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How to survive a Directing Actors workshop when you haven’t even seen Citizen Kane

By Hollie James on December 3, 2014


I’ve always been intrigued by the whole idea of the stereotypical filmmaker. An NYU Film School grad living in some less than glamourous tiny apartment somewhere in Brooklyn, smoking, drinking, and watching the greatest films of all time – collectively creating their own. I’ve always wanted to live that life for a little while. And on the weekend, I, well, sort of, did.

Saw Video is a not-for-profit, artist-run media art centre in the heart of our downtown. They offer equipment, training, mentorship, grants and screenings with the goal of fostering the growth and development of artists. This past weekend I took part in the Directing Actors workshop intended to cover the role of the Director during Video Production. Upon arriving, I became one of the privileged in the world who is now in possession of Scott Eldridge’s resume.

Scott Eldridge with Hollie Davies.

Scott Eldridge with Hollie Davies.

Eldridge’s story isn’t anything out of the ordinary – he received a camera for Christmas as a child and subsequently studied filmmaking at university and loved it. Just like those rare folks who find and pursue their true passion. He’s directed music videos (including working with The Tragically Hip), won a bunch of awards, and directed a documentary. He has fascinating stories about film and travel and people and one could probably sit around with him for hours and never get bored.

Most importantly though, we were here with the goal of directing a one minute drama scene, and he has plenty of experience directing those as well, including Blueprint, a feature drama licensed to the Super Channel (now on my “films to watch list”). I was already smitten, even before he claimed he likes to break the boundaries and the rules.

The workshop spanned over a weekend , 12 – 5 pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The first day we played around with various acting exercises, both improv and scripted – along with a little “Red Light Green Light” (remember that game from school?) to loosen things up. As I see it, he wanted to sculpt us. We were to be playing in each other’s heavy, dramatic scene, a scene requiring depth and texture the next day, so we had no choice but to connect with people that we had only just met.

The following are three tips I used to make it through the weekend and get the most out of this workshop:

This is a learning experience so soak up everything you can

We were all given the same script, and would each have our turn directing this interrogation scene (consisting of 2 actors – the police officer and the witness) the next day. The workshop was a small group (7 of us), with me being the least experienced – actually having absolutely no experience. It was really interesting to learn about this diverse group – their backgrounds, their current projects, their hopeful aspirations. Like any creative spirit, all united by reckless ambition.

Group shot of workshop participants with Scott Eldridge (top left).

Group shot of workshop participants with Scott Eldridge (top left).


Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to get creative in your own way

We left the workshop the first day with these scripts and probably like everyone else, my brain was buzzing – there were so many ways this script could be interpreted. I was curious to see how everyone would spin it. I, myself, decided on a Fargo type scene, with a less than confident but smart female cop interrogating a fidgety and guilty witness. How it was going to work out, I had no idea, but at least I had a plan.

Be ready to work

The second day was made up of constantly rehearsing the scene (everyone became actors for the day and everyone had their chance at director), and then each director filming it four times. Why four? We had to get a wide shot (showing the setting and the mood), the medium shot (focusing the audience’s attention) and most importantly the close up (revealing human emotion). FYI: We had to shoot the close up twice as there were two actors in the scene.

Watching the scenes played back, we couldn’t be too hard on ourselves. With no experience, I can’t be any sort of critic, so to my knowledge everything seemed to have turned out most fabulously, and more importantly, with much diversity. Many of the participants were taking this workshop because they want to learn how to direct a film, or they want to improve on how they are already executing their craft.

As a writer, my motive may have been a little bit different – I wanted the experience, the education, and the learning. Because I have grandiose plans, I already know that I want to direct a music video one day and make a documentary, at the very least. Now I have what I learned over the weekend as mine forever, and I know I’ll be going right back to that workshop when I’m shooting my directorial debut. My friends await the Academy Award.

Saw Video is hosting an Open House Saturday, December 13 from 2pm-5pm. You will have the opportunity to tour the facilities and editing suites, meet the staff and board, and learn more about Ottawa’s Media Art Community.