There are a handful of names that keep popping up in discussions of faith-based films. Jenn Gotzon is one. Rebekah Cook is another. I’ve been hearing about her for years and just recently had the pleasure of getting to know her via facebook. Rebekah Cook is an actress, coach, casting director, and script supervisor who has been serving the Christian film industry since 2009. Born overseas as a missionary kid, she moved back to the States to pursue screen acting, and has since worked on over a dozen feature films.
When did you first discover a love of acting?
I always enjoyed playacting as a kid. When I was about eight years old, my mom and older brother produced a home movie of a musical for a Christmas gift to extended family, and I played the lead role. That’s probably when I realized I loved acting. I kept doing plays and skits at church and such, but it wasn’t until much later that God planted the dream in me of acting for film.
How did you get involved in film acting?
While watching a Christian indie film, and one actress/character in particular, the desire was birthed in my heart to impact people by helping tell powerful stories of hope and faith and purpose. I was fifteen at the time.
I studied for several years on my own before setting foot on my first set, as an extra in a City On A Hill production, Not A Fan. But it was through apprenticing with Advent Film Group and getting hands on experience with what goes on behind the scenes that really gave me my jump-start in the industry–on both sides of the camera.
What faith-based films have you been a part of?
In chronological order of filming:
Alone Yet Not Alone
Treasure In Heaven
In His Steps (web series)
Beyond The Mask
Polycarp: Destroyer of Gods
In His Steps (movie)
Love Covers All
Breaking The Silence
The Bryan Lawrence Story
Which came first – cast member or crew member?
Technically, my crew credit came first. I was a casting assistant for Alone Yet Not Alone. Because I was interested in acting, I sent in my own video audition to the casting director, and got a callback. I was then cast in a featured speaking role in the film, but unfortunately that scene didn’t make it to the final edit. My first larger roles didn’t come until a couple years later, for Christmas Grace and In His Steps.
Which do you prefer – cast or crew?
I love acting! Bringing a character to life is definitely my passion. There are so many pros, but there is at least one con–you typically aren’t there for the duration of the shoot. With crew, I get to help with and witness the unfolding of the entire story, and there’s often a deeper team bonding with that.
Crew positions I’ve held include 1st assistant director (1), 2nd assistant director (2), casting director (2), casting assistant (1), extras casting/coordinator (2), production coordinator (1), script supervisor (9), on-set dresser (2), and 2nd assistant camera (1). I’ve been blessed on several sets to work as both cast and crew on the same project, when it’s a supporting role that allows that. So right now, I’m happy doing either and both!
How has working in casting made you a better actress?
Working in casting is the fastest way I know of to get a heartbeat on the current market for actors: the demand, the competition, the self-taping process, etc. And working as a reader is one of the best, most fun acting workouts I’ve ever had! Rarely in film do you get to play a role you don’t look like, but as a reader that’s not a problem, because you’re always off-camera.
Then there is the reviewing process. When you go through a few hundred video auditions in the space of mere weeks, and work with the director and producers to put faces to characters, you begin understanding the dynamics of why actors do or don’t get cast, and how casting shapes story.
I can always learn from the actors who are auditioning. What are they doing (or NOT doing) that is so effective? What is missing that makes a scene feel flat?There is a lesson in each audition, good and bad, and when I make the effort to find it and improve my own business approach and acting craft, it’s quite the education.
Finally, whenever I find myself on the other side, I can better imagine what the director/casting person might be thinking, and that helps some with nerves. I try to keep distractions to a minimum, present my best work and be truly me, then give them space to build the ensemble they need. Anymore, it’s difficult to take it personally if I’m not cast, because I sympathize with what the casting team is going through; I’ve been there.
What exactly does a script supervisor do?
That’s a common question, even from fellow crew members! One of the reasons this position has such mystery about it, is because how the job gets done can look a little different from person to person, and it’s a one person deal. The “duties” can be very basic, or can get overwhelmingly detailed. I’ve been doing it for about three years now, and I keep adding layers and customizing for each new production.
The basic responsibility is to keep track of continuity as the story moves from the page onto the screen. This translates to making sure everything that’s supposed to be seen or heard on screen, gets seen or heard on screen the way it’s needs to, and everything that’s not, to keep it out.
Film scenes are shot out of order due to locations and actor schedules, etc., so anything that affects achieving a smooth storyline in the editing room is in play. This includes lines, blocking, prop/set dressing elements, wardrobe, hair, make up, time passage, camera angles, eyelines, weather, sounds, lighting, and more. Obviously, there are crew departments that cover most all of these areas. The script/continuity supervisor’s job is to help coordinate so that everyone gets and stays on the same page for how their area contributes to the whole, and be the last line of defense for continuity.
So what are some tangibles? You’ll have the standard clip board and log sheets, to take down detailed notes for each take, a marked up script with different colors and custom shorthand symbols to help track what is needed for each scene and character, and usually a stopwatch to time each take and a camera of some sort to take photos of the set and the video monitor. You also get the crew call sheet and sides for that day, to stay abreast of the filming schedule.
The script supervisor sits right next to the director at video village (where the camera feed is set up), and also gets a feed from the sound mixer to better hear the actors deliver their lines. During a scene, another thing to watch for in the periphery is the director’s body language reacting to the performance. After a take, they discuss any notes or issues with the director, and with other crew as necessary. If the take was a “print” (a film term still used with digital media) to use in the edit, the take number is circled on the log sheet.
During set-up time for a shot, or even days before a scene, any extra time is spent making and organizing notes, running lines with an actor if they request it, or following up with a crew member to help prevent any continuity errors before they happen and become a “holding on ____!” problem. After wrap is called for the day, there is still the daily summary report to finish and final notes to make in the script. This can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a few hours, depending on the day.
Before production starts, I like to get the locked script as soon as possible and begin making my own breakdowns, picking apart the pages and scenes in every way possible to digest the information as best I can. If no script revisions are made during this process, this can take as little as a week or two.
Once principal photography is over, all the notes get handed over to the editor. One of the scary things about this is that even if the script supervisor “caught” all the continuity errors and marked them down, it’s entirely possible that the editor or director will decide to use one of those takes anyway, and they may still end up in the final edit! That’s one of the reasons I try to exercise “preventive continuity medicine” instead of simply diagnosing the symptoms as they show up on set.
I like script supervision because I get to work closely with the director and the actors, as well as interact a lot with the majority of the crew and be a support for their roles. It satiates my detail-oriented side while keeping the big picture in mind. And it certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings to have a front-row seat for the action on the screen!
For a story I was super passionate about, I could see myself co-writing and directing someday. But for now, I really enjoy the different hats I already wear! I’m always open to learning something new, and love being a part of team telling a meaningful story that will touch someone’s life.
What do you find most fulfilling about being involved in films?
The most fulfilling thing ever is to see lives changed as they draw closer to God. When someone comes up to me and says they saw me in such-and-such a movie, and how God used it to speak into their life, that is an amazing, humbling feeling. When I’m able to portray characters dealing with real, relatable struggles, and point to hope, truth, and beauty in the midst of pain–that’s where my heart is.
Something I didn’t fully expect going into film was how deeply stretching, challenging, rewarding, and even sometimes painful, the experience of making a film could be. When I’m part of a faith-based production, I live life very closely with a group of fellow creative professionals, many of whom are Christians, and even if we all have different backgrounds, we truly become like a family. I love that!
A film set is like a can of condensed life. After a month, it can feel like you’ve been working together for a year. The emotional ups and downs are also heightened, and then you add in some sleep deprivation…. It’s a great way to discover areas in your character or habits that need to be addressed, with God’s help, and with the help of the “family” He has surrounded you with.
Each time I leave another set, I go away changed. Changed by the friendships I’ve made or deepened, changed by the story we’ve invested collective years of our lives to tell, changed by the way God revealed himself to me in new ways, and changed by the ongoing privilege of encouraging others around me in their journey.
A few years ago I was asked to give a talk about casting and acting, and quickly discovered that I loved to teach! Now I coach actors online via video-chat, as well as doing workshops at different events.
To learn more about an acting webinar I’m doing on October 29th, go to: http://webinars.mwcfa.org/acting-in-the-christian-film-industry/
For information about when I’ll be doing workshops at the Christian Worldview Film Guild & Festival in Texas next spring, visit: http://www.christianworldviewfilmfestival.com/rebekah-cook/
If you are interested in private online coaching, you can fill out an application here: http://www.actressrebekah.com/private-coaching.html
There are more pictures, trailers, and other fun info about films I’ve worked on at my website: www.actressrebekah.com
Finally, if you’d like to stay up date with what I’m up to in the biz, please feel free to connect with me on Facebook. On my actor page, https://www.facebook.com/actressrebekah, I share industry tips, casting calls, project updates, and links of interest. See you there!