“I think that you think that I’m a tourist!”

Beginning life as an after hours directing exercise, Michael Sugrue’s dialogue piece Charity sees performance and a strong script from Matthew Hickman take a front seat as two characters verbally spare across a hotel room.

“I was in New York for a commercial job about a year ago and wanted to simply take any extra time I had to continue to learn the craft of directing. My focus this time was working with actors in a simple, controlled environment where we could focus on dialogue, improvisation, and see where things went. I just wanted to start to get more comfortable working with actors to see what motivates them and gets the best performances.”

Sugrue tempted actors Candace Janee and Devin Burnham onboard with the promise of no festival or online aspirations for the film and two nights shooting in the graveyard slot of 10pm to 4am as the project had to fit around his day shoot. Luckily, both actors saw the opportunity as a mutually beneficial creative exercise and were up for the challenge. With Hickman’s script as a solid base, the three of them were free to explore where the material would take them.

“I established an A and B for each “section”, if you will, and we started with a dry reading, then just let things go from there. I encouraged the actors to really swing the pendulum and play off each other in an organic, natural way. Devin’s rant in particular starting around 5:29 was mostly improvised. Some of it was in the script, but he really took it in a great new direction. Candace and Devin knew each other prior, so they had natural chemistry and a shorthand for the dialogue together.”

Freeing though the improvisation may have been, tying the tangents back together along a narrative arc became a challenge in post that required Sugrue and editor Vin Deluca to take an aggressive approach. Scenes were shuffled, a voiceover tried and rejected before they came to the elegant conclusion of not forcing a resolution on the story, leaving the audience free to draw their own conclusions. So as a directing exercise what did Sugrue learn?

“I learned a lot of things while shooting it. One is that good actors will really put their trust in you to give them the space and safety to push their own boundaries and intuition. The other is that that’s the single most important thing. I could have spent time with lighting, camera, etc., but that stuff is mere polish on the end of what should be great writing and performance. That was a huge lesson for me since I come from a photography background. I’m now more excited than ever to continue down the road of directing, and working with actors to push for amazing, authentic performances.”

With a narrative short in the works along with plans for an Austin shot feature, it shouldn’t be too long before we get to see that knowledge up on the screen.

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