Monday, 26 August 2013

Judge, jury and executioner

This past week I returned to my home town to adjudicate the two-yearly eisteddfod of the region. I was asked to adjudicate the high schools speech and drama section, running for a week and hosted by my old high school.

My grade 8 English teacher contacted me in April this year asking if I would be able to adjudicate the section for them. I agreed, as I know this time of the year is usually rather slow and last Monday I once more walked through the turquoise gates (which hadn’t existed when I was there) of my old high school. It was surreal to see something which had a familiar feel, but which had been completed revamped in the years since I had last been there. Face brick walls had been plastered and painted, the old stage curtains, who’s colour had been of an unknown origin and name had been replaced and the boards which once held the names of top achievers had been taken down and replaced with photos.

I recognised a few faces as I walked to the school hall of teachers who had been at the school when I was there, and teachers who had attended the school the same time I had. It was quite surreal to have the people who were once asking me to produce homework now making sure that the food was to my liking, bringing me cups of tea and asking me if I was comfortable and if there was anything they could do for me. It took some getting used to.

Apparently I took some getting used to for the staff too. I realised this when whenever I saw a teacher who had once taught me asking me what exactly it was that I was “doing now”. One of my register teachers, in a gesture I appreciated told me as she opened the electrified gate that she had offered to do so as she was curious to see what I now looked like after hearing the staff-room gossip about my return. She wasn’t the only one who wat in, or came and greeted me as I walked into the usually empty staff room for my supper or tea. My favourite comment for the week from an old teacher was:

“Chandré, are you doing this?”

And another’s teacher’s surprise at the fact that I don’t smoke.

Even at a stalk-tea my mother attended during the week I was there she happened upon one of my old teachers who informed her that the staff was rather taken by how I had ‘turned out’.

I was glad that my stint at my old high school was not my first time adjudicating high school speech and drama, and that I was already confident and comfortable in my skill set. This came in rather handy on the last day, two events before I was finished with the entire session. One of the teachers assisting me in the week-long activities came to me, as apparently one of the participants wanted to ask me something. As a rule, participants and their parents are not allowed to have contact with an adjudicator. A rule which I have always appreciated, and which people that I know respected. I didn’t mind explaining my feedback, or translating my handwriting to a participant. And I enjoyed it if parents that I know came and greeted me once their child had finished participating for the week. I assumed that the participant just wanted me to explain something. Especially when I saw that the Grade 11 girl who wanted to speak to had consistently received a well deserved 90% and over during the week.

As a rule when I give feedback I always write down something that the students do well, and something that they can work on. I always try and give them positive and uplifting criticism as I want them to return again in two years and to do it again. I am convinced that scholars participating in eisteddfods breed theatre-going and appreciating audiences later on. So I am always very careful not to say anything truly negative, no matter how harrowing the performance and to focus on the positive and what they need to work on ‘for next time’. The last section that my querying Grade 11 participant had taken part in, I had started my general feedback by saying that the dramatized dramatic monologues which I had seen in this section were all of a high standard. And, especially with older participants, I try to focus on what they need to work on for future performances instead of writing pages on what they are good at and do right. I then told them that even if there is a lot of feedback concerning improvements they should not think that I did not enjoy their performances.

The Grade 11 crouched next to me, and started in hushed and angry whisper (might I add with an entire audience sitting behind us):

“I would just like to inform you that some people only function on positive feedback. And that some people get broken down when they don’t recieve it.”

My initial reaction was to say “You mean you” but I managed to refrain as she carried on with her tirade:

“And if they are not told that they are good they don’t know it”

I replied with batting an eyelid:
“You know you did well because you received a good mark. Why do I need to write pages and pages on how good you are. I’m helping you by teaching you so that you can improve next time.”

She was unphased. In fact, I don’t think she really heard what I had said:

“Well, some people don’t know that they are good unless they are told so”

I wanted to say that in life you are not always told how good you are. And that I was at least very guarded and positive in how I gave my feedback. I decided that with a participant waiting to go on stage, and a whole audience waiting for to the two of us to finish it wasn’t the time and place for me to be dealing out life lessons. And as I was not her mother I did not particularly care how she handled feedback. Especially as it seemed she had spent most of her life being told how fantastic she was and did not know how to handle uplifting criticism. I also remembered my own motto: “If I didn’t bear it, or buy it, its not responsibility to look after it”

"I give criticism according to the participants. I tell younger participants more of what they did right, and older participants more of what they need to work on as they are old enough to understand."

I decided to change tactics
“Do you want to go on with acting after this?”

She responded:
“Well, after this week definitely not. I’m just so glad that this whole experience is over and the week is finished.”

I decided that her insinuation that I was crushing her self confidence and dreams was not worth an angered response, especially as I knew the marks she had been receiving, and the feedback that give:
“I’m sorry you feel that way” I said generically  “I do however have to carry on”

“And and by the way” she had to get the last word in
“The piece I did I wrote myself, I was the one who was sick”
She had performed a piece about a girl who had a form of facial paralysis. It now also made sense why the structure of the piece had been slightly off, and perhaps why she had taken my comments so personally. However, as she had not handed her piece in when she registered, like all participants are supposed to, I did not see this. If I had I would have added the sentence: “I know the work is personal, but now look at it as a performer, and not a writer” and she still would have received the same mark and critique.

I bluntly said to the now fully recovered girl: “I’ve been sick too. And it has changed my life too. It’s something that has happened to a lot of people”

She skulked away. Perhaps upset that I didn’t apologize, perhaps upset because I didn’t just tell her how good she was. The staff member sitting next to me who had heard most of the exchange was aghast.

Upon return to the staff room I was fascinated by the fact that the teachers and Eisteddfod representative had been more taken aback and were personally upset by what had happened than I was.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shooting Shorts Guerrilla Style

The 48 hour Guerrilla Film Challenge is still on the go as I write today’s post, all teams probably still busily working and most likely rendering their footage, yelling at their various editing programs, clips that just won’t work and that idiot that somehow got in the frame despite the most noble of efforts.
I’m following the various status updates of my team members as they colourfully describe the process of working on this time sensitive project.

This year the genre for the challenge is action superheroes, and after dark last night I worked with the team from the Guerrilla Film Collective in Mellville, shooting, quite literally on the streets. Without giving anything  away, I was to be attacked, in a creative fashion, and our superhero would save me. And beat up the bad guy. Unfortunately poor ‘Creepy Guy’, formerly known as Doug, did not know at the time how literal this would be. But, first I need to start this tale with lighting and location.

Initially we had set out to shoot our scene in an alley, which served as an entrance to a residential building, and which was behind a shop. The team plugged extension cables through the shop's window, who had kindly let us use a plug for the three red-heads (lights used in filming). Now, these lights are really sensitive, and the bulbs are really expensive. And they get really hot. They are also rather temperamental when it comes to power surges. After we had rehearsed the shot, and started and shooting, with the lights all working and beautifully set up one of the tenants decided to leave the building. As the team was diligently moving all the expensive equipment they decided they would ignore our efforts and drive right over one of the extension cords. Naturally, this did not go well. The power in the restaurant tripped, the lights were all but thrown right over and went out and of course, the plug was flattened. We decided to relocate to an area with more patient bystanders.

We relocate to the home of Miss Denel Honeyball (our wonderful superheroine), a little way down the road from where we had initially decided to film. We relayed power cables through the windows of her house and set the lights up again, well, two as we the third one’s plug was out of action. As we set up lights, trying to figure out how best to shoot the night scene, and trying to get shadows and cables and lights out of the shot our director turned off one of the lights to see how this might look. As we were thrown into nearly semi darkness someone piped up, mocking the “Just one cap is enough” Skip Advert:
“Oohhhhh eh eh! Just one light is enough”
The rest of the crew actively agreed that this was not the case.

With the shadows creeping up on the weirdest places mostly sorted, aside from one the camera operators realizing that the annoying shadow in his shot was his own, we were ready for filming. As Denel and I walked into the distance we realized that we didn’t have our mark, where we needed to stop walking for the shot… As we called from down the road we were informed:

“The dog poo on the grass. That’s your mark.”

And then we were attacked, as we were required to be in the shot. Our would be attacker jumped out, as planned, from behind a car to attack us on the first take. Denel and I both burst out laughing at the face ‘Creepy Guy’ had as he ran into our shot. So much for the first take. Laughter back under control, and now knowing what to expect we did the take again. And could eventually move on to shooting the fight sequence.

As we were choreographing the scene Denel still joked about making the sound effects while doing the scene, and I suggested that she should perhaps use her breath instead. And when we shot she went onto autopilot making fight sounds. When we finished that first take the camera commented:
“Denel, we can add the sound effects in post”

This was followed by the director patiently waiting for the scene to finish before saying:
“Can you wait for action before you start so we can film it?”

We shot from multiple angles, shooting the fight sequence slowly so it could be sped up in post, and for Denel and the protagonist to actually connect…which we actually got on camera when Denel kneed ‘Creepy Guy’ Doug in the face. For real. This after she had knocked him on the nose earlier while practicing the scene and Doug and injured himself falling on his knees. I think he was thankful for the his wrap.
The last shots we took after the fight sequence were my reaction shots to the superheroine kicking ass. A shot of girlish adoration was required, and with no real guidelines I decided to just do what happened naturally.

When the entire crew packed up laughing at me I assumed it was right…

Monday, 5 August 2013

Screenings and Dreams

Almost four months ago I was in the 2-woman cast of the short film Droom (Dream), the first film of the now Guerrilla Film Collective (previously the One Day Film Collective). Essentially the film is about communication in a relationship, specifically about dreams and body language. And reflecting on the last few months since the shoot I am constantly reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quote:

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.”

Last Sunday I had the privilege of attending the first film screening of the Guerrilla Film Collective (GFC). A number of shorts (industry jargon for short films), and micro short films were screened which have been shot by various aspiring filmmakers, industry professionals and dreamers. Working on literally no budget, and begging, borrowing or stealing equipment, it has been amazing to be part of a team of people who make films for no other reason other than that they really really want to (I remember doing my makeup before the shoot in a restaurant bathroom while the crew scouted a location!). A very different Chandré to the girl on screen attended the film screening, with faded scars and new dreams.

Most films were directorial debuts, or the first time someone had been the director of photography, or a shift had been made from stills to film. Or for some actresses a change from theatre to screen was made.

It was amazing to see how the final edit of Droom had changed since the initial rough edit I had seen months ago. And it was inspiring to see how friends had grown through the process. Unfortunately I had only been part of the first film in the capacity of an actress as the GFC often shoots on Sundays. My weekends, often including Sundays have been filled with rehearsals for Grahamstown and the State Theatre and I have not been able to participate since then.

I was inspired by the turnout and support for the screening, held on a Sunday evening at Amuse Café in Linden. The funds raised at the screening are for GFC to enter The 48 Hour Guerrilla Film Challenge. This weekend. And I’m on standby...