CONTACT ANA

E-mail: Ana@AnaBayat.com
Phone: + 1-(510) 219-2510

On-camera and voice over representation: Stars, The Agency

 

                                                                                

 

 

 

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Monday
Dec102012

Accent coaching for actors

 

The role of accent coaching in creating a character

Any film set in another country inevitably involves the need for accent coaching whether there are native English speaking actors involved who have to sound convincing in another language (Sir Ben Kingsley in The House of Sand and Fog or Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice) or casting native speakers of the foreign language in question (Persian speaking actors in Argo -commonly referred to as “Farsi”– though this actually is the word used in Persian to refer to the Persian language).  

Ben Affleck’s latest feature film, Argo, tells the story of the beginnings of the Iranian revolution and its impact on the American embassy and its employees in 1979 Tehran. When background artists (aka extras) were in charge of chanting slogans in Persian, it was somewhat believable and those multitude scenes worked. However, in some of the minor speaking parts, Persian and Dari became indistinguishable (for instance, the Canadian ambassador’s housekeeper’s name, Sahar, spoke Dari; yet we were never given any hint throughout the film that she was from Afghanistan and not Iran). The devil is in the details. Or, suddenly, one of the revolutionary guards had a Dari accent instead of a Persian one. The audience member able to tell the difference was left wondering if Hollywood cared about such subtleties as much as the importance of continuity or location-hunting. This is when an accent coach on set becomes of utmost importance because in a sense they are the keepers of continuity in language and speech, not to mention delivery (accent).

In The House of Sand and Fog directed by Vadim Perelman, Sir Ben Kingsley plays the part of Bahrani, the Iranian general who goes to all lengths to maintain the life style and dignity that displacement in the form of exile ensures is stripped away from him.  Sir Kingsley has very few lines or words in Persian (most of his lines require that he speak English with a Persian accent). However, towards the end of the film, he has to utter a word twice when his teenage son is shot. At this point, he is to howl out of grief and despair: “PEsaram! PEsaram!” (“My son! My son!”).  Instead of placing the word stress on the first syllable and potentially continuing to be believable (something a native speaker would do without thinking), the utterance sounded the opposite “pesarAM”, with the weight of the word at the end of the word rather than the beginning.  At that moment, Sir Kingsley’s eternally-revered talent, at all times capable of taking us with him on any journey, from Ghandi to Don Logan, came to a screeching halt. Why? Because we ceased to believe; because if we, the audience, understand, pardon and accept certain necessities for the movie industry to continue existing with its set of standards (having to use a star name to play a part for which native talent exists for financial reasons) we accept it, ride along and even enjoy and applaud the performance with awards.  After all, aren’t actors supposed to challenge themselves? Play parts that are as different as possible from them? Work on acquiring the accent needed to sound convincing in a foreign language? And, aren’t production companies aware that the need to hire seasoned accent coaches to work closely with actors is paramount to the overall success of the project at hand? That it is a part of the filmmaking process that can’t be left behind?

The same is true of The Stoning of Soraya M. How are we to believe the protagonist is indeed a villager who is a native speaker of Persian when she suddenly speaks with a western foreign accent?

Here is the ultimate question: Shouldn’t attention to speech and accent coaching on set be an integral part of building a character, of the film process? If so, why do we see such inconsistencies in Hollywood productions? Just like costume, set and make-up designers are an important part of the filmmaking process, in charge of their field of expertise, we need to ensure an accent coach is present to help actors get closer to the intonation, pronunciation and word stress that will complete their performance  and ultimately benefit the film as a whole. The future of filmmaking might have this prediction in store.

 

Photo: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicole in Sophie's Choice (1982) 

Thursday
Nov082012

Casting feature films 

Should actors' real age be a decisive factor in film casting? 

I was 17 years old when I made my on-camera debut in the box office hit “The Little Bird of Happiness” by Pouran Derakhshandeh (1988) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095822/fullcredits (Parandeye Kuchake Khoshbakhti)  

A teenager in real life and the mother of a nine year old on-screen, my few scenes were in the form of flashbacks either haunting the little speech-impaired girl reminiscing about her mother’s tragic death, or sweet memories bringing a smile to her face.

My swimming skills along with my young, fearless persona –insisting that I do all of my stunts- made me enjoy the process of jumping from a professional trampoline and dive from a significant altitude into the Olympic swimming pool under which cameras awaited filming the process of my slow drowning, the sequence ending in my body floating on water while rain poured on me (all of this, of course, while I had to keep my eyes wide open!).

Cut.

Fast forward.

Hollywood, California.

We are on set off of Mulholland Hwy in Calabasas (not spelled with a ‘z’ for some reason).

A couple of decades and displacement experiences have passed and I still find myself being the mother of someone not much younger than myself.

I can't help but wonder: If acting is about showing range, how come some actors find a niche and stay in it? The other question I keep wondering about: Should actors be given a chance to show range before they are pigeon-holed into "types"?

As a character actress, I enjoy the challenges of stepping outside of my comfort zone. As an actress eager to offer range, I look forward to staying within the parameters of what my age can offer.

Rolling. Sound. Camera. Action! It’s like getting on a bike again. It’s fun. It’s professional. It’s all there. It’s heavenly to be like a fish in water again, that rare rush of happiness running through your being because you are engaged in what you love. It’s in moments like these that I find myself thinking “if given the choice, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but right here, right now.” It must be hereditary.

The question remains: Should actors' real age factor into the process of casting roles?

 

Photo©: Goga Bayat 

Friday
Oct262012

Nader Bayat, A Casio Remembered

Last night’s reading of “The Night’s Last Ride” by Mohsen Yalfani at Stanford University (Iranian Studies Program) was a very special and memorable event in its intimate, yet creditable setup. Organized by the infatigable Dr. Milani, whose efforts to sustain and promote Iranian culture are the driving force behind all such series, the event started with an introduction and heart-felt acknowledgement of Mr. Yalfani’s work who is visiting from Paris, France, and Mr. Nasser Rahmani Nejad who directed the play-reading. The session concluded with a Q&A session with both playwright and director.

My father’s eternal support is undoubtedly always with me. However, as I looked around the room last night, I realized that most of the theatre and film veterans present were from his generation, had met him personally and or remembered him as an actor through and through. Kamran Nozad, one of the pioneers of Iranian theatre, reminisced about my father at the start of the event in a side conversation with me. “I remember him really well”, he said. “His whole life, whole existence, was theatre.” Very true. His whole being, raison d’être, was summed up in theatrical anecdotes, stories of filmmaking and, as a film connoisseur,  an unparalleled walking encyclopedia of actors’ names, biographies, filmmakers’ filmography and so on. It was the air he breathed, the water he drank.

Mr. Yalfani’s remark about his memorable performance as Casio in Shakespeare’s Othello inspired me to dedicate this long-overdue page to him; to revive his name, remember him and celebrate an actor whose passion and love for the craft of theatre and film never ceased to be. Above all, thank you for passing on the torch to me. It’s a constant reminder of why it matters that I not give up for any reason.     

Favorite anecdote: Nader and Nasser (Rahmani Nejad), both founding company members of the Stanislavsky-based Anahita School of Acting are walking down a street the day after one of their repertory plays was broadcast live on national TV in 1960s Tehran. People start noticing the two young actors. Nader proudly elbows Nasser in the ribs and whispers: “Nasser, they recognized us! They recognized us!” ("Be ja avordan!")

 "Othello" by The Anahita Theatre Group at Taj Cinema, February 1962

 

May you rest in peace now and always.  

Friday
Oct262012

Remote Auditions: The Future of Auditioning? 

A couple of months ago, I received a phone call from LA. It was about a feature film about to be made on dance. They wanted me to audition for them the next day in LA. I said sure. However, I am in the Bay Area and may need an extra day to drive there. The response was kind and surprising: “Don’t drive all the way here for the audition. Why don’t you send us a tape?”

It then hit me: We live in a day and age in which we have fewer and fewer excuses not to deliver. Geographical distances don’t matter as much anymore. We can make almost anything happen, anywhere.

And that’s exactly how I got the part. Here are some steps to help you in the process of auditioning remotely:

  • Print out the sides (analyze script and character motivations as you would when preparing for an actual show).
  • Identify who you are talking to and decide on which side of the camera that person is.
  • Choose the quietest spot / room away from a busy street, mute your phones, etc. (wait if planes are passing by, etc.).
  • Frame your scene (is it a long shot? A close-up? A close-up that gradually turns into a medium shot or vice versa? Are you using a smartphone? A video camera? A tablet, etc.?).
  • Pay attention to lighting depending on the time of day (can you use natural light? Combine it with a lamp, etc.?).
  • Practice a few times (or record the practice too because it will cost you nothing and any of those takes might be “the one”).
  • Watch the takes on a big screen (transfer from smart phone onto laptop or attach laptop to flat screen, etc.).
  • Determine which one(s) best show your skills and match what the casting directors/producers are looking for.
  • Label file with your name, project and either scene number or character name.
  • E-mail file.
  • Break a leg!  

After-thought: Of course, auditioning remotely is never the same as meeting in person. But, it opens more doors for actors when producers, directors and casting directors are open to the idea. Plus, it’s “green”. Could this be the new way of auditioning?

Wednesday
Oct242012

On the business of acting

I love Inside the Actors Studio. It allows us to get a glimpse of the talent we have admired on screen as ordinary people with their own set of values. More often than not, we are not disappointed by the person behind the actor. One such occasion was when James Lipton interviewed Morgan Freeman aired on February 01, 2005. Grounded and dignified, the revered actor was honest, kind and spoke from the heart. At some point he addressed the audience of drama students with: “Dreams come true. Mine do. If you keep dancing, someone, at some point, will help you out.”

As all artists are perfectly aware of, in this industry, it’s that one right start that could secure the rest of a smooth career, whether your goal is to become a star or be remembered as a talented actor who knew this would be the only job she would ever want to do.

One of James Lipton’s final questions to the actors, asking them what other profession other than acting would they like to attempt, has the actors think of a second choice or alternative. I am yet to hear someone answer ‘none’.    

For more information on The Actors Studio: http://theactorsstudio.org/

 

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