This post was written by Peter Callahan.
I never wanted to be an actor.
At least, that’s how it seemed for most of my life as I pursued writing and, later, directing some of the material I wrote over the course of three decades in the movie business. In truth, there was an actor in me from my very first childhood flirtation with filmmaking when I wrote, directed, and starred in a sadly never-finished 8mm silent"‘remake" of the hugely popular 1970s movie Walking Tall in eighth grade.
Later, as a lost young man between high school and college, I took an acting class or two in nearby New York City. That interest was faint and faded fast, and later on in college, I found myself drawn to both fiction and nonfiction writing. That soon narrowed to screenwriting, and I tried my hand at the Hollywood script game for a few years with only fleeting success. That interest further narrowed to writing more personal screenplays, and a desire to direct them myself.
'Out and About' will be available on demand and Digital HD on May 16Credit: Courtesy of Freestlye Digital Media
Around the turn of the century, I began production as a writer/director on my first movie, an autobiographical feature called Last Ball. I also found I had a renewed and unexpected interest in doing some acting. I was far too old for the lead, but I did consider playing the older brother who had a couple of scenes. I ultimately gave the part to an actual actor, much to my later relief on the day we shot those scenes.
Being in front of cameras and lights and a crew and seated at a table with seasoned professional actors looked terrifying, and I remember thinking, “Thank God it’s him up there instead of me.”
When I finally had a chance to write and direct another movie many years later (Against the Current), the production was much larger, famous actors were cast, and there was never a thought of me acting in it. Then, many, many more years later, I made a third film...
Out and About was by far my most personal script and a modest production, and I was perfect for the lead role (or so I thought). I vacillated between wanting to play the role and wanting a real actor to do it since there was still zero evidence I had any actual acting talent, and I well-remembered how scary the idea of being in front of the camera had seemed when I almost played a small role in the first movie.
Just as importantly, my producers (the same ones from the first movie 20 years prior) were dead set against the idea. There was no way they were going to produce a movie with me playing the lead, so that was that. We began the casting process, making some offers to name actors that were summarily rejected, and looking at dozens of non-name actors along the way.
The weeks dragged on as we struggled to find someone we were passionate about. Our start date drew closer. When we couldn’t delay much longer, we finally selected a talented actor we all liked well enough. He was flown in from Los Angeles a few days before the start date, fitted for costume and such, and acquitted himself well in a read-through of the screenplay. Everything was moving along fine.
Except my heart wasn’t in it. As fine as this actor was, he wasn’t me. In a story hugely inspired by my own life, which also featured an inner monologue, having anyone but me playing the role just wouldn’t be the same, and I also feared it wouldn’t be quite as unique and interesting a movie as it could be. Isn’t one of the main reasons we make independent films in the first place is to be unique and take risks?
I began to feel that I would spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been if I had only played the role myself.
The poster for 'Out and About'Credit: Courtesy of Freestlye Digital Media
36 hours before we were due to begin shooting, I told my producers I wanted to replace our professional and competent actor with a total amateur. An amateur who also had to do another important job at the same time, namely directing the movie. They were obviously and understandably beyond apoplectic, but to their credit, they eventually agreed.
Telling the actor we’d flown in from Los Angeles that he was not going to play the part was the hardest conversation I’d ever had in my life -- replacing the previous hardest conversation I’d ever had the night before convincing my producers we needed to do this. There were many other conversations with many others to be had (investors, agents, supporting cast, crew) in the frantic hours remaining before the camera rolled.
Then, I was there bright and early the next morning about to shoot the first scene, in costume and on set, trying to learn these damn lines that I’d written many months before for someone else to memorize and recite, along with attending to a million other things as a director.
Was I nervous? Hell yes. I still had no idea if I could actually act, and now I was about to be tested with the entire production on the line, well aware this could turn out to be the biggest and most humiliating mistake of my life.
Then, I caught a break. When the First AD yelled, “Action”, the actor playing opposite me began having all sorts of problems remembering his lines and blocking and whatnot, and he needed my help as director ASAP. Turned out that he was the problem actor in the scene, not me. I was feeling fine.
In fact, I was feeling more than fine. From the very first moment acting felt so natural and right to me, as if I was born to play this part and I was finally doing what I was meant to do. From the first scene to the last, it all seemed to go smoothly from an acting standpoint, aside from trying to remember a bunch of lines every day and sometimes cursing myself for writing a particularly clunky or tongue-twisting passage of dialogue.
'Out and About'Credit: Courtesy of Freestlye Digital Media
From a production standpoint, it went smoothly. Everything was so much easier and went so much faster when we didn’t have to deal with a lead actor all day long. It was like cutting out the middleman, and I loved it. I also found myself wondering what I did all day on the set of my first two movies since I wasn’t acting in them.
Did I make the right choice? I guess others will be the ultimate judges of that. But I think I did and am grateful that I was surrounded by a capable and supportive cast and crew that allowed me to pursue my vision for this project in its purest form.
Now maybe it’s time to go back and finish that Walking Tall remake.
This post was written by Peter Callahan.
OUT AND ABOUT is available now on digital streamers and Cable VOD including iTune/AppleTV, Amazon and Vudu. For more, please visit https://outandaboutmovie.com.