Lisa Peers: An actor’s perspective
Lisa Peers is one of Australia’s most loved actresses across stage and screen. Her thriving feature film career includes Sunday Too Far Away with Jack Thompson, Monkey Grip with Noni Hazlehurst, Buddies with Colin Friels, and the NZ classic Solo and Finding Nemo. She has also guest starred in COPS LAC, All Saints, A Country Practice, Home and Away, Bellbird, Pacific Drive, The Power The Passion and many others.
Here she shares her insights into the one-shot style of filmmaking from an actor’s perspective.
Recently I was asked to attend a film workshop exploring the one-shot style of filmmaking. The workshop was held at top private film school – Sydney Film School – as part of the Australian Film Festival. Director and feature filmmaker Ben Ferris ran the full day workshop.
The one shot style is a process of film creation without cuts or editing. It can be used as a dramatic device that experiments with time and space to build tension and a sense of nostalgia. Iconic film directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Bela Tarr and Stanley Kubrick have all drawn on the one-shot filmmaking style. In the industry, it’s known as high-risk film making and can be extremely difficult. If one thing is out of place, you have to abandon the whole film.
As one of a group of actors, my objective was to give the student directors the opportunity to work with professional actors and act out scenes specifically storyboarded for this style of shooting. I attended because I love to work, and it’s fun to play with other actors and filmmakers, without the constraints of budget, time, and commercial requirements.
The one-shot technique was not something I was experienced with, and I found it very intense to work with. It forces the actor to be really ‘in the moment’, paying attention all the time to the subtle nuances of the story (in this case improvised around an idea, but not rehearsed). Because one cannot rely on the editor to put together the best takes, and to manipulate the story with hindsight, it forces the actor to be aware of succinctly progressing the story. It requires an awareness of angles etc., but as you don’t always know where the camera is focussing, you need to always be 'on’. There has to be trust between the actor and camera operator, especially as in this case there was only one camera, and the camera operator and director are making choices about which actor to focus on in any given moment.
For the purposes of the workshop, we split into groups, with each group assigned a director, writer cameraperson, and two to four professional actors. Our group discussed and workshopped ideas which could fit our age difference, and possible relationships. We decided upon a story of a young man being seemingly stalked by a woman at his workplace, a café. The tension built as she (I) started to question him about his life and family background. Eventually it was revealed that she was in fact his birth mother, and had been watching him for a while, waiting for an opportunity to reveal herself to him. In the scene, the camera operator decided to focus on the young man’s reactions, which really enhanced the voyeuristic feel of the scene. One thing the actor does not have to be concerned about with this style of filmmaking is the order of events/ shots etc. Because it’s all shot live. This gives a great sense of realism.
As we worked through several takes, the story solidified, and in between the director asked us to progress some of the ides of each take, and elaborate on them. Each take was quite different, as ideas seemed to take on a life of their own, and we followed those threads a little differently each time.
Overall, without the ability to call cut and redo certain moments, the one-shot technique is demanding for an actor. It calls for emotional intensity, awareness of angles and trust. In turn actors are rewarded with freedom to explore, improvise and play off each other with truthfulness, and true attention on each other.
Our group is now planning on re-grouping, with a written script based on our improvised scene, and, still in the one-shot format, shoot our story as a short film. It's this kind of framework for networking with young filmakers which creates 'outside the box' creative opportunities.