Sasha Damjanovski

sasha

So you are a tv and film director. How did you come about following this career path?
I always loved cinema, and I’ve been writing since age 11, but didn’t really think of it all as a career until I started working in TV as a reporter. This is when I realised that I’m much more interested in being behind the camera and putting it all together than standing in front of it, talking.
What excites you about this medium?
Everything! I love the whole process. Pre-production – the team brainstorming, planning, testing stuff, rehearsing with the actors; then love the production itself – finding the perfect shot, seeking moments of truth in performances, the perfect something or other; and then it all begins all over again in post – editing, making the magic really happen by putting seemingly disparate elements together, finding the right music, the right colour grade, the right sound effect, and on and on. It’s a complex, layered all-consuming experience – body, mind and spirit. It’s like a drug.
What excites you about theatre, do you have different techniques for theatre and film when directing? 
Theatre has its own kind of magic. I love the fact that I can rehearse much more. It’s like being locked in a room with all the cool kids and we can just play, experiment, try many different ‘what ifs’, reimagine the text and – when it’s really good – reimagine ourselves, too.
What do you think is important when collaborating with writers and actors?
Communicating. Communicating in an open, encouraging and empowering way. Listening. Trying to truly understanding where they’re coming from – what are their ideas, what are their concerns. With writers specifically, it actually starts with listening, of course, understanding their original vision, the point they started from.
What do you expect from an actor if they come into audition and also in rehearsal time?
Auditions are like a first dance – both partners are discovering whether they can dance together. This is nothing to do with how good they are at dancing, but everything to do with – do we make a good dancing match. So, in auditions, I just want the old cliché – be yourself. It’s the only thing that will ever work. Whether I have a clear idea of the character already, or I am still searching, when the ‘right’ actor comes in, it feels like they’re the only ones who know the correct answer to the hardest question in the quiz. In a way, there’s nothing you can do about it. The second thing I look for, and this is if I’m intrigued by the actor’s energy/persona and sense that they might be right, I want to see responsiveness. If I ask them to do something different and they essentially give me the same thing again, I won’t choose them.
In rehearsals I want trust. I do my utmost to build this trust with the actors, of course, it’s my responsibility too, but ultimately we need to get to a point of trust. And I’m also looking for openness to ideas, playfulness – let’s try if something will work, if it doesn’t we’ll ditch it. Finally, I expect contributions. Just like the heads of various departments will offer their own ideas for the look, feel, sound of the film, the actors need to contribute ideas, too, and again – we’ll try some of them out, if they work, we’ll use them, if they don’t, we’ll at least inspire each other to cmd up with other ideas.
What projects have you in the pipeline?
There are several projects in the air, at the moment. Perhaps, the most likely to go ahead first is a feature film comedy, then a theatre play commission which I am yet to write. Wish me luck, both are really exciting, and totally different from one another.
In the current climate with funding being cut everywhere, when starting a new project how do you tackle this problem ?
Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. There’s no formula and no unseal solution. Keep pushing, knocking on doors, making new friends, searching for new leads and connections. Perseverance is everything.
Fun- What’s your favourite film
Ha! The impossible question. In no particular order – Life of Brian, Groundhog Day, Donny Darko, Apocalypse Now, Persona, Bicycle Thieves, The Big Lebowsky, All That Jazz, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo&Juliet, The Red Shoes, Ex Machina, and on and on and on… This year, Arrival was so exciting!

Interview with Simon Nader

 

simon nader face

So you are a actor/director, when did you realise acting was something you wanted to do? How did you come to direct?

“Well… I was on stage as a little fat kid aged 10 or 11 and hammed the hell out of my role in Rumble wats it name as The King. Thank Christ is was comedy, I learned how much fun it could be hearing other people have fun and that was it! Actor. Job. Done. As for directing, I had trained at drama school in my twenties, done quite a bit of theatre and film work and assisted a few friends before I was offered the chance to direct a play called My Boy Jack by David Haig. As I had studied scenography as part of my degree pre-drama school, I felt it was a good chance to put my skill set  to the test and basically got the gig by being seen on stage as Timon of Athens by the producers. They liked my characterisation so thought “hmm, give him a go as a director!” So I did, and I loved it!


What do you love about theatre?

Well, if you mean creating it, I love the storytelling element, cliched as that maybe! Not necessarily just through the words either as I work quite visually, I am interested in the imagery you can create as a company with movement and the sound and light for me is integral to creating beautiful moments of atmosphere and tension. As an audience member as well as theatre maker, the best bit is always the same though – transporting characters and the audience to other worlds and making them care.


You also work allot in television, what do you like about filming?

Actually, the very thing I hated when I first started – stopping and starting! I love the fact that screen acting has just as much, if not more, technical craft involved to create work that not only is believable, but looks as good as possible on screen at each moment. I’ve been fortunate to work on a lot of big US TV productions and you really learn a lot from American actors and experienced directors as so much dedication goes into the craft to make it look as good as possible. I also love stepping into a huge set and there being just an army of people working together. It’s awesome! Just as in theatre, it’s a collaborative process with a lot of attention to detail involved by a lot of people.

You direct a youth company in peterborough, tell us bit about your role there?

Ok, so I work with The Young Actors Company in Peterborough and Cambridge, we have been going nearly 50 years and I absolutely love it. I treat the students the same way as adult actors, which they not only appreciate, but benefit from. Yes, we have a lot of fun, but we devise work that says “something” and essentially I try and give them a taste of drama school training as we create theatre and practice the various acting techniques to build confidence and hone craft. 

You are currently taking 2 plays to the Edinburgh fringe 2016, a man with many jobs! Can you tell us bit about the plays?

The show I am directing is very exciting – The Monologues of a Tired Nurse, written by an actual nurse who is now also training as a professional actress, will be at The Space. It’s a two hander with very talented actresses playing the nurses and it’s moving and funny, and very raw. We want people to not have a stereotypical view of nursing, but really think about the human condition. The human condition in all its facets – we literally examine it! 
 
I’m also in, and the co-creator of, a ridiculous, spectacular B-Movie homage called (it’s a catchy title): Escape From The Planet of the Day That Time Forgot! Myself, actor/director Katherine Hurst and actor/director Gavin Robertson, both renowned particularly for their physical theatre work, have designed a show that we unashamedly want people to just sit back and enjoy. We are at Assembly Roxy for the whole of the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s our first collaboration since the acclaimed The Other Side in 2009. We’re also touring internationally. Both Katherine and Gavin are award winning creatives so it is always fun and inspiring to work with them.

You have been to Edinburgh numerous times over the years, what advise would you give to people heading there this year?

Save your money in advance, it can get VERY expensive… Also, don’t underestimate the power of marketing and getting the reviewers in early if you can sway people. Be nice to everyone as word of mouth really is hugely important and for God’s sake, don’t take any shows up there you don’t put the appropriate effort into. It can get pretty harsh, pretty quickly and you get out what you put in… don’t just do it to “do the festival.”

What do you like about the roles of actor and director, do you prefer one over the other?

They both have their attractions and in all honesty, it varies job to job. I love the challenge of acting in terms of the characterisation and making people believe what they are seeing and very importantly, to connect with the other actors in a company on stage as if you are really there. It’s beautiful to create emotion and art and I like to play even during a long run, and go with my feelings, instincts and reactions and have that from the others too and see what happens! I love that no two performances or on screen, takes are the same and I love that little choices can alter the fabric of meaning hugely. As a director, I’d say stress levels are much higher, but the payoffs are huge! You get to see other people work up close and to gain inspiration from everyone’s gifts to create great art. I also love seeing someone progress in confidence as we work together and try to tell a story the way we feel it should be done. 

What would you tell your younger self?

Don’t be such a doubter. Don’t try to overcompensate for your lack of self belief by trying to prove yourself. Trying too hard usually results in bad results.

You also coach people on monologues and have sat on drama school panels. What advise do you give those people auditioning for drama school?

Trust that the people there on panels want you to do well. At the end of the day, you have no idea what panels or directors, casting directors for that matter are really looking for from you. If you are worrying about what they are thinking you’re not being yourself and that is your biggest selling point. If you can eliminate that and then work the monologues a little with some outside advice to help make bold choices then you will feel better and have a better chance of doing well. Generally I don’t care how well someone can learn lines. I do care about whether they have connected with the emotion of it and can adapt to direction. You do not need to be PERFECT. It doesn’t exist and you are going to drama school to learn the technical skills as much as anything else. Panels are not looking for a finished article. What would be the point?! I also care about how you come across as a person. Be lovely, just be yourself and make mistakes then recover confidently, don’t be arrogant and defensive.

Who inspires you?

Artists who care about the work, not just the adulation or the money. That goes for people who make great music and other art forms, as well as actors. My students also inspire me. The way young people can be unaware of their instinctual gifts and come up with something that is more honest and clever than the most experienced professional is always an inspiration.

What issues to feel you face most int he industry?

I think it takes time to take your ego out of it for a lot of people. I’ll use myself as an example as for a while, I wanted to be seen a certain way, hard man types and such and such. Sometimes we can be afraid to look weak, even if that is character but of course, that is ridiculous! If that is your type, embrace it. I got hung up on knowing martial arts, being bald so therefore looking a certain way but physically, I’m quite slight and short so I’ll never be in constant work that way! What I have learned to love is playing weakness, weaselly types, even taciturn outcasts or nice guys. So I’d say my challenge was accepting my type!

Do feel the industry is inclusive and diverse? your thoughts?

I do not feel it is as diverse as it should be at all. I have worked in casting and as an agent as well as my work on stage and screen and one thing I’m certain about is that unless roles are specifically detailed as “other” the establishment which is largely white and middle or upper middle class in England see all roles through those eyes unless they are specifically labelled “disabled”, “gay,” “black” or “Arab” etc. I feel that Hollywood does not get off scot-free either because of the very specificity of identity and perception of type. Bad guys are Middle Eastern or Upper Class English! Heroes in blockbusters are all supermodels or body builders. Now this is not necessarily all the fault of the production companies and the industry – there is an element to humanity and we see it reflected in the media all the time, where people want to see the ideal, see what they are not, as that seems to be shiny perfection. So the industry reflects that as much as the industry creates it! So diversity in the industry is an interview in itself…

Do you feel it is important for an actor to do many roles as yourself and be the creator of their own work? 

I think it depends on each person and what they prefer for themselves. Personally, I like creating through devising and writing as much as I like getting work from other sources too, the collaborations are really interesting. But, as I get older I realise that the important things is to enjoy what you do. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong!