In December, I believe, of last year I received a message from a friend who teaches film making at a local university, and they were looking for actors for a project. Student films are a great training ground. Not only for the film makers, but also for actors. And although there usually isn’t pay involved, an actor can get some good reel out of it.
The question posed to me was: “We are looking for an older actor…oh, say 40’s, to play the role of the evil head of drone operations for Afghanistan. Do you know of anyone?”
Uh. Yeah. I do. Me.
And thus began my journey in the film Crossfire produced by the John Brown University Film Department under the exquisite leadership of Steve Snediker.
Why do a student film?, you may ask. Well, for several reasons.
1. I loved the script.
2. I enjoy playing evil.
3. I enjoy film making.
4. I was available.
5. They wanted me.
6. These are outstanding young film makers.
7. The opportunity to get some good reel of my being evil.
8. There’s a very good chance I may be working for these film makers someday.
9. I wanted to.
There are some actors who may look down on being in student films. Well, they shouldn’t. But it also depends upon the students. The department.
The film students at JBU are, simply put, excellent. They are heads above more professional than several professional sets I have worked on. They are organized. Respectful. Know precisely what they are doing. And are good film makers. I have admired their work several times before, and was thrilled to be a part of this project.
I do feel, however, some of the crew on the set found my personality a bit much. To one crew member I said after their being very standoffish…”I make you nervous, don’t I?” “Yeah. You do.”
Okay. Whatevs. Let’s shoot.
In this film I play the role of Paul Greaves, an evil guy who uses his power and position for personal revenge.
The actress playing the protagonist, the ethereal Emily Barden, was a total and complete trouper. In once scene I had to slap her. I asked the director/screenwriter, the very talented David Amonsen, if we were going to cheat the shot. “No,” he said. “I want a full on slap.”
Which freaked me out. My sweet niece, like Emily, is 21. So everytime I slapped Emily, it was as though I was slapping my niece and it terrified me. The slap took several takes. And at one point Emily had tears welling up. It was time to stop the slap.
There’s a lot to be said for cheating certain shots.
The cinematographer, John Owen? So professional. And so, so, so good. I cannot wait to see his work in the in the final product.
The shoot lasted about a month with my being called for a total of seven days. And was a joy. Being surrounded by the film makers of tomorrow who are doing it today, was very exciting. They are doing and going to do great things. And several of us actors in the region have had the privilege of working with them. Jules Taylor, Kenn Woodard, Justin & Virginia Scheuer, Bill Rogers…
I am proud to be a part of this film and proud of myself for not “helping” the director, which can be my tendency. By “helping” I mean offering bits of advice…
“Shouldn’t that light be on the right?” (TRANSLATION: Move the light to the right.)
“Don’t we want to get a reverse shot?” (TRANSLATION: We need a reverse shot.)
“Do we have enough coverage?” (TRANSLATION: We don’t have enough coverage.)
No. I kept my mouth shut. And soon learned everything I was thinking needing to be taken care of, but not voicing, was being taken care of without my having to voice it.
Keep your mouth shut, Mark. You don’t know everything. These guys know what they are doing. Be patient. And keep your mouth shut.
And I did.
Yes, they are excellent film makers, but one can only be as excellent as the leadership, and that’s where these students hit the jackpot. Steve Snediker is exceptional. He loves film making. He loves his students. A perfect storm.
And he’s a really, really, really nice guy with high standards with no compromises.
Just my kinda guy.
If, as an actor, you have an opportunity to work with the JBU film program…do it. Don’t hesitate.
If, as an audience member, you have an opportunity to see a film produced by the JBU film program…do it. Don’t hesitate.
It’s a win-win.