Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Being a Clerk
We can be an order taker, or we can create something. Delivering what we're asked for as an actor, without any unique artistry is doable, and you only have to turn on a TV or watch some movies to see it being done. There's nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with delivering as asked, as expected.
There is nothing particularly right with it either. Don't get me wrong, paying your bills and getting hired again is important. But so is taking pride and doing great work, not just good work, but great work. Our goal isn't just to do a solid job, it is to do more, more than we can plan or design. Could be tapping into or connecting to a universal force of inspiration, the muses, the divine. Whatever it is, it isn't incompatible with delivering as promised.
Like anything anyone creates, it can be good, or somehow more than average, better than normal, and therefore somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Making anything, there can be workmanship skill, craft and art, not merely competence. It doesn't mean be reckless or unguided, but means to be un-mundane.
There is only one single February 17th, 2016 in the history of the universe. What can you do to make it special, important, something worth experiencing, doing more than just surviving until the 18th. Whether it is doing a day job well, really well, or folding laundry with deft precision, or maybe grocery shopping with clarity to literally nourish yourself, or as on the job as picking up a glass in the clearest way, or saying "hello" in character in a way that speaks volumes, we can do well today. Let's do well. Let's try failing well and be proud of our work, not just because the checks clear and the phone rings again.
(thanks to Chet Grissom for bringing Ethan Hawke Remembers Robin Williams' Acting Advice to my attention.)
Friday, February 05, 2016
You Are the Insurance Policy
The default of the world is to resist our efforts.
I'm frustrated at how much trouble it is to get my movies made.
The film/s I'm in is/are stalled in post.
I can't seem to get my script read, let alone sold.
We spend our professional lives in a creative industry, meaning an industry that makes things that don't exist before we and our colleagues make them exist. This means there are a great many forces against us and or work.
This is not a complaint, it's an observation. Much of the universe tends toward chaos and loss of energy: literally the fabric of the universe cools and slowly winks out of existence (Google "entropy" for more on this). So we should not be surprised when circumstances seem to conspire toward messing up our plans:
- to do what we intend for an audition, including get there on time,
- to have the set we are working on run smoothly with all people, equipment and stuff present and fully functional, including the video and audio files not getting corrupted, effectively destroying half a days work,
- to connect with other like-minded, effective and talented people to collaborate with, including have your txt message not say it was "delivered" to them without actually arriving on their device,
- to do anything necessary to accomplish what we like to think of as our professional tasks*.
We think our role is only to be an assistant storyteller, to portray the character, and though our acting bring it to life. But that is not our only task:
* we are the insurance policy our employer took out, to get our part of the production done no matter what; even when the unexpected happens, when all plans fall apart and everything seems hopelessly chaotic and lost, we do our jobs anyway, we play our part anyway and make our characters happen anyway.
We are paid because a robot or computer cannot handle "exceptions," they cannot manage the unforeseen or accidental. They give us money because we can react to chaos in a productive way. Our job exists because a sequence of instructions cannot do it. Not only is film acting often strongest when it is accidental behavior caught on film, not only are we the squishy and is our job largely in a sense about facing uncertainty with courage, but we can expect our expectations to be wildly fallen short of. We can plan to have all our plans go awry.
For it may be that when everything has gone "wrong," when everything has gone horribly badly, that is it then that we are actually earning our keep. Our ability to persist, problem solve and prevail in the face of anything the world presents us is _exactly_ why someone decided to give us some of their treasure in the first place.
Like all other forms of insurance, our employers will hopefully look back on the projects we are part of (that fortune has smiled on) and think, "it seems calamity never came and since everything went exactly as we hoped or better, we didn't need any contingency plans after all." We are their contingency: in the event that machines can only capture our work and not do it for us, then we are the solution. We bring the emotion, humanity and life that nothing else can.
Our job is to feel bad, our task is to embrace and live in:
- uncomfortable moments (ex: we love but don't know how to admit it without risking getting hurt),
- almost intolerable events (ex: a loved one's life is being threatened or is actually ending right in front of us),
- and fantastical horrors (ex: the space monster just bit off our legs).
When reversals and frustrations come, it is just a return to the status quo: something new is not being created as we hoped it could be.
Many jobs and careers exist solely to address when things go wrong. Lots of people's work life is only about when pre-planned goals remain unrealized despite past action. They have jobs just focused on being able to put things back together when they fall apart. A cardiologist has little to do if if all hearts remained healthy on their own. So too us. We are here to insure the status quo cannot survive. Our goal is to help make change happen.
The status quo uses inertia and a myriad of things to stop us, to stop any creative endeavor, to foil all progress. Our job, the reason we are being employed, is to step into the fray, move into the chaos and dwindling energy supplies and animate a made up person. And in so doing we help tell a story.
In fact, in the process of making things, the process of creating, the only insurance against all that would defeat us is us.
Our job isn't just to do our work despite setbacks, our job is to handle the setbacks. Our characters fight for what they want and don't yet have. That lack is what drives them. Without the obstacles there may be no story. Without problems in our job, there is no need for us to have been hired to solve them. If there are no problems, it is an unexpected easy day. Sort of like how our job is to audition and the bookings are our vacations. When problems do appear, just think, "ah, yes, this is why I have a job, to push back against this."
Ridiculous problems and absurd setbacks are the whole point of our position. The reason we're here is to handle the stuff no one would design or deliberately build in, and try to get the problem solved anyway. We are the bulwark against the universal trend toward loss and disorder. We're here to insure action is taken against a world that will defeat us if it can, and sometimes will. But whether we reach our aim or not, our task is the pursuit. In short: our job is to act.