ACTORS AND THE MEDIA

It always amuses me when actors pretend to get shy around the media.  Most of them, even if they deny it, are actors because they love and crave attention.  As children, they were the first to jump up in front of a group and “perform.”

Many actors are also pretty insecure people.  I mean, think about it.  They turn their life’s objective into avoiding their true selves in exchange for always being somebody else.  The good ones get paid for it.  Sometimes, actors find out there’s very little time left to be themselves, and some might even forget who they used to be all together.

Actors could also be called professional liars.  The good ones are so good at lying, that you actually believe what they’re saying and feeling.  Even though it’s totally fake.  I mean, it’s a movie, right!?  Someone wrote that for him or her to say.  And in some cases, this isn’t always exclusive to their performances on screen.  Sometimes the good actors can achieve amazing results in normal day-to-day life.

Anyway, if you’re a director or producer and you ever come upon an actor who is shy around the media, or afraid to do interviews with the press, you might need to pretend you understand them, and hold their hands, but know, deep down, by the time they get into the interview they’ll be all lit up, performing, doing what they do best.  And they always eat it up.  You’ll see.

Depending on the actor, it may be a good idea to give them a script to follow.  Some actors are brilliant at improvisation.  But many need a back-story, a character arc and a sheet of dialogue.  Or, at least, talking bullet points.

I like to supply my actors with a go-to bullet point list of topics to discuss about our movie.  Questions to answer in a precise way, using careful language.  Sometimes I’ll even include a list of topics to avoid, such as, giving away any plot secrets, or proprietary information.

Another idea I’ve advised other filmmakers in the past, is to be a kind of go-between with the media.  Have the interviewer send you the questions first, so you can look over them and make sure there’s nothing offensive asked, or anything that might cause the project harm.  And, likewise, maybe there’s a question asked the actor would otherwise not know how to answer—so you can tell the actor what to say.

Or, you could simply tell the interviewer you’ll pass along their email address or phone number to the actor and let the actor take it from there.  I guess it depends on which way make you more comfortable.  Some of the more famous actors don’t like having their email or number given out, so in most cases dealing with a celebrity of any kind, this will be the best avenue to take.

Actors are a funny bunch, and of course I was generalizing their personalities at the start of this article.  Not every actor acts like that, and not all of them are ruthless self-absorbed fame-hungry monsters.  Some of my greatest friends are amazing actors and their gifts and talent are greatly appreciated.  Without actors, there’s no such thing as a movie.  So we need them.  And we need to cherish them.  But, when it comes time to promote your movie, you might need to nudge them a little bit this way or that.

A Chair is a Chair is a Chair

Have you ever heard someone comment, “My, that’s a bad chair!”?  I doubt it, for there really is no such thing as a ‘bad’ chair or a ‘good’ chair.  There are simply different levels of craftsmanship involved in making a chair, and, of course, a variety of finishing techniques and overall aesthetics.  Some chairs are spit out on an assembly line by the thousands, while other chairs are made by hand.  Some chairs have cushions, some have armrests, and others even have accessories (i.e. little cup holders, rocking abilities, foot rests, etc.).  In any case, it remains a chair.  The purpose of which is to be sat upon.

The people who sit on chairs all share the same activity.  They sit.  Sure, some people have poor posture, but in general, I can’t see how someone could be a ‘good’ sitter or a ‘bad’ sitter.  Never do people go to a dinner party and loudly complain, “Francis, look at the way you’re sitting in that chair!  It’s bad!  Just awful!”  In fact, it makes me wonder, how, exactly, could Francis be sitting badly?  His rear end is fixated on the seat!  Both feet are on the floor!  Sure, he’s got a bad back, which makes him lean a little to the left, but nevertheless, Francis *is* sitting in the chair.  The only way, from my point of view, Francis could fail in his sitting, is if he weren’t sitting at all!  It would seem to me that only when one stands is it appropriate to attack their ability or talent to sit.  “Francis, you’re NOT sitting!”  Perhaps those few people who, in their attempt to sit, miss the chair completely and plummet to the floor, are guilty of poor sitting, but the indignity of missing the chair would seem to be punishment enough, without adding insult to injury by bringing their failure to their attention.

Like the people who fail to sit in chairs, I believe it’s only acceptable to attack an actor when he or she has failed to appear in a film.  Michelle Pfieffer, for instance, is bad for failing to appear in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Likewise, so are Whoopie Goldberg, Demi Moore, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and all the other actresses who didn’t appear in that film.  Shame on them.

Don’t get me wrong – some actors look great in any movie, while others do not.  Jodie Foster, for instance, looks equally as great sitting in a plush sofa from Eddie Bauer as she does swiveling on an Eames with black leather ottoman.  Other people, like Ned Beatty, for instance, aren’t necessarily the best looking sitters.  There are some people, without a doubt, that should avoid sitting on certain chairs.  But that is all about looks, not general sitting ability.

Movies, it can be argued, like chairs, are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – they simply have different levels of craftsmanship.  What’s the difference in how Thomasville, Broyhill, or Ethan Allen chairs are made?  Very little that I can see.  Sure, the shapes and textures differ, but they seem to be built in the same fashion.  Much like films made by committee, they seem safely appealing to most, and, I agree, manufactured with skill (read: they aren’t going to fall apart).  Ron Howard’s movies are like these.  So are Martin Scorsese’s for that matter.  There is nothing more or less exceptional about either.

Some chairs, like those sold at Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, are constructed with equal skill, but have aesthetics (and prices) that appeal to a different buyer.  Alexander Payne makes this kind of work.  Clint Eastwood reminds me of Eddie Bauer.  And don’t get me started on Robert Redford and his overpriced Sundance clothing line!

Marketing and selling a motion picture is just like marketing and selling furniture.  Pottery Barn needs to sell thousands, if not millions, whereas Eames is happy to sell a few hundred.  BLAIR WITCH, while poorly made, still sold millions.  That movie in particular is just like furniture sold at Wal-mart.  And in retrospect, the people who buy furniture at Wal-mart are, probably, not going to buy an Eames.  And, like an Eames, EYES WIDE SHUT, while one of the best-crafted motion pictures ever made, didn’t appeal to the masses.

Within all of these examples lies genre.  The genre of Pier 1 furniture is a very different genre than that of Broyhill.  Quentin Tarantino films, which resemble Pier 1 (read: often made with cheap components), tend to fall apart a lot sooner than, say, a Broyhill nightstand, which has the solid construction of a Francis Ford Coppola film.

You can tell what kinds of films people like by taking a look around their living room. What kinds of furniture do they have?  Do they prefer to sit upon a chair made of plastic, mesh, wood or steel?  Do they sleep on an air bed or a top of the line Sealy?  Where do they eat dinner – on the floor, on the sofa, or at a solid oak dining table?

On my street we understand movies are like pieces of furniture.  We know what separates a Horchow from an IKEA.  We acknowledge there are similarities and differences.  But whether it’s manufactured by the thousands or made one at a time, the bottom line is – it’s only a movie.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)