Recently I was given the special privilege of being at the screening of the short film, Meditation Extreme. The film is the culmination of an “Acting for Screen” class taught by Daniel Roemer this past summer. This screening was the first time the actors — all locals — had seen the finished product. I had no clue what to expect from this product of our community.
Daniel Roemer grew up in this town, graduating from Mansfield Christian in 1999. He moved away to study film at USC and stayed out in LA for the next 15 years. In that time his CV exploded impressively with top honors and finalist positions in such programs as “On the Lot,” a reality show produced by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett, showcasing filmmakers “bound for stardom.” He was also twice a finalist for best director in the esteemed Project Greenlight.
Roemer also discovered an aptitude and desire to teach while out west. His professor in school, Joseph Hacker, not only taught him in an acting for screen class, but inspired him. Roemer said he had thought, “I’d love to teach based on his style.”
In his mid 20s Roemer was asked to teach small acting workshops that took him around the world from Missoula to Budapest. It was his first experience teaching and he found it to be quite “a different skill from acting and directing.” Especially when teaching a bunch of actors who want to give you public speaking tips. Though frustrating, he did realize then how much knowledge and experience he had to share as a teacher.
Flash forward to 2017, when Roemer is back in the town where he began making films as a kid with Super Soakers and fake blood packets. Where he learned cinematography from taking out videos from our public library. In recent years, when the Mansfield Art Center has asked if Roemer would be interested in teaching classes there, he said yes.
The students in this “Acting for Film” class ranged from seasoned stage actors who wanted to learn something new to acting novices. Haley Bedocs was looking at a way to get into film acting from the stage: “I wanted to branch out my craft and see what else I could do.” On the other hand, Tara Corrigan had “been lured there as a fun challenge.”
Roemer’s objective for the class was manifold. First he wanted to make the class specific to acting on film because Mansfield is much more a theatre town, and the acting for each medium is so different. He described acting for theatre as showing less but making it bigger, and acting film as doing more with less. Roemer also wanted to show the students what it is like to be in an actual film — filming out of order, special effects, production, and the like.
The film itself is impressive, especially given that it was shot in just a few weeks with a very tight budget. The plot follows a group of people out in nature, spending a day in a meditation retreat. Their less-than-successful attempts at enlightenment are interrupted by gunfire. What ensues is an unorthodox combination of solemnity, solidarity, hilarity, bravery, and gore. The film is unconventional and, refreshingly, doesn’t follow a well-recognized recipe.
The outtake interviews are my favorite part of the film. The first week of shooting it rained, so to keep working Roemer asked each actor to interview with him or producer Nate Tucker. The actors had only just learned their roles, but jumped into the ad libbed interviews with ease. Each actor brought to life their character with humor and humanity.
Before the screening, Roemer introduced the project and thanked everyone there for their roles in this “team sport.” After watching the actors work together, this reference takes on a meaning greater than a toss away catch phrase. The people in that room had clearly gone through something together, an event somewhere between warfare and summer camp.
When asked about the art scene in Mansfield, Roemer thought for a while before saying he felt that every place has a certain percentage of the population occupied by talented artists. Our area, he said, has a pretty high percentage. It’s something about the “mixture of bittersweetness — the red and the blue, those burned by religion and those really into it.” He thought a little longer. “Makes good drama.”
Meditation Extreme screens at the Richland Academy on Thursday, November 30 at 7:30pm. The screening includes several shorts shown before and after the 20 minute-long film. Tickets are $5. A ticket stub will get you a half-priced drink at Martini’s afterwards.