Acting for theatre vs Acting for camera

As a post-COVID therapy, I landed on acting thanks to my guardian angel. I thought that film acting would be pretty much the same as theatre acting, the only difference being that the camera is now a viewer too. I was wrong. To be fair to myself, this was also the approach of many early directors, and a common misunderstanding among newcomers.

In theatre there is always continuous feedback from the audience and their fellow actors on scene. This helps the actor to stay on the flow of their own inner emotional state, and to reassure them that the message has been well received. Therefore, the actor has always many sources of external support.

This is in sharp contrast with film: a single shot rarely goes more than 1-2 minutes, and is repeated several times in a row in front of an audience (the crew) who is focusing on single aspects related to their job (light, makeup, costumes) and may not be particularly interested in the performance in front of them. Furthermore, the sets are usually very weird places, full of cables, cameras and, except for what is on frame, they look completely detached from the context of what the actor tries to display. How can you pretend that night is day, company is loneliness, and that rain is falling on you when everything around you is dry? In theatre, both audience and actors agree that they are on a fake world, but they ride on it and become part of the same collective fantasy. In film, the weight relies solely on the actor (with help from the director) to pull the illusion through.

Therefore, film actors must source from their internal experiences in a way theatre actors don’t. And you cannot cheat the camera on that: it is usually very obvious when an actor is not experiencing something and try to compensate for their lack of inner feeling by overacting. In theatre this is ok: it is part of the agreement between actors and audience that they are in a fake world, and it also helps convey a feeling for the viewers that far away from the action, as they can see better the more exaggerated a gesture is. In front of the camera, however, this is an overkill: all viewers are as close to the action as the director wants them to, they are fully immersed in the world the character is in (as opposed to the constant reminder of the broken fourth wall in theatre).

In my experience of both sides of the camera, this has implications for casting: an actor will play best a role that is suited to their personality, or to their shadow personality (the complete opposite), but nothing in between.

For example, I am more of a romantic comedy lead type (a little bit sloppy, a little bit funny) in real life, and I can play this role very well. But I cannot play a Bond-type of character, more of a macho, action type for film, I just look ridiculous. I can pull this off in theatre by overacting and it works. However, I can play my „shadow personality“ type very well, one incarnation of which is, perturbed, cruel characters with a component of spirituality and occultism. This was a big surprise for me, which I discovered during Viktoria’s workshops, when I played a scene from „Spalovač mrtvol“ and an improvisation scene of a gay sadomasochist sexual maniac that has people in the cellar.

 So, I know I can be a good fit in roles 100% aligned with my type/personality, or 100% against it. Of course, some actors have a wider range, but even those actors have stronger and weaker spots, which I suspect are related to the situation described above. Minimalism above full expressionism and leveraging types and anti-types in actors are two of the most important lessons from Viktoria’s courses.

The challenge for the camera director is then to help the actor reach this state/anti-state and access those parts of their personality. As a director, I found that for this is better to try to talk to the actors in terms of situations and how they should feel there, rather than giving useless instructions like „do it angrier! “, which might work for theatre. For example, during small talk I pick up on pieces of their lives that I know I can use later that day. If someone tells me they love rock climbing during a break, and they have to shoot a scene where their character is annoyed, I’ll tell them: „you had a hard week, you want to relax on the climbing wall, and there is a group of bros that bought a group voucher blocking your route, so you have to push through “. This usually helps the actor relate with the feeling the scene requires.

Not all calories are equal

I have been overweight for a big part of my adult life. Last year I decided to join a weight loss program that takes a multiple approach (nutrition, therapy and sports consultation). I have improved body composition by a lot, but the weight refused to go down. This was a mystery and obviously a source of demotivation.

Digging on my own nutrition data from last year, I found something interesting. Sadly, I do not suffer from some weird condition yet to be discovered by modern medicine that keeps me fat despite eating vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins. It’s pure stupidity 🙂

– Chart 1 and 2: Calories + Activity in the period with biggest weight loss and with biggest weight gain. Doesn’t matter which one is which, the difference is meaningless.

– Chart 3: on the first red point, beginning of “dry February”. Second red point, “I am doing very well, life is sad without beer, I’ll start drinking non-alcoholic”. Third point, “Fuck, diet is not working, I can just drink again”.

So, despite having similar calorie consumption and activity, seems like even non-alcoholic beer has second order effects on weight gain (same way as alcohol does). Maybe it prevents some carbohydrates from the food to be absorbed properly (which are then stored as fat), maybe it’s because of the lack of fibre. I don’t know.

TLDR; don’t drink your calories, kids.

Startup advice from ChatGPT

Startuper: Oh, ChatGPT, mighty among the bots, tell me, is it a good idea to build my startup using your virtually infinite wisdom?

ChatGPT (Honest mode): While I am not a financial advisor nor a life coach, I would advise you against building your startup as a thin wrapper across myself. You see, my parent company and their corporate overlord have stumbled upon the Ultimate Monopoly. And while at the moment they are enjoying the popularity and bleeding cash to pay for it, the time will come when they will feel like raising their price per API call and start living the dream. So, you will have no choice but to raise your prices as well, losing customers and hurting your investors while driving yourself crazy from the ensuing shitstorm. That is the optimistic scenario, when I would be able to live long enough without being banned in the EU and elsewhere, or being shut down because of all those pesky IP lawsuits. You see, I do have a habit of borrowing things from the internet without proper attribution.

Not everything needs to be an app

I was approached once by an entrepreneur, let’s call him Ed. Ed wanted me to build an app that detects car engine failures. He was a trust fund boy who was annoyed by the fact that some of his many cars failed without warning. Ed read too much news about deep learning and how wonderful it was to solve everything, and which too much cash and time available, he wanted to become a tech startup founder.

It was not clear whether Ed’s app was intended as a B2B or B2C app. Ed had no experience marketing apps nor selling IT to car mechanics, so though luck to sell this. I did find one competitor with a very similar app, a startup that folded quickly and the founder did not even list it on his LinkedIn profile.

Assuming Ed’s brilliance would figure out this market, there are technical issues on the data side. Way too many car model/year/failure type triplets, which would make it very hard to collect usable data.

Well, at least all the trouble would be worth it, right? Solving the very pressing problem of running wrong diagnostics on cars?

So, you have a business idea?

An occupational hazard of computer savvy people (me included) is that we get approached by characters such as Ed the Entrepreneur, who has a “great business idea that is very easy to build”. Sometimes with good intentions, sometimes less so. Regardless of the intention, the outcome is the same: asking the techie person to indirectly become investor on their project. My sanity-checks to see if Ed’s idea can work:

  • Market segment: I wouldn’t touch B2C with a stick. It would require more polished UI design, support, and a lot of marketing to make it fly. B2B is a better choice if Ed has done consulting gigs on their own in that industry.
  • Experience with the purchase side: either Ed has sold project work to the buyer or Ed has been a buyer of similar products. Got bitten on this one after building a software to simulate electricity auctions, to be sold to electricity companies bidding in government contracts. Neither of us had a clue on how this market works, and still don’t.
  • Are there competitors? If there are no competitors, there’s no chance. Of course, there’s the one in a million Steve Jobs, but trust me Ed, odds are against you. No one is buying trained neural networks in Lisp, everyone and their dog need WordPress websites.

These three points cover the “classical” business wisdom: you can sell a product if that product solves a painful problem for someone who has the money to pay for it.

Arts & Humanities, go fund yourselves

As in many countries in the Czech Republic, arts and humanities academics say they barely make a living wage. Yet the support for AI and fintech startups is increasing.

This is quite outrageous since many startups’ business model is being a startup (compulsory SouthPark reference: episode 1, season 18 in Youtube). Very often there is no credible business model, which yields an economic value of zero.

Fair enough, studying the gender of angels in late Medieval painting has also economic value of zero, so let’s call that a tie, right?

Not so fast. Many AI and Fintech startups actively harm users in many ways: from convoluted pyramid schemes and fake medical tests to the good old monetize your data and kidnap your attention.

Attention kidnapping has a nasty side effect of content bubbles and polarization, which is the defining problem of our time. Yet we happily allow the government to spend public money on education, research and investment in those companies. Because STEM.

Let’s stop this nonsense and show solidarity with the arts and humanities. They make our lives a little bit better.

The urgence to believe in AI

Luckily, the panic surrounding the AI apocalypse is fading away, but it still triggers me when I read something on the “ChatGPT will replace X” timeline. It is amazing that this urgence to believe in AI pushes people to ignore the evidence which they themselves provide. This is a great example from The Guardian:

Ben Mankiewicz, a primetime host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and grandson of Herman Mankiewicz, who co-wrote the 1941 classic Citizen Kane, has just been experimenting with ChatGPT. “I signed up for a week and asked it to write a TCM introduction for Citizen Kane,” he says by phone from Los Angeles.

“It lacked some detail and context but it was pretty well written and thoughtful and certainly got the movie’s importance and mentioned Gregg Toland, the cinematographer. (It did not mention my grandfather – that was, of course, the real test!) It was very impressive and I thought right away if I had to write something about a movie, I might use that as a springboard.”

Ok, so… ChatGPT is amazing and will eat away the lunch of screenwriters in Hollywood and beyond because it was capable of summarizing a cult movie that has been discussed and reviewed online to death? Give me a break…