Serena Chloe Gardner [Actor, Banjo (2015), Wake Up My Love (2014)] shares with Exit 6 her experience as a debut Director on the short film Lady in The Park. With an extensive career in acting, Gardner reveals what it's like to be on the other side of the camera and working with a meticulous eye for detail.
‘Detail’. I like that word.
As an actor, you go out freshly into the world of theatre and film and expect that every director you work with will instantly understand where your character is coming from and will want to work through the detail and psychology behind their actions: the who, what, why and where! Much to my dismay, almost all of my experiences with directors have been about blocking me into various spaces, with an occasional nod at my “day in the life” scrap book that I'd spent weeks making and various notes on who I think the character I am portraying is…
It was disappointing, even depressing.
(Please note I've also worked with some bloody brilliant Directors too!)
So detail was very important to me when making my directing debut with 1960’s short drama Lady in the Park.
Everything from casting the right people for the job (that took six weeks), costume (entirely 1960’s vintage), locations (all period) and also rehearsing the actors – a process so often overlooked in filmmaking! What the director puts in front of the camera has to be quality, there’s no point in spending lots of money if you’re not going to invest in what’s in front of the camera. So working with the cast is vitally important and I implore every director to do this! If I have to cut costs anywhere it would never be rehearsals.
During these rehearsals, I gave the actors a lot of homework to do, not because I was being mean but because it was important that I gave them the chance to invest in their character as much as I would as an actor in their position. I was once lucky enough to have dinner with veteran actor Lance Henriksen, and being a lifelong Aliens (1986) fan I was eager to know what it was like to work for the great James Cameron. He said that James gave everyone the opportunity to go away, think about who they wanted their characters to be and then give a presentation on it. What a fab idea!
In order for them to connect, I asked the cast to give me a soundtrack, just 5 songs, that they think their character would have liked and then before the scene workshop play them and explain why they have chosen each one. I also asked them to find an item e.g. a broach, a scarf, something they think their character would wear and wear it in the film. They all provided me with these things as well as extensive "day in the life" work and reams of scrap book artwork of what their character’s house, bedroom and inner beings were like. I was over the moon.
This is key, giving the actors the opportunity to delve into a person and bring them to life but to also connect with them at the same time. It is such a gift for the director to see and it was no more apparent than when those actors stepped on set in their new found identities. The screen was alive!
I could have filmed them for hours just watching them interact with each other.
After a successful Kickstarter and self-funding (after losing my day job too – thank you credit cards!), last week we finally (after 12 months of pre-production) took our circus of thirty up to Birmingham to shoot the film over four days.
With thirteen scenes and six locations, we often filmed two locations a day. Averaging at thirty set-ups a day, we motored through the script and finished to time on the last day at the Back to Back houses in Hurst Street, Birmingham.
It warmed me to see all the cast and crew swapping numbers and friend requests at the end. This is what it’s all about, the love for the craft and this family bond you create by all going through this shared experience together to tell our story to the world.
The lesson here is that even with limited funds, if you spend the time on the detail you can still make a film work. The detail counts so much more than you realise, so don't cut corners. Seeing the world you have created on that monitor for the first time and the ease of all the actors knowing exactly what they were doing and a tight crew ready at every yell of "re-set" and "action" made the heart warm.
So was it worth all the heartache, sleepless nights and worry? Hell yes! I’ve absolutely loved every single moment of it, that’s why I would whole heartedly do it all over again! When do we start?!
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