Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Awake Again, I Can't Pretend, And I Know I'm Alone...And Close To The End

On Friday, October 22nd, I had the opportunity to perform in the Off-Broadway production of my friend Rachel Lewis' play Consciousness at Theatre 80 at Saint Marks Place in New York City. The production was presented by The People's Theatre LAB as part of an all-night show called The People's Fest. In Rachel's play, I played two different characters - Dr. O'Hanlan and Reverend Jonas Haversham, both meaty roles, and I had the chance to perform alongside some incredibly talented actors, many of whom train at the Stella Adler Studio at New York University. As an actor, I was honored and thrilled to perform in this production, particularly considering that the play counted as an Off-Broadway credit. As an added bonus, I also appeared on the poster for The People's Fest, which I have posted to the right (granted, the picture on the poster is from four years ago, when I played Edward Teller in The Red Dragon Players' 2006 production of The Lovesong of J. Robert Oppenheimer).

In October, I was also elected to join Tisch New Theatre's Executive Board as an officer. It is an incredible honor to join the officers on this board, including my good friend Alexander Fofonoff. I have been involved with this incredible organization since last year, when Tisch New Theatre produced and performed my original one-act play The Certifiable for their Fall 2009 Staged Reading, and last spring when I first performed in Rachel Lewis' Consciousness for their Spring 2010 Staged Reading. Since on the Executive Board, I have helped organize the Fall 2010 Staged Reading, as well as planning a TNT Master Class with musical director Will Van Dyke, the current keyboardist for The Addams Family on Broadway. Shortly after being elected to the Executive Board, my fellow officers and I went to see The New York Neo-Futurists perform Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind at The Kraine Theater, a fascinating piece of performance art that, to quote Backstage, is "like the glory days of Saturday Night Live, only funnier and slightly surreal."

My roommate and good friend Bobb Barito recently had his short film The Pit, which he filmed this past summer, selected for the 7th Annual NYC Downtown Short Film Festival Audience Choice Screenings. He and I attended one of the Audience Choice screenings on Saturday, October 23rd at the Duo Theatre on East 4th Street. We were astounded to find that this theatre, which features beautiful paintings and artwork, was used by Francis Ford Coppola for the astounding operetta scene from The Godfather Part II (1974), where Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) first sees Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin). Bobb's film was received very well, and I very much hope The Pit is selected as an audience favorite for the festival.

In other news, my Sight and Sound: Film class, taught by the incredible professor Laszlo Santha, is quite simply the best class I've ever taken in my life, college or otherwise. Santha told our class at the beginning of the semester that this was the greatest class of all time, and I should have taken him at his word. After all, in what other class can you write, direct and shoot five of your own movies on 16MM film and crew on at least fifteen other films in one semester? So far this semester, I have written and directed four projects - The Hand Job, a short comedy thriller about a man searching for his severed hand; Relapse, a drama about a recovering alcoholic who falls back into old habits at a birthday party; Proper Behavior For Your Date, a Woody Allen-esque piece on an awkward man's struggle to find love and behave appropriately on dates; and Heart of Gold, a solemn drama about a Midwestern boy who follows a lost love to New York City. Several of my friends have acted in these films, including Bobb Barito, Mike Cheslik, Alex Casper, Jeremy Keller and Lizzie Logan, who I first met two years ago at the University of Southern California's Summer Screenwriting program (she is now a freshman at Columbia University). I'm enormously proud of all four films - particularly the latter two, as they are both rather personal projects.

In addition to working on these films, I have also starred in nine movies in my Sight and Sound class, ranging from slapstick comedy films to serious dramas. This has been an incredible opportunity to work with talented Sight and Sound crews other than my own and also a great opportunity to practice the difficult art of acting for film, which is an entirely different beast than acting for stage. I hope to post many of these movies once the semester has ended and we have turned in our 16MM films to be digitized by the Post-Production Center (although the movies will, quite simply, never look as good or as beautiful as they do when projected on a 16MM projector).

In the past month, there have been some astounding movies released in cinemas, including works from Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood, two of my favorite filmmakers. Eastwood's Hereafter is a solemn, heartfelt meditation on the existence of a spiritual life after death. The movie, masterfully written by Peter Morgan, is full of the thoughtfulness that has come to be associated with Eastwood's incredible work as a director. The performances are superb, particularly from Matt Damon, as a retired psychic haunted by his gift, and from newcomers George and Frankie McLaren, as two young brothers in London who are faced with an unspeakable tragedy. Audiences should be so lucky that a master filmmaker like Eastwood is willing to maturely explore this material.

Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, the filmmaker's best work since Match Point (2005), also reckons with death, albeit in a very different way. The picture is funny, yes, but it becomes increasingly devastating as we watch Allen's characters face existential dread, find comfort in ridiculous paranormal spiritualism, destroy their relationships with one another and learn the hard way that, in terms of romantic relationships, the grass will always be greener on the other side. The movie hit me very powerfully, as the best Woody Allen films always have, and its middling critical reception is really bewildering to me. The ensemble cast is so uniformly excellent that it's hard to know where to start (although Anthony Hopkins in particular stands out).

But the best film I've seen since The Social Network is inarguably Danny Boyle's extraordinary 127 Hours, which is, quite simply, the most intense and gripping theatrical experience I've had in years. And yet the movie is also one of the most uplifting, life-affirming and joyous odes to the human spirit that I've seen since Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Boyle and his star, current Tisch School of the Arts student James Franco, have taken fascinating true-life material and elevated it to great art. I have no doubt that 127 Hours will stand as one of my favorite films of the year - it is masterful filmmaking and features a lead performance from Franco that will be talked about for years to come.

There are many other incredible movies that I've seen in the past month, including Doug Liman's Fair Game, an important movie for American audiences to see in order to relive the outrage regarding the Bush administration's handling of ousted CIA agent Valerie Plame, with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts as fantastic and compulsively watchable as they've ever been; John Curran's Stone, with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton giving brilliant performances in a daring character-driven drama with no easy answers and no easy resolutions; Charles Ferguson's infuriating and fascinating documentary Inside Job, which relentlessly pursues the cause of the 2008 Financial Crisis; Matt Reeves' Let Me In, the film that Stephen King correctly named the best American horror film of the past twenty years; Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go, a beautiful and disturbing drama starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley; and Casey Affleck's I'm Still Here, the 'documentary' about Joaquin Phoenix's descent into madness (the fact that this film is apparently a hoax does not diminish the power and the sadness of Phoenix's performance and downfall in the film).

I am extremely excited to announce that I will be attending The Face of Tisch Gala 2010 at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday, December 6th. This annual Tisch Gala is an event that I have always wanted to attend, and this year the Tisch Dean's Scholars have been invited to attend the ceremony for free, where guests will include Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, James Franco, Whoopi Goldberg and Honorary Chair Martin Scorsese. I am incredibly honored to attend this event with my fellow Dean's Scholars, where I will hopefully meet many of these incredible talents.

On Tuesday, November 2nd, my wonderful and supportive screenwriting professor Selma Thompson hosted a screening of the great documentary Winnebago Man in Third North's Mini Theatre, and following the screening there was a Q&A with the film's producer, Joel Heller. Mr. Heller, Professor Thompson's former student at NYU, now lives and works primarily in Austin, and so it was fascinating to hear him speak about the film and the Austin filmmakers who made the movie. On Friday, November 5th, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Professor Thompson, Mr. Heller and a group of other students in the East Village, where I was able to ask him all about his filmmaking career. The next weekend, I served as Producer and Assistant Director on my friend Aaron Kodz's short film Moneyrollers, which we shot in Coral Tower with a very talented cast and crew (I will also work as a Co-Editor with Aaron on the movie, which is now in post-production).

Until my next post, I'll leave you with the above recently released image from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), one of my ten favorite films of all time.