Chapter 4
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Moving to L.A. was hectic. To start things off, we had to complete my official adoption and file the papers with the authorities. I decided to keep my original name, Troy Francis Armitage to honor my late father Frank Armitage. 

Then we had to get a passport and visa for me. As Steve was a US citizen, it wasn’t too difficult to get a visa.

At one point, Steve suggested that I give up my British citizenship and become a full-fledged American, but I was hesitant. Thankfully, Kathy supported me, being a Brit herself.

So we shelved the argument for a few years at the very least, if not more. 

Luckily for us, Steve had an apartment in Santa Monica that he had purchased from his inheritance, thus saving us the time to look for a place. The place was a walking distance from Santa Monica Pier. Even the school wasn’t too far from the place.

The best part of the apartment was the extended balcony in the living room where one could sunbathe right at home.

So here I was, lying on the balcony on a beach chair, soaking in the mid-morning sun, with a good amount of sunscreen splattered all over my body and enjoying my summer vacation.

Yup, a good life.

It was at that moment that Steve came to the balcony, “Troy! My dearest son!”

I opened a single eye lazily and deadpanned, “I’m your only son. Or am I, Dad?”

Steve chuckled nervously, “Well yes. The thing is, I am bored out of my mind writing this script and desperately need a break. So I thought, we could begin your acting classes.”

I perked up immediately after hearing that. Steve is currently working on this script he is adapting called [Wonder Boys] and works long hours in his study room. So I hadn’t disturbed him too much about my promised acting lessons.

“To begin with,” Steve began, “I might have directed a few actors who got nominated for awards but that doesn’t make me an expert on acting. Still, I’ll do my best. Let’s move inside, I have made some preparations for you.”

When I followed him in, I saw the Sony camcorder he had set up on a tripod stand.

“I used to practice filming in my college days using an old Super 8 camera but now we have better options. This will help you tons if you can work with it. Now, your first scene is this, you have to enter the room from the door, you’ll slowly come to the kitchen, pick up that bottle of water from the counter, take a sip, carry the bottle back with you, and then lightly kick the soccer ball lying there in frustration, then sit on the couch as if you are extremely tired and a little sad.”

He explained the scene in detail and pointed out the various props he had prepared in advance. He is a meticulous director, you have to give him that.

“My first goal is to get you familiar with the camera settings,” He continued his explanations, “One of the most important rules of shooting is to never look into the camera unless you are addressing the audience, like, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Ferris Bueller. That would be the only exception.”

Hearing that name, I instantly remembered the movie where the protagonist broke the fourth wall every fucking minute. “Yeah, I’ve seen it.”

He had a thoughtful look on his face as I said that. 

“So you understood the scene or do we need to go over it again?” He asked.

“No, I’m all set.” I gave him a thumbs-up as I walked out of the door.

Luckily the door wasn’t soundproof and I clearly heard when he said the word, “Action!”

Taking a deep breath in and out to calm myself, I opened the door and walked in, doing everything in my power not to look at the camera. I slowly walked towards the kitchen, picked up the bottle, and took a sip.

All the while ignoring the camera that Steve had picked up. He was following me with a closeup. But I didn’t pay it much mind. Then I moved towards the couch but kicked the football on the way. Then I sat down tiredly as I let out a lethargic sigh. I stared at the wall in front of me as I thought sad thoughts like my favorite ice cream flavor running out or that my favorite TV show had been canceled.

That’s when I heard it, “Cut!”

I immediately relaxed and looked up at Steve for his evaluation.

“Not bad for a first-time performance, but if I see this as your audition tape, direct rejection.” He said bluntly.

I was crestfallen at his admission.

He placed a hand on my shoulder, “Don’t worry too much, that’s why we are here, right? Now let’s see your first scene and I’ll tell you your mistakes. Then we will reshoot, okay?”

He sat beside me on the sofa and began the replay of the scene we had just shot. The video replayed my performance from entry to the point where I casually sat down, staring into the abyss.

Instantly, I knew the biggest flaw in my performance. I tried too hard not to look at the camera. Thus my shoulders and movement come out to be very stiff. The moment I took a sip of water, there was a closeup of my face and I could see the nervousness lingering there.

Then I kicked the ball and that portion came out relatively well. The last part where I plonked down on the couch and looked sad seemed good enough to me. Then again I’m the amateur here so I have no idea if my evaluation is any good.

“You caught something?” Steve asked, his gaze fixed on my face.

So I told him of my evaluation of the performance.

“Yes, most of your points are valid. After kicking the ball your performance improves, although it can still be better. An advice for you, don’t ignore the camera, forget about it entirely. Let’s do it again from the beginning.” Steve exclaimed excitedly.

For the first time in all these months, I’ve seen the man so elated about something. This could be because this is the first father-son activity we have done together. Or this could be because he is doing something he loves. Filming.

Ignoring that line of thought, I went out of the door again and began reshoots.

We shot that same scene a total of six times before Steve passed the shot. I was so happy that my smile would be visible for anyone to see. Steve ruffled my hair affectionately seeing that.

“Okay champ, now you got the basic idea of filming. Next, we need to instill the value of emotions in your scene,” Steve explained, “For that, you have to put yourself in the character’s shoes. Before performing, think about what he is going through, and what his thought process will be. At the same time not overdoing the expressions.”

He took a pause then continued, “For example, if I tell you to act sad because you flunked your test, it is possible that as a novice you may act to an extreme level as if your dog died which will be too much emotion for such a simple scene. Do you understand that?”

I nodded as I understood what he was saying. Gauge the level of emotion while performing the scene but don't overdo it at the same time. Subtlety is the key to good acting.

“Now consider this scenario,” Steve began. “Your character is named Mark. Mark’s parents work long hours so they are rarely home. Mark was at the babysitter’s place, who is a 16-year-old boy. The babysitter tried touching him inappropriately. Mark didn’t understand the reason, but he didn’t like it, so he ran back home. Then he opened the door, drank some water, kicked a ball, then sat down on the couch thinking about the incident at the babysitter’s home.”

I looked at him gobsmacked, “You gave me such a lewd scenario for my first scene?”

He looked me directly in the eye as he said, “The fact that you understand why this scenario is wrong is enough for me to know about your emotional maturity. If you can understand it, you can do it. If by any chance you don’t understand I’ll be happy to give you the talk.”

“Oh God, please no!” I exclaimed instinctively. I had watched enough live-action at my old house for an eternity. Not to mention, I probably have already had sex in my last life as I seem to know extreme graphic details.

“That’s what I thought,” Steve said smugly, “Now that you have the whole setting of the scene we will do it one more time.”

I groaned audibly, "I thought the last take was good enough."

“Hey! Don’t be like that,” Steve chided me. “Some directors like to do one scene dozens of times before they are satisfied. If you don’t have the patience for retakes, I suggest you better become a banker or a lawyer.”

I did not complain again as I moved towards the door to reshoot.

“This time think about your character’s actions and why is he doing that,” Steve called out from behind the camera.

A few minutes later I am seeing the latest shot and I am amazed at the difference in my own performance. In all my previous shots, it could be seen that I was acting to be someone else.

This time, Mark’s movements and expressions seem more natural. The way he kicked the ball in anguish and the way he had a lost, sad, and frustrated expression as he stared into the abyss is marvelous.

“Woah.” It slipped past my lips unconsciously.

“Woah indeed. Your performance just now was perfect. If anything could be at fault, it would be my camerawork which is obviously not my specialty.” He said with a proud tone and that ever-present smile on his face.

A sense of giddiness bloomed in my gut as I heard the first true praise coming out of him that day.

“Don’t get too ahead of yourself,” Steve rebuked me gently. “Right now you haven’t even delivered any dialogue.”

Just like that, I was kicked off my pedestal again. Of course, how can I forget that? All auditions out there with any significant role include exchanging lines with the casting director or a staff member.

“For the next scene, you will be doing an improv. An improv is an improvised scene acted out on the spot by the actors themselves without any script using their own knowledge and quick wit. During many auditions, some lazy casting directors ask for an improv performance to remove those actors who are not fast enough to perform on their feet.” Steve lectured.

I nodded along though I already knew about improv.

“Your topic for improv is you as a kid giving an adult ‘the talk’.”

I looked at his amused face with a probably horrified expression. He is definitely bonkers.

“Eww… can we please do something better. Anything else, please?” I begged with what I thought was my best puppy dog expression.

“Cute,” He quipped. “But no. You will be doing this scene only. You can use any bad word you want, but only as long as this scene is being filmed. You must go into as much detail as you know. If I find your knowledge insufficient, then I’ll fill in all the blanks left out.”

I closed my eyes in embarrassment. I knew it would be so bad, but somehow I knew he wouldn’t budge from his decision even if I insisted.

“You do realize that I am eight and won’t be doing any such activity for years to come, don’t you?” I asked rhetorically.

He still answered, “If you had no knowledge of the topic, I would have gladly let you remain innocent for a few more years. But since you do, we need to make sure you don’t have any misconceptions. You know incomplete knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all. It was your Mum’s idea to let me enlighten you on the topic. Since you don’t want me to explain it to you, we will do it in reverse.”

O dear Joseph, Mary, and Jesus! Why can’t this earth swallow me alive?

“To make things interesting, consider this as a comedy scene. You can make expressions or voice modulations to make the scene funnier. You can even make up some funny things for the scene and can later explain what was wrong and what was not.” Steve said.

Seeing my look of hesitation he said, “Oh come on. You always go on about how smart you are and how mature you are, now prove it. You know this is rather tame when you are older, there may even be scenes where you have to do this stuff on screen, rather than just talking about it. Remember, for an actor, his role comes first, everything is secondary.”

I shuddered mentally at the thought of doing a sex scene in front of the camera. At least I can rest assured for now that I am safe for a decade under the child protection laws.

“Hmm, make sure to use your alter ego, Mark, but make him more cheerful, not like the gloomy scene you just did.”

This was the most embarrassing scenario that had been sprung up on me. Yet, I knew I had to tackle it head-on and leave behind my inhibitions if I wanted to become a serious actor.

 

AN: Read ahead on Webnovel/Patreon.

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