Category Archives: Uncategorized

how committed are you really?

Following on from last weeks, it’s called show business, I would like to ask whether you feel that you are doing all you can do to further your career? Are you, as an aptly named class at the Actors Centre is titled, Putting In The Hours?

The Greek philosopher Sophocles stated hundreds of years ago that success is dependent upon effort. The more effort you put in to furthering your career the farther you will go.

It’s not good etiquette to talk about myself but I am going to do so in order to illustrate a point. As you will see I am not blowing my own trumpet and in some respects am doing quite the opposite.

I recently made a decision not to promote myself as an actor any more but to call myself a coach. Of course when acting work comes my way I will joyfully do it and am lucky that this happens frequently enough to satisfy that part of me.

The reason is simple. I am not putting in the required effort nor have the necessary single-minded focus.

Now, many of my acting friends would be surprised to hear me say this as I have always worked consistently as an actor in commercials, films, TV, stage, voice work, role-playing, print and so on. I have made a good living and have even been fortunate enough to earn enough to buy my own property.

So what am I talking about?

Simply put, if I were mentoring my younger self as to what I needed to do to really make a go of it, I would note a number of things:

– Total commitment. Many of my clients start off saying that they really want to be actors but when I press them as to how much commitment they are putting in, the answer rarely rises above 60%. I’m sure that you recognise the problem here. The effort and focus truly needs to be approaching 100% or you will find “success” less and less likely as the percentage gets lower.

If you knew it would take so much commitment to become a working actor would you still decide to do it?

– No matter what stage you are at in your career you must be in a regular acting class, preferably with the same people so that you can move forward in a studied and recognisable way rather than piecemeal and scatter gun.

I teach an acting class for 12 actors who meet twice a month. They choose scenes from film and TV, shoot them, work on them and then play back and analyse them. The scene partners change from class to class so that everyone gets a chance to work with different actors. They are given exercises to work on outside of the class. They work on show reels and shorts together and support each other in their careers. Some spend time working in Hollywood and others on the London fringe but all have stories to tell of being active in the industry.

And consequently, each of them has improved in their own way and at their own speed. Some came to the class initially at a higher standard but are still growing, practising and learning. More to the point, they are also still enjoying it!

– In an earlier blog I talked about knowing your type and how it helps hone your career and get you work.

I always thought I could play a good detective on TV and was merely waiting for the opportunity to arise. However, my advice to my younger self would be that if you want to play a detective you must learn what it takes to become one. Learn to shoot a gun, drive a car at high speed, understand what it’s like to sit in a car looking at the outside of a building for 12 hours at a stretch. Study the impact it has on your social life and your family life. Research police training. Go and visit a training centre or at least their website!

Once you have done this you can sell yourself with more confidence. You will understand detective scripts better and be able to form quicker choices on the characters and what they encounter.

If you are looking for an agent you will have something to sell and if a casting director is looking for someone who knows how to convincingly hold a firearm they will come to you.

– Unless you already know the shakers and movers in the industry I’m afraid that networking is an essential tool you need to possess in your toolkit. Which it is why it is the subject of next week’s blog. I have no doubt that people increase their opportunities for employment through meeting other people along the way. Personally, I have 2 small children and do not want to spend my evenings networking. I would rather be at home reading bedtime stories.

What about you? How much do you really want to commit?

Next week’s topic is networking. If you would like to join the conversation or keep up to date with interesting and relevant articles and information feel free to check out my facebook page.

It’s called show business

The show has been dealt with in other blog posts so let’s consider the business side of the word showbusiness.

Business I hear you exclaim!  That’s a corporate word, one they use on the Apprentice, along with project manager and strategy! I’m a creative, I don’t understand or want to understand business!

But don’t stress yourself. Whether you realise it or not, you are already running your own business and  the product being sold is you. Once you recognise this more clearly the easier it will be to make a success of it.

In every day life, from the moment you get up in the morning (or afternoon!) till the moment you go to bed, you are conducting business; transacting, managing, corresponding, organising, planning. You are already conducting yourself as a business person would/should.

As an actor, when preparing for a role you have a professional mindset. You read the brief, you plan, you investigate, analyse and see it through in a timely manner.

It may help to explain what I mean by business and for the purposes of this discussion I will cover two distinct but connected points:

– you as the product, and
– the market in which you operate

You may not like it but you are a product. You are something which people will choose to buy or not, one which someone else is also responsible for selling (your agent), one which, if useful and practical enough, will initiate repeat business (more work).

You have to ensure that your product is as easy to buy as possible, is up-to-date and up to scratch.

So, you need an online presence – a website, membership of Spotlight and other professional sites – so your customers can find you.

You need to train and improve your skill set. If someone needs to buy a device to write scripts it is more likely they will buy a new computer rather than an old typewriter.

When the purchase is made everything should be in the box. It should be ready to go without having the need to spend days or weeks learning how to use it. Likewise, if they are casting for a lawyer embroiled in a banking corruption case and that is your type, then you need to have a suit, a suitable haircut and a knowledge of the language used by lawyers, preferably in the banking arena (more fully covered in the previous blog on knowing your type).

If you are selling a product you must know the market into which you are selling. Who is your customer, where do they conduct their business, what is their spending power etc etc? Knowing who you are, maximising the skills you have and ensuring they are readily available and advertised is essential but unless you know your industry and are up-to-date with trends and everything else that is going on then you are acting in a vacuum.

Many actors wear it as a badge of honour that they do not watch TV. However, when you ask them what they want to do in their career they say work on TV. I’m sure you get the point without me having to go any further!

If you don’t know the style of a regular show you would like to be considered for it is very unlikely you will reach 2nd base let alone feel at ease on the set. If you haven’t researched the main characters and the types of issues which arise then you are 10 steps behind.

Know who casts for the type of projects you want to be involved with and target them. It may be of interest to send out mass mailings with the hope that some mud will stick, but if you choose 10 or so casting directors who cast for projects specific to your skills then it will be easier for you to develop a relationship with them through targeted and relevant contact.

If you believe that the future of the industry will be computer-generated then study motion capture and find out which projects are in the pipeline and what skills you will need in order to be considered. You may even target agents who represent many of the actors already working in these specific sectors.

If you want to work in film watch smaller indie movies to see which directors are up and coming. Buy the Hollywood Reporter and keep up-to-date with who is doing what.

If you model yourself on a well known actor research how they got to where they are.

The list is endless and should actually be motivational and fun!

Like any business, you don’t have to do it alone. Employ a coach to help you work out where you want to be, how you will get there and by when. Someone who will help you draw up a strategy, decide upon your target market, work out your marketing, your budget, contingency plans, trusted advisers, lists of people who can help, and work out your timeframe.

You are a product and a project manager whether you like it or not. Your agent is there to help but that is in addition to what you must bring yourself.

And don’t forget that business is often about relationships as much as talent. Why do you buy your milk for 2p more from the guy who smiles and says hello? Be creative but easy to work with.

You understand what professional means in your show so also work on it in your business.

Next week we look at the amount of effort you actually put in to furthering your career.

In the meantime please feel free to join in the conversation on my facebook page where you will find more articles and information.

See you out there

self taping

The internet revolutionised the casting process and self taping is propelling it further.

The advantages for the casting director and production company include saving money on hiring rooms, equipment, readers and sushi lunches. But there are also considerable benefits for actors.

Self taping is an opportunity to be seen by more people for more projects in more locations across the world.

It can be done from the comfort of your own home and re-recorded over and over till you are satisfied with the outcome. However, an objective eye is helpful otherwise you will be re-recording till kingdom come!

There are differences between what individual casting directors/directors/production companies are looking for and between how to self tape for America as opposed to the UK. For example, in the States some casting directors don’t want actors to read in with you.

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask how they want it done.

The mention of self taping can start your saboteurs twittering inside your head if you allow them to – I dont know how to use a camera, I can’t stand watching myself, I will never get someone to read in with me in time etc etc.

However, it is not something to be dreaded and, as with most things in life, the more you practice and enjoy it the better the end result will be.

Learn your lines and rehearse, read any instructions you have been sent and ask someone to read in with you. Don’t rent a costume but dress appropriately and use props only when essential. They want to see your performance!

If you have a decent mobile phone you can make a self tape. After all its not as if you have never taken a selfie of yourself! The camera should be at eye level, the format should ideally be MP4 but AVCHD will suffice and you should film in landscape not portrait.

Of course the quality improves if you have a better camera and external mic but for all intents and purposes equipment you already own will suffice. A quiet well lit room is also a necessity and don’t sit with the window behind you. A clean solid background can be achieved by tacking a bed sheet or curtain on your wall. I have a set up which uses an off-white sheet on an old curtain rail attached to 3 of the walls of my office which I can pull back when not in use. The sheet cost £15 from the market, I bought some crocodile clips for £1 each and a tripod for £15.

Transfers to agents and casting directors can be done through file sharing services like dropbox, vimeo or WeTransfer, which are free. However, they can take an eternity if you record in HD so it’s worth experimenting with different quality outputs or download handbrake (free!) to convert to MP4. This is actually very simple even for technophobes!

Don’t forget to label the clip with your name, character name, project title and scene if requested.

There is a huge amount of advice out there on how to do it but I have included a couple of links to get you started.

This in-depth article by the esteemed casting director Roz Hubbard is very clear and to the point

This is a more succinct version from her daughter Amy

This is from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in the US and is an hour and a half long!

Oh, and don’t overthink it!!

Next week’s blog is about the word showbusiness and how it is actually made up of 2 words – show and business. Duh!

In the meantime please feel free to join in the conversation on my facebook page where you will find more articles and information.
See you out there

audition rules – or are they?

One of the most frequently sold workshops in town seems to concern what you should or shouldn’t do during an audition. The workshop leaders have differing opinions and while the majority may be very useful, many expound cliches and common mis/understandings. Unfortunately, some cause added pressure, with actors being straight-jacketed and fearing the size of the frame, resticting their opportunity to express their personalities and making themselves noticed.

We hear that less is more, don’t lean forward, don’t move your head or, god forbid, forget your lines.

The truth is that there is no one rule and that most of those involved in the casting process will have a different take on it. On one project alone the director may not agree with the producer and the casting director’s opinion may or may not be taken into account by either.

So, really, all that you can legislate for is your own performance. You must give yourself the maximum opportunity to be free and, once again, be real, believable and colourful. And, the more you get hung up on how you are delivering your interpretation during the audition, the less likely you are to be doing justice to it.

Having been called in for an audition, you must take it as read that they assume you can act, remember lines, do an accent and have some camera technique. They are mainly looking for how you interpret the script and what you bring to the role. For this you need to express your personality.

Observing one of my two-day workshops at the Actors Centre in London with a number of actors having their work played back to them, the highly talented and creatively Olivia Grant (Indian Summers etc) noted the importance of doing something out of the ordinary, surprising or at least different to make yourself stand out. Obviously it has to be appropriate but, if you think about it, casting directors, producers and directors are seeing so many people live or on self tapes that you have to make them notice and remember you.

On a self-confidence level, if you do as much as you can do to prepare in the time you have available, and then commit to that in the audition itself, then you will leave satisfied rather than worrying about whether your left eyebrow moved too much!

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the following three audition tapes from the hugely successful Breaking Bad series and spot the fallacy.

Example 1 – Aaron Paul (Jesse) – it’s not alright to move or forget your lines

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5fd95h4HCs

Example 2 – Dean Norris (Hank) – keep still, don’t crease your forehead and less is more (whatever that means!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JBr27EblVI

Example 3 – Anna Gunn (Skyler). Look the other person in the eye and keep still

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBb75S_fDTY

Or, as Bryan Cranston (Walter) put it “the best advice for fellow actors is this: know what your job is… An actor is supposed to create a compelling and interesting character that serves the text. You present it in the environment where your audition happens, and then you walk away. And that’s it. Everything else is out of your control, so don’t even think of that, don’t focus on that, you’re not going there to get a job, you go there to present what you do, you act. And there’s power in that, there’s confidence in that.”

To view the whole of the short interview click on this link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1WiCGq-PcY

See you next time when the topic is self taping.

In the meantime please feel free to join in the conversation on my facebook page where you will find more articles and information.

Daniel

type and why it matters

your type and why it matters

Equally as important for an actor as knowing yourself is knowing your type.

You may hate this phrase as you can play many types and it places you in a limited and limiting box and you may especially despise the concept of typecasting.

But surely the casting part of the word is the most important for you?

It is essential that you pinpoint your type and market yourself towards it as this will get you farther faster.

What is the logic behind this?

It is not simply about whether you can play professionals or blue collar individuals. It is deeper than that.

Quite simply, knowing your type will help the people tasked to cast the project to find you.

It helps you market yourself efficiently with head shots, reels and websites honed on who you are. If you are an action type then show this but if you are not then don’t falsely flatter yourself. If you play nerdy, overweight, insecure, balding geeks there are plenty of roles for you so let people know you exist and that is your type. It’s not as if you are still at school when those things mattered (or at least they felt like they did at the time). Now it will earn you money! If you are not a leading man/woman then please help yourself by not promoting yourself as such. Glamorous head shots will only disappoint casting people if they don’t represent the true you when you walk in the room.

Look for your unique selling points and what makes you stand out. Wielding an axe is not as important if you are targeting sitcoms as it is for Game of Thrones.

Your age is as old as you look so if you are really 30 but look 40 then that is what you will be considered for. Ask people how old they think you look.

Self-awareness is key but it is worth checking in with other people as to how they see you. Are you funny, serious, shy, neurotic, energetic, frustrated, elegant, complex, condescending, cynical, charming, chatty, adventurous and so on and so forth?

In her book Self-Management for Actors, Bonnie Gillespie provides a comprehensive list of characteristics which you can use to pinpoint what she calls your bull’s-eye. Whatever makes you you.

Your type may be the opposite of who you really are as a person but if it gets you work and draws the casting process towards you then who really cares!

It’s not about all you can do, it’s about what you do best. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd.

If you are targeting a new agent and are specific and sure of the characters you will be called in for, it will make it easier for them to identify whether you will fit in to their list.

Knowing your type is often referred to as knowing your brand. You may feel that as an artist this is way too corporate but it will benefit you to recognise and enjoy this mindset. It will set you up for the right parts and increase your booking to audition ratio. It will help you spend your time efficiently as well as show the industry that you are self-aware, serious and that you understand the business side of show business. You will not waste their time trying to squeeze yourself into roles which simply do not fit.

Next time I will consider some of the rules of auditioning which are not actually rules.

In the meantime feel free to comment on the above on my facebook page!

See you out there

Daniel

good and bad acting

good and bad acting

Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Rod Steiger, on separate occasions, were all asked the question, “what’s the difference between great actors and good actors?” They all gave the same answer, “For the great actor, it’s really happening to him.”

On a simple level the answer is whether the viewer forgets that it is an actor working and becomes so absorbed into the character and the world they inhabit that they get taken along on their emotional journey.

In order for us to believe who you are and what you’re doing you must first believe it yourself. As the Joker in Batman, Heath Ledger had to believe that the events which led up to him being totally screwed up were real. Everything was motivated by the back story and history he had worked on. The end result of this hard work is personality, spontaneity, and a huge amount of believability and as such we as viewers are drawn further in to the action.

Ledger told reporters he “slept an average of 2 hours a night” while playing “a psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy…I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”

I guess it depends how far you are willing to go to fully inhabit the role you are playing. Committing 100% may push you towards the edge but there is a lower percentage which would be ideal. Michael Ferguson in his Headstrong approach talks about the relationship between your Inner Actor and Inner Character, whereby the actor balances the character thoughts and their own (around an 80/20 split being ideal). When they inhabit the character and think their thoughts we believe them, but when they are trying to remember lines, blocking or, even worse, pushing for an emotion, we don’t and consequently drop out.

It’s not about pretending. Good acting is as seamless as if you’re listening to an interesting emotive conversation between 2 people on the street who are not aware of being observed. Of course a good script helps

It is easy to notice horrible acting. Give one of your non-actor friends a scene and ask them to read it with some emotion and see for yourself. They might have some natural ability but it is more than likely you will not be sucked in. They will indicate, gesture and fake it and you will spot it a mile off.

It’s that feeling you have when you have watched a play, film or TV show and didn’t enjoy it but don’t know why. More than likely it will be that the actors didn’t believe what they were saying so the viewer couldn’t connect with them.

Here is a compilation of great movie actors doing great movie acting (ignore the cheesy background music)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHsdfeE2k5g&feature=player_embedded

And for comparison take a look at this compilation of the worst acting EVER from the film, The Room. You will love it!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Gqv2bOp7xI

Next time we will look at your “type” and why it’s important but in the meantime feel free to comment on the above on my facebook page.

See you out there

Daniel

coaching the entertainment industry

actor know thyself

actor know thyself

“Know thyself” was written on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Legend tells that the 7 sages of ancient Greece, philosophers, statesmen and lawgivers, who laid the foundation for western culture, gathered in Delphi to inscribe it at the entrance to its sacred oracle.

But “can one know oneself?” questioned the French poet George Sand.

The simple answer is, of course, yes. However, a more pertinent question may be how can I do it or even why should I?

We will consider the how in a subsequent blog but for the moment let’s look a little at the why. Why is it significant for actors to discover their true identity?

The answer is split in two parts:

to benefit the actor as a person.

True self knowledge and acceptance of who you are begets control and breeds confidence. On a practical level, it establishes a foundation upon which you can pinpoint the type of roles you want to play and the medium in which you want to play them, and in the process shape a ‘successful’ and fulfilling career.

The work becomes about the work itself and not about impressing people or dreaming of the Hollywood sign while in the middle of a take. The business side of show business becomes more natural.

By identifying and accepting who you are, you will maintain your integrity and save a lot of money on plastic surgery to boot!

to enable an unencumbered exploration of character

If you clearly know yourself there is an obstacle free playing field upon which you can jiggle. It becomes easier to relate to and associate with the characters you play and identify with their strengths and weaknesses.

Once the similarities are clear you can then determine the characteristics you don’t possess and work on them. For example, when playing Napoleon, Cleopatra or Norman Bates you may readily associate with some of their inner life; such as a deep love, an overwhelming sense of duty, hidden secrets fears or doubts. You can then identify and add on any uncommon ones which you don’t instantly relate to; such as domination of others or engaging in extreme violence.

By knowing and being yourself and freely commiting to the excitement of discovering complex characters you will stand out from the crowd because, after all, there is no one else in the world like you!

“‘Know thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world,” said Oscar Wilde, “over the portal of the New World, ‘Be Thyself’ shall be written”.

Next time there is a fun look at good and bad acting but in the meantime feel free to comment on the above.

See you out there

Daniel

coaching the entertainment industry

 

real, believable and colourful acting

How do you accomplish the most real, believable and colourful acting?

It’s a little lazy using other people’s words to convey what I consider mandatory, but hey, if it’s already been said…?

Meryl Streep
Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.

Jean-Paul Sartre
Acting is a question of absorbing other people’s personalities and adding some of your own experience.

Johnny Depp
With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it’s just not acting. It’s lying.

Edward Norton
I’ve always thought of acting as more of an exercise in empathy, which is not to be confused with sympathy. You’re trying to get inside a certain emotional reality or motivational reality and try to figure out what that’s about so you can represent it.

Freddie Highmore
As always, with acting, you can be too self-conscious. You shouldn’t care about what people are thinking about you at the time because they are not caring about you, they are caring about the character.

Robert De Niro
One of the things about acting is it allows you to live other people’s lives without having to pay the price.

Frank Capra
I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when people cried. But drama is when the audience cries.

Paul Newman
To be an actor you have to be a child.

James Cordon
The difference between doing something and not doing something is doing something. So just do it. Oh, and try not to take yourself too seriously, it’s just not cool.

As a life coach for actors I have noticed that a vital starting point in being as powerful an actor as possible is an understanding of yourself as a human being and what makes you tick. An exploration of personality, motivation, experiences and influences followed by an examination of and association with those of the character.

Once this idea is established and adopted, the process becomes smoother, allowing you to ease out of your own way and into the life of the character.

We will explore this further in upcoming blogs but in the meantime feel free to join in and add your own comments.

All the best and see you out there.

Daniel Dresner

Grab your opportunities

GRAB YOUR OPPORTUNITIES

The development to the north of the King’s Cross station was/is Europe’s largest urban building project. £2 billion was/is being pumped in and for a while I watched it all happen day by day. I knew many of the people involved including the head of the developers, the councillors and even the artistic director who decided which art would grace the area.

I walked past every day and thought “I should do something or I will regret it”. Then, one day in one small section, some hoardings came down to reveal a completed building. And I began to feel a little depressed. I had an opportunity to set up my own business in a growing destination spot with the support of the powers that be and I hadn’t done anything about it. Tempus fugit as the Romans would say – time flies!. All I needed was an idea, a plan and to just get on with it.

When I lived in Tokyo I worked in an amazing place called Las Chicas. It was made up of a funky cafe, a restaurant with tablecloths, a hairdressers, a clothes shop, a CD shop and a members club who all cohabited around a central courtyard and was the coolest destination in town.

I really felt this place and decided that a similar spot would work well in King’s Cross. I could set up the space and rent out sections to other businesses e.g. a couple of hairdressing chairs, pop-up stalls for clothing designers from the adjacent Central St Martin’s University of the Arts, a cafe with airline seats and personal videos for those with some time to kill before their train/Eurostar, a performance space and a community space. The community element would allow me to access council grants and touch the part of me which needed to pay back to my local area.

I had a meeting with the deputy head of the development in Mayfair and she gave me a clearer picture of what would be needed to realise my project.

Now, all this coincided with an upcoming trip to Costa Rica where I would be staying with my friend Peter in a few of his properties! Peter is an extremely interesting person. Hailing from New York he is a larger-than-life character who looks like Tony Soprano and has a business not a million miles away. He runs a large offshore online gambling business and is engaged in a spot of money lending on the side. All legal of course. This has enabled him to own a compound in the capital San Jose, two functioning farms and a condo by the beach.

But Peter wasn’t happy. His business was raking in cash but he was unfulfilled. He was splitting from his wife and his current girlfriend didn’t understand him.

I was going to run my business idea past him for his advice and maybe an interest-free cash injection – the former being way more likely than the latter but there is no harm in asking! I bided my time as we talked through his life. Clearly he didn’t have anyone else he could trust who would listen to him and challenge his views. Also, someone who had his best interests at heart and who wanted him to have the best life he could have.

After 4 days Peter came to a place of peace and it felt like the right time to talk to him about me. I laid out my business plan and asked for his advice. He paused then said “you don’t want to do that, you want to be a life coach.”

I didn’t know what a life coach was, let alone whether it was right for me, but the words seemed to sit perfectly with how I felt, how I operated and how I received satisfaction. My wife looked at me and said “why not”. And I couldn’t think of a reason why not.

So, on my return from holiday a few weeks later I set about checking into places to train, as an intimate exploration into people’s lives needs a high level of expertise, professionalism and confidence.

I had been teaching at the Actors Centre for a couple of years and people had often approached me at the end of my sessions to ask if I did any coaching. To which question I had always answered “no”. You can see what’s coming can’t you!

My 1st class back was 2 days after my return from holiday and sure enough an actress asked me if I did anything outside of the class because she liked my style. And I said “yes, I’m a coach”. “Ooh, fantastic! How much do you charge?” “Well, I charge X but for you I’ll charge Y” (obviously paraphrasing). “Can we start on Monday?” Which we did. For over a year!

Our coaching was predominantly acting but there is a huge crossover between studying the needs, desires and motivations of a character and those of the actors themselves. I used the techniques I was learning in my coaching training as well as exercises I had learned when I was at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York City (tweaked to my own taste).

I went on to study at the prestigious Coaches Training Institute for 3 separate courses and gained some letters after my name. And the rest is history.

Clearly coaching was a calling that I did not realise I had till it was pointed out to me. I accepted my opportunity as it came and now confidently run my own coaching business as well as continuing to act and teach.

But why am I telling you this? Apart from whatever else you may glean, I suggest you

  • be open to suggestions
  • embrace your opportunities
  • listen to your inner voice
  • listen to Tony Soprano!

If you want help working out what you want and how to get it, call or email now.