Actors need work experience to get an agent and an agent to get work.
At times like these, I wish Goldie Hawn or James Dean were my creators.
But life’s not fair. My acting career will have to begin at the bottom of the gene pool.
In moviemaking, this means volunteering for student-produced films.
In my experience, student filmmakers (more often than not) produce wonderfully disturbing films.
Willingness is a virtue actors must acquire. You must be willing to put yourself at the mercy of a student director’s imagination.
“More Blood!” the director yells, and his helpers run at you with a paint can of corn syrup and food coloring.
Soylent Red was my first short film (A take on the film Soylent Green).
“We need girls to be victims”… said my neighbor Corey (an actor) standing outside of his boutique video store.
He knew I was interested in acting. My heart pounded within my chest cavity.
“What does the role require?” I hesitated.
Maybe I didn’t really want to be an actor — I had no experience.
“We don’t know yet.”
We? How many people are we?
“We won’t find out until later tonight,” he said.
Bloodshots was a 48-hour horror film contest, which meant we would be supplied with specific guidelines from the contest start time.
We had 48 hours to create the story, film it and edit it.
“The only problem is I have to study tonight.” I said unconvincingly, hoping he couldn’t see the panic in my eyes.
“Do you want to be an actor or not?” he challenged me.
My face flushed. I swallowed hard. I do want to be an actor … Arhgh!
I took a couple minutes to give myself a pep talk — the kind my best friend Trina would have given as I fretted over ‘this or that’ while drinking herbal tea at Wongs (a Chinese restaurant in Teslin, now closed).
Pacing in front of the video store, puffing hard on a cigarette, I decided I had to take the part.
Later that night, Corey brought me to a house where the production meeting was held. I was wracked with anxiety. My hands were embarrassingly clammy.
I introduced myself to a number of film people loitering in the dingy apartment. To my surprise they were extremely welcoming.
Film geeks. Like me!
I felt guilty for anticipating their snobbery. Negative portrayals of ‘the artist’ who is superficial, flaky and reveling in self-importance have influenced my perceptions of film people. I dread the stereotype. My heart rate slowed to a healthy beat. A group of boys huddled together speaking rapidly.
“We don’t have a location!” someone said.
One guy paced in and out and around the group.
The director, Scott, was a tall 24-year-old man wearing a black hoody he never took off his head.
Cory and Scott looked at one another.
Scott approached us and yelled, “Girls come here!”
Out shuffled two tiny, pretty women, Erin and Stephanie.
They looked like Barbie munchkins. Erin was a five-foot Malibu Barbie lookalike and Stephanie a five-foot Jamie Lynn Spears look-a-like.
“You three are going to be wrapped in cellophane and covered in blood.”
He motioned in an over exaggerated way…“and are all going to die… How? We don’t know yet … In some exceedingly artistic way.”
Scott smiled and waited for our response. We looked at each other with wide eyes and smiles.
“Sara!” Scott beckoned for his girlfriend.
“Yo.” Sara said imitating a rap star. Sara was a witty and friendly person who loved helping out with Scott’s films and (for the most part) preferred to be behind the camera.
“Can you get these girls fitted for cellophane”? Cellophane? The script was still unknown, but Scott decided all the victims would be wrapped in cellophane.
Someone had given Scott an abundance of cellophane.
The four of us girls went to the back room. Sara measured the cellophane according to each body.
I learned that Erin was from Delaware. She held dual citizenship. She was currently shooting a movie called Married Life with Pierce Brosnan, Rachel McAdams, Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper.
Chris Cooper was her pretend dad and she was his pretend daughter Becky. I had never met someone who was in a real movie. Her plan was to go to L.A. during the pilot season after building a resume in Vancouver.
Erin and Stephanie met in acting class.
Stephanie was a 17-year-old aspiring actress (obsessed with Gwen Stefani who gets told all the time “you look exactly like Britney Spears.”
Commotion erupted from the other room.
“We now have the rules”, Sara guessed (rolling her eyes).
The boys were ecstatic and gathered around the computer.
Scott read aloud, “Theme: Backwoods. Prop: fanny pack. Line: ‘We may drink alcohol but we’re still human beings.’ Death: music.”
The apartment exploded with conversation.
The task was at hand. We would come up with a story including a backwoods scene, a fanny pack as a prop, and an insertion of the strange line… and lastly, someone would die by music.
Death by music. Hmm.
We also learned a surprise celebrity judge would be announced before the films were reviewed. Excitement overload.
Scott ordered the “talent” to go home and get some rest. I had a feeling it was going to be a late night for the boys.
Shooting was to begin at 6 a.m.
We said goodnight and departed. My pulse thumped with happiness. I hadn’t let my original anxiety dissuade me from participating.
This was the beginning of many wonderful friendships.
Lying in bed that night, high on natural endorphins with my hands folded behind my head I dreamt of my Oscar acceptance speech.
Once again on the stage before an audience, I graciously thanked my creative and supportive film friends (in Vancouver I first met on the set of Soylent Red).
Teardrop. If it wasn’t for our introduction I may not be here at the Oscars. Teardrop. Ooooh. I mustn’t forget to praise my Yukon roots, having kept me modest. Teardrop.
I drifted into a light slumber ready for my alarm clock to go off at 5 a.m. The bottom of the gene pool is not such a bad place after all.
Ashley Hunking grew up in Teslin. She is now a freelance writer and actor who lives in Vancouver.