Thank You for Acting!

When I read a book, it doesn’t take me long to cast the “movie” that plays out in my mind. A few choice adjectives and verbs, a page or two of dialog, and I get a fairly clear picture of the characters. I suppose that most people do the same thing, considering the cheers and upset that an announcement of a movie adaptation can bring once the cast is announced.

I always thought of her as a blonde. And shouldn’t he be taller? In the novel it was a little girl, not a boy. Nobody will ever be perfectly happy in these cases.

When I write, I try to “reverse engineer” the story, and I feel like it makes a world of difference in my dialog. I cast my characters just as if I were creating a film with an unlimited budget. I pick actors that are suited to my characters, and then I collect pictures of them and watch their movies. I follow many of them on twitter, to pick up their natural patterns and phrases.

I put together a notebook with their pictures, along with my own character sketches and back-stories. I also collect photos of places in the story, weapons or objects that each character has and uses. I keep all my technical and historical research in this notebook, too.

Why bother? Does all of this really help? YES!

When I write an argument or a quiet conversation, I want it to sound realistic. If I couldn’t possibly imagine the actor I have cast in a role saying something, I change it to what he might say. Some of the most interesting plot twists have come about this way, and I’m always a little surprised and pleased when it happens. Pictures are also a great tool for referencing eye color, scars, etc. to keep continuity and flow in the story.

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I recently began a virtual notebook on Pinterest for my current work in progress. It was an experiment, as I have a hard copy of my cast in a real notebook, too. With the exception of a full character sketch—which I could add in notes, it’s worked very nicely. I plan to do this for all of my future novels as well. This should save time, paper, trees, and might even get me some input about how other people see these characters.

To the actors I’ve cast in my story, I’d just like to say thank you for acting. You are truly an inspiration!

To see my Pinterest Board, visit

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Actors Playing Actors

Watching Men in Black III, I found myself struck by Josh Brolin. I enjoyed the whole movie, but Brolin especially held my attention. I had to keep reminding myself that he was not actually a younger Tommy Lee Jones.

Brolin stepped into the character of K so seamlessly, that the persona Jones spent the last fifteen years crafting completely enveloped him. He interacted with Will Smith just like Jones. He captured the nuances and mannerisms that others might miss. That’s great acting.

Brolin not only had the test of portraying a beloved character, but of stepping into those polished black shoes that Jones had already broken in. He chose to play the character as another actor playing the character. He did it perfectly.

His role in MiB III got me thinking about how often actors take on the challenge of playing a real person with lack-luster effort.

A few years ago I watched The Aviator, about the legendary Howard Hughes, and was torn. The movie spans the time from the golden age of Hollywood through the 1970’s. Hughes was involved with many of the greatest Hollywood legends. Some of the actors poured themselves into their parts, portraying the people in Hughes’ life with great vigor. Others seemed to get their parts based on looks alone. They simply showed up and smiled—a cardboard cut-out might have sufficed. Their inability or unwillingness to let go of their own personality distracted from an otherwise intriguing film.

The Aviator is not the only movie that suffers from this brand of hiccups. Often movies fail completely because a talented actor refuses to release themselves fully into the heart of the person they are hired to play.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Hitchcock, due for 2013 release. Anthony Hopkins will play the title character, and I know full well that his talents are sufficient for the task. The rest of the cast has a high standard to meet, but I’m hoping for the best.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Watch it Again

What makes a movie re-watchable? What makes a casual fan into a devotee? Is it the actors? Is it the story and the writing? Maybe it’s what the director says subtly through the sub-plot. Perhaps it’s the musical score.

I think that any of these ingredients help to make great art, but I truly believe that the perfect symphony of all of these creates the magic that draws us back time and time again.

The story is the foundation, of course. Without a great story, two hours of pretty people is still just a two dimensional way to pass time. We need to care. We long to stretch our feelings—to laugh, to cry, to rage and triumph. We desire a step away from our desks. We want to wander the world through time. Exercising our imagination is healthy.

The actors are the vessels for the stories. They convince us. They fool us, and we love it. A great actor can seduce us and frighten us at the same time. The good ones don’t ever let us know how incredible they are. We just can’t stop watching them, and we don’t know why.

My all-time favorite leading man is Cary Grant. He usually played the hero—sometimes quite begrudgingly—but he could play a villain, too. He played a slick con man, a suspected serial killer, and a ruthless gangster. He made us doubt him. He made us hate him. As a war bride, Grant was an ugly woman, but we loved him all the more.

He was terrific when he played the ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He showed us all how to rise above a bad situation and persevere to become that champion.

Some of his best roles were when his character kept us guessing about his motives. He played a bad-boy so well, that every woman who watches is certain she can change his ways. And if not, so much the better. That’s the kind of actor that makes us watch.

Behind the actors is the score and soundtrack. The music is the medium that heightens our emotions. It’s the instant connection that carries us through the highs and lows of the story arc. The right score turns a tense moment into a nail-biter. A sweet exchange suddenly becomes the setting for love to blossom.

The director is the master of the imaginary world. He says when the sun rises and sets. What you see on the silver screen is the story that the director wants you to see. A talented director weaves the sub-plot and hints precisely, revealing details at just the right moment to keep us on the edge of our theatre seats.

Consider Spielberg or Hitchcock. They orchestrate amazing casts into tapestries of intrigue and romance. They inject humor when we can’t take one more second of fear or sorrow.

Think about the movies you watch over and over. What makes them special? What keeps you coming back? I want to hear from you!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

What’s an IMBD?

Several times in my blog I reference, and occasionally people ask, “What’s an IMDB?”

IMDB simply stands for Internet Movie Data Base. It’s a neat website that lists movies and all the pertinent information that goes with them. It provides cast lists, release dates, writing, directing and production credits. Each entry contains famous quotes, movie synopses, goofs and trivia.

I find the data bank useful for cross-referencing. I’ll look up an actor and then see what other films he or she has made. I get tickled when I realize that I’ve seen someone in another film years before and never had a clue. (My favorite example of this is Vincent D’Onofrio, of Law and Order: CI and Men in Black. He played the Dawson/ Thor character in Adventures in Babysitting.)

The site provides brief biographies of actors, including famous relatives, how they got started and, in some cases, their ages. This has been a hot topic in Hollywood lately, because some actors feel it is a breach of their privacy, as well as damaging to their career, to have their real ages listed. For those in the film industry, the site also provides contact information for the actors’ representation or agents.

I love visiting the site. If you are a movie fan, I encourage you to check out the website, too. Many pages have a Facebook link where you can “like” an actor or movie. The actors and producers love this, because when a particular actor gets more activity on their page, they are  likely to receive work opportunities.

The other thing I like about is that they have a free smart phone app. It may be the most-accessed app on my phone. Whenever I am out with friends, at some point in the conversation someone is going to say, “You know, the guy that was in that movie about the…”

I just pull out my phone and start plugging in my information. IMDB will look up movies based on release dates, actors, character names, plots and key words. Cool, huh?

I’m not saying that every morsel of information is 100% accurate all of the time. I know for a fact that IMDB has made mistakes regarding actors’ birthdates, etc. I also know that when they are contacted to make changes, they will.

If you have a minute, surf over to and give it a whirl. If you love movies—current or classics—you’ll bookmark the page. You can learn all sorts of things about your favorite movies and actors. You can watch movie trailers for hours. You can view pictures of your beloved actors and get behind-the-scene scoops to share with your friends. It’s just fun!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!