Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘film’

Using Video to Develop, Promote and Preserve Theatrical Productions

In Behind the Scenes on April 8, 2009 at 4:12 pm

by Phil Gravitt

Film Studio photo by dpmike

Film Studio photo by dpmike

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – “Theater producers and writers want a document of their work.” explains Jonathan Luskin, co-founder of Flying Moose Pictures.  “Writers don’t usually get a lot of opportunity to work [directly] with actors. If a performance is in development, a video [of the performance] can help the writer determine what needs to be said and not said.”

Aside from producers and writers simply wanting a archival record of their work, there are may other practical benefits that are borne of the marriage between theater and video.

Theaters often benefit by including videos of recent productions along with written grant applications or funding requests, and it is important to note that the quality of the video recording is as important as the quality of the written grant proposal.

Luskin explains, “A professional quality video is important, because granters are sensitive to the quality of video, not just the play or performance in the video.”

The same tape can be used in a multitude of ways that benefit the production as a whole as well as the individual artists involved.

Luskin adds, “The tape can also be sent to TV stations for promoting the play.  And individual performers can use segments as an actor’s reel to post online or send to producers, agents, casting agents and directors, to show examples of their work.”

Purists often criticize the use of video arguing that taping a live performance turns the performance into a completely different type of entertainment entirely — a movie.

“Video taping does not turn the performance into a movie,” suggests Luskin. “Video is just a different tool.  Filmmaking is much more a shot by shot performance, with multiple cameras.  During dress rehearsal, sometimes we reshoot. Most video taping of a play, however, is done live; there is no stopping or going back.  We normally use just one or two cameras, so there is no pretense that this is replacing the performance.”

Of course there are constraints on filming that always need to be worked through concerning licensing rights and the unions.

According to Luskin, “If performers belong to Actors Equity, Equity does not allow taping except under rigid rules.  The video must be just a document, for archival and education purposes only.  The tape must go to The Museum of Performance & Design, and can only be viewed at the museum library.”

There are definite challenges in taping live performances.

“Since there are no retakes, that raises the bar in your preparation.” explains Luskin, “You have to anticipate when an actor will be moving, entering or exiting the stage.  We don’t usually see the show beforehand, or have someone telling us what is coming up. Lighting for theater is much more contrasted and dark, and it is hard to get the same lighting look in the camera.  For audio, the mikes are placed by the stage, so the actors aren’t always nearby. Feature films would have the microphones much closer. The audience and their experience of the performance must also be taken into consideration. We bring in a lot of gear.  We try to be as discreet as possible with the cameras, because it is hard for producers to give up seats for camera placement.”

Many theater groups attempt to do their own amateur video taping with wildly varying results, and have not experienced the difference professional video offers.

“Quality video production is a skill,” Luskin continues, “You can’t just turn on a camera.  We are experts at lighting, and we use professional cameras, which have much better resolution.  We also use professional studio microphones, not camcorder mikes, which never do a good job.”

“Theater groups have small budgets, and we discount our regular fees to individual artists and non profits,” explaines Luskin, “We like serving the theater community. Filming gets me out to see a lot of theater, and keeps me connected.  Sometimes we hire actors and crew to do other filmmaking, adding a lot of synergy between our corporate and theater works.”

“Our point of view is that video taping of performances is complex.” Luskin concludes, “Hiring professionals with experience, knowledge and technology pays itself back with far better quality.  Every group should have some video whether they do it for themselves or not.”

Flying Moose Pictures is a San Francisco film company founded by Jonathan Luskin and Mark Leialoha serving a special niche in the Bay Area, doing professional digital video of live theater, from solo performances to opera. Additional information about Flying Moose Pictures can be found at

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:


From the Big Stage to the Silver Screen: casting theater actors in film, television, voiceover and print projects

In Behind the Scenes on March 23, 2009 at 12:46 am

by Phil Gravitt

Action photo by Graffizone

Action photo by Graffizone

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – Lori Laube and Jen Côte are the co-owners and driving force behind American Eagle Studios. They place everyone from kids to older adults, from untrained to seasoned actors in smaller or local roles for films, commercials, television, print and voiceover jobs.

Some of their actors are self employed or are waiters, and are almost always available, while others support themselves with day jobs and occasionally risk their  jobs to take off for auditions and filming.

Theater actors have an additional challenge explains Jen, “Theater actors are often in shows or rehearsals, and have to be off a shoot by 5:00 PM to be at the theater [for rehearsals or a performance] by 6:30. We try to accommodate them.” She continues, “A few actors we work with are experienced actors living in Marin or Sonoma who have done ‘the big thing’ in film, and want to keep a foot in acting and relax.”

Working with both theater and film actors, Jen has found that, “Some actors are more successful than others at making the transition between stage and film. Training helps you in either medium, teaching you to create character, analyze scripts. In film, the actors don’t have to be big in vocal choices and can be subtle in faces and expressions.”

The films American Eagle works on are often independent, with small budgets, usually involving actors who are not members of the Screen Actors Guild***. Jen explains, “We’re not a glamorous big time casting agency. We won’t make you a star. We are a good place to get exposure and footage for your reel, before moving to the City or LA and joining SAG and a larger agency.”

Actors register through American Eagle’s web site, and send in a head shot, a resume, and their sizes.

“We want as many actors at our disposal as possible,” Jen says. “If we or a client think an actor will fit the need, we will bring them in for an audition.”

When a client calls with a request for actors, Lori and Jen send them to the talent section of their web site.

Jen explains, “Once they review the head shots, they may give us three names they want to audition. When the client tells us they want a certain look, we offer more names from our files of people not on the site. Occasionally we’ll say, ‘This guy is a great actor, and has a good track record,’ and our clients take our word for it without auditioning. When we have auditions to fill a specific request, the client may sit in on an audition we hold.”

What does the future hold?

Jen says, “We believe the North Bay scene has potential to become a mecca for artists and filmmakers. Studios are springing up in Novato and Sausalito, producing and creating. Even in this economy people want to create. We hope they need actors and will call us and our actors will keep working.”

***American Eagle also has a long successful history of casting large independent films and television series as well as commercials. Recent film and television projects include Bottle Shock, Cheaper by the Dozen, Bartleby, and a number of series for The History Channel and Women’s Entertainment TV. Corporate clients include Comcast Spotlight, E.J. Gallo and Sonoma County Turism Bureau among many others. Additional information about American Eagle Studios is available at

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include: