Daily Archives: March 6, 2010

Say It Again Sam

"Give me more awe, Bruce"

I will be away for a couple of weeks in the States so here is my post about my brief film star experience earlier this week.

Four of us turned up to begin filming a pilot on a freezing early March morning earlier this week in Leigh Woods near Bristol. Apparently, this is the norm in the film business so as to capture “the light.” The only thing I thought we would capture was frostbite. Still, I was motivated and excited to be on my first proper shoot. I even had some of the lingo of “piece to camera,” “cut-away” and other terms that I had picked up in my limited media experience though I expect that the director, cameraman and soundman were smirking each time I tried to sound familiar with the proceedings.

It’s funny but you know you are on a proper shoot when the camera is very big and there is a man holding a microphone boom. I have done a couple of tv interviews before but have always been a bit disappointed that the equipment looked a bit inadequate. Even “The One Show” episode that I recently recorded which is being broadcast in August later this year seemed a bit flimsy. However, the camera on the shoot in the woods was big and heavy. I was also suitably impressed when Mark the cameraman told that me it cost the same as a Porsche, was the latest in digital technology – better than 35mm, but most importantly, the same type of camera had been used to make my favourite sci-fi film in the last year, “District 9.” Now, I felt like a real actor.

I had spent the weekend rehearsing my lines. There were only six of them but they had to be absolutely tight. The first line was supposed to capture the viewer’s attention, “YOU – believe in the supernatural!”  It was to be delivered direct to camera (oh dear, there I go again) with a finger pointing accusingly at the imagined audience in very much the same way in the famous US army recruitment poster showing Uncle Sam pointing directly at you.

We went for a first take that seemed fine. I had set aside the whole morning as requested but figured that at this rate, we should be finished in half and hour. Three hours later, I was still jabbing my finger at the camera and telling it that it believes in the supernatural. This had now been shot from umpteen different angles, with umpteen different tones of voice, and another umpteen different facial expressions. And each time, I got further and further away from the sense of me speaking English. Have you ever noticed that if you say words over and over again, they seem to lose their meaning? In fact, they often don’t seem like real words at all. With each repetition, you begin to question whether you can still speak English, as the utterances become increasingly gobbledygook.

When words seem to become nonsense with repetition, it is a phenomenon called “semantic satiation.” It’s like gorging on the meaning triggered by the sound of the word until you can’t take anymore. The same happens with the written word. That’s why sentences can sometimes become harder to understand each time you read them. Words that you know must be real, cease to make sense and spookily become nonsense. In fact, repeating myself over and over again that morning had an increasingly corrosive effect on my sense of reality. I was ceasing to be Bruce, but rather a puppet caught in a tangle, having to repeat moments of time over and over again. I was becoming depersonalized.

Some actors play themselves over and over again. Humphrey Bogart was pretty much playing Humphrey Bogart in every film he made. I doubt he bothered trying to portray a different character and maybe that’s exactly what the studio wanted. But other great character actors, recognizable by first names alone, such Laurence, Bobbie, Johnny and Meryl can become someone entirely different. I am no expert in acting but after my brief experience this week, I have a newly found admiration for those people who can suddenly become someone else so convincingly. Maybe it’s easier with big budgets and big cameras to capture the best angle. You don’t have to repeat lines over and over again. But when you do – you can get a real sense of the self that becomes unreal. This is why so many novices freeze when a camera is stuck in their face and they are expected to “be normal.”

Anyway, I saw the final product yesterday and was absolutely thrilled. Mostly because the guy in the film seemed so unlike me. That’s the wonder of film.

And yes, I know….Humphrey Bogart never uttered those famous words, “Play it again, Sam.”

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