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Q&A with actor, director and producer Frank Lama

Frank Lama and Jacky Reres in Fear of Clowns 2
   Frank Lama and Jacky Reres in Fear of Clowns 2

Frank Lama is a film producer, director and actor born in Tillsonburg, Ontario. After starring in, directing and producing (with yours truly) Swarm of the Snakehead, he has appeared internationally on TV and in films including Safehouse, Roullette, and The Quiet Ones. He recently reprised his lead role as wisecracking, insomniac hero Detective Peters in Fear of Clowns 2.

Why film?

In my mind, cinema is the synthesis of all the artistic disciplines...maybe save pottery. Photographic composition, artistic use of light, choreography, costume, architecture, interior design, etc. And that's just part of the equation. The elemental to the success of a picture..the dramaturgy involved in the crafting of a tale that can hold an audience's attention for 2 so engaging and challenging and moving that it keeps 500 people enrapt in a dark room for 100+ minutes.

Now that's a challenge to make....then comes the acting. For a group of actors to create believable behaviours on screen in such an unnatural environment and process as filmmaking is magic to me. The dialogue the actor has between what their character is thinking and feeling and making it transparent to the audience is one of man's oldest forms of play and's primitive and powerful ...and yet cocooned in all this fantastic technology that makes pigs fly and hell freeze over..

It's psychological, emotional and visual and aural magic to me...when it works. It really is just light flickering on a dark wall...and recorded sound, after all. Film is the most ephemeral of to stage acting..or live performance..yet if done well a film can be....moving, inspiring, thought provoking, refreshing..and absolutely alive with all that is human.

I'm fond of saying, "Movie is only one letter removed from MOVED." If you don't capture the heart and mind of the audience it's just a really expensive lightshow on the wall.

Cinema for me is the synthesis of many things I love and it's impossibly fun and thrilling when it works. It provides us with the opportunity to shape thought, emotion and the minds-eye like no other artform.

It is the pinnacle of the expressive arts to me...and also can be a colossal waste of time and money. It's supremely challenging.

Frank Lama
   Frank Lama

Is there something particular about the art form or the film community?

I love both...when good. When professional, inspired and creative
the community can be invigorating and stimulating. Filming is exciting when done correctly.... otherwise it can be the worst sort of "ditch digging hard" yeomans work, trapped with a bunch of kooks from the local asylum.

Filmmakers themselves ..if serious are some of the smartest, most driven creative types I've ever encountered...courageous to a fault, compulively creative, Artistic Daredevils.... so that is inspiring to be around.

At it's worst is ego-driven tripe masquerading as Art, an excuse to indulge one's narcissism and a waste of time.

I love it when "the magic" in the "box that records light" makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up...and when the film comes together in the edit and I see life on screen...human life...that I believe to be true..framed within a story that speaks to a larger world, is made more powerful because of it's structure..... the dialogue makes itself remembered..because it is so poignant, or so perfectly crystalizes a moment, a thought, an emotion, .a character.

That's when it's gooooood.

What was your first job/experience in film?

We'll my first exposure to film...if you will permit the pun...was with my father's 8mm camera. He was an avid brothers and mother to this day still enjoy his short films. "The Cabin # 4," The Sturgeon" -- as a Great Lakes Fisherman he caught the biggest fish ever to come out of Lake Erie, an 11-foot, 300lb sturgeon. It was the first monster movie I ever saw and my Dad was the hero as Captain of the Maitland Clipper, his 40-foot lake tug. His wreck-diving movies gave me a love of undersea adventure... But I digress.

I  put myself  through college in part by doing background work in Toronto on big movies Hollywood wanted to shoot under the US-Canadian Co-Production Tax Incentive Program and save and make more money by shooting in Canada.

But I've gripped, produced, written, PA'd, weapons supervised, acted, done stunts.....done almost everthing really except for...

Frank Lama directs Lisa Burdette in Swarm of the Snakehead
   Frank Lama directs Lisa Burdette in Swarm of the Snakehead

Do you have a favorite work experience?

A: Well, directing and producing AND acting in your very fine screenplay Swarm of the Snakehead, of course.

It's is still my favourite job, or rather, set of jobs I've ever had making a was a turning point in my life ..after reading the script the first time and laughing outloud so often my ribs hurt...I visualized the film and KNEW I HAD TO MAKE THIS MOVIE!!!!!! and I finally took my filmaking aspirations seriously, bet the farm and put everything I had to give into making that movie ....for better or worse...and I have the financial, emotional and spiritual battle scars to prove it.

It was film school for me...and I have made lifelong friends from that show... and been witness to great sacrifice, wit, creativity and humor and commitment to a creative endeavour... in the face of overwhelming obstacles to "Tell a Good Story Well."

Comedy is not pretty, nor easy, nor cheap.

Thanks, man. You always managed to make the impossible possible! I think that's kind of the definition of  a great indie producer. Then you directed and played a very memorable lead role...

It was the first time I really felt like a legitimate filmmaker. I remember the moment I said to myself, "I'm directing the picture" and the sheer terror of being responsible for the success or failure of the show...

But is was all there on the page..the characters, the dialogue, the humor, the storycraft. All it needed was to be realized in the real world...and filmed...or so I thought at that moment I had no idea how difficult and gruelling it would be....and at the same time how much I would come to know I needed to learn.

The endless hours of shooting, the grinding night shoots, the lifting, lugging, figuring, planning, creative problem solving the seat of the pants producing...the moments of adrenaline spiked madness and laughter... so much laughter on the set. We worked with such great people on the whole, great crew, great actors, great producers.

A show is made of money, time and talent...and luck...

What's the best advice you ever got?

DON"T DO IT!!!!!! (Which I ignored)

Hmmmm...several nuggets leap to mind...old chestnuts really: 90% of a movie's success is accomplished in pre-production, Less is More, If it ain't on the page it ain't on the stage, Acting is Being, the director is the conductor of the orchestra....not First Trombone, find people who do ONE THING...and do it very well..passionately...and with commitment... and enable them to DO IT, Free is often the most expensive word on the set. Things like that...

What was the worst advice you ever got?

"We'll fix it in Post." Shortsightedness, laziness, over-confidence in the "magic" of post and naivete cost me more money than I care to recount....

What are your future plans?

I plan on continuing to write/produce/direct and act in corporate stuff and industrials as the day job and continue striving to find a great, local script that can be made into a great indie movie in the area...a film of both artistic, cinematic and commerical merit that has a fighting chance of seeing the light of day in the world of distribution.

I'm a filmmaker. I've staked my life and livelihood on it. I plan on making films...many of them...and possibly a television show or two. I need to see where this dark and dangerous road takes me.