There is one simple, defining factor that separates a good actor from a great actor.
Talent is wonderful and a necessity but some of the most talented people I’ve known have fallen by the wayside, dropping into other, more comfortable jobs. This isn’t a judgement, it’s simple fact. This job is hard. You have to be exceptional. You have to need to do this job.
One of the greatest pieces of advice given to me while in college at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (www.amda.edu) was, “Do not give yourself a Plan B.”
If you give yourself a Plan B, you will definitively take your Plan B, because this life is simply too difficult.
So, here’s our checklist:
1) Headshots - Check.
2) Training - Check.
3) Representation - Check.
As a young actor you simply cannot just sit around waiting for the phone to ring. If you do, you’re dead in the water. YES, your agent will get you auditions, you will go to them, rock them and book or not book the work, but if you’re waiting for other people to determine the momentum of your career, how can you expect momentum to be maintained?
The goal should be to keep yourself busy enough to not notice when you’ve gone a couple weeks without an audition. Opportunity comes to those digging every second of every day to find every little nugget of work they can possibly find and you will be shocked at just what opportunities will come your way when you’re moving forward relentlessly.
So here’s our “What’s Next?” checklist:
1) If you’re not working, BE IN CLASS. Acting is a muscle. No ballet dancer would ever sit on a couch for 6 months, bartending at night without doing any physical activity and expect themselves to rock an audition for the New York City Ballet. Yet, actors, for some reason feel they can just…not do it and be totally 100 percent just as good as they were when they were acting every day. This simply isn’t true. Don’t let your inner actor become a 600 pound fat guy. On the day of the audition, you will blow it if you’re not sharp and consistently honed. This is just common sense. (A good place to start is www.armstrongactingstudios.com)
2) FIND YOUR OWN WORK. There are quite literally thousands of young industry professionals out there. All of them making their own art. Young filmmakers (from students to indie houses) would KILL for amazing talent. If you think something is below you, look at a script for a Mac and Cheese commercial V.S. a well crafted Student Film and ask yourself where the real challenge lies. Get yourself on camera as MUCH AS YOU CAN. It builds your confidence, craft and resume and it shows us that you’re relentless, that you will work if we hire you or not. That’s the actor I want in my film. Forge your own relationships, meet up and comers, rise together. (Note: Commercials are an integral part of the acting trade, I’m not knocking them, just saying…you know…they’re not Shakespeare.)
3) CREATE YOUR OWN WORK. Do you write? No? WRITE! If you try writing and you truthfully can’t, find someone who can. If you’re not making your own work, more than likely you will not work consistently as a new actor. This can be anything from short films to volgs to web series to indie feature. Create. What is an artist who doesn’t create?
4) Stay in good physical shape. Don’t wait for the call to come in that says “Athletic Build” in the breakdown. Put good shit in your body, work out at least 4 times a week. It’s a visual medium. Many actors (myself included) have been lured into the restaurant life of making a bunch of cash, spending that cash on booze after your shift, making more cash and three months later having a “Beer Layer”. Don’t fall into the trap. Stay active and stay out of the Restaurant Suck. (Note: For fitness advice see: www.myodesign.com)
5) Surround yourself with forward moving people. Your friends all not auditioning and spending a lot of time bitching about it? If you’re surrounded by them you are them. How’s it working out?
6) Read Scripts. They’re your job. You not reading scripts is like a chef not going grocery shopping. Learn how they work, learn what makes them good and what makes them bad. STUDY YOUR ART. (For a wealth of all things screenplay check out: www.script-o-rama.com, www.imsdb.com)
7) WATCH MOVIES. So many actors don’t go see great films. This is like a football player not watching game tape. Literally ALL the secrets of the people being paid millions of dollars to do this are up there for you to learn 35 feet tall! Typically I see each film I go to more than once, and I bring a notepad and my iPhone (to light my notebook), taking notes on performance, story, screen craft, structure of shot, I even time scenes to see when writers are putting key moments in comparison to baser elements of the scene for the purpose of mapping out more interesting journeys in my scripts and auditions.
8) If you get rejected get back up on your feet immediately. Somehow, somewhere there’s an actor pulling him or herself up by their boot straps. Be that actor.
9) Get to know yourself. It’s not just about craft. You need to know how YOU relate to your work, which you can’t do if you don’t understand yourself. Spend time alone, walk, write, read, draw and invest in yourself. The better you understand you the more specifically you will come to life in your material.
10) Be the hardest working actor you know. If you find someone who’s working harder, you have to up your game. Pure and simple.
Bottom line: If you feel like you’re not doing enough, it’s not the Industry’s fault. It can’t be. If it is, your fate is totally out of your hands and you might as well give up. Yes, there are things that are out of your control, so LET THEM BE, focus on what is, be a shark, never stop moving.
As always, thanks for the read. Please follow, share on Facebook, Tweet and otherwise spread the word if you’re digging this blog.
A lot of people talk about being committed to their art and to their craft, but that’s the thing, a lot of people talk about it.
It’s only when you see an artist truly and mercilessly throw themselves into a new process, devoting every waking second into nothing but becoming a master at it—not without fear but with courage—that you see true transformation, that you see an artist become a completely different person in a matter of weeks.
This is commitment. This is what transformation it requires.
Every artist has to evaluate. We take hard inventories, and if we’re not living in the space of “all or nothing”, we need to find out why.
You will shock yourself at how quickly you can evolve if you put your whole heart into it.
Well. It’s Halloween. Figured this was a good a time as any to toss out the first chapter of a horror novel I’m working on. Enjoy.
Douglas W. Nyback
When your son dies so do you.
These are certain facts. Facts like how in the Rocky Mountains there are incredible orchards with majestic trees, overlooking sheer cliffs. Like how certain trees, over certain cliffs have rope swings, with tires at the bottom that have been there for too many years.
Facts like how when the setting sun hits him just right you can’t quite see that it’s your son climbing that rope too high. You can’t quite see that the kids at the bottom are swinging the tire back and forth, getting more and more vehement in their desire to see your son fall due to a lack of parental supervision.
As you’re paying your bill you can’t quite make out that he’s not laughing but screaming.
There are so many factors that go into creating the worst case scenario. When your son’s up too high, in a position to fall—by the time you realize it—you’re thinking, at worst, broken bones. Maybe a broken neck. At worst.
Factors you don’t take in are the elements.
It was years of cold mixed with rain that caused the rope to snap.
It was the wind that carried him over.
Gravity has malice. The assumption is that She’s relentless, but she’s not. When the rope your son is climbing snaps She gives us a moments pause. He hangs there, the rope he’s holding slightly slack, and there’s this look of shock on his face. A look of dawning horror. A look of realization.
With kids there are never consequences. It’s how they can rollerblade down steep slopes and crash into trees then just brush themselves off.
With kids there are never consequences until there are. This realization was my son’s last moment. Gravity gave him that.
The rope broke while the tire was swinging towards the cliff face. My son was six so he didn’t weigh much. He was looking right at me as his expression bled from pride to certainty. He felt the pull of the tire and if he had let go of the rope he would still be alive. But he felt that pull and he grabbed on to the only thing he could.
The tire was from a big rig, the kind that eats roads like children.
By the time I heard the screen door slam shut behind me I was six or seven strides into a dead run. By the time I heard the apples settle my son had hit the ground, the tire building momentum.
The way he fell, he shouldn’t have been able to keep holding on to the rope. Had both his arms broken along with his jaw when the left side of his body rebounded off the too-hard-earth, he would have lost enough motor control to go limp. But it was only his left arm that snapped. It broke clean and compound, the sound, like a brittle twig and a grown man’s scream. The skin around his jawbone tore.
As my feet pounded three of my son’s teeth into the ground the tire flung itself over the edge.
All around, people were screaming, but none as loud as me.
My son was quiet. He just held on and was pulled.
I dove for the edge of the cliff, just as he flew over, his limp left arm trailing behind him. I reached for it.
A factor you don’t think about is weight.
I grabbed his left wrist but with the compound fracture and the tire’s weight, at the point of most dramatic tension something had to give. His skin ripping was like fabric ripping, but wet and messy. Veins and arteries stretch before they snap, like elastic bands. By the time his head bounced of its first outcrop I had the good sense to let go of his arm.
With all that he had just been through, I couldn’t help but feel relief when I was certain he was dead.
Just because he was dead didn’t mean he stopped falling.
He never let go of the rope.
His name was Aaron.
This was the moment haunting me when I first woke up in the Endless Hotel.
Emotion is the great white whale of the acting world. I find a lot of actors live in constant fear of it. They get a piece of text that involves extreme emotional connection and instantly they seize up, convinced that they won’t be able to access the level of connection they know is necessary to effectively interpret the role.
Here’s the thing:
Emotion is to Acting what Sweat is to Working Out.
A lot of my students have heard me say this many, many times. But you don’t enter into a workout freaking out, exclaiming, “I just don’t know! I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sweat! I know I sweated on the way here, it was pretty hot, but now? When it matters? I just don’t know if I can perspire!” You simply lift heavy shit and sweat happens.
But this is EXACTLY what actors are doing when they enter into an audition saying to themselves, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to emotionally connect. I don’t know if I can do it. I know I’ve felt before, hell, I felt ALL OVER my living room in rehearsal, but now? I just don’t know if I can feel things.”
Emotion is a byproduct of circumstance. Circumstance is determined by what I define as “The Current State Of Natural”.
“Natural” is a dangerous word. Too many people in our industry use it to describe conversational. Many actors, when getting the redirect “Ok, but can you make it more natural?” simply try to make their speech less affected and try to, in general, speak words without investment. This proves absolutley nothing other than the fact that you can speak and not fall over at the same time. Congrats, you’re a kindergarten graduate.
“Natural” is a very different thing pending on the circumstance. Natural when storming the beaches of Normandy in WWII is a very different definition of Natural than say, proposing to your long time girlfriend. Neither of them are particularly unaffected, they’re simply affected by the specific relationship dynamics, stimulus, objectives and needs within a scene.
Too many actors look at emotion as the base of a scene as opposed to a product. Something happens to us, we feel something which causes us to do something. It’s in the doing that emotional connection in born.
Where auditions go south in a big way is when all actors are worried about is feeling. We’ve all heard these auditions from waiting rooms. They’re loud, they’re messy and on camera they look like absolute shit. We can never forget that Film and Television is a VISUAL medium. If all you’re doing is playing emotion, 9 times out of 10, you’re looking utterly ridiculous, and even if the emotion is genuine, we’re not going to cast you because no one is going to want to watch you.
General Rule: Our job isn’t therapy, it’s entertainment. Leave that shit at home. Emotion is a tool, a surgical blade, not a blunt instrument. Anything other than that is masturbation, and masturbation feels great for you but it’s a fucking mess for everybody else.
The next time you’re worried you won’t be able to connect emotionally to a scene, break it down into its core components. Truly define your character and who everyone even mentioned in the scene is to you, establish exactly what you want out of the scene, figure out what gets in your way, connect to your reader and mercilessly go after your objective. If you do this, if you are truly invested in your scene, I promise you, emotion will happen. How could it not?
Thanks as always for the read. If you found this article useful please comment, re-blog, tweet, facebook and spread the word.
smell of your conditioner
Red Blood Cells,
I have looked at you
the way I look at sunsets.
Beat. Michael breathes. Christiana finds some stillness. The light hits her. Never has she looked more radiant.
Like there’s truly nothing more important happening.
So, you’ve spent months hounding your agent, checking www.castingworkbook.com relentlessly for breakdowns, poking and prodding industry friends and contacts and now you’ve got your first major audition for a series or feature film…what do you do to prep for it?
Upon polling hundreds of actors on what their “Preparation Process” is, in general I’ve found the answer to be “A bunch of question marks floating randomly in the air.”
Nothing quite matches the fresh panic of getting ten pages of dialogue to prepare at midnight for a ten AM audition the next day. So much of the young actor’s process often revolves around panic. We get material and we stare at it asking “How the hell can I figure this whole thing out in 16 hours?” We panic like we panicked in 8th grade when we left our spelling units to 9:00 PM on a Sunday night and had to stay awake until 3:00 AM cursing our English teachers for being such grammar Nazi’s.
When you get your material follow some of these guidelines:
1) Don’t panic. Accept that you’re not going to get a lot of sleep and remind yourself that being tired isn’t like being hit by a car. You’ll live. For inspiration, spend 5 minutes reading what Navy Seals go through in training, we can withstand a lot (I’m serious).
2) Read through the material and make a realistic page count of what you have to legitimately memorize. More often than not, 10 pages of sides is really 6-7 with everything that’s crossed out and in FYI form.
3) READ EVERYTHING. Everything you need to know about the character is IN THE TEXT. It might not be written like “HEY? ACTOR! Over here! This is all the obvious shit about the character. Isn’t this easy!” It’s in how the character behaves, how the other characters behave and react in relation to your character. Don’t waste time making up outlandish justifications on why the character is doing what they do, work to find The Actual Interpretation Of The Truth Of The Text. Remember, 9 out of 10 actors don’t give bad auditions, they just give the exact same one.
4) Speak your preparation out loud. Be that crazy person your neighbors think has multiple personalities. Sometimes it’s not easy to develop an emotional connection to the written homework you’re doing. Homework isn’t about page count, it’s about effectiveness. Spending 5 minutes speaking your way through a relationship with another character will accomplish more than 30 minutes of point form or paragraph notes. AS AN EXERCISE: Try recording yourself talking for five minutes about your favorite memory of your mother. Watch the ease of emotional connection and the effortlessness of your transitions.
5) DO NOT TRY TO GET IT “Right”. There’s no right and wrong with this, only more or less interesting choices.
6) Memorization isn’t the devil. Ten bucks says you still have the Pythagorean Theorem memorized and that shit was in high school. The brain is an amazing thing. Trust it.
7) Work to find the objective of the scene. At www.armstrongactingstudios.com we call this the “Point/Goal”. DO NOT just look at what your character gets at the end of the scene and say “Oh! That thing! That’s what I wanted! Sweet!” Seldom in life do we get what we want and when we do, we almost NEVER get it in the WAY that we wanted it. This is where scenes start getting interesting. Also, always remember that the other character has a goal just as specific as you do and they’re relentlessly trying to make your not achieve yours.
8) Speak your lines out loud. You’d be surprised how much this will help your memorization process. You’d also be surprised how many actors go into an audition having never spoken their lines aloud to anyone.
9) Get your work up on camera before you go into a room. It’s often a good idea to get a coaching before going into a major audition, but if you can’t, at least try to record your stuff at home or with a friend. How we feel our work is translating is often completely removed from how it actually reads on camera. The camera is a fickle (and amazing) bitch, the only way to really learn it is to get in front of it. SIDEBAR: It has always been a pet peeve of mine that there are film and television training facilities that don’t actually get you on camera. It just doesn’t make sense.
10) On the day, focus. Your mantra shouldn’t be “Please hire me. I’m trying desperately not to fuck up.” but “This is my work and I’m excited to show it to you.” Auditioning is your job. Breathe and do your job like it’s not going to punch you in the face at the end of the day.
In the end, remember it’s about working effectively. Work until the work is done. Always. Sometimes this will be a couple of hours, sometimes it will be 12-15. Trust me when I say that putting up an amazing audition, one that you’re legitimately proud of is more than worth the time it takes to get it where it needs to be.
And always, always remember that the work is fun. There’s a reason you didn’t become an accountant.
Christiana: I’m tiny, right?
Christiana: So, he was just a normal sized guy, but we were living together in a studio in Brooklyn, when we were home, we were never not in the same room. For the first year—
Michael: That you were living together, or that you were dating?
Christiana: Living together, I really loved it, the way you love a cozy sweater.
Christiana: I liked the way I could always smell him.
Christiana: But somewhere along the line, it’s like his presence started eating me up, and I’m tiny, so there isn’t much to eat. My clothes didn’t smell like me anymore, my blankets, my sheets…it’s like I laid down to bed one night and he was everywhere. And it was so hot, and I couldn’t stop sweating and I couldn’t sleep and I would wake up every couple of hours thinking “Who is this person he’s in bed with?”
Christiana: And to think of myself like that…like a footnote consumed by another person…I fell out of love with him. I guess…I fell out of the need for my love for him.
Christiana: And then I was single for a long time and then I met you. And you have looked at that waitress no fewer than five times in the time it took me to tell you that story.
I’ve been blessed in my life with having some truly amazing teachers. More than that, I’m fortunate to have learned valuable lessons from all of the bad teachers I’ve had as well, even if it’s only a crash course in exactly what I never want to become.
As you grow and develop as an actor, you’ll be confronted with a plethora of information. It’s a never ending process, you stop learning as an actor when you die. Keeping with the theme of The Actor’s Rucksack, I’ve been looking back on my life in New York (where I attended The American Musical and Dramatic Academy: www.amda.edu) when I was 18-21.
I moved to New York from Camrose, Alberta, a small town (population 16,000) about an hour south of Edmonton. Quite literally, I wrote my last biology exam and 18 hours later was on a plane, touching down at LaGuardia. I was young, I was driven and I was determined to be a sponge in every facet of my life.
Being young is both a blessing and a curse. You’re capable of doing anything, truly, your dreams are massive and if you firmly plant them in your being as attainable goals, you’ll relentlessly achieve them, so long as you harness your energy in a productive way. The “curse” side of it is that you develop a finite idea of what you’re going to become and how you’re going to get there.
For me, this was personified in my runs around Central Park. I would run from the 72nd Street Entrance, all the way around to Columbus Circle and back to my dorm on 71st and Broadway. Around the halfway point, beyond fail, I would repeat a mantra in my head, pace for pace, bleeding it with the rhythm of my run:
“I will be famous by 21.”
It wasn’t the mantra itself that was limiting (though, I didn’t actually book my first major feature until 22, and wouldn’t classify myself as famous in any way…yet), it was the force with which I said it. It left no room for variance, I had a singular goal, I had a definition of a man I was three years away from being and until I became THAT man, I was incapable of doing my best work, or taking true ownership of my life. I began living my life for an ideal, an archetype of who my 18 year old self though my 21 year old self should be. The problem with this is that, even though my 18 year old self would never admit it, he didn’t really know shit about shit. The World worlds up, and we’re defined by how we react it, and by and large my 18 year old self had had a pretty easy go of things.
In order to properly explain this article I have to introduce you to two of my greatest teachers:
Dean Armstrong (www.armstrongactingstudios.com)
Colin Campbell (http://myodesign.com/)
Now, up until these gents, I’ve had some wonderful teachers. I’ve been taught craft by some of the best in the business, and the craft I’ve learned from Dean has been far and away the most applicable and effective in the actual on screen medium I’ve ever encountered, but oddly enough, dear actors, the lessons on craft you learn are only a portion of where you’re going.
If you want to become a truly great actor, you must work to truly understand yourself.
It took me a long time to finally learn this lesson, but I look at the lives that Dean and Colin have led and slowly I start to piece together my next stage of life and development.
Both of these men are Jacks of All Trades. Dean is an actor, producer, acting coach, on set coach, screen test adviser and mentor to literally thousands of actors in the city. Colin is a Strength and Wellness coach, he works tirelessly to dispel the harmful falsehoods of the Personal Training industry and help people rebuild themselves from both a physical and mental standpoint. They’re both building empires and they’re building them on pillars that are truly, morally rooted in the soundest belief that if you’re invested in helping people, truly helping people, you will find fulfillment in your life morally, intellectually, emotionally and financially.
Herein lies my lesson:
Until I met these gents, I was determined to become a person I didn’t feel I was, and I felt that true success wouldn’t come to me until I had manifested this useless archetype, this relic of how my 18 year old self saw the world. In observing and being around people like Dean and Colin, people who believe in their vision and explore ALL avenues to realize it, I’ve been blessed to finally understand that you are already the person you’re trying to become, that person is an ever evolving being, and they are ALWAYS as strong as you need them to be. Holding onto a fixed idea of the evolution of yourself will only hinder your journey.
A very good friend of mine, and a very talented actor in the city, Carrie-Lynn Neales said to me once, “You’re working so hard to be this person you already are.”
When she told me that, years ago, I wasn’t ready to hear it, but since embracing it the opportunities and developments in my life have become truly staggering, at times almost overwhelmingly so.
So if I could run alongside that 18 year old version of me, here’s what I’d say:
“Bring yourself to your work. You’re already where you need to be and that is what people will want to see. You will always be growing and learning. Yes, there’s somewhere to go, but you’re also somewhere now.”
Don’t force it, don’t try to cosmically take the weight of the world on your shoulders, develop, grow and find joy in your process. Relentlessly go after your goals, but understand that there are ever evolving roads to them. Move forward always, at whatever pace you can, even if it’s a crawl, but do so knowing that you are only ever limited by how you view yourself.
As always, thanks for the read, if you’re enjoying The Actor’s Rucksack follow me here on Tumblr and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ActorsRucksack and spread the word. Retweet, Click that “Share” button on Facebook and get the word out.
Michael: Ok. Not many people know this, but dance was originally created by The Sun, The Moon and the Lark.
Christiana: I didn’t know that.
Michael: It was.
Michael: Thousands and thousands of years ago, the first lark rose from its egg, motherless, no one waiting to bring it into the world. It was terrified. Born to a cloudy, starless night, darkness surrounded him. He sat there, shivering in his nest until suddenly the cloud cover broke and a piercing gray light shone down. He looked up, and there was the moon. Instantly he cried out, in song, because that’s how birds talk.
Christiana: Of course.
Michael: And with his song he said, “Oh! My Beauty! What is thy name?”
Christiana: Larks speak Shakespearean?
Michael: Everyone knows it.
Christiana: Ok. Go on.
Michael: So the Moon called down, “Why, I’m the Moon!” And the Lark cried out, “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” To which the Moon replied, “You’ve only been alive for five minutes and it’s quite dark.” But the Lark was not to be sated. He stood up, bravely, stretching his wings. He called up to her, “Come, dance with me.”
Michael: But the Moon couldn’t, “I’m already dancing with another.” She replied. “Who?” The Lark cried. “The Sun.” She said simply. “Who is the Sun? I don’t see him.” The Moon smiled, “You’ll know soon enough little bird.” And with that, the clouds covered her again and she was gone until daybreak.
Michael: Finally, the Sun came out, dissolving the clouds and covering the world in its color. The Lark flapped its wings and rose to meet it, trying desperately to get its attention but the Sun never acknowledged it’s presence, just shone relentlessly on. The Lark spun through the air, weeping all day for it’s lost love, until, finally, the Sun set and the Moon came out again.
The Lark was overjoyed, and the Moon smiled happily down on him. The Lark called, “I’ve met the Sun and I don’t like him much.” The Moon laughed, “Me either.” “So why do you dance with Him?” The Lark asked. “Because, without him, I would have no light with which to see you.” The Lark thought long and hard on this, finally, he burst into the sky crying out with joy, “Then You can dance with Him and I’ll dance for you in the light he gives, and you and I can love each other forever!”
This made the Moon so happy that she wept, and her tears were meteors, flaring to life in the atmosphere and with those tears the Lark danced endlessly, spiraling in and out of her falling joy and each meteor was an egg, bringing another Lark to life until thousands of Larks all flew and danced in love with the Moon.
And it was this that Man eventually saw. And it inspired us to dance.
Christiana looks up at Michael, kisses him softly and collapses on the pillow, eyes closed.
Michael: Goodnight Christiana.
He kisses her forehead.
No one you have ever admired consistently sleeps till noon. Being exhausted can be an asset, it puts you a breath away from your emotional core.
Work hard and earn your sleep. The Day doesn’t happen to You, You happen to The Day.
In Toronto, when you audition for an on screen project, be memorized.
So many actors will tell you:
“No. Go in with your script. They want to see if you can take direction. If you’re fully memorized they’ll think you’re stuck in what you’ve rehearsed.”
The next time someone tells you that, verbally pimp slap them.
We’re going to break this down with a simple Flow Chart of Common Sense:
Actor Books Movie ——-> Actor Memorizes Text ——-> Actor Goes on Set ——-> Actor Delivers Text In Performance ——-> Director Directs ——-> Actor Takes Direction Despite Being Memorized ——-> The Scene Gets Put In The Movie ——-> Fame, Glory…ect. ——-> Repeat As Needed.
If you can’t be directable and be off book at the same time, it’s not the text’s fault, it’s not the director’s fault, it’s not the producer’s fault, it’s your fault. You fucked up. You’re doing it wrong.
You MUST be flexible within your choices, but you must be memorized.
“But Doug!” You might say, “I just bring my sides in with me and I never look at them. They’re my security blanket!”
What does that tell me? It tells me you need a security blanket. I’m going to hire someone who doesn’t. I wouldn’t hire a seven year old with a pink blankie as a linebacker, I’m sure as hell not hiring you. If you’re on camera, be camera ready.
If you go up on your text, call “Line”. Do so without fear or shame and without breaking the intensity and momentum of the scene. An audition isn’t a memorization test (though, you should be memorized). We know you just got this material, if you give the best performance of the day, totally blowing us away but mess up one line, we’re not going to say, “Wow! That was amazing! You’re everything we ever wanted for this part! But this person over here sucked ass and remembered all the words…so we’re going to go with them.”
As per usual, use common sense. If something sounds like it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t. On the other side of the table we don’t want to have to work with you to get your performance perfect on the day, we want you to kill it without us, we want you to be the best possible actor for the part before we even have to give a note because movies cost a lot of money. No one in the casting process is looking for an actor we have to talk through every moment. Come in, be memorized, make strong choices and commit. We can play and develop from there.
Your Mantra should be: “This is my work and I’m excited to show it to you.”
Take ownership of your work.
Screenwriters LOVE the exclamation mark. Specifically bad television screenwriters. Try it, pick up a script for a failed NBC sitcom and keep a running tally of how many “!’s” “!!’s” “!!!’s” or even worse “!!?’s” there are.
Bad writers ALWAYS believe what their characters are saying is more epic than it is. When they’re adding a gajillion exclamation marks at the end of simple sentences, really what they’re saying is, “HEY! Look at me! I’m awesome! This is important! Don’t fuck this up!” or, in a simpler translation, “Hey! Don’t suck at acting!”
Exclamation marks mean intensity. But we experience intensity in very different ways depending on the circumstance.
Compare the following excerpts from a script with the exact same line, but with different locations.
EXT - African Watering Hole - Day
ERIC, an American Tourist from Ohio bends down to drink from the watering hole. A lion riding a crocodile waits, just out of his view. His friend, JOHN sees the lion riding a crocodile.
Eric runs away to the lion and crocodile’s dismay.
INT - Cave - Night
ERIC and JOHN have wandered into a cave full of sleeping Cheetahs. If they make to much noise they’ll for totes die. John looks to Eric.
They stealthily maneuver their way out of the sleeping cheetah cave of death.
When it comes to the exclamation mark, use common sense (a recurring theme of the Actor’s Rucksack). I know this seems silly, but you’d be surprised just how many actors go into auditions yelling like crazy people when it makes absolutely no sense for them to do so, saying to me “Yeah, but, the writer wrote it that way…”.
Always ask yourself the question:
“If I handed this script into my 8th grade English teacher, would they pimp slap me in the face with a dictionary?”
If the answer to that question is yes, grain of salt that bitch.
Every script you’ve ever admired has started with nothing but these:
Always remember that without an actor, a script is nothing but twenty six letters rearranged in new and interesting ways. It means nothing if the reader doesn’t speak English. You should be able to watch an entire film in a foreign language without subtitles and get it. If you watch your work with no volume and have no idea what’s going on, you’re not being good enough at your job yet.
Today I had the rare pleasure of having dinner with my immensely talented and incredibly kind friend Lisa Berry.
If you don’t know her, you should, she’s just about the hardest working actor in the city. Her journey has been one of relentless training, dedication, self discipline and forward momentum even through the darkest of times.
She is, in short, the Bee’s Knees. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her as a coach, as a friend, and I have every intention in the near future of having her work on set of one of my films.
She is, among many things, immensely fit. Today, she and I caught up on a lot of things (She’s a recurring on Combat Hospital and is developing and writing a very, very exciting series. Seriously, lightning in a bottle stuff.) but one of the mutual things we caught up on was as much pertinent to life as it was industry. Fitness.
She’s been a relentless trainer for a long time (far longer than I), and she told me that whenever she’s asked how she keeps the dedication to stay fit (and she’s asked often) she says, without fail, every time, “Because of 911.”
A ballsy statement to be sure.
She elaborated, “Seriously. Remember how all of those people, in an urban, cultural center had to literally run for their lives? Life happens, The World happens and disasters happen. I don’t want to be that person, on a ledge that’s crumbling holding my best friend’s wrist and letting it slip because I don’t have the upper body strength to hold on. I stay fit so I can have the backs of myself, and every one of the people I care about around me.”
In an industry where we’re constantly bombarded with aesthetic, worse, vain reasons to be fit, I think this is a fantastic way to look at things. So, if you’re reading this right now, raise a toast to Lisa Berry. I’m certain she’ll make more appearances in the Actor’s Rucksack, because, quite simply, she’s already the actor many of us want to become and a good, kind and noble role model is hard to come by.