Mr. James Smith: LOL

According to How Many of Me, there are 2 people in the United States named Austin Segal.

There are 47,988 named James Smith. Wow.

And with all of those James Smiths, what if colleges were to make a mistake in admissions?

Well that’s exactly what happens in a comedic short film I starred in, Mr. James Smith, in which the main character receives college acceptance letters intended for a different,  more put together, James Smith.

I’d hate to be the James Smith they meant to send these to.

I had a blast preparing for and starring in this comedy, which I will be writing about today.

Edgar RIGHT

You may remember me talking about Edgar Wright in my last post:

Edgar Wright is a living genius.

Well, it’s happening again.

And I’m not sorry.

Edgar Wright’s filmmaking style tells the story by itself, not relying on dialogue. He crafts the shots so they work in tandem with the humor rather than just being dragged along by verbal punchlines. In other words, the camera tells jokes. Edgar Wright builds comedy not only in the screenplay but in the cinematography, the lighting, the choreography. I could write for hours about Edgar Wright, or I could redirect you to this amazing video  by Every Frame a Painting and send you on your merry way.

Did you spend (slightly less than) 8 minutes to watch the video? Good, because that’s exactly what our director did to prepare for this film.

From Punchlines to the Punchscreen

We worked with our director to reach maximum comedic effect.

As an actor, I asked how he wanted me to portray certain moments. How does my character feel here? How should I inflect? What hand motions should I use?

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Next, we discussed shots. We agreed that it would be funny to start the film with me tip-toeing over the letters. This establishes both the tone and some of the premise before any dialogue is spoken.

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We also thought a lot about the sister’s introduction. One thing Edgar Wright taught us is that entrances and exits can be funny in themselves, so we introduced the sister with a snap zoom and whip pan.

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What, is Nana dead?

Now would be a good time to mention that I loved working with Emma Bertram. She’s hilarious as both a writer and actress.

I also love the shot where we dolly back as Emma reads off the envelopes, and it’s revealed that she’s throwing the envelopes at me.

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One final thing I want to point out is the scene transition from my character to alt-James Smith (played by Logan Calder). Transitions, just like everything else in film, should be done with a purpose. The point here was to contrast the two James Smiths, with mine being sloppy and lazy and Logan’s being well-kept and preppy. To emphasize that contrast, we decided to keep the camera in the same exact close-up position while we swapped out the actor and backdrop. Here is the result:

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A lot of planning went into finding humor in even the smallest corners of the film, just as Edgar Wright taught us to do. You know what they say:

Comedy isn’t born, it’s made.

Making Comedy

Shooting day.

I had practiced my lines at lunch with Emma many times, practicing how to suppress my laughter.

However, no matter how much time you spend planning a shoot, it all comes down to performance on that day.

Will the snap-zoom-whip-pan work? Will the acting be convincing and well-paced and…funny? Or, the question feared by everybody on set:

Will we finish on time?

Before we started filming, I messed up my hair to fit the character.

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Don’t tell me it looks the same. I spent a long time trying to look bad.

Beth Polito did great generating laughs from behind the camera, including some difficult shots which I think were worth it in the end.

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Photo by Beth Polito

Emma was hilarious as always, so it was difficult to restrain my laughter at her British accent.

For the dolly shot, Emma accidentally hit me in the eye with one envelope, and it actually made it into the final film!

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There was one shot that we had to cut, because it was not working out the way we thought it would. This is why a shoot has to be flexible; if a shot isn’t working out, you can’t spend too long on it, especially in a tight shoot.

Which is basically every shoot.

For Logan’s part, at first he was doing his line in his regular voice, but then he tried it in an over-the-top, nerdy voice, and it made the line so much funnier! Sometimes, ideas arise on the set that weren’t planned beforehand. This spontaneity can end up making the line delivery even fresher and more comedic.

The Aftermath

This was a really fun experience acting in a film that is strictly comedy, which is different from what I usually do. I worked with hilarious people on this film, so it was fun to see how everyone interpreted their roles.

Chris Messineo posted the film to Vimeo a few weeks ago.

Here is the final version of the film:

In my next post, I will write about a short film I wrote and directed, titled The Phone Rang. The film takes a look into the human psyche, featuring a therapy session of a teen who blames himself for his friend’s suicide. It is a one-shot film over 4 minutes long, including flashbacks related to his friend’s suicide. There were many technical aspects involved in portraying multiple settings in one shot, all of which I will cover in the blog post.

Make sure you check out the blog post, because it will be one of my more involved posts. Follow this blog to receive notifications about future posts.

Cut to the phone ringing.

4 thoughts on “Mr. James Smith: LOL

  1. It’s always so interesting to get your perspective of how the crew thought about the shooting of the movie and then to rewatch it again. You definitely notice how difficult it is to make even a short film. Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

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