The “Meet the Filmmaker” session with esteemed Australian director, Steve Jacobs (La Spagnola, Disgrace) was a natural progression from the first week’s intense look at the art of acting with Brendan Cowell. The focus: directing actors.
Having spent thirty-odd years as an actor before directing his first feature film, “La Spagnola”, Steve Jacobs is as qualified as anybody to speak on the subject; and he did not disappoint.
The biggest lesson of the day – one our current students would be remiss not to heed – was the importance of casting. Using examples from “La Spagnola”, Jacobs outlined the painstaking process he went through to cast the perfect actors. His casting edict: Is the person not only capable of playing the role; are they hungry to play the role?
In the event of an actor struggling on-set to play a role, it’s important for the director to take ownership of his or her casting decision and to help the actor through the process in order to get the best performance possible.
It seems like simple stuff, but the difficulties lie in determining the qualities of an actor in the short space of time afforded to a filmmaker during the casting process. Here, Jacobs says, it’s up to each individual filmmaker to discover their own process for deciding whether or not they can depend on an actor.
It’s not often that film students are offered the kind of insight Jacobs provided. He was able to provide in depth explanations of two clips from his films – what he was aiming for and how he achieved those aims.
Perhaps most interesting was his recollection of ‘Disgrace’ and the process of working with his leading man, John Malkovich, whose nuanced performance adds immeasurable complexity and brilliance to the film. Such a performance cannot simply be directed – as Jacobs pointed out (the camera, he says, is the great “bullshit detector”). It is the result of conversations between director and actor and the subsequent diligence of the actor in preparation. A performance built in rehearsals.
Above: Still from the 2008 film “Disgrace”
It’s a fascinating insight for Sydney Film School students on working with a world-class actor. Jacobs hailed Malkovich’s intelligence and willingness to “take a risk” on a film that became critically acclaimed at Film Festivals the world over.
Asked for an indication of how successful he thought “Disgrace” was, Jacobs replied: “It takes twenty years to determine whether a film can survive the cultural noise which surrounds us in our everyday lives.”
As is always the case with successful artists, Jacobs also displayed the mettle required to handle the logistical and financial side of filmmaking.“It’s not conducive to being an artist in the film industry,” he explained, “it’s an oil in water type situation.”
That doesn’t mean that you cannot be an artist, but when it comes to logistics, it’s just as important to be creative. Jacobs stressed the need for young filmmakers to “drop the helicopter shot” from time to time. Sometimes you need to be even more creative in order to adhere to budgetary restrictions.
“It’s a capital-intensive art-form, you’ve just got to get it done.”
These days, Jacobs lives in Paris with his wife, Screenwriter and Producer, Anna- Maria Moticelli, where he says he finds it easier to get projects off the ground.
Jacobs ended the session on an optimistic, if not entirely positive note – and it’s one of great pertinence to students of SFS and young filmmakers all over the country.
Whether we like it or not, the old cinema model is dead. With the rise of the Internet, however, new possibilities present themselves. Platforms with which to captivate audiences are now available to anybody with vision and integrity.
This opens up a new world of possibilities for young filmmakers, who are now restricted only by their imagination – it’s not easy, but it wasn’t easy before either.
During the Q and A at the end of the session, there seemed to be some resistance to the idea of the death of the cinema. It’s easy to understand why – it’s a romantic place and most, if not all of us grew up with it.
It seems telling, however, that Steve Jacobs, along with many ‘Meet the Filmmaker’ guests before him and several Sydney Film School festival keynote speakers, who have cut their teeth and forged careers on this model, are often the biggest advocates for young filmmakers in the face of this paradigm shift.
It’s a brave new world for the next generation of Australian filmmakers, but it helps when the old guard’s on your side.
T O M E A R L S for SYDNEY FILM SCHOOL