Wednesday, October 01, 2014

TV Financing Is Getting Creative

We see an opportunity to make content that does not necessarily fit the studio model.

(from The Unique New Way for TV Shows to Get Financed, thanks to Aaron Kaiser for pointing me to the article).

Before you ask what does this have to do with me, I'm an actor remember that this is how we get paid too; actor salaries come from the financing. Plus, if you ever want to produce something yourself it is more than indirectly your business how things get financed. Different business models for the projects we do mean different types of projects become possible.

Right now, most network television (as in broadcast, which in the US means ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) is made with the need to hit certain ratings. Those ratings are what the advertisers were promised by the networks back when the ads were sold to them. If a show's ratings go below certain numbers, then the network has to refund money the advertisers paid. That can sometimes make certain plots or premises seem like a bad idea; they can't risk losing audience. If they do, then the network has to write a check they really don't want to write.

Shows for other markets, like cable or internet, typically don't have the same guarantee of ratings: networks usually promise certain minimum numbers when they presell ads in May for shows that starting airing in September. Internet and premium channels typically don't manage their ad inventories that way. Networks configure themselves and their business to make big expensive shows. Non-broadcast venues don't.

That means that non-broadcast networks usually don't have to capture the attention of quite so many viewers, and therefore can sometimes do riskier material, they can risk having a smaller audience. Or at least they can take more risks with the material because the financial obligations are not as huge. For non-ad supported TV (think pay channels like HBO and Showtime, and some internet platforms) the number of viewers in ratings may not only not be the key to keeping things financially afloat, but ratings may not even get publicly shared (like House of Cards on Netflix).

Show business has historically almost always used the gathering of people together to sell them things as its basic business model, whether it was the show itself, or the products and services sold near it. But with the fragmentation of today's audience into different groups, and the explosion of new outlets and technologies makes more diverse types of shows possible because of these new forms of financing. These new versions of the business model mean we can have new forms of entertainment. News that causes some people anxiety: we can't just do business the way we always used to. But the good news for everyone: new things can thrive.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Setting Limits on Yourself

It's a mistake to set limits on yourself; life will do that whether you like it or not. A successful life must be determined by one's attitude. In a favorite phrase of my brother Ed, "We live between our ears." Sermon over.

- James Cagney


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If a Film Falls In the Forest

But no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Maybe, but it certainly won't entertain anyone, nor get anyone paid, and certainly won't lead to more work for everyone who worked on it like it could have.

5 steps of film:

  1. development,
  2. preproduction,
  3. production,
  4. post-production,
  5. marketing/distribution.

Most of our acting lives are in the third, maybe bits of rehearsal in the second, or ADR in the fourth. But even as actors, we do press and such in the fifth, and in the first, our attachment can get the funding going. But, without marketing and distribution, it never gets seen. And that is not good. If you won't do the 5th, don't do any of it. Better to quit before starting. Otherwise, it's a waste of resources, time and heartache for something that will never see the light of day, something that won't really exist in a sense. Film without an audience is rehearsal.

We may not produce, but even if it is only when we self-tape an audition, we are making film. Improving our work is something I think we should always work to do. Not just the externals like figuring out better lighting for self-taped auditions (something I am gently working on), but also how we turn a phrase, pursue a goal, break down a scene or a speech, basically everything in how we act.

I was inspired to start writing this because a project (that I was not involved with) is not finding an audience. It had, and has, great potential. It is not fun to see so much held back by so little. It has completely ignored the final step. It had no plan for how to get seen, sold, or distributed. (note: if you think I'm referring to your project, let's just assume I'm not because you're awesome, I'm awesome, and I wouldn't do that.)

Witnessing this makes me want to cheer film people (including us actors) to get stuff done. Bring things to points of completion. Writing a script for a short/web series/feature/whatever? Get a draft into shareable condition. Working on a web series that doesn't yet have the footage it needs? Choose a day, book out with reps, and get that material shot. Have the footage but the edit and post is dragging on and on? Bring it to the finish line. Have a project that hasn't yet found an audience? Take the time, money and effort and get it out there. And if you don't know how, find out how.

Improve every day. There is a boundary between those 5 steps of film-making that is worth reaching. To do otherwise is to risk activity without accomplishment. I haven't done it as much as I'd like, but I'm getting better at it. Getting better at it is worth it. It isn't the end of your life if somehow something ends up abandoned. But as much as we can, let's avoiding sinking all sorts of time, money and energy into things that don't "go." Also good to mourn as effectively as possible if the wheels do come off, a project goes into turn around or free-fall. We'll have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and take the next bold step, whatever that is. Speaking of, I'm off to commit a scene from a film (teaser trailer) that has been rattling around in my head, to paper. Have a happy Wednesday!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Inspiration

I wanted some inspiration today, and I found these:

The best acting is instinctive. It's not intellectual, it's not mechanical, it's instinctive.

- Craig MacDonald

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

- Stella Adler

Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.

- Meryl Streep

That's what makes acting so attractive. You get to break all your own rules.

- Gerardine Clark

I'm a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I've any talent is beside the point.

- Michael Caine


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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bad Rep or No Rep

Your team, the people you are surrounded by, can make a huge difference. But remember, your reps are not the center of your career. Can be tempting to focus all your energy on getting a rep. Try to remember: you didn't move to LA to get an agent. You're here to act, to book work.

Having a rep feels like it solves a problem, when it really may not. The right rep is vital. Having the right rep can really help things, but it's better to have no rep than the wrong rep. Bad representation is worse than none.


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Monday, July 21, 2014

There Is No Competition

Your roles are yours, no one else's. Their roles are their's, and never to be yours. No one is competition for you. The closest there will ever be to any competition for you isn't even you now. It is only who you were yesterday.

Who you were yesterday is the only competition you can ever have. Do you get better? Sure, you can spend time navel gazing and imagining the role that you want to think would've been yours, if only... fill in the blank. But that changes nothing and gives you no way to make things better, to make them more as you want them to be.

It is like worry, focusing on competition feels like doing something without actually doing anything. A better question: are you better at what you do than you were yesterday? If yes, even in some small way, then great, good job, you're doing it right. If no, then look to tomorrow, and do things better then.

The past cannot be changed. Crying over spilt milk, or roles un-booked, or anything that didn't go as you wanted it to will never clean up the milk, book the role or make things go as you would want them to. Is crying sometimes needed, unavoidable and even healthy and useful? Yes. But worth finding how to cry without washing away the next chance, the next opportunity in tears. The future is an unwritten book.

Improve. That, simply improving, is how things get better. Results may not materialize when you like or at a pace you'd choose. But let that be their problem. Improve what you do. And then improve it more. Progress is progress no matter how small or big. Focus on your work, your energy, your growth and health and improve how you do what you do. That's how things will get better.

Things do get better. Sometimes immediately, sometimes very slowly, and sometimes seemingly not at all and then in a big rush. However good things arrive, let them worry about the timetable, your worry will make nothing outside of you change for the better, or speed up. Your focus and energy, put where you can make things better, will.

Compete against who you have been, not who you wish or want to be, and you can go to where you'd like. It is unavoidable. It makes the moment now, the present, where everything that ever happens occurs, deserve your focus. Even when it is unpleasant. Live in the moment you are in right now.

Competition is a compelling lie that doesn't help in the now. Stay in the moment, and improve. That's how you get there. And you will get there, wherever there is.

The best way to succeed in life is usually to not process any sort of competition. If you don't know or care that 50,000 people are competing for some job you like, you're probably going to do better. You're probably going to have a clearer focus on your presentation and on phrasing your cover letter [or the role you are playing] just so, instead of lying awake at night...

(from Down With America's Kid-Competition Complex and thanks to Chloe Bridges for putting me onto it).


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Don't Feel Ready

You can do it. So can I. No matter what it is. But I don't always feel like it. And it is no fun. I like feeling like I can do something before I actually am doing it. A feeling of mastery is nice, really nice. And can feed confidence. But it doesn't always seem to visit as often as we (or at least I) would like.

Multiple characters in David Mamet movies have said "whatever one man can do another can do," and it is true all for men and women. You can, and maybe even already are, doing it. You still may not feel like it.

Sometimes things can feel bad without being bad. It can be a feeling, without being a fact. A corollary to things feeling good independently of whether they are good.

You will NEVER feel ready.
No matter how successful or experienced you become, when you are stepping up your game, it is uncomfortable.
If it were comfortable or easy, we could all become our most amazing fabulous selves from the comfort of our couch (and our pajamas).
But if you're ready to step it up a level and embrace your highest self, you are not going to feel ready.
It's just the way it is

(from I'm not ready).

You need not be perfect, you need only to be. Be what you are. You are enough. And your work, without being "ready" can be great. Your characters aren't ready. But they find themselves where they are, fighting for what they want, and what they need nonetheless. Do, whether you feel ready or not, act anyway. Know that you are ready, whether it feels like it or not. Take the leap, you are ready.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

You Only Can Do What You Can Do

It would be nice to be able to do everything, all the time, and do it extremely well. This isn't possible. Optimal is a word with meaning because there are things it does not describe. Many things may be optimal at a given moment:

And when these (or other things) are not optimal it is easy to fall into frustration and anger. Maybe we aren't able to focus as much as we'd like due to lack of sleep. Avoiding short changing your sleep in the future is good, but there is still nothing you can do to add to the 4 hours of sleep you are now functioning on today.

So, breathe. Do the best you can, and let that be enough. Be ok with doing the best you can right now. You are enough. The best you can muster right now is enough. Acting on the urge to judge yourself harshly for not doing your "best" or not being "perfect" comes from somewhere understandable and makes a big assumption:

I don't know what is "best" in my work at every instant, and I submit neither do you, and neither does the audience. No one knows what is "best" at any given moment; we only have ideas. Nobody knows anything. There is no perfect in the actual world we all live in.

Do the best you can in the moment. That is your task. It is that simple, even if it isn't easy. And accomplishing it is one part of success.

Maybe you're injured or sick, then do the role and play the scene as best you can while injured or sick. In the first Indiana Jones movie, Harrison Ford was scheduled to shoot a fight scene in which he was to use his whip to disarm a swordsman, at least that is how it was scripted. But he had food poisoning and he was too ill to do the stunt. Ford says, I was no longer capable of staying out of my trailer for more than it took to expose a role of film, which was 10 minutes, and then I would have to flee back there for sanitary facilities. He suggested filming "shooting the sucker" instead of filming the planned fight. They shot it, and an iconic scene and great character moment were born.

Food poisoning meant he couldn't do some ideal, pre-planned idea, and by just doing what he could do (and with creative flexibility on the part of the director and crew) something possibly better was made.

So if you're stressed, take a moment, breathe, refocus, and simply do what you can do. That's enough.

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How to Launch a Video - Intro to Video Uploading

I wrote this as a guest post for We Make Movies' blog:

How to Launch a Video - Intro to Video Uploading

Just putting a video online does not guarantee it will get seen by the people who would love to see it. The internet is not a "if you build it, they will come" place, at least it isn't anymore. As of today, the largest video site has more than a 100 hours worth of video getting uploaded every minute. That's more than 4 days of new videos every minute. And that's one site. And that amount is only going up in the future. How can you help your show, short, reel, or anything standout among the ocean of videos? How do you help your video get seen? This is an overview, an intro to online video best practices.

Read the rest of this post on We Make Movies' blog.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Series Finales Disappoint and Which End with a Bang?

(from Philippe Julien's twitter). Thought this was somewhat interesting on a Thursday afternoon. Keep in mind, this includes many factors that don't directly have to do with the shows themselves, like the marketing and world events that could impact ratings.


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shakespeare's Language in Lines from The Tempest

This is an old college paper of mine about some lines from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. It was written for a specific class as part of a specific curriculum, so please forgive any not-suited-for-internet or other weaknesses as simply being academic; it wasn't made to be here. I don't know if it makes sense to put this here in the first place, but I'm trying it out.

Note: Please don't plagiarize, it would make me feel bad, get you expelled from school and or imprisoned for copyright infringement. But mainly, it would be rude.


Prospero's speech beginning with Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, through [h]ave I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up in act five scene one serves to invoke the assistance of the supernatural and lead to Prospero's magic retirement, the restoration scene and the play's resolution. The first line's assonance is almost the sound of the wind, which the words say later. The plosive "b" of brooks followed quickly by the "g" in groves suggest bass, low pitch combined with the double "o" that follows, and is counterpoint to the "el" of the start of the line. The pitch shift fits in the words as Prospero speaks of nature pervasively, in all the nooks and crannies of the world, both high and low. The poetry of the verse, sonically and with images, is a calm within the storm of the play, a play paced to happen in real-time in front of the audience.

The juxtaposition of "masters" and "mutinous" deals with master-slave relationships. Some linguists theorize that "m" sounds commonly occur in words about mothers, or origins. The theory is that to make the sound, one puts the mouth in the configuration of a baby nursing. It may be a bit far-fetched, but connects to the genesis of the play: the master of a dukedom, Prospero, was removed through political mutiny at his brother's hands, tearing him and his child from their motherland. Prospero, possibly too wrapped up in his books to prevent his overthrow by attending to affairs of state, was a "weak master." He now recounts how he is overthrowing his usurper. While communing with the spirits and forces that have brought him toward restoration, he echoes his own deposition.

The recurring sea imagery, and the actual sailing vessel that opens the play with "boatswain," interconnects these lines with "mutinous." During the one appearance of the concrete title character, the tempest itself, the king demands obedience and compliance of the "boatswain" in the presence of his "master" the king. The king is quickly told that his presence, in face of nature, is hardly relevant. The antithetical presence of mutiny and mastery in the opening of the play is the same conceptual fuel for these lines and the initial breach that sent Prosero and his daughter to exile. Prospero's use of mastery and mutiny allow him to restore everyone by the end. Prospero is Duke again, the union of Milan and Naples will be a blessed marriage and not an illegal overthrow, Ariel is free, Caliban can rule the island as his, and the rebels against the king are diffused. Control and rebellion appear throughout and in these lines connect Prospero's first goodbye to his magic arts to these ideas of control and freedom that permeate much of the play.

Unstressed syllables at the end of the lines begin to address the ocean and storm. These trochees make the verse shift, fluidly like water, as the imagery builds. Later in the speech this becomes the undoing of the instrument of the tempest, using the clipped "I'll break my staff", ending with a fricative that sounds like air being let out. Almost deflating the master of the elements Prospero, and starting his transition, his sea change, from island sorcerer to the man he was in Milan. These simple syllables serve the overall theme of transition and personal change that so turns the play and so many characters in it.

The vowels of "rifted Jove's stout oak" groan following the repeated sounds of "ay" and make a tempo change. It also sets up the staccato ignition of the fire with the roar of the flames. The next line elongates these groans and next line's parallel "have I" construction echoes this staccato followed by legato pattern. This pattern also mirrors the pace of much of the play: many actions followed by periods of exposition. The pattern not only helps keep an audience from rhythmic boredom, but it's also a rhythm of a tempest. Perhaps the rhythm of a day, hours awake followed by restful sleep. Characters often sleep and wake at Prospero's discretion, but this alternation of pace may support the magical powers Prospero is stepping away from more than the sleep patterns he gives people. The pattern is almost trance-like. The break from Italian society, and reconnection with it are the bookends of the play. Magic, trances and the art of illusion fill the space between these bookends. A "di di di di, dah dah dah dah" style rhythm like a shaman's trance or spell infuse the sound of these words with that magic feeling. Reflecting the first scene of the play, and the Tempest itself, these lines move Prospero toward laying down his magic arts.

Shakespeare adapts or borrows these lines from Goulding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and possibly the original Latin. In Ovid the lines are Medea's. She invokes spirits to exact her revenge and, from her perspective, uses her magic art to set things right. She addresses her internal spiritual life in these lines before striking out in the external, concrete world. Prospero reflects and bids farewell to the magic arts he has used to control his subjects Ariel and Caliban, and used to deceive his former enemies on the island. He addresses his internal spiritual life in these lines before setting those he has mastered free and burying the hatchet with his enemies.

Unlike the Shakespeare's source material, in The Tempest this speech begins the fifth act's journey toward non-violent restoration. These lines begin Prospero stepping away from his magic, and his anger, and moves toward peaceful resolution and setting things right for the future. This coming restoration replaces the illusions with actual truth for everyone except Prospero. He seems to have learned the reality of responsibility to his people, in Milan and the island, before this, and no longer needs his magic arts to learn it. Prospero ends the master-slave relationships between himself and both Ariel and Caliban, releasing and acknowledging as his responsibility for Caliban. Up to this point in the play he has treated Caliban as more of a slave than ward. Prospero also completes the reconciliation of the breach between Milan and Naples replacing it with a sanctified marriage.

Prospero gets himself congruent with the magical forces he has used. Without committing to set aside his art, he may not be able to do make the restoration happen; without addressing what he is setting aside, what he has done, and what was done to him, he cannot move toward the conclusion; he cannot move forward. He used magic to set right the wrongs of his and his daughter's exile. Prospero speaks to the internal, spiritual parts of his world here before he reconciles with the external, human elements of his world. He begins addressing his inside life in these lines, and broadens into dealing directly with his outside life to resolve the play, close the breakage of the usurpation and finish the play.

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back. You demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites. And you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrumps, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew, by whose aid
(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war. To the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt. The strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up

Shakespeare, William (2006-04-20). The Tempest (The Annotated Shakespeare). Yale University Press - A. Kindle Edition.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Best 2 Pages of Screenwriting

2 pages of the screenplay of 'Spies Like Us'
(from Vashi Nedomansky).


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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

SAG-AFTRA's New Code of Ethics for Personal Managers

SAG-AFTRA has finalized its Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct [PDF of the code], a voluntary agreement that is designed to promote honest and ethical relationships between the union's members and the managers they choose to represent them.
This Code of Ethics and Conduct was conceived and executed by our members, said Zino Macaluso, National Director and Senior Counsel, Professional Representatives. We are thrilled to release the final document after years of input from our members and the management community. SAG-AFTRA looks forward to establishing a closer, mutually beneficial relationship with this community to advance the needs of all concerned

(from SAG-AFTRA).

The Code includes "putting the member's interests above their own and not deriving personal gain at member's expense," and other items which sound like good things for actors.

However, The Wrap reports the Talent Managers Association (TMA) is urging its members not to sign and quotes the TMA saying in a statement that their ...organization was in dialogue with SAG-AFTRA regarding their new Personal Managers Code of Ethics and Conduct, and goes on to say, [a]fter thoughtful review and consultation with legal counsel our position is to advise members against signing the SAG-AFTRA code in its current highly restrictive and regulatory form. While the TMA says ...[c]urrently, there are counterproductive elements we believe that can be further revised for everyone's benefit, The Wrap doesn't mention what the counterproductive elements may be. My voice-mail, tweets, email and the TMA web site's contact form asking what elements they don't like, and for their comments, haven't been replied to yet by the TMA as I publish this.

I read the Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct and it doesn't seem too unexpected. I've heard rumor of many managers "procuring work" for their clients; it's rumored many managers do exactly the same thing agents do, only without regulation and for 15% instead an agent's 10%. California law says managers aren't allowed to procure an actor work, but in reality, it has been alleged that many function as unregulated talent agents. Perhaps this code may counter some of those alleged activities.

This code also seems to bring any possible disutes between an actor and a manager more within SAG-AFTRA realm. It sets up how conflicts would be resolved though arbitration through SAG-AFTRA. I have a message in with SAG-AFTRA's communications department to get their thoughts and reactions.

For most of us as actors, a manager having signed the code may be a sign of at maximum a manager trying to work closely with the union in accordance with all the rules and laws, and minimally, a manager having signed the code may suggest the manager is trying to message how serious and legitimate they are. In the end, as with all our business relationships, the specifics of the people we work with, and how we treat them and they treat us will have far more bearing than any code, organization, government or anything else ever will. For things like honesty and effectiveness, the proof will be in the pudding, so to speak. These are all just my initial thoughts. Caveat actor and break a leg.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

You Are Never Alone

Kevin McCorkle, a talented, inspiring and kind actor, teacher and friend, wrote this as his "Day 12 Gratitude" and I feel like I want to share it here:

The Synchronicity of Society. Back in the mid 1990's finding myself a single man I often ate meals out alone. I never mind eating alone, traveling alone or driving alone. It gives me the opportunity to study people and their behavior, grist for the mill as an Actor. There were times though that I would eat at my favorite dive Chinese Restaurant on the Sunset Strip and I was the only person there. I loved the food there the House Special Shrimp was my favorite the perfect crispy, salty, sweet and sour. I would think about all the elements of the meal and the hundreds of people or more that brought it to me. "How can that be?" you might ask "The Chef prepared it and the waitress brought it to you." Not so fast.... think about who caught the Shrimp. Who cleaned the Shrimp? Who packaged the Shrimp? Who delivered the Shrimp? The Chef mixed the breading for the Shrimp flour, egg, milk and sugar. The flour came from wheat planted in the mid-west it was planted by a farmer, harvested, transported to a mill, ground into flour, transported to a packaging facility, stored for a while, packaged, delivered to a wholesale facility and delivered to the restaurant where the Chef opens it to create the breading for my Shrimp. The eggs, the milk and the sugar also share a similar path. Combined with the spices and oil that are necessary to finish the dish. The rice came all the way from China, the pineapple from the Philippines, the tea from South America, the Lemon from southern California. Hundreds of people just for one meal. Who made the plate my food is on, the glass that holds my tea, my silverware and how many people are responsible for getting it to the place where it sits right now? The chair, the table, the restaurant itself all the way down to the fortune cookie that sits on top of my bill. So when you think you are alone know that there are hundreds maybe thousands of people responsible for you experiencing your solitary moment. Unseen hands and hearts and souls doing their individual thing to support you, nourish you, keep you safe, keep you healthy and share your world in the synchronicity of society.

You can follow him on twitter here.


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Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis on How to Proceed

You have to live your life with a certain blind confidence that if it's your destiny to succeed at these things, it will happen, if you just continue to follow a straight path, to do your work as conscientiously and as creatively as you can, and to just stay open to all opportunity and experience. There's a performing motto at Second say yes instead of no. It's actually an improvisational rule…It's about supporting the other person. And the corollary to that is if you concentrate on making other people look good, then we all have the potential to look good. If you're just worried about yourself -How am I doing? How am I doing?- which is kind of a refrain in Hollywood, you know, people are desperately trying to make their careers in isolation, independent of everyone around them.
And I've always found that my career happened as a result of a tremendous synergy of all the talented people I've worked with, all helping each other, all connecting, and reconnecting in different combinations. So…identify talented people around you and then instead of going into competition with them, or trying to wipe them out, make alliances, make creative friendships that allow you and your friends to grow together, because someday your friend is going to be sitting across a desk from you running a movie studio.

- Harold Ramis interview in American Storytellers
watch the whole advice section of that film


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The Fine Distinction Between Being an Actor and Being a Star

I started out as an actor, where you seek to understand yourself using the words of great writers and collaborating with other creative people. Then I slid into show business, where you seek only an audience's approval, whether you deserve it or not. I think I want to go back to being an actor now

(from Alec Baldwin: Good-bye, Public Life).

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