Sunday, April 28, 2013

Resilience in the Face of Change

The rest of the world is coming to encounter the constant change that actors have for a good while now. And managing change can some times be as simple (but not always easy) as talented people aligned toward a common good vision. Can be talented as actors, or as friends, family members, people. Preparing for the unexpected isn't totally possible, but some mindsets can help:

Intentionally stripping away dependencies on things you can no longer depend on is the single best preparation to change.
We're tempted to isolate ourselves from change, by building a conceptual or physical moat around our version of the future. Better, I think, to realize that volatility is the new normal

(from In search of resilience).

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stars and Hits Using Crowd Funding

While there are real issues with crowd funding for film and TV projects, the idea that name stars are "taking away" donations that would've gone to lesser known projects, if the star had never arrived, is not true or at least unlikely. It may be flawed zero-sum thinking. It is yelling into the wind.

It's possible established people and projects turning to crowd funding helps the less established. It makes crowd funding something a bigger group of people are aware of and more open too. It legitimizes the funding method for the mainstream.

Zero-sum thinking, a "someone must lose for me to win" view seems to be one of the key problems in entertainment (and possibly life).

Either way, run your own race, and fund as you need to, or choose to. Griping doesn't change things. If hits and stars use crowd funding, it only really makes a difference if you have influence over what funding options they use. If you don't, they fall into the category of things you don't control, and can't change by wanting them to change. So handle the impact of what is out of your control as best you can and move on. Easy to say, but hard to do. Break a leg and have a great weekend.

Update May 9, 2013: Kickstarter has chimed in with numbers supporting the famous-things-bring-new-audience-to-less-established-things idea, read more in my post.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why Web Series Are Not Television

...it's far easier to get understanding or buy in quickly (from investors, in-laws and users) when you take the shortcut of making your digital thing look and work just like the trusted and proven non-digital thing. But over and over again, we see that the winner doesn't look at all like the old thing. eBay doesn't look like Sotheby's. Amazon doesn't look like a bookstore.
The only reason to venture into the land of the new is to benefit from the leap that comes when you get it right

(from Skeuomorphs = failure). So for goodness sake stop trying to make TV-lite when making a web series. The web is not a television. Match the show to the venue, try to examine what the medium is and perhaps realize that computer programming and storytelling are becoming one another.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finish Your Work

Your work can be both complete, and have luster. Work, as in expend effort, to deliver a finished product.

A professor once told me, "You are a designer. You are concerned with the way things look." This mantra has become a constant reminder for me to look at what I’m creating and to make sure it's deliberate, intentional, without unfinished edges and, most importantly, without the disclaimer that I could have done better. It has made me aware of the need to assess what I can do for a particular project with its given resources, and to ensure that I'm not attempting to create something I will not be able to finish. I don't believe we should be creating designs that hint at a larger, more expensive and unattainable vision-rather, we should be creating with awareness and respect for our limitations, with the goal that what is presented to an audience is finished and without apology

(from The Right Chair). So too with acting. You are an actor. You are concerned with the way people do things.

Joe Bill, one of my instructors at Second City in Chicago, said: How you do what you do is who you are. As an actor, do what you do like you mean it. As a character, have them do what they do as they would uniquely do it.

Handed the sides and given 5 minutes to look them over before the audition, or having the script for months before rehearsals start: do a finished version of the role. At least for auditions and jobs, turn in a final product.

That doesn't mean you must be perfect, by all means take risks and fail well, and class is a wonderful place for trying things that may not work. Things that, to put it bluntly, may suck. But our job is to do the best we can at that moment. Our job is to act. The gig is the final performance to the audience that sees it, so give them what they paid for.

Our resources may be more a matter of time, focus, energy and other typically less material things than a stage set design (unless of course one includes coaching, classes and other things that cost money), but they are still resources.

Like a film that never gets out of post, our work doesn't exist until it hits the lens and microphone or crosses the footlights. So put the best work you can out. Finished work. Don't just point at what you do, do it. Will your well studied and prepared version be better than the improvised, ad-hoc 3 second preparation version? Maybe. Maybe not. But doesn't matter if the production is losing the light in its last day and really needs this take to work in the next 5 minutes or the story won't get told. Do your best work.

Even if it is low budget, you are coming straight from an 8 hour shift at an exhausting non-acting job, you are wearing your own clothes for wardrobe or the script has only just been handed to you, do the best you can with what you have where you are. Make it a good finished product.

And yes, do try to avoid poorly resourced situations that compromise the work. Or your morals, or your health. Like a dressing room that is below freezing and gives you pneumonia; the unions have rules like minimum dressing room temperatures for a reason. And yes, I well know it's always easier, and so much nicer, to do our work with bountiful resources available. Shrimp cocktail being brought to you by craft services at 2am outside on a night shoot in the winter just because crafty is awesome and does it even though none of the cast or crew asked them to? Yes please and thank you. Enjoy those times. Do what you can with what you have where you are right now.

It is often more comfortable to have time to hone a scene's lines with a different dialect than your own. But actors have booked roles even after learning just moments before their audition that the character speaks with a (fill in the blank) accent. It is more pleasant to know your bills are getting paid while you work because you are getting triple-scale and not $100 a day, but actors have won Academy Awards for roles that paid them $100 a day. In an ideal world, resources would never be limited in unpleasant ways. We don't live in an always ideal world. But we can do great work anyway, without resorting to pointing toward what could have been if only we'd had __________.

And if you are producing your own work, then for everyone's sake, and especially your own, don't start a project you will not finish. It is better to quit before you start and put the time/money/energy/sanity elsewhere. And in your acting, remember: you are already a complete, whole, and finished person. We get refined, honed, expanded every moment of our lives, but the hard work of having the raw material of our work, being human, is done. You are enough. So have fun, and break a leg!

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

There is No Role

There is no spoon. Or for us, there is no role. At least not yet.

We play a character during an audition, when we're called in and at that moment a callback does not exist, for anyone. Not for us. Not for the auditors. Not for any other actor. One can argue there is the potential for one, the potential for a callback, but why do that.

There is the potential for Godzilla to start stomping the city you're in during your audition too. And the potential for the project to get canceled, lose its funding, go into turn-around and never have any callbacks. Pretend I inserted here a discussion of infinite quantum possibility.

So during an audition, there is no role. In fact even on set, there isn't a role. No role yet in a being-watched-by-the-audience sense, at least not beyond whomever is watching in video village or live on set. So don't focus all of your attention on a void, a non-thing, a total lack.

Sure, we all want, and work, and plan for our work to come to full fruition, and there is nothing wrong with that. As long as one remembers that a good way to make God (or the universe) laugh is to make plans, one should plan. Do laundry, put money in savings, do your acting preparation. But between action and cut, there is no moment after now, only now.

Yes, our characters plan, fixate on the not-right-now in all sorts of ways. Chekhov's make a habit of lamenting the past that's gone (and may never have actually happened) and hoping for a different future they all too often do nothing to bring about. Sometimes Arthur Miller's react to now in the name of what-they-think-will-be-a-better tomorrow. Shakespeare's can synthesize an epoch in a sentence or scheme and cross-dress to get a satisfying denouement.

But the actor, between action and cut, has nothing to work on, nothing to fixate upon beyond the now. Sure, maybe you know that a given phrase is at a "7" because later in the story the character hits their "10" but also know and remember that right now, at that instant and as you play, the "7" is all that needs to happen, all that exists.

A short version of this might be:

This can involve creative flow.

Staying in the present moment often is something any near death experience can also do. Though I seriously don't recommend courting near death experiences as a working technique. You may have already had one that you can remember, and draw from.

Do what you do, what you need to do, what needs doing, right now, in this moment. The next moment you'll take care of when you get there. Act now, and have fun.

If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome

(from Following Your Bliss, Right Off the Cliff).

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