Schenectady County

Sayles gives tips to students

The lights are glaring, the cameras can be inches away, and a boom microphone dangles overhead. Ther

The lights are glaring, the cameras can be inches away, and a boom microphone dangles overhead.

There’s also that tape mark on the floor that must be hit without looking.

An actor must tune all that out, independent filmmaker and Schenectady native John Sayles told students at Schenectady High School on Friday.

“There are all kinds of artificial things around you, but you have to act relaxed, natural and in character,” Sayles said in a question-and-answer session. “You just have to forget about that stuff.”

Sayles, 57, was in Schenectady promoting his latest movie “Honeydripper,” an independent film he wrote and directed and which stars Danny Glover. The movie is about music and cotton in 1950s Alabama. Sayles spoke ahead of the film’s Schenectady premiere Friday night at Proctors.

Sayles and producing partner Maggi Renzi are on a 17-city tour promoting the film. They spoke Friday at Sayles’ namesake school, the Sayles School of Fine Arts at Schenectady High.

Students attending the session saw the movie earlier in the week. Many of them are taking film-making, acting, advanced English and other classes.

Sayles geared answers to several questions toward prospective actors in the audience, giving advice and tips.

He and Renzi also gave insight into the making of “Honeydripper,” and promoting it.

Sayles told of his approach to casting. Many directors listen to people read parts and respond in monotone, giving the actors nothing to play off. Sayles said he tests the prospective actors in character.

Often, he said, he can immediately tell if someone is too old or too young for the part. Sometimes he can get past that.

His first impression of Lisa Gay Hamilton, the woman who plays the wife of Danny Glover’s character, was that she was too young and too short for the part.

But she did well, and she was hired.

“This is your chance to show your stuff,” Sayles told the students. “Very often, I’ve written next to the actor’s name, ‘This is a really good actor, but they’re not right for this.’ ”

He goes back to those notes for subsequent movies and calls actors back in.

The easiest part of making movies, Sayles said, is writing them. He can write and not worry about raising money to make it.

Then Renzi comes in as the producer and searches for investors.

“Honeydripper,” he said, was an ambitious movie for its low budget. The Internet Movie Database estimated the budget at $5 million.

It also had a short shooting schedule — five weeks.

Actors’ schedules have to be coordinated. In one scene, he said, Glover plays one side, while actor Keb’ Mo’ plays the other side. The two sides, however, were filmed separately because of scheduling conflicts.

Outdoor scenes in the cotton fields had daylight issues, he said. They were shot in the fall, with dwindling sunlight. They had to make the most of the day.

“The days are very long and very intense for five weeks,” Sayles said.

The most fun part, he said, is at the end: editing.

Done in his basement with a cool computer, he called it the “world’s greatest video game.”

“It doesn’t matter if the sun comes up then,” he said. “Days go by and you forget whether the sun was up or not.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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