DEVELOP. PERFECT. WORK.
The door loomed dauntingly ahead of me as I stood outside of it. After getting impossibly lost as only my blond self could, I had finally arrived at the designated spot where the Birmingham Film Actors Lab (BFAL) was supposed to meet.
I pushed multiple buttons on the keypad. Nothing happened. I looked to my good friend, David Kilgo, for some guidance on the matter.
“Is this the right door?” I asked him. He made a face and shrugged his shoulder. We were about as efficient as Dumb & Dumber when it came to finding places.
Finally, we managed to access the hidden unit and ride an elevator to the second floor where the members of BFAL were waiting for us. They were working on their own film project tonight, entitled “The Audition,” and David and I were along for the ride.
BFAL is a community group in the Birmingham area made up of actors and actresses who meet weekly to sharpen their acting skills, learn about the industry, and collaborate with one another on projects. They hone their craft by exercising different methods such as cold-reading, scene study, audition techniques, performance feedback, improvisational training and character development.
The group’s existence is due to one member’s desire to have a local Independent Film acting group. Although a fan of theatre and film, BFAL Founder, Carla DeFranco, explains that acting for the camera has its own set of challenges to master.
She thought having a true actor’s lab that focused on film would be a great platform for seasoned fellow actors to come together and practice.
Not even a year into the venture, and BFAL has already gained a reliable pool of talented members consisting of: Melissa Bender; Don Cano; Ginny Loggins; Justine Tortorigi; Mia Rutledge; Andrea Furman; Corey Winston; Debbie Smith; Christina Guthrie; Rick Needham; and of course, Carla DeFranco.
“Acting is an art that needs constant creative grooming much like an athlete. The more we learn and practice different techniques, the more we grow,” DeFranco said.
The team environment allows everyone to share what they have learned throughout the years to help one another hone their craft. Newbie actress Justine Tortorigi said that she felt very nervous about coming into this group of seasoned actors when she was only just beginning her acting career, however, she has found everyone in the group to be supportive.
“I have learned something from each one,” Tortorigi said. “This group is not only teaching me things, but my children as well. They are seeing that you can try anything and it is never too late.”
The lab has hosted sessions featuring guest speakers such as local writers, directors, producers and even a casting agent.
The informal setting invites networking, honest observation and constructive criticism in a workshop style format.
Melissa Bender commented, “The networking aspect of BFAL has helped [us] in finding work immensely. If one of us hears about an audition, we share it with the rest of the group, and vice versa. That way no one ever misses an opportunity.”
Carla asks if I would like to participate in the film, and I agree and play the role of a lady who is checking talent in for “The Audition.” While most of the short film can be improvised, Carla stresses that all actions should appear natural and flow with the scene. She reminds everyone that this is a team effort and that we all rely on each other.
The inspiring mantra for the group suddenly resonates in my thoughts: Be encouraged. Be inspired. Be creative.
To the idea of acting being considered a “starving artist” living, DeFranco said, “An artist is fulfilled when pursuing creative dreams. I would rather die hungry pursuing my dreams than die with worldly wealth without trying. This life is not a dress rehearsal. We only get one shot at it, and I want to make mine count.”
While Alabama tax incentives are somewhat growing and local work is available, the reality is that we are no Atlanta yet, but we are on our way. Alabama is a hidden haven for the film industry as its captivating scenery is only second to Hawaii as being the most topographical state in the country.
“Alabama could be as active as Georgia, but the right people need to make the right changes because the talent is here. We just need the interest,” Bender commented.
What the camera doesn’t catch while we film the short is the behind-the-scenes footage that is the very framework of these actor’s lives. The countless hours spent researching, traveling and auditioning; the endless act of show-and-tell and “Please pick me!” thoughts that rumble beneath the surface.
BFAL’s underdog attempt at solidifying an exclusive Indie Film group is certainly on the rise. There is faith in the movement and people are taking notice.
“We are training to be actors,” David Kilgo said about the group’s overall objective. “There’s always this idea that you have to escape to follow your dreams, but we are doing it here in Alabama as opposed to Los Angeles. We’re bringing Hollywood here.”