Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The voice on the phone was unmistakable.

“You sound so young,” she said, instantly making her my favorite actress in the world. “And I think this script is really great, I’d love to play Dorothy.”

And just like that, we had Lois Lane in our movie.

Granted, Margot Kidder has had more than her fair share of bad press over the years, but if one was to refuse to work with every actor who had demons to fight, one would be left with nothing but Osmonds and Muppets. Besides, she’s a Canadian girl and with our miniscule budget needing all the help it can get, her status gives us a couple extra tax breaks that we sorely need to get to the finish line.

Speaking of which, our dire financial situation has forced us to use only Canadian actors in these movies and while I am certainly not philosophically opposed to a bit of nationalistic nepotism, it is a significant challenge to find skilled AND attractive actors up here. Goodness knows there are plenty of solid performers, many of whom could hold their own against any other country’s finest thespians, but most of them have a great deal of “theater” on their resumes and while the stage is certainly an admirable pursuit, the distance between audience and performer tends to allow for quite a bit of latitude in terms of looks. The fact that one has received raves for the makeup-free portrayal of a witch in Macbeth, for example, does not necessarily translate into a motion picture career, especially one that involves significant close-ups.

And when I am asked, as I often am, for advice by actors both young and old, I always give the same advice. Dental whitening strips. Any brand will do, although I tend to hand out the Crest brand at script read-throughs.

Perhaps it’s a holdover from the British empire, but one can always tell the citizenship of actors in a film when they smile: dingy and grey means Canadian, probably Shakespearean trained; sparkling white means an American unless they are actually a Los Angeles based “Canuck” which then indicates that they have their green card.

Another difficulty in casting up here is the dearth of talented “ethnically diverse” performers in the country. While I don’t want to come across as some sort of cinematic Schindler, I do try very hard to make my cast lists reflect the reality of the world in which I live. As far as I’m concerned, “HOT” comes in lots of different colors.

So it was a bit distressing on this film to have to argue with my producers about placing actors of “color” in roles that weren’t tiny, token parts like Cop 1 or Woman At Bar, the usual remedy for an all-white cast. Given that the movie is a “thriller”, and our heroes are on the run from any number of people trying to kill them, the only way to avoid “tokenism” was to have a non-white actor play a “bad guy” role. But of course, the classic “white guilt” syndrome usually prevents said actor from being cast in a role which shows him or her in a negative light, the conventional thinking being that this would therefore reflect badly on said actor’s entire ethnic community.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Especially when I have a movie where there are nothing BUT evildoers. If I followed the rule of “no non-white bad guys” my movie would have looked like the road company of “The KKK Follies”. So it took a bit of convincing to get the Powers That Be to let me put the best actor I could find in the major role of “Somerville”, especially when that actor turned out to be a guy named Adrian Holmes.

He came into the audition and blew me away with his elegant portrayal of our Evil Porn Producer’s right hand man, so when I started to hear even a whisper of concern about his skin color I decided to nip it in the bud the only way I know how – I confronted it head on by saying “yes, I know he’s black, that’s why I’m casting him as the bad guy. All black people are criminals, aren’t they?”

That rather arid bit of sarcasm seemed to work, and if today’s performance is any indication it was well worth the fight. He was fabulous, from his first appearance on camera through to the big fight scene where he beats the crap out of our hero and then ends up dead in the pool, and when I asked him his opinion about the politics of his playing a “bad guy” he laughed and told me he was an actor – he didn’t care what the role was as long as it was interesting and a challenge.

I was reminded of Miss Hattie McDaniel’s comment when asked how she felt having forged a career playing housekeepers and cleaning ladies.

“Honey,” said the Academy Award Winning actress. “I would rather play a maid than BE one!”

I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since then, but really is there all that much difference between conscious racism or conscious political correctness? I’m not sure, and better minds than mine have argued that point for years.

We finished our third night of filming on Ice Blues:A Donald Strachey mystery on the run, racing to complete the final scene where our “Kenny Kwon” played by Nelson Wong spies on the house as the Bad Guys drag “Timmy” inside to meet his fate. As originally planned, Nelson was to be watching from outside the gates of the estate, but with twelve minutes left in our woefully underbudgeted day there simply wasn’t time to move the “elephant” which is a Film Crew the extra hundred feet to the bottom of the driveway. And so, taking advantage of Mr. Wong’s rather compact frame, we chucked him into a nearby cement planter box amongst some late blooming perennials and grabbed the shot.

As we drove home that night, Nelson commented that working in theater and taking acting classes hadn’t really prepared him for the rigorous realities of life on an actual film set. This, I sincerely believe, is the problem with schools of dramatic art; they spend far too much time instructing their students about finding their “inner child” and exploring their “sense memories” and not nearly enough on how to deliver dialogue from inside a flower bed.


Blogger Tim said...

Thus, I moved the scene to a stairwell and, instead of the scripted gag of a homophobic reaction from some senate employee as the punch line, used our large group of female extras to watch and sigh with romantic delight.

I just want to mention, every single person I have talked to about this movie, which is about 50 women and a few men, loved that scene. We all thought it was adorable, and would completely have been one of the women sighing at the guys kissing. I think your instincts were dead-on.

It's nice to see scenes like that in a movie. I know there are a lot of homophobics creeps out there, but not everyone feels that way. So, thank you for making those changes.

Also, the movie was fantastic!

3:22 PM  

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