When I Was Jerry

Carl Winderl

© Copyright 2024 by Carl Winderl

Photo (c) by AmoMedia courtesy of the author.
Photo (c) by AmoMedia courtesy of the author.
When I was Jerry, in Jerry's Game, a film role in a short-short for AmoMedia, I was offered the most challenging and yet most rewarding character I’d ever played.

Oh, I’d acted in numerous short independent and student films over the years, but while living in Kyiv, Ukraine, I acted in several or so short English language films for AmoMedia and her sister production company DramatizeMe.

Honestly, I never really sought out acting, nor was formally trained to do so. My “day job” for going on four decades was as a university professor who’d earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from New York University.

My “night job” was as a poet and creative non-fiction writer, for pieces like this one, earning a few first-place awards, honorable mentions, and a variety of publications, on-line and off-. Along the way I’ve also published four books of poetry, with a fifth to be released next August.

I suppose, I guess, my real training ground for acting came when I first walked into a university classroom at 24. Indeed, for 60 to 80 students in that room, I was performing, trying to convince them I knew what I was doing, who I was portraying.

But for the lead role in Jerry’s Game, I was offered the part of ‘Jerry’; I’d received the script through my agent Dmitriu Malyshev, who told me the director, Julia Tamtura, really wanted me for that role.

I was her first choice. The only one as it turned out.

Oh, and by the way, now might be a good time and place to stop and watch Jerry’s Game. Easy, simply go to this link: Click on it, next hit full screen, make sure the mute is off and the volume is up -- then watch away. It is a short-short that comes in just under 5 minutes.

Okay, for those who have come back, and for those who never left, here’s some of the back story on the making of Jerry’s Game.

On the day of the shoot, AmoMedia sent an uber to pick me up at 5:45 a.m., to be on the set, Yevtushenko Park at 6:00 a.m., with the rest of the talent, those in front of the camera, while the crew, those off-camera and behind it, had to be on the set no later than 5:00 a.m.

The day before, both production trailers had been parked in Yevtushenko’s main lot and the preliminary equipment laid out, ready to be put in place throughout and across the park, within our shooting perimeter.

This film would be a definite challenge to shoot in one 12-hour period. We’d have to shoot 5 minutes of spot-on usable footage. Big-time Hollywood-style films aim for 1 minute of usable footage per day. Julia and her crew had their work cut out for them with no messin’ around.

But 5 minutes was in our range since we were to be a single-set shoot -- especially with no crazy explosions, gratuitous car-chases, nor wildly out-of-control, over-the-top violence to capture on film.

Our main variables to control were the weather -- no rain and clear sunshine to shoot in, all day -- and a minimum-to-zero number of lookee-loo’s crashing our location perimeter or mindlessly crossing into the ‘background’ of our cameraman’s sight lines.

For those who watched Jerry’s Game, all we had to do was to act, for real, for 5 minutes.

Like I said, I never sought out acting for AmoMedia or for DramatizeMe. I didn’t audition or show up for a casting call.

I guess, in a way, I might be the Lee Marvin of my generation: he who never trained nor attending acting school, after World War II, or anytime really. He just showed up on a set one day, almost like on a bet.

If you really wanta know the truth,” as Holden Caufield was keen to say, I was ‘recommended,’ along with my wife, the other NYU Ph.D. in the family, to sign on with these English-language film production companies. And she’s the real director and actress in the family, with her grad school degrees in theater.

As a unique happenstance, we made a 35-minute video for a Kyiv YouTube channel, “Useful Tips.” So, probably like Diane Ashley, we came in through Paul McCartney’s bathroom window.

Okay, my wife, Ronda, and I were only living in Kyiv because we were there as missionary educators, on a 2-year open-ended assignment. There to be hands and feet for the Master, ready to serve Him in whatever way possible, whenever called. Even in making films.

Our first contact, that led to the YouTube interview, and a few subsequent ones, occurred after living about a year in Kyiv. She and I were in a massive grocery store, Metro-Mart -- think Costco + Sam’s, except everything’s in Ukrainian, practically -- trying to sort our way through their version of 57 Heinz varieties of fresh bacon.

A courteously polite Ukrainian gentlemen, Nikolai Nagornyi, had been eavesdropping on our English and Ukrainian baby-talk, approached us, and asked the questions that always brought Groucho Marx’s duck down from the ceiling.

Where are you from?” he asked, in accented but nearly perfect English.

Oh -- we’re from here, Kyiv. We live here,” I brightly and alertly announced.

No -- " he started anew. “Where are you from before here . . . and why?”

Down came ‘Julius’ the duck, with a moneyed-envelope in his bill.

That question always opened the door for us to talk about being missionary educators, the generic catch-all for us, serving on our denomination’s global mission zone. And unfailingly all our questioners listened intently and politely to our spiel, highlighting our commitment to share and live the Gospel in a foreign land.

The next thing we knew Nikolai asked to interview us, we did, on the following day, and on that day we taped a 35-minute interview to appear on his YouTube channel, “Essential Tips for Kyiv.” From then on Nikolai became a fast-friend and promoted and featured us frequently on his YouTube channel, with various snippets of us during and after worship services.

That first but not last interview can be visited by clicking here. 

Again, welcome back to those who clicked on the link, and thanks to those who didn’t but still are following this narrative.

Another happenstance occurred at an “English Storytelling Gathering” in the basement of a hip downtown restaurant located near Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (a.k.a., KNU). This twice-monthly get-together attracted ex-pats and local Kyivians to hone their English. Also, some drinking, of course, took place, as well as a wide-range of pick-up lines, of course again, in English.

Ronda and I though were there mostly to soak up the culture and ambiance, afterall we primarily were plain-clothes missionaries.

Our most important new friend we met there was an American, Michael Anderson, an English language teacher and budding poet. He also acted off and on for AmoMedia and DramatizeMe, pretty much as their 50-year-old resident native English speaker who could credibly portray actors in in the 40- to 60-year-old range. Michael was a real plus for both production companies.

Shortly after we met Michael, he recommended us to both film companies and sent them the link to our interview on “Essential Tips for Kyiv” -- unbeknownst to us. That served as our unofficial audition tape, as I said, to get us through the bathroom window.

He thought, rightly assumed, both companies’d be very very interested in us because in their acting pool they had a “dearth” of old native speakers of English. Michael was their 1st-call old guy at 50, whereas I topped the charts at 70, but my credible actor range was 60 to 80. I forget where Ronda ranged, certainly well below 60; she didn’t o’ertop me at all.

So that’s how the production companies and specifically Dmitry found out about us.

From then on, it was pretty much standard operating procedure. We went to his office, filled out paperwork and forms, like various releases, etc. Then we “performed” for the camera, did sample readings for character range, voice, “poise,” “improv-ability,” and the “look” we might be able to portray.

I think, overall though, Dmitry was a little disappointed by how unavailable we’d probably be: we declined to do commercials, video or print, no full-length feature films, no location-work outside of Kyiv, and preferentially nothing on Sunday. Afterall, we were in the country as card-carrying missionary educators, for crying out loud.

Evenso, we both started work pretty much right away. Ronda straightaway was given an audition script to read and tape, and soon was offered a role in one of their films.

For me, small bit parts at first -- to prove my ‘mettle’; and I was very okay with that. As Ronda was often want to tell her aspiring actors and actresses, “there are no small roles; only small actors.”

Before Jerry’s Game then, I’d acted in a few or so of their short films, all of them in English, 12- to 16-minutes long, only occasionally and rarely exceeding the 16-minute limit. On their websites their posted films receive hundred & hundreds of thousands of views. Even some films top out over a million or so. Crazy.

Of the ones I did appear in though, I probably turned down 3 or 4 times as many scripts that came my way. It’s not that I was that picky. Or that good. Usually many of these short films were shot on the weekends, including Sunday. My day of rest, among other things. Like keeping the day Holy.

But the weekends worked best for many or most of the actors, mid-twenty to thirty-somethings working on “working” and adding to their reels to prove to casting agents and film companies that they were current, available, and “show-worthy.”

For example, Olga, the ‘woman,’ Jerry’s daughter-in-law in Jerry’s Game, is one of their “go-to” actresses. She stays busy with them to hone and refine her already first-rate English and keep it “fresh.”

Actually, Jerry Game’s was not the first time she and I’d appeared in the same film. We’d also been in Man Used Small Son to Make Money (for example, logged in 1 million or so views), although we didn’t share any screen time. She was the wife of the ‘man,’ but for only one brief scene, at the very end of the film. After shooting practically all day long, I “passed her like a ship in the halls of the studio” as she was arriving to shoot her brief scene in a nearby park.

So, she and I sort of knew of each other, mostly just knew each other’s work.

Although on the day we shot Jerry’s Game, we really got to know each other, bonding in our roles on such an intense day of shooting.

The real key, I think, or I now know, to movie-making, and to acting in film, is to make it look so easy, so effortless. As I like to say about my poetry: artes est celare artem. That is, “the art is to hide the art.”

To make it work, takes teamwork, between the cast and crew -- and especially among the actors and actresses. Particularly to capture enough usable film in a 12-hour period. And, out-of-doors, when light & sound are such crazy variables to work with. Not like on a sound stage or indoors, where most of the films I worked on took place.

Our shoot was scheduled for the last Saturday of October, still fall in most European countries, but not in Ukraine, where the early onset of winter had already arrived.

No snow was on the ground nor would be in the air, via the forecast. But the day was to be cold, and clear. Very Very Cold.

When I walked out of our apartment building at 5:45, my exhaled breath wreathed my head in a cloud bank. Oh, swell, I thought, when’s this going away.

Fortunately, sunrise was in full flower at 6:30, and with it faded our breaths. Until sunset, again at another 6:30.

We had a full 12 hours then to shoot.

And I was double-dressed for the cold. SpaceKate, as she preferred to be called (it had everything to do with her clever blog), cared exclusively for us 3 actors, in turn capably instructed and directed by Julia.

On Monday SpaceKate had texted me and clued me in on my costume requirements. I knew from previous films, we actors were to dress as much as possible and appropriately from our own closets, minimizing fittings and shopping for the costumers.

She and I texted and messaged back and forth throughout the week, with me sending photos of what I had on hand, while she approved and disapproved, choosing what she thought Julia had in mind for how I was to “look” like as ‘Jerry.’ Most importantly I was to wear another pair of pants underneath, a sweater also, and any long underwear I might have.

AmoMedia would provide my hat. And they did.

When she first put it on my head, kind of jaunty-like, I thought it was a little “goofy,” but if Julia could live with it, then so would I. And I, ‘Jerry,’ got to liking the feel of it. And its “look.”

I was dropped off at the edge of the cordoned-off-parking lot by my uber driver, then a crew member spied me right away and hustled over to lead me to the cast & crew’s trailer. We threaded our way through the maze of cables & cords and lighting & sound instruments yet to be put in place. She showed me over to the steps leading into the 18-wheeler trailer where food, drink, and especially heat would be available.

Inside I met up with Olga and Fedir, and we made small-talk chit-chat, until SpakeKate; the 1st AD, Tatiana; the assistant director, Maria; and the screenwriter, Kateryna, went over with us the storyboards and shot lists for the day.

Julia, meanwhile, was out on the ‘location’ making sure the security perimeter was established, and the “extras,” mostly old-timer chess players, like me, were given their instructions and assigned positions “to play chess” for the day while we shot the main action.

Our “location” for the shoot was a sequestered chess-playing area, like in so many parks around the world, outfitted with permanent benches and playing tables with inlaid chessboards. This corner was in Yevtushenko Park, so named and dedicated to Ukraine’s foremost favored-son poet. He who put Kyiv on the poetry map and himself in their forever lore with his poem, “Babi Yar”; it immortalized the Nazi’s holocaust atrocities of 33,000 Jews over two-days in September, 1941. Deposited atrociously in a massive open grave not far from the then-city center.

Nonetheless, as a poet I was pleased indeed to be a small part and parcel of his cultural history and memorial by acting in his time-honored park.

Later in the morning when it was appropriate to our shooting schedule, I suggested to Julia that we might put an Easter egg in her film.

A copy of my most recent book of poems, The Gospel According . . . to Mary, I suggested, Olga could be holding, as if reading it, in the shot when I first look at her, sitting alone, on the low stone wall nearby to me.

In films, an Easter egg is a sneaky little detailed image slightly hidden in a shot by the film-maker to give the aware, astute film-goer an “ah-hah!” moment or a little thrill of recognition --“I got it!”

Like when E.T. passes a kid in a Yoda costume on Halloween, and then there’s heard a fragment of Yoda’s theme from The Empire Strikes Back. Or when Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in Blade Runner flies past an image of the Millennium Falcon. In literature, these clever references are called allusions. But in film, it’s like an inside joke a director shares with the audience “in the know.”

Unfortunately for us in Jerry’s Game, the bright white back cover of my poetry book flashed too much light into the camera and skewered its light meter readings. Oh well, Julia, was keen on trying, but it was not going to be worth the fuss. So, Olga played the scene as if she were looking at her iPad or reading something on her kindle.

However, in another film I made for DramatizeMe, Poor Migrant Saves Rich Man, (which also received 1 million or so views) a copy of The Gospel According . . . to Mary is left lying on a coffee table, easy enough to be seen in several shots. The cast, crew, and especially the director got a real “kick” out of its placement.

It’s not like I acted in so many films. I just made myself available, along with my wife sometimes, as the resident native speakers of English and old couple in the companies. A few times we were cast & scripted together, but for one reason or another, the projects would sometimes get shelved, tabled, cancelled, or put on hold indefinitely.

Kind of like how Sound of Freedom for three years was unceremoniously laid aside by Disney.

Afterall I was not living in Kyiv to act in films. I was called to be there at all by a more highly regarded Director.

Film-making was a side job for us -- oh, we did get paid reasonably well -- but the ‘acting’ offered us a “bridge” into the community, especially into the arts/film culture in Kyiv’s burgeoning cinema world. To be sure, no one on the sets we worked on would have been found in either of the two churches we attended and worked in.

So my calling was to go into their world. They knew what I was ‘about,’ for I was not so much a talker about Faith -- but a walker about It.

I was neither preachy nor teachy, rarely if ever referencing the Gospel.

Instead I chose to be the best ‘person’ on the set, and at least the 2nd best ‘actor’ in my role.

Oh, I had opportunities to be somewhat spiritual -- maybe a practical but low-key religious influence. For example, in Man Used Small Son to Make Money, there’s a pivotal scene when I confront the father with the choices he’s made about his young son, and his wife -- the ‘woman’ (Olga) from Jerry’s Game. I made some slight script suggestions to the director and screenwriter earlier in the day, when we were going over the shot list.

They were very earnest and supportive of my offerings, and they respected me for what I brought not just to my role but also to the script itself. They knew I was a poet and non-fiction writer.

So they welcomed my suggestions, simple as they were -- but to the point.

After the climax of this short film, when the house of cards should have come crashing down, in the falling action leading to what should also have been a catastrophe, I struck a conciliatory pose with the film’s protagonist: the father to his most impressionable son. In the original script there was the possibility to righting the wrong, but the words, phrases, and the body language I added made the point stronger and much more affirmative.

What were my suggestions, additions to the script? The notions of “deceptions,” “public confession,” “forgiveness” and “second chances (grace)” -- especially as I delivered my lines with my hands held forward, pressed together -- as in the ‘praying hands’ pose.

Any readers here who’d like to see the brief scene for themselves: go to YouTube, enter “man used small son,” and once there click on the image, then fast forward to the 13:25 mark until the 14:00 time. It can be easily enough viewed, by following those directions.

That’ll reveal the final cut version of the “redemption” scene.

In essence then, I was able to subtly but effectively interject a brief homily on the qualities of grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and especially mercy.

But based on that film, and I’m reasonably certain Julia’d viewed some of my acting -- what good director would not take the time to familiarize herself with a potential cast member’s body of work -- that’s proof positive why she’d even consider my Easter egg suggestion. That wasn’t all she considered.

She and I and Kateryna Zabello, the very cool and insightful screenwriter, had a couple discussions or so about streamlining a few brief passages in the script, about my lines. Mostly I thought in normal English conversation I’d be a little less wordy and repetitive. And they were quite okay with my wanting to be briefer.

Well, again as Holden Caufield might say, “if you really wanta know the truth,” Kateryna and pretty much all of the screenwriters relied rather heavily on Google translate, which is why sometimes the dialogue seemed stiff and a little awkward.

Even so, I was impressed by how earnestly they listened and easily agreed with my subtle, simple changes. Thus another plus to having a native English speaker in the cast with a demonstrated writing background.

Obviously, by now, it should be apparent how much I really liked working with Julia. And I’d hoped we’d get to work together again -- and soon.

But something happened on February 24th, 2022, right after the Olympics ended. The Russian Federation invaded Ukraine.

Ronda and I had returned to the U.S. for the Christmas Holy-Days and New Year’s. We left behind our mission apartment in Kyiv, fully expecting to go back home there, and resume our more or less normal lives, serving both on the mission field and in films.

Not to be though.

Julia’s very fine film then, barely out of the post-production stage in its “director’s cut” form just before the war’s outset, was put “on the shelf.”

Jerry’s Game, as a “short-short” -- 5 minutes or almost so -- was to be intended for that specific category in future film festivals. And as SpaceKate and a couple other crew members clued me in, Julia and the producers were hoping it might serve also as a pilot for a true “short” film -- in the 20-minute range -- or even to be used as a pitch for a longer film or possibly a potential “series” in the burgeoning “streaming” market.

More on that sometime, at a later date.

Back on the set though, once the sun had finally started to clear the trees in the park,, Michael Scofield, the cinematographer, deduced that the ‘light’ for the film would be consistent enough for the film to be shot clearly and cleanly all through the day, until the sun would begin to set behind the trees on the other side of the park.

And so we began.

I took my ‘seat’ at the table where the inlaid chessboard was covered with the chess pieces in brown and black that ‘the boy’ (Fedir) and I would use for the duration of that shot. For me though, that’d be my seat also for the entire shoot. That is, until the final scene of me and my ‘family’ walking off together out of the park while the credits would roll.

Since this wasn’t my first ‘film rodeo,’ I was comfortable with how the filming would take place.

Olga, Fedir, and I were all ‘miked,’ and the sound boom would follow us wherever we were, kind of like Andrew Marvell’s “time’s winged chariot,” hovering ever near, although we were primarily quite stationary. Since this was not going to be an ‘action’ movie, the lighting grips and best boys would be nearby and close at hand -- beside, behind, and before us -- practically next to us but far enough away not to encroach on us and what the camera ‘saw of us.’

Oh, about the camera.

Both production companies utilized only the highest, most advanced equipment and technology for film-making that money could buy.

For example, the camera. Not a simple hold-in-your-hand doo-dah.

Michael actually “wore the camera.” A tubular frame arched over his shoulders and around his waist so that the camera -- a Steadicam -- itself hung from a bar in front of his chest: it seemed to float in the air in a housing with hand grips on either side of it so that he could with his fingertips control everything he wanted the camera to do: close-ups, fades (in and out, back and forth), depth of field, etc. And perfect “steady” balance was always controlled as if by a gyroscope. It was legendary.

But the best effect, around Julia’s waist and strapped down over her shoulders a flat screen rested, offering her a perfect view of what Michael’s camera saw and was doing. She could log on her screen and file away in an instant all of our shots in files and in a chronology matching the shot list.

And then the best part. Seated behind her at a table in the background with a laptop dedicated to Michael’s camera and Julia’s screen sat the AD, Maria Pankova, logging also everything Michael was seeing and doing, and what Julia saw.

How cool was that set-up.

And for us actors, that meant that the camera, the housing-frame, and Michael were ever-present, sometimes little more away than a couple feet or so, from our heads lining us up in just-the-right window to capture the immediacy, intensity, and especially the intimacy of the shot.

Anyone who’s now seen Jerry’s Game from the opening link, can think back to the excellence of Michael’s close-order work. This was not his first “film rodeo” either.

For us actors that worked in our favor, too. Even without huge formal training in acting for the screen, I knew not to play to the audience in the back row of a theatre. For TV and film I was to play my part with subtlety. In other words, act small.

On the contrary, I’d been in a couple other films with actors who’d clearly not attended ‘small acting classes,’ as they walked about waving their arms and hands and grimacing horribly as if in pain. Their histrionics definitely set them apart.

Julia and I had talked about subtlety, smallness, and keeping it ‘toned down’ before we even started shooting for the day, and I could tell, again, she’d seen some of my work, especially Man Uses Small Son, where I put into practice playing it ‘small’ for the camera. And Olga and I over a quick bite to eat and warm-up in the trailer traded some of our favorite stories when we’d acted with a few of the puffed up and ‘all about me’ actors we’d endured sharing a scene with, until the director would mercifully talk them down off the ledge.

And again, what little or enough experience I had with film-making I knew to ignore the surroundings. Especially immediately around me, beside me, in front of me. None of which the film-viewers would ever see and know what I was blocking out. Just plain ignoring.

So, not only was Michael and his harnessed-camera hovering right in front of me, but so too were a dozen or moreso crew members lingering nearby -- grips, best boys with sound and lighting instruments -- diffusers, lighting stands, nets; the 1st AD with her digital clapperboard; SpakeKate, on the ‘ever-ready’; and crew members on stand-by to be a gopher -- and then, of course, Julia, ever-present, ever-mindful of all that was happening under her watchful eye and care.

All in all, she’d put together a well-oiled machine, aspiring to make this film happen all in one day with twelve hours or less of usable light.

Oh, and have I mentioned how cold it was? . . .

Once the sun cleared the trees any evidence of our breath being seen was a thing of the past.

However, the air was frigidly cold. If it had rained, no, it would have snowed.

And since I moved very little at all, except for chess pieces, to check the time, or to nod or cock my head to one side or the other, I might as well have been Hawthorne’s man of “Adamant,,” perched fixedly on my stone bench. Oh, my, it was so cold, and so was I.

One of my worst fears for the day and what I had to consciously be aware of was to not let any shivering or quivering creep into my voice. Or any teeth chattering!

Fortunately, SpakeKate kept me well and frequently supplied with styrofoam cups of hot water and really hot tea, not only to stay warm but especially to keep my throat clear in the cold air. I always had at least a cup or two at my feet underneath my bench.

Also at my feet, was my handy-dandy script with all my lines in pink, thanks to one of the AD’s high-lighter. I pretty much knew it cold -- obviously -- my lines, and Olga’s and Fedir’s too, so it was more a security blanket in case my brain froze. A real possibility on such a frigid day.

As it was, I wasn’t glued to my rock-hard stone-cold bench. I did stand up and walk around a little between shots or when I wasn’t the focal point of a shot. Once in a while slipping into my puffy coat -- not nearly as cool as Julia in her gray greatcoat, as if fetched from some costume wardrobe out of a World War I movie; plus she had a hoodie underneath and fingerless gloves! But she earned the right and deserved to be so well outfitted.

I did occasionally walk over to the men’s bathroom, sometimes even though I didn’t need to, after of course I’d told SpaceKate or one of the AD’s where I was headed. (Yeah -- I know, another bad pun.)

To be honest, one of the best things I learned about working with any of the directors, screenwriters, and particularly the wonderful crew members on the set was this: in everything I did, -- make it look effortless, real, honest, and true to the character and especially to the film.

As Ringo Starr might still croon, “it don’t come easy -- you know, it don’t come easy.” And it wasn’t always easy, but we strove to make the ‘difficult’ look ‘easy.’

For example, for one usable shot, in the final cut, Michael might have had to shoot it 8, 9, 10 times -- even more maybe. To satisfy Julia, thinking of what she wanted to be part of the flow for the narrative of the final cut, she’d then ask us to run the scene again. One huge aspect of shooting a film is to Always Overshoot -- collect more takes at the time than might be necessary, because once the set’s been left, the location, it’s almost impossible to re-create anything or everything about that time and place.

So Olga, Fedir, and I were all comfortable with, “just one more take.” And, “’let’s just try one more this time, maybe with a little ‘this or that.’”

What we all of us -- cast and crew -- loved to hear Julia announce after another take: “Khorosha!” Ukrainian for “Good!” -- and heavy on the emphasis!

For example, toward the end of the film, my character, Jerry, says to the ‘woman,’ “Oh, sweetie, did my words about family hurt you? Are you upset because of a man?” The ‘woman’s’ response to Jerry, “Yes. Precisely because of that.” Then Jerry back to her, “Oh, no man should ever hurt a woman and make her cry. Did he leave you?” And she again finally says back to him, “You could say so. He died.”

And with the delivery of her last two lines the woman was to be in full tear-streaming mode. That’s a crucial time in the film. And before she delivers those six words, there’s a significant pause, while the ‘woman’ (Olga) slowly works up some very real tears to slowly come slipping out of her eyes and down her cheeks.

To make that happen she doesn’t use some sneaky little Julia Roberts’ trick where with her fingertips she rubs her eyelashes, the fingertips that have been soaked in onion juice.

No, Olga amazed us all when after 8 or 9 or so takes or more, I don’t remember how many, she cried perfectly on demand. Every time. On time.

What an actress. What a professional.

Okay, “if you really wanta know the truth” again, the only line I dropped all day was after maybe the 4th or 5th take of that shot, I froze. I just stopped. We were supposed to keep the scene rolling, and I as Jerry was supposed to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, . . . ” With a brief pause, but I paused too long, too too long, and the scene came to a grinding halt.

Why? Because I was so taken by Olga’s spot-on crying and acting, which she’d only done several times already. I was just plain so caught up in the emotion of our scene and especially by Olga’s acting ability to nail that crying jag Every Time and Perfectly, too.

I remember falling all over myself apologizing to her and all the crew and even to God and his dog. I was so chagrinned. That was the only time I dropped a line all day.

How we played that scene, with the alternating close-ups of her and Jerry is that she and I still read all of our lines for the scene, no matter which one of us Michael was closing in on. So really we were ‘acting’ not just delivering one line, or the same lines alone, over and over, take after take. We were playing it all the way through.

The other thing to know about that particular “scene,” though, is that in the final cut the scene only covers about half a minute -- barely 30 seconds! But as I recall, we spent at least an hour maybe even an hour and fifteen minutes on it. Shooting it over and over from one position, then slightly altering the camera’s angle, to another position, different framing, or changing the depth of field. What I liked too about Julia’s directorial style: she wasn’t married to her storyboards; if something felt better, looked better in the shooting moment, she was not opposed to deviating from the pre-planned shot list. As a result, there was an abundance of ‘footage’ of the scene to make the perfect edits during post-production,

Of course, for the viewer, that painstaking over and over shooting was not ever going to be apparent. Because artes est celare artem! Yes, because we were busy hiding the art.

But we charged ahead doing that scene 3 or 4 or more times with Olga nailing her crying right on time just the same every time.

Until we all -- but especially Olga -- at the end of our last take, we all could bask deservedly in hearing Julia proclaim, Khorosha!

But that’s pretty much how we all worked in those films. Doing what we could when we could.

For me though, and my wife, well, I especially was kind of a johnny-come-lately to the twin production companies. Even if I had to go through that bathroom window.

For example, three crew members on the other side of the camera made it everso effortless for all of us to “hide our art.”

Like Michael, who also doubled as the film’s ‘colorist,’ naturally close to his heart as the cinematographer. He contributed most importantly and responsibly for the mood, tone, and the ‘look’ of the film by determining its color scheme. In Jerry’s Game, brown is the dominant color, on a lighter to darker continuum, with black accents here & there.

Olga, as the ‘woman,’ was costumed almost entirely in shades of brown, especially highlighted by her beautiful long hair. Jerry’s predominantly in black, from his ‘jaunty’ cap to his coat. And Fedir, as the ‘boy,’ was dressed in a blend of dark brown or light black. The gorgeous background, even mostly out-of-focus, as if an impressionistic painting, accentuates either the late autumn leaves or the stark silhouettes of the tree trunks. All in all, Michael’s 2-tone palette underscores and reinforces again Julia’s directorial style of subtlety.

Easy to overlook, or not pay enough attention to, that is, to be listened to, is the ‘sound design,’ under the skillful and insightful control of Pan Zvuchek. Tasked with managing the ‘sound-scape,’ Pan over-saw, or over-heard, all the film’s audio: dialogue, obviously; all the sound ‘effects,’ planned and un-planned, including background noise & ambiance; but most importantly’s the music in the soundtrack. Almost unnoticeable, as well it should be, the music lightly, gently underscores the action and the conversation, again with a subdued subtlety that also reinforces Julia’s directorial style. The music is so low-key, it almost has to consciously be listened to, and when it is noticeable the poignancy rings true and supportive to the storyline. Pan, too then, excels at hiding the art of the ‘sound design.’

And yet without Kateryna’s amazing script ‘Jerry’s story’ is just another old guy trying to play chess in the park, like all the other old guys surrounding him.

Kateryna, however, makes it and him so very much more than one of them.

The craft behind her storytelling tends to stun viewers, as I’ve had numerous of them express genuine surprise, particularly toward the film’s end. Over and over I’ve heard, “Man, I didn’t see that coming!” and, “I had to go back and re-watch it from the beginning!”

She, too, Kateryna, took to hiding her art.

For example, the only 2 times all 3 of the actors are seen together is in the 1st couple scenes and the last couple ones. These ‘stop-n-go’ scenes make wonderful ‘book-ends’-- clearly letting the viewer know this is how the story begins -- and this is how it ends.

In between, the viewer’s introduced to Jerry in his ‘happy place,’ expecting his son to show up at any moment, thus, the film’s rising action. But just past the mid-point of the film, the climax occurs. Jerry’s jolted back into the banal reality of how he must live his life, without his son; along with the ‘woman,’ living without her husband; and the ‘boy,’ living without his father. They too must confront the everyday reality of their lives without ‘him.’ They don’t -- they can’t -- participate then in Jerry’s escape to his past, triggered by his alzheimer’s, when he escapes living in the “present.”

Again thanks to Kateryna’s storyline and characters, and Julia’s deft direction, the ‘woman,’ shows her tired resignation when Jerry’s “’Game’ of make believe” is over, comes to an end. Even the ‘boy’ has to accept with some exasperation their forced return to the humdrum of their bereft lives when there’s no game to be played.

Especially when the father, son, and husband is just a pretend player in ‘Jerry’s Game.’

Kateryna’s script, Julia’s direction, and Michael’s camera work bring it all “home” in the final scene with his amazing “pan” of the threesome trudging -- Jerry’s shuffling -- into the late afternoon almost twilight at the edge of Yevtushenko Park.

In this scene, with his 17-second pan, he pulls off a spectacular complicated shot of the three-some in perfect focus in the distance, then subtly, as always, he closes in with his tracking shot to the chess pieces slowly coming into focus with a narrower depth of field to highlight just one brown chess piece, a pawn, as the caregiver.

As I started all of this, many pages ago, I’d mentioned what a challenge ‘Jerry’ was for me as an actor. One I welcomed though.

Jerry’ was a ‘two-fer’ -- ‘he’ offered me 2-characters-in-1. There’d be ‘Jerry’ in his happy place, and ‘him’ in his sad place.

And, with Julia’s help, I chose to make his character swings subtle, not to make them stereotypical violent mood swings at all. So I approached portraying him as “settled” in either of his ‘places’ or ‘spaces’ -- not at all overdoing, histrionically over-acting -- his back & forth from here to there, and back.

I chose that as much for ‘Jerry’ as for the ‘woman’ and the ‘boy.’ I think they might be as ‘large’ in the story as ‘Jerry’ -- maybe even ‘larger.’ For they’re the ones who must contend with ‘playing off’ his ‘mood’ swings: afterall, “what” are they to expect from him and “where” he is.

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the entire film, in the whole script occurs at the beginning: when the woman sits at the table, and Jerry calls her “young lady” and shushes her away with a sweep of his hand.

Her pained, such self-controlled response steals the scene as she plays it, walking away with the same resigned exasperation as at the end of the film, when ‘Jerry’ comes down from the ‘high’ of his pretend ‘game,’ back to the banal reality of his day-to-day existence.

Really, the film’s about -- as revealed before the credits -- the “caregivers,” like the ‘woman.’

And the ‘boy’ must ride, too, the ups & downs of Jerry’s family roller coaster.

Yes, at the beginning of the chess game, when the boy starts the ‘game’ with the Sicilian Defense, ‘Jerry’ pauses, as if in thoughtful recognition, to say, “you remind me of someone, young man.” Then he just shrugs it off.

But also so does the ‘boy’ shrug off ‘Jerry,’ for the ‘boy’ “knows.” And could it be “shruggings” have been handed down patrilinearly.

The oh-so clever, deft, and subtle script and directing would seem to suggest so.

All of ‘that,’ all of “this” is why I jumped at the chance to be ‘Jerry’ in “Jerry’s Game.”

And I’m everso glad I did.

So, now might be a good time and place to re-watch Jerry’s Game.

Or to watch it for the very first time. Just click here. 

All in all, I was proud and am still so to have been in Julia’s film that eschewed, for example, a Wes Anderson preference for just setting up a stationary camera, turning it on, and letting his actors play out their scene in front of it, as if on a stage for untold minutes on end. How much moreso I preferred her choices to keep the camera close in on us actors to capture the immediacy and intimacy of our subtle and more normal facial expressions and body language.

To conclude, what a lovely, fine five-minute film, packed to the brim with ambiguity, foreshadowing, irony, plot twist, and a surprise ending that O.Henry himself would most surely appreciate and admire. Showcased through Kateryna’s tight screenwriting, Michael’s clever and amazing cinematography, and especially Julia’s impeccable deft directorial style. What teamwork and insight.

Khorosha, Julia. Khorosha!

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