There are so many titles in this business. For years, mine were “actor” and “voice-over actor.” I occasionally dabbled with “writer,” but it never felt quite right. This past summer, with the start-up of Minerva, suddenly “co-founder”, “blogger”, and “editor” were added to the mix. And for the last few months “producer” has been my title as well, as I recently produced a commercial (for which I was also the “casting director”) and am now at the beginning of the process of producing my first feature film.
I used to hate the idea of being anything but an actor, sure that it would take time and energy away from my career. I won’t lie, it does all take time, and there are only so many hours in a day, but expanding my role in this industry has already given and taught me so much, that the only thing I question is why I didn’t do it sooner. Here, I want to talk about some of the things that I’ve learned in my myriad of new roles.
The Power of No – We have all heard this before, but I think it bears repeating. I am still that kid with so many after school activities that I don’t get home until late at night and have to squeeze in my homework. As much as I like to have a lot on my plate, I have also realized that when I have enough time for something, I approach it with anticipation and excitement. When I have no time for that same project, it is suddenly a burden. The quality of the work and my enjoyment of it suffer greatly as a result. I have recently had to take a look at all that is happening in my life and prioritize. That sometimes means saying no to projects that I really want to be a part of.
Coaches and organizing gurus have exercises involving lots of list making to figure out your priorities. If that works for you, wonderful, but what it really comes down to is being honest with yourself about what excites you. I do my best pondering when hiking with my dog. “What is important to me right now?” I think, while huffing and puffing up Bronson. Sometimes the answer is that I must get on stage, other times I need to make money, right now growing this website and producing a feature are at the top of the list. To make that a reality instead of just an idea, there are things that I have to say no to.
The Power of Yes – Oh the paradox of life! There is magic in saying yes. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was asked to produce this commercial, but saying yes to it has opened up a whole new aspect of the business for me. I would not have the confidence or knowledge to move forward with producing a feature if it were not for this experience.
But “you just said say no!” I hear you shouting. What I mean is be open to change. Be open to the idea that what was important to you six months ago may not be the most important thing today. I was just talking with my dear friend Marie Colabelli about this the other day, as new opportunities seem to be falling at her feet every moment. So I asked her to write a few words. Here’s what she had to say:
“Once I became aware of just how comfortable I was with my habits, the ones that create constant personal obstacles, I almost couldn’t believe how “in my own way” I was. I see so many beautiful lives unfolding around me and all I did was put possibility for myself in a place that I personally guaranteed was unreachable. I work so hard so why would I make it so difficult for myself?
Based on that alone I knew I needed to make changes. That and being tired. But mostly, I felt ready. I’m not sure I knew what I was ready for except that I was ready to live differently.
So, at its most basic level, I just told myself to stop.
Whenever I chose doubt, whenever I began to question my ability, whenever I was mean to myself, whenever I was hurtful, whenever I told myself I wasn’t enough, had no skills, was fat, unsuccessful…. as soon as the thought began I forced myself to stop.
It was A LOT of work a first but it got easier quickly because almost immediately I felt change. However, even in the initial moments of feeling change I had to stop the doubtful thoughts of “probably won’t last” – it’s amazing what we do to ourselves! Then I started to feel the flow of something new, my newness really, my potential, because there was nothing in the way. And when nothing is in the way there is room for opportunity to enter. And it did, and now the more I say yes to opportunities, more arise, unfold and create infinite possibility.”
It is easy to think, “Why me?” or “Who am I to think that I can do that?” Say yes, and surprise yourself.
The Power of Confidence – Everyone tells actors that they should sit in on casting sessions so that they can see the process from the other side, and they’re right! It is something that I’ve done before, but the casting process still surprised me. Actors, you broke my heart! So many actors were so nervous. I think we all must come up with methods that we know work to relax us. I know that for myself, the simple act of taking deep breaths really relaxes me. This may be because I’ve had a yoga practice for most of my life. Breathing deeply immediately takes me to a more centered place. Sometimes, just chatting in the waiting room with the other actors is what feels right. It reminds me that we are all people that existed before and will continue to exist after the audition, no matter what happens. Most importantly for me, I really enjoy auditioning. I think of it as a chance to do what I love. This lets me be excited by those butterflies in my belly. Find what it is that works for you. Jack Plotnick has a great article on his website called “There’s no such thing as ‘Nervous.’” No one can do work that serves them in the audition if they are shaking with nerves.
The lack of confidence from actors came through in other ways. There was an interesting difference in scheduling the cast and the crew. The crew members got calls from me sometimes weeks in advance. I then confirmed with them a day or two before, and call sheets were sent out the night before. They confirmed when I asked them to, but that was the only time I heard from them. They all showed up on time and ready to work.
The actors, on the other hand, got a call from my assistant a few days before the shoot, first putting them on avail, and then again to book them. All of them were told that they would be emailed a call sheet with all of the information they needed the night before they worked. My poor assistant’s phone would not stop ringing. Actors called again and again asking where they needed to be and at what time. Believe me, I understand. I have been there. It is nerve-wracking to know that you are probably going to be called early in the morning, but not know the time. I have waited late at night by my gate for a courier to drop off a script from a network show, only to then have to be up before dawn. Here is the thing – we will tell you as soon as we know. Often, your first day is not the production’s first day of shooting, and the call time can’t be set until we wrap, in order to give the crew a proper turn around. Be patient. Be professional. You have been cast and production wants you there. They will let you know where to be and when.
I just saw “Crazy Heart” and was blown away by Jeff Bridges. To me, it seemed an incredibly confident performance. He’s not asking anyone’s permission for anything, and it’s mesmerizing.
The Power of Delegating – Family lore has it that as a two year old my most oft repeated sentence was, “I do it myself.” One of the most revelatory experiences of this whole venture was having an assistant for part of pre-production and PAs for the shoot. On the days Karen was helping me, it was like we were suddenly four people instead of two. She could get through tasks far quicker than if I did them myself, because her phone wasn’t ringing and interrupting her every other minute. I could focus on some of the bigger picture issues that all of the day-to-day tasks were keeping me from focusing on.
I can’t suddenly afford a personal assistant, so what is the take away lesson here? Well, Claire and I are putting it into effect here at Minerva by taking on an intern (we’ll introduce her shortly) and looking to partner with others with complementary skills. As for my acting career, I’ll continue to build and nurture my team so that I don’t have to take it on alone, and when the time is right, I’ll hire an assistant, instead of thinking of that as an extravagance just for movie stars.
The Power of Power – There is a lot of minutia to deal with as a producer – phone calls, spreadsheets, negotiations. I was very aware that everything came down to me, and that was often completely anxiety inducing, but also empowering. After years of waiting for the phone call, I was making the phone calls.
It’s funny, because I’ve always dreaded the calls that an actor has to make – reaching out to agents, managers, casting directors. I’ve always told myself that, ”I’m not good on the phone.” That’s bullshit. What we all aren’t good at is feeling like we are asking for something. I made what felt like hundreds of calls a day while in pre-production and never once got that shaky feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that I had something to offer, so I enjoyed making those calls.
How do I hold onto that ease when I return to my actor calls? As Claire says, “You can be an executive actor.” As I understand it, the “executive actor” steers her career, instead of taking whatever is handed her way. I needed to call my list of sound stages or we’d have nowhere to shoot. I’ll strive to look at my actor tasks with that same detachment and not give away my power.
As technology democratizes film-making, the strict lines between acting, writing, directing and producing feel archaic. Content can be shot and distributed online with almost no overhead. Through actors access and the like, you are your own agent and manager. Whether we like it or not, the role of the modern actor is being redefined. We’ve all taken on these new tasks, but can we take on the mindset as well?
Have you taken on other roles? Are you producing your own work? What have you learned? I’d love to hear.