Neil Schell might bring decades of experience to his acting workshops, but that doesn't mean he's stopped learning about the film and television industry.
The veteran actor, director, producer and editor who has appeared in films like The A-Team and Watchmen has been based in Kenya since 2010 working on a pair of television shows, Higher Learning, a college soap in the vein of 90210, and Saints, a medical drama. "They didn't have a heart monitor or anything (for props)," Schell says over the phone from Toronto, referring to the latter show, which he directed and produced. "We were really lucky to get beds. You've got to come up with magic. It gets your creativity going. The focus is more on the acting and the scripting because that's where you can put in a lot of value without a lot of money."
While the experience has come with a learning curve navigating a new culture and a different industry, there are some parallels to Canada, he adds. This country's quiet, understated version of celebrity is familiar, for example. "(Kenyan actors) are overshadowed by Nigerians, he says. "We're overshadowed by Americans. Nigerians are superstars. They get paid a lot for movies. They have managed to sell more movies in Africa than Americans."
So how exactly did a Saskatchewan-born, Surrey-bred, L.A. transplant wind up working half a world away from home? "Television-wise, (Kenya is) rapidly developing because they want local content with their own actors and stories. I got invited there," he says. "I met this actress at a workshop I was delivering in Edmonton several years ago and she's now a TV producer in Kenya. From that, I got connected to a feature film that was in development."
My Life in Crime, based on a popular Kenyan novel, is still in production and Schell has been travelling back and forth between that country and Canada, where he teaches workshops. His next stop: Whistler, where he'll teach an intensive two-day class at The Point Artist-Run Centre. He says he'll critique local actors' performances, but also offer inside tips into the audition process and the industry.
"Actors don't get true information about the industry and how things work," he says. "I find when I give them the real stuff, they get far more relaxed because they understand what it's really about."
He offers an example of one misconception: "There's a widespread idea that an audition has to be almost perfect. That's not actually true at all. I go through the logic of how things are made, how movies are made, how TV is made and demonstrate for them a final audition is really a joke. They focus on (gaining) acting skills and that helps, but there are other things that are far more important."
Find out more at the workshop — which costs $250 — Feb. 16 and 17 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Roseanne Supernault, a Canadian First Nations actress who studied under Schell, will also attend to share her story and answer questions.