TIME MARCHES ON

OK….I thought that I would have another few weeks before writing this and I also hoped that the last two blogs I wrote would have helped to ease all of you through this time but, like everything else, the process has been accelerated so, here it goes:

Just as every traditional pilot season comes to a close, all actors start to freak out and question everything from their worth, their very existence, and whether gravity is real . In reality, the end of pilot season is a good time for actors to look at themselves and their paths and evaluate how or if in what way they want to continue their careers. What this is NOT a good time for is to self flagellate and over analyze every single thing that was said to you or that you did to the point that it loses all sense of reality.

There is an old vaudeville routine that is called “The Jack Story” and it goes something like this:

A man is driving, late at night, along a deserted country road when he gets a flat tire
He goes to his trunk to get a jack only to discover that he doesn’t have one
It is very dark and there is no sign of a house anywhere
Then he remembers that he did pass a farm about a 1/2 mile back.
“Maybe” he thinks, “they will have a jack I can borrow”
So, he starts off towards the farm
About half way there he stops, “Gee, I bet everyone is fast asleep and I would just be disturbing them….Oh well, I have no choice”
A little while later he stops again. “Why would people live alone out here? What if they are terrorists or some kind of neo-Nazis?”
At this point, he has worked himself up into such a state that, when he knocks on the door, he explodes at the sweet old man who answers it, “Do you know what you can do with your F…ing jack?!!! and storms back into the night

Why do I mention this story at this time? Because all of us, in our own individual ways, do “the jack story” from time to time. We take one thing that has happened and over examine it and over think about it until the thing that happened has no relation to what we are thinking or feeling. We create a monster!

While this happens every year, this year the level of frustration among actors is especially high. Well, guess what: The level of frustration your representatives are feeling is very high, too. We want you to work because, frankly, if you don’t work, we don’t get paid. Everyone gets frustrated but don’t wrap yourself up in it like a cloak of doom.

This pilot season was one in which there was no such thing as getting a fair shot at an audition. Read the Deadline Hollywood article where all four of the heads of casting are interviewed and speak about how the acting talent pool is so depleted that they have to fight to get the people they consider to be “names” or raid England and Australia for worthy talent. After you read the interviews, you will get a better sense of why 2014 is the year that marks the death of the traditional pilot season.

I am not going to debate the mind set that goes into their way of thinking so, whether we like it or not, that is how things are be done. Now, how did that effect you?

1) Very few pre-read sessions were held
2) Very few producer sessions were held
3) There were almost no call backs because, during the time that you were auditioning, they were making offers to “name-ier” actors
4) You might have gotten to test but, before they decided whether or not you got the role, they offered it out….One Last Time to someone who never read for the part just to see if they could snag a bigger fish.

In other words, the deck was stacked from the get-go. There is nothing you or your reps could have done to make the process go in any other way.

But, before you feel totally futile, remember that when you did get an audition, even if it goes not go any further than the one audition, you met a casting director and a producer and went in and gave a great reading that will stand you in good stead in the future. As you know, I call these types of auditions, “banking auditions” in that you have made a talent deposit in the room and that deposit will bring you dividends in the future.

As you are sitting there, shaking your heads, and saying, “So what?”, I would like to remind you that any chance you get to read for people is a good thing, even if the reward for it is not immediate.

You don’t get to make the rules and neither do your reps. We have to play within the rules and push as hard as possible to get you to benefit from them.

Now for the good news: Network “Pilot season” in all of its glory is no longer the only game in town. As the network pilots are crawling towards the finish line, cable and on line pilots are being ordered and cast on a continuous basis. Plus, as network series are hanging it up for the year, cable series are still in production or just about to start on their next season.

As I wrote in my last blog, more and more of the traditional networks are realizing that, if they want to hold onto any vestige of audience interest, they have to keep putting out new product all year long, not just from September to February. This means that there will be opportunities for you to be cast all the time and, guess what, when cable companies like TNT do pilots, they do fewer of them but they actually pick up a greater percentage of the ones they do make. After all, it is much better to get on the air in something rather than to just have bragging rites about the fact that you “got a pilot”.

So, what do you do now? First of all, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Lick off your wounds and get back on the field immediately. If you walk around and think of yourself as a “loser” that is what you will be projecting to others and they won’t want to hire you. Even if you think that you are covering it up so that no one will see it, it is there….trust me, it is still there. In that way, you, yourself, are perpetuating a losing cycle and you will have to bear the consequences of that fact. Yes, you are sad that you didn’t get cast or have as many chances as you would have liked. Allow yourself to be sad for a day and then, get over it. OR, you have a choice: if you really find the whole concept of rejection to be more than you can take, examine whether or not this particular way to have an acting career is right for you. As I have said before, there are many, many ways to be an actor other than waiting for auditions in NY and LA.
There is no shame or stigma attached to making a change in your course. It is better to do that than to allow your self to erode until you are a mere shadow of your former self.

If you want to continue on this route, here are a few things you must remember and apply

1) This is NOT ABOUT YOU. You are a part of a multi million dollar business and producers, directors, and network and studio people are trying to make the best product that they can so they can make the most money they can make. You are just an ingredient that goes into their products and it really doesn’t matter to them if you are happy about it or not. Guess what?: It shouldn’t matter to them. You need to take care of your own emotions and your own ups and downs.

2) Do not compare the current pilot season to any that have occurred in the past. Last year there may have been more scripts with parts for you than have been this year and next year there might be more, again. Just because you want to be in someone’s pilot, doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be a part that is right for you

3) Do not compare your career path with those of your friends. Unless your friends are exact clones of you, what happens in their careers has nothing to do with what is happening to yours. Further, talk about auditions and bookings are a guaranteed way for at least one person in the conversation to feel like shit!. I am not going to go so far as to say that any of your friends gets a certain delight in knowing that he or she got a part but you didn’t but…..hell, yes,…that is exactly what I am going to say. For some reason this phenomenon exists more among actresses than actors but it is there. It might not be an overt reason behind what they are saying but it is still there on some kind of subconscious level. You can save yourself a whole lot of hurt by not discussing auditions or parts with any of your friends. If one of them starts to say something, just reply, “Hey, why don’t we skip the shoptalk today and just enjoy each other.” If your friend persists with the conversation, you might want to evaluate why you are friendly with that person

4) What more can I be doing? This is a question that actors ask their reps every day. The answer is NOTHING beyond the basic requirements of your job. Your job is to keep yourself physically and emotionally healthy and that is that. You should make sure that your acting muscle is ready to go. In the same way that a dancer with the NY City ballet still takes company class, you need to find a way to exercise yourself. If you have come from a conservatory program, I don’t think taking another class is the best idea but I do think that getting together with a group of friends to read through scripts is an excellent plan. I know many of you start out trying to do that and then let it slide and to that I say, ” Not fair”, It is not fair that your reps are working hard to get you into a room when you are not working hard to make sure you are “room ready”. Actors are the only member of the performing arts club who seem to think they can just show up and everything will be ready to go. So, be room ready, be on time, have your picture and resume, and be the best you, you can be. THAT is what you can be doing. Stalking casting directors will just land you in jail where the only acting you can do is in the annual prison Christmas pagent.

5) Find other things in your life to fill it up. These things can be arts related like writing or producing or looking for some properties you might want to turn into a short film. They can also be projects in totally unrelated areas: teaching, volunteering, take classes, learn a language….wherever your interests lie. Find something that will take your mind off of going ’round and ’round in an ever tightening circle of self blame or reliving everything you did or “should” have done.

6) This is the time of year that a lot of agencies cut down on their lists and, likewise, some actors want to make a representative change. You can’t control what they do but, before you make any change, really look at what has been going on and take responsibility for your part in the client/representative relationship. If you have been going in a lot but not booking, that has nothing to do with your rep. All a rep can do is open a door, you are in control of what happens after you enter the room. They can’t create a role or make people like you.

Yes, as I said above, this year there were far fewer auditions than in the past but most of that is because of the way that pilot season, in general, was conducted. Hopping from place to place does not change who you are and how you approach your work.It doesn’t change what parts exist and it doesn’t change how a producer or a network wants to cast his or her project.

Also, remember that this is a numbers game. For every part for which you think you are right, there are, conservatively, 1000 other actors who feel the same way. Not all of them will be seen…..not even 10% of them will be seen and that will be the same percent whomever reps you

7) Let go of what happened or didn’t happen. Move on and go forward. Don’t use the word “should” or expect that something will happen just because you want it and, for Pete’s sake, don’t feel entitled to anything. It is natural to get excited about something but, remember, you have to ride the highs and the lows. If you manufacture a story in your head about how things “should be” and then they don’t happen, that ride back down will be intense. As with your acting, stay in the moment. It is not anyone’s fault if your expectations are not met….it is just life. It is your fault if you allow yourself to be devastated by disappointment. You have to ride the audition and acting wave without falling apart.

I am representing each and every one of my clients because I believe in them and their ability. I also like each of them as human beings or else I would have given them the boot. I am not an idiot. I would not put time and energy into my clients if I didn’t firmly believe that each will have meaningful careers. I am not a person who tries to sell the cute guy who works at a club but can’t act. I have carefully crafted my company to reflect the exact types of actors to whom I respond: talented, trained, creative, individual and possessing abilities that go beyond just acting but include, in many instances, singing and dancing skills. I work differently with each of client you because each is unique and deserve to be treated that way. But I cannot want something for any actor more than he or she wants for himself.

The seven steps above are all things that you can do and must do. No one can get inside your heads and reorder your thoughts and reactions. That is what you CAN control and, trust me, you must.

Now, let’s move on to the next phase. I never know what is coming around the bend and neither does any actor so let’s explore it all together with a positive attitude and with an excitement and freshness that will allow you to bring your best into a room and to be a happier and healthier human being.

TIPS FOR PILOT SEASON MENTAL HEALTH

Having just finished watching the Olympics, the thing that most struck me about the difference between those who won and those who didn’t was not so much their performance ability, it was their ability to focus and stay in “the zone”. At this level of competition they are all good and capable of giving great performances but, sometimes, just from the way they approached the ice or the slope, I could tell which ones believed they could win and which ones were listing to an inner doubt, whispering in their ear.

This made me look at the actor’s version of the Olympics: Pilot Season

In many ways doing the twists and turns of the giant slalom or setting up for a triple/triple combination on the ice is very much like what actors must do as they face every audition. During pilot season, however, the number of auditions that each actor faces is compounded and the preliminary rounds turn into call backs and, finally ,tests. As each round occurs, the stakes increase and that is the point that separates the “winners” from the “losers”.

Having been in casting myself it is so clear how an actor feels about himself and his chances to book a role just from looking at the way in which he enters a room and carries himself. Some actors walk in and appear to be defeated before they even open up their mouths. Their own, personal inner monologue is saying, ” I’m never going to get this role” or “I’m not what they want” or “Why was I the only brunette in a waiting room full of blonds?”

Those kinds of thoughts are what I call “mind poison.” If you say these poisons to yourself, over and over again, not only will you believe them but you will be telegraphing them to the casting directors and producers you meet. Then, guess what, the poisons will become the reality . When exactly what you predicted would happen, happens, all that remains is the actor’s small satisfaction in saying, “See I was right all along”. If you want to prove you are right, why even bother going in for the audition?

In order to combat mind poisoning, here are some simple things you must do and know:

1) When you get the audition, do not treat the breakdown like the Holly Grail. The description that is given in a breakdown was written by a writer at Breakdown Services based on the script he was given. This description exists before the casting process has begun and before concept meetings have taken place between the networks and the producers. Scripts are written to be read by development people so a writer gives an example of what the person might look like or be. That does NOT mean that it is the ONLY way for a character to look or be. As the casting process continues the producers and casting people learn more about what will work for each individual character. As the rest of the cast forms, adjustments must be made to accommodate how one piece of casting can affect another. And when the producers take a group of actors to the network to test and they end up with no one, you can bet that they will, suddenly, become open to a wide variety of interpretations. In other words, if you allow yourself to be limited by what is written in a breakdown, you are assuming something that is not true

2) Your character did not read the breakdown and does not know how other people perceive him or her. If you let adjectives and descriptive phrases formulate your “idea” of a character, all you will be playing is the resulting idea of a character and not formulating a complete human being. We all have the same general idea of what a “happy person” or a “self-centered person” is. If you allow what you say and do to conform to that idea, you will be giving a generic interpretation of a character and not allowing a full human being to exist. A villain doesn’t wake up in the morning and say “I think I will do some villainous things today”. He simply does things and performs actions that feel right to him. It is up to other people to put a label on his acts and make judgements about them. Therefore, you must allow your character to live in his or her own space and time and not exist under the weight of your generic characterization

3) In the same vein, your character didn’t stay up all night working on the script. Your character only exists in the moment when it speaks the words. You must, therefore, allow your character to be free of your worry and your work and just “Be” in the moment. Remember you first decided you wanted to act because you liked the pure idea of “pretending”…of entering into a world where you could play and become someone else. Yes, that someone else is endowed with all that you are and all that you have experienced but it doesn’t need to be restricted or generalized because of your fears and judgements. As an exercise, after your name is called but before you enter the room, take all of your fears and all of your homework and put them into an imaginary bundle that you will leave outside the door. Then, when you go in, you are doing so without unnecessary baggage.

4) Because, as an actor, you are using feelings and reactions, you must make sure that you remain unburdened by the feelings and reactions of others. This mostly applies to your friends who are, also, actors. While I am not saying that anyone is out to sabotage you, the cumulative effect of comparing auditions notes with your friends is debilitating and destructive. You cannot compare the parts for which you go out with those of any of your friends unless you are an exact clone of that person. As we have often discussed, there are many, many reasons why you may or may not get an audition and no actor knows what those reasons are. In some ways it’s a numbers game. At other times it has to do with who the networks want and what actors they had in mind when they the script was written. Therefore, how does it do you any good to hear that someone else went in for a role or have a friend tell you, “Oh, you should have gone in for that. You are so right for it.” First of all, how does your friend know who is or is not right? Secondly, a statement like that will make anyone feel as if they lost an opportunity and feel bad about himself. In point of fact, how do you know that you lost an opportunity? The role might have been offered to the actor or the actor who got it had a deal with the network. You can only deal with the things that do happen and not with the “what if’s” and “should have’s” of the world.

Also, your friends are suffering from the same anxieties and fears that you have. You know the old expression “Misery loves company”? Well, on some level, misery and fear are easier to deal with if we thinks others are going through the same things. In other words, we try to spread it around. So, your friends pitch their anxiety from themselves and onto you. It is very uncomfortable to feel anxiety and to feel alone and it is ever more comforting to have those feelings land on another person. My advice: DON’T BE THERE TO CATCH IT. You have enough to do in dealing with your own worries. You don’t have to take care of your friends’ worries as well.

Therefore, be selfish in the good sense of the word….take care of yourself and make sure that you avoid situations that are guaranteed to make you feel bad.

5) Pilot season is not the be all and end all of who you are as an actor. Yes, it would be nice to get a series regular role but, what if there are really no roles for which you are right this year? What if you are going through a transitional age grouping….you are too old to play in your mid twenties but not quite old enough to play a parent. Does that mean you will never act again? Of course not! It just means you have to wait for another season or, now that pilots are being done all year ’round, you have to wait for another month. Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. At the end of the day, you are going to accumulate a career’s-worth of roles so, whether or not you get one now or in 6 months really doesn’t matter.

Going back to my opening mention of the Olympics, you, as an actor, have it easier than athletes do. You don’t have to retire when you can’t land a triple axel anymore or when a snowboarding 40-year-old is just a bit too giggleworthy. You are going to have a lot of time to continue in your career. The only thing that can defeat you, is you. So, get out of your own way. Stop assigning yourself labels, stop playing casting director, and stop trying to control your character. YOU are your character so open up the mental dam that is filled with doubts and presumptions and just be in the moment and PLAY. They called it “play acting” when I was a kid. Don’t lose the sense of play.