D. David Morin is a prolific actor and director, who has been in the industry for over 30 years acting in countless feature films, network television shows and commercials, starring opposite some of Hollywood's biggest names. From acting to directing, skateboarding to surfing and Los Angeles to Cape Town, he's led a colourful life having free-lanced since 1983!
Having realised his first love, Morin is now directing feature films, documentaries, commercials and facilitating the Hollywood Acting Master Class in his new home, Cape Town CBD. Spling met up with the upbeat, free-spirited and multi-talented movie man for a couple of coffees to get a glimpse into his world and glean some of the wealth of experience he's gained. After a few minutes, it was clear... D. David Morin's life needs to be adapted into film.
How did your film journey begin?
I paid my way through law school selling skateboard wheels, which meant I dealt with surf shops. Because of that I ended up judging professional surf contests in Southern California and Mexico. There was one contest where the announcer didn't show up, so I filled in and was quite glib and became the voice of professional surfing for 10 years and they were flying me around the world. So I kind of started as this MC/presenter guy. When I finished law school I went to work for Skateboarder magazine and I was editor of a section called Skateboarder Now. The magazine folded and I went back to college to study film and TV production because they had a cable show called Lifestyle and I wanted to be the presenter.
So I started presenting and a friend told me we're doing this student film and I was like "finally, my close up!". That was when the bug bit me at around 25 years old that I wanted to be an actor. I was doing really well in the programme and then I pick the thing I have the least amount of talent in and was like "that's what I want to try and be good at!" In my life, to be a believable actor was the hardest thing in the world.
I grew up in Hollywood, I was living down in Orange County and after I finished the two-year programme I moved to L.A. and studied acting for six years. My dad went to Harvard law, so the lawyer part was in my background... my mom was an actor and her mom was a production designer. I was definitely more creative than I was a lawyer guy. Right before I turned 30, I got my SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) card in L.A. and because I was such a good presenter I naturally became a good spokesman. So I made a ton of money being that commercical spokesman guy... they labelled me "The King of Commercials" and I did a network national commercial every month for 12 years.
I've done nearly 5000 castings, so I know the casting process, I know how to work the lens and be present as an actor, so I've had the best life possible. I've done movies, I've done TV series... I was on two pilots, one with Brad Garrett, and then I did another sitcom with Jennifer Aniston called Muddling Through for CBS before she did Friends. That TV series didn't really go anywhere... I was second billing, Jennifer was third billing and then it got cancelled and she got picked up on Friends, which blew up... and I'm still waiting to blow up.
I ended up moving to Africa in 2011. I got a gig acting on this Kenyan independent feature, Leo. I got flown to Nairobi and after two weeks I was like "wow, this is cool". I was over in LA... I was 55 living in downtown L.A. in a groovy loft, but the phone wasn't ringing. So when the lease was up I sold everything I had and bought a one-way ticket to Kenya. I formed a production company in Kenya called Slingshot Productions and did my first docco called The Sea Turtles of Lamu and shot over sixty projects in 3 years in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Switzerland, Cambodia... like 'have camera, will travel'. I really learned how to be a shooter, I had already directed a couple of features but I wasn't an ace cinematographer. Directing is my first passion, but I'm fascinated with screenwriting... I've taken so many seminars and am teaching Screenwriting as part of the Masters series. I've been cutting all along for the last 10-12 years with Final Cut 7 - I'm old school with the software.
If you had to pick a couple of highlights from your career...
I just did a project in Cape Town in April with the BBC called The Gamechangers, which is based on Grand Theft Auto. It's based on a true story, there was a black kid in Alabama who acted out the game in real life and got charged with murder and convicted. Bill Paxton plays this attorney, who is trying to get the Grand Theft Auto guys locked up or stop them from making this content of cop killing. I hadn't worked in 5 years and then I booked this job, suddenly working opposite Bill Paxton. That was really exciting, playing this judge. There were 30 cast and crew, but it was great, I loved it.
I did a big film with Geena Davis, Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia. It's hard to beat something on that scale... Dustin and I would have beers in his motor home after work and he was just this outstanding individual. Working with Jennifer Aniston was awesome, she's a terrific gal and we were good friends. I never really broke in, I was never that prime time name... but I can't complain, I've had a great career... I've been a freelancer since 1983!
Can you tell me a bit about your latest documentary?
I had just moved into the Cape Town City Centre and I was told they're doing Handel's Messiah on August 28th next door to my building at Groote Kerk, and I thought maybe there was a chance I could go to some of the rehearsals. The conductor only answered my emails 4 weeks later and I started attending rehearsals on 1 August and started filming the whole thing, hiring sound guys, three cameras... and then we interviewed three of the choir members as well as the conductor Leon Starker and we had this fantastic feature-length documentary. Finding Messiah is a fun piece for anyone who enjoys music or knows Handel's Messiah or choir music... I actually used very little concert footage as it's really the "making of", the rehearsal process and Leon trying to get everyone to where he wants them to get to.
Did you establish one or two focus characters?
Leon Starker's the Afrikaner, really charismatic and fun to watch, and then we focussed on three black members from the Cape Town youth choir, two guys and a girl. They're brilliant and funny, their perspective is from the choir in different voice groups. I'm really excited about it. We're trying to get into the Durban Film Festival...
When you were announcing, did you surf much and I imagine you got a to meet a few top surfers...
I was more into body surfing, I wasn't ever a great surfer. That was way back in the days of Shaun Tomson, Tom Carroll and Shane Horan. When I left the surfing and skating world I moved to Hollywood and wanted to make a go of it, studying the craft and making a career out of it. I kept a toe in the other world. I still watch the world surfing league, I was friends with Laird Hamilton, I lived in Malibu.
Stacey Peralta and I were really good friends, we lived next door to each other in Hollywood way back in the day. When he was making those videos for the Bones Brigade I was helping him shoot and cut them, being his sidekick.
Why did you move from Kenya to South Africa?
The doors were closing. I had to renew my permit and it was really pricy and the phone had stopped ringing for 18 months. I was doing post-production for the Turtles and I was down here and realised it was like heaven. Some friends in Somerset West allowed me to stay with them while I did a 10 day reccie. I moved here and it's incredible, I can't believe how much I love my life. The Western Cape has all the best bits of California, I was just driving up the M3 and it reminds me of Hawaii... those mountains and all the greenery.
Tell me about the Hollywood Masters workshop...
Right now I teach what I call the Hollywood Acting Master Class for TV & Film, 8 Saturdays... an intensive workshop like a Hollywood Boot Camp. “What to do & How to do it” to book a job and work on set, so I shoot everything. People still can't grasp that they have to memorise their lines. I say "look guys, know your lines and be on time..." that's the standard minimum. The next one starts in April and then we're doing The Hollywood Master Series over four Saturdays in May. Screenwriting, Directing, Producing and then Cinematography... each a three hour seminar.
I think the slant that I can offer is that I have a lot of practical knowledge. The screenwriting class... the script has to look a certain way otherwise no one's going to touch it. Directing, creative problems require creative solutions... it's about making your pages. I really have fun teaching everything. I've written over a 1000 pages as a screenwriter. I've directed four films now and tons of other projects. My IMDB pages for all the years in front of the camera. I kind of an old goat, I've been around for a while. It's text-book teaching but peppered with lots of practical know-how. It's for anyone who loves movies. Even some of my acting students want to take the Master Series to hear stories and see how things work. I didn't realise how much I enjoy teaching and pass on my legacy. I'd love to be a part of raising the bar of excellence in cinematic art. My brother said "You either need to make art or teach art... that's when you're at your happiest" and I think he nailed it. We create show reels for people at the end of the HAMC. I've got beautiful lenses and I know how to shoot and light, we have sound effects... it really looks great!
It's for anyone that loves movies. Even some of my acting students want to take the Masters series to hear stories and see how things work. I didn't realise how much I enjoy teaching and pass on my legacy. I'd love to be a part of raising the bar of excellence in cinematic art. My brother said "You either need to make art or teach art... that's when you're at your happiest" and I think he nailed it. We create show reels for people at the end. I've got beautiful lens's and I know how to shoot and light, we have sound effects... it really looks great!
Are faith-based films a focus area for you?
I was involved with that community of believers in Hollywood. For me, faith-based films is an excuse to make schlock... low grade films. I've been in Christian films, I've directed and rewritten them... I know the genre and the market. I get excited when something like ‘Risen’ comes out... it's high production value, a big studio release... it's not preaching to the choir. It's a nice crossover film. In L.A. we have this debate… is he a Christian filmmaker or a filmmaker who’s also a Christian? I prefer the latter. Call me a filmmaker first and if I can make Christian content, I pray I can do it at a good enough level that people can go ‘that guy's a really good filmmaker’. Not, ‘that was pretty
And the motorbike thing... how did that start?
It's just a hobby. As a kid, I grew up riding dirt bikes. When I had a house in the Hollywood Hills, my neighbour was this British director guy and one year he said it was "hogs and dogs". He bought two Harleys and some dogs and I tagged along. We had this motorcycle gang in the Hollywood and Beverley Hills and every Tuesday we'd go out and ride to a burger joint out in the valley. Then we'd come back and cruise Sunset strip, it was a bunch of posers but it was a lot of fun.
What advice would you give actors moving over to L.A.?
You can go for it and I'd say good luck. I don't know where this figure came from, but I believe it. There are 10,000 people every month that are climbing into Hollywood ready to be the next movie star. If you're a South African going to Hollywood and you don't have a rock solid American accent... how many parts are you going to land? If you think you can go there on your merit, then don't leave Cape Town now. This is the busiest it's ever been. Work on your show reel here, do as many projects as you can... and if you have an agent and your immigration is sorted, don't expect to get off the plane and be a working actor. There are thousands of others, including Americans, who are trying for the same thing.
Sure you've got Charlize Theron, but practically how good is your show reel? How many credits do you really have? Have you been on Black Sails 12 times? Are you working opposite great names? There's an actor's website called Speedreels.com and you can find any actor you want and there will be 20-200 with their 60 second show reels. I don't even need 60 seconds to tell if this person can act, I can tell in 5 seconds. As a "Young Turk", it's not easy... you can't just have a sassy head shot and a great attitude... you need a reel that makes someone who watches 5 seconds, want to watch 5 seconds more.
Sometimes it's better if you can stay put and be head-hunted?
If you can stay in South Africa and make your goal to book every international job that comes in. You need the screen time... the other thing that can be tricky is how do you get your footage. Do you use bit torrent? I used to buy the movies I was in on DVD and then I'd rip the DVD and use that footage to cut my show reel together. You book a job and then you've got to be intentional about tracking down the footage.
It's all about your reel and maybe I'm too old school, but I still leave a headshot whenever I have a theatrical job. Even if they say they don't need it, I tell them to keep it because I want it lying around. It has all of my CV credits on the back, which are a lot and then the headshot is the best shot of me I can find. It's going to end up in the rubbish bin, but if it helps you book that job than it's worth it and maybe it gives the impression that you've been around long enough that you've worked since headshots were used.
You've lived your life with the glass half-full... is that how you'd describe your outlook?
My blood type is B positive and I think I am. I just feel lucky. Your attitude is everything. Your attitude does determine your altitude. When I'm down, I just have to say to myself "look how great you have it". Unless you're a name like Jeff Bridges or George Clooney you're not going to work in LA over 45 or 50. That was my experience. Over here, I've got four or five castings a week right now. So it's like a completely different world. I was sitting in my loft in downtown L.A. in the Old Bank District and I'm looking at this building across the street. I'm as cool as you can be.
It was game over, am I just going to look at that building for the rest of my life. You've got to blaze your own trail. I think life is what you make it and you've got to roll with the punches. I wrote a book called "God is not a Smart Planner". I had a decade of loss... I was engaged, I had a TV show with Jennifer Aniston, I had a beach house in Malibu that got trashed by El Niño, my mom died, my dad died, my sister died... the biggest struggle in life is not to grow bitter. Once you get that bitter seed in you it can grow and grow. You have to be intentional. I can moan or wallow in self-pity, or I can say what else can I do?
Do you think you'll write an autobiography?
I don't know. I have a blog that I try to update monthly... I don't know if I have enough. Never say never. I enjoy writing... when I left Kenya. I came up with a title A Thousand Days... I was there for about a thousand days. I have a problem with it, the corruption... as beautiful as it is, as a culture Kenya is corrupt and duplicitous. They keep expanding the members of parliament, taxing all these poor people.
Kenya is a mixed bag for sure, like most of Africa. But I’ve had the most incredible adventure! Beats being stuck in my groovy loft in DTLA! I was SO over!
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