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Stella's Talk at the January Melbourne Actors and Filmmakers Networking Event

I always enjoy imparting a little of myself. 

This is an excerpt of the talk that I gave at the Melbourne actors and filmmakers networking event, hosted by Brenton Foale.

Foremost, I believe actors possess the key to a successful film. A film cannot hold itself on production or directorial value alone, so how does one best prepare for the role to make sure that Number one they will be the successful one at the audition and Number two be the one that will bring that film to the level that it needs to get to?

I'm a visual person, which is why I'm a filmmaker. I like to watch, but it is the world around me that I watch, its minutiae, the detail in a drop of rain, or the streak of pale pink that lines the clouds at sunset, the joint of a crab's leg when it moves, and how it moves. The details in nature thrill me, and it is where I am most happiest, simply watching. These observations I then take to film and deploy them throughout the various scenes.

I've already seen the film in my head once the script has been locked. I've played it over and over again. I know the colours, the clothes, the settings and the characters that will grace the sets. In my mind the film has already been made, and it then simply becomes a logistical process for it to be realised. So where does that leave the talent? The talent has no idea what is in my head, so at the audition, other than my direction, what is it, that one, can bring to the table to ensure success?

The script would have been sent, or portion thereof. One should get an idea of what the character is like, and from that idea, build on that character, layer them with the intricacies of life and nature that have been observed, because that is what I will be looking for. I will want to see what the actor can creatively project about someone that he/she will immerse themselves in. Embrace the script as if it is second nature. Know its variations, and intentions.

I'm not asking for a method approach here, all I'm asking is that one knows the script, and once it's been learnt, to have researched the character that speaks. But it's not just about the overall aspect of a character, it is about the detail. I go back to the fact that I'm a visual person, so I'm going to want to see the talent act and immerse themselves in that character.

I'll give an example, lets say that as an actor you are confronted with having to play an old man, who's not sick, but who will die in a few days, suddenly and without warning. He's a family man, but old. What is it, about this man, just before his death, that you can muster and show me?

I'll tell you what I have seen. I have seen an old man who intrinsically knows that he will part. He has a knowingness in his eyes, they're deep and they see you, beyond your flesh. He penetrates your soul, because he is trying to muster a final connection with the physical world. There is a slight desperation to that connection, but also a resignation. He has accepted that he will pass. If he is content with his relationships in his life and doesn't feel guilt, he will be calm, and when he smiles, he will soften and be sincere. If he is carrying guilt, he will be slightly bitter, short, a little manic.

In an actor, I have to see these things that are not in the script per se. It will be in the way, the old man folds his hands, rubs his forehead with sweat, turns to look at you with calmness or guilt. It's your call, and it's your research. And you know these things, because you have been watching the world alongside me. I will choose the actor to play the role who shows me that detail in nature, because at the end of the day, the audience will subconsciously respond to these, and therefore will form a bond with the character and feel empathy, without an audience's empathy, the film will fail.

The audience needs to go on a journey and they will go on the journey throughout the film if the character is one they can relate to and identify with, and they will only do this by the nuances of the character and the detail, and only an actor can bring that to the table. It is no good to have a director tell you to lift your hand a particular way across your forehead, unless you know what that sweep of the forehead looks like by someone who is stressed, their little finger, wavers and shakes as it comes across the forehead. That is the difference....

Which brings me to Bradley Cooper. In American Sniper, he completely absorbs himself in the role to look like Chris Kyle, Team Three Sniper. He researches the role, manages to speak to Kyle before Kyle gets killed and visits his family after his death, much to the confusion of Kyle's father who couldn't understand how a pretty boy like Bradley could pull the role of his son, one of America's greatest snipers in a contemporary war, off, yet he does. Daily voice exercises with Tim Monich to get the perfect Texan accent, researches the role completely, knows Kyle inside out, gains weight, understands the nuances of what it means to be a Sniper, and in one of the best scenes in the film, I see him focusing to shoot, and I notice his eye twitching. Is this an accident? Maybe, but I think he knew the character so well that the twitch, at least for me, made all difference.

As an actor you have to treat yourself as a business, and that means that you have to market yourself accordingly. Be savvy with the internet, publicise yourself with your own distinct class. Show the world your point of difference, and make yourself accessible and personable. Utilise Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, but use them in a positive way, the public arena is not a place to vent your frustrations, but a place to show everyone what you are capable of doing for yourself and for them. Ask people for Testimonials when they have finished working with you. Testimonials go a long way for people, sometimes it their first point of call, and put these up for everyone to see. If you have a website, great, put them there, if not, then put them up on your Facebook, let the world know you are around and that you are good at what you do.

Good at what you do and a passion for what you have. I find that too many people stay in a state of mind because that is what they know or a comfortable with. When things are not going your way, it is important to change, find a different direction, be creative with this, understand that if something has not been working then it is time to change it, no one need to know what you are thinking and doing.

I like to refer to Reese Witherspoon here, love her or hate her, Today at 38 she has successfully produced two of the most talked about movies of the year, Gone Girl and Wild, both are about flawed, dynamic women, both have been successfully received with Wild nominated for best actress.

It was not always like this for Reese though, In 2006 she won an Oscar for Best performance by a female lead for Walk the Line, yet what followed was dismal. Roles were not forthcoming and there was nothing there that she was passionate about. So, she decided to tee up with Bruna Papandrea, who mind you, is an Australian who also decided to move to LA and work there, follow her dream, and together they set up Pacific Standard, a production company that has made two hits so far, and why? Because they didn't listen, nor allow themselves to be controlled by other people's journeys or beliefs.

What does this mean for you? Do not get dismayed by that role you didn't get, Reese couldn't get them with an Oscar under her belt, and follow your passion, regardless if it fits in the norm or not. In other words, if you want to make a film, start a production company, write a script, challenge yourself with a role that you normally wouldn't do, then get out there and do it. No one is stopping you, and if they are telling you to not do it because the industry is too fickle, hard, incestuous, then learn to not Listen.  Quite possibly the best thing I know how to do. 

Stella Dimadis 
February, 2015.


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