The Difference Between Theater and Film

Question: What first drew\r\nyou to the theater?


John Buffalo Mailer: \r\n You know I grew up in an artistic\r\nfamily where everyone was doing something in one field of the arts or\r\nanother.  I was I think 12\r\nyears old when I did my first acting at the Actor’s Studio and, you \r\nknow,\r\nJames Dean once said that the only reason to become and actor is because\r\n you\r\nhave to.  I think that you know\r\nfrom a young age if that is a certain rush that you’re going to need to \r\nsatisfy\r\nyou and to make you feel fulfilled—and if you don’t then you shouldn’t \r\ndo\r\nit.  It’s just too brutal of a\r\nbusiness most of the time.  So I\r\nthink that at the ripe old age of 12 I figured out, you know, I kind of \r\nlike\r\nthis thing.  I like talking to\r\nthese people.


Question: How is working\r\non a play different from working on a film?


John Buffalo Mailer: \r\n Man, it’s apples and oranges.  You can’t \r\nreally beat movies.  It’s a fun gig. \r\n I mean it’s nice to have a trailer and\r\nmakeup and you know an entire army that is basically all there for the \r\nsame\r\npurpose, which is make the best film we can.  Yeah,\r\n when you’re on an Oliver Stone set everybody brings\r\ntheir A game.  Everybody brings\r\ntheir A game, from the top to the bottom and in between. \r\n In terms of theater you know there is\r\nno way to really duplicate that rush you get when you take an audience \r\nthat is\r\nlive and right there in front of you through the journey of a great play\r\n and\r\nyou go through these emotions so that they can experience them without \r\nhaving\r\nto go through them themselves. \r\nIt’s a certain kind of human compact that obviously you lose as \r\nsoon as\r\nthere is a screen and a camera there, so I think we’ll always have\r\ntheater.  I think theater will\r\nalways be a powerful force because we need that human touch, \r\nparticularly as we\r\nspend more and more time with machines, cell phones, computers we start \r\nto lose\r\nour humanity.  I mean the price of\r\nour technology may very well end up being our humanity, so I think you \r\ngot to\r\nhave that balance.  Personally I\r\ntry to do one for one if I can.  Do\r\na movie, do a play, do a movie, do a play—while at the same time writing\r\n and\r\nbeing in that cycle.  Those two\r\nfields are very… Writing and acting are almost diametrically opposed in \r\nterms\r\nof being an actor it’s in your interest to be in shape and to be healthy\r\n and to\r\nhave a strong voice and to be flexible. \r\nAs a writer you’re sitting in this position for hours on end.  You get up and you can’t put your\r\nshoulder down.  It’s not a healthy\r\nexistence so to speak and it’s probably not healthy for the person that \r\nlives\r\nwith you either, but you do the best you can.


Question: What theatrical\r\nwork are you proudest of?


John Buffalo Mailer: \r\n You know I’m probably most proud of the\r\nplays that I’ve written just because as the playwright, you know, you’re\r\nGod.  You get to do everything.  You\r\n don’t make any money hardly at all,\r\nbut you really get to kind of control the scene.  As\r\n a screenwriter you’re the towel boy in the\r\nwhorehouse.   I mean you know\r\nyou’re lucky if you’re invited to set. \r\nIt’s kind of like here is the blueprint, go and that’s you know \r\nthere\r\nhas been some debate as to whether or not a film should be by the \r\ndirector or\r\nby the screenwriter or by both. \r\nThe screenwriter lost out on that. \r\nDirectors win.  In theater\r\nit is absolutely the opposite, but you know I’m proud of all the…  Well, of most of the theater acting\r\nthat I’ve done.  The thing is, to\r\ntry to talk about a performance that will never be seen again, that was \r\nonly\r\nlived by the people there, it’s kind of like telling somebody about your\r\n dream.  You know if they love you they’ll\r\nlisten and smile, but they can’t really get it, so there is a certain \r\ninfinite\r\nquality to film that is nice.  You\r\ndo the work and you know it’s always going to be there.  The\r\n flip side is if you do bad work\r\nit’s always going to be there.


Question: What are your\r\ngoals as an actor and playwright?


John Buffalo Mailer: \r\n You know, I just I love telling stories\r\nand as long as I can make my living doing that in all the different \r\nmediums\r\nthat I have been lucky enough to, that’s enough for me.  Really\r\n it’s, you know, there's different\r\nscales of stories.  Sometimes you\r\nwant to tell one that 20, 30, 40, 50 million people will want to see and\r\nhear.  Sometimes you do one that\r\nyou know 150 will want to see on one night.  As \r\nlong as you’re telling the right story for the right\r\naudience and they’re getting something out of it it’s essentially the \r\nsame\r\nfeeling to me.  Obviously there is\r\nyou know the economic necessity of paying your bills and how do you do\r\nthat.   Ten years ago when I\r\nstarted out I was kind of told I was insane for trying to pursue \r\nmultiple fields\r\nat once because in five years everyone who just did one would have five \r\ntimes\r\nthe resume I would if I was lucky, but I took that gamble because I just\r\n my gut\r\ntold me it was the right thing to do and you know as an actor there is \r\nso much\r\ndowntime you want to fill it with something else and as a writer you \r\nknow\r\nsometimes you’re doing a passion project, sometimes it’s a paid gig, \r\nsometimes\r\nthere is nothing, so you can do a journalistic piece.  At\r\n this point I think the shift starting about 2008, a lot\r\nof factors as well I’m sure, but whatever the reasons, 2008 it felt as \r\nthough\r\nthe combination of distribution models starting to tighten and the \r\npublishing\r\nand film and music industries having to revolutionize themselves to \r\ncatch up,\r\nand understand how this is going to work in the new millennium has made \r\nit a\r\nlot easier to pursue multi-platform careers.  It’s\r\n much easier to hire one person who can do three or four\r\ndifferent things than one specialist in that field, which as I think \r\nabout the\r\ncollege graduating classes and high school classes that are coming up \r\nnow\r\nthey’re in a unique position.  I\r\nmean they’re entering one of the toughest economies of all time.  At the same time if they’re willing to\r\nwork really hard the ability they have to learn something much faster \r\nthan we\r\never did before is there and it’s really a question of are you willing \r\nto put\r\nin the effort and go that extra mile. Because if you are I think there's\r\nactually more opportunities out there.

Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Theater has more of a "human touch," but telling someone about a great live performance is like telling them about your dream.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Ultracold gas exhibits bizarre quantum behavior

New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

    Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

    Big Think LIVE

    Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

    Keep reading Show less

    3 cognitive biases perpetuating racism at work — and how to overcome them

    Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."

    Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash
    Personal Growth

    Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.

    Keep reading Show less

    A new minimoon is headed towards Earth, and it’s not natural

    Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.

    Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Paitoon Pornsuksomboon/Shutterstock/Big Think
    Surprising Science
  • Small objects such as asteroids get trapped for a time in Earth orbit, becoming "minimoons."
  • Minimoons are typically asteroids, but this one is something else.
  • The new minimoon may be part of an old rocket from the 1960s.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

    Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.

    Photo: Lightspring / Shutterstock
    Mind & Brain
    • A new MDVIP/Ipsos survey found that only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
    • Eighty percent of respondents said they want to reduce their risks.
    • An estimated 7.1 million Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's by 2025.
    Keep reading Show less