James Ross Kiefer
I had never really thought of myself as an actor. I still don’t think of myself as an actor, but I did recently get the opportunity to star in a student film. And to be honest, if I did any acting at all, it didn’t seem to far out of the realm of what I would normally do.
The endeavor started when two friends of mine approached me to be in a film called “Foodie” they were producing for Campus Movie Fest. This confused me, mainly because I never attempted any prior acting in my life. It also caused me to consider several things: Am I comfortable seeing myself on camera? What if I do poorly? Why would they want me?
But I think out of anything else I was mostly flattered. There was something appealing in the idea of being at the center of a film narrative. So I agreed to it.
Before shooting began the way I thought about my character seemed to be important to me. I played a con-man named Bo, who after several failed sham’s tries his luck at one of those insane food challenges. He is tasked with eating an eight pound hamburger. When finding he won’t complete the challenge, he must think of some clever, or just clever to him, way to escape the restaurant.
At my first read of the script I thought, “Well I just have to seem conniving or something, that should sell this character”. I wasn’t exactly sure how to make such a contrast or how that would come off on camera.
This is where the director came in. For each read through of a scene I sat down with my director while he helped me grasp Bo as a character. Brendan, the director and writer of the film, would tell me things like, “Bo always thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, no matter what”, and “Bo thinks this is his best idea yet”.
I was even encouraged to think out some scenarios like Bo, as Brendan would often ask me “How do you think Bo is feeling in this scene?”.
When I was finally moved in front of the camera that’s where I began to notice a change in my demeanor. I felt myself becoming over expressive with my facial gestures and reactions, which I was doing to sell the scene. This wasn’t prompted out of me by the director, but was rather just something I found appropriate. It was something that was difficult for me to reproduce on different takes, as we did each camera shot multiple times to have various takes to choose from. So there were times when I would try a different type of expression, like maybe try to show I was bit more annoyed than the last take, or possibly go for a more bumbling reaction.
One thing that did throw me off was the filming schedule in general. We shot the film over the course of two days, working about 8 hours each day. I had taken enough film classes to know that films typically aren’t shot sequentially, meaning they shot scenes out of order and edit them together to form a narrative. On the first day alone we began shooting the middle of film, and managed to film the entire opening and conclusion. It did feel weird being told to express emotions to events before they even happened to me in actuality.
The second day of filming is what probably defined the experience for me. The plot of “Foodie” involved me eating an eight pound hamburger, which two had been specially made for the shoot. First, I must say that just having the opportunity to eat that much of a burger was great, and I would strongly recommend the challenge. Second, trying to convey emotion while eating may have been one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. Of course it’s easy to force a smile while chewing, but trying to make this burger look like it’s the most important thing to Bo at the given moment, and even after six or so takes of the same scene, kind of wears on you. Although getting to flip a table full of food onto an audience definitely helped make up for it.
At the actual screening of “Foodie”, we killed it. We took home awards for Best Editing, an Audience Award and even a Jury Award that qualified us to compete nationally this summer in Georgia.
But what meant the most to me after the screening was that people actually that I was good. I was told my acting seemed natural and organic, and it was even funny. It’s a bit weird when getting praised for something I had never considered or even tried before, but I’m not going to complain about it.
A few weeks later I get a text from Brendan. It reads “I just wanna let you know that Foodie has been invited to screen at Cannes Film Festival in France”. Cannes, if you don’t know, is one of the premier film festivals in the world.
So I guess I did something right.