As an editor and director who wanted to understand acting in order to better inform my work and creativity, I've come to appreciate not only the art form but also the people and philosophy behind The Reel Scene Acting School in London. I want to talk about the experience of learning to act from some of the most generous, talented and passionate teachers in the industry.
Who am I
Born in London, I lived most of my life in New Zealand before returning to Europe a few years ago
I had spent many years trying to work out what I wanted to be. At various points, I studied astrophysics, Russian, hypnosis, machine learning, cryptocurrencies and film. I ran a web design company and created the world's biggest cannabis news website. Eventually, I realised that the film industry not only fulfilled my desire to be creative and use stories as a way of helping people, but it also appeased my multipotentialite urge - the desire to learn and be involved with as many ideas and disciplines as possible.
I studied at film school in New Zealand, qualifying as an editor/director. I started working at Television New Zealand in the late 1990s. Later on in my career was lucky enough to be a part of the Lord of the Rings phenomenon as it swept the country, working at Weta Digital on Return of the King and I, Robot.
I'd written and directed a number of short films, stories and screenplays. But I felt that I lacked knowledge in one essential area of the film industry - the craft of the actor. I'd had a crack at acting at film school and wasn't terribly good at it. But I realised there was a vocabulary and a mystique around acting that I didn't understand and that I probably needed to explore in order to inform my work and career.
Why choose to learn acting?
If you truly understand any of the roles in the film and television industry - writer, director, editor, for example - you realise that what you are doing is telling stories. You're continuing the age-old tradition of the campfire tale. Telling the spooky horror story, getting a laugh by relating a humorous anecdote, evoking a few tears with a sad tale. And these stories all need to be told with passion and conviction and with a way for the audience to connect to the narrator, to become part of that story and feel the impact of its message. It's the actor's job to translate that tale, that message and that passion and in many ways to be your proxy on the stage or in front of the screen.
As a filmmaker we need to understand the actor's process: how to talk to an actor, how to work with an actor to deliver a message or performance, how to best present an actor's work to an audience. As a writer, we need to know how to give an actor a clear journey to portray, how to help them understand and embody the characters we create.
What I was looking for in an acting class
So while I was living in France a couple of years ago I started to look for an acting school where I could dip my toes into the craft and see if I could start to make some sense of terms like "actioning" or "Meisner."
I wasn't looking just to learn theory. And I wasn't looking for somewhere hugely expensive. What I wanted was a practical training establishment where real actors taught students how to perform on screen and then supported them with their careers. I wanted to study at my own pace, to be able to pick and choose classes and to work with people who wanted to help me understand the actor's process.
Why did I choose The Reel Scene?
When The Reel Scene popped up in my Facebook feed, I decided to take a gamble and just turn up at their Christmas event. I wasn't even a student. But I thought it would give me the best opportunity to evaluate them - how they treated me as a non-actor (and a Kiwi!), and I would have the chance to talk to existing students in a "non-salesy" environment.
Within moments of appearing at the venue in a part of what was still a "mysterious" London, I was warmly welcomed. I was quickly surrounded by people who were buzzing about the classes they'd taken, and the people they'd met. This wasn't any ordinary alumni drinks catchup, these people were all still actively networking with each other despite having finished classes or courses. They were helping each other with self-tapes. They were inviting each other to appear in short films or celebrating each other's successes.
Asa Butterfield turned up, and as we are both gamers, we hit it off quickly. He gave me a huge amount of advice and encouragement - I had doubted whether someone of my age and with my look should even bother taking up acting, and he not only pushed me then but has become a close and trusted friend and supporter ever since as I've navigated these waters.
Within days of returning to France I was Skyping with Alex Fidelski, the director of the school, talking about what I was looking for, what I wanted to learn, and how to get forge a path forward.
Taking Reel Scene Classes
My first step was taking a workshop, to give this acting lark a shot. My tutor was David Schaal, an actor with an impressive career and someone I recognised from The Office and as Jay's Dad from The Inbetweeners. The class wasn't overwhelmingly large, and it was full of friendly people. And then there here he was, the David Schaal, giving me advice on improv (which I'd never done before). It was terrifying, but I loved it, and the feedback I got was detailed, constructive and motivated me to take another step forward - signing up for the one-week "Event" acting course.
It was there I got to work with more great coaches like Steve North, from Doctor Who, and Manpreet Bachu, from Humans. I never would have thought, growing up in New Zealand and loving these shows, that I would one day have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from some of the stars.
The Event was life-changing for me, throwing me in the deep end, and I emerged with headshots, showreel footage, an agent, and most of all, lifelong friends and industry contacts.
In for a penhy, in for a pound right? I took the plunge and signed on the Screen Acting Year Course, where I learned from voice coaches, motion capture experts, agents, casting directors, actors and many more industry representatives. As a class, we put together a short film... and now we've we've just finished shooting it. What an amazing year it, filled with challenges and so much information. Seeing myself and my classmates grow as actors on camera every month under the guidance of Steve North was everything I could have wished for as an actor.
I've gone from someone who wanted to understand a little bit about being an actor to being part of a network of actors, directors and professionals and not only acting but being involved behind the scenes with The Reel Scene, and now with roles in a number of film projects.
What have I learned so far?
Starting from knowing relatively nothing about acting just over a year ago, I've realised how many aspects of the industry I'm now at least comfortable with (if not proficient in):
The Meisner technique
The Stanislavski method
Accent work (my British accent is still awful)
Movement techniques including motion capture
The audition process
What makes a good headshot
What makes a good showreel
How to behave on set
Working with a director and take notes
The process of breaking down a script
Ways to play actions and intentions
What opportunities have I been given?
I don't know about other acting schools, but The Reel Scene work very hard to support actors not only during courses but afterwards as well. They follow your career, letting you know about opportunities even if you're not signed with their agency or actively taking their courses. It's all a big family.
The WhatsApp groups that are created for each class continue to remain active vibrant even a year later (in my case). We get involved in each other's short films, share scripts, help each other with self-tapes and catch up regularly.
The actors, coaches, mentors and industry professionals that work with the school often use Reel Scene students in their projects.
I'm now actively involved in two feature films, I write scenes for the school, I shoot and edit footage for the school - because it's great for actors to see their performances and classwork actually edited together - and I help them with their web presence.
I've been first AD on a short film thanks to a connection made for me by Alex, and I'm working on projects with David Schaal, Steve North and other directors connected to The Reel Scene.
What's happening next?
Right now I'm helping to edit the first Screen Acting Year Course Short Film, which I had a hand in devising and was part of as an actor. I'm working with the school on new and innovative ways to provide affordable acting content for the students. I have 2 shorts films in development and I'm adapting a feature film from the draft of a novel I've written. I'm writing, acting, auditioning and working in the industry with a much more rounded understanding of what being an actor is all about, surrounded by very experienced and supportive professionals, and I couldn't be happier.
Why I recommend The Reel Scene
Being an actor is hard work. You need to be able to support yourself while studying, you need to keep practising and improving your technique. You need to deal with divas, attention-seekers, people trying to rip you off or take advantage of you. But at the same time, the pleasure and reward of performing, moving people, and making a name for yourself outweigh all of that. Acting isn't a solo profession, you're part of a community, a crew, a set.. you need good, experienced supportive people around you, and I can't recommend enough the people behind The Reel Scene. it's an honour to work with them and learn from them and I can't recommend them highly enough as an extended family for you too if you're serious about becoming an actor.