For a couple of years now, I’ve been on a quest to enter the world of film and TV acting. One recommended strategy for getting on-set experience and building a “reel” has always been to pursue roles in student films. I’ve been on a few auditions but nothing had ever come of it – until now!
I auditioned for a Vancouver Film School project entitled “Straight To Video”. In it, a somewhat hapless aspiring rock star is working the late shift at the video store when an old videotape of a self-help “guru” magically transports him into a vision of his rock-and-roll fantasy come true – but even in this preview of music superstardom, things don’t go nearly the way he had imagined.
The role I auditioned for was that of the outrageous, turbanned “Guru Goulby” – the smarmy self-help swami whose videotape appearance sets the plot in motion.
For the audition, I worked up a makeshift turban (out of Christine’s gold-fabric wrap), threw on a few baubles and beads, and did my best Punjabi accent. Yes, this may come across as a politically incorrect stereotype, but I like to think I’m maintaining a venerable comedy tradition that runs back to Peter Sellers in The Party (albeit the less said about Mike Myers in The Love Guru, the better). At any rate, any trepidation I might have had about this approach had evaporated at the audition, as the multi-ethnic production crew cracked up heartily at my antics.
That night – just this past Wednesday – I got the phone call from Leslie Chang, the AD on the project, saying I’d got the role!
I met with them yesterday for a pre-shoot conference and script read-through. Then, this morning at 9am, I was back at VFS, with a bunch of costume options, ready to act a role on my very first film set!
This was the same large room in which I’d auditioned a week ago, but now it was transformed, with areas dressed up as sets and lights and equipment everywhere. When the fluorescent lights went off, and the only illumination came from the lights on the set, a more serious and intense mood pervaded the room.
I set up my props and things on a small table in the far corner, and soon the makeup artist, a young woman named Komel Sajdeh appeared with one of those gigantic, picnic-basked-sized makeup kits and proceeded to make me “ready for my closeup”. What that meant in this case, I was amused to hear, was darkening my skin tone to match my character! What fun… a real transformation. When she was done, I was well on my way to really becoming “Guru Goulby”.
Next it was time to work on wardrobe. A black robe was the foundation, then a bright red sheer cloth was draped over that and pinned in the back. I added some gold beads collected at a Pride Parade. We played around with different comic glasses that I’d brought, but it was decided in the end that we didn’t need any of them. Finally, a long red strip of cloth was wound around my head for a “turban”, and the transformation into Guru Goulby was complete!
The vibe on the set was of dedicated and earnest students, following professional procedures while still clearly in a learning mode (as befits a student film production). Overall, the feeling was very much of being on the set of a professional production as everyone set out on their respective tasks. The director, Ernesto Ahmad, checked in with me every so often to discuss my lines or my character, or to advise me about what was coming next. Everyone without exception was very friendly and supportive.
Now I was called over to the set (located, in this case, on the other side of the room). I sat myself down cross-legged on the cushion, with a golden curtain behind me (a small square of cloth on the plain wall, but filling the background on-screen). The audio man swung his boom mike toward me on a pole. In the dim light, people fussed over the camera and the lights. Then we ran through a couple of rehearsals (which helped me practice and coordinate my line readings and hand movements).
This may not have been a megabudget Hollywood production, but with the lights and reflectors on each side of me, the camera in front and pointed right at me, and everyone scurrying around focused on their tasks, I felt very much “on set”. It was exciting, but I only allowed myself a fleeting moment of glee taking it all in, and then I kept focused on the task at hand.
I’m lucky in a way, as my role is just a small though memorable one, the “deus ex machina” that sets things going in the story, and thus I only had a few lines – most of them near the start of the film, and one line at the end. All of it is within the “videotape” seen in the store, so it was all on this one set. Things seemed to go well, Ernesto told me he liked what I was doing, and before I knew it, I was done!
Everyone thanked me, and I them. Then I headed for the men’s room and washed the dark makeup off my face and hands, and my eyes. Back to reality!
They tell me I’ll be getting a copy of the finished film on disk, so when that happens, I will hopefully be able to post a clip here. Stay tuned. Meanwhile…
(Pics of me in full costume coming soon.)