Accidental Acting: Giving & Receiving

There’s something unsettling about seeing your image on a legit movie screen. It’s happened to me more times than I’d have a right to expect. Though, in reality, I don’t expect to be on a movie screen that often. It sorta keeps happening, though.

I know directors, writers, other creators of film and video projects. This leads to the occasional question of whether I’ll help out. And sometimes that means leaving the comfortable side of camera, working in a context in which I have zero training. That’s maybe not totally true. For a chunk of the mid-’00s, I took a fair bit of improv classwork, some of it taught by the late George Malich, under the auspices of the Improv Trick. (Acting for the screen, though? Nope. Never, not ever.)

On Sunday, July 14th, at 7:15, I’ll appear in a movie with George, sharing a scene, or two, along the way. The film’s called “Go South for Animal Index,” and it’s playing the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase at the Tivoli. Having worked on the project for almost two years, it was interesting enough to see short clips emerge, sent via a hidden YouTube page. To see the whole thing, in rough-cut form, just a few weeks back was a wholly different experience; best of all was watching the film in a tricked-out, South Side garage with other members of the cast and crew. A friendly audience, for sure.

As the film’s segmented into several dozen “chapters,” bit of story backed by a specific clip of music, I’d seen a number of the individual chapters over the past half-year. They looked great, Chris King’s direction honed by the fine editing of Dan Cross; all of that imagery culled from a half-dozen different camera operators, with their own distinct eye. But to see them all linked together, in long-form play? Wow. A totally unique and even slightly-jarring experience, indeed. And, let’s be honest: no matter how much I wanted to watch the film dispassionately, as a larger, collaborative piece, every time I popped into a scene, the tension level in my brain jumped a notch. But, to use the classic “car crash” analogy, I couldn’t look away. Though I wanted to. So conflicted!

At a later point in the shooting process, I asked for my character to be phased out. I was working on another, weekend-intensive video project at the time and I needed some mental space cleared. Without giving away anything essential, King came up with an interesting compromise. It was fun to shoot. And that one final scene (shot by Cross) is one I liked watching. In public. With other, friendly people around. Maybe I’ll see you at the next showing, the “real” one, the one coming up pretty quickly.

Or perhaps you’ll come out to the Showcase on the next day. On Monday, July 15 at 5:00 p.m., an 85-minute program at The Tivoli will be dedicated to Documentary Shorts. I didn’t create a doc for this event, though three mockumentary pieces that I produced will show. The three are all related to beer, or bar culture in St. Louis. The cast was largely assembled through my work at The Royale Food & Spirits, where a willing group of people can usually be drummed up for this creative project, or that.

On that Monday, three offerings from the web series Half Order Fried Rice will screen alongside a number of other, short offerings. The assumption is that most of the rest will be true docs, slice-of-life looks at St. Louis by-and-for St. Louisans. It’ll be fun to watch those, though, once again, I’ll be sweating bullets when the HOFR pieces screen. The bits are funny, at least in my mind, largely improv’ed by the cast, based on experiences and characters that I dreamed up as part of alternate, interlocking version of St. Louis. If the funny bits fall flat, or the serious bits get laughs… well, welcome to show business.

There’s a lot of creativity in the St. Louis community, with of folks involved in efforts on amateur basis. And a lot of that unpaid energy’s directed into film and video projects, of all sizes, scopes, angles and intents. That I get to flit through this particular sub-community a bit is still amusing to me. And often gratifying.

If you go to the Showcase and I pop up onscreen, based on either side of the camera, please laugh when you should. And don’t when you shouldn’t. Please?