Charlie Chaplin meets Marcel Marceau
David Black interviews Rod Lara
Rod Lara is an actor, physical comedian, mime artist, dancer, award winning filmmmaker and visual artist.
With a career spanning 20 + years, Rod Lara has been hailed as a "master of physical comedy and characterisation". Rod strives to push the envelope with his unique brand of comedy, utilizing the skills of physical comedy, circus arts, mime and dance.
I have the pleasure of chatting to Rod today and want to find out what makes this man tick.
DB – Hi Rod. Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today. I’ve enjoyed seeing your films, “Isolation” and “Lockdown” on Ch 31 on “Outta The Can” and was wondering what sort of training you did to be able to perform such amazing physical feats?
RL – Hi David. First of all. Thank you so much for interviewing me for your Australian Short Film Network Journal magazine The short films you mentioned were created during lockdown (about lockdown). A nice way keep creative and showcase my art to a wider audience. Glad you like them. Well, I'm a mime artist by trade. I mix the skills of circus, dance and visual humour. Although naturally supple, these skills have allowed me to keep agile for the past 23 years as a performer. To answer your question, in order to throw myself about, I did train in stunts with then New Generation Stunts, a little over 20 years ago, as a way to enhance my slapstick skills. My main objective was never to become a stuntman, but to become a better visual comedian.
During the strict Melbourne lockdown of 2020, a friend sent me a link to the Isolation Film Festival. I thought it was a nice way to keep creative as I had nowhere to go. So, I grabbed my little Canon camera and created 'Isolation' utilizing my stage character Banjo to star in. The plot of the film is a simple affair: It's Banjo's birthday and how will he celebrate it during COVID-19 lockdown - a common theme during lockdown.
Being a visual artist, I was able to animate my own paintings for dramatic and almost surreal effect which was inspired by the German Expressionistic films of the 1920's.
I shot and edited the film. Music composer and Sound Designer, Evan 'Moxie' Kitchener, created the sound track for this film (which continued with 'Lockdown' and 'Rise'). We basically communicated via Dropbox during this period. Surprisingly, 'Isolation' won 2nd place at the 2020 Isolation Film Festival (AUS)! Distributor Urban Screen Productions helped with screening 'Isolation' at outdoor cinema events. Such acceptance to my films, propelled and motivated me to create a trilogy with the following shorts, 'Lockdown' and 'Rise'. These 3 little silent films began doing the rounds at film festivals around the world and winning both accolades AND awards! Since my films are more or less silent, it can be appreciated by every culture without the language barrier. I sensed that these films could reach a much wider audience.
DB – I’m mainly familiar with your film work Rod, but it seems that you have done so much more. Can you tell us a bit about your stage work?
RL – As I mentioned previously, I've been performing for the past 23 years. I did start in a more circus style of performing in troupes and small tents. I then ventured to busking in the early part of my career. My motto has always been: Every little chance is a stepping stone to something bigger.
Back then, Australians were even less exposed to this type of visual comedy. So, nobody could understand that how I could do comedy without telling jokes! Fast forward to now where I am getting hired to run my very own mime workshops, as well as workshops in slapstick comedy at prestige places such as The National Instutute of Circus Arts (NICA). Have had my own solo shows at Comedy and Fringe Festivals, which are now been turned into films - receiving much accolades and winning a few awards along the way too. Currently about to start rehearsals for Opera Australia's production of 'La Traviata' at the Arts Centre. Hired to perform their visual characters where they sometime dance. Most notably role was in 2021 Opera Australia's 'Ernani', which I got to showcase my mime and visual comedy skills in various solo spots throughout the show.
My skills have been showcased on TV and Film as well. I feel hard work always gets rewarded, it's a natural progression.
DB – Before you started making your own films, you appeared in TV commercials and a few other things. Can you give us a bit of an overview of your work there?
RL – touched on it in the previous question. For the past few years, my skills have been showcased on TV and Film as well. TVC appearances such as Carlton Cold, Old El Paso, The Great Debate (where I appeared as comedian Paul McDermott's mime double), etc... In between the 2 lockdowns in 2020, I was able to score a role in a TVC for BCF Camping & Fishing. I even had the honour to make a small appearance as a Charlie Chaplin impersonator in Paul Hogan's film 'The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee'. It was nice working alongside Paul and Shane Jacobson during that week of the shoot. Last year, I was invited to perform on a C31 TV show 'Live From St. Kilda' to perform one of my mime skits as my original character, Banjo.
All of these aforementioned TV and Film roles is thanks to my niche as an actor who is able to perform viaually. For some reason or other, I feel so much more comfortable on the set of a TV/Film production.
DB – You’ve made a few films during lockdown that you wrote, shot, edited and acted in yourself. I think there were 3 all up?
RL – It is actually 5 short films created during the harsh Melbourne lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.
Aside from my lockdown short films trilogy: 'Iso;ation, 'Lockdown' and "Rise', I also created 2 other tribute silent films: My Charlie Chaplin tribute short film, 'His Jovial Lift', which was created for the Chaplin Days event at the Niles Silent Film Museum in Niles, California (US) . 'His Jovial Lift' was screened at the aforementioned event, and it even won a 'Best Use of Humor' Award that was very honourably received and hangs proudly on my wall besides my other prizes. The second tribute film created was for the 2021 Buster Keaton Convention in Muskegon, Michigan (US). The short film aptly titled 'Damfino' (which is a play on words on the phrase "Damn if I know" which appeared in Keaton's 1921 short film 'The Boat'. My Buster Keaton tribute film was coincidentally made 100 years later). 'Damfino' was also screened at said event. Both of these tribute films I tried my best to embody each character traits and personality. At the same time, thanking them for their inspiration in my work.
DB – Rod, you are truly amazing with all the things you have done. I know that we barely scratched the surface here. Can I ask what your future plans are?
RL – Thank you so much, David. Very kind of you to say.
Well, in a couple of weeks I'll be starting rehearsals for Opera Australia's production of 'La Traviata' which will be presented at the Arts Centre in Melbourne during their 2022 Autumn season. Since beginning my path as a filmmaker in 2020, I wanted to collaborate with others in my films or/and with other filmmakers on their projects. I have just completed a music video titled 'Safer with a Gun', directed by Robert Spence and Jessica Rae, in which I starred as a mime on the verge of insanity. 'Safer with a Gun' will officially be screened at Lido Cinemas (Hawthorn) as part of the Fantastic Film Festival (AUS) on the 23rd of April, 2022. The music video is also to be turned into a film. Now in pre-production in preparation to start filming in June/July of this year.
Another collaboration is in your upcoming comedy film production - 'Dog Park Afternoon' - currently in preproduction.
I will keep my 3 lockdown films ('Isolation', 'Lockdown' and 'Rise') doing the rounds at film festivals in which they succefully have won multiple awards. Such recognition has given me the confidence to eventually plan a longer film (hopefully a feature) with my chracter Banjo, as well as a web series of the same nature. Such productions will have a Jacques Tati feel to them. I've also teamed up with video creator Joel Gallarde on his Flash Mob Society project where we'll be filming dance sequences at various locations and post them on different social media platforms - The mime who dances, it's all intertwined.
As a side project, this year I am hoping to create another Chaplin and Keaton tribute films to be screened at both Chaplin Days (US) and Buster Keaton Convention (US) respectively. This time around, casting other actors in the films as well
Photo by 3 fates Media
DB – Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today Rod. Where can our readers follow your work?
Thank you so much for interviewing me for the Australian Short Film Network Journal magazine, David. It has been a real pleasure. Many thanks to everyone who has supported my latest path as a cinema maker - Friends and family. Special thanks to Music composer and Sound Desgner, Evan 'Moxie" Kitchener, for being a complete saint during the creation of my lockdown short films. Also thanks to Wombat & Goose, and the whole team at 'Outta the Can' TV show for screening my films and being so supportive. Thanks to Urban Screen Productions for getting my films out and about nationally and internationally. To the film festivals both in Australia and overseas.
Your readers can find me in the below links:
Website: https://www.rodlara.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/therodlara Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/therodlara/ Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/rodlara12 Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/rodlara