"Yes!" he shouted, as the director, Alejo Mo-Sun, strolled across the alien world, dressed casually in a white polo and jeans, aviators and a cowboy hat. "There's my soldier!"
I guess when you show up to work on a set, there's really no better way to start the day than by knowing you fit the part. But all the same, I wasn't sure what to think on that hot summer's day when, for the first time in my life I spent my day on the set of a feature film working as an actor in Hirokin.
To start, one has to make sense of the idea that what is real has just shifted; the sets are real, the caves are real, the swords are real--but only up to a point. More than anything else, the people are real: that doesn't just look like Wes Bentley--that is Wes Bentley.
And for that one day, these were my castmates. Set in the future, Hirokin is an epic tale about "a reluctant hero who must fulfill his destiny when forced to choose between avenging the murder of his family or fighting for the freedom of a people long abused."
Like working any job, the best you can hope for when you show up to work is that everyone gets along. I walked on to the set of Hirokin because I wanted to see what it was like to be part of the filmmaking process and in one day, I came to fall in love with every part of what goes into making films. I got to help tell a story with some of the most talented and kind people I've ever met.
Storytelling can do more than entertain us: as a people, it can help shape us, continually remolding an individual's memories by reference and inference. An audience will project upon a performer what they see. So, a story like Hirokin may at once become a story about personal redemption, a yarn about Manichean struggles, or a tale about the power and forms of love. But, at the end of the day, a story is really about itself. Once it has been written, it exists independent of what anyone else thinks of it and how many times it may be retold.
For me, however, the best stories help us aspire to something greater than ourselves. They inspire a generation of young people to believe in the essential goodness of humanity, that the honest exchange of love and the pursuit of the best of ourselves can free us.
That is the journey that this film's title character, played by Bentley, is all about.
"I think Hirokin is a very spiritual person, " Bentley later told me. "But he has a history that he's not proud of. It comes from the sharp edged the sword, the dangerous side of you. This film is [about] his healing, [his] finding the light side of himself through his dark side and finding out how to be connected to people again."
Though a plurality of Americans may say that being an actor is their dream job, not many people understand why actors do what they do. The days are long--often running far over twelve hours long, requiring you to stand still on a freezing beach in winter, or lay in the blistering sun for hours on end. You may show up to work and not even speak, your lines may be whittled down, or a day's work might end up on the cutting room floor. And why would you bother with all of this--the training, the rehearsals, the struggling artist lifestyle, not to mention the ridicule of those who do not share or understand your line of work--considering most actors do what they do and never, ever get paid?
Honestly, I've asked myself the same questions more than once. I cannot coherently answer them. The best I can do is try to describe the internal pull, a gravitational force that tightened and released the valves of my heart that one day on set. It's same force that any artist or craftsperson knows and the inexplicable inertia that hurtles the artistic industries along the continuum of human experience.
The days in the pages of books and scripts, onstage and on set, do not last long enough and sometimes they stretch into the night and time itself does not seem to matter or exist. You have to throw open your arms to working with people you may not previously have known and may never know again, learning instantly what makes them them feel, tick--what stops their hearts--because telling a story is not only about you: it's about all of us. You have to love the process of making stories if you want to work with and in them: like writing and rewriting, lights, camera and action will continue until a small part of a new reality has been given life, the whole of which our audience may or may not come to know, like or understand. But we do it anyway.
Because, no matter what the outcome, it matters simply to do it.
Because, as I experienced on the set of Hirokin, storytelling helps us explain what happens when the residue of opportunity and preparedness, by the grace of God, snap into existence every second of every human life.