Sam Ellis, is originally from Vancouver, Canada and lives in Bristol, England. He is a film and theatre director who has had a few different lives, traveling the globe from Vancouver Island, to Germany, and Scotland. He is an alum of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
Saturday, May 7th 2011
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working with the Bristol Acting Academy, and directing their showcase. It’s a bit teaching and directing. I’m really enjoying enthusing people, seeing new talent, and encouraging that talent. Because I have a family, having a steady income is more of what I’ve been focusing on.
How did you get into directing?
I was a policeman for three years, before going to drama school. I started doing corporate role-plays as a police officer and working with a corporate company, when the director of that company left. I said I’d fill in until they found a proper director. I was still there after four years making films for the Crown Prosecution Service and Lord Chancellor's Department, dealing with crews and big budgets. I became a director by default. I found it very fulfilling, to get actors together and tell a story.
What do you look for in an actor?
Courage. Courage, to be open and honest. To give it a go and not worry too much if they succeed or fail. Integrity. I certainly wouldn’t be looking for ego. An actor’s ego gets in the way of the work. Generosity is very important when working in a team. The ability, to tell a beautiful lie, truthfully.
How does your work as a director and actor inform you as a teacher of acting students?
I encourage and help them feel safe, so that they’re in a safe place to explore. I’m not necessarily out for results. I’m after a sense of ownership from the actor, because ultimately, from there, comes a sense of truth. I feel that theatre really is an actor’s medium, I think you’re there to help the actor find the truth in the scene. That truth is what's important to an audience rather than any obvious director's input. Good theatre direction should almost go unnoticed.
Who or what inspires you?
Frank Capra. It’s a Wonderful Life, for it's story telling. I love anything by the Cohen Brothers, Tim Burton. People that have a quirky take on things. Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman. [Steven] Spielberg, who I’ve been lucky to work with on Saving Private Ryan. I was inspired being on the film set, and as the actor thinking ‘oh I’ve got three hours before I shoot this thing’ and then looking at the director whose thinking ‘I’ve got three hours to solve this thing’ It’s a lot of troubleshooting, problem solving, as opposed to the actor who is trying to conserve his energy for the scene. So watching that, and watching him work very closely with his crew, was hugely inspiring. There was no ego. He was completely open to the expertise of his team. That made me realise, that what you do as a director, is you facilitate a creative team. To bring out the best in each of those members of the team, that’s what the job is!
I was an actor for 20 years and have been a director for 9. My aspiration really, is to continue making money doing what I love. As a kid, I had this fantasy novel, that if I had the money, I’d like to make it into a film. I always hope when I read a script or screenplay that it will excite and inspire me. So I hope I keep getting inspired.
Final question. Is the director dead?
Theatre is an actor’s medium and it should be an actor’s medium. A good actor has the ability to almost self-direct, an innate ability to understand what’s needed and get up and do it. But if you have a group of actors, trying to direct by committee, then that’s doomed really. You need someone to facilitate the process and to buffer the actor from the theatre management. Free the actor to be creative. Film is very much a director’s and editor’s medium. A director is very well alive and kicking in film. I’ve seen performances created in the editing room. The shots, what you are getting the audience to look at, that’s all from the director’s point of view. Without a director, film wouldn’t happen. I think the director is most definitely not dead, they are needed in both fields but for different reasons.
Thanks Sam for sharing your thoughts!
“Conscious preparation leads to unconscious inspiration”. Stanislavsky.