Jacqueline, a Swiss writer/director, and Nikolai, her German cameraman, arrived at Slab City in January of 2013 doing research for a documentary on people who go beyond their comfort zone. That was me. Her previous documentary played at the Cannes Film Festival and better yet sold. I figured she knew what she was doing but when she asked me to be one of the subjects I said, "You flew all the way here from Europe then rented an RV for thousands of dollars and I'm the best you can do?" She laughed, "Yes".
We spent several days recording interviews and shooting video, what we call B roll, to play over the interviews, for a promo/trailer they would use as part of a pitch to get funding for the documentary.
As one of the crew put it this movie is on the fuzzy line between documentary and scripted show. In Hollywood terms my part of the documentary is "based on a real person". So it comes down to me being an actor playing a person based on me. Except I'm not an actor. That's the fun part.
Being on the wrong side of the camera isn't that much fun. You often don't know what's going on or why you are doing things. It's just "hit this mark, then hit that mark then look right." Postproduction, editing, etc, is the best part of making a movie. That's where the movie is made. I wouldn't be having any part of that.
Sometimes my Hollywood experience got me into trouble. When we were recording my voice once in a while I would say something then thinking of the editor I'd say, "you can't fix that" then do it again. I was to stop that but I replied "The editor will thank me." Same with shooting I'd pick something up then ask if they if they needed an insert for coverage. "No". I finally realized we were making a foreign movie. So I never suggested again, well hardly ever.
They shot me leaving my condo, actually an apartment with a much better view, in Seattle then returning. The shots would bookend my portion of the movie. I thought me meeting Barbara dancing then traveling with her would be better. If that's not a great third act I don't know what is. About half way through the shoot Jacqueline decided that me meeting Barbara at a dance would be a great third act. So we went up to the Fountian of Youth RV park where Barbara and I used to dance to film us dancing. The production paid for the dance so we could control the shooting.
The most difficult part of this experience is letting go. I didn't know what was going on most of the time but then I don't have to. All I need to do is hit my mark and allow the director to pull the character, who is a lot like me, out of me. She had 11 pages of voice over dialogue for me to read. Mostly was taken from my emails or previous interviews sometimes rephrased for brevity. The first few sessions Jacqueline had a difficult time getting what she wanted from me. Mostly due to her directing technique in later sessions I got much better at making subtle changes and giving her the reading she wanted. Not sure what I got out of it but Jacqueline says I was much improved as an actor from the first few days. I was more natural in front of the camera and the voice over recording came much faster at the end.
At first I thought I'd pay more attention to the technical details because that's what I did in Hollywood. (Nikolai had the same camera I did but he had a nice collection of Zeiss lenses.) But I came to realize that I needed to ignore what lens he may be using, what sort of shots they were getting, etc. and just pay attention to my character. I tried to follow Jacqueline's directions and let the the crew, especially Assistant Director Beatrice, take care of everything else. Shooting the dance scene some folks sat at the table between shots which would have been a continuity issue. I was about to mention it to them but then realized that's not my job, Beatrice will take care of it. She did.
The experience reinforced what I already knew about the movie business. Actors have it the worst except maybe for the 20 million per picture A listers. I got a bit less than 20 million but I ate well.
We didn't make the Cannes film festival but we were in a few other European festivals including IDFA in Amsterdam, the biggest Documentary Film festival in Europe. But nothing beats, "my movie went to Cannes."