Are You In An Abusive Relationship With the Camera?

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark—it’s an unhealthy obsession with watching yourself on camera in acting classes. It’s almost a fetish. We live in a camera and selfie-obsessed society.

The way “on camera” classes are typically executed is an exercise in narcissism, and can do more to shut an actor down than elevate a performance. It’s a convenient way to pull focus and take time away from doing the best acting you can do. It is also often the trait of a lazy teacher.

There are countless Oscar and Emmy winning actors who purposefully never watch their performances, auditions, or dailies: Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Julianne Moore, Angelina Jolie, Javier Bardem, Meryl Streep, and far too many more to count.

“The fact that I like to make characters doesn’t mean that I like to watch my characters being made, my performance. I can’t even watch that fucking nose, that fucking voice, those ridiculous eyes. I can’t handle that. But when I’m doing it, I don’t see my nose or hear my voice; it’s like there’s something stronger, bigger than that. And I need to express it.” —Javier Bardem

“I won’t watch [my movies] because if I did I would spiral into a state of self-hate.” —Reese Witherspoon

Great actors don’t need to watch themselves to know they’ve done great work. They can feel it.

It’s unhealthy to watch yourself every class. Some actors should never watch themselves, as it may make them overly conscious and sabotage their best work. I’ve personally seen it inhibit more actors than help.

Copiously watching yourself can lead to second guessing your choices, and can lead to a lack of confidence—something that is unquestionably fundamental to launching a successful acting career. This compulsive need to be constantly ‘checking in’ is an actor’s unhealthy obsession with the constant need for approval and feedback. Existing in this perpetual cycle of “How am I doing?” does more to breed insecurity than confidence. It's also unhealthy. Think of what a huge turn off this would be in a relationship—a partner who’s constantly checking in for feedback. Enter into any professional situation (on set or audition) as a collaborator—be the solution to their problem. Make a choice and move on.

Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, most on camera classes have nothing to do with the reality of handling the actual experience of walking into an audition room and making the brave choices to book a role. There should never be a one-size-fits-all approach to audition technique.

As there are over 20 different ways of auditioning, each one requires a separate skillset and approach.

Those “look at me on camera” every week classes typically make zero differentiation between the many styles/ways of auditioning: pre-read, cold read, callback, producers session, chemistry read, taped audition, Skype, etc.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the material you work on in class should be directly related, in style and approach, to what and how you're going to work on in the real world.

What an “audition technique” class that delivers results looks like:

  1. You coach on new currently casting major film/TV sides every week.

  2. You experience an undeniable acting breakthrough and transformation every class. Or you don’t leave.

  3. You discover that singular winning choice to go into the audition room and book the role.

  4. The focus is on doing the best damn acting you can do, not the result of watching yourself on-camera during playback.  

If you can get over how you look, watching yourself can be a valuable tool for improvement. But only when you need it. For example, when an actor thinks they’re being too big when working on certain sitcom styles that demand bigger performances. They’re often surprised when they see the performance wasn’t nearly big as they thought. The opposite also applies. When you watch yourself, watch yourself with a producer/director hat on.

The best on camera classes are focused on “on-camera technique,” but don’t actually record the actors every week. Reps and other industry people often tell actors to enroll in an "on camera" audition class without realizing this crucial differentiation.

The reality is, classes that put you on tape every week can stunt your acting growth as the primary focus is on how you look, rather than what great acting should feel like.

If you’re looking for an experience that's going to actually help you launch your career and boost your booking rate, then you might need to rethink what “on camera” means to you.
 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

Why Your Scene Partner May Be Hurting Your Chance Of Success

It wasn’t until I had the great fortune of studying with the legendary Jeff Corey, that I was introduced to the concept of a one-on-one coaching session in a small class setting, in which every single student experienced an undeniable acting breakthrough and transformation every single class.

Jeff had a legendary acting career of over 235 major film and TV credits (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Bonnie and Clyde,” “True Grit,” “Star Trek,” just to name a few.

Jeff taught a small class (under 10) every Tuesday in a small studio above his garage, at his home in Malibu. His students over the year have included: James Dean, Jack Nicholson, Leonard Nimoy, Rob Reiner, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Robin Williams, Steven Spielberg, Sean Penn, Dick Van Dyke, John F. Kennedy, Kirk Douglas, Peter Fonda, and far too many more to mention.

Rather than being forced to partner up with a scene partner, actors were given the option to present work—either on their own, or with a reader—and coach one-on-one with Jeff every class.

In fact, it was Jeff Corey that showed me it was possible for every actor to actually have an undeniable acting breakthrough every class. This is now a guiding principle in my work with actors.

When actors are forced to work with a scene partner, it has a tendency to dilute the quality and impact of an individual’s work.

The reason most studios employ the scene partner scheme, is so that they can pack classes full to the brim—hence doubling their revenue. It’s a tired business model that doesn’t support and respect the potential for an actor’s personal growth.

Many acting studios create a dynamic where students don’t work every week—you’ll either get up and present work once a month or every few weeks at best (further driving studio revenue). And when students do work, they’re required (forced) to work with a scene partner. This sets up a potentially losing dynamic for the actor because you’re gambling on the chance that your scene partner will uphold his/her end of the bargain—that they’ll give a shit about actually doing the work.

I’m sure many of you have experienced what it feels like when your scene partner doesn’t uphold their end of the bargain, or they flake and don’t show up, and you are then shit out of luck. The teacher inevitably spends her time working with the weaker link, and you lose your working session. It’s a waste of your hard earned money and precious time.

When you get to work one-on-one with your coach every single class until you have an unmistakable breakthrough, your growth is exponential. This ensures that you get hard results in the real world: booked roles and launched careers.

Ultimately, your acting class should be a reflection of the Oscar & Emmy caliber career you want.


This article was originally posted on Backstage

The 1 Trait All Mega-Successful Actors Possess

When I look at all my clients who have achieved mega success—who work regularly, have the respect and admiration of their peers, compete for parts in top projects, and who win awards—there’s one thing that sets them apart from others, aside from their talent and work ethic.

It’s their natural sense of affability. They exude a friendly confidence and warmth that makes other people want to be around them.

This is an industry of strong personalities that can translate to psychotic producers, abusive directors and diva actors.

When people come onboard a project that are easy to work with, a delight to be around and who roll-with-the-punches of production, they help take the edge off a truly high pressure world. And that ability is priceless.

We’ve all been on dates with people who are completely self-absorbed. They are completely content to sit across from us at a table and prattle on about themselves, never once making an inquiry about the interests of their dinner date.

These people seem to think that the date is simply a time to showcase themselves under a spotlight, not considering that it’s a bridge between two people. Don’t be that person at auditions, in class or on set.

Cultivating an ability to look past yourself and your own circumstances will help you connect better with others, and help develop your own self-awareness, something that will contribute to your acting arsenal as well.  

Look past your own nose.
Don’t forget you work with other human beings who have their own struggles, tragedies, betrayals, shortcomings and pain.

If you’re in a room with other people for an audition, call back, on-set, etc., ask them how they are, and mean it—people deeply appreciate authenticity and genuine concern in this business, largely because it can seem like a scarce quality at times.

Don’t act like you can’t deviate from your focus or your preparation for a minute to inquire about someone else’s health. That’s a green mentality.

In fact, getting your head away from the fact that you’re about to perform can freshen your work and forge camaraderie among your peers.

Understand that it’s not about you.
Even when you’re booked for a role on a project and are currently on set—it’s still not about you, but what you contribute to the onset environment and the collective artistry.  

You’re a collaborator. You’re not there to give some rote performance that you practiced on the phone with your mom, or recreate the version you rehearsed yesterday.

You’re here to work with others and take adjustments from the director, producer, writer, and/or cinematographer, and react and respond to the living actors around you, adapting to their strengths and weaknesses in the reality of the script.

You are a bright, shiny cog of the onscreen machine—an important cog. But you are not the entire steering axis.

Be consistent.
You’re going to have bad days, days where you hate acting, hate the business and wish you had gone to law school.

During some of your bad days, you’re going to be mingling with other people also having bad days. During times like these, when it’s difficult, you still need to reach down deep, to the depths of your own kindness, and treat people with warmth and respect.

All the most successful actors I know do this regularly, even when it’s not easy, and I have no doubt that it has helped to solidify the open road of their career paths. Your responsibility to your career and your continued success is not just about the talent and insight you bring to the role.

You’re an active member of the industry, and you must contribute to a positive environment wherever the industry takes you.

If you pro-actively infuse positive behavior and a basic sense of awareness on-set, in every acting class, audition, and waiting-room, you will attract enormous benefits into your career.

 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

What Are The Top 3 Things Actors Should Be Doing For 2017?

Launching your career and booking more work this year is well within your grasp if you can adopt these rules:

Your Olympic Best
Invest in an acting class that doesn't force you to work with a scene partner and allows you to work on currently casting major film and TV auditions every week.

Stop Looking For Reps
Don't waste your valuable time and energy sending out mass mailings and scouting out representation. The reps that will truly help you launch your career will find you.

Pitch Yourself
There's a right way and a wrong way to directly pitch yourself for every role you're right for. This starts with building and maintaining game-changing relationships with the people who actually cast you—the writers, directors, and producers of the projects you love.

Check out my recent article, here, to see how I helped nine clients land series leads in major TV this year.

This article was originally posted on Backstage

How To Land a Series Lead This Pilot Season

Pilot season is coming—it’s really almost a year-long event—and when you’re ready for it, it has the potential to be one of the most fruitful times to be an actor in Los Angeles.

New projects like pilots generally cast a wider talent net and the casting process is often less elitist and more accessible to a greater number of actors. 

Instead of being empowered by this fact, I hear a lot of complaints from actors about how hard it is to get auditions, even during a busy pilot season, and how few pilots they go out for. 

Many actors have false hopes and expectations that their reps are going to get them in for every role they’re right for. As my readers well know, reps who rely on submissions only, and who do not pitch their clients via phone, will not generate more than 0-6 major film/TV auditions per year. And, if the slot machine odds of scoring that submission based audition weren’t cutthroat enough, those that get the opportunity to compete, enter into a significantly more competitive secondary lottery that their audition will even reach the eyes of producers, directors, etc.

Only 1% of reps are picking up a telephone and, armed with their clients’ best selling points, are actively pitching them for every role they’re right for. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t book a series lead this pilot season. The key is to strap personal responsibility back on your own shoulders.

At our studio, we've helped nine clients book starring roles in major TV series this past year, all without the help of representation. The answer to having a winning pilot season is not about running around frantically trying to get better reps, sending out postcards, trying to find your “niche” or your “type,” it’s about using your ingenuity to develop a more effective strategy to get your foot in the door—a high-end strategy that’s reflective of the Oscar and Emmy-worthy career you aspire to. 

This starts by fearlessly rejecting the herd mentality. Most actors tell the same story: they waste their time looking for reps, get signed, stay on their roster for a year, only see 0-6 major film/TV auditions, and wring their hands in annoyance. 

I’ve Already Made It as Me
Show business is an industry where success depends on unshakeable confidence. I advise my clients to adopt the attitude that they’ve already made it—that they already have a reputable career, the respect of their peers, and a full body of quality work behind them that they can feel proud of. 

This level of success is partially achieved by saying no to as many projects as you say yes to.

Don’t walk around with your tail tucked between your legs, by acting like one who feels lucky to be seen, lucky to get an audition, and so fortunate to be cast. You are being generous by sharing your time and your talents with production, while also being a solution to their problem. Realize that everyone’s in the same boat! This is the attitude you need to move your career forward, on your terms.   

Furthermore, don’t try to adjust your persona into the preconceived ‘niches’ or ‘types’ that already exist in entertainment—they only serve to box you in and limit the things that really make you sellable and singular.

Many successful actors figured this out from the beginning: this is perhaps why Cate Blanchett embraced her crooked nose and nurtured her elegant yet dangerous image. Or perhaps why Paul Giamatti never lost weight or got a hair transplant, or tried to tone down any of his charming neuroses. You being you—that’s interesting. If you try to be what they want, you lose.

Pitch Yourself
Identify the film and TV projects that you want to be a part of this year. 

Draft a short list of the directors, writers, and producers whose projects truly thrill you. 

There’s a right way and a wrong way to build and maintain game-changing relationships with these influencers.

And, from the strength of these relationships, not only will you supercharge your audition rate, you can be more certain that those performances will actually be seen by a member of production team. 

I help my career clients make getting in the room the easy part—by directly pitching themselves for every project for which they’re right, they compete for the role not the audition.

It’s a small industry. Actors competing for many top tier roles will see a significant number of the industry’s top casting directors in any given year. If you’re not at your Olympic-best with regards to your acting, you risk closing far more doors than you open.

Once that door is open, you now have the awesome opportunity to do the real work of making those brave, fun, and dangerous choices to confidently go into the room and book the role—the choices that most actors are too afraid to make. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s advice is the best: “If you leave the room...and you’ve acted as well as you can, there’s no way that the people who have watched you will forget it...Something will transpire ultimately.”

This article was originally posted on Backstage

How To Explain Your Career to Friends and Family (An Actor’s Guide To Surviving The Holidays)

Disclaimer: As you know, this career path is not all roses and apple pies. If you’re not having fun—cathartic, invigorated, and empowered fun—it’s not working (in acting and with regards to your career). Having a healthy sense of humor can make those tough times easier to swallow.

With the holidays approaching and certain branches of the industry grinding to a halt, some of you might be heading home for visits, or have vacation plans which include spending time with family members or old friends—some of whom, might think your career choice is totally nuts.

It’s great to reconnect with the people you care about, but at times it can feel like you have a judge and jury scrutinizing your life and making assessments on how well you’re doing—or not. Sometimes this scrutiny can take the form of a barrage of questions; other times it’s a few passive-aggressive remarks.

These moments can make you feel inadequate, judged, or like an outright disappointment. Friends or family members seldom intend for us to feel this way—these questions or remarks often come from a place of concern for our welfare, or envy at our brave decision to not compromise and pursue our dreams. Sometimes these anxieties or personal opinions have a way of seeping out. People say things like, “Do you have a savings account?” “I think you’d make a great lawyer” “My friend Fanny is an actor and she booked a recurring on Forensic Files and a Nike commercial.”

If it were a perfect world, everyone would just say supportive things and wish you the best, and treat you with respect, like you’re a competent person charting the path of your own career. However, because cold reality awaits us, it’s best to carve a game plan so that you can still spend time with loved ones without taking a blow to your self-esteem.  

I would be thrilled if this article offered you the slightest bit of relief when going home for the holidays—to make stressful interactions go smoother, to make you feel better and to stop any looks of pity, words of pity, or any other such negative exchanges. You’re not there to be the punching bag. If say, cousin Mikey is going through a divorce and has a half-million dollars in med school debt, you’re not going to be the tool he uses to make himself feel better in front of the entire family because, at least he’s not an actor and on the fringes of society.

Tip #1. Adopt a body attitude of success and happiness—as if you have the successful career you’ve always wanted. People can sniff out discontent and personal misery almost effortlessly. It’s part of human nature. Walk into any potentially threatening interaction with the attitude that you’ve already made it—that you have the career that you want today. If there’s any universal truth that I’ve witnessed to be true, it’s that what you project—what you put out there—you will become.

Tip #2. Prep your responses. Now remember, you’re the wild one. You left home to forge a path in the big city in a ‘scary’ industry known as show business. People are going to want some feedback on How Things Are.

Here are the questions you are going to get when you go home. Sound familiar?

  • What have you done?

  • Is there anything I can see you in?

  • What are you working on?

  • How come I haven’t seen you on any billboards?

  • Are you on any shows?

  • How are things? (tone of pity)

Below are several responses that you should tailor to fit your situation. Feel free to add in some of your own personal successes (such as: my improv team had ten sold-out shows or I met the (writer, director, producer, casting director) for “Better Call Saul” and she loved me).

“Things are great! I’m in development for a couple projects and it’s really exciting. I can’t give too many details at this early stage, but I’m frankly thrilled and my reps couldn’t be happier.”

You can use the phrase “in-development” to refer to scripts you’re working on or shopping around or projects you are developing with friends or other collaborators. “In development” sounds more impressive than “my friend and I are working on a script.”

“Things are great! In the last few months I’ve met some really high-level (producers, directors, writers, casting directors) and had some big auditions that all went really well. My agent and manager are really happy. I’m not supposed to talk about the finer details just yet, as the paperwork isn’t signed, but I have no complaints.”

This response allows you to be honest if you haven’t booked anything and then throws the listener more of a curve when you talk about “the paperwork not being signed.” What paperwork? Frankly, it’s nobody's damn business which paperwork you’re referring to—if it’s a contract with CBS or a gym membership. If people would ask more sensitive questions, then you wouldn’t have to protect your life choices like this.

“Things are great! I’ve booked some really cool indie projects with some really awesome up-and-coming directors. It’s been a crazy ride but I’ve been really pushing myself as an actor and I couldn’t be happier and the road ahead is really exciting.”

It doesn’t matter if you’ve just done some low-budget indies or short films recently with so-so scripts. That’s exciting to the rest of the world, who earn a living from pushing papers around. These are actually meaningful and important endeavors which add to your blossoming career.

While friends and family may sometimes intentionally, or unwittingly deflate your sense of achievement, every little milestone in this industry is seriously awesome and should be celebrated. It’s a tough as nails business and you have to truly love acting to succeed—the only way to “make it” is by chiseling your own path to success and creating your own opportunities. I help my clients launch their careers—on their own terms—and empower them to never wait around for industry breadcrumbs and handouts.

 

This article was originally published on Backstage