Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On-set Shadows

Lately I've been bringing 2nd year students of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television program to shadow me when I act on camera. The producer, directors and AD staff of CBC's hit sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie" have been extremely kind in letting me bring a student every time I make an appearance as the fantatical Faisal. Blessed with fantastic writing, the character is a joy to play and I hope the students I bring with me see that.

More importantly, I think it exposes them to the "real" world of film and television production, especially from the actor's perspective-an extremely practical experience from the relatively safe and cozy confines of a college campus. They get to see my entire day, from signing in, scooting over to craft service for a morning cup of something hot before being "processed"--industry jargon for going into hair and makeup to all the hurry up and waiting that goes on during the day. Plus the intensity of actually acting--the pressure's kind of on me then as they actually get to see whether I can practice what I preach. Just getting exposed to the jargon on set should be invaluable for these aspiring actors so that when they get their first jobs, they don't have to waste time wondering what people are saying to them.

But I think it's the actual process of production that really opens their eyes. Perhaps the most starting discovery is the total lack of rehearsal for the actor that TV provides. Coming from an academic setting where scenes are worked over and over, exploring all nuances with fellow acting students as well as instructors--the brutal speed with which scenes are blocked, and then shot usually stuns my students. I try to tell them in class--as do all the faculty at Humber who are all working actors themselves--but nothing beats seeing it for themselves. It makes them realize how important it is to do their homework.

Today, director Michael Kennedy--who goes back to my grad school days studying film--took my student shadow aside and reiterated to her how important it was to work with actors who come to set prepared--who've rehearsed on their own because there is just no time to give them rehearsal on set while scores of expensive crew members stand around. Coming from him, I believe it will be remembered long after my admonitions in their classes are forgotten. Last week, co-star Derek McGrath gave two of my students a virtual master class between takes, talking about diction--a personal axe of mine I grind in my classes--and telling stories of working with Henry Fonda and George C. Scott. The stars of Little Mosque in particular have been welcoming to the students and I'm totally grateful to all of them. (And once the students get back to class and make their reports to their fellow students about what they learned shadowing me--I know they're grateful as well.)

If you are an acting student, offer to shadow your instructor the next time they go on set. And jump at the chance if they let you. You can't buy the kind of education you will get.

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