I was asked to be in a SAG low-budget movie. I think that is what they called it. SAG has developed so many new sub-basements in their contract hierarchy, I wasn’t sure what I’d agreed to do.
It could have just as easily been a SAG ultra-low budget or a SAG extremely, ultra, ultra-low budget, or a SAG so-incredibly-low-budget-God-knows-why-there-is-even-a-contract, contract. I didn’t know.
The reason I did the film was not for the money. The script was good. The part was very different from anything I usually get to play. It’s been my motto that it’s almost always better to do something than nothing. Then, at least, you would have lived a life that provided more to forget.
As we began to shoot the film, the entire ensemble of actors had to endure many hardships. Dawn call times, No stand-ins, no dressing rooms, no toilets.*
*To be clear, there were toilets on the premises. We could use them. However, by the end of production, they not only ceased to be functional, but they began to fire human waste at us.
I had to re-examine the question why.
We have already established it wasn’t for money or being well-treated. It wasn’t for the snacks. By noon, the only things left on the food table were a jar peppermints and a bowl of orange salt left behind from yesterday’s taco-flavored Doritos.
One of the actors joked that they hoped the movie would get nominated for awards. I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell of that happening. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t doing the film for recognition.
There were times during the shooting when I doubted whether the film would ever see the light of day. Not because of the quality of the movie, but the complexity of the film business. The expense of marketing and post-production have sunk many a low-budget ship. That didn’t bother me either. I wasn’t doing the film to be seen.
What? Impossible. Now we are beginning to defy the very idea of what acting is. Why was I doing this project? Why was it important to me? If not the money, or the career, if not even to be seen? Why?
The answer came to me after the last day of the shoot. It was not to be seen or heard – but to speak. To stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and yell into nothing, to see if there is an echo. Whether there is an echo is unimportant. What is important is the search for something that returns: a sound, a friendship, a memory, an insight. A reason why.
It could be that art and prayer have a lot in common. The act itself creates its own echo, even if we never hear it.