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Comments on "The ABC of ROFFEKE" Screenings (September 2015 at iHub)

I liked all the films especially the one for Superman [“This is Joe”] and the last one which was longer [“ Frontman ”]. I look forward to at...

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Dr. Robert David Duncan on improv acting, collaborating and giving back

ROFFEKE: This collaboration begun with your status update:

“I like to make myself available as an actor to one or two indie projects in the summers as a way to give back and say thanks for all the support I've enjoyed with my own projects. If you have a part you'd like to write me into or have me consider, do feel free to be in touch and we'll see what can work out. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5399017”

How important is it for actors to “give back” and what are the advantages of doing this?

ROBERT: In the indie no-budget film world, we are almost always begging favours and hoping people can help us, often for free. That's an unfortunate reality of the work, and even if we have a tiny bit of money, we can never pay people what they are worth. So the art of making indie films becomes a lot about trading favours, and that's where "paying it forward" is a good habit to get into. For my part as a producer-director, I can help by giving people a good experience on my films. I try to keep the days short, with an eye to efficiency and respectfulness. I'd like people to go home feeling good about the work so that they will help someone else some day. I can also help by making sure people get IMDb credits right away, and by doing my best to have the films get out into festivals and beyond so our work gets out there. I also like to offer people their "one-up" position as much as possible, which was a piece of advice I got from a director who was very helpful to me early-on. What this means is a supporting or character type actor can get a shot at a lead role, a background actor can try out having some lines for a change, a person who hasn't done sound but wants to learn can hoist a boom and get a bit of field experience with the recording gadgetry; basically it means that people can try out the next level up that they are aspiring to. For this reason, i see my productions as training vehicles for people, and we treat them as educational opportunities, creating a culture of sharing knowledge and taking chances on people so they can grow. So when I look back on all the goodwill people have extended to me, I like to give back by offering to help others when I can. For me, the most fun way to do that is by offering my time as an actor, since it is what I like to do most, and making my own films and being responsible for the work of others can actually take me away from acting for the pure joy of it!

ROFFEKE: The project required you to improvise. How does improvisation help actors to improve their skills/craft?

ROBERT: Improvisation turns accidents into gifts! A table that gets knocked down on stage unintentionally by an actor can turn into a hilarious moment or a great character reveal. It's all in how you handle things. By training in improv, an actor gains a great sense of being present in the moment with maximum flexibility and a willingness to say "yes" to all sorts of things that happen. It creates a great framework for fun story development with a spirit of playfulness. One of the improv games I like is one where an actor says something, and the other actor says "Yes, and..." and then adds another little bit to the story, passing it back or on to someone else who says "Yes, and..." There are various versions of that kind of game, but they all create a sense of positivity that keeps something growing and building, and each person comes to realize that they don't have to say something totally amazing, but rather they just have to be accepting of what is sent their way and build on it a little bit. I love improv and I encourage everyone to try to take a weekend workshop or something if they can or get a book from the library and try it with a few friends, or watch some YouTubes to see some good improv games. It's fun, and will help your acting immensely!

(Robert was gracious enough to avail "The Dance of Collaboration", an excerpt from "Improv to Improve your Business". Interested in checking it out? Send an email to mildandred@gmail.com).

ROFFEKE: In this project, you went the extra mile; researching how we say hi in Sheng, putting the Shenganiguns logo in the background. What are some of the ways that actors can go the extra mile?

This was a fun project! I think it is important for actors to understand some key things, such as where their part fits into the overall story, who their character is and the function of the character in helping get the story across. It's often said there are no small parts, but actually there are, and the size and importance of the role to the story should to some extent guide the actor's preparation. A role like the one I just did for the Shenganiguns was not intended to be a major role or one of the sustaining characters responsible for carrying a lot of the story line. I saw it more as being like a single piano chord: "bom!" and you're out of there as the story moves on. A bit of funny counterpoint to whatever is going on in the main story, perhaps to illustrate the growth of the band's fame and increasing global reach. So for a character like that, I feel it is essential just to hit that one chord and not hold back. So in preparing, what I like to focus on is who the character actually is, in the sense of what type of person. I knew from the production team that he was the president of the Canadian fan club. Given my age and look, I tried to picture this guy - the kind of person who in middle age is a total fanatic for a new band. Once I start picturing the character as a whole being inhabiting my physical self, I try to isolate one main quality or trait the person has. In this case, I decided it was enthusiasm. So that is my main play - enthusiasm. Then I spice it up with a secondary trait, and I settled on fearlessness as in the sense of being without fear of trying new things - the kind of guy who would learn a few words of Sheng and Swahili and just put them out there with a big smile on his face! From that point it gets easier once you have made these first few choices. I then searched out some key phrases in Sheng from the web and lucked into this site ( https://answersafrica.com/kenyan-slangs-meanings.html ) which explained to me what Sheng was and gave me some ideas of a few words I knew I wanted to work into the scene. From that point on, I was confident that this guy's enthusiasm and willingness to try new things would carry the scene. I think that's a good tip to remember - the simpler your make your character in terms of their primary and secondary behavioural traits or makeup, the more straightforward it is to play them and there's less risk of getting bogged-down in over-thinking. Just go in and play your main notes, and play them to win!

(Check out how Robert played to win as the president of the official Canadian fan club of The Shenganiguns! Watch here)

For a more complex role, like "Dunc" in the feature film "A Legacy of Whining" my preparation was more involved. The story takes place over a single evening between two former high school friends who haven't seen each other in 30 years. I was given the direction that Dunc's main function was to burst every hopeful balloon that the other main character, Mitch, floated out there. So basically I was to be the permanently mean-spirited downer and pessimist in the face of Mitch's persistent (if unrealistic) hopefulness. But this was a feature-length film and I was one of the lead actors, so how do you sustain that kind of negativity without some kind of internal justification? So the work there became one of creating a believable set of past circumstances, personal history and worldview that would allow me to play this one kind of attitude through the whole film. The secret there was in the back story I created for my character, as to why he was there in the first place and why he is so irritable. I gave him an occupation, a justification for being in town, a triggering incident, and some reasons to be irritable and negative. Having made those private choices for myself, it became a lot more straightforward to play the character in a more textured way without forcing it. I had the luxury of time with that film because we had plenty of time to rehearse and think about things. For many projects you have to move a lot faster, and there isn't enough lead time to do a lot of work, so I focus on that one primary character trait, the one secondary trait and as much backstory as I can quickly put together. It's important, I think, to make those choices quickly and then just start stepping into being the character right away and getting the lines down.

Robert as As the darkly sarcastic Dunc in "A Legacy of Whining"

ROFFEKE: You gave back in this project. Who are some of the people that gave back in your projects and in what ways did they do this?

ROBERT: Wow, so many people have given their time, talent, advice and other support to me over the years I could never thank them all sufficiently. This includes people who catch one of our films at a festival and say good things or people who watch on YouTube or other channels, festival programmers like you, Mildred, and others like my Patreon members, even people who were willing to walk around our little movie sets with a smile. If you check out the cast and crew for "It's About Love" and my other films, you'll see a lot of familiar faces! My successes are the product of a ton of goodwill, and I hope I can give back also through my books, festival, support, time, advice, teaching and other ways. I think it's cool if you look at my IMDb and trace the interrelationships among people and see the many times I have worked with other people, you can definitely get the sense of there being a real film family or families there. As an example, Ross Munro wrote the part of "Dunc" in "A Legacy of Whining" with me in mind, and I then wrote Ross a lead role as "Rick" in "It's About Love" because I enjoyed working with him and knew his work ethic. I met cinematographer Ron Heaps on "A Legacy of Whining" and we have all worked together several times since, and so it goes, spinning this cool web of connectivity, and each person also brings their own network of goodwill with them and it grows. Now I've worked with you, Mildred, and it would be cool to do that again some day!

Robert with co-star Teresa Laverty in the forthcoming movie sequel "Still About Love"

ROFFEKE: Advice for aspiring actors?

ROBERT: Make your own stuff! It's the single best piece of advice I can give to an actor. Turn your smartphone on yourself and speak for a minute on all the frustrations and joys of your day as an actor. Stage a simple scene with a friend that has a funny twist or a cool life lesson. Have fun! If you don't know how to edit video, ask someone who knows editing to help you edit that piece into a one-minute film with beginning and ending titles. Load it up on FilmFreeway or other similar sites and submit it to a festival, or better yet, five festivals. Maybe you'll get into a festival! Eventually, you can put it up on YouTube or Vimeo or similar sites and reach even more people who can see and appreciate your talents. From that point on, you are a creator, instead of being someone who waits to be chosen for a part by someone else. You are now a writer-director-producer who also acts, and that is a much more powerful place to be in your career. As you learn and grow your skills you will get better at all aspects of your craft and your projects will get more complex and interesting. Plus, filmmakers love working with actors who know how to make films, because they bring a lot of knowledge that improves their acting, things like understanding continuity between takes and other insights into the process of filmmaking.The years will pass anyway, and are gone for good, so do you want to spend that time auditioning endlessly for others or making your own stuff? If you keep making stuff and you will stay in the driver's seat of your own career. You can still audition all you want, but you are operating from a position of power, and it is your choice.

Robert on the set of "Spinoza Hotel". Learn more about this fascinating experimental short film here


Links:

IMDb page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5399017
Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/robertdavidduncan
Udemy course "Acting Skills for a Better Life" https://www.udemy.com/acting-skills-for-a-better-life/
Udemy course: "How to Make a Feature Film with No Money and No Car" https://www.udemy.com/how-to-make-a-feature-film-with-no-money-and-no-car/
YouTube link to "It's About Love" full movie https://youtu.be/VSSO1VjdHA8
IMDb for "A Legacy of Whining" with trailer https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3766040

Monday, July 8, 2019

Review: Songs of Injustice

Reviewer: Mutendei Writes

Songs of Injustice is a film that can be summed up through an anecdote of my own creation; “a seed planted in soil produces a plant that blooms in accordance with the properties and characteristics of the soil it germinates in.”

Songs of Injustice is a film that captures the emergence of Rock music or Metal within South America, focusing on the organic adaption of a foreign musical genre, and its transformation into an independent art form with a unique purpose and significance to the people of Latin America.

Every art form and artist seeks to establish an independent identity and Metal in Latin America is no exception. However as Songs of Injustice narrates it’s about the journey and not the destination.


Metal in Latin America is undoubtedly a tool of resistance against decades of past and ongoing political oppression, marginalization and dictatorship, the very soil in which Metal, planted as a seed grew into something organic and independent of its point of origin.
This by itself is a success in its own right when evaluated on the basis of the opening credits quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the 1982 Nobel Prize winner for literature.

“The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown ever less free, ever more solitary.”
Metal is not constrained by the original valueless form of rock, inapplicable to the environment of Latin America. A fact that the documentary film alludes to, highlighting the reality that music cannot be removed from the life it exists in.

The style and tempo of the documentary focuses more on the reasons and motivation behind the music and adopts a mostly historical focus when discussing the featured musicians throughout the featured Latin countries, Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

This focus, while positive is also a bit of a downside as it doesn’t showcase the artistic development of the groups, their background and personal bios and with them the organic music within Latin America, outside of the messages around which their music is constructed.
How they came together and how they began to associate are vital segments that the film misses and either excludes intentional or unintentionally.

Because of this the film beyond the halfway mark of its one hour and thirty minutes run time starts to feel very repetitive. In addition, Songs of Injustice as a documentary film would have been better segmented, by clearer demarcation between the switch of focus from country to country, perhaps by use of the different names of counties or their flags as a transition.

It’s clear that Metal is to Latin America what Reggae is to Jamaicans, however it also misses the opportunity to get the reaction of the fans to the music and provide a perspective on the inspirational aspect to everyday persons, who are not musicians; everyday persons living in the environment that the music and its messages stems from and seeks to create awareness and historical education.

Given that the term “Aguante” which characterizes the musicians’ motivation to create metal, stands for “strength, resistance, support”, and a “yes we can” attitude, songs of resistance fails to provide a voice to the fans who the music is made for and sung to.

Despite missing this segment, the documentary film Songs of Injustice is a body of work that cannot be overlooked when seeing to understand the purpose an value of Metal within Latin America and the heavy history it is tied to.

The film closes smartly with a call to attention encouraging people to be aware or by modern lingo, “woke” to the reality that there is a vital need to pay attention to and embrace Metal as a form of resistance and means to be in tune with the reality of the day.

(Written in March 2019).

Mutendei Bio

Mutendei Writes (Elias Nabutete) a Kenyan writer, with Kenyan & Canadian life experiences, writes & performs under the penname Mutendei Writes. As an artistic writer, using original, creative & structured writing, covering unique, genre inspired material, moving beyond the limiting modern day mainstream spectrum of content has been Mutendei Writes. Interweaving modern & cultural inclinations, with vivid storylines, Mutendei Writes artistically creates written & Spoken Word Poetry, along with short stories. With four unique books; The Poetry Express, The IdeaBankisms, Shadow Walkers & Everything Mutendei. Mutendei Writes has also maintained monthly website releases on mutendeiwrites.wordpress.com, adding to his works, while enabling others to pursue their literary goals.