My First Reading: Unicorns
Last night, after changing my work schedule around (Thank you, Mr. J and Mr. W), I attended Leah Meyerhoff’s reading at NYU for her feature, Unicorns.
– Leah, her cast and Brian Gonzalez
photo via thefilmpanelnotetaker.com
Leah is a Slamdance Grand Jury Prize winner and Student Academy Award finalist currently pursuing an MFA at NYU. Her short film TWITCH has screened in over 200 festivals, won a dozen international awards and was picked up for distribution by IFC and Skandinavia TV. Her music videos TEAM QUEEN and ETERNAL FLAME have screened in over 50 festivals and are airing on LOGO and MTV Europe. She was also profiled in the docudrama series â€œFilm Schoolâ€ which continues to air on IFC. Leah has been a featured panelist at film festivals across the country and recently served on the Slamdance narrative jury.
Unicorns tells the story of an awkward teenage girl who escapes to a fanatsy world when her first romantic relationship turns increasingly abusive. This will be Leah’s first feature film. I discovered Twitch and Leah by simply googling local filmmakers who had made award winning short films. I contacted her a few months ago on her website and since then I have been incorporating some of my classwork for The New School into assisting Leah on Unicorns.
I attended last night’s reading both to observe and to participate. Besides assisting Clarissa Delos Reyes with setting up the room and prepping the reception snacks, I also brought along my Panasonic DVX100b to help Brian Gonzalez shoot the reading.
I had never attended a reading before so it was a great learning experience.
I had already read Leah’s script for Unicorns but found it was an entirely different experience to watch actors run through it in real time. I noted which lines were exactly the way I had imagined them to sound in my head (natural) and which ones didn’t seem as authentic coming from an actual person’s mouth.
Some of the cast who participated in the reading:
– Sarah Steele (Spanglish) in the lead role of Davina
– Rufus Tureen who read for Davina’s Brother
– Josh Caras (Gracie) who will play Davina’s abusive boyfriend, Sterling
(I thought that Sarah and Josh made a believable couple in person)
– Karl Jacob (The Roost) as Davina’s Father
– Elizabeth Dahmen was the narrator and read all of the camera direction and non spoken action. I have also seen her perform comedy and (I believe) burlesque? around NYC over the years. She is very talented.
It was really interesting to see the way the actors interacted with each other and what aspects of the script they were willing to “act” (cutting food, kissing) and not to “act” (pumping gas, putting stolen items up their shirt, heavily making out, etc.)
Since not every cast member was present, the actors took turns reading supporting and minor roles. It was funny to see Rufus being Davina’s brother one moment and then her art teacher the next, but it attested to their acting ability that quite quickly I barely noticed all of the interchanging roles.
There were about 20 or so people in the audience not directly related to the project. After the reading was over, questionnaires were handed out for people to give feedback on their experience.
Here are some things that I learned from my first reading:
– Make sure you have enough food and someone to bring it/handle the setup
Leah had some snacks but there wasn’t nearly enough.There was definitely enough wine, which turned out to be the most popular item during the reception, so that was good. I think some other people were supposed to provide more snacks but it wasn’t there, so I ran out and bought some additional spread and cookies right before the reading started. I know it’s just a little thing but I have a weird instinct that people often judge you by the food you provide them, or lack of. I know that on shoots any food issues arise in a lot of bad energy from the crew and I didn’t want to take that chance at the reception.
– Make sure you have enough people/resources to shoot your reading
There were three cameras (including mine) used on this shoot but only two people controlling them. I suspect Leah had additional volunteers who probably flaked out at the last minute, but the result was that one of the cameras ran out of life and tape which means she lost that angle. Not a huge deal, but ideally there would have been someone there to keep an eye on it. I could not run back and forth between them because it would risk disturbing the actors and Brian was also in the same position.
– Make sure you have a prominently displayed location for folks to hand in/drop off their questionnaires, in several locations
I noticed that some questionnaires were picked up right after the reading from the audience, but some people needed time to fill them out and when they were done they didn’t have a place to put them. True, they could have just placed them on the table in the front of the room but the reality is people aren’t particularly proactive. You often have to spoon feed them especially if they are helping you out with suggestions. I noticed a few people during the reception walking around with their completed questionnaires, unsure of what to do with them.
I assume eventually Leah or her other volunteers collected them all, but if would have saved a lot of time for everyone if at the beginning of the reading someone could have provided info about where drop boxes would be located for them to deliver their questionnaires. Some people prefer to remain anonymous and not hand deliver their answers to an actual person and a centrally located box or bin would have given them that security. But again, I suspect they were all collected by the end of the evening.
The most important thing that I learned from this experience was that it is definitely useful to do a reading of your script in a public space where you can receive lots of feedback. It’s also a good idea to invite lots of your friends to attend, friends who bring other friends who are willing to be honest without fear of offending the writer/director. Feedback provides you with a sense of how your story plays (or doesn’t) in the imaginations of an audience before you begin your actual rehearsals. It can potentially inform the direction you take with a multitude of factors during your shoot.