talkies to communicate and the PA’s and trainees lived up to the term runner, keeping the machine rolling. Everyone in the production knew their role and what was expected of them and, because I relinquished control and trusted them to do their jobs, they all went above and beyond my expectations, making this production the most fun I have ever had. Having an average of thirty people on set in terms of cast and crew makes this the biggest production I have ever run and I don’t think I would have been able to handle the pressure of leading such a large crew if I didn’t trust my HoD’s (heads of departments) to, in turn, delegate my vision to their individual teams. Having invested time making sure that every single person in the team was working towards the same vision, I was free to focus on directing the scene and getting into character for my performance.


The crew were so efficient that we were able to make best use of the venue and in addition to shooting The Gig, we filmed two music videos for Our Untold Story. These will be used to promote our music and the film. After the second music video was shot on the final afternoon of filming, we wrapped the production and hosted a wrap party concert and Q&A event, where the band played a one hour set, followed by the Q&A with myself, DOP Saul [Gittens], Screenwriter Rhys [Whomsley] and the cast of the film.


The Gig - Music Video Shoot, Saul Gittens - DOP & Xander Turian - Director, Actor, Musician
The Gig - Music Video Shoot

The Gig - Wrap Part Q&A
The Gig - Wrap Part Q&A

Issy Stewart, Xander Turian, Samuel Burton-Harris, Amber Payne, Rhyse Whomsley & Saul Gittens


Post-Production

With the film “in the can” (or rather on two hard drives), I got straight into the post-production process. The first thing we needed to do was catalogue and sync the rushes from the shoot. Cataloguing involves organising the video and sound files from each shooting day (also known as the rushes or dailies) by labelling them and placing them into folders with the correct information taken from the slate, such as the scene and take numbers. Syncing the material is the process of combining the correct video and sound files so that they are synchronised, or synced. I opted to delegate this task so that I could take time to reflect on the shoot and begin to prepare for the next steps.


During our crowdfunding campaign, I worked with three editors who assisted me in creating little promotional videos where each HoD on the project introduced themselves and their role in the project to help raise funds for the film. I asked them if any of them had the time to assist with the task of cataloguing and syncing the materials and one of them volunteered. After two weeks I reached out to him to get an update and was told I could collect the hard drive with the materials the following day. When I opened the files to begin going through the materials and pick out my favourite shots for the film I discovered that the job had not been done properly. The files were not labelled, making it difficult to find the correct clip for each scene. When I opened them, I also found that they were not properly synced and the clips which we originally shot in 4k resolution had been compressed, drastically reducing the image quality, rendering the materials unusable and bringing me back to square one. Luckily, Johanna has experience cataloguing and syncing material and was able to complete the task in a single day, creating a project timeline in the Adobe Premiere Pro editing software as well as a “best take sheet” (appendix 12) based on the end of day continuity sheets that Esteban had provided. I then spent the next two weeks going through the best takes, editing each scene and placing them together on the timeline to create the first rough cut of the film. Through this process, I discovered several issues that should have been identified during filming and now needed to be rectified in a creative manner during the post-production process.


The main issues that I found were

- that some of the transitions between shots needed adjusting to maintain the one-shot feel,

- a light in the background of a shot and a boom shadow in another,

- dialogue levels and some unwanted sounds.

The Gig Premiere Pro Timeline


To find solutions to these problems I played around with the edit to see if I could cut around them. For most of the transitions, I was able to overcome the issue by shortening the time between the transitions and adding a fade effect between the cut. However, there was one shot where my character is in the bathroom, walks towards the camera and then exits into the main corridor where the transition had clearly been forgotten when we shot the corridor scene. My solution to this was to extend the time between the two shots and add The Gig logo as seen above in The Gig Premiere Pro Timeline. It was not possible to edit around the light and boom shadow as the light is in shot as the Janitor enters the bathroom, and cutting around it would shorten the clip and ruin the transition. A similar issue would occur if I were to cut around the boom shadow which can be seen as Xander crosses out the wrong band name on the door to the backstage area before entering.


When it comes to the dialogue levels and unwanted sounds, my solution has been to bring Andreas [Gyllström] on board to work on the post-production sound design. When I reached out to him again about joining the project he was excited to work together again. We have had several meetings, discussing my ideas for the sound design for the film and how his process would be. For him to be able to start work, he told me that we must have a 100% picture lock, which is when the film is done being edited and no more changes can be made because any adjustment to the timeline would throw off the synchronisation of the sound design. So as I continued to work on polishing the edit, I sent all of the sound files together with some music by Our Untold Story to him so that he could incorporate these into the soundtrack.


To achieve a picture lock of the film, I needed to get more feedback from fresh eyes, as I had become so close to the project. I began by creating a survey to primarily collect qualitative data from my test audience that consisted of cast, crew and their friends and family at a screening held at Raindance, on Craven street in central London on Thursday 14th April 2022. The questions for the survey follow, and the results can be found in appendix 13.


The Gig Test Audience Survey Questions

1. What do you think the story was about in your opinion?

2. Did you connect with the story? (Why/Why Not?)

3. Was your attention/interest sustained throughout the whole film? (If not, when/why did we lose you?)

4. What is important to you in a film?

5. Which character did you connect with more in The Gig?

6. How would you rate the performances of the actors in the film?

7. What was your favourite moment in terms of performance in the film?

8. Was there anything about the performances that could be improved?

9. What did you like about The Gig?

10.What do you think could be improved about The Gig?

11. Would you want to see an expanded version of this story as a feature film?

12.Do you have any final words of advice that you could share with me to help improve my directing abilities?


Due to the nature of my research, I chose to focus the questions primarily on the performance and directing aspects of the film.


The summary of the nine responses to the survey so far seems to be fairly unanimous in their understanding of the plot and arc of the story and its main protagonist. Most people understood that it was about a musician needing to overcome his ego and work together with his band as a team in order to achieve his goals. All but one responded that they connected with the story, the feedback from the negative response was that The plot works very well. But the characters and environment seem too calm considering they’re going on stage in under 10mins. Also, the dialogue doesn’t add much depth to the characters which makes it harder to emotionally connect with them and understand why they are the way that they are.


Seven out of the nine answered the question about the film sustaining their attention and interest. Almost all of those that answered said that their interest was held for the most part, but that the pacing was a bit slow at times, especially during the corridor scenes as they were repeated multiple times.


People's favourite moments were the emotional dialogue scenes in the backstage room between Xander and Clara, the dolly shot with Xander zoning out, the transition between Xander looking for Johnny to the exterior of him “freaking out” and the transition from him being zoned out to Clara snapping him out of it.


In terms of performance, the response was primarily positive, especially towards the acting of Clara played by Issy Stewart. The feedback that was given, was aimed at me, focusing on some of my physicality and line delivery. Having seen Some of Xander’s previous work, he is a talented actor in the field with a good future ahead of him. Being the director of the film and playing the lead however hindered his performance overall. For instance, in the backstage hallway scene with Clara walking away till the moment Johnny appears. Xander has been looking for Johnny and stressing out because of his absence, but when he arrives Xander doesn’t acknowledge him much.

As shown in the above chart, each respondent answered that they would like to see a feature film version of The Gig.


I feel The Gig is a film very much constrained by the running time, there were elements of the story and characterisation that had to be curtailed in order to stay within it. Despite this, themes, relationships and conflicts were presented, the camera maintaining a rhythm from scene to scene, a pace that matched a rising tension within the protagonist, one that reaches a high pitch and resolves in a way that pays service to what had gone before. However, The Gig needed more space to deliver its message to the audience with more weight.


A feature would allow more room for expository background on character emotions and issues as well as more time for a gradual and warned build-up of tension.


These characters clearly come from somewhere, it would be interesting to see their wider arc. Where was Johnny? Why was Clara's reaction so strong when accused of not working to get where she is now? They're interesting people.


It would flesh out the characters more and the story wouldn't feel rushed.


I would love to see a version of this film that can fill the audience with fans and backstage with bands as well as track Xander’s physical journey.


A feature will certainly provide a lot more depth and backstory to the characters. It contains the entire journey of the band as a group and as individuals on their separate life journeys. And this has the potential to be an interesting story.


The film and its story need to be explored further, with more time for the filmmaker to exercise their ideas on a larger canvas.


The feedback on my directing was mostly positive, there were two responses that particularly stood out to me:


You've shown some interesting ideas and your approach to the space the characters operate in offers a tantalising glimpse into how your style might develop. It's a promising start that shows you're asking the right questions and already coming up with some interesting answers. Continue to experiment, push boundaries and keep studying. You're already heading in a strong direction (if you'll excuse the word).


If you plan on acting and directing simultaneously, it may be useful to have a creative consultant that you trust fully with the physical look of shots and with performance. Because there are certainly times when you don’t pay attention to something very important because you are preoccupied with the look of the shot, with the camera movement, with your own performance, with other actors’ performances. A creative consultant can be there specifically to flag things you are missing.


Evaluation

My biggest takeaway from this production is that having an experienced crew that you can trust is vital for any director, especially one that is directing themselves as an actor in the same film. Looking back at the process and reflecting on the feedback from most people who have been along for the journey in one way or another has made me realise that being successful while multitasking is impossible.


In the book The One Thing Gary Keller and Jay Papasan state that multitasking is a lie (Keller & Papasan, 2014, p.46) and that Juggling is an illusion. [because] To the casual observer, a juggler is juggling three balls at once. In reality, the balls are being independently caught and thrown in a rapid succession[...]One ball at a time. It’s what researchers refer to as “task switching” (Keller & Papasan, 2014, p.47). For me that means that I cannot be a producer, director and actor at the same time, instead, I must switch between each task or role and focus 100% of my mind on one specific role at any given time. Through attempting to rapidly switch between roles on set, I lost sight of my primary objective, which was to deliver strong acting performances,[...] while mitigating the challenges of being the film’s director.


A lot of the feedback I have received for the film is aimed at my performance, primarily with it being flat at times, and failing to hit certain important beats that would enhance the arc of the story and of my character. One of the main moments I failed to take full advantage of is towards the end of the film where Johnny finally turns up after being missing and causing all of the tension, and I brush past the moment instead of allowing the weight of my character’s frustration to properly land before the ultimate moment where the band come together as a team to play The Gig. Through this reflection, I have discovered that I chose to neglect my own performance in favour of the “bigger picture” as the director, instead of delegating more responsibilities to free my mind, let go and immerse myself fully in the role of actor. Although this has potentially hurt the overall result of this film, I see this discovery as an opportunity to reevaluate my personal goals, Through this reflection, I have realised that the reason I chose to focus more on directing and less on acting, is because I enjoy it more. Therefore, moving forwards, I plan to explore directing further, without the distraction of placing myself in a leading role (I may however still give myself a juicy cameo, as I know I will get jealous if I don’t get some on-camera time).


 

Conclusion


At the start of my postgraduate studies, I wanted to give myself deadlines to keep myself motivated, to keep growing as a filmmaker, and to make sure I actively worked towards creating a new project of quality beyond that of my previous body of work. What I didn’t anticipate was that throughout the journey I have been on these past two years I would not only achieve this but surpass my own expectations.


I have learned more about myself and my character as a creator and a leader, both through the challenges I have faced caused by the pandemic and through the process of writing at an academic level, higher than I had been used to. While academic writing is still not my favourite aspect of research it is, nonetheless, a process that has pushed me to delve deeper when reflecting on myself and my work. As such, it is now a process I look forward to developing in the future.


During my studies, I wanted to get a better understanding of the process for putting together a project of a professional industry standard, with a high calibre team, that contains engaging performances. While I feel that I have begun to see the fruits of my labour, I am aware that I still have a long way to go in terms of the scale and scope of my projects. I do believe that with The Gig, I have a strong foundation on which I can continue to build my career within the entertainment industry.


When I put together my learning plan for this Masters program, I originally wanted to focus on the pathway of self-producing as an actor. Focusing on the skills I needed to develop and produce a film has been a valuable lesson in many practical skills such as communication, putting together a team and the importance of contracts. It has also resulted in the realisation that I do not enjoy the process of producing and have only done so up to now out of necessity. I believed that by gaining a deeper understanding of the process I might enjoy the process more, but have found the opposite to be true. This leads me to the conclusion that I must find suitable producers to collaborate with on future projects. Working with my partner, Johanna, on The Gig has provided me with a deeper respect for her incredible talent as a producer and I hope to continue our work as we continue to build our lives and careers together.


Another crucial revelation that I have had while on this project and through teaching acting at MetFilm School, is that I would like to focus more on directing. As a result, I now aim to start working on directing actor friends of mine in short scenes for their showreels to build up my experience and portfolio as a director.


Moving Forwards

During my fundraising module I submitted an application to the British Film Institute (BFI) for funding for The Gig. Within 24 hours I received a rejection letter based on the fact that I had put myself as the main producer and director, which is against the BFI guidelines. When the submissions re-opened in March I updated our application and submitted it again with Johanna as the primary producer in hopes to raise funding to complete the post-production of the film and for our festival marketing and distribution strategy.


We have been working with Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith (The Film Festival Doctor), who came on board as an associate producer after I pitched her the concept for The Gig and my idea regarding marketing the film. The campaign I proposed to promote The Gig and build an audience around the project in order to raise funding to develop the feature film includes the creation of a comic book version of the story, a tour with our Untold Story playing shows in every city the film is screened, the release of music videos, and a behind-the-scenes/making-of documentary. Due to the nature of this marketing strategy, I hope to screen the film at festivals that are heavily music centred, such as SXSW, and also hope to be able to screen The Gig at the Raindance student showcase. Since wrapping The Gig, I have created an updated pitch deck (appendix 14) which will be used to pitch to potential funding partners, together with the final proof-of-concept version of the film.


On a personal note, Johanna and I also got engaged at our wrap party. So a big part of moving forwards will be building our life together, hopefully creating more exciting projects as a team.

Xander Turian proposing to Johanna von Salmuth at The Gig wrap party, 21.01.2022 (She said yes!)

Xander proposing to Johanna at The Gig wrap party, 21.01.2022 (She said yes!)


My academic journey will continue as I have recently submitted an interdisciplinary Film by Practice and Screen Performance PhD proposal with the title: Can the Meisner Acting Technique inform stunt and fight training to improve the creation process from the perspectives of both performers and directors, while still delivering bold, safe and engaging films?


Through a blend of theoretical and practice-based research, I aim to develop a new method of Meisner-based cross training for actors and stunt performers that will facilitate audience-friendly on screen character-driven action. Solution development will also consider the director’s perspective and look at ways to deliver successful action films while accounting for safety demands and the delivery of great practical stunts. I would aim to:


1. review the history of stunts in films across the world,

2. analyse the current state of the stunt industry,

3. research current methods and best practices for fights and stunts,

4. explore the links between the Meisner Technique and stunt/fight training to enhance character performance,

5. implement my findings in the creation of a new, practical method for training actors and stunt performers with the aim of creating exciting, on-screen action that is both safe and bold,

6. validate this method through practical application and testing from the point of view of both director and performer.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


Books

Barr, Tony (1997) Acting For The Camera, Morrow

Churcher, Mel (2015) A Screenacting Workshop, NHB

Cowgill, Linda (2011) Writing Short Films: Structure and Content for Screenwriters, Lone Eagle Publishing

Dresner, Daniel (2019) A Life-Coaching Approach to Screen Acting, Methuen Drama

Grove, Elliot (2013) Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-to-No Budget Filmmaking, Focal Press

Hauser, Frank & Reich, Russel (2018) Notes on Directing, RCR Creative Press

Kelly, Gary & Papasan, Jay (2014) The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, John Murray

Mamet, David (1992) On Directing Film, Penguin Books

Morris, Tony (2019) The Filmmaker's’ Legal Guide: Second Edition, Brown Dog Books

Moss, Larry (2006) The Intent To Live: Achieving Your True Potential As An Actor, Bantam Simens, Dov S-S (2003) From Reel To Deal, Warner Books

Sinek, Simon (2009) Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Penguin

Travis, Mark W. (2011) The Film Director’s Bag of Tricks: Get What You What from Writers and Actors, Michael Wiese Productions

Verdin, Julia & Dean, Matt (2015) Success in Film: A guide to funding, filming and finishing independent films, Matthew William Dean

Weston, Judith (2021) Directing Actors: 25th-anniversary edition, Michael Wiese Productions


Web Resources

Awards.bafta.org. 2021. British Short Film and British Short Animation Rules and Guidelines 2020/21. [online] Available at: https://awards.bafta.org/sites/default/files/images/ee_british_academy_film_awards_2021-_rule s_and_guidelines_-_shorts_categories_nov_update.pdf


Furness, H., 2012. 'Grubby' Marilyn Monroe made Laurence Olivier 'age 15 years' during filming. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/9369357/Grubby-Marilyn-Monroe-made-Laurence-Olivier -age-15-years-during-filming.html


Lambert, L., 2011. # CINEMA & PHILOSOPHY /// Spike Lee’s Dolly Shot: The inexorability of Immanence. [online] The Funambulist. Available at:

https://thefunambulistdotnet.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/cinema-spike-lees-dolly-shot-as-a-visio n-of-immanence-in-cinema/


Mullineux, A., 2019. The new wave of film stars directing themselves. [online] BFI.

Available at: https://www.bfi.org.uk/lists/actors-directing-themselves


Rothstein, A., 2021. Why is Sound So Important in Film?. [online] IPR.edu.

Available at: https://www.ipr.edu/blogs/film-and-sound-design-2/why-is-sound-so-important-in-film/#:~:text=So und%20can%20be%20a%20powerful,as%20the%20visuals%20on%20screen.


ScreenSkills. n.d. Script supervisor (Film and TV Drama). [online]

Available at: https://www.screenskills.com/job-profiles/browse/film-and-tv-drama/technical/script-supervisor-fil m-and-tv-drama/


The Los Angeles Film School. n.d. The Importance of Sound. [online]

Available at: https://www.lafilm.edu/blog/the-importance-of-sound/


FILMOGRAPHY


Short Films

Centofanti, Bruno (2017) How to Be Human, Louise Salter

Chazelle, Damien (2013) Whiplash [Short POC], Right of Way Films & Blumhouse Productions

Cleary, Ben (2015) Stutterer, Serina Armitage

Turian, Xander (2017) Rotten Love, Cuprite Productions & Bloody Fierce Productions

Verdin, Julia (2106) Lost Girls, Julia Verdin


Feature Films

Aranovich, Tristan (2014) Alguém Qualquer, LAFI

Barrymore, Drew (2009) Whip It, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Chazelle, Damien (2014) Whiplash, Bold Films & Blumhouse Productions

Cooper, Bradley (2018) A Star Is Born, Live Nation Entertainment

Gordon-Levitt, Joseph (2013) Don Jon, Voltage Pictures

Iñárritu, Alejandro G. (2015) Birdman, Regency Enterprises

Wiseau, Tommy (2003) The Room, Wiseau Films


Videos/Workshops

Hunt, T., 2021. Script Supervision and Continuity Masterclass.

The Lockdown Sessions: Unlocking the Potential of Your Screenplay. 2021. [video] R. Harvey. Raindance

Sundance Institute, 2021. Master Class Archive: Directing Actors with Judith Weston. [video] J. Weston https://collab.sundance.org/catalog/Master-Class-Directing-Actors-with-Judith-Weston


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