Uncategorized
Uncategorized

what to wear – keep it simple

When in doubt – AKA unless otherwise instructed in the audition notes – jeans and decent top. Make sure you’re comfortable, because it’ll translate into your scene if you’re not comfortable in your body. I can see that tag is itching your side or that you keep feeling like you have to pull on your shirt.

Stay away from logos, brands, funny sayings on your shirt, loud patterns – best case scenario they’re distracting, worst case scenario either myself or my creative team will make assumptions about you that have nothing to do with your acting, and everything to do with your shirt. Not good.

If you want to lean towards the character, great. If you’re a badass fighting machine, a fitted black top and black pants work perfectly. If you’re a lawyer, a button-up is better than a t-shirt. Personal favorite – if it’s 70’s, break out those flared jeans and round sunglasses. BUT. I guarantee you I hired that one girl you saw in the waiting room because she was good, not because she was wearing a lab coat and a stethoscope.  At the end of the day, the clothes should not take away from the scene. If you want to use them to help you create a vibe, great, but if you’re focusing more on what you wear than what you’re saying, that’s gonna be a problem.

Be prepared to take your glasses off.  I’m not quite sure why this is a surprise to a lot of people – we might need you to take them off.  If the glasses are obstructing my view of your eyes, in any way, then I’m going to ask you to take them off. There might be a glare off the lenses, the shape of them might be distracting, or if they are tinted – any number of reasons. It’s distracting, and I want to see your “windows to the soul.”  Listen – I’m blind as a bat. I get it. But get contacts, or practice doing the scene while not being able to see.

And be prepared to take your jacket or outer shirt off.

Dude – I’m not asking you to strip. I just want you to at least appear comfortable, and the jacket isn’t helping. Or – the jacket has a totally different vibe than the character and I want to simplify your look, make sure nothing is distracting from the scene.

That being said – if someone asks you to actually take your shirt off, or pants off, or ANYTHING that gets you partially naked, without letting you know in advance – don’t do anything you’re not totally comfortable doing. This might be just my personal bias, but no one should have that sprung on them.

Keep it comfortable, and keep it simple.

 

Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

you can always wear less makeup

The truth of the matter is, we’re living in a post-HD world. The camera can see if you don’t know how to blend.

Part of your job as an actor, is to put real people on screen. To portray them honestly and truthfully. That message is a little skewed when hidden behind a thick layer of foundation.

I’m not knocking makeup in general – personally I love it, and I think a little of it goes a long way for the camera. And have you seen anyone on social media lately? Being gorgeous is the new normal.

But – artificial.

If my job, in an audition, is to assess you, and see what we’re working with – heavy makeup makes my job harder. And it also has the unfortunate connotation that you’re insecure with your face, and that makes me jump to the conclusion that you likely have emotional walls that a director won’t be able to get through.

If a little makeup makes you feel better, makes you feel more confident – go for it.  It’ll change your energy if you feel good about yourself.  But truly – there’s no need for a full face.

One – I brought you in because I want to see you, all of you, and I want to assess your acting skills, not your makeup application skills.

Two – if you’re feeling self-conscious, just remember no one is really going to see these videos except me and my team.  And we like your face how it is.

Three – if we do need you to look ‘glamorous’ or ‘CW sexy’ or whatever other adjective is in the breakdown – we’ll help you get there. After we’ve already determined that creatively, you’re right for the role.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

don’t do an accent unless you can do an accent

I run into this a lot.

I probably can’t tell you the specific region of someone’s accent, but what I can tell, is when you’re chewing the words or when you’re talking around the words.

If the role requires an accent, make sure you’re comfortable with it. It’s a good idea to have an arsenal of accents in your toolbox, but what’s more important than the diphthongs and diction, is your comfort level with the accent. You could be hitting every vowel perfectly, but it will still sound awkward if it’s not comfortable.

And if you’re focusing on the accent, and trying to get every word right, then you’re not paying attention to the scene, and neither am I. It’s like watching someone walk a tightrope over the Grand Canyon – we’re both waiting with bated breath, watching each toe grab the wire – instead of looking at the Grand Canyon.  I’m just watching to see if you can get through the scene, instead of watching to see how you make the scene special.

It doesn’t hurt to ask casting if you can do the scene in your natural accent. We know it takes a little time to get comfortable with the words – it’s even easier to say yes to that request if you have tape or footage of you doing the requested accent that you can send to casting, proving your skills in that area.

On the off-chance the accent is integral to the character – you gotta let go of trying to get it perfect. At least for the audition. Do it to the best of your abilities, and focus more on the scene – if they like your acting, and your choices, they’ll hire you a dialect coach. And if they don’t have the time or money to do so – then you gotta let go of this one.  They need someone who already had that accent in their wheelhouse – and you’re not that person. It’s okay. There will be other roles.

More often than not – my team will let go of an accent before they’ll let go of an actor. The choices you make, the vulnerabilities you hide, the insights you share – if those align with the character, that takes priority over a tone or a twang.

Also – on a personal note – your job as an actor is to portray real people on screen. Are you not a real person? Is your natural accent not real? If you’ve got a particular accent, chances are other people will too. Represent them.

On another personal note, if you’ve been hired to play someone with an accent, you’re representing them, you’re stepping into their shoes.  I’d suggest you work on it. We all know the internet will have a critique.

 

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

why I believe in workshops

I appreciate your acting teachers, and the work they do with you. I really do. But there is a distinct disconnect between doing Ibsen and Beckett in class, and reciting “It’s the second door on the left,” in an audition room.

I don’t do workshops to meet actors. It’s not to expand my mental database. In my opinion, workshops are for educational purposes only.

I don’t like the idea of people taking advantage of actors and essentially charging a hefty price just to make an introduction.

But I also think that workshops, proper workshops, are vital to an actor’s education, something you can’t get in your classroom.  To me, it’s a group class with a guest teacher.

Your classes or alternative training will work on how to break down a character, how to break down a scene, how to make strong choices.  I, on the other hand, will tell you whether you’re succeeding in that.  Your teacher comes from the point of view that they’re building you up from within – I come from the point of view of the person watching you.  Your teacher works with you on how you make the choices you make – I will tell you whether the choices actually coming across.  Or I’ll ask you to think bigger picture about the choices you’re making.

I do workshops in order to discuss effective choices, and your idiosyncrasies specifically. How you come across, and what you can focus on, or do, to improve how well your choices come across.  I want to help you communicate your choices clearly, so that in the audition room – we’re not working on your acting skills, we’re having a creative discussion about how to fit your choices within the framework of the character my team has created.

That being said!  These are a few of my personal feelings on why I like workshops, be wary that this is not a universal opinion. Research any and every workshop before you shell out any of your hard-earned money.

 

Photo by chase.wilson.photo on Unsplash

to the actors not based in LA

Hello. Hi. I see you. I know you exist. We all know you exist.  One of the beautiful things about working in the 21st century and in an increasingly digital society, is that our industry is now a global community.  Skype, self tapes, cheap flights – we in casting are able to look around the world for virtually every role we have.

But we don’t.

I don’t say that to scare you, I don’t say that because you need to move to LA. You don’t. I just want you to be aware of additional steps you need to take.

Logistically speaking, I know more actors who live in LA that those who don’t. Pure fact of the matter is, since I’m based here, I meet people day to day, who live here, and are able to work at a moment’s notice.

For a production, it’s extremely expensive to hire someone who doesn’t live locally. Union rules, which are in place to protect you, require production to fly an actor in, put them up at a hotel, give them per diem, provide transportation – you can see how traveling an actor for even a day or two of work can cost a production hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars. And the budget may not have room to spare that kind of money. Every dollar is needed – even in a huge production, there may not be room in the budget to travel someone for a small role.

That’s also not taking work papers into account. To get someone a visa could cost several thousand dollars, and several weeks time, not to mention the work involved to process the visa. If I have a role working next week – I quite literally can’t consider someone who doesn’t have work papers.

Casting someone local is cheaper, faster, and all-around easier to do.

But don’t hire any movers just yet.

First – obviously not all productions are in LA. Film and television shoot all around the world – there may be productions near you, and you being able to work as a local or you even just being closer to the shooting location puts you at an advantage. If I have a film shooting in Romania, and you live in France – you can bet I’ll be looking at your tape more seriously than an actor living in LA. And you’re likely a part of a smaller group of people I’m looking at, which makes you stand out when in a major city like LA or NY, you would be just another face. And if you’ve got anything that sets you apart from other actors in your area – perhaps you’re Canadian, living in India, or East Indian, living in Canada – I’ll definitely be looking for you when I need someone with an American accent who can work in Bangalore or someone who speaks Hindi that can work in Toronto.

Stay informed on the projects near you, and make sure local casting directors know who you are. We trust local casting directors to know who’s working, and know the options of the area that we may not be able to find in our own searches.

Second – it’s expensive to move, and expensive to live in a major city. If money comes a little easier for you, then yes, get your ass here. But for the rest of the world, I’m going to recommend you do everything in your power to get a job without spending your hard-earned money.

Don’t focus on guest/co star roles on television shows that aren’t near you. I can tell you right now – unless it’s a series regular character, or a large recurring role, productions are not going to pay to travel someone and they’re not going to wait to get someone’s work papers in order. If casting asks you to do a tape, do it – but don’t expect to be hired. It just doesn’t make fiscal sense for a production to do so.

That being said – self tape for anything someone asks of you. You’re at a disadvantage, not being in the room – you could be a fantastic actor, but we have no idea what you’re like to work with, or how to see you differently.  You may not think the role is right for you, but tape anyway. Tape with your own choices, and your own instincts, and you’re right – the role might not be the one for you, but now I have a better idea of your capabilities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to projects and found a self tape from someone that wasn’t right for the role at the time, but I kept them in mind and now I’ve got something right up their alley.  If you send in your self tapes with the offer of re-taping with notes, that’s another thing that piques my interest – since I’m not able to work with you on the spot, in the room, it’s helpful to know you’re open to the process and even though it’s cumbersome, I’d like to get a better idea what you’re like to work with.  The more I get to know you and your work, the more likely it is that I’ll fight to have production travel you for a role, because I believe in you.

If you don’t have work papers – start working on them. At least a blanket O-1 visa is needed for most US productions, whatever you can do to start the process helps. Even just being aware of exactly what you need or what step in the process you still need to complete makes production feel more comfortable taking on that responsibility.  Consider taking a smaller project, if production will help you get a visa.

If you can afford to spend some time in LA, plan to do so. A month or so here can open up your world. It’s ideal if you can have a reason to be here – whether it’s a job, or a screening of something you worked on, if it’s a workshop you’re taking part in, a class you want to take – anything that has you acting and/or working and gives you a reason to be here. While you’re here, meet as many people as you can – they may not have a job for you right now, but meeting people, in person, makes a tangible connection and they’ll remember you when the right role comes. Not everyone who works in this industry makes it onto Deadline or Variety, but they’re still people that might get you hired. Come during Feb/March, for pilot season, come around May, when summer projects are gearing up, come in July, right before television shows get going. Honestly whenever you can get here is fine, just avoid major US holidays.

Maybe Los Angeles isn’t your scene – then get to New York, get to London. Same thought process – meet as many people as you can.

I don’t think you need to live in major city to be a working actor. Our industry is global, and I guarantee there’s something working relatively near you, whether it’s film, television, maybe theater – if you’re just looking to work, there’s no reason to move. Dynamic, respectable careers have been built by actors who have never moved away from their hometown.

I also don’t think you have to be living in a major city to be a star. But the fact of the matter is, bigger projects get put together in cities like LA, New York and London.  Just know that at some point, you’ll need to go there, whether it’s for a visit or a home. Keep working where you are, do your best to be the best and the harder you work, the more likely it is you’ll get paid to go to one of those cities instead of doing it on your own dime.

Good luck.

 

Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash

no one gets everything they want

In light of our society’s pursuit of constant happiness, I wanted to address an issue that I see plaguing a lot of actors, contributing to their frustrations and feelings of failure in this business. Frustrations and feelings that are fabricated without reason, and only fuel the self doubt and defeat that consume late night spirals into despair.

These feelings aren’t necessary or justified, and somehow I see actors left and right, allow those feelings into their minds and bring them down, when it only serves to make them miserable and unable to perform.

I know you’ve all thought this, or some version of this – “Once I have enough clout, and can perform without making any mistakes, I’ll be able to choose whatever project, whatever role I want.”

I know you’ve all felt, one time or another – “If I know the room, and nail the scene, there’s no reason I won’t land this job.”

You may have avowed – “Dammit, they gave it to the producer’s nephew-in-law. One of these days…one of these days I’ll have my own connections and that won’t happen to me anymore.”

All valid thoughts, I’m not going to say otherwise. But when they become your mantra, it changes your mindset and sets you up for failure.

Let me explain.

I think we can all agree, in today’s world, we are put in a place in which we are constantly trying to attain nirvana. We compare ours bodies and lives to perfectly curated Instagram feeds, we match our wit and intelligence against Reddit and TED talks, we even measure our personal growth and contentment against the posts and videos we see circulating Facebook and the rest of the internet. Everyone online, it seems, has the perfect life – and if they don’t have a perfect life, they’ve truly accepted themselves in an awe-inspiring act of defiance that we admire even more. They’re even more perfect, because they’re celebrating their imperfections when we…just…can’t…get it going.

Everyone’s got it better than us.  If we could just get our shit together, maybe we might achieve a fraction of their happiness.

I don’t like this mindset.  And I think in the social media sphere, it’s easy to see the effect that mindset has on the depressed individuals that sit at home, unhappily unable to pull away from their screens to acknowledge their own lives.  We can see that comparing our blooper reel, to someone’s highlight reel, causes negative head space and perhaps we’re doing something about it, maybe avoiding the apps for a bit, in the name of self-care.

But too often, while I’ll see actors brilliantly adjust their social lives to not get into that vicious cycle, they won’t do the same to avoid those mistakes in their professional lives.

It’s the mindset, that if you could just…get…there, then you could have all the opportunities you want.  But again – you’re comparing your career to a carefully curated one.

We have this idea, that once you’re famous, or at a certain level, you can get any role, any project, that you want.  And that’s just not true. I guarantee Tom Hardy wasn’t the only person on the list for Mad Max. Emma Stone wasn’t the only person on the list for La La Land.

Even at that level, when you’re talking about brilliant actors and A-list fame – they still have to work for the projects they want to be a part of. Iron Man tested for the role, and RDJ’s been around and famous since he was a kid. Did he have some other stuff to work through? Yes. Do you think now that he has the Marvel franchise, he could have gotten Tom Hanks’s role in Captain Phillips if he wanted it? Maybe – but what if Tom wanted it too? That means one of these brilliant actors, who have been famous for decades, would not get the role they wanted. Hypothetical situation, of course, I’m not aware if RDJ ever campaigned for that role – but you get the analogy.

My point being, we look at these stars – or maybe it’s not a star! Maybe it’s a consistently working actor, who hasn’t achieved A-list fame but you just admire what they do – and we go, “Wow. Every step they make, they do it right. I want my career to look like that someday.”

Untrue. We just remember the highlights. Hindsight is 20/20, right?  There are movies those actors did, that we’ve all forgotten about. Every step they take is uncertain, same as all of us. They get to fight at a higher level to take the right steps, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean they’re always right, and – it doesn’t mean they get to take every step they want to take.

I’m a fan of Lupita Nyong’o, I think she’s brilliant. I know a lot of the world agrees, and yet I don’t think she gets every role she wants.  Some of that has to do with our stunted and flawed approaches to race and ethnicity on screen, but even if I were to crassly compare her only to others with somewhat similar physical attributes, I also like Yetide Badaki and Sonequa Martin-Green and Uzo Aduba and Naomie Harris and Letitia Wright is having a moment right now – the list goes on. If the role opens up to all ethnicities, there’s more names that might want the role, if it opens up in age – what if Meryl Streep or Viola Davis wants the role?

You get my point. As an actor, you can fight to make sure that each project you do, means something to you and over time reveals a career that you’re proud of – but it doesn’t mean that you’ll get to do every role that you want to.

And more importantly – if you don’t get the roles you want, it doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do.

If that’s what you’re aiming for, to be at a level in which you can get whatever role or project you want – you’re striving for the impossible. And you’ll always come up short, and you’ll always feel like you failed.

That what I want to avoid – those feelings of failure, of not being enough. Because it’s just not true. You are enough. You have not failed.

On a tangible level, I see it when actors walk out of my audition room.  They’re striving for a career in which they can land whatever audition they want, and they think if they don’t get this job, this role, it’s because A) they didn’t perform to their own standards, B) the creative team is going to make a nepotistic choice, C) they don’t have the credits on their resume, etc. etc.

In other words, them not getting the role is their fault. For making a mistake, for not having connections, for not having already achieved what they want to have achieved.  Instead of – it’s not your fault, it’s no one’s ‘fault.’ It simply wasn’t the right fit.  If two puzzle pieces didn’t fit together, would you say one puzzle piece failed? No. You’d simply find the right puzzle piece, and keep that other piece around until you figured out where it fit.

This mindset, striving for the unattainable – it affects your confidence, your choices, and your audition. If you walk into every audition or meeting with your heart in your mouth, seeing it as a gauge of your success or failure, then your heart isn’t in the character, where it belongs. It isn’t in the craft, which is why we’re here – it’s in your head, because all that exists is the chance for that imaginary happiness you think you see reflected in the lives presented by the people you admire.

My advice is to stop aspiring to achieve bliss. It doesn’t exist the way you think it does.

Instead – remember why you want to be an actor. To act, I’m guessing? To connect with an audience, to express yourself in a way that feels natural, to expose humanity for what it is or to show what it could be. Whatever your reason for becoming an actor, remember it, when you decide you want a role. I still encourage you to do your best, and to fight for the roles you want – but don’t get in the mindset that you should be constantly perfect, unquestionably outstanding, and basically – in control of whether or not you land every role you want.  It’s the same fruitless struggle as trying to have the perfect social media feed.

If your goal is 100% happiness, 100% the time, you’ll never feel like a success. And those feelings will send you on a downward spiral that will affect your work. Even if you managed a large fraction of that – 70% is a large fraction, I’d say – you’ll only focus on the 30% that’s missing, instead of saying “Holy shit, I’m doing GREAT!”

I don’t think it’s ridiculous to strive for happiness. But keep in mind that moments add up, and 51% is a majority.

*I got to thinking about this subject because my friend sent me this video, which also made me think of this video (shortened) and this video (shortened) from my alma mater.  I’m not saying I agree with these ideas 100%, but they did make me think.

 

Photo by Arwan Sutanto on Unsplash

pacing

The speed of the dialogue in a scene is difficult to nail down. And often – you prepare certain rhythms and emotions tied to the pace of your scene, but when you get that dreaded note: “Speed it up” or “Slow it down” it throws you off, and you lose elements in the scene that you know you wanted to hit.  Often it feels like when a casting director asks you for a different pace, they just want to squash everything you just did into a shorter time frame or stretch it out and make it cheesy – but that’s not the case. In general, they’re looking for an entirely different feel for the scene.

First I’d like to explore the reasons why we give the notes to change the pace, and then I’ll give you an exercise to make you ready for whatever happens in the room.

Often, when I ask someone to speed something up – I’m looking for one of four things.

One – I’m looking for urgency. This one scene, that you’re performing in an audition – I know you want to make the most of it, but this scene ties to the next scene, and in order to fit this puzzle piece in – it needs to feel like part of a larger whole, instead of an entire production on it’s own.  A quicker speed gives the sense we’re leading to the next scene, instead of sitting back on our heels for this one.  It gives importance to your character and depth to your character’s life, implying there’s more than just this scene. “Oh my gosh, I love you” becomes “Ohmygosh I LOVE you (let’s get out of here)!”  It shifts the entire subtext towards the next scene for the character, and gives us a greater sense of where they are going.

Two – I’m looking for intelligence.  It’s very kind of you, to explain things slowly and carefully, but we as humans tend to speak rather quickly in regular conversation, and your slower pace can make it seem like your brain moves slower as well. A very easy tool to make someone come across more intelligent, is to have them speak faster.  It reads as though their thoughts come faster and process faster than the rest of us – so if I ask you to speed up the pace of the scene, there’s a good chance I want to use this tool to make your character seem more intelligent. Lightning-quick words imply a lightning-quick brain.  “Oh my gosh, I love you” becomes “Ohmygosh Iloveyou (there’s so much more going through my head right now because of everything those words mean to me to you and to our relationship)”.  Again – it gives depth to your character, because it comes across as though there’s so much more happening in your mind and your life. It also makes you seem two steps ahead of yourself and whoever else is in the scene – you’re so smart, that not only did you get the information out quickly but you can also anticipate the response you’ll get and formulate a return before they’ve even finished their line. It adds all the layers necessary to make this a three-dimensional person, instead of a two-dimensional character on a page.

Three – I want you to throw away the words. Speaking faster makes the words have less meaning, which can serve a couple very important purposes.  It can literally give the words less meaning, which clarifies your character’s subtext: “Ohmygosh Iloveyou (I’m only saying it because you needed to hear it are you HAPPY now jeez)” and we now know this character doesn’t care about the person in front of them really getting the message. Or, it shows how closed off your character is because they are unable to open up: “Ohmygosh Iloveyou (don’t make a big deal of it because then I’ll break and this is so much bigger than I’m capable of handling let’s move on so that I don’t have to experience you not saying it back)” is a more interesting character to watch, because it’s hard for all of us to be vulnerable and speak from the heart. When you throw the words away, it shows me how strong this character’s shell is, and how hard it will be to crack (the harder to crack, the more satisfying when it does).

Four – I’m looking for presence.  If this character is someone whose words fly out of their mouth as soon as they speak them, I’ll ask you to pace up the scene in order to have the words feel stream of consciousness.  A faster pace may pull you out of your comfort zone as an actor, and force you to feel a little out of control and totally present for the words you’re saying. If you combine that with the fact that the words are spilling out of your mouth at the same pace of your thoughts – it gives us, the viewer, a beautiful moment of raw honesty. “Ohmygosh Iloveyou” now has the context that the character just realized it, and couldn’t keep it in – there’s literally no subtext because you’re being utterly open and honest in that exact moment. And it’s a rare and beautiful moment to witness.

Conversely, if I’m asking you to slow down a scene, it’s usually for one of four reasons.

One – pure logistics. If you’re stumbling over your words and I can’t understand them, I’ll ask you to take it just a touch slower so that you can refine your diction.  I’m sorry – it’s one of the difficult things about being an actor – you have to speak naturally and quickly like a real person, but your elocution needs to be impeccable or the audience will have no idea what you’re saying.  A lot of actors will get nervous for an audition, and when that adrenaline hits – they don’t realize that they’re speaking so fast the words are unintelligible. I’ll ask you to breathe, and slow down – and it’s not really that I need a slower pace, it’s that I want the nerves to go away. I may tell you to slow it down just so that you feel more comfortable, because that’s what the character needs – your comfort, not your nerves.

Two – intelligence. “Wait – you just said that about speeding up?!” Yep, I did.  While speaking faster can denote faster brain activity, slowing it down can as well.  Think of the person who watches you, like a cat, and waits for the moment to drop a bomb on you – that slow pace can also denotes intelligence.  It’s a more careful intelligence – likely I would simultaneously give you the note that this person is careful, and plays their cards close to the vest.  The reason I want you to slow it down is because I want to see all the thinking you’re doing, in between every line. Not only does it imply far more subtext if the pace is slower and more thoughtful, but it also implies that your character has already thought of their next line, and is thinking of all the possible outcomes that arise from them saying it, and weighing their options.  Or maybe – your character actually isn’t intelligent.  Slow it down, then, so the viewer can see that your brain processes slower than theirs.

Three – I’m looking to make the words matter more. I may have you slow it down to make this scene, really, the pinnacle of your character.  Where I was just discussing that this scene leads to the next – it’s also possible that this scene is the climax for this character. Slowing it down, taking away any urgency, emphasizes the importance of your character’s journey, and it takes time to watch a character come to a conclusion.  If this is the moment we’ve been waiting for – stretching it out makes the moment that much sweeter.  I may also have you slow it down in order to let each line come from a deeper place. It takes time to lay yourself bare, and strength to pull those words from the deepest, darkest places in you; by slowing it down, I see the effort it takes to say the words, and how hard they are to say.  It gives every word a deeper meaning, and shows the true depth of your character.

Four – presence.  It’s the opposite of the stream of consciousness idea – I may want you to slow it down because I want to see you struggling, and searching, for the right words.  If you’re anticipating the words and they come quickly, I may not believe you’re really listening to your scene partner.  By slowing the pace, I can watch you listen and process each thing being said, and watch you come up with a response or reaction.  Again – I’m looking for that utterly open and honest moment, and by slowing it down – I get to see it happen.

One of the biggest pitfalls I watch actors make is when they haven’t thought enough about the scene.  That may not sound like it applies to pacing, but it very much does.  So often, I’ll have an actor come in, and when they read the scene at home, they felt the rhythm of a certain line, and then they can’t get out of it.  They hear it a certain way in their head, and no notes I give can change the cadence.

The problem is – I’m not getting a real emotion from you. I’m getting what you think I want.  Everyone’s cadences are different, and everyone has their own natural rhythm when they speak.  Sure – a lot of people say it similarly: “Oh my gosh, (small pause) I love you” but your rhythm, your cadence, is as unique to you as your fingerprint. And I can feel it, the viewer can feel it, if you’re not thinking about any subtext and you’re only thinking about how it’s supposed to sound because the writer put a comma in there.

If you say all the words the way “they’re supposed to sound,” and there’s no real emotion for me to watch – then why the hell are you an actor? I’m hiring you to portray real emotions on screen, not sing a song like a bored kid in mandatory school choir.

It’s very easy to fix this.  Just think about your scene.

This exercise is simple, but surprisingly difficult. In your scene – take out every comma, every period, every “(…beat)”, every breath, and blow through the entire thing. I guarantee you won’t be able to do it easily the first time through. But while you’re doing it – pay attention to the flow you find when you force yourself through the words as fast as possible. What new meaning comes from each line? How do they fit together? Where do you find yourself actually taking a breath? Where do you find you just have to stop, because it’s too important to blow through? It’ll give you a better idea what your character is trying to say.

Then, go through and this time, add a pause after every word or three.  Force yourself to take time, and if you’re just waiting to say the next word because it seems like it needs a pause in front of it – I’m gonna come through this computer screen and smack you upside the head.  I want you thinking about every bit of subtext that runs in between each word.  If you’re searching for words – I want you to think about three other perfectly good words you could use instead of the word you’re about to use. If it’s difficult to say the words, I want you to worry about every possible negative or positive outcome from what you’re about to say and I want to see you steel your strength in order to get the words out. If you’re playing a cat and mouse game, I want you to make every assessment of the person in front of you before you utter a syllable. Fill every single pause with thought.  If the character is stupid, I still want every pause filled with thought, it’s just that those thoughts move a little slower. In fact if that’s the case – you’re actually going to have to force your brain to slow down, it’s one of the reasons I think unintelligent characters are genuinely hard to play. Because I can tell when you’ve thought something through already and you’re just waiting to say your line. It’s not exciting to watch.

After doing this exercise – find the moments you really want to portray, and find the character you really want to portray.  In making those choices, let your instinctual rhythm and cadence take over, so that any true emotion can come through naturally. That way, when we ask you in the room to change the pace – you know your character, you know how they think, and changing the pace won’t make you stumble or lose any depth.  Instead, it’ll only strengthen your scene.

 

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

theater to film and back again

Having discussed this a few times over the past weeks, I’d like to dive into the question of transitioning as a theater actor to film/television.  It’s a consistent question I get, I wanted to clarify a primary thread I’ve found in those conversations, and share it with others who may be looking for the same discussion.

Starting off, I would like to stress, that transitioning to film/television – that is not the goal of every theater actor. Nor should it be. Some find a home on stage, and there’s no reason they should feel the need to leave that, nor should anyone give them pressure or make them feel bad if they have found their niche.  And going “home” to theater – that is not the goal of every film/television actor. Some don’t love it the way others do, and being told it’s a “more true art form” for actors is hurtful and inaccurate. They are two different beasts, and should be treated as such.

However, since my work is in film and television, I am speaking to those who do want to make the transition from theater to film/television.

Theater, and honest theater work, is an excellent foundation for any actor.  Studying the actual craft of acting, and learning how to approach a character and a project – it’s invaluable education for every actor. It gives you a base that is so much easier to work off of, rather than learning about everything as you go.

I’m not saying it’s absolutely necessary – I’m just saying if you have a foundation in theater, and good theater, I’ll definitely look twice at you, and I’ll be more confident to have you try something outside of your wheelhouse, because I at least know the tools you are working with are solid.

If you’re a great theater actor, I can be confident you’ll be a good film/television actor.

What I’d like to address, is being a great film and television actor. Because it goes both ways – being a great film/television actor doesn’t mean you’ll be great at theater. You’ll be good, but not great. It’s difficult to be a great theater actor, just ask anyone trying to get a lead on Broadway.

A great pianist wouldn’t expect to pick up the drums and immediately be able to play – they’d need practice, and learn this new instrument. The nuances, the muscles, the approach – it’s as though your large motor skills are developed, but now you have to develop the fine motor skills.  That pianist, though, would have a hell of a leg up on someone who’s never played a musical instrument. They already know how to read music, they know how to keep a tempo, and more importantly – they know how to practice.

Knowing how to practice is an essential skill for any artist.

I’d like to preface this by saying I’m not an expert. I listen as avidly as anyone else, anytime Mark Rylance chooses to speak. But this comes from the little things I’ve noticed in the audition room over the years, specifically from theater actors who struggle to find work in film and TV.

In my time working with actors, I’ve come to notice two distinct styles that I call presentational and intuitive.  Those are my labels, and they do not apply specifically to theater work vs. film/TV work – they are simply different styles of acting.  I do find that theater actors tend to use more presentational work, and film/TV actors tend to use more intuitive work, but both require the other to be truly great.

Presentational acting, to me, is exactly like it sounds – presenting the character, the story, and the emotion to the audience.  It’s the person who, standing on a mountaintop, shouts ‘I’m on top of the world!’ with outstretched arms, presenting themselves without pretense and without self-judgment. They are presenting themselves for the world to see.

Intuitive acting, to me, is when the actor trusts the camera to pick up every thought and emotion running behind their eyes (and trust me, the camera picks it up).  This same person, sits on the mountaintop with a small smile on their face, and looks to the horizon and the expanse of world below them, and says nothing. But we see – that they also feel on top of the world.

Both are wonderful styles. And you can find excellent examples of actors who employ either style in both theater and film/TV. However – on a base level, theater tends to be more presentational, and film/TV tends to be more intuitive.  A stage actor must ensure that the person in the back row of the theater feels the same emotion from them as the person in the front row. They need to ensure that every laugh, every sob, every realization and every quirk can be felt by everyone in the audience. It’s a difficult skill, to project everything without losing authentic emotion.

Conversely, a film/TV actor has the luxury to trust that a camera will pick up their thoughts. The camera catches everything, I tell you – if you think it, I will see it.  But the catch is – if the actor doesn’t have that trust, if they try to show emotion – the audience tends to immediately dismiss their vulnerability, because they can feel that lack of trust, and the acting comes across forced and inauthentic.

To be a great actor in either venue, I think you need a blend of these styles. But it does seem, when I see an actor who has primarily done theater in my audition room, I have to work to get them to trust the camera. And when I see film/TV actors venture to the stage – I see how much work they have to put into presenting that same emotion at a volume that everyone can feel, without losing any trust.

If you’re thinking about making the transition from theater to film, or vice versa, or maybe you aren’t planning to change your venue at all – I encourage you to explore your own methods and see if either of these styles are applicable.  This particular classification has been something I notice in the audition room frequently, when working with actors who come from a primarily theater background, and it seems to be something that I see them struggle with while simultaneously struggling with the ins and outs of business side of film/TV.  I know the transition can be extremely difficult, so any work you do to develop more of your acting skills, will only help.

 

Photo by stefano stacchini on Unsplash

new year, new rules

It’s a new year, and with the entire world in constant turmoil, every which way you turn, it’s been hard to justify writing these blog posts with little notes on acting and Hollywood.  It’s hard to think long and hard about the discussions I have in the audition room, when so much of our conversation and lives are dictated by the consistent and constant fiery shitstorm that is the news.  The world is much bigger than our little showbiz community, and focusing on it for even a moment seems selfish and trite. And it doesn’t help that even within our little community, every step we take is like walking around during an earthquake – you have no idea if the ground is going to fall out beneath you, at any moment. That producer, that you just started working with, who seems intelligent and creative and wonderful  – might be convicted of sexual harassment or assault and welp, that project’s a dud. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to work on it anymore.

My point is, it’s hard, right now. To know where to focus, and then to feel good about that focus. I keep seeing recommendations to not ingest the news, to stay away from impassioned social media and avoid blazing arguments in 2018, all in the name of self care – but if I do that, I feel as though I’m ignoring the issues, and I also don’t want to feel blank when I get the opportunity for a positive, open discussion about the world.  But if I stay up to date, I’m frustrated, all the time. Frustrated by the answers I don’t have, frustrated by the slightness of my ability to inspire change, and sometimes frustrated by the people around me, for not caring. For wanting to enjoy their lives, the audacity. And then I take a step back, and wonder if they’ve made the right choice, enjoying their lives – and then once I start adopting that mindset, I feel like I’m not utilizing my voice to stand up for every fellow human who doesn’t have my same privileges, and then I’m back to frustrated and unable to focus.  You get the idea – it’s a vicious circle.

Since a fresh new year is an opportunity to examine one’s own patterns, and look for room to change, I’m looking to stop the circular thinking, and instead try to step into the middle of it, somehow.  Like standing in the center of a merry-go-round – I’ll still be turning with the circle, but I won’t feel like I’m about to fly off at any moment.  I can’t stay up to date on everything in the world, that’s going to be impossible. But. I know what kind of positive world I want to live in.  Figuring out how to get there will be a continual journey, but for me – I feel best when I’m helping people in a tangible way.  This blog – with every comment, and every email I get reaching out to say you read my words and that they found a home within you – that touches my heart and makes me believe that the positive world I believe in, is possible.

Everywhere I turn, someone is breaking a rule. Some of those people deserve to be punished for breaking those rules, but some of the other rules – I wasn’t even aware we’d agreed were rules.  In the social media sphere, I can’t see how anyone can even begin to dip their toe in before someone is pissing someone else off. And then I see people left and right, viciously punishing one another for I don’t even know what, anymore, I’m terrified there are rules I’m not aware of yet, that I will unknowingly break and cause harm to another.

Therefore – I’m making new rules. Like I said, I know the kind of world I want to live in. I’m going to start living by those rules, and see how it works out around me.  I’ll make missteps, I’m sure, and hopefully as they happen I’ll listen to those around me, and adjust my course. But for the sake of this blog – I’m keeping my focus narrow, and despite the nature of this particular post, it’s going to stay about those little notes, on acting and Hollywood. The real world may rear its ugly head and poke its nose into my words, but only insofar as it relates to the topic. The narrowness of focus is an experiment for me – I trust you’ll help me out when you see me veering the wrong way. I want a world grounded in common sense, that practices ruthless positivity and ruthless inclusion, and hopefully my words will reflect that.

Happy new year!

 

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

getting an audition is not just a step on the way

I’ve noticed that many people tend to think of an audition as a step, or a test, on the way to getting a job. Along that thought process, the audition then becomes a pass/fail situation. If you fail, you don’t get the job. If you pass, you move on to a callback – and that’s another test, another pass/fail situation. Having that thought process makes every audition seem like just a step on a staircase, with the job at the summit of a huge hill to climb.

It doesn’t work that way. Getting in the room can be a success all on its own.

When actors get an audition, get a callback, get a test offer, do a chemistry read, etc. and don’t get the job – it breaks my heart when I can see they think they failed. That’s simply not the case.

If you go into an audition, it’s an opportunity to meet the team, and show them what you can do.  If you do your best, then you’ve succeeded.

Yes – you’ve succeeded.

Whether or not you get another opportunity with that role, if you did your best, then I (and whoever else you’ve met along the way) now know better who you are, and what you’re right for. You’re in my mental library. And in a weird way, I feel like I owe you, especially if you did a great job and you’re not right for this role. It makes me want to find a role you are right for.

That being said – if you don’t do good work, and don’t try, I remember that too. If you’re thinking of it as only a step on the way to a job, then one little step doesn’t count as much to you. And I can tell that. And now you’re in my mental library, as lazy and dismissive. I won’t be trying all that hard to find a role that’s right for you.

The audition itself is an opportunity to succeed.

It’s like if you took a week-long road trip to see the Grand Canyon with friends. Yes. The goal is to see the Grand Canyon. But if you don’t also prepare for the week on the road in a cramped car together, you’re going to fucking rip your friend’s face off, two days in. You’ll never see those beautiful rock layers. And if you don’t appreciate your week together, you’re never going to take another road trip together again. In some cases – the road trip is where you make your best, lasting memories. Which means you’ll look for another opportunity for a road trip together. Maybe Niagara Falls next time?

Appreciate the fact you got in the room. Celebrate your own achievement – the only way you can fail at an audition is if you don’t try your best. Don’t wait for a callback to decide if you succeeded – you control whether or not it’s a success.

Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash