Nine actors find themselves deep in the heart of France’s Aveyron region at Actors Anonymous, a detox center for actors who want to get acting out of their system. Their aim: to overcome their addiction to the stage, the camera and showbiz so as to once again lead normal lives. They’ve never met before and must participate in a series of exercises aimed at ridding them once and for all of any desire to perform. A separation period, followed by a gradual reintegration of toxic substances, is the cure. To date, the center has had a 72% success rate.
When I made my first feature, Caméléone, I was so obsessed with the technical aspects of filmmaking that I forgot the actors.
Because of my lack of experience, I merely accompanied them without really managing to direct them.
Aware of this handicap, and frustrated by not having been able to make the most of each actor’s individual qualities, I decided to do an acting course. It was then that the idea of Actors Anonymous sprang to mind.
First up, I met with some actors of the theater school in Paris’ fifth arrondissement, and more particularly with Bruno Wacrenier, their teacher. Apart from a brief stint as one of his students, I sat in on his classes for years. He’s a marvelous director and I learnt an enormous amount from him, but above all, he enabled me to meet a bunch of terrific actors, many of whom appear in the film (Eléonore Pourriat, Gaëla Le Dévéhat, Marie-Sophie Ferdane, Bénédicte Cerruti et Grégoire Tachnakian).
I watched them perform for hours and I quickly wondered how I could make a film that would unite them but which would also include the study of acting craft unfolding before my eyes.
Wanting to stray from the beaten track, I decided to dig below the surface of the acting craft by treating actors as though they were sick, with addiction problems, people needing to be cured.
They liked this idea, thought it fun, and I immediately realized that this approach would allow me to deal with subjects that I would have found difficult to tackle head on.
I called upon other actors, equally terrific, that I’d met during the casting for another project – which finally didn’t get off the ground – to complete the cast. I thus found myself with my twelve ‘actors anonymous’.
Over the years, for me actors have come to be the most important element in filmmaking. I therefore created a structure that would allow them the greatest amount of freedom possible so that they could openly express themselves.
The structure is based upon the following shooting method:
- Let the actor improvise within a framework I’d determined beforehand.
- I was the only one who knew the script. The actors each had a precise description of their characters and would discover scenes as they arose during the shoot.
- Hand-held camera only, therefore allowing the actors maximum freedom.
- Have two cameras running continuously so as to reduce as much as possible the need to do retakes.
- Arrange for scenes to flow on from each other as rapidly as possible so that the actors remain focussed.
This way of working was as new and unique for them as it was for me. No matter the result, the finished film, we went through both an extremely intense and playful work experience.
I tried to get rid of the “imaginary actor’s” addiction to his craft while supplying the “real actor” with everything that would allow them to perform in the best conditions.
I realized that this method of working clearly had an impact beyond the film’s theme and could be applied to subjects other than just the acting craft. I’d like to use this approach in another film one day. Make a thriller, for example, where I’m the only one who knows the plot which the actors discover little be little during the shoot. Watch this space…