Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Professional Actor - How to Use Your Self-Awareness to Get Ahead in the Business

As an actor you must understand the power of being self-aware in order to convince casting directors you are not only talented enough, but have a great head on your shoulders.
There is a fine line between being self-aware and self-absorbed, and I will try my hardest to define each so you may lean more toward awareness and less toward being self-absorbed.
What is Self-Awareness in the Scope of an Actor?
Being self-aware as an actor means having a solid understanding of your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your talent, which is easier said than done. We as actors like to think we can accomplish any acting goal - that any character is within our reach. Unfortunately, this is not true.
We all have a strong point when it comes to the type of characters we may portray, and in order to get ahead in this business you must hold a solid understanding of these characters.
Along with talent self-awareness, you must also have physical self-awareness. This refers to understanding how your body moves, what your ticks are and how you can adjust your bodily movement for a character.
When you're at an audition, casting directors will adore you if you showcase an acute awareness for your body and how it moves. Even if you're not moving in excess, your very stance can inform a casting director of your talent and ability/agility.
Avoiding the Self-Absorption Trap
It is far too easy for an actor to become self-absorbed within his own world. If you think about it, you'll be surprised all actors aren't self-absorbed. As an actor you must be extremely aware of your body and your abilities. You are continually having people judge you, and praise you when you do well. You are bombarded by materialistic phrases and judgments from your peers.
In order to avoid the self-absorption trap, and to keep your name in a good light when it comes to casting directors, producers and directors, you must understand that this awareness is vital for the success of your career, but the awareness must STOP when you are not performing. When you're off-script or just having a conversation with a casting director, be yourself. Relax and have fun. An actor that can laugh and make jokes about himself is a casting director's best friend.
Remember: if you take yourself too seriously, no one will take you seriously.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Real Cost of Free

You should know that when you work for free, you are establishing your price: free. Anyone who hires you for free is going to expect you to work for free in the future. Why wouldn’t they? You’ve done it before!
Additionally, any free project you’ve committed to performing with is a possible conflict for some other paid opportunity that can come up in the future. And since a responsible, caring performer doesn’t ditch on a show, it can lead to some very emotionally turbulent decisions. Talk to any performer who’s been in the business for some time and they can share a moment of having to choose between taking a paying gig, and hurting the feelings (or finances) of someone to whom they’ve promised a free gig.
So choose wisely.
When you expect Exposure, Experience, or to Get Ahead and what you get it Bupkis, it leads to feelings of frustration, anger, depression, and more.
But knowing what you will truly get out of donating your very valuable self to a project is not only empowering, it allows you to spend your Time, Energy, and Personal Resources on the things you want to see benefit from them.
An additional, personal rule of thumb: never work for free.
Even if you’re getting Exposure, Experience, or (God forbid) Getting Ahead, always request some kind of payment of value… even if it’s $5 that you turn right around to donate back.
You’re establishing that you do not work “for free”, but that you are willing to work at a discounted rate for the right project.
And who can’t respect that?

Should Actor Work for free

Most actors do free work because they’ll Get Exposure, Gain Experience, or in some undefined way Get Ahead. At least, that’s why we think we work for free.
The truth of the matter is that most of us perform for free because someone liked us enough to ask us to perform.
Part of being an actor is dealing with constant rejection (submissions for auditions, the audition itself, the callback, the lack of a callback, the reviews, the applause, etc). We put ourselves out there a lot, and most of the time, we get nothing for our efforts. So when someone asks us to work–even for free–we get a sense of reward and accomplishment, and we didn’t even have to do anything yet!
And that feeling is nice!
But a feeling is not enough reason to work “for free”.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Back Story

The BACK STORY initiates the creative process of the actor (all creativity starts with impulse.) 
ü “Imagination and creativity are guests that do not like to visit lazy people.”
ü “Until the Actor loses all Awareness of the ‘Self’, the Character will never come to Life.”
v “The Kiersey Temperament and Character web site”, (
v “The Little Giant Encyclopedia Of The Zodiac”
The actor creates (in writing) a complete biography of the character from birth up to the time the story takes place as well as a psychological profile.  Primarily the actor should be interested in what the character is like or what makes him tick.  What are his goals, what are his desires, wants and needs in his life.  What are his mores, habits, manners, lifestyle and values?  What interesting things have happened to him in his life that makes him unique?  How does he respond and deal with conflict, crisis, fear and love and why.  (Commonplace is not interesting)  He must even create anticipation or dread of future events for the character; what is the character looking forward to (or dreading), what goals (specifically) has he set for himself in his life, what does he anticipate is going to happen to him.  “Always give the character a secret that only he knows.”  Always give your character a secret he knows about the other character(s) that the other character(s) doesn’t know he knows.
The study of character should be from the inside, not from the outside!  “Always work from the inside out; if you work from the outside in, all you have is a dry husk.”  A character is a blank canvas upon which the actor paints all of the emotions, details, fantasy memories and characteristics at his command.  The actor is the brush: emotions are the colors; the character is the canvas.
In order to create a complete character, you must research and look for or create new habit patterns for the character; even if it is only seeking out and talking to the type of character you have to create.
A BACK STORY can easily (and should) exceed 50 pages because the actor must create, as part of and in addition to Research, memories; 
v Assumed Fantasy Memories for the character that have nothing at all to do with his own memories except for some physical memories. 
v Knowledge Memories.   Knowledge memories are anything the character knows or has learned in his life and even what he wants to learn.
v Emotional memories are absolutely vital to the character in the development of the BACK STORY.  Weak or shallow emotional memories set the stage for the actor to “break character” and use his own memories.  Emotional memories (causal stimuli), must be painstakingly created if the actor is to avoid “breaking character”.  The actor must realize that his character needs a balance of memories, using the “Yin and Yang” principle, creating good or happy memories as well as sad or traumatic memories for the character to utilize in playing each moment and it is the strength and clarity of the memories that keeps him in character and in the moment.  Emotional memories create the basis of the character’s personality;  how he responds to crisis, to conflict, fear, to love and to what automatic choices he will make when playing the moment (A character’s choices will always naturally flow from the character traits you establish in his BACK STORY).  Personality defining memories usually have occurred by the age of twelve.  “The response of the character to any given situation within the context of a scene comes from the preparation of the BACK STORY.”
v Anticipation or dread of Future events is the final section of “Memories”.  Your character not only has a life (the BACK STORY) that precedes the story, but also that life must and will continue after the story.
Everything the character has done in his life or anticipates doing, the actor must know and therefore has to create; the actor must decide what skeletons the character has in his closet, what things the character is most proud/ashamed of, etc.  Once adhering to the given circumstances, the actor can basically play God, he can create any memory or thought for the character he chooses, there is no right or wrong, (there is only too little) so long as he begins with the given circumstances supplied by the writer.  In order to become and be the character, the actor must know everything about the character and the beauty is that the actor gets to create it.  You must know the character better than you know yourself.  It is a wise person who knows others, but it is an enlightened person who knows himself.
It is the character’s lifestyle that dictates what the character’s personality is like and what choices he will make and this is where the character becomes unique and original.  Don’t create a unique or original character for its own sake, the character must fit and flow with the story and the other characters.
The actors should make JOINT BACK STORIES for the length of time the characters have been together in the story.  “PEAK” memories.  Physical, Emotional, Anticipation and Knowledge.  JOINT BACK STORIES are absolutely vital to the emotional base between characters.
Audience Apathy:  The thing an actor should hate and fear most is audience apathy.  When his audience doesn’t care about his character; love your character, hate your character or at least find your character interesting, then the actor has failed in his creation.
Emotional Characteristics Outline:
·       Strengths/Weaknesses
·       Introvert or Extrovert (Personality category or type)
·       How does the character deal with anger?
Ø With Sadness?
Ø With Conflict?
Ø With change?
Ø With Loss?
Ø With Love?
Ø With Fear?
Ø With Confrontation?
·       What does the character want out of life? (Goals)
·       What would the character like to change about himself or in his life?
·       What motivates this character?
·       What frightens this character?
·       What makes this character happy/sad?
·       Is the character judgmental of others?
·       Is the character generous or stingy?
·       Is the character compassionate, cruel or indifferent?
·       Is there character generally polite or rude?
·       Is the character easy-going or irritable/grouchy?
·       Is the character self-conscious?
·       Is the character confident or insecure?

Extra Notes:

1) When speaking to an actor off-camera, look into one eye and stick with it.

2) Film acting is, in large part, reacting and listening.

3) While rehearsing something with a fellow actor, if a crew member can come up and recognize you’re rehearsing vs. having a real conversation, then you aren’t doing it right.

4) An actor relaxes in front of the camera by concentrating, and knowing that you have no enemies on set, everyone’s on your side and doing their best to make you look your best for the movie.

5) The camera catches everything you do, so don’t be afraid to play things subtly.

6) If you’re going to smoke on-screen, you must plan it absolutely perfectly, don’t mess up the continuity.

7) All actors steal certain gestures and behaviors from other actors — but the best actors make these gestures their own. Steal from the best, and make it your own.

8) You can make four pictures as an actor in the time it takes a director to make one — so if you’re an actor planning on becoming a director, consider the financial aspect.

9) A majority of movie acting is relaxation. If you’re knocking yourself out, you’re doing it wrong.

10) Theater acting is an operation with a scalpel; movie acting is an operation with a laser.


One of the basic premises of all marketing (a fancy word for sales) is the USP. It stands for Unique Selling Proposition.  For instance Avis "Tries Harder," or Pepsi "Hits the Spot."  I like to promote an idea to actors, called the UCP or ... Unique Character Presentation. Beat the casting directors to the punch -- decide on your "type" yourself. Learn the basic types -- and how they are sold -- and then choose what fits you best.  Pay particular attention to that word "unique." It means that the product must be differentiated from other products. Here are the types -- and the components used to sell them - in hopes that this list will help you develop your own Unique Character Presentation.  (I'll also give a few examples of actors who have used each type in building their career. Note how widely varied two people in the same type can be): 

THE INNOCENT - A person whose goal and core desire is happiness, who fears being punished for doing something wrong. This person's strategy is to do things the "right" way. This approach requires faith and optimism -- so THE INNOCENT is expected to reflect goodness, morality, simplicity, nostalgia -- the child.
 Selling this image generally requires a romantic, traditional approach. Or in some cases, mystical, saintly or dreamy. (David Schwimmer, Meg Ryan) 

REGULAR GUY (GAL) - This is person whose goal and core desire is belonging and connecting with others. The  strategy is to have a "common touch," be a "down to earth" person with solid virtues.
 Known for realism, empathy and lack of pretense. This is the "good ol' boy," the girl next door, the working stiff, the solid citizen, the good neighbor and  the regular Joe. Selling this image requires differentiating from elitist, powerful people and stressing the everyday functionality of this sort of person. (Ray Romano, Sandra Bullock) 

THE EXPLORER - This sort of person wants to experience a better, more authentic, more fulfilling life.  Conformity and the feeling of being trapped are what THE EXPLORER is avoiding.
 The strategy is seeking new things, escape from the everyday, autonomy, ambition and being true to one's inner life.  Selling an image like this is done with individuality, differentiation, 'new and exciting' are words to keep in mind. This is the seeker, the wanderer, the pilgrim. A Pioneering spirit. (Ellen DeGeneres, Johnny Depp) 

THE SAGE - This is the type of person whose goal and desire are to use intelligence and analysis to find the truth and understand the world. Not wanting to be duped, misled or ignored, THE SAGE uses information, knowledge and self- reflection to reach the goal of the truth.
 Selling the sage is mostly a matter of projecting expertise, philosophy, good planning, solidity, a professional image. The mentor, the teacher, the guru. (Leonard Nimoy, Oprah Winfrey) 

THE HERO - A constant in the telling of stories, THE HERO is the person who believes to their core that where there's a will, there's a way.  The goal and main desire is to prove one's worth through courage. The strategy here is strength and competence. From the superhero to the team player -- the warrior to the winner -- this person wants to improve the world with his mastery of fear.
 Selling this image is somewhat complicated as several of the other types can cross over to this role. But, straight- forwardness is a mainstay. Clear-eyed and capable. No reluctance to go into the unknown. This is someone we can depend on. (Sylvester Stallone, Linda Hamilton) 

THE OUTLAW - This type wants to change what doesn't work for themselves, generally through revenge or revolution.  This person is a misfit, a wild man (or woman) who rebels against the norm. The strategy here is to disrupt, destroy or shock.
 Selling THE OUTLAW is mostly a matter of breaking with convention. Words to keep in mind are radical, outrageous, the "dark side." Social outcast. Reactionary. Rebellious. (Al Pacino, Kathy Bates) 

THE MAGICIAN - This person's goal is to make dreams come true through a fundamental laws of how the universe works. The main strategy is to develop a vision and live by it. Always looking for the "win-win" situation. Appearing as the visionary, the inventor, shaman, medicine man, or charismatic.
 Selling this image is projecting a transformative nature. Specialness, spirituality, and ability to effect the outcome. This can be a "new age" approach. (Lucy Liu, Jon Voight) 

THE LOVER - People of this type have a goal of relationships through intimacy and experience. The strategy of THE LOVER is to be passionate, grateful, appreciative and committed -- to become more emotionally or physically attractive.  This person can be a spouse, a friend, a partner or team builder.
 Selling this image is a matter of being outer directed and able to please others. A comfortable feeling of "belonging" differentiates THE LOVER from other types. (Aaron Eckhart, Drew Barrymore) 

THE JESTER - With a goal of having a good time and "kidding" the world, THE JESTER plays, makes jokes, can be a trickster. Never wants to be boring or to be bored. A strategy of puncturing self importance, creating fun and live in the moment is what differentiates this person from the "herd."
 Selling this image requires a welcoming, trustworthy, friendly approach. Truthful, open to change, easy to know are ideas that important to being this person. (Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah) 

THE  RULER - The goal of 'the boss' is to create a prosperous family, community or team. Success is a result of this person's core desire to control the situation. The strategy is to exercise power, leadership, responsibility and authority to achieve a greater end.
 Selling this image is all in the areas of confidence, stability and trust. Differentiate from "regular" people. (Judi Dench, Alan Alda) 

THE CAREGIVER - This type cares and protects other selflessly. The strategy of THE CAREGIVER is doing things for others with compassion and generosity.  The parent, helper and supporter are people that fall into this category.
 Selling this image is about family, team, health, education -- helping. Differentiate from selfish people. (Frances McDormand, Keanu Reeves) 

THE CREATOR - This is a person who wants to give form to a vision and to create enduing value. The strategy here is to develop artistic control, culture, skills and to express her own vision using creativity and imagination.

 Selling this image requires innovation, self expression, and artistry. Differentiate from unimaginative, banal and usual. (Steve Martin, Bette Midler) As you can see, there are many types and even more strategies for projecting the image that sells. Add to that, the ability of some actors to combine some types and you have, literally, thousands of choices.  For instance, Harrison Ford is the regular guy hero, Robin Williams is the jester creator, Julia Roberts is the innocent explorer, and Sarah Jessica Parker is the lover caregiver.  In fact one of the transitions every actor makes in a career is the expansion of their basic type -- to include elements of other types -- which, in turn, extends their staying power. So the question is not "What type are you"  as much as it is...  "What's your Unique Character Presentation?" All you have to do is look at yourself in an objective way and align your marketing efforts with your natural tendencies.  It's up to you to choose, or you can wait for someone else to decide for you ... which might take a long time.   Be the creative hero in your own career.