After spending years raising financing and developing my script, we were finally days away from production. I wanted the performances in our movie to be fresh and nuanced, and I was afraid to over-rehearse. So, instead of rehearsing the scenes from the movie, we rehearsed the scenes that weren't in the movie—moments the script only refers to. My theory was that in this improvisation we could create a powerful emotional base from which my actors could launch their characters.
After the improvisation, we worked to identify each character's "core lies"—something we each believe about ourselves that isn't true, yet we act out of that "core lie" just the same. Identifying my own core lies has helped shape me as a person, and now I wanted it to shape how the actors connect with their characters.
"I think my character's core lie is that she must always be in control or she'll be hurt," one of my actresses suggested. She was on to something. As we continued to uncover the core lies, we also worked to uncover the truths that would set the characters free. My lead actor, Philip Winchester, created a binder for his role. On it, he taped images from magazines that reminded him of his character, and he kept notes inside. As we built and refined his part, his book got thicker and contained the roadmap for his character.
On the first day of shooting, we started with filming a simple conversation. It felt stilted. We kept trying different things, but nothing seemed to work. Philip had been involved with each stage of the process, and I wondered if I had overloaded him with information. This was also the first time he was carrying a movie.
Years ago, I met Philip after he lost the lead role in a Fox series because he broke his ankles. The Variety headline? "Actor Gets Big Break." Our meeting sparked a good friendship, and eventually we shared an apartment. As I helped him prepare for auditions, I realized his tremendous talent as an actor. I offered him the lead role in "In My Sleep" without auditioning him. Then, I wrote Philip into every scene because I wanted my good friend by my side as I dove headfirst into my directing career.
Now, we were on set and at a mental roadblock minutes into filming. My nerves started to tingle. I glanced around at all the equipment trucks, the extras arriving for the next big scene, and years of hard work having finally sprung to life. "Give us a minute," I told the cast and crew. I sat across from Philip and reminded him of why I cast him in the movie and why I trusted him. I reminded him of the truths of his character, and I'm pretty sure we also prayed. The cast and crew returned, the lights were turned back on, and all the nervousness soon melted away. The characters we worked so hard to create were now alive to the camera, and Philip was amazing.
The film has many twists and turns, and so do the characters who drive the story forward. Each time I view the movie, I pick a different character to watch and study that person's performance throughout. It delights me to experience the layers the actors bring to their characters, especially knowing how it all began.
Allen Wolf wrote, directed, and produced "In My Sleep," which opened April 23 in Los Angeles and will open April 30 in New York City. www.inmysleep.com.