lights, camera, pratfall
That screen test debacle in full
Ah well – best stick to music, eh. Thought things were going rather too smoothly and a humbling was due; got one in full measure. Can laff about it now, as they say; even at the time it was kind of funny, in a gruesome way. I mean, how likely is it that a complete novice can just walk in and bag the lead in a film…?
Anyway, as detailed below I breezed through the initial audition a while ago – largely because I was cocky and didn’t give much of a shit – and the feedback was good, very enthused. A problem occurred to me once the buzz wore off, in that I didn’t particularly care for the male lead on paper; he seemed a bit drab and it was hard to care whether he got the girl – who was free-spirited, kooky, and kind of irritating, truth be told. The script was almost too acute in its characterisations. (Personally I’d’ve banged their heads together; that film I’d pay to watch.) Big stumbling block if you’ve never acted before and aren’t sure how to get past this pop-eyed scorn and make the guy come to life. This is where the actor’s craft, the actor’s training, the actor’s eerie capacity for self-hypnosis comes in. It’s certainly not something you can pick up in an afternoon on-site, as I discovered.
So I showed up despite my misgivings (or, okay… prejudices), was made welcome, and within five minutes was sitting under two burning pillars of light with an actress I’d never met before, trying to pretend I wanted to charm her pants off with my creepy, earnest smooth talk. Thing is, despite my reservations about the characters, it’d all been a bit of a giggle before; now the sudden sharp knowledge that This Is It, It’s All Real, boosted anxiety right across the spectrum into catatonia. Within six minutes, I knew I’d blown it; within about eight, I’d sweated right through my clothes. Knowing this incredible flop sweat was being picked up on camera didn’t help me get into the moment, to put it mildly; it was about all I could do to speak my lines in the right places, in English, in a robot’s monotone.
I can truly – and happily – say I’ve never died on my arse quite so graphically before. The shittiest gig I’ve ever done has nothing on it. It was an incredibly strange feeling: any small ideas about how to emote convincingly just sieved out of my brain like a bladderful of piss, to be replaced by… nothing. Utter vacancy. What really threw me, I think, was the awkwardness and weird, artificial feel of the situation; a strong sense that whatever happened, almost none of it was under my control. Musicians, as a sweeping generalised rule, have a fair bit of say in how they present themselves and their music. This, however, was like stepping into an uneasy dream where everyone’s smiling and smiling and speaking and you’re following suit, hoping they don’t notice you’re not one of them by some fatal slip, and still they’re smiling, and you’re sitting there wanking. Or in my case, in a pool of sweat.
Thing is, the director still seemed to want to give me a chance – so he gave me some more stuff to do, improv games, different scene with different actress, that kind of thing. This effectively prolonged and deepened the agony, but by then I was so numbed that I just didn’t care, couldn’t even summon the initiative to slink away. (The other guys up for the part were all professional actors, and while pleasant enough I felt they began to look at me a little askance; like, who let this clown in? And how come he’s still here? I may have imagined this, though.) After about a year, I was dismissed – kindly and politely enough – and thought, WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? But not in quite the same way as the first time.
But I remind myself, it was only ever extra gravy. And the actor’s mindset is fluid and strange and difficult to acquire… etc etc. The short films I’ve made in no way prepared me for it – how could they, I’m using my own words in my own time, on my own planet.
And tomorrow, I’m going to be making a video for Hands Up – a real one with proper crew and everything, which’ll involve running round Brighton with gasmasks and shit. You don’t get that in a romcom.