The Truth

The Down-Low, Straight Up.
May 2018

CUT & RUN | a case study in performance directing

TRUTH BE TOLD, as a director, working with non-actors can be an amazing experience or one that can label you a terrible performance director—a label that’ll take ages to remove with a combination of fingernails, soap, and alcohol.

It should be no surprise that I almost always try and work with professional actors. The most basic reason for this is professionalism. Little things like arriving on set on time, or not tucking into lunch while still in wardrobe or costume, which is the quickest way to get the wardrobe department to lose their collective minds. There’s also the basic expectation of performance range and consistency. The reason that the craft of acting exists is that if it were easy, everyone could do it. Believe me, everyone can’t do it.

However, in the short film, advertising, and online content space, the main reason one works with actors is because they’re interesting to watch. They possess a magnetic quality that magically translates through the lens. To be honest, some actors are boring as hell in real life, but boy, point a camera at them and they become homing devices for your eyeballs.

In my career, I’ve often been put in the situation where I have to work with non-actors, usually because the client wants a very specific look that personifies their brand image. And fair enough, a specific character’s look is just as important as a product’s packaging. Both create an instant impression within the mind of the consumer.

So, if a client is immovable in casting a non-actor, and let’s assume this non-actor is a complete ‘plank’, in other words has zero performance ability, as a director you’ll have to try and engineer a way to simplify the script so that “the plank” can give the illusion of a performance. Or be prepared, as the director, to be held responsible in the first agency and client viewing for not meeting their expectations.

When everyone is sitting in the edit suite staring at a castle built of planks and the shitstorm is approaching, remember that you, my friend, are the architect, and the King (client) is not going to be happy.

So, what’s my advice for directors?

1. Cast far and wide for a real actor who has the look a client wants.
2. Make the case to clients that narrative content lives and dies on performance. Fashion films don’t need acting, but stories do!
3. Learn to work with and around “planks”. Simplify the script. Use a narrator instead of in-camera sound. Find a memory or emotional key that unlocks a performance from them. It can be done, but it takes work and experience.

And if you’re a client?

If you’re dead-set on a certain look, ask for an audition in which your chosen star has to actually act. Then make a decision. Remember, while you can totally hang the architect when the shitstorm arrives, you’re still going to be the King of the Plank Castle when the viewing numbers, leads, and sales fail to rush to your drawbridge.

There are a lot of little tricks that can be used to get a “plank” to give a compelling performance in front of the camera. I’ll pull together a listicle you can read in the bathroom in a future post.

– By Porteus Xandau.

February 2019

Selfie Sabotage

SELFIE is the story of two vacationers, Ronnie and Bijanka, both dying to start their summer holiday but not before realising just how different they really are. What began as a harmless selfie triggers a blow-up on the beach #awks.

– By Porteus Xandau

February 2019

SURRENDER | a case study in “NO INPUT PLEASE”

In discussing this film, SURRENDER, I’ll start off by professing that ever since I was a young boy I wanted to tell stories that come from the heart and make films that change the world. That being said, I’d also prefer you don’t choke on all that cheesy sentiment. So, let me cut to the chase….

So far, the response to SURRENDER has been nothing but positive, in fact, overwhelmingly so. Of course, I’m super stoked about this, but why has the reaction been so positive? Is it because I’m a genius filmmaker? Ha, I wish! I think the reason the film resonated with so many people was because Milton shared his life’s story in a way that was honest and open. That’s it. His no bullshit narrative provided such a powerful foundation that I found myself having to get out of the way so the story could tell itself. No clever techniques, no smoke and mirrors. Just storytelling laid bare. Unrefined. Raw.

Throughout my career as a director, I’ve witnessed the opposite over and over again. It’s like, the more people you have giving directional input on a film, the more the project starts to ‘unbecome’. The same can be said for commercials, long-form films and documentaries. I’ve seen brilliant concepts and stories utterly destroyed by too many people forcing their ideas, believing it’ll improve the final product. Spoiler alert; it doesn’t.

Now, I’m not hanging up a sign that screams “NO INPUT PLEASE” because filmmaking is a collaborative process. But I am saying that the key to making something authentic, something that comes from the heart and really hits home is more likely to happen when you safeguard the soul of a particular piece by restricting all the two cents that come flying at you from all angles.

I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to fight this ‘creative committees’ monster without getting fired or being labelled a dick, but I’ll let you know when I do.

– By Porteus Xandau

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