GER | 2016 | Documentary | about 30 min. | Postproduction
Language En Production Countries USA, GER
Director Christopher Hawkins Editor Susanne Bohlmann
Camera Lars Filthaut
Synopsis The #metoo movement is happening right now. Actors, especially, are stepping into the light to tell their stories of power-abuse and helplessness in their industry. It is clear that these cultures allow people to use their position to dominate others - in whatever form. It is not about individual cases, but a complex structure, a power apparatus that "works" and about which nobody wants to talk.
The Dream To understand why actors fit so well into the role of the victim, you must understand the nature of desire. Because it is not just a career choice - it is a desire. The body is the capital that can be accepted or rejected. Any director, caster, agent, producer or editor can be the key to making the dream come true and therefore dependence is an essential part of the actor's life.
The Agent Last year I got a call from a young actress whom I had helped with promotional material. She was completely insecure and needed my opinion. She had been contacted by an acting agent who wanted to give her "a chance". But she was supposed to have dinner with him and do test shots where she had to wear a certain costume. The behavior of the agent made her feel uncomfortable and she now wanted to know if this was common in the industry. No - was my answer.
After a few sleepless nights over my "knowledge" I decided to do something. I had heard so many stories - nothing was tangible, nobody wanted to say something in public, nobody named names. Something must change. I contacted another actress who I knew was also under contract with this agent. She immediately came out with horrifying stories of abuse of her colleagues. She wouldn't talk to me about it. But I guess they had talked to other professionals in the industry. Why is everyone quiet? The more I researched and inquired in my acting contacts, the clearer the image of a power apparatus became. A power apparatus that protects perpetrators and suppresses victims.
The Test But how do actors get into such a helpless situation? I wanted the agent to be convicted, but I needed somebody who knew how to do it and of course the financial support. And it had to be done quickly. I found an open-minded and committed editor of a TV station and he made it possible to produce an investigative report.
We met Alena - a young, pretty actress in her mid-20s - she was to be our decoy. After she called the agent, he invited her to lunch as well. At this appointment he poked holes in the young woman. He asked her about her private life, her fears and childhood memories. What did this have to do with a business relationship? He also made no secret of the fact that most casting agents are men who decide "with their dick" and therefore Alena would be a good choice. Of course he also wanted to know directly if she had a boyfriend, scars or piercings and if she was open for "bikini scenes". Then he reached over the table and took her hands. For Alena, this was all far too close and too personal. The agent kept emphasizing how much she could earn in his agency and described the career of one of his clients.
Then the agent sent her two scenes for a test shoot with him. He now wants to know how he can work with her and what level she is at. Only then can he decide whether she can join his agency or not.
One of the two scenes contained a costume statement "Blouse - wide neckline, short skirt - no tights". This scene describes how the woman spreads her legs during the text. Of course this is absolutely unusual. Even at big castings no costume is necessary. During a phone call between Alena and the agent, he made it clear why the costume was so important to him - he had to know how she plays with bare legs and whether she is open and directable. He also described to her exactly how to open her knees.
For the test shooting they met at his agency. The first thing he and Alena did was a written personality test. For example: "Do I find it a) easy, b) not so easy and c) difficult to express my disagreement or "Do I find it a) easy, b) not so easy and c) difficult to prevent unwanted contacts? What was he testing it for? Then it was about the first scene with the miniskirt. He locked the door and the windows with the explanation they didn't want to be disturbed. Then he set up the camera and pointed it at Alena, who obviously felt uncomfortable in the miniskirt with bare legs. Shortly afterwards he took out a sleeping mask and put it on Alena. This would counteract her nervousness. Now Alena was locked up with a strange man and sat blind in a miniskirt in front of a camera. This was an extremely uncomfortable situation. During this time (about 20 minutes) Alena did not know what the agent was doing or what he was filming. Like in hypnosis he asked Alena how her childhood was, if and when she felt comfortable and asked her to describe everything exactly. During the lunch break the agent went with Alena to the restaurant next door and criticized her harshly. She wouldn't play well and besides that she seemed asexual.
Alena was very emotional after this meeting. She seemed depressed and humiliated. The agent had interpreted it correctly - Alena never wanted to go to his agency, so she was not accommodating and of course she wanted to wipe out all sexual energy. So she's not a good actress? Whether he would take her into his agency was left unanswered. In any case, she would need more training with him.
A few weeks later, Alena cancelled that agent. He took it without comment and hung up without saying goodbye. We took Alena to a lawyer and described the case. Of course it turned out that there was nothing to be done legally in this case - she had done everything voluntarily. She could have said that she did not want to wear this. Of course we knew what would happen then, because that was what the first actress did. She told him that she wanted to play the scene in trousers and he cancelled her directly on the grounds that his agency was full - he had found another one. Yes, if he had touched Alena during the rehearsal training it would have been a different situation, but in this case the lawyer told us nothing could be done.
It was frustrating for all of us and made me realize our helplessness.