Dr Patterson gives the movies a shot in the arm

27th June 2008 at 01:00
I am Dr Patterson

I am Dr Patterson. I am a good doctor, but misunderstood. That is to say, at least one patient has misunderstood me. And now he's on my trail, out to get me, looking for revenge.

If that sounds to you like a pot-boiling tale to be shot quickly and cheaply on a hand-held camera, you have hit the nail right on the head.

Despite my no longer being in the first flush of youth, this is my acting debut. But now that the opportunity has presented itself - courtesy of James, a National Diploma student with ambitions of being the next Tarantino - I am determined to seize it.

James is director, originator, script-writer, cameraman and editor. And although to me he looks about 12, he is actually 17. I have to say, too, that James is showing considerable aplomb in the face of a number of difficulties.

The first difficulty is me - new to this game and what you might call a complete "hamateur" actor. But my inexperience is not stopping me from having very definite views about how my character should be realised on the silver screen. I am Doctor Patterson! I also haven't learnt my lines.

Opposite me is difficulty number two: Dave, a man who has learnt his lines, and a real thespian. Dave's character had a partner who died under my care, and he's convinced himself that the death was my fault. Thus, Dave - or rather Dave's character - wants to kill me.

Dave is a professional. He tells me this as soon as I meet him, and then again two seconds later. In the 10 minutes that follow, he proceeds to tell me the whole of his life story from birth until the present moment. But Dave seems to have missed out that part of his upbringing where you learn that social intercourse is a two-way process. In a nutshell, Dave is all "send" and no "receive".

Like many actors, Dave is resting. To keep his hand in, he is working for an agency that supplies actors to schools and colleges - for expenses only. Difficulty number two he may be, but Dave is still a good thing for James's project. As a professional, he is serious about what he does, and that's keeping me - Dr Patterson - serious too.

While I desperately try to learn my lines, Dave and James discuss whether I'm to be threatened with a gun or given a good kicking. Personally, I favour the gun, as the only danger will come from the flag popping out of the barrel with "Bang" written on it.

There is a problem with this, though: we don't actually have a gun. Anyway, James and Dave both like the idea of the kicking. There's more drama that way, more vehemence. Dave explains how he can give emphasis to his words by delivering a swift kick to the ribs - my ribs - as he speaks them. Phrase - kick - phrase. My role will be to give a yelp of pain each time the boot lands.

We begin rehearsals. In the first scene, I have to open my front door to be confronted by an angry Dave. He pushes me violently back into the room and I fall to the floor.

Am I going to be up to the rough stuff, James asks?

"Absolutely," I reply.

To make my point, I insist we shoot it several times to get it just right. No matter that in the process I twist my knee and spend the next two days limping. But hasn't art always involved suffering?

Already, I am learning about acting. Mostly I am learning how hard it is. Both remembering my lines and acting my part is what I find particularly difficult. There's also the question of your arms. What do you do with them? Most of the time mine seem to be just flapping about, getting in the way.

Dave is being made up for the "kicking" scene. His face is pale, his hair wild. "More sweat, more sweat," he barks at the make-up girl with her water spray. Dave is clearly of the method school of acting. He has thought himself into his part, and is convinced that I really have murdered the love of his life.

I arrange myself in an artistic heap on the floor. Dave, looking suitably deranged, clumps over. For the first time, I notice his substantial footwear. "Don't worry," he tells me as he draws back his leg. "I'm a professional."

Somehow I survive both the rehearsal and shoot with my ribs intact. Dave helps me through the trauma of remembering my words.

"Go with the flow," he suggests. "If you can't remember, improvise."

OK then. I am Doctor Patterson.

"Cut," yells James. Everything's fine. It's a wrap. Next stop Cannes. But after all I've been through today, I think that should read "cans".

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