Tag: breaking in

Breaking the Mould: Three Actors Who Refused To Be Typecast

We often know something about a film based on who’s in it. Once they’ve found a niche, many actors enjoy occupying that role again and again. Being typecast like this has its appeal. It can mean regular work. Think of Tom Cruise and the amount of leading action roles he’s had in his career. By being typecast as this kind of character, he virtually guarantees being considered for any large-scale action project.

But being typecast also has its drawbacks. It can limit the possibilities of an actor who has an established image. However, it’s not impossible to break that mould. Increasingly, actors are crossing between genres and “types” of characters. Jennifer Lawrence’s still short career has seen her in low-budget horror films like House at the End of the Street, science-fiction thrillers like Passengers, and in a more romantic role like Silver Linings Playbook. The point is, we don’t necessarily “know” what role Jennifer Lawrence will take next. And many actors have followed this flexibility in recent years.

But what about actors that don’t consistently change their roles? How and why do they change from their perceived character “types”? Looking at three examples, we’ll see how actors, with a history of being typecast, broke the mould.

 

Vince Vaughn – Brawl In Cell Block 99 (2017)

Now, when I hear the name Vince Vaughn I think of his serious face trying to maintain some sort of stability while events in films like Dodgeball (2004) and Wedding Crashers (2005) are humorously delving into chaos. I’m probably not alone for jumping to this comedic image. But in Brawl in Cell Block 99, he ditches all that. Who would have thought shaving your hair and getting an eight-inch tattoo of a cross on the back of your head could make you so intimidating?

Bradley Thomas is not Vaughn’s typical role. He’s stiff and threatening. His movement is slow but powerful, as if he’s carrying heavy artillery for his limbs. Both his and his wife, Lauren’s, (Jennifer Carpenter) dark past are hinted at. Together, the couple try to create a quiet, peaceful life – maybe because they have previously lived through a stormy and dark one.

This role is so different from some of Vaughn’s most known characters because of this darkness below the surface. In Couple’s Retreat (2009), for example, Vaughn also finds himself playing a role where a complicated marriage is key. But here the tension created in the story is released through light-hearted comedy. Brawl In Cell Block 99 is a different direction for Vaughn because he struggles with darkness and there is very little relief from that struggle.

Speaking about this role, Vaughn recalled, ‘I had just as much fun playing a good character as I would a terrible character – it’s enjoyable to allow that in yourself’. It’s not simply that Bradley Thomas is terrible: he is extremely violent, but not needlessly violent. Vaughn’s role as Bradley Thomas lets him explore this complicated combination of terrible and good all in one. And it is a compelling struggle to watch.

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Elizabeth Taylor – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1967)

Elizabeth Taylor is known for being a leading beauty. Her glamorous roles are extensive. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Cleopatra (1963), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) are just some examples where her beauty is at the centre of her films.

This made it surprising when, in 1967, Taylor took on the role of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. At the time, she was thirty-three years old. The character Martha, however, was somewhere in her fifties. But age was not the only question mark hovering around this casting choice. To play the role, Taylor gained nearly 30 pounds to inhabit the life of a fifty-something woman on the brink of emotional collapse. Many were surprised by this decision for Taylor (held-up as one of the most glamorous women in the world) to take a grittier and sadder role.

Interestingly, Harry Stradling (cinematographer) was replaced early into shooting for reportedly trying to “beautify” Taylor. Stradling was clearly tempted to uphold Taylor’s image as a glamorous leading lady. But this role was different – and the decision to replace Stradling shows how much Taylor and the film crew resisted her typecast image as a beautiful, glamorous figure.

In her A&E Biography, Taylor says that she views her performance as Martha as her best. This shows how important it is for some actors to break from the mould of typecasting. The challenge of a different role: where Taylor is flawed, drunken, ugly, is the challenge she looked back on with most affection. Resisting typecasting can be the ultimate challenge with the ultimate payoff.

 

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John Travolta – Pulp Fiction (1994)

The year before Pulp Fiction, Travolta starred in Look Who’s Talking Now (1993): the third instalment in a series where babies and dogs humorously provide narrative voiceover. These light-hearted romantic comedies are far from the world of violence and crime in Pulp Fiction.

Vincent Vega is a heroin-taking hitman. This dark role was a move away from certain types for Travolta. Prior to Pulp Fiction, we were used to seeing him dancing his way through conflict and danger in Grease (1978) and Saturday Night Fever (1977). His early career is dominated by charismatic and charming roles. However, Vincent Vega is more complicated than that.

Although we see Travolta’s dancing skills, they don’t keep him out of danger. Vincent Vega is unsympathetic. He kills without questioning the moral complexities of his actions. And (spoiler) his death is abrupt and unceremonious. It’s the first time Travolta’s character dies onscreen since his breakthrough roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. So it’s a departure from his typecast role as a charming, loveable hero figure.

But the role was surprising for another reason. Approaching Pulp Fiction, Travolta believed his best roles were behind him. Looking back, he says, ‘I never imagined that one project could give me that kind of second career, where I was offered the ‘A’ scripts again and the Oscar contender type scripts’. He thought he’d been typecast out of the biggest roles in the film industry. That changed after he took on the role of Vincent Vega. Breaking the mould meant he showed filmmakers another side to his ability. And it paid off.

Filed under: Acting, Film History, Filmmaking, In Our OpinionTagged with: , , ,

Top Five Pieces of Equipment Every Independent Filmmaker Needs

The practical side of filmmaking can be a daunting one but it is well worth reading into so that you know what kind of equipment you would like (and can afford) to use! We at Raindance have a basic guide on the essentials and a few examples to get you started. Keep in mind, you don’t need to buy everything at once! An alternative option is looking into renting equipment which is too expensive or illusive to buy.

1. A Camera

To start at the beginning, you’ll need something to shoot your film on. But it’s easy to find yourself lost in ever-escalating costs; the art of filmmaking does not require the most expensive camera, but simply something that can capture and record.

And while digital camera tech has resulted in some of the most impressive and expensive optical instruments ever made, it has similarly opened the field to filmmakers on any budget:

  1. No Budget: though it might seem glib to say it, a smartphone is camera enough to shoot a film. Tangerine and Unsane are two mainstream examples of this burgeoning mode of shooting; that these films both received critical acclaim should be evidence enough that quality does not rely on an expensive camera.
  2. Low Budget: Sony A6300 – Capable of delivering a more classically cinematic look, this Micro Four Thirds camera has interchangeable lenses and shoots in 4K. Can be bought for under £800 new, or cheaper second-hand.
  3. Best Value: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K – At a relatively steep £1200 it might seem a substantial investment, but the Blackmagic Pocket is gold dust for videographers and indie filmmakers alike. It might take a while for the pre-order backlog to die down, but for good reason: there isn’t another camera in its price range that comes close (including: Sony A7S Mkii, Lumix GH5, Canon 1D X etc.)

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2. Lenses

Like a good director with a bad script, a great camera cannot overcome a mediocre lens. So before blowing your budget on a camera and moving on, think about what lenses you might be interested in using (and remember that certain lenses are only compatible with certain camera bodies, unless you use a specific lens adaptor):

  1. To achieve that shallow depth of field you see so often in big budget features, a good place to start is a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. For most cameras it’s the cheapest lens available, but that isn’t to denigrate it’s quality – legendary Japanese director Yasijiro Ozu shot almost all of his films on a 50mm alone* £129
  2. For a little more flexibility, a zoom lens can be handy. The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 is a great all-rounder £289
  3. To approach a more cinematic look, a good option is the wider Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 £588
  4. If you’re looking to cover all bases with a professional sheen, a Samyang prime lens set is fantastic value for high-quality lenses £2199

 

3. Sound

Often the bane of low-budget filmmaking, sound should not be skimmed on. Make sure you remember that both recorder and microphone are essential – there’s no point saving on one to the detriment of the other

  1. No Budget: Zoom H1n – cheap, small, and sounds a lot better than anything in-camera £80
  2. Low Budget: Zoom H4n – excellent value all-round, though should be accompanied by a good shotgun mic £17
    1. The Audio-Technica ATR-6550 is a solid and affordable option £70
    2. If not, the RØDE NTG 2 £162
      • And if camera mounting isn’t an option, a boom pole is invaluable: RØDE’s BoomPole 3 is a high quality option without being too expensive £89
    3. A pair of good headphones also doesn’t go amiss, especially to make sure you’re getting the sound you think you’re getting – Sennheiser HD 25 are very high quality for a relatively low price £145

4. Tripod

Also not worth forgetting, a good tripod can make all the difference for smooth pans and stable shots:

  1. Manfrotto is the gold standard, a tripod for all seasons £299
  2. Cheaper but still respectable, Velbon £75

5. Gimbal

Those gliding Steadicam shots that were once the province of high budget and high expertise are now far more affordable and much easier to use – a gimbal can be a great addition to an indie filmmaker’s arsenal

  1. For those using their phones, an Osmo is a good option £139
  2. For larger cameras, the ZHIYUN does the job £399
  3. At a higher price, but even more stability, is a Ronin £849

With that said:

Though it can be tempting to own as much equipment as possible, much of what you need can be rented for the length of a shoot for much cheaper. So while personally owning kit has its upsides, it isn’t necessary that you own absolutely everything, particularly if you’re already on a slim budget.

*Keep in mind crop factor if your aim is to emulate Ozu – on most DLSRs and Micro Four Thirds cameras the equivalent would be closer to a 25mm

Filed under: In Our OpinionTagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[BOOK REVIEW] The Director’s Six Senses

“‘Director’ is not a description of what you do; it is something you become. You are a director 24/7. You should always have your ‘director senses’ alert.”

The idea that you have to use all of your senses to be a great director is one that the author of The Director’s Six Senses, Simone Bartesaghi, firmly believes in. Sight, sound and overall vision may seem obvious in their connection to directing, but the fact that smell, taste, and touch were also deemed equally as important was surprising to me. Of course, you can’t touch, smell or taste a movie. But these senses can be interpreted and must be considered when it comes to the filmmaking process.

Smell is such an elusive sense and it is interestingly applied by Bartesaghi as a metaphor for performance. He insists that it’s easy to “smell a lie” when it comes to a performance, but then again, every performance is a lie. It’s all a matter of playing pretend but doing it SO well that it seems true.

Films feel real because of the alternate realities they convey. They transport the audience member into that world and make them believe that, even if only for 90 minutes, it is all real. That’s why smell and the “stench” of a bad performance can be detrimental to the believability of a film.

“If what happens on the screen doesn’t feel right, if the behavior of the characters seems forced, then we snap out of the movie and the whole immersive experience is gone.”

Touch is the biggest sense to focus on when it comes to production design. Every human touches the lives of others and the world around them in some way, and their environment is a direct result of these interactions. As Bartesaghi says, “you’ll notice very quickly that their world is often a reflection of their identity.”

It is important to realise this when it comes to crafting the environment that will be shown on screen. A chaotic, creative character can live in a very cluttered and personalized home, but if their boss is a neurotic neat-freak, their work desk can be devoid of personality. This is because every scene should be a reflection of how the environment or other characters force the character to behave or interact.

“Touch is the perception of the environment. It’s important to remember that we are trying to portray on the screen the truth about our reality and it’s important that we pay attention to how, in real life, we react, perceive, and use things.”

Taste is another sense that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of directing, but it’s one that should be developed over time. This time Bartesaghi chooses to refer to taste as the feeling that is left and stays with you even after the film is over.  As director, you are in control of the story and can dictate how your audience feels as a result. It sounds quite manipulative, but it’s true.

If you want the ending to be so heart-wrenchingly sad that the audience can’t help but feel a piece of them die with the rolling of the credits, that’s your call. But to quote a famous uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You don’t want to drive your audience away; you want to carefully steer them towards the ending reaction you desire.

The Director’s Six Senses doesn’t quite reach its full potential as far as sense related metaphors go. But, Bartesaghi redeems himself with the idea that a director’s senses must be alert and useful when it comes to noticing things others may not. That’s why this book, while at times a bit too on-the-nose, is a good resource for the aspiring filmmaker that’s interested in how to be a good director and not necessarily good at directing.

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

Filed under: Book Review, Directing, In Our OpinionTagged with: , , , ,