"Leave No Trace"
Theatre and film seem to initially be separate worlds. But when narrative and the good storytelling are both at the heart of the two, why is the divide so present? And furthermore, why should young theatre and film makers feel the need to be limited to one realm or the other, when both can teach innumerable lessons?
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with JT Timmons, Southie Williamson, and Maxim Yodzis, three Florida State University students who are actively exploring both the mediums of film and theater during their collegiate journey. The three are theatre majors who recently wrapped on “Leave No Trace” a Red Eye Productions’ horror short film set to premiere mid to late March this year. These three, as many other college theatre makers do, are gaining an insight into the differences the between the two mediums and shared their experiences with me.
Hannah: So what kind of previous experiences have you had in film or theatre?
JT: I have been filming, well since I was 13, so I’ve been doing a lot longer than theatre, I just started theatre. I wanted to learn how to direct live performance, not just film. I’ve been constantly filming since 13. I went to Savannah Art’s Academy. Where I had some beginner film teaching, but that’s about it.
Southie: I am kind of the opposite. I’ve been doing theater for a really, really long time and this is my first year getting into film. Which has been very, very fun but very, very different. So it’s a challenge. But I think it’s a really interesting and very different art form than theater. But most of my experience has been in theater, I feel like film is a lot more, genuine acting which is very interesting.
Hannah: Is this your first project with film?
Southie: It’s not my first, but this year is my first time getting involved.
Maxim: I’ve been doing films with the FSU film school for the last two years now. I want to say I’ve done five or 6 with the FSU film school including extra-ing in a professional film being filmed in Louisiana, and another independent film.
Hannah: So it sounds like your film experiences’ as actors has really kicked off in college.
Hannah: Do you feel like you were able to get exposed to film back and high school, and didn’t or was it just an opening up in college?
Maxim: (In high school) the exposure isn’t as great. You have a bunch of community theaters but you don’t know where to go to find your community film maker. A theater is a place but film makers are everywhere. And that’s one of the nice things about film, is that it’s very versatile in that sense but it’s very hard to locate as well if you don’t know what you’re doing. It can seem very daunting.
Hannah: What’s the biggest difference for you between the two, especially when you first started?
Maxim: I think for film, you have to do your character work ahead of time. Not that you don’t when it comes to stage, but you have time. You have maybe weeks during production to nail down what you’re doing with a director who’s there. When you’re in the theater the director’s focus is mainly on you, and when you’re on a film set it’s not the same. (On a film) the director has to worry about so many things, like the timing or lighting. You’re more a tool than you are an actor on the film set, and that is kind of something that I like.
Southie: I didn’t realize how technical film is. As an actor you have to be so aware of the other parts that go into a film. Before I got into film, I was always under the impression that like, you just do your thing acting and then they’re filming you, and that’s great. But I realized you have to know where the camera is at all times, you have to know what angle they’re looking for, you have to make sure you’re in the same spot every take. If you do one movement, you’re gonna have to do that the eight takes after it, even if it was an unintentional movement. In theatre, every night is a different performance, and you can throw in different things but if you do that in film it’s really hard for the editor later. You really have to be conscious of everything going into it
Hannah: Let’s talk about the rehearsal process you touched on for a bit. What did your rehearsal process look like for this film?
Southie: The rehearsal process wasn’t a together rehearsal as much, like the way theatre is where everyone is rehearsing together. It was very much you had to do it on your own time. JT is doing his rehearsal by deciding how he wants the shots, and how he wants the lines said. And like Maxim mentioned we’re doing our rehearsal by doing that character work, it’s almost causal, but at the same time it falls on you to make sure that all happens.
Maxim: You do the table work together, but that’s usually the last time you touch it for film until you actually start recording. Which is where it differs from theatre immensely. You don’t have that opportunity with film. Versus theatre where you can run through the same thing every single day.
JT: When it comes to rehearsal, we read lines. I ask them if they have any questions about their character, sometimes they do and then we went there and we shot it. But you have to shoot the horror scene correctly. And it helps when they understand their characters. And they understood their characters so well. I mad minor corrections but they caught their characters so well, because (of their work) they understood it.
Hannah: Now that we’ve touched on some of the differences between what it’s like for actors, what about you JT? Before this had you directed any theatre?
JT: I had directed something for (class). It was a really quick class project, but it was so fun. But that was the first theatrical thing I had actually directed, and I had an amazing time. I’m very excited about learning how to direct theatre, because it is so much harder than film, just from what I’ve seen. I don’t know if that it’s I’ve been doing film for so long it’s like nothing anymore but theatre direction, especially in this last project was insane. Blocking, I hate blocking so much.
Hannah: So what does blocking look like for you on a film set?
JT: I let the characters do what they want. They have a lot of freedom when it comes to the films Red Eye shoots. We let the characters have their character. I want them to do what they feel. For example “Leave no Trace” that was never initially in the script. It was “leave only foot prints”, but Effie said, that’s the main character, he said, “I feel like my character should say leave no trace. I don’t know I just know him.” And I was like “go for it”. The characters move where they want and like Southie said they have to move in the same way, for every scene because in post-production I’ll want to cut to different angles , and it’s very, very hard if they’re in completely different places for the same line.
Hannah: Continuity is essential
JT: Continuity is essential is film
Hannah: And just clarify some things. Red Eye productions is your production company correct?
JT: Yes, I’m the artistic director and founder. My brother is CEO, and owner. But I consider anyone who works with me part of red eye productions, they represent us. They’ve been in a Red Eye film. And then there’s Matt (Matthew Cravener) who scores our film and he’s an official part of Red Eye Productions.
Hannah: What drew you to the theatre? As opposed to a digital production or film major?
JT: Two things, learning how to direct theatre is a big, big part of what I want to learn as an artist, I enjoy theatre. And I feel like if I can direct live performance I can direct anything. Because it is the hardest, it really is the most difficult to direct. So I feel like it would help my direction skills, and then when I go to get my masters in film I will be a better director. Plus I’ll know the foundations of film which is theatre.
Hannah: And how did you get started with Red Eye Productions?
JT: I got the idea when I was a little kid and I’ve always loved horror. My dad told me the story of the Red Eye’s outside the house at our mountain house, when we say there were these creatures outside, and they have red eyes. I would picture these red eye’s that were glaring at me. And for some reason I loved it. I was a little kid and I absolutely loved thinking about the red eyes. And that’s when I realized how much I loved horror. I’d also watch very influential movies like Trimmers, Children of the Corn, and Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Those were all so big influences on Red Eye Productions, because I wanted to remake those. So I always really wanted to make film. But I started making film at 13 years old under the name Red Eye Productions. I’ve always thought Red Eye Productions because these guys have been such a big part, these little creatures. It was an actual business when I turned 17. We got to register the name in Florida when I was 17.
Hannah: What are the differences in stories you get to tell across the two mediums? Obviously horror theatre exists as a genre, though maybe not as present as horror films, but what do you get to say about the two?
JT: That’s a hard one. There’s a difference between scare and disturb. And I love them both and I use them both, and in film I feel like it’s much easier to scare people because you have the camera angles, you have the cuts. You can make people jump, you can make people exclaim. In theatre, and I’m really excited to use this, I feel like it’s going to be a lot easier to disturb people, because the person is there. And if someone says in a film “I’m going to cut his head off” that’s disturbing yea, but in theatre when someone is right there, it’s a lot more disturbing.
Hannah: So it’s about immediacy to the audience?
JT: Totally, Totally. I can’t wait to use that, I’m excited.
Hannah: Did you feel like you had any challenges that came from not just working in film, but being a student as well?
Southie: I think it can be difficult to balance every opportunity offered, and do them all well. And you are a student. And the goal, the ultimate goal is to learn your craft better. And if you’re an actor it’s to act. You kind of have to find a balance between yes it is great to have five things on my resume but is it better to have two things on my resume but focus on what’s really hard and work on this character. It’s hard because you (starting out) need all those things on your resume but you need to be good. You can perform over and over again but if you’re not putting in the time or the work you’re not getting better.
And it is this balance we all as artisans must seek. But that balance should not come with the sacrifice of limiting ourselves from exploring every avenue of creativity possible. After all, you never know what medium can help you learn from any perspective. And while the stage is our home, other venues have valuable lessons to teach us.
All in all, this electrifyingly scored and clever film seems to have taught quite a lot to these young theatre makers. After all, an engagement with different mediums of storytelling are important to students who are in fact still shaping their personal views of theatre. If you are interested in more information about the screening please visit Red Eye Productions YouTube Channel for consistent updates. Such as, more information about the upcoming screening of “Leave No Trace” in March 2016.
Cast: Taylor Gibson, Skylar Stroup, Southie Williamson, Maxim Yodzis
Director/Editor/Cinematographer/Writer: JT Timmons
Music Composer: Matthew Cravener
Producer: Kewaan Drayton