The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca
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FILMMAKER MAGAZINE “In the Master’s Narrative, We Don’t Hear the Stories of the Oppressed, the Disenfranchised, of Women”: Director Cathy Lee Crane on Her SF Indiefest Premiere, The Manhattan Front



"Filmmaker: I was actually surprised to learn that the actors — quite topnotch for a hybrid film — were cast from the Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca. As an Ithaca College professor, was the decision to cast locally a matter of convenience? Supporting your community?

Crane: There’s a sincerity to the performances that is compelling. I am interested in working with actors trained in the Meisner technique because I think it’s the technique that works best to produce presence before the camera. There are probably other techniques that work to produce a sense of engagement, but that’s the technique with which I feel most comfortable. I’m also interested in acting that is difficult, brittle and awkward. My Simone Weil film is so off-putting in the acting style, primarily because the dialogue is written text meant to be read, not spoken. That film took me to Ithaca’s Actors Workshop, like rehab. I went through some of the training because I thought if I don’t know how to direct actors then I’m sunk. I cast a number of the roles for this film out of Ithaca through my casting director Eliza VanCort, the founder of Actors Workshop Ithaca. Casting the actors in Ithaca wasn’t about convenience, it was about a devotion to this community of actors and the Actors Workshop whose work is extraordinary. 

What I find interesting about the Meisner technique is that it demands that an actor get out of their head (the camera prefers this too). This depends on one’s attention being directed to what the other actor in the scene is doing. Directing actors I now know is about directing an actor’s attention. I think what’s amazing about these actors’ performances in this film is that they believe in their circumstances. Meisner said: “acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.” I cast actors with great instincts, their choices, their organic capacity to listen. I guess my actors knew they could trust me. I was watching them closely. Meisner’s core is the repetition exercise so though perhaps tangential, we worked with repetition explicitly. It becomes possible to see that even though we repeat take 1, take 2, there is a sincerity in the presence of the performer which makes each take unique. Whatever about continuity. The fact that my editor also trained at the Actor’s Workshop was crucial. His first assembly sought out the strongest performance in each scene. His sense of that was spot on. 

Filmmaker: What is your editing process like?

Crane: Usually editing is my job. I’ve built all of my films in the edit. How a film’s structure comes into being is an extremely challenging and a thoroughly philosophical project; a material philosophy. The process of editing with Daniel Masciari was an existential collaboration. Neither one of us takes the project of editing lightly. We are both extremely interested in the moment of the cut, the interval of meaning that occurs at a cut. This preoccupation is inspired by Eisenstein, who saw each shot as a montage cell. In other words, a shot’s composition, the light, the movement within a single frame is what provokes one shot’s move to the next. In that interval between images, there is always, maybe unconscious, sometimes explicit, but there is always an associative space where the viewer feels and even thinks. Two things informed our inquiry into the interval and enabled it to work in a productive way. One was the decision to compose the film in the 4:3 aspect ratio and the other was to draw out that extreme distinction, a dialectical pressure if you will, between the color live action and black-and-white archival."

Eliza VanCort