Friday, June 28, 2013
Have a Wonderful Life and the Career Comes
I used to become depressed, and instead of sitting around and thinking about how down I was, or poor, or unloved, or unwanted, I began to study. I would study so many things: art and music and languages and history and religion and philosophy. Lose yourself in discovering things, and then help others come out of the muck by sharing what you've learned.
Eat and drink well. Move among people. Be so busy in enriching your life that when the call comes that you have work, you'll be momentarily annoyed that you have to stop what you're doing, and then go to work this richer person who can continue to give.
Try to have a wonderful and rich life, and the career comes. Try to always push yourself and sell yourself for the career, and the life never happens.
(emphasis added, from Irene Worth: Have A Life That Matters).
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Downtime Between Gigs
There will be times when there is no work, and the tendency is to believe that life, that progress, has halted. This is both untrue and fatal: We are always able-required, really-to develop and to share. This is one of the ministries to which we are committed: To be the fullest people we can possibly be. We must develop our minds and our hearts and our souls. We should always be pouring into ourselves philosophy and art and religion and culture and language, and we should always be pouring out to others what we've learned. This, too, is work. It is necessary. And when we are called on to be whatever it is that we do, we will be better at the craft, we'll be better friends, we'll be better people.
- Irene Worth
Downtime is temporary, work is coming, get ready, hone, live life.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Out of Town Pilots More Common
The Los Angeles area is losing its grip on TV pilot production, with New York, Vancouver and Atlanta all siphoning projects away this year, according to a report by FilmLA.
Just 52 percent of the shows produced this year in hopes of landing slots on network cable schedules were shot in L.A., the report said. That's down from 61 percent last year, barely better than the all-time low of 51 percent hit in 2011, and a far cry from the peak 82 percent level of 2007
(from L.A. TV Pilot Production Nearing All-Time Low). Don't go packing your bags yet. A non-small part of this is due to tax incentives that in many cases expire and will make other locales less appealing soon. Also, over half is still a good number. Don't panic, but also be ready to fly to your next pilot set.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Risk Being Bad
Just about anything worth doing is worth doing better, which means, of course, that (at least at first) there will be failure. That's not a problem (in the long run), it's merely a step along the way.
If you're not willing to get your 'worst one ever' out of the way, how will you possibly do better than that?
Friday, June 21, 2013
James Cagney on Rule 1 of Acting
Arthur Johnson, the stepfather of my good friend Albert Hackett, was D. W. Griffith's leading man in the old Biography days, and a first-rate actor he was... He gave his stepson some acting advice, which in turn was passed along to me, advice that I treasure. Johnson's advice on how to play the scene was affirmative:You walk in, and plant yourself squarely on both feet, and then say what you have to say.I remembered that.
When we were making One, Two, Three, I told Pamela Tiffin that because we had an awful lot of things to say to each other in our first scene, it would help if we got our heads together and talked it over. She agreed, and as we worked on the scene I noticed she couldn't look me in the eye. Self-conscious, ill at ease. I wanted to help a bit.
Want to listen to a minute of old-man talk?What is it?Rule 1.What's that?You walk in, plant yourself, look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth.She asked me to repeat it, and I did. I told her the source of that advice, and I explained my little addition to Johnson's sound instruction:I also tell you, 'look the other fella in the eye and tell the truth' because you weren't looking at me.So may I say, bless her, she did just that, never wavering for a moment.
In a later scene, however, her eyes did begin to wander again. But this is quite common among inexperienced players. They glance from your left eye to your right eye almost in Ping-Pong fashion.
One more thing,I told her.Look in the downstage eye.Which one is that?The one nearest the camera.Which is what she did thereafter.
(from Cagney by Cagney).
Thursday, June 20, 2013
James Cagney on Courage
The best kind of authentic talent has a fundamental quality I can only identify as courage. Be it boxing, baseball, or acting, the ones who come up through the ranks - the Dempseys, MacFarlands, Ruths, Barrymores - all need courage in great degree, because without it, they couldn't endure those rough, tough conditions. When these champions began their life work there were no guarantees of any kind. Not like today where, to use that stupid and ridiculous word, a superstar is created overnight. When the champions I admired began their working life there was no unemployment insurance, or other aids. If they had no job, they were on the borrow, trying to patch their way from one engagement to another.
(from Cagney by Cagney). We are lucky indeed.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
James Cagney on Imagination Beyond the Script
One time, having heard that I was a bit difficult (something I admit to being when I strive to get a thing right), a director I know decided to put me in my place. After I finished the scene, I noticed he was looking at the ground. He had paid no attention to what we were doing in the shot. I said,Let's go again,and we did. Same as before. He sat there, eyes on the ground.Uh huh,I said to myself,I see. All right.The next time I played the scene just as written and without adding an iota of imagination to help it along. We went through that day, and the next day, in the same fashion. I did nothing more than say the words and do action only as required in the dialog. On the third day, Darryl Zanuck appeared. He asked me what the matter was, and I said,Nothing.
Come on, now. There is something the matter.No, no. I'm just doing it as required. I'm playing the script just as written.Now, that isn't what we want,Zanuck said, in unconscious revelation.Get with it, boys.
He left the set, and the next day the director came in nice as pie, and there was no further trouble. This director and I became good friends and we worked together several times after that without the slightest difficulty.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Make a Plan
The glib have said "failing to plan is planning to fail" which while soothingly concise, is usually something people say once stuff has gone wrong. Without a time machine we can't go back and make a plan we didn't make before. So the question is: what sort of plans do we want to make today, to move things where we want tomorrow?
Your plan, as an actor, can be as thorough as a full blown business plan, with expenses, liabilities and market forces incorporated, or can be what you'll do today, this week, or this year. Or it can be both. Your plan can be what you are working toward long term, strategically, for your career, and what you are doing short term, tactically, for your career. But don't make the mistake of planning for luck.
Planning for luck is things like planning to:
- Book 4 co-stars and 2 guest stars in the next 3 months
- Get called in by Awesome-Casting-Director-Number-1 this calendar year
- Win This-Super-Prestigious-Award in the next 6 months
Those aren't plans, they're goals, but more than that, they are dependent on things outside yourself doing very specific things; they are out of your control. They are things you can work towards, you can pursue them, but they are not yours to grant yourself. They require the 15-20 people who typically must approve of you being hired to do that on a timeline you have artificially manufactured based on nothing. They require that a specific person decide to take the specific action of calling you in. They require a jury or voting group to choose you. In short, they are all things requiring that people who are not you do specific things in an arbitrary period of time.
You can influence whether your goals are more or less likely, you can execute a plan. In fact, following a plan usually gets you closer to your goals. For the examples above here are some off-the-cuff ideas:
- Shoot something (even on your phone) that shows you doing great work similar to the shows you could book co and guest stars on.
- Send x number of pictures and resumes to the casting director over the next 6 months and coordinate with your agents/manager on how to get into that office.
- Hire an experienced awards publicist and run an effective award campaign for that award.
These are just ideas, and many others would also make sense. But the key difference is they are things you can do, a sequence of steps you can take without needing the outside world's immediate and specific cooperation. The only person's permission you need in order to follow a plan is yours. A plan may or may not give you the result you want, but it can make that result more likely, and it also can move you forward anyway. No one can say before hand what great things your plan may lead to that you haven't even imagined yet.
Much of this industry can be arbitrary. That doesn't mean that exerting your ironfisted control on everything will make that change. It can just make you tired. The waves in the ocean may arbitrarily move a ship, and you can still aim a ship for your destination. But don't think your aim will change the waves, or stop the storm that may come from time to time. Work with the water, aim around the storms, and you're more likely to get where you want to go. Work with the waves, seeking options that move you toward your goal, and respond to the realities (like storms) and caveats (like rocks) to avoid what you don't want and pursue what you do. So to with acting.
- Plan what you can do that seems like it can move you where you want to go.
- Be flexible and open minded enough to recognize and pursue unexpected opportunities as they appear, and change your plan as makes sense; mid-course corrections are your friend.
- Realize you will make some mistakes, try to set them right when you do and forgive yourself; learn from them.
- Work to be invested in what you do and unattached to the outcomes; you are the only person you can predictably exert control over.
In all cases, have fun, enjoy the process. This is your life, so find how to be happy now. Don't wait for all sorts of things outside of you to be just so before you let yourself be happy. All those other things may or may not end up as you want them, and certainly won't on exactly your schedule. So figure out what you can do, and do it while you live your life. A career is not a life, and luck is preparation meeting opportunity. So prepare. And live life. It's nice when the world gives us what we want, but not always something we can rely on. At the risk of bending grammar, we can count on ourselves to be there with us no matter what. Be kind to yourself. Breathe. Do what you can do, no more, no less.
A plan involves steps that are largely under your influence and control. A plan involves the hard and dreary and difficult work of a thousand brave steps, of doing things that might not work, of connecting and caring and bringing generosity when we don't think we have any more to bring.
When your plan works, take a bow. You earned it
(from Sure, but that's not a plan).
Monday, June 17, 2013
Glimpse Behind the Curtain
No one wants to know how the sausage is made.
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
- Albert Einstein
Imitating, borrowing, or being inspired by a bit of business from other people and other actors is ok. It will be different when you do it because the other person isn't you. But even in behind the scenes interviews, it is not always necessary to reveal your inner process, the way you got there, wherever "there" is.
The audience doesn't need to know it was substitution in rehearsal about when your childhood pet past away that made the poignant moment. You need to know, but not all mysteries gain by being revealed to the spectator. At the same time, no need to be excessively guarded. Balance, between giving a glimpse of how the magic is made, and the sleight of hand to not give away the trick/s seems a good idea.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Do the Work Even When It Is Difficult
This applies to acting too. It isn't to say you just push, or expend great effort to do good work. Pushing too hard isn't a solution, but giving up, stepping away simply because of emotional or imaginative challenges, doesn't help anyone. Be brave, even when it is scary.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Tracy Letts Tony Acceptance Speech
And I share this actually with not only everybody in this room, but all the actors in Chicago and in storefronts and everybody who does this crazy, insane, frustrating job, the greatest job on earth. We are the ones who say it to their faces and we have a unique responsibility.
- Tracy Letts in his Tony acceptance speech for leading actor in a play