Ari Green had good reason to be nervous last weekend. "You Never Know," the film he'd made with a group of friends in Los Angeles, was about to be screened for a local audience for the first time at the 20th Annual Hawai'i International Film Festival. His family and closest friends were waiting for him in the theater. What if the movie bombed?
Expatriate islanderReview: Hilarious road to sexual identity
stars in sleeper
You Never Know
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
The young actor needn't have worried. "You Never Know," a comic account of what happens after a bridegroom-to-be impulsively kisses a male friend, got hearty laughs in all the right places. Judged by applause, it will be one of the hits of the festival.
"Everything just came together," Green says of the experience of going to Los Angeles last summer, connecting with veteran screenwriter Monte Merrick, and making "You Never Know" with a professional crew and post-production team.
Green is one of "around seven" expatriate islanders remaining out of the original 20 or so who formed Actors 2000 in a Kailua photo studio several years ago. The group moved to Los Angeles last year.
"That was the ultimate goal. We started off as a school but we're not dealing with beginners anymore and we've gone from being a school to a film ensemble group.
"We want to become something like the Moscow Arts Theatre where everybody is trained to bring everybody up to the same level. The people who star in one project will paint the sets for another. Everybody's a star and everybody isn't a star."
HIFF screened "You Never Know" three times on Oahu. It is also on the HIFF schedule for the neighbor islands.
Green says he had no problems with a role in the film that required him to accept a kiss from fellow actor Jay Johnson. A question about his experiences as a University of Hawai'i at Manoa theater major elicits a much stronger response.
"My training in college was extremely deficient in terms of acting. I recently heard from a very close friend that the faculty is not interested in creating 'stars' and that offends me deeply.
"If they're going by that philosophy, then they must believe that the business college does not want to train people to be top CEOs, that the law school does not want to train people to become top lawyers, and that the science department doesn't want train people to become pioneering researchers.
"Isn't being a star part of the success of being a actor? Not everybody has to be a star but I think the goal of most people when they go into theater is to be the star.
"I'm glad I found Actors 2000 (and) I am eternally grateful to them for (almost) everything I learned with the exception of (what I learned from) Terence Knapp. I only took acting classes from a few people (in school) and they enriched my beginning training, but as far as getting into the ball game in the big leagues you don't get that (training) because it's not what they want to create."
Green warns young hopefuls that acting skills are only part of the package when it comes to making the transition from school theater to success in the dog-eat-dog real world. Who you know -- and who they know -- can be more important than talent and training.
Other crucial skills include knowing how to audition, how to prepare for auditions, and how to survive being rejected over and over and over even when you're "perfect" for the part.
"It's not just honing your craft. You have to be psychologically prepared for a career as an actor because it's a very unnatural way of life and they don't teach that (in Hawaii)," said Lisa Seagram, Green's mentor and the president/director of Actors 2000.
Seagram joined Green and several other cast members at the HIFF screening of "You Never Know." An award from the HIFF jurors would be a big boost for the project, but whatever happens here, "You Never Know" is on track for further development as a sitcom pilot.
Green and his colleagues have no false hopes regarding the odds of any one project rocketing them to fame in Hollywood. Seagram and the rest of the actors have been working on other projects ever since "You Never Know" wrapped last fall.
Never rule out the luck factor. Green was cast as an East Indian college instructor in a recent episode of "King of Queens" when the casting director decided he looked and sounded more authentically East Indian than any of the ethnic East Indian actors who auditioned for the role.
"Doing a sitcom is the best of both worlds. In film you have one camera set up and that has to change over and over. On a sitcom you have four cameras with different perspectives and you have the audience sitting there. It's like you're doing theater but you're getting it down on film. It's the best of both worlds -- you have the audience sitting there and appreciating it and you get the film paycheck."
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to sexual identityAn engaged man impulsively kisses his best buddy on the mouth and decides to his horror that the act means that he must be gay. How he tries to work through his fears becomes a consistently hilarious look at sexual identity and the power of the mind.'You Never Know'
Credit director/screenwriter Monte Merrick with a work that equals that of the best network sitcoms -- imagine "Seinfeld" with a cast of unknowns. The acting is every bit as entertaining.
Jay Johnson stars as the hapless protagonist. Ari Green is nicely understated as his amiable jogging buddy. Colleen Sinclair plays the preternaturally understanding fiancee. Marcia Wallace (of "Bob Newhart Show" and "The Simpsons" fame) adds a familiar face as the therapist.
Strong comic performances by the rest of the ensemble add more layers of comedy. A neat twist at the end ties it all together in fine style.
John Berger, Special to the Star-Bulletin
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