By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(January 2006) The brisk
winds of winter are upon us. The New England landscape
is once again locked in the grip of a freeze. A warm
fire, a heavy sweater and something hot to drink are
just the right ticket for this type of weather. Add
in a great flick on DVD and kick back and let the season
pass by. It’s the time for hibernation, seeking
warmth, comfort and replenishing one’s en
That is of course unless you’re in the film business.
Down here in the Ocean State things have been bustling.
The Showtime series, “The Brotherhood,”
has just wrapped after several months of production.
The Mario Van Peebles action-thriller “Hard Luck,”
a new $15.5-million production starring Wesley Snipes
and Cybill Shepherd recently spent 5-1/2 weeks in Rhode
Island. The movie that has been described as "a
cutting edge action drama in the spirit of Pulp Fiction
The independent feature, directed by Van Peebles, is
the third major production to come to the state since
lawmakers this summer granted tax breaks to TV shows
and movies shot here. Next up from Walt Disney Pictures
is Underdog that will be shooting here at the end of
March. Yes, that’s the animated TV series, which
will be shot as a live-action feature.
On our end at the RI Film Festival, we have been deluged
with entries: over 300 at this writing. Last year we
peaked at over 1,500 entries when our call for entries
ended in June and early signs indicate that we will
surpass that milestone. So far, we have had films that
have come from Russia, Israel, Spain, Italy, Greece,
New Zealand, India, Denmark, Australia, Canada, France,
Germany, Croatia, and films from throughout the US.
One thing I’ve noticed in an early review of entries
is that a fair number focus on issues of health and
disabilities. From documentaries to narrative films,
the human experience presented on film is so universal
Here is a brief look at some of the titles and their
descriptions that I selected at random (and no, listing
them does not mean they have been selected to the fest—that
will be determined much later):
• The Red Scarf USA, dir. by
The Red Scarf is a memory piece; the story of Vivian
Barry’s reluctant journey into the past, which
results in the acceptance of her, true self.
Vivian, a well-known star of stage and screen, has been
incapacitated by a traffic accident leaving her with
a broken leg. Relegated to spending long periods of
time reading scripts and playing voyeur with her binoculars,
Vivian is visited by the ghost of her past, Alice, who
confronts her with the lie that the aging actress has
lived with all these years.
• My Life as an Underdog USA
dir. by Boris Gavrilovic
Suzanne Muldowney wants to be a famous artist. For the
past thirty years she has been taking her interpretive
dances of the cartoon superhero “Underdog”
to parades, community events and cable access television
in an attempt to make her dream come true. Filmed over
the course of seven years, My Life as an Underdog examines
the idea of fame and explores one woman’s quest
• Twitch USA dir. by Leah Meyerhoff
Twitch portrays a young girl's conflicted relationship
with her disabled mother and her irrational fear that
the disability is contagious. Her boyfriend, oblivious
to her increasing hypochondria, only seems interested
in her physically. Ultimately, she must learn to confront
her fears and take care of herself. Slamdance Grand
Jury Prize winner and Student Academy Awards finalist.
• Calvin's World USA dir. by
Judi Stroh, Lauren Kinsler
Everyone has family. They are the reason we are ourselves,
from the profession we choose to the kinds of shoes
we wear. And for most of us, we would not change a thing.
But sometimes they are too hard to deal with and we
would do anything to change the past, or even better:
the people. Anything to just belong.
Calvin Graves is 8-years-old. He likes to play soccer,
watch cartoons, and can dance like a penguin. He is
also the only one in his entire family that can hear.
Find out how he belongs with his family and how much
they belong to him.
• Doing Therapy USA dir. by Joe
A Hollywood actress develops a problem with panic attacks
and is sent to a top anxiety specialist based in Pittsburgh.
To avoid media attention, the unlikely couple is stuck
together in the shrink's sloppy bachelor pad for an
entire month for extensive 24-hour-a-day therapy. This
heartwarming comedy redefines the doctor-patient relationship.
• 'urges' USA dir. by Pamela
A young man goes through a journey of personal realization.
He become aware of his lack of love, patience and understanding,
and see his fears in a failed relationship with a women
that no longer exists in his life. He re-lives many
segments including his girlfriend’s mental digression
and his projection of a 'possible' better choice of
• Martha in Lattimore USA dir.
by Mary Dalton
The first thing you notice when meeting Martha Mason
is the bright yellow iron lung that encases her body
and helps her breathe just as it has since 1948 when
she contracted polio at age 11. She has lived in this
life-saving machine longer than anyone else in the world.
At first the image and sound of the iron lung are shocking.
Soon after talking with Martha, however, the massive,
metal cylinder becomes inconsequential because it is
so greatly exceeded by her spirit. Her personal story
has long inspired her friends and neighbors, but Martha
has been a private person for most of her life. This
film tells Martha’s story in the context of Lattimore,
the little town and relationships there that have nurtured
THE RHODE ISLAND CONNECTION
There was also a film we received with a distinct Rhode
Island connection that caught my attention: Chloe.
Directed by D.W. Brown, the film stars Joanne Baron.
Again, addressing a health-related theme, the story
is about a successful, young model who suddenly discovers
she might be seriously ill. In the course of the film,
she confronts her difficult relationship with her parents
and reaches out to an old boyfriend. The film was inspired
by a diagnosis of autoimmune disease in the filmmaker’s
own family, and is, in part, an effort raise awareness
for the brutal reality of this common, but little known,
This film uses the glamour of the modeling world and
the tendency of people to obsess on their own personal
issues, to throw into contrast the very real problem
of having one’s own body attack itself. One in
31 people have an autoimmune disease, and 9 out of 10
cases are women; very often with its onset in the early
twenties. In fact, in addition to the uncertain and
terrible disabilities it threatens, it is among the
top 8 leading causes of death for women 15 to 25.
from gaining the interest of festival programmers and
distributors, I began to think seriously about films
that addressed issues of aging, health, sex and disabilities.
Who would want to attend what could look like a disease
of the hour—if programmed poorly? And why would
talent get connected to films of such content. A documentary
is easier to understand; but a narrative feature? Sure,
actors who break molds win awards: remember Daniel Day
Lewis in My Left Foot? or Patty Duke playing Helen Keller?
I began wondering just what were the criteria for actors
when they tackled such difficult roles: Just how do
you play someone with a disability or health issue and
do it credibly? Playing an alcoholic or someone with
an addiction problem is one thing we’ve seen done
frequently, but not someone with Lupus. How do you create
a character with clinical depression and elicit empathy
from a viewing audience?
As serendipity would have it, D.W. Brown along with
Joanne Baron run a noted acting program in California.
I would never have known this had they not submitted
their latest work to the festival. So I decided to contact
Joanne and asked her about her work in Chloe and to
learn more about the type of training needed to effectively
convey real emotion on screen without seeming arch,
false or affected.
SOME BACKGROUND ON JOANNE BARON
Joanne Baron was raised in Providence RI where her parents
have resided for over 50 years. She attended Classical
and Pawtucket High Schools. Of local note, her parents,
they have been involved in the acclaimed Trinity Repertory
Company since it's inception.
Joanne Baron has starred in countless feature films
and produced several as well. Her film acting credits
include Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (also
directed by Martha Coolidge), The Secret Life of
Girls, The Ungodly, Spiderman 2, Prince and the Freshman
Legally Blonde 2, Universal Soldier, Someone to Watch
Over Me (directed by Ridley Scott), Valley
Girl (with Nicolas Cage) and Real Genius
(with Val Kilmer.)
Her credits for television work are extensive including
roles in Street Strong, Going to California, Veronica's
Closet, The Ponder, Diagnosis Murder, Civil Wars, Dream
On, A Year in the Life, Sledgehammer, the ABC Series
Lovers & Other Strangers, (as a regular), and
the ABC Series Heartbeat, (in a recurring role)
She acted as producer for Perfume, Brooklyn Babylon,
and Allie & Me. She recently appeared in
Hard Luck and The Myersons.
Joanne also has extensive stage credits, including for
local interest, There Once Was a Girl from Pawtucket
staged in Los Angeles and which received two Dramalogue
Awards in 1997.
GTM: Why did you get involved with Chloe? Did
you have a personal experience that drew you to the
subject of this film?
Joanne Baron: I got involved because I loved the script
and the true subject matter and the talent involved.
I also had a similar experience as the lead in the film.
GTM: What is like for you personally given your
own emotional attachment to the subject of this film?
Joanne Baron: It's cool seeing a true story told in
an inspiring and emotionally affecting way it is fulfilling
to me to see the film.
GTM: Do you think that women's health issue
are not given enough attention in today's media and
in the health industry?
Joanne Baron: I am not sure of the media, but I think
there are many women unaware of the tests they should
do to watch their health and more press could help save
GTM: What kinds of feedback have you gotten
from the film?
Joanne Baron: The feedback is that people really admire
the acting and find the look of the film extraordinary
particularly- a digital film and that they find the
GTM: How did seasoned actors like Jeff Goldblum
and Adam Arkin become involved with this film?
Joanne Baron: Adam was asked by the director to read
the script and responded to wanting to participate and
Jeff supported the production as he knew and liked the
actors and director's work.
GTM: What would you like to see happen to this
film- in terms of its viewership and distribution?
Joanne Baron: I would like to see the film get distribution
on television such as Sundance shorts collections and
in various film festivals.
GTM: Tell us about your background: Where you
came from and the professional journey you've taken.
Joanne Baron: I have come from 25 years of acting in
film, TV and theater and running an acting studio in
Santa Monica, California that was born of my training
and work with Sanford Meisner and William Esper in NYC.
I have also produced TV and feature films.
GTM: What roles from your career have had the greatest
impact on you personally?
Joanne Baron: My latest opposite work Wes Bently in
the film, The Ungodly, which was a tremendous
creative experience. I played the sister of a serial
killer. The creative experience greatly impacted me
as the team on the film worked so deeply and intensely
seeking the truth.
GTM: Was there a particular role that you've
had that prepared you for this film?
Joanne Baron: My life experience really prepared me
for this film.
GTM: What words of advice would you give to
someone entering the field, given your experiences and
Joanne Baron: Train — persevere — and keep
open to continual improvement. I think true success
is happiness in living your life- loving what you do
is part of that and doing what you love the best you
can and staying open to continual growth.
HOW AN ACTOR IS TRAINED
Two names stuck out from this exchange: Sanford Meisner
and William Esper. The former is known for the Meisner
Technique. And what is that if you are not an actor?
For an explanation, I turned to Joanne’s husband,
D.W. Baron, an accomplished director, teacher and actor.
Having started in theater at an early age, D.W. came
to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and starred
in films such as “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,”
as well as many guest appearances on television. Continuing
to act in the theater, D.W. Brown turned his attention
to the art of writing and direction, and working with
The Ensemble Studio Theater, developed plays for production,
where he directed his own works as well as those of
Through his wife, Joanne Baron, D.W. became an instructor
of the Meisner Technique; and for nearly twenty years
they have established what is generally considered southern
California’s premier acting school: The Joanne
Baron/D.W. Brown Studio (an off-shoot of The William
Esper Studio in New York). Located in Santa Monica,
D.W. has taught a very stringent training program in
acting and conducted seminars with Robert DeNiro, Dustin
Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro,
Sidney Pollack and many other luminaries. He has directed
countless scenes, coached major stars and directors,
and provided the initial instruction for many now professional
He co-produced the international festival hits “Allie
& Me” and “Perfume” (a Sundance
selection) and wrote and directed the short films, “One
Clean Move,” starring Harry Hamlin and Gary Busey,
honored at The Taos Film Festival, and “The Need
For Flowers,” that received a best actor nomination
from The Method Fest in Burbank.
THE MEISNER TECHNIQUE WHERE PRESENCE IS SUPREME
The following is an excerpt from "Brown's Acting
Manual" by DW Brown
Emphasize being in the moment. With work on the stage
it is critically important for the player to guide the
audience's attention through the play, but in film and
television an audience's attention is controlled by
the editing; therefore, the emphasis for an actor shifts
from being clear to being truthful and present.
When James Cagney was asked what was the most important
thing in acting, he answered: "Don't get caught
doing it." This is very much the case in most film
acting where the style tends to be naturalistic, and,
free from the obligation of projecting because of the
large magnification of the close up, it is essential
for an actor to be relaxed and subtle.
While this is true with theater as well, an actor on
film should be especially fluid and be relating deeply
and continuously. This deep relatedness will produce
subtle activities such as clenching of the jaw, pursing
the lips, flashing looks, etc., that come off very dynamic
Don't say much. A general recommendation for film acting
is: "Speak as quickly as you can and act as slowly
as you can." What this means is, because being
in the moment and telling the truth are the supreme
values, it's good to de-emphasize the words. The actor
wants to reduce excessive animation, especially in close
up, and not try to sell what they are saying. They don't
want to be clear with the language.
There are exceptions to this, of course, but for the
most part the value of what is said should be minimized
and rather be communicated with a deeper subtextual
intent. What's being communicated is projected on a
very deep, nonverbal level; and the words just fall
out on their own.
In order to do this, to be fully present in the moment
and concentrating on projecting intent, it is necessary
to have one's lines down absolutely cold.
THE MOMENT OF NEW RESPONSE
Get caught reacting. While again, being reactive is
nothing new in the process of acting, and it may only
be a value emphasized because of the close-up shots
with a camera, there are in fact some special techniques
for camera work, beyond just listening well.
Reactions are the most powerful aspect of film acting;
particularly that moment when an event hits the character's
heart for the first time and changes their world. It
isn't the talking. Savvy film stars have been known
to give away dialogue to innocently grateful secondary
actors who then later hear these lines of exposition
droning away on the soundtrack while the camera lingers
on the stars silent, soulful reaction to events.
Delay your response until it's time to speak. Because
there is a tendency for what comes before a line and
what comes after the line to be cut, in order to guarantee
that the fresh moment of reacting makes the final edit,
especially if acting with a star or the leading character
of the piece whose performance will tend to be favored
by the editor, an actor might tend to save important
reactions until just before they speak. In this way
if the character opposite says: "Your brother is
dead. We did everything we could." The actor, who
normally would have their reaction to the death begin
with the first sentence, may want to artificially wait
until the other character finishes speaking to have
their initial response to the death begin as their own
line: "He was just talking to me." starts
to spill out.
There's nothing wrong, per se, in having already started
to react in the natural way on the first sentence; it
just increases the likelihood that that precious first
reaction will be kept in the film if it happens immediately
before one's lines are uttered.
There needn't be a concern that the audience will notice
this delay and think it strange. Film reality distorts
time so much, slowing it down, speeding it up, chopping
it apart, even the most outrageous delays, as with the
typical, descending security door that takes forever
to close, are usually forgiven if not completely unnoticed.
ALWAYS BE RESPONDING.
This advice on occasionally delaying a response for
a major moment is not to suggest that the actor should
remain blank faced and passive until it's their turn
to speak, and the actor must always be cautious to avoid
the major acting fault of indicating responses instead
of really having them. It's good to be reacting all
the time, giving the editor plenty of film of the character
reacting while others are speaking. This delayed reaction
is really only a suggestion for big events.
USING THE EYES
Just as the moment of reaction is the most important
feature in film acting, the eyes are the most important
organ of response. With this in mind, the actor can
have a sense of using their eyes effectively. By the
same token, lapses in concentration are most profoundly
reflected in the eyes.
Use the eyes. An actor may deny the camera their eyes,
or let the camera find their eyes for effect, and the
player might want to know where their eye light is,
the specific fixture called a "Tweeny," so
that they can catch that light with their eyes, or,
much less frequently, use the shadow on the eyes.
Keep the gaze steady. It's usually preferable to maintain
a stillness with the eyes. For this reason, while it's
normal in life to look back and forth and down at both
of someone's eyes and their mouth, it is probably best
for an actor to maintain the attention on only one of
the opposite characters eyes when addressing them. When
it is the actor's single shot, and the other actor is
opposite them standing next to the camera, it's best
to look at this actor's eye that is closest to the lens.
When doing a scene with more than one person, it's probably
better to keep watching the person who is speaking.
In this way the editor has a steady look to use for
a character absorbing what is happening. That means
not doing what is normal and throwing looks frequently
at the other person being spoken to, checking in with
their reactions to what is being said, unless it's for
a singularly important reaction to what was just presented.Naturally,
there is much more. Acting is a craft, after all. But
this at least gives a snapshot understanding of what
type of work is involved. Whoever would have thought
so much was needed to create every nuance we see on
And to think how much talent is out there
creating exciting and challenging work that can touch
our hearts and minds.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached