No matter what kind of creator an aspiring artist wants to become, honing natural talent and creative skills is essential in order to find artistic maturity and success. Rules need to be learned, if only then to be broken. Confidence must be built. Experience must be earned. The list goes on.
Paul Kampf, an accomplished actor and acting trainer, formed the Performing Arts Institute (P.A.I.) in order to help aspiring thespians work on their craft. His approach is unique, as he and the institute place a lot of emphasis in hands-on learning, especially through a program called Film Lab.
I had the chance to interview Paul and learn more about his background as an actor, his perspective on acting, and his acclaimed acting programs through P.A.I.
This interview was conducted on December 13, 2012.
Ellen Tremiti, Fanboy Comics Contributor: Could you give us an overview of your background and why you founded P.A.I. (Performing Arts Institute) in Los Angeles?
Paul Kampf: I started out focused solely on acting as an undergraduate at the University of MN-Duluth, and then as I began my M.F.A. in Acting at Illinois State University. I launched a theater company with two other graduate students. We formed Breadline Theater Group with the vision of creating world premiere theater. During that time, I was invited to London’s famed Royal Court Theater as a playwright for a summer and thus my split focus was formed.
For almost fifteen years my theater company produced world premiere theater, and I taught the values and approaches to the craft that I felt were important. After directing a feature film version of a play of mine, I moved to Los Angeles to embrace the opportunities that I was fortunate to have come my way.
However, when I was asked to guest teach or come into an acting class, I was struck by three consistent points:
1. The work was generally about the ‘idea’ of what an actor does and not ‘how’ to help that actor access his or her real truth.
2. The actors were working in those classes very infrequently, and mostly doing theater scenes.
3. The programs seemed to be about the program or the teacher and very little about helping the actors reach truth, craft, and get on set.
So, when I was approached to do private coaching from the actors I met as a guest teacher, I realized that if I started a program I wanted it to be actor centered, honest about the work and the goals, and, most importantly, to build actor bridges to opportunities.
P.A.I.’s only advertisement is the word of mouth of those in class, the press that has come to those students, and the industry professionals (agents/managers) who’ve noticed the difference in their client’s bookings and room response.
ET: As someone who has worked from stage to screen, can you talk about your experience with each medium?
PK: I love theater and it’s truly impossible to ignore the value it’s had for me and for any actor who has spent time learning in front of a live audience. However, stage allows the creation of a distant truth. The audience is ten to thirty feet from the actor.
Often times in the requirement to bring one’s experience a good distance to the audience, the actor develops a delivery system that diminishes the actual experience within the actor. Also, there is much less room to play because all the moments are live and ‘risk’ is often sacrificed to ‘familiar.’
When an actor moves to screen he must leave room in his work for an experience that isn’t honed or perfectly rehearsed. It’s important to leave ‘space’ for the moment to happen, rather than trying to play everything clearly as you would on the stage.
Of course this idea, in theory, is actually the same for actors on stage, but the stage actor finds most of his playing in the rehearsal process. The film actor needs that confidence when the camera is rolling.
Therefore, it’s essential to help the actor who is striving for screen work to deeply develop his or her instrument and access to it in a short amount of time. Not only will that help the truncated rehearsal time for film and television, but it also give the actor real confidence that what happens in the moment is enough.
The delivery system only needs to move the experience to an audience member that is sitting knee to knee with you. There is very little room to present the idea of the experience. It needs to be happening in the actor’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
ET: What made you decide to create a training program for actors who are specifically looking to work on screen?
PK: I developed P.A.I. to have a two-step process of serving the actors in the program.
Step one was to provide each actor with real tools to help him or her find an immediate connection between the imagination and the body’s experience. Putting that into scene work on and off camera, and in and out of class are the best ways to expedite the actor’s growth.
Step two was to build a production arm of the program that would provide professional experience on feature and short film projects, and an environment of familiar, passionate artists.
P.A.I. made a small feature and two short films just over a year ago to test the model. We’re just completing the shooting on two more features that will be in post in January.
ET: P.A.I offers training for actors. As part of P.A.I., what is the Film Lab program, and how does it help actors?
PK: The above-mentioned process falls under our Film Lab banner. The last two films provided 38 actors with opportunities. Going forward, Film Lab will be an active and essential part of P.A.I.’s training program and a well-respected filmmaking entity in its own right.
The actors are on set working as they would in any independent film project; however, they are dealing with characters and circumstances that are a bit more customized to their specific talents. That way, as these actors build footage, it’s showing their strengths and talents in the best light.
Also, I have and will continue to bring in working actors, directors, and writers to bring expertise, experience, and relationships to all of the talent that calls P.A.I. their artistic home.
Lastly, actors will be on the crew side of projects at times and will learn the full spectrum of talents necessary to best position oneself for a career in this ever-changing business.
ET: What projects has the Film Lab completed in the past? Any highlights or favorite projects?
PK: From Grace was the initial film project that we shot in 3 ½ days on super micro budget. The film garnered the support of industry professionals of acclaim willing to work because of the unique process and passion. The film had a successful festival run, and even garnered one of the actors a ‘Best Actress’ award.
This film, and the two we’ve just completed shooting, will be lined up for distribution in the coming months.
ET: Can you talk about Film Lab projects that are in the works now?
PK: We finished a feature ‘Faux-Documentary’ called Amnesia that follows a filmmaker looking to document the experience of a man who lost his memory after being on the wrong end of a beating. The intent of the filmmaker is to bring people into this man’s life on camera, in hopes to jar his memory, or at least to provide a great human story.
However, this man’s past is quite complicated and many skeletons start to emerge. Further, the very fact of having amnesia is called into question as the filmmaker starts to learn the complicated, and manipulative, prowess that this man possesses. The filmmaker and subject seem to switch places as the story examines the very nature of the filmmaker’s personal truth.
The second film, Brad’s Untitled July 20th Restaurant Project, is actually 8 films that all happen at the same time in one small café. It’s very unique comedy that examines multiple couples at one time. They are all tied together through their physical proximity and two waitresses that, unfortunately, are working one crazy shift.
The story focuses on one couple at a time while all the other couples are the background of one story. By the end of the film, every background player is in the forefront, and the audience is taken on a fantastic ride through the lives of sixteen strangers.
ET: What kind of exposure do you want for your Film Labs projects? Do they participate in the festival circuit?
PK: We will look at the best situation for each film, whether that be festival distribution, VOD, direct distribution, or, of course, theatrical. Ideally, we’ll have a distribution relationship in place that allows our projects to have the shortest time between completion and audience viewing.
ET: What are your long-term goals for Film Lab?
PK: Long-term, Film Lab will have year-round production where actors are moving between class, feature film, short film, and even original series programming. It will be able to grow on the passion, talent, and dedication of all those in classes, and the many people who are lending their talents to this unique vision.
ET: What do you hope actors will walk away with when they leave the Film Lab program? Training plus, perhaps, actual film experience for their reel, etc.?
PK: Without a doubt, I want actors in Film Lab to be prepared for any other professional opportunity that comes their way because of their experience in Film Lab.
Unlike development training programs, Film Lab will be producing professional projects that are on par with outside opportunities. Therefore, actors will have a place to work when they are on the audition circuit, and a home to come to when they’ve finished a film or television shoot.
ET: Any parting advice for actors who are starting out?
PK: The best advice that I can give is to learn to, at every level, in every moment, trust your instincts. What you hear in this business can be the fuel of self-delusion and tremendous disappointment. What you believe and trust through your instincts will keep you grounded, protected, and free to pursue your passion.
This is not a business of only ups and downs and ways to cut ahead of the line. Acting is a life choice that pays well at times, pays nothing most of the time, but rewards you every moment if you’re pursuing it for the love of the work. If you lose site of that, it’s a fifty-year uphill climb.