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Behind The Black Panther: Film School Founder Recalls Early Days Of Chadwick Boseman

Behind The Black Panther: Film School Founder Recalls Early Days Of Chadwick Boseman

Travis Bean, Forbes Contributor

When Patrick DiRenna talks about what makes for a great performance in a film, he speaks of emotional clarity; facial expressions; screen presence; controlling the audience.

But going beyond the mere components of acting, DiRenna views a great performance as a result of great filmmaking: the camera is in sync with the actor; the characters are well- developed; the direction is dictating the performance.

At the Digital Film Academy, that’s what DiRenna hopes students will learn: filmmaking is a team effort. And with that mentality, you can go far in the industry.

“You can make it big,” says DiRenna. “That’s what Chadwick did.”

Yeah, that’s right. Patrick DiRenna, the president and founder of Digital Film Academy in New York City, is talking about that Chadwick. One of his former students, the star of Black Panther—Chadwick Boseman.

With a new slew of future filmmakers set to attend the academy this September—with a second location opening in Atlanta due to attendance growth—DiRenna is looking back on what prepped the school’s most well-known graduate for success in the film industry.

DiRenna, a mentor to Boseman at the time, taught the upcoming star of 21 Bridges “acting for directors.” DiRenna saw the confidence behind Boseman’s performance and knew he had the potential to break out.

“He came here talented, focused, sharp,” DiRenna says.

That poise would certainly take Boseman far, but DiRenna says the actor’s willingness to learn and grow as a performer while attending the academy is what set him up for success.

“Thurgood Marshall is no slouch,” DiRenna says, recalling one of the many prominent African American figures Boseman has inhabited since graduating from Digital Film Academy. On top of portraying the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice, Boseman played Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up.

“For me, from a tactical point of view, it’s about who they are,” DiRenna says. “These are three historical figures with big differences between them. If you really want to become these characters, you have to really be willing to take it on.”

Boseman’s versatility and range doesn’t surprise DiRenna, who remembers Boseman as a spot- on student. “Serious and not overly formal,” DiRenna describes Boseman, who has the range of Gary Oldman and the screen presence of Keanu Reeves. Boseman’s capacity to occupy Thurgood Marshall or James Brown goes beyond the ability to mimic those men’s gestures, movement and tone—DiRenna says it requires a quiet, steadied occupation of their being.

“I remember his face and the level of concentration in his eyes. You could see internal processes working,” DiRenna recalls. “At that time he was building himself. I could see he was putting the pieces together.”

But not everybody can find success because of their gripping screen presence. And, really, Boseman’s striking performances are benefitted by the players around him, DiRenna claims. Filmmaking is a collective experience between many professionals working together—and DiRenna’s academy strives to get all those different players ready for the industry.

“My example for all of this is The Godfather,” DiRenna explains. “Al Pacino does next to nothing in the film. But he’s got the face; and then you surround Michael Correlone with all the characters; if he’s still, the camera is moving. There’s all this activity going on.”

DiRenna believes that collective experience at the Digital Film Academy is truly what sets every student—not just Boseman—on a path towards realizing their careers. Alumni like Brad Bailey win awards for documentaries like Hale; alumni like Shaun Dawson nab managerial roles at digital platforms like Vimeo; alumni like Pavel Kercle work on visual effects for huge films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World.

DiRenna’s goal is for the Digital Film Academy to not only coach students while attending school, but set them up for the future. That way, you can find jobs and make money like Boseman did—like Bailey and Dawson and Kercle did.

“This is the only school in the world when after you graduate, you have free access to our equipment forever,” DiRenna says. “That’s how you make money. Forget filmmaking—we’re talking digital filmmaking as an industry.” “

Source: Forbes Online, Jul 12, 2019, 02:16pm

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The Iconic Ruby Dee Dies at 91

For many, the allure of a life in the arts stems from the possibility of becoming a legend. The right role and the right story can permanently catapult an actor into the public consciousness.

For Ruby Dee, the iconic actress and civil rights activist, her legend stemmed not just from her break-through roles and wonderful performances, but also from the important part she played off-screen in shaping America’s civil rights movement and fighting for equality up until her death last Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Dee was 91 years old.

ruby_dee

Born in 1922, Dee was just 18 when she landed her first role in a Harlem production of On Strivers Row. From those humble beginnings, she went on to  multiple roles on Broadway, television, and in film, starring opposite such heavy-hitters as Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and James Earl Jones.

She was the first black woman ever to play a lead role at the American Shakespeare Festival, or on such popular soap operas as Peyton Place and Guiding Light. Her acting achievements earned her an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, five Emmy nominations (with one win for Decoration Day),  a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Then, at the age of 83, she garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in 2007’s American Gangster, playing the mother of Denzel Washington.

Dee and Washington in American Gangster.
Dee and Washington in American Gangster.

As important as Dee’s acting career was to her, it always went hand-in-hand with her activism. In fact, she saw no separation between the two, commenting once that if actors could be image makers, “Why can’t we image makers become peacemakers, too?” When she met Ossie Daivs in 1945 and they married in 1948, she found a lifelong partner in her devotion to both the arts and activism.

The two were married for 56 years, becoming one of Hollywood’s most enduring and romantic couples. Together, they made great strides for civil rights, forming close friendships with Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and Malcolm X, just to name a few. Dee famously emcee’d the 1963 March on Washington. Together, she and Davis received the National Medal of Arts in 1995, were inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame in 1989, and received SAG Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2000.

Davis and Dee accept their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual SAG Awards.
Davis and Dee accept their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual SAG Awards.

Davis passed away in 2005.

Proving what a special place Dee held in the heart of the entertainment community, she was thanked twice during the recent Tony Awards on June 8, 2014, first by six-time winner Audra MacDonald, and then by Kenny Leon, the winning director of A Raisin in the Sun. Both were influenced by Dee’s talent and passion.

What sort of mindset led to Dee’s lifelong success and contentment? As she said in a 1988 interview regarding her and Davis:

“We believe in honesty. We believe in simplicity. We believe in a good breakfast when we can get it. We believe in not going heavily into debt. We believe in education. We believe in love. We believe in the family. We believe in Black history, and we believe in involvement.”

To read more about Ruby Dee, please check out the following articles:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/celebrities/ruby-dee-actress-and-civil-rights-activist-dies-at-89/2014/06/12/d4c3e4d2-f250-11e3-9ebc-2ee6f81ed217_story.html

RIP Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Actor Advice, Part Two: 4 Tips for Nailing an Audition

Hopefully you’ve read Part One of ‘Actor’s Advice’ – and maybe it even helped you get an audition. Now, here are a few tips for nailing your audition once you’re in the door.

1. Go back and re-read the breakdown.

Read it carefully.
Carefully.

Wherever you applied, there must have been at least a basic description of the character. Chances are, though, you apply for multiple auditions each day and these descriptions blur together. So to avoid confusion – go back and re-read the break-down for the character! The words used to describe this person are key words for what you should convey in your audition. Read them over and over, and take them to heart.

2. If you get the sides in advance – know them! 

Make this much progress in a week.
Make this much progress in a week.

If you’re doing a ‘cold read’ – seeing the pages for the first time – it’s one thing. If you’ve had the pages for days, it’s another.

Not only will studying in advance keep you from burying your face in the pages as you audition, which is bad for multiple reasons (the camera won’t get a good shot of your face if you’re being filmed, it’ll be harder to act natural, etc.), but it tells casting you come prepared. It’s good to keep your pages in hand, but really, they should practically be memorized.

To hammer this home, let me say there’s nothing more annoying than an actor who is clearly reading sides they got in advance for the first time. Recently, I was auditioning actresses for a short. An actress came in and she looked and sounded the part. I was already putting stars next to her name. Then, she read. She’d had her sides for two weeks – and couldn’t get through one line without stumbling. We had to start over FIVE times. This wouldn’t have happened if she’d prepared. Her name went from being starred to being crossed out.

Likewise, IF you screw up, keep going. You won’t be grudged one flubbed line if you’re truly right for the part – but flubbing EVERY line and having to start over will over-shadow any talent you might have.

3. Hit the basics.

One thing at a time...
One thing at a time…

There is a brief list of things to do when you first arrive to show you’re professional.

Being friendly when you come through the door is a must. If the character’s hostile, don’t come in brimming with hostility – save it for the audition. Introduce yourself first and foremost as a person who’s great to work with.

Also, if you have a REAL question about the part that will help your audition, don’t be afraid to ask. It shows you’re giving this thought. (But don’t pull a pretentious question out of thin air for no reason! Example: “Can you tell me any background for why the character feels so strongly about X?” FINE. “Is it safe to assume that the character’s feelings are strongly rooted in an existentialist training not mentioned here?” NO.)

Pretentious: Not a good look on you.
Pretentious: Not a good look on you.

Then, once things are really ready to roll, remember to do the following:

If it’s being taped, ask “How am I framed?” This gives everyone confidence you know their language and how to play to a camera. Also, knowing how you’re framed will help you figure out some basics: for example, how much should you be moving? If you’re in close-up, the answer is: not at all.

Next, make sure to slate. Slating means looking into the camera and saying your name before you start.

4. Take direction!

Go left. LEFT!
Go left. LEFT!

How well you take direction is often the deciding factor in whether you’ll be cast. Your first reading might have been great – but typically, you’ll be given a few notes and asked to do it again. This is either because the notes are genuine or because the powers that be want to see how well you adapt.

Feel free to ask questions when given notes. Brush up on improv or do whatever you have to to get good at applying notes quickly. One thing’s for sure – if an actor’s given notes, then proceeds to do the scene in the same exact way they did originally, their chances of success are drastically cut.

What other things do you do in auditions that you think are important? Please share in the comments below!

Bonus resource: http://mightytripod.com/actor-tips-how-to-nail-your-next-on-camera-audition/

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Actor Advice, Part One: 3 Tips for Getting the Audition

Acting is probably the hardest field to break into in the already very hard world of film.

This really hit home for me when I posted a casting call for just two characters (unpaid) and got over 450 applicants. With numbers like those, anything you can do to get (and improve) an audition is well worth it!

This is Part One of a two-part series. Below are some helpful tips for getting an audition. Granted, for well-know actors, this isn’t a problem. But for anyone just starting out? You need all the help you can get!

Learn from this flower and stand out.
Learn from this flower and stand out.

1. Have a reel.

450 actors. Let that number sink in. 450. I was able to audition 20. So I needed a way to cut that 450 down to its most promising 20, ASAP.

The easiest way for me to do this was to cut anybody who didn’t have a reel. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Of the 450, maybe 200 had reels, and watching their reels gave me at least some idea of what they could and couldn’t do. Why would I opt to audition one of the 250 people who didn’t have a reel and who only sent generic headshots and resumes listing obscure credits which, for the most part, meant nothing to me? Not only did not having a reel indicate that they were less experienced, but I had no way of telling whether or not they could act their way out of a paper bag.

Little help?
Little help?

Just starting out and don’t have any footage to put a reel together? That shouldn’t be a problem. Find local film schools or recruit your film-loving friends to help you. Chances are you’ll find people to help on the cheap, or even for free.

Make sure you include a wide range of emotions in your reel. Pick  dramatic scenes, comedic scenes, scenes with tears, scenes with laughter, laid back scenes, etc. That way, no matter what part you want, you can point the casting folks to the right moment on your reel. (Yes, literally – tell them to go to minute 2:55 on the reel to see you cry if what they need is someone crying. They don’t need to see the first 2 minutes and 55 seconds of you singing or dancing or doing handstands or whatever if it’s not relevant to their needs.)

This stamp comes out fast.
This stamp comes out fast.

2. Write a real cover letter.

Ok, you might have to weigh the pros and cons of doing this one. I’ve done most of my casting through sites like mandy.com and I understand that it’s common practice to send a pre-written form letter to tons of potential jobs at once, to up your chances that a few reply back.  From the perspective of the casting people, though, this can be really annoying.

They wade through hundreds of letters from ‘interested people’ who clearly didn’t even glance at their casting notice. Actors will talk about being great comedic actors when applying for a drama. They’ll talk about their rates when the notice already said the role is unpaid. They’ll be 25 years old when the role is for someone who’s 75. You get the idea. (An extension of this rule is that you should only apply for roles that are right for you.)

Not the right shot to include if you're applying for the role of a carefree babysitter.
Not the right shot to include if you’re applying for the role of a carefree babysitter.

This wastes people’s time. (Remember, they have about 450 applications to get through.) For that reason, stuff like this leads to an instant delete.

What does impress? Someone expressing a clear interest in a role. And these letters don’t have to be long and daunting – just a few lines will do it.

Last fall, I was looking for a hard-partying, tough-as-nails, blue-collar woman in her 30s. A woman in her 30s applied and wrote: “I love playing gritty, blue-collar roles and this one sounds amazing.” She was in for an audition, and ultimately got the part. She had a genuine interest in THAT character.

Make sure your pictures have... pictures.
Make sure your pictures have… pictures.

3. Pictures.

This is one that I don’t see many people doing, but it is helpful. Every actor has (or should have) a basic headshot. But the basic headshot is usually a ‘blank slate.’ The actor’s expression is a faint smile or totally blank, and that’s it.

It’s good to also have pictures of yourself expressing a wide range of emotions. That way, depending on the part, you can attach the one that best suits the character.

Hope you enjoyed my air-brushed headshot... now, just in case this picture's helpful...
Hope you enjoyed my air-brushed headshot… now, just in case this sobbing picture’s helpful…

Attach your headshot too – but right next to it, attach a photo that lets the casting person ‘see you’ in the part. As these pictures usually appear in the body of the application email, they are the first thing casting people see before clicking to view a reel or looking at a resume. And it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as Dawson sobbing above – but just one innocent-looking/dangerous-looking/capable-looking photo can help.

Overwhelmed by the number of applicants, there were definitely actors that got shut out of my casting process because, at a glance, they just looked wrong for the parts they were applying for. Having these extra photos can help solve that problem.

There you have it – what I think are the top three rules for getting an audition. Apply these, and I promise you that your chances of landing an audition will greatly improve.

Share what you done that helped you get auditions down in the comments!

And stay tuned for Part 2: Nailing the Audition

 By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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DFA Grad Chadwick Boseman to Play James Brown in Biopic

It’s been years since Chadwick Boseman was a student at the Digital Film Academy. Since then, he’s been no stranger to the world of entertainment, landing roles on such classic soap operas as All My Children. But, like most film stars, it takes certain roles to suddenly get you ‘on the radar’ – and for Boseman, that break-through moment came in 2013 when he was cast as the legendary Jackie Robinson opposite Harrison Ford in 42.

42

42 met with positive reviews overall, despite a few nay-sayers feeling it sugar-coated some of the real issues of the time in which the Robinson biopic was set. One thing almost everyone could agree on, though, was that the “new-comer,” Boseman, was delightful and brought an easy athletic confidence to the role of this sports legend.

Boseman is quoted on his IMDB page as saying “The story (of 42) is relevant because we still stand on (Robinson’s) shoulders. He started something.”

This sentiment is similar to what he felt about James Brown when he was preparing to play the iconic Godfather of Soul in 2014’s highly-anticipated Get on Up. He spoke of Brown’s performances as “the foundation for a lot of things we’re still doing.”

James Brown

Boseman is definitely a man who understands the responsibility of portraying a real-life personality onscreen. In fact, it was this reverence for accurate portrayal that almost made him pass on the role of James Brown.

Originally from the south, Boseman shied away from this part, unsure of whether or not he could do it justice. He reportedly told director Tate Taylor, “We cannot mess this up! I don’t know if I can do it right!” while being courted for the role.

James Brown 2
Boseman as Brown.

Of course, once he came in to audition, he nailed it. And once his involvement was official, and despite not being a singer or dancer, Boseman spent six intensive weeks practicing Brown’s moves. According to Mick Jagger, who’s producing the film along with Brian Grazer, Boseman “immeasurably had become the character” by the time he was through with his training.

Whether or not Get on Up will bring Boseman as much recognition as 42 remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure – when the film releases in August of 2014, plenty of people – this blogger included – will be lining up to find out.

For more info, read “Mick Jagger Talks James Brown.”

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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