SCRIPT ANALYSIS: Part 1 – Actors! You Really Should Know What You’re Talking About

July 17, 2018

Two Questions:

If you were given the instruction manual for a new product but the manual was meant for a completely different product, do you think you’d have much success properly operating that product?

If you landed in a foreign city and were given the map to a completely different city, would you be able to navigate the streets of that city very well?

Answer:
Not likely!

Holding a script that you haven’t correctly analyzed is like holding the wrong instruction manual or trying to navigate with the wrong map. Imagine being handed a script for one scene in an audition but after reading it you then deliver a read that’s completely different from the scene as it is written. Now, would you purposely do that? Of course not. However, it happens all the time. Right now, just as you’re reading this article, there are actors all over this city, and beyond, misreading their copy, and as a result… blowing their reads as well as their chances of winning their auditions (let alone the room). Not a very good situation to be in.

Resolve:
Continue reading this article for a deeper insight into the prevention of this chronic actor ailment.

WRITER’S INTENT – THE BLUEPRINT

We’re going to cut to the core of script analysis in order for this teaching to empower you with the tools necessary to understand copy as the writer had intended it; we call this Writer’s Intent or Given Set of Circumstances.
Writer’s intent is similar to the blueprint for a building project. If you don’t follow the blueprint during construction, the end result will not turn out to be exactly what the designer had initially envisioned. In telling a story on film, it’s the writer’s job to provide the roadmap or blueprint, and it’s the actor’s job to stick to that blueprint. That is if your intention is to bring the story to life as the writer originally envisioned it.

 

Of course, actors are always looking for ways to make strong and interesting choices in order to stand out. In and of itself, the bold act of making interesting choices is not a bad thing. However, it’s important to remember that interesting choices can’t directly conflict with the given circumstances and must line up with the story’s original intent or there’s going to be issues. What kind of issues? The kind of issues that will prevent you from getting called back.
Remember: It’s not the job of the actor to change the blueprint… even if you think you have come up with something better. You must first understand what’s on the page before you can nuance what’s on the page.

AUDITION TIP

Never criticise or insult the writing during an audition. The writer could be in the room! If you honestly feel the writing is subpar and you’re still willing to audition for the project, then prepare something nice to say about the script ahead of time, such as “I am excited to be working on this material right now.”

I often remind actors in my studio to consider the writer as the smartest person on the project. Remember, more often than not, writers have worked very hard and labored long hours over word choice, syntax, grammar and placement of punctuations. It’s out of this general respect for all the hard work committed by the writer that the actor should seek to honor writer’s intent.

If you feel judgemental over the quality of the writing you’re only building up obstacles that can prevent you from really analyzing the script and digging out all the nuggets. Sometimes the simple act of believing that the writer is the smartest person on the project will open your eyes to things in the script that you hadn’t seen before and you’ll end up elevating the writing through your performance. Just as bringing the character to life is your performance art, the writer’s art are the words on the page. Honor them!

SCRIPT ANALYSIS

Now that we’ve established that the script is the blueprint for an actor’s performance we can set about the daunting task of reading this blueprint. Because, after all, a blueprint is completely useless if you don’t know how to read it. In other words, we know that it’s the job of the actor to understand writer’s intent, but how exactly do we know what the intent is? The process of figuring out writer’s intent is called script analysis.

As actors, we need to be able to read a script and understand all of its ins and outs, its literal and suggested content, its text and subtext and all of its detail. Basically, it’s our job as actors to be able to properly decipher and then communicate to the audience what the writer wants to communicate through the story. This is a tall order, and for some actors, decoding and analyzing story is incredibly intimidating. If this applies to you, don’t worry… we’ll take it step by step so by the time you’ve finished with this article you should have a lot more of the tools necessary to become a better interpreter of copy, script, and, story and as a result you’ll become a better actor!

ANALYSIS BEGINS WITH STORY

It’s true. Everything is all about story! Any actor who’s studied with me for even a little while knows that I fervently reinforce that everything, everywhere, all the time, has always been — always is — and will always be — about STORY! Think about how we communicate in everyday life: What’s your story? Would you like to hear a story? What’s the latest news story? Let me tell you what happened. Look at this picture. Check me out on Facebook and Instagram. Look at all of my photos, videos, blogs, and status updates. It’s all story!

And, that’s exactly how we’ve all been constructed. We’re built to respond to story. So, keeping all of this in mind, can you see how having a better understanding of story will empower you in your ability as an actor to tell stories? It should.

So let’s talk story.

Without turning this into a writing intensive I’d like to point out that there’s a general agreement amongst writers that there are really only a small handful of basic story plot structures that simply get reinvented over and over again. Some believe that there are only seven basic stories, some think that it tops off at twelve. Director Ron Howard makes the statement that there might only be one! Regardless of the number you come to, the bottom line is that there aren’t that many. As an actor it would greatly benefit you to learn these stories and become proficient at recognizing their patterns and identifying their structures. Doing so will definitely help you when it comes time to analyzing a script. If you’re serious about diving deeper into this topic, here’s a great blog-post I came across by Neil Perkin. Neil’s post is a good jumping off point in your study of basic plot and story because he presents an argument for seven core story structures as well as a couple opposing views. He also provides links to further resources that you can reference for a deeper understanding.

This particular post is titled How Many Stories

If after reading How Many Stories you still want to learn more, or confuse yourself a little further… then read Damien Walter’s post titled Two. Four. Seven. More. How Many Stories Are There? Damien also provides resources for the monomyth theory (the argument that there may only be one type of story).

The more you dive into the research the more you’ll find there is contention over the number of different stories there may be. But remember, as actors, knowing the number doesn’t matter… being educated in story structure is what matters. So take some time, do the research, learn the difference between a story that’s about overcoming a monster, and a story about a journey. Having this knowledge will greatly benefit you as you journey through the analysis of scripts.

There’s so much more to properly understanding story for effective auditioning. However we’ll pick this up in Part 2 of this teaching. But for now, the first step is to raise your awareness of script analysis and writer’s intent. Don’t miss this because you want to focus on memorizing your lines. Instead, develop proper cold reading skills you can count on and spend the little time you don’t usually have prior to your audition on the understanding of scene-story as well as the character’s story. Doing so will take you so much further than simply giving a memorized read. Take your time, put in the work and you won’t be that actor who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.


Clay BanksClay Banks is a former Fortune 500 Business & Life Empowerment Coach, a Motivational Speaker and Consultant. After a successful eighteen year acting career, he founded Clay Banks Productions & Studio International (CBSI) where he’s the Head Coach offering ongoing on-camera acting classes. He’s presently a recurring Master Coach at SAG-AFTRA Headquarters as well as a regular-guest Master Class Auditioning Coach with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hollywood.

Human Resources

July 14, 2018


I recently released a breakdown for a SAG-AFTRA feature film and I thought I would write a blog about my side of the experience as it was happening. I’ve always considered myself to be the person in charge of Human Resources as it pertains to the cast of any project I work on. I’ve hired thousands of actors over the past 25 years. If that doesn’t make me a human resources expert then I don’t know what will. That’s what I do as a casting director. HR. And if you want to work more and book better projects, you should think of us that way, too.

What’s the first thing a casting director sees when they release a breakdown? Headshots. Lots of teeny, tiny headshots on our computer screen, sometimes thousands for each role. In my latest breakdown I got over 10,000 submissions for only five roles. So how important do you think a great headshot is? It’s very important. It’s your calling card. It’s the first thing we see. So you could easily make the argument that your headshot is the single most important element of the casting process. It can be what keeps many actors from ever seeing the inside of my office. Put “Get great headshots” on the top of any list you have made for 2018.

And just like any other HR executive, I look at what seems to be an endless amount of resumes each time I release a breakdown. Sure, I look at more headshots than resumes because many times the headshot can tell me I need look no further to know I am not bringing you in. But, I look at hundreds of resumes which makes them the second most important piece of your puzzle. If I don’t see competitive credits or training why would I ever bring you in? If your format is wrong, you’re done. One special skill could get you called in.

The week I release my breakdown is not the week you want to send me a Facebook “friend request.” It never fails. I release a breakdown and I get a bunch of friend requests. And I never accept them. Also, if you email me directly that same week please, don’t expect an answer. That’s not how this works. I get emails from actors I have never met or heard of every time I am casting a project. I am too busy going through thousands of submissions and answering agents’ calls and emailing reps back about appointments we are trying to coordinate. So, if you want to lessen your frustration then I would recommend submitting through normal channels and focusing your energies on things that will yield better results.

A week into the process I am still getting submissions. It tapers off but I would say that it takes at least two weeks for them to stop coming in. If I’m moving fast, you better get your materials in front of me that first few days. I’ve cast roles within 48 hours of releasing my breakdown. The best agents and managers make sure I have their submissions and a phone call within that first 48. On a feature, I spend a couple of days talking to my usual suspect reps, the ones I have the best relationships with, the ones I actually trust. I go through the submissions and select my actors and start setting up appointments. If it’s a remote shoot I may ask for self-tapes so make sure you can have an audition in my email in a day or two.

You never know how long my process will last so it is never too late to submit and it is always a good idea to stay on my radar. Your post card or headshot may be just enough to make me think of you the next time I’m casting something.

I may not be the CEO of the project, but I am your direct supervisor and if you remember I’m also the Head of Human Resources you’ll have the best shot of working for the company.

 


mark sikesMark Sikes began his casting career in 1992 for Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Corman. In the past 25 years, he has cast over 100 films as well as television series, commercials and web series. He has cast projects for Tobe Hooper and Luke Greenfield and many others. In the past few years Mark has also produced four feature films.

Based in Los Angeles, Mark has cast films for many markets including the United Kingdom, Peru, the Philippines and Russia. Domestically, he has cast films that shot all over the country in Texas, Ohio, Massachusetts, Virginia and multiple projects in Colorado.

He currently teaches three weekly on-camera, audition technique classes in West Los Angeles.  Follow Mark on Twitter @castnguy.

How Meditation Can Help Your Acting Career

July 6, 2018

When we hear the word meditation, certain images come to mind. For some, it’s that annoying neighbor chanting om at the top of their lungs. Sure, it’s easy to joke about these eccentrics. But there’s a reason the practice has endured for thousands of years.

Director David Lynch says, “Meditation is to dive all the way within. To go beyond thought, and to the source of pure consciousness. When you come out, you come out refreshed, filled with energy and enthusiasm for life.”

We spend so much time focusing on the health of our bodies, that we often neglect the health of the mind. Of course, meditation has long been a symbol of calm and concentration. But can this technique be useful in the complex world of acting jobs and auditions? Can meditation be a type of acting coach?

In this post, we want to show how meditation benefits an actor at all stages of their career. Through scientific research, we see that the activity does a lot more than simply keeping a person at ease.

So, as David Lynch would say, let’s dive in!

The Science Behind Meditation

Under meditation, activity within the human nervous system slows down. As the processing of information decreases, the production of gray matter increases. Gray matter is neural tissue that aids in the distribution of information. The more gray matter you have, the more powerful your brain is.

Recent studies have shown that during meditation gray matter accumulates in the frontal lobe area of the brain. The frontal lobe is responsible for strategy and problem solving. By strengthening this area a number of cognitive functions benefit. In fact, with meditation, the entire structure of the brain changes. This is known as neuroplasticity.

Meditation Reduces Fear

Of all the emotions affecting an actor, fear is the most common. Whether attending casting calls or preparing for acting jobs , thoughts of making a mistake hinder a performance.

Fear begins in the almond-shaped area of the brain known as the amygdala. Once an emotional stimulus is detected, the amygdala signals whether a person should stay or flee. This tug of war between fight or flight is all too common for actors.

Well, meditation may prove a helpful solution. In a Harvard University study, researchers conducted an eight-week meditation trial. In it, participants were asked to meditate for 30 to 40 minutes a day. At the end of the trial, researchers discovered a reduction in brain volume. Specifically, the amygdala area had grown smaller. Participants felt more at ease, and less fearful of upcoming responsibilities.

For actors, it’s important to balance preparation with spontaneity. If you’re constantly afraid of making an error, you can’t concentrate on acting roles or casting calls.

Improve Memory With Meditation

Ah yes, memorization. That vital task every actor must master. But with so much to process during auditions and acting jobs, it’s easy to draw a blank during these important moments.

This is where meditation comes in handy. Researchers at UCSB had 48 undergraduate students take a meditation class four times a week. The results showed that the cortical walls of the brain grew thicker. Cortical thickness is associated with decreased aging, and improved memory. Students confirmed that their memorization abilities seemingly improved. In fact, during a span of two weeks, their GRE scores went from 460 to 520.

In an industry where memorization is key, meditation can keep the mind of an actor healthy.

Meditation Eases Stress

Okay, it’s the night before an audition. You have to research the casting director, decide on an outfit and find someone to watch your cat. Understandably, it’s going to be stressful.

The culprit behind stress is cortisol. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone, and is released from the adrenal glands during times of conflict. When released, the hormone causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Three things a performer doesn’t need when pursuing acting jobs.

Here, meditation again comes to the rescue. A study in the journal Health Psychology shows that increased meditation slows down the production of cortisol. During the trial, 57 people spent three months at a meditation retreat. At the end of the study, researchers measured a clear reduction in cortisol levels. Participants reported feeling less anxious and more energetic.

Stress can be crippling. In the world of performance, it’s something that needs to be managed.

Learn To Focus For Acting Jobs

Be it casting calls or an acting workshop, actors need to focus. This of course is no easy task. With everything to remember and accomplish, it’s easy to get distracted.

Meditation has long been associated with focusing one’s thoughts. Through breathing exercises, the practice helps to regulate emotion and attention. But recent research shows it’s more than breathwork that helps meditators focus.

A study by the Journal of Neuroscience examined twelve zen meditators who had been practicing for at least three years. Researchers compared the meditators to a control group of twelve individuals who had never meditated. An MRI showed the meditators had more stability in their ventral postermedial cortex (VPMC). Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Basically, the VPMC region of the brain is linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering.

As researchers tested the subjects with logic games, they found the mental focus of the meditators to be stronger and more reliable. Getting distracted can sabotage acting roles. With its ability to stabilize wandering thoughts, meditation again proves to be a valuable resource for actors.

Sleep Better With Meditation

For some actors, sleep is a luxury. With auditions, acting jobs and a day gig, it’s easy to neglect this important function. As we know, sleep deprivation causes major health problems. If not attended to, the personal and professional consequences can be dire.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that meditation is a powerful tool in promoting healthy sleep. In a Harvard Medical School study, researchers examined 49 individuals suffering from sleeplessness. After practicing mindfulness meditation for six weeks, the subjects experienced less fatigue, insomnia and depression.

Sleep influences every aspect of our being. With the physical and emotional demands of casting calls and acting roles, regular, healthy sleep is essential.

Meditation Combats Pain

Actors are used to conjuring emotional pain. But, a performance can be physically taxing as well. Long days with repetitive tasks can take their toll on a body.

Medications have traditionally been the mainstay for treating pain. However, the often-addictive quality of such products have made some people hesitant to use them. Now, researchers at Wake Forest University are suggesting meditation may be helpful.

The study found that mindfulness meditation reduced pain intensity in their subjects by more than 40 percent. This is impressive considering most pain-relieving medications, including morphine, typically reduce discomfort by only 25 percent.
Of course, meditation is not going to cure diseases. But, its abilities in reducing pain can help actors tolerate demanding situations.

Wrapping Up Meditation For Acting

It’s often said that frustration makes you more creative. Sure, that’s easy to say. But it’s another thing when you’re standing nervous in front of a casting director or acting workshop. Although meditation may not work for everything, science has shown that it can have a significant impact on the human mind and body.

As we said, think of meditation as another type of acting coach. A tool that can ease your fears, and help you to find balance in uncertain situations.

Prepare to Succeed By Building Your Professional Team and Support System

June 14, 2018

I learned this equation as a kid, and it is still the most valuable math lesson I have ever been taught. Success is not a fluke. It is the result of countless hours spent in preparation for the opportunity of a lifetime. We must prepare for success in order to seize it. A big part of preparing to succeed is putting in place the people and the infrastructure to keep your enterprise afloat. Even before your career is fully off the ground, you need to assemble the team that is best-suited to take you to the top. Some people make the mistake of waiting for opportunity to arrive before seeking out support. Surely you’ve heard the horror stories of successful individuals who somehow lost it all and later discovered the people they called friends were taking them for everything they had. Support is easy to obtain after the fact, that is, after you have attained success. Just ask MC Hammer. But the people you want to have on your team are those who truly believe in you, so much so that they are willing to accompany you on your journey to greatness, starting at the ground floor. In essence, they are investing in your future. They give their time and energy to help you fulfill your potential, and only when you succeed with their support will they get a return on their investment.

So let’s talk about who you need on your team.

  • Devil’s Advocate – The much-needed opposite of a “Yes Man,” this is the person who you can always count on to give it to you straight. Since straight-talk can hurt feelings, this person needs to be someone you trust implicitly and who has weathered a few storms with you. When everyone else is telling you to go right, your devil’s advocate will help you consider the possibility of going left. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but at least it will be an informed one.
  • Cheerleader – Whether you didn’t land the role you wanted or you don’t like your new headshots, this is the person who will always help you find the silver lining in a bad situation. Your cheerleader is not there to enable delusion, but rather to help you maintain perspective. Especially in this industry, you’re going to need a reality check to keep you grounded in what matters and to avoid losing yourself in what casting thinks of you.
  • An Agent – Obviously, right? But not just any agent will do. You and your agent need to be on the same page about the direction of your career. If you see yourself as an ingénue and your agent is submitting you for villains, then there’s a mismatch. Of course, one school of thought might encourage you to take whatever you can get. But how committed will you be to landing roles you don’t see yourself playing? Remember that you and your agent are in a partnership. Therefore, it’s best to find an agent that understands your brand and can find you the roles that allow you to shine.
  • Mentor – You need to have a person on your team who has walked the path you’re traveling and can alert you to potential pitfalls ahead. A good mentor will be a sounding board for the ideas you have about your career, never telling you what to do, but serving as a fountain of knowledge and experience to help you make the best decision for you. Whether by directly advising you with tips to improve your odds of success, or indirectly by connecting you to others in the industry with a good referral, your mentor can be an invaluable resource.
  • Hollywood Outsider – We’ve all heard of those folks who “go Hollywood,” and it never seems to be a good a thing. Having someone in your circle who could care less about who’s who in Hollywood will remind you that there is life outside of acting. So whenever you need to get away for a minute, your Hollywood Outsider can give you the balance you need to refill your tank from the depletion of Hollywood.

Diane Christiansen’s career spans four decades as an actress, coach, director, dancer and author. Diane began coaching actors in 1992 and in 2011 and 2012, Diane’s classes were voted the best acting class for kids and teens separately by Backstage The last three years, Diane was voted One of the Top 10 most effective Coaches in Hollywood by Actors Access. A graduate of the Strasberg Institute, she was mentored by Academy Award Nominee, Sally Kirkland and the late Joseph Bernard. Actively coaching “working ” actors of all ages has led to 90% of her student roster booking jobs consistently.

Visit Diane at DianeChristiansen.com or call 818.523.8283 to sign up for one her classes.

Helping Yourself By Getting Involved

June 14, 2018

I tell people all the time that, “If you wait for Hollywood to call you, you will die of old age.” Actors can help themselves by getting involved with small episodic series’ or creating one of their own. These types of projects are a great compliment to any acting class that you may be taking. Getting real world production experience is invaluable and it’s a free education!

I see people who call themselves actors all the time, doing everything but acting. Then when a role comes up, they confirm they will be there, only to never show up! On the other hand, the one who does show up, is professional, and nails the audition gets the role.

First a little background in my company, Cineplex Studios. We have been producing shows for the web and TV in LA since 2009. The key to our success is the fact that we are a small company and are able to get projects done quickly. We have produced sci-fi, political thrillers, fitness shows, commercials, as well as distribute other productions on TV.

Our most recent production, Hawaiian Sovereignty, is a series that is now on Amazon Prime. The show is set in Hawaii and deals with the state’s sovereignty movement and how FBI agents are torn between their loyalty to the United States, their feelings about the movement and the politics involved.

In the casting process, we found an actress who we believed could lead this cast. However this person dropped out after only 6 episodes! We quickly turned to another actress on the cast named Ruby Mercado. She had only a small role in the series but made it known to us that she had a desire to be the lead actress in the series. After giving it some thought, we granted her the leading role in the remaining episodes of Hawaiian Sovereignty.

Ruby took the ball and ran with it! I have never worked on a production that ran as smoothly as Hawaiian Sovereignty after Ruby became the lead. She set the bar for all the other actors to follow. Her professionalism was outstanding. Her attitude was always upbeat. She never had a bad thing to say about anyone. The other actors immediately noticed this and quickly followed her example. Ruby helped make Hawaiian Sovereignty a success and brought with her a high energy level that had previously not been there. Now, Ruby has gone onto several well-known Network TV shows. It all started with sticking to the one she was in and completing the season.

But how does one become successful at this like Ruby did?

You stick with a show as long as possible. Get as much camera time in as you can. Ask to continue with your character in more episodes. Talk with the director, the writer, the producer. Keep developing your character in as many episodes as you can.

If you take a look back at the older days of Hollywood TV series, you will find that most of the memorable actors were on shows that lasted for 36 episodes per season! That is a lot of screen time. Then Hollywood started changing and the number of episodes dropped to 24 and now the series of today will like last more 12 episodes.

Regardless, if you are getting paid for an acting role or not, you want (and need) to be in front of the camera as much as possible. You need to be exercising your acting muscles on a daily basis.

How does one standout to get on a series, especially as a lead actor?

Develop and build your fan base via social media. This is one of the hardest things for most actors to do, but it pays off. Using any downtime to build your audience across Instagram, Facebook and YouTube will show producers that you’re a valuable addition to any commercial, episodic or film

In summary, it’s key to do what you can to book an ongoing series. Work hard to build your fan base. Show your professionalism by completing the projects you signed up for. Don’t drop out because you get bored, or there is no money.

You cannot do a little acting here and a little acting there with a couple of acting classes. It’s too easy to drop out and give up.

This is how you can create your own success.

 


Fred CopelandFred Copeland is the Founder and Owner of Cineplex Studios. He has been in the entertainment business for over 35 years and is a former ABC-TV morning News Producer. Fred is also a signatory member with SAG and the WGAw.

 

A Complete Guide to On Set Do’s and Don’ts

May 29, 2018

Legendary screen actress Gene Tierney once said, “Eccentric behavior is not routinely noticed around a movie set.”

As much as we like to believe that a TV and film set has just as much drama as the story being told, it’s simply not true. A set abides by strict rules and a crew hierarchy, and it’s an actor’s responsibility to educate themselves on how to navigate this world. Sure, you’ve worked hard and made it through casting calls and auditions, but that’s only the beginning.

In this post, we’re going to review the Do’s and Dont’s of on set etiquette, and how to develop a strategy that will land you acting jobs for years to come.

Okay, lights, camera and action!

Understand The On Set Hierarchy

Let’s face it, there are many ways an actor can sabotage themselves on set.
Whether you’re a lead actor or it’s your first project, understanding the cast and crew hierarchy of a TV and film set is essential. You don’t want to be at a crafts services table and push over the producer just to snag the last eclair. Think of a set as a universe, and that each department is its own world with its own rules.

Take time to educate yourself about the on set chain of command, and what each role does and how it contributes to the greater production.

By understanding your business, you’ll reduce chances of committing a faux pas, and set yourself up for more acting roles in the future.

Listen To The Director

Yes, we’ve all heard stories of difficult actors making the lives of their directors miserable.
As much fun as it is hearing these sordid tales, the reality is the practice is detrimental to both actors and on set productions.

Both digital content production and a movie set involve complex components. Because of this, an actor needs to trust their director. If you’re constantly second-guessing the director, you could be compromising vital takes that will stall production. To avoid this, never stop a take because you made an error.

Of course you need to be invested in your character, but there are many factors that could be affected by the disruption. Always continue the scene until you hear “cut.” And remember, unless of an emergency, only the director should call “cut.” At that time, you can confer with the director and discuss the matter. After all, they may like the mistake more than the planned take. When in conference, be gracious about notes. If you still have reservations, request an additional session to discuss further. There’s going to be directing styles you don’t agree with, but be polite and remember that frustration fuels creativity.

Punctuality Is Key On Set

Okay yes, sometimes there are moments of crisis that lead to lateness. Your car won’t start, or your hamster pet-sitter just fell through. Yeah, it happens. Punctuality though is vital for on set productions. Regarding time management for casting calls and auditions, casting director Lucy Bevan says, “Be disciplined. Come in cleanly, leave cleanly.” The same holds true for acting jobs.

Always arrive early. Use the advanced time to warm up, review your lines, and prepare for any questions you have for the director.

You may think well, I’m just a background actor. Will they really notice if I’m a little late? To you, your part may seem minimal, but chances are it’s integral, and your absence could have severe consequences for the production. In order to minimize this risk, avoid drinking alcohol the night before, and make sure you get a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, take author Tim Ferriss’ advice and try drinking decaffeinated tea with raw honey and apple cider vinegar an hour before bed.

Ferris says the concoction induces a deep, restful sleep, and should be a part of any actor’s on set arsenal. There are also online casting resources that offer helpful advice for actors to stay focused. When it comes to on set productions the classic adage is true: better to be too early than too late.

Be Mindful Of Equipment On Set

We’ve all seen the image of a director gazing through a camera lense. You may think oh they won’t mind if I take a quick look. Well, if you want to ensure obtaining acting roles in the future, it’s best to stay away. Not surprisingly, equipment on set is expensive, and requires a trained technician to operate it. Perhaps you notice a grip moving a light and decide to help them. Now, what you perceive as help, they perceive as interference. Remember, these are working professionals who are likely union members. They have specific rules of who can and cannot handle equipment on set.

Also, be conscious of “Hot Set” signs.These signs indicate that furniture and props have been positioned for an imminent scene, and moving them would compromise continuity. Last but not least, never pass in front of the camera. Always cross behind, unless you are in rehearsal or shooting. You may think a camera isn’t rolling, but your ignorance could jeopardize a shot or elaborate set up. In relation to this, sometimes a camera is connected to a monitor. The monitor is only for cast and crew members who have been invited to view it.

As you can see, whether it’s digital content or TV, on set productions are complex. Rather than negotiate who might or might not be receptive to your good intentions, it’s best to avoid touching equipment and props altogether.

Know When To Be Quiet On Set

Although this probably goes without saying, good manners are essential for acting jobs. And let’s face it, unnecessary noise is one of the things successful actors avoid.

On a TV or film set, silence is golden. It’s always important to be aware of where the rehearsal or shooting takes place, so you can keep your distance.

Speaking of silence, nothing makes a cast and crew want to chase you out of a building than a cell phone going off during a shot. Make sure your phone is silenced before every take. And of course, no personal or social media photography on set.

Network During Your Free Time, Not On Set

Considering that a recent study found that 70% of all jobs come from word of mouth, networking is important for acting jobs. Although sets can be great places to make the necessary connections, there’s an appropriate time for these interactions to occur.
It’s important to restrict networking to meal and break times.

Now, we’ve talked about how vital it is to avoid disruptions on set.If you’re constantly trying to schedule a drinks meeting while a costume designer fixes their Yeti outfit, chances are you’re hurting yourself for future acting roles.

Of course it’s fine to network, but don’t allow your actions to compromise the progress of the production.

Report Any Unsafe Conditions

Typically, sets are built for temporary use. Unfortunately, sometimes this results in materials that may pose a hazard for cast and crew. If you come across something that seems dangerous, make sure you abide by on set hierarchy, and notify your direct point of contact.

Besides the risk of injury, the producer wants to avoid a liability that could cost money and delay production.

Check In And Out

Finally, always check in and out with your point person on set. Depending on the size of the production, this could be either the assistant director or the director.

If you need to leave for any reason, make sure you notify the appropriate personnel, and then confirm with the individual once you return. The last thing you want is for the crew to be scrambling to find you because of some new development.

Wrapping Up On Set Etiquette

Dakota Fanning once said, “Often on a set you’re cold, hungry, tired and it’s still dark out. And yet, there’s no place I’d rather be. It’s the happiest I am, and the most confident.”

Yes, on set productions can be frustrating and intimidating. But being mindful of these Do’s and Don’ts, will help you be evermore successful in your future acting jobs.

If you want to learn more about auditions and on set etiquette, read how Matthew McConaughey balances preparation and spontaneity in his work.

An Audition is Not a Test

May 25, 2018

An audition is your time to perform for the purpose of showing how you would do a part in a film, TV show, commercial, etc. It is a chance to show a sample of your creative work.

While this is a simple definition, it is an important way to view auditions. Surprisingly, even many experienced actors we talk to don’t.

Even if the actor is skilled and well trained, develops a character that fits the story and genre, has rehearsed enough to make what’s on the page come to life and is excited about the audition— something happens once they arrive at the audition. That something can be the difference between booking and not.

Once in the room, if the actor veers away from “showing a sample of their creative work” and the focus becomes “Do they think I’m good enough? Will I book it? What do they think about me? Are they judging me? Will this pay the rent?”, the actor dramatically weakens their ability to do what they are there to do: create a spontaneous and real living moment as this character. In other words, PERFORM.

An audition is a performance.

From an acting perspective, the only difference between an audition and other performances is the size of the audience.

An audition is a chance to show how you would create and perform the role. There isn’t a “right” way to perform it. There is the way you as the artist, the actor and the creator of the character would perform it, should you get the part. It’s your take on the character and their approach to life. It’s a sample of your creative work.

In the audition, the more you are focused on and participating in the life of the character you created, the more you and your audience (Casting Director, Producer, Director, etc.) will have a real and rewarding experience as the performance plays out, the more they will want to see you perform it again in whatever it is they are casting and the more they will want their audience to see you perform it.

Experiencing an actor being a character who is fully living life in an authentic and engaged way is what any audience member—from a ticket buyer on Broadway to a Casting Director on the Paramount Lot—responds to.

Focusing on doing consistently strong work that contributes to a story—and doing what you love—is not only personally artistically rewarding, it will win you respect from your peers, booked jobs —and perhaps even a big, fat movie star career and paycheck.

An audition is a sample of what you do. Do it with confidence and commitment. Let casting make a choice based on what you do and how you do it, not based on you trying to “do it right.”

If you need help refining what you do in auditions, reach out to The Acting Center. We’re experts at isolating trouble spots and helping you deliver consistently stronger and more effective auditions that lead to more bookings.


 


The Acting CenterThe Acting Center helps actors to gain control over their work, teaching them to rely on their own instincts, imagination and choices. Our scene study and improv classes produce confident actors who bring an original voice to every production.

In fact, the most distinctive thing about an Acting Center student is how different each one is. We train actors to speak in their own artistic voice—producing characters that are rich and layered. They become the artist they always wanted to be.

Theater, television and film are all collaborative mediums, so an actor must work well with other actors, directors, casting directors and many more. Our technique trains them to do just that! That’s why directors love to work with Acting Center students.

 

 

Branding Yourself

May 18, 2018

When you think of yourself as an actor, do you think of yourself as your “brand?” Or do you think of yourself as an actor who is more interested in expanding your boundaries; someone who is committed to developing the skills and artistry to play the widest range of roles possible with equal strength and believability? The way you answer that question may tell you whether you are more committed to your acting or to your marketing.

When I worked at Halpern and Associates talent agency, actors we met would sometimes tell us their “brand.” We appreciated their awareness of what they could do, but we only represented strong, versatile actors. We wouldn’t send every client out for every role, of course, but we did expect every client to be great in every role we did submit them for. We never considered signing anyone who felt strongly connected to only one part of their personalities. Casting always loved our actors because they were so much more than a brand. When they would call to hire an actor they would talk about how the actor expanded the possibilities of the role, gave it dimension; they would thank us for sending them a “real actor.”

Casting director Gayle Keller, (The Big Sick, Trainwreck, Louie) has this to say to actors: “You don’t need to worry about your brand. Just be as prepared, interesting and true to yourself in the role as you can be. The bottom line is that you have to show that you’re skilled and interesting.” This is especially true in today’s marketplace. With the writing and the overall quality of what we now call television being better than ever, actors are expected to bring more than they ever have to the audition and to the role. Gayle agreed with every other casting director I spoke to. They expect no less than a fully embodied human being in the audition and ultimately will hire you for the roles they think you are right for – your brand doesn’t matter to them.

Brad Gilmore, known for casting such films as Girlfriend and A Bag of Hammers, prefers actors who are willing to show all of themselves and their talent, “When you audition for me, I’d rather not have you try to trick me into thinking you’re this or that type. I want to see someone who has prepared extensively to bring the role to him or herself. If you’re presenting a brand you’re putting up a barrier between us and I can’t get to know the real you. It’s not acting, it’s a sales pitch and I’m not buying.”

The concrete nature of branding is also at odds with the constantly changing energy of life and the fluid nature of creativity. Living a life focused on putting forth a small, fixed idea of yourself can cause you to become rigid and non-adaptive, separated from the natural rhythm of human experience. You sacrifice your spirit of creativity, your artistry and your flexibility in the interest of pushing this prepackaged picture of yourself on the world. This compromises your overall power and effectiveness as an artist.

True actors spend their time not focusing on defending and selling a brand, but rather doing the work that allows them to go more deeply and more meaningfully into themselves and their acting. They are creatives who are always looking break out of the cage of branding and play with big boys, the real actors. They have an awareness of who they are and what they can play, but they never narrow themselves down to a brand because they know that a brand is far from the whole story they have to tell. They know that it’s short sighted for actors to lose their focus as creative beings because they think they’ve discovered part of themselves that may sell.

One of my students looks like a big threatening biker. He’s well over 6 feet tall, heavily muscled and tatted. He auditions for, and books, the roles that you’d expect. That said, he’s never thought that that’s all he could play and he never stops looking for ways to expand himself as an actor. Recently he was asked to audition for a recurring role as a lawyer on a network show! Because he never bought into the smallness of branding and seeing himself as just the “mean biker,” he was able to easily tap into what he needed to audition for the role of a lawyer – and to book it.

Dale Raoul, a character actress well known for her work in True Blood, Under the Dome and now Heathers takes a similar stance. “Why put limits on yourself? Being typecast is somewhat unavoidable primarily based on what you look like. Let the outside world pigeonhole you. The job of the actor is to use imagination to explore a myriad of different personalities. This year alone I’ve played everything from a rich society matron to a down- and- out hoarder. What could be more fun or challenging?”

Without question, marketing is important to any actor’s career. But, is it more important than the dedication it takes to be to being a skilled and compelling actor? In order to succeed as an actor, not just as a commodity, you need to be spending your time living with your eyes open, leaning into new experiences, growing and training to be that special actor who can breathe real life into any role you audition for. Before you start planning how to tell people about yourself, you need to have honed your awareness of the many facets of yourself and of your talent. If casting can see from your auditions that you are a grounded, confident, compelling and fully embodied actor– you’ll become the person they have to hire. This is what actors who see this as their career aspire to and work toward. And that’s the only “brand” you need to be.

 


Craig WallaceCraig Wallace’s background in script development combined with his 16 years of coaching actors enables him to find the job getting moments that others miss. His expertise in breaking down text and years of coaching experience has made him “L.A.’s go to private coach.” Sign up for his group or private classes at wallaceauditiontechnique.com.

 

 

 

A Guide on How to Book a Role

May 17, 2018

There is never enough time to be ready for an audition, especially when it’s the one you’ve been waiting for… the one you really want. When an audition comes, you usually have at most one day with the sides to be ready to prove you’re the right pick for the role.

There is a tangible reality, the more you do something the better you get at it.

The more you audition, the better you get at it. The reason being, you are practicing your preparation and discovering what connects and disconnects you to living in the moment. Some characters will be easier and some will be harder.

It’s important to work many kinds of scenes that challenge you. This way you stretch your skill set so you can grasp a range of abilities that support mastering your auditions. The more roles you feel you have rehearsed and worked, the more resources you have to pull from. Your preparation time will shorten the more you practice.

But the fact remains: You must be working on your acting skill prior to actually getting any audition. Being great is allowing yourself to be free to become the choice that will bring the character to life. And it’s up to you to discover it.

Knowing how to prepare for the audition is half the battle. Here are some steps for your preparation.

1) First breathe. Don’t overthink the sides when you first get them. First breathe, relax, and be.

2) Simply read the scene for what is on the page. Find out everything you can about the script. You’ll want to answer these simple questions:

  1. What genre is it: sitcom, film drama, procedural, etc.?
  2. Who are you?
  3. What’s the backstory, what just happened?
  4. Who are you talking to and what is the relationship?
  5. Where are you, what’s the environment?

These simple questions are important and will give you an understanding of the scene. If one or two aren’t evident it is up to you to take clues from the material to decipher its code. This is why being able to analyze a script is so important.

3) Get up and play with a moment before. Experience where the character is emotionally and look for any changes in the feelings of the character. Are they winning or losing their scene objective?

4) Remember to listen and never plan your reactions. Respond organically from listening and hearing in the moment to what they are saying and what it means to you in the scene.

5) Explore and play. Try different choices. Pick the strongest choice that reflects what is most meaningful within the truth of the script.

6) Eliminate any negative thinking, any doubt that you may have in yourself. Run with the love of the process of discovery.

7) See each audition as a learning experience and give yourself plenty of room in your heart to enjoy them. Know that growing as an artist comes with the journey of booking sometimes and not booking sometimes. It’s fun to act. Remember, every time you audition, you get to act!

Ultimately you book your dream role, as an actor, by preparing your whole life for it. You never know when it’s coming. It could be next year, in two years, many years down the line or even tomorrow.

Stay focused on what you want and don’t let the disappointments get the best of you. Oftentimes, auditions are opportunities to practice on the way to becoming the actor that makes an impact on the world.

For more on how to book the role and build your skill to achieve your artistic and career goals, get Kimberly’s book, Acting with Impact: Power Tools to Ignite the Actor’s Performance. Available at Samuel French Bookshop and at actingwithimpact.com.

 


Kimberly Jentzen is a multiple winner of Back Stage Reader’s Choice Awards: “Favorite Acting Coach,” “Favorite Acting Teacher” and “Best of: Acting Coach”. She has directed and/or developed over a dozen plays, including Yolanda King’s critically acclaimed homage to her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Achieving The Dream. Kimberly won a Best Direction award from the Actors Film Festival for Reign. Reign went on to win nine awards including Best Short and Audience Favorite from the Louisville International Film Festival and New York Independent Film Festival. She also garnered awards for her film, Of Earth & Sky. She is the author of Acting with Impact and Life Emotion Cards, available at Samuel French Bookstore and at Amazon.com.

 

Standing Out And Making It On Your Own

April 19, 2018

With literally thousands of competing actors out there…

What makes you stand out?

What gets you the audition?

What gets you the callback?

What gets you the avail?

What gets you the booking?

It sounds complicated, but, in fact, the answer is quite simple. All of these things occur when you do what only YOU can do. I’d like to repeat this because it is the primary factor to really being successful in this business. The above-mentioned things occur when you do what only YOU can do.

So, what does this actually mean?

It means that you MUST make what you do your own with complete confidence! This is what will set you aside from all the others. Every person is unique and when you are able to let that shine, positive things will start to happen.

The actors who come in and read with no emotions, forget their lines, try to be funny, try to be liked, rush through the scene or are so nervous that basic human functions are compromised, any chance of a fun and authentic read will be completely shattered and the chance of booking the job will be destroyed.

Now we have all been there and there is nothing worse than walking out of an audition with any of those, but on the flip side there is also no greater feeling than walking out knowing that you killed it in the room.

That’s what keeps us going – that high you feel when you are 100% certain your agent is going to call with some great news. When the casting director thanks you on the way out with a big smile or when everyone in the room looks away from their laptop and laughs out loud at your read or when you shock even yourself on the way home from the improv choices you made or when you trust yourself and know that no matter what choice you make, it will be the right one.

Nobody is capable of bringing your personal uniqueness into the room because you are one of a kind. When you are able to fully embrace that fact, it will ultimately set you apart from the assembly line of standard actors who are constantly seeking approval by pretending to be someone they are not. These needy actors plague audition rooms day in and day out and casting sees right through them.

There will be so many things that will get in your way: the traffic in route to the audition, the lack of parking when you get there, waiting over an hour because they are running behind, noticing everyone around you in the waiting area that looks like a better fit for the role, the clients, writer, director, and ad agency who aren’t paying attention.

All of these things must be pushed aside. You can’t worry about any of these and you certainly can’t take it personal because they are truly out of your hands. If the job is meant to be yours, nobody can take it away from you, and if it’s not, then you won’t get it. It’s that simple. There is no point in beating yourself up, especially for things that are out of your control.

The minute I realized that I should not sweat the stuff beyond my control, my bookings went through the roof.

When heading into the audition room…

Be prepared Make strong choices Bring a little bit of our own personality to the role Have fun (Most importantly).  Sure, there are times we have our best audition in the car on the way home from the audition and we begin to question ourselves…

Why didn’t I say this? Why didn’t I think of that?

We are human and it’s bound to happen again and again. But the more you do this, the more you will have those amazing auditions right there in the room where they need to be.There is something I heard years ago and I will never forget. Don’t worry about the booking because that will only last a day or so, concentrate on making a new fan in that room because that will last a lifetime. How do you make a fan?

Confidence is seriously the key.

But let me preface that by saying there is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Never trespassing into cockiness, but sheer confidence. You have to know that when you walk into that audition room, you will win it over regardless of the outcome.

You may not book this commercial, but you can bet that they will remember you and will call you in for something else. I can tell you from experience because it’s happened numerous times. There will be directors who will ask for you by name from an audition you did months ago because, although you may not have been right for that particular job, you stuck with them.

You never know why you do or do not book a job, so once you leave the audition room, put it behind you and move on. It’s out of your hands at that point. So before you beat yourself up for not booking the job, I can assure you there will be another one right around the corner, and chances are it will be even better.

They say this business is 33% Luck 33% timing and 33% who you know, but I think it’s more like 75% who you know.

When they know they can count on you to show up, deliver with confidence, and make them look good, you can bet they will continue to call you in again and again. Despite popular perception, this is actually quite a small business and casting directors all talk and you can’t keep talent a secret in this town.

The brand new book by David Banks
How To Make a Living As a Commercial Actor is available now at Amazon or Barnes & Noble


David Banks is an American actor. He is well known for his performance in several funny commercials. He has appeared in over 100 national commercials.
David studied at the Groundlings, which claims some of the funniest comedians such as John Lovitz, Will Farrell, Chris Katan, and Lisa Kudrow.
Since David’s move to Southern California he has appeared in commercials with companies like Coors Light, Samsung, Eastwood, Reebok, Motorola, Best Buy, Hoover, Elephant Insurance,Little Caesars, Comcast, Red Robin, Mitsubishi, EA Games, Ditech, Milk, and Citibank to name a few. Banks recently joined Lisa Kudrow, Janeane Garofalo, and Fred Willard in the new hit cartoon Lovesick Fool. Directed by Dominic Polcino (The Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of the Hill).

The Role That Got Away

April 16, 2018

As actors, we audition, but we don’t always get the role. This is part of the job. Sometimes we may not even be in the running, and other times we get so close we can smell craft services.

The director, casting director, or producer may respond positively; they may seem to love you. You’re moving forward in the process. You perform for more members of their team in callbacks. They laugh, cry, are moved as you audition for them again.

Your agent calls: you’re “pinned”, or you’re the “top choice”, or “it’s down to you and just a couple of others, but they love you!”

You think to yourself, “This is it! I got this role!”

Alas, your agent calls and breaks the news that they “went another way.”

After hearing this, it can be hard to accept the compliments your agent relays about how much they “love your work.”  All that resonates in your mind is that you didn’t get it.

This can sometimes lead one to look inward– wondering, “what did I do wrong?  Why aren’t I as good as that other actor?  What am I missing? Is it my look?  Are my dreams of playing roles like that just delusions?”  Etc., etc., etc.

This trip down “Self-Doubt Lane” is crippling to an artist.

So what can one do about it?

The Artistic Facts

Let’s break this down into facts:

FACT 1

If you don’t feel confident about how to consistently create a character and perform it in a compelling way, then you need to learn workable, reliable facts (not opinions) about the process of acting. 

These facts are exactly what we teach at The Acting Center.

In the above scenario, understanding what acting is wasn’t the problem. You did great. They legitimately loved you!  They actually do admire your work.

Throw any question of “am I good enough?” out the window. That was not the problem.

Hold on to the fact that you performed a character that was  admired, and was engaging, exciting or moving.

This is the reason why you continued to be in the running.  You did your job well.

FACT 2.

Final casting decisions are made in relationship to many things that have nothing to do with the actor’s skills or performance. 

Behind the scenes of a casting process there are many “cooks in the kitchen”. The director, producer, studio or network all have their own ideas about the way the meal should come together. This relates to every aspect of the show – the style, lighting, shooting style, how the characters look or sound together, how they contrast with or complement each other, and on and on.

There are also financial considerations; how much money this or that actor will require, based on their popularity.

All these things, of course, are outside of your control.

The aspects that one can control are in preparing and researching the character, and in doing a great audition.

Again, in the scenario above, you already made it through many hoops. They called you in because you were the look and type of person they wanted. You survived the process as long as you did because you performed well, and they liked your take on the role.

Whatever behind-the-scenes factors played a part in another actor being considering a better choice is something you could not have predicted or controlled, and has nothing to do, really, with your “rightness” or “wrongness” for this particular part.

So skip the self-doubt! You did great work; they know it, you know it. You may not have booked the job, but you very likely made some new fans that will think of you for other roles in the future.

FACT 3.

The freedom to make personal choices as to how something should look, feel or come together is necessary to achieving effective art. 

This is a key point in letting go of any concerns about “the role that got away.”

Let’s say you had a show that you were casting. Wouldn’t you want to have full artistic control on who was cast in each role, so it would come together the way you envisioned it?

This is one of the realities of the casting process: the creators get to choose the cast that works best for their vision, or for the vision of the creative team as a whole.

It is also one of the rules of making any art: one is free to choose what is made and how.

The freedom to make choices is part of the joy of artistic creation.

Your individual choices and ideas are actually what make your work desired and admired.

If one allows that freedom to exist in one’s own work, one must allow for others to have that same freedom in theirs.

Focus On What’s Next

Now that the “almost booked” audition is behind you, it’s time to focus on the future.

If you feel you could be more confident or consistent in creating characters and performing them, don’t wait–get into class!

If that role you lost is still something you would like to tackle, work on that type of role in class. You could find or get someone to write a short scene with that type of character and work on it in class.  You can even shoot it for your reel so that others can you envision you in this kind of role.

Lastly, realize that there are no lack of characters as alive and interesting as that one that “got away.” New scripts and roles are written every day, and if you are actively honing your craft, you will be ready for them when you get the call.

Opportunities arise again and again in the course of a actor’s career. Follow your interests. Create and perform all kinds of different characters at every opportunity, and the future will be filled with many roles for you to book and play!

 


The Acting Center helps actors to gain control over their work, teaching them to rely on their own instincts, imagination and choices. Our scene study and improv classes produce confident actors who bring an original voice to every production.

In fact, the most distinctive thing about an Acting Center student is how different each one is. We train actors to speak in their own artistic voice—producing characters that are rich and layered. They become the artist they always wanted to be.

Theater, television and film are all collaborative mediums, so an actor must work well with other actors, directors, casting directors and many more. Our technique trains them to do just that! That’s why directors love to work with Acting Center students.

Commercial Acting— Training is Essential

March 16, 2018

 

Use what you know. Don’t worry about what you don’t know.

—Michael Shurtleff, playwright, casting director, and author

Maybe your friends tell you, “You’re so attractive, you should be in commercials!” Or perhaps you’ve been approached at the mall by a talent agent who says your child is a natural and it’ll be easy to get her into commercials.

Acting in commercials has the lure of seeming to be a simple profession. Everyone believes it’s easy to get into, easy to achieve quick success, and of course you will make piles of money!

But as commercial director Kevin Emmons says about a British actor: “I was working with this actor on a shoot. He was classically trained and brilliant, and he is now suddenly in front of a teleprompter with all these lines, and he has to do this specific action while walking and talking . . . and by the third take he was overwhelmed. He said he acted his whole life and this [commercial stuff] is hard!”

Good actors make commercial acting look easy. However, saying words that are product-driven with little- to-no time to practice or rehearse, getting virtually no background explanation whatsoever, making it look like you’re having an everyday conversation with a friend in front of complete strangers while the camera is rolling—it is all a lot more challenging than it looks.

A student in his late 50s took my 6-week A-Z commercial class. He was a successful ear/nose/throat surgeon, and typically impatient. After the final class he asked, “How long does it take to get a job?”

“Well, how long did it take you before you began prac- ticing surgery?” I asked with a smile.

He said, “Four years of college, two years of grad school and four years in a residency.”

“Okay, and so what makes you think you can master commercial acting in six weeks?” I said with a little glint in my eye and steel in my tone. He was speechless.

Casting director Ross Lacy told me once, “I always laugh when someone says, ‘Omigosh, I would like to be in commercials,’ and I say, ‘Sure you would! So would everybody. That’s why these people are training and go to improv classes all night long because they make it look easy—and it’s not! And the people who think it is are mistaken!’

Ross continues, “The one thing I know is that training is imperative if you want a lasting career in commercials. Of course there are stories of the person who walked in, booked the job, and made a pile of money off one spot. This is definitely the exception. The same odds apply to winning the lottery.”

Just like my acting student /surgeon, most people wouldn’t dream of trying to start a new career in any field other than acting without getting the proper training, doing whatever it takes to make themselves competitive.


Judy Kain is an actress who has appeared in over 400 commercials. Most recently, she has had recurring roles on The Fosters, Hand Of God and The Odd Couple. Judy currently teaches acting and business of acting classes at her acting school, Keep It Real Acting Studios, in North Hollywood, California.

Finding the Character’s Dramatic Need in Their Life & In The Journey of the Script

March 15, 2018

When I began to study screenwriting with Syd Field, one of the major principles that he taught me was Dramatic Need and it really struck a chord with me. Below is a discussion of how now, years later, I teach dramatic need to actors, writers, and directors.

What does the Character Want?

Wherein, we delve into discovering the golden nugget that keeps actors connected, grounded, and fighting for something that is essential to the character’s existence. In its simplest terms, what is it that the character wants? Answering this question specifically will be crucial and inescapable. For every scene, character, and audition that the actor brings to life, he will have to know, who is the character and what do they want.

What is the Character’s Objective?

The most common way of describing and instilling into actors this concept of wanting something is done with the word, “objective.” Coaches and directors will incessantly ask, “What is your objective”? That is to say, what does the character want in the scene? What does the character want from the other character in the scene? What do they want for themselves? To find objectives, the actor can analyze the action and answer three questions: «What is my character doing physically and emotionally? Why is my character doing it? How will my character do it? » This creates the performance for the actor. This creates the character. Action is character, Syd used to tell us incessantly. It is through action that the actor understands and connects with the main ideas and themes in the script that the writer is attempting to convey. It is through actions that characters pursue their objectives.

In human nature, desire is essential. We are always in the quest for something. For purposes of creating character, Syd Field defines this notion of desire as, “what does the character want to win, gain, or achieve in the journey of the screenplay?” Before writing anything, it is crucial to understand the main character, so that the writer can better develop the situations he will be creating for his character in the screenplay.

The writer has to create all the elements for his story from scratch. The actor has the blueprint and the clues that the writer has provided, for interpreting and deciphering the character’s desires. I like the name that Syd Field has given this concept of desire. He calls it the Character’s Dramatic Need. I find it much more colorful and heightened than objective.

In a script, we generally see a portion of a character’s life. Even if it is a biographic picture, it is impossible to show everything about a person’s life in 120 minutes. As a consequence, we end up seeing only a slice of the character’s life. Usually in this window of life, there is something that the character must uncover or fight for. This becomes their Dramatic Need.

It is dramatic because on several levels what the character wants is urgent. It is dramatic because in this sliver of life, the circumstances and obstacles that the character is encountering are life altering. The character’s Dramatic Need is driving the story line and thus providing the script with the different avenues for the “drama potential.”

What the character wants is a need because it is not a whim or a passing fancy. Their lives are usually at stake, literally and/or metaphorically. Achieving the goal or not, is usually what the story is about and what keeps the viewer hooked. A character’s Dramatic Need provides them with their purpose. It is their most heartfelt wish.

When exploring the objectives of a character, the actor should start with the global ones first. What is their overall objective in life? What is the purpose of their life? What is their purpose in the journey of the script? What about at this moment in their life? The actions that the actor chooses to play for the character are governed consciously and subconsciously by what the character wants.

For purposes of clarity, let’s make a distinction between Objective and Dramatic Need.

Throughout life, objectives may change but usually the core impetus, the dramatic need within, stays consistent, even if one is not able to consciously define it. Our objectives change because we are a wanting animal and when we achieve one objective, we are ready to tackle another. That is why life is a journey. We cannot know all the answers in advance. We must be in the doing and then things will unravel and be revealed. The answers will come.

When I did my own personal list of objectives, I found that they were, above all, work related. So, I dig deeper and ask myself WHY? Why do I want all these things? Where does this desire come from? Well, if I start way back when I was fourteen years old in Honduras, I was a child of divorced parents; awkward, lonely, misplaced in a bourgeois, superficial society, where the arts were frowned upon. I felt stifled. Yet, in the after-school drama club I felt like I belonged. We created other realities, imaginary ones, and that was fun! I discovered I could express my feelings, and those of others. Once I discovered this possibility, I knew I had to leave my country. My overall Dramatic Need in life was for expression, freedom, and achieving “the impossible.” Psychological events and the circumstances surrounding my persona helped to establish that.

As I have gone through my life, my immediate objectives have changed but my overall Dramatic Need for expression, creativity, dreams, freedom, and autonomy, has remained consistent. WHY? Why must I do this? Perhaps because, from my Point of View, I was left alone and abandoned by my father. He was absent and unavailable to me so, I have the NEED to prove that I can succeed, and on my terms.

Knowing the main objectives will also help in choosing the immediate, moment-to-moment objectives that appear in each scene. Knowing the Dramatic Need drives everything. It is a tank of fuel that feeds the performance engine. Everything becomes clearer if we understand the big picture. By knowing where the character is headed, the writer, the actor, and the director can create the steps that must be accomplished to get there.


Natalia Lazarus is the Artistic Director at the helm of the Los Angeles Performing Arts Conservatory & its subsidiaries. In addition, Ms. Lazarus is also a private and international coach for Hollywood celebrities on sets (most notably Ken Jeong of The Hangover, Community & Knocked Up; Teresa Ruiz from Border Town with Jennifer Lopez; and in institutions throughout the world, like Bridge Media, The International School of Cinema of Paris, the Guanajuato Film Festival, Casa Azul in Mexico City, River Hollywood Training School in Tokyo Japan, Instituto Stanislavsky in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in Los Angeles.

Product Identity and Your Brand

February 16, 2018

 

A successful career in the arts and especially in the performing arts is difficult to think about as a product. After all, a human being is involved. The preparation necessary to become an actor is specific and requires an expenditure of dedication, time, and money.

By definition, your career is a focused application of a skill designed to provide earnings and satisfaction. Thus, no matter how personal an endeavor an acting career may be, certain principles of basic marketing can and do apply and ought to be employed even by the artist.

The proliferation of social media and the emphasis of having an online presence have created a marketplace crowded with options and information proclaiming the virtues of every product from toothpicks to artificial hearts. The focus on marketing offers has become essential.

Marketing – of any product – can be reduced to three essential principles: Product identity, packaging, and placement. When understood and effectively employed, these principles can help you navigate the overcrowded marketplace and enhance the prospect of success.

The “grandmother” of these principles is the first, product identity. Without a cleverly discerned and properly articulated statement of product identity, the second two principles, packaging and placement, aren’t even possible.

It doesn’t take many interviews or auditions for an actor to realize that there’s more going on in a casting session than simply how proficiently a scene is read. It’s obvious that there are other factors at play besides the quality of your craftsmanship. And because you are not able to see the audition from their point of view, it is impossible to understand how they perceive the work, the “product”.

Product identity is pretty simple when you’re marketing toothpicks or even artificial hearts. If you’re trying to market one of those products, you can put it on a table in front of you, you can see it from the same angles as a potential buyer can see it. You can invite others to look at it with you. You can appreciate the item from their point of view and, thus, interpret the reactions they may have to the product. It isn’t the same when you are the product.

What can you do about it? Find out what’s going on in that outside point of view and integrate it with your interior point of view.

By taking these two essential actions, the two aspects of personal product identity can be a unified. From having the right photographs to having an effective website and social media presence to giving truly memorable auditions you can more effectively market your identity – your brand.

The above has been at the core of the Sam Christensen Process that I’ve been offering for almost thirty years. 2018 marks the final year that I’ll be teaching my Process in person. I’m leaving Los Angeles and I’ll be presenting an on-line version of the image and marketing work I invented. So, experience the Process as I created it – and enjoy the confidence and ease it produce as you build your career.


About Sam Christiansen:

Sam has had a career of well deserved lucky breaks (Public Theatre -New Talent, Arthur Laurent’s assistant, Broadway Company Manager; Casting director-M*A*S*H, Clash of The Titans, The Champ; Personal Manager-Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jean Claude VanDamme, Rita Wilson) all of which lead him to create his landmark personal branding system and a lifetime of close personal work with actors. (Leslie Jones, Drew Carey, Dan Harmon, Will Wheaton, etc)

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

February 6, 2018

February has already arrived and for many actors, the New Year and New Year’s Resolutions go hand in hand. Starry eyed hopefuls will imagine networking more, plan to nail every audition, and decide to look into that commercial class they have heard so much about. Unfortunately, keeping these resolutions is not always as easy as dreaming them up…not without the proper guidance.

The first step to keeping your resolution is to treat acting as a business and yourself as the CEO of said business. With this in mind, I have developed a system that enables actors, like myself, to accomplish small manageable goals in a clear and concise manner. I call this the Actor’s Business Plan. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

How to Write An Actor’s Business Plan:

Trim down your business plan to the absolute minimum. Do your best to omit unnecessary words and communicate your objective and strategy with minimal clutter.

  1. Describe The Struggles/Challenges You Are Having Right Now (no agent, not enough bookings, etc.) Aim high, but also be realistic.
  2. Your Solution Where do you see your career going? What is the best case scenario? (to save money as I make my living acting or to get a recurring role on a hit sitcom)
  3. Business model Create a plan to accomplish your goals. (I will need to make $10,000 a month to live the way I want to live in 5 years)
  4. Target Market With whom do you need to network? Come up with a list of industry professionals (agents, casting directors, producers, etc.) who could help you attain your goals and the ways in which you can meet them.
  5. Competitive Advantage What makes you special? Do you speak Spanish? Are you very funny? Find ways to let your target market know you have these skills. (skill clips, videos, website, etc.)
  6. Management Team Who is helping you achieve your goals and do you need to gather more or better people on your team? Teams may include teachers, coaches, publicists, web designers, etc.
  7. Financial summary What does it look like now and where you want it to be? This is a cost breakdown of what you need to invest in ( classes, tapes, etc.), and how you expect to make it back.
  8. Funding Required Establish a way to make the required money to fund your plans for the business. (Get a job, find donors, etc.)

Once your resolutions are set and the Actor’s Business Plan is written, start tracking your results. Compare the number of auditions you had before and after your new headshots, write down the casting directors you have met and the amount of times that they have called you in, and make a list of interactions you have had with your agent.

Endeavor to be all that you can be in 2018. Create your Actor’s Business Plan and you will be a whole lot closer to making your resolutions a reality!


Judy Kain is an actress who has appeared in over 400 commercials. Most recently, she has had recurring roles on The Fosters, Hand Of God and The Odd Couple. Judy currently teaches acting and business of acting classes at her acting school, Keep It Real Acting Studios, in North Hollywood, California.

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