Filming has advantages over live performances

At this writing I’m typing at my computer while in my living room a group of aging actors is singing the “Three Little Fishes” song.

Those of a certain age will remember the song. The closing line goes like this: “And they fam and they fam all over the dam!” Childish? Yes, but believe it or not, there’s something very therapeutic about returning to one’s childhood.

This has been a busy week of filming for our aging actors. I know because I’m one of them.

The other day I spent a good deal of time in heavy makeup and a red wig reciting lines before a movie camera. It took a lot of concentration and my legs ached from standing in place for long stretches of time. But when the filming was over I was exhilarated.

In the fall of 2011, our theater troupe completed its first full-length film. The troupe has been meeting for several years through the auspices of Mary’s Woods, the adult continuing care community where I live. The film was dubbed “Happy Haven,” the fabricated title of a retirement community. It’s a spoof of our actors’ real lives at a real retirement community. Copies of the film on DVD were given to all the cast.

“Happy Haven” was such a success with other members of the community that our marketing department added it to their Internet website for a while. “Happy Haven” even made it to YouTube, which impressed our kids and even our grandkids, who watch a lot more YouTube stunts than most of us.

The filmmaking projects are the latest brainchild of our creative theater troupe director, Robin Magdahlen. In the past few years the troupe has followed traditional patterns, presenting short programs before live audiences of our peers.

The problem is that people of advanced years can’t be expected to memorize lines, since our memories can no longer be trusted. What could be worse, after all, than forgetting one’s lines or, for heaven’s sake, stepping on each other’s lines? And so we’ve been allowed, even encouraged, to read from our scripts.

Now, attempting to hang on to a sometimes lengthy script while reciting lines and moving about stage is awkward, to say the least. Still, we’ve done our best and been rewarded with appreciative audiences, despite those far from perfect performances.

Film projects are different since the cameraman can start and stop each segment of film at will. So we are no longer encumbered with scripts to hold when filming. Only a few lines at a time need to be committed to memory and the director is there with her master script to remind us. This leads to new freedom of expression and movement that is most rewarding!

There are other important benefits to acting for film compared to acting on stage. One is the matter of sound. How often have we sat in theaters through the years straining to hear what the actors are saying on stage? Improvements to this age-old problem with the use of microphones can sometimes result in overbearing noise, especially true in the presentation of musicals! (Pity our young people whose hearing may already be showing signs of impairment.) Sound in filming can be controlled by a sensitive director — weak voices enhanced, loud noises muted.

A technical benefit of film, which we old timers are just discovering, is the use of something called a green screen. It seems magical and is certainly beyond my simple comprehension. Here’s how green screen is applied to filmmaking: A large strip of green cloth-type material — large enough to block out most of the background — is erected behind the actors during a particular scene.

When the actors have all gone home, having performed their parts to the satisfaction of the director, the work of choosing the proper background begins. In our case this work is done by Robin, our director, and Jake, our cameraman, who can choose from an infinite variety of scenes to use — perhaps a waterfall or a train station or a hotel room.

After learning about the magical process of green screening I now understand how certain scenes in movies have been made — scenes that blow the mind — such as immense floods, fires and other catastrophes. As far as we know, our enterprising director isn’t planning anything quite so dramatic for our coming production. But Robin Magdahlen is full of surprises, surprises that are sure to brighten our lives.

Audrey McConachie-Byers is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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