Heartland recently hosted its latest Heartland Film Institute with special guest Richard Robichaux, an actor and teacher who’s worked with Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Michael J. Fox, Marcia Gay Harden among others.
As a staff member, normally I would be engaged in typical event management duties, but this particular Film Institute brought about an exciting opportunity. Ahead of the event, Richard sent a brief two page script for 10 attendees to memorize in preparation for his direction at the seminar and I was lucky enough to be one of the 10.
Richard paired the actors together as we arrived and had us discuss the scene specifics (who, what, where) with our partners. My partner James and I sat and worked out the relationship between our characters. The script provided only speaking lines, leaving the actors with a lot of room for creativity.
When the seminar began, Richard introduced himself and his plan for the day. There were three cameras set up around the room for the live web stream. One of the cameras was directed towards a set that Richard would use to direct the 10 participants.
As Richard finished his introduction, he invited James and I to take the stage. As we settled into our places, Richard reminds the audience to focus at the screen above the set projecting what the scene would look like on film. With a deep breath and “Action!”, James and I read our scene. The silence in the room followed by Richard’s comment “First of all, I like you both…” had me nervous that we were both about to be ripped apart. Instead Richard took us on a journey like no other acting class I’ve been part of. His warm personality encouraged a learning environment that made you feel okay that you’re not perfect and that you will make mistakes. That’s why we’re in class.
As the different pairs took the stage, we went through different types of scenes including the two-shot and close up. Having the camera projecting on the screen in real time was an invaluable tool. Richard explained to us that losing eye contact in the middle of a close up weakens the scene. Actually seeing it on screen was an excellent visual.
One of my favorite parts was when he invited the front row to stand around the actors as they did the scene to mimic the atmosphere on set with various crew members around. Given my personality that’s something that would be extremely distracting. Later in the seminar an audience member asked for advice on how to handle such a situation. Richard’s response was a quote from Actor Frank Langella: “Be profoundly prepared.” Having only theatre experience, I’m used to growing and exploring a character throughout the rehearsal process. With time costing money in the film world, an actor has no other option but to be profoundly prepared. Those are words I will carry with me.
Richard ended the seminar with encouragement that all of us are capable of succeeding, but it will take a lot of work. It’s refreshing to hear this encouragement in such a competitive industry.
It’s easy for me as a member of Heartland’s staff to encourage anyone who is interested in the film industry to attend our Film Institute seminars. However as an aspiring actress myself, this truly was one of the best lessons I’ve received and after speaking to many others in attendance that day, I know I can speak for many of us.
Special thanks to the Butler, Huntington and Purdue students for sharing your talents! It was an honor to share this experience with you.
-Allison Ackmann, Heartland Truly Moving Pictures Staff Member
If you missed the seminar, it will soon be archived on our site. Check back here!