This week Roy’s Little Blog of Horror takes us deeper in the world of a “reasonably interesting personality….”
I not only teach History of Horror, but History of Film Noir. Why, you might be asking yourselves, why is he bringing this up? Because over Spring break I flew to LA to appear in the debut feature film of two SVA graduates, one of whom – David Guglielmo – had been a thesis student of mine, and the other, Nick Chakwin, had taken one of my classes. Their film, No Way to Live, is a Film Noir thriller set in the Deep South of the late 1950s.
When I arrived to perform my three pages of inadequately memorized dialogue (the day after encountering airline turbulence so fierce that the flight attendant got down on all fours in the aisle in front of my seat and, apologizing to us all, crawled to the back of the aircraft to strap herself in), they were shooting on a set in a studio on the outskirts of town.
I play a lawyer who has to give the leading lady – played by Freya Tingley – some bad news, and she’s determined to reverse that news by whatever means possible. What was fascinating to me, as a non-actor (but hopefully a reasonably interesting personality), was the way in which David & Nick finessed both the scene and my performance. From an adjoining room they would watch the takes through a video-tap monitor, then they would briefly confer about what we’d done, and David would drift onto the set, giving both of us additional ideas, usually about emotional levels, but also about creative changes to the action itself, and even, eventually okaying my use of improvisation, which is a far better tool in my arsenal than any of my so-called thespian skills. I could tell, as the takes went by, that the scene was getting better and better. The script had been solid to begin with, but the directors were coming up with ways to make things more physical and more fun now that we were working in three dimensions.
By the time the day was over, I was relieved that I had embarrassed neither the production nor myself. But mainly I was impressed with the talent of the SVA grads. It has always been a desired result of the school’s education that friendships will carry over into the professional world, and here I’d seen it happen. Not only were David and Nick a great team, but former student Alex Chinnici was the DP, and he ran his crew remarkably smoothly. Another, more recent SVA Grad, Brendan Steere, who’d been a thesis student of mine two years ago (and wrote & directed a strong debut feature – Animosity), was doing grip work on the production as well. It was like old home week!
The rest of my trip was spent catching up with friends in LA, eating in good restaurants (you must try the Margaritas at El Cholo – that is as soon as you’re old enough to drink), staying at Monte (Two Lane Blacktop) Hellman’s abode in Laurel Canyon, dropping in on Sal’s euphoric alumni reunion at the Standard Hotel, and working on my scripts. But the high point clearly came on that second day when I did my humble best for No Way to Live, and saw the level of professionalism that has emerged from our school.