PROFESSIONALISM IN ACTING

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PROFESSIONALISM IN ACTING by Neil Schell

After having worked as an actor and having cast hundreds of actors in roles, I can count “professionalism” as one of those qualities I look for in an actor. I find it very favourable and will cast one actor over another if I know the one I cast is more of a professional.

First of all, you should be a professional in anything you do. Don’t go half way. Don’t be a dilettante who dabbles. Be a professional.

It’s very simple. When taking on the identity of a professional, your actions demonstrate that identity. Identity overrides actions and attitudes and behaviours with the end result of you being looked upon favourably by those who cast.

I could list out thousands of actions and attitudes that would demonstrate this concept but let’s just look at a few.

COLLABORATION

A professional actor collaborates. That is to say, they are not just there to be a puppet on strings that the director pulls. Collaboration in filmmaking by actors is vital to realising an entertaining story. Those who collaborate really stand out. Those who await instructions and are afraid of making a mistake if they speak up or initiate some sort of addition to a scene are non-memorable and unimpressive.

There is a risk to this, of course. Your ideas might not be accepted. So what? That’s part of the creative process. If you don’t initiate your ideas, even if they aren’t seen to be workable by others, those little idea gems that lie hidden beneath the unworkable one will never get exposed. Taking a rejected idea you originated personally is unprofessional. Your sensitive emotional response to the rejection alters and distorts the creative process and you end up stultifying what could have been a very successful endeavour.

To collaborate is to work with others. Offer up your ideas, use your imagination and speak up when you feel it could work. A good director will most likely go with it if you feel enthusiastic about it and if they don’t they will thoroughly explain why which, when done, will probably shed some new light on either your character or the scene at hand. You win both ways. All directors appreciate collaborative actors.

MANNERS

Manners are interesting and excellent manners are a sign of a real professional. Manners can be defined as the recognition of the presence of another. You see, there is nothing more rude than someone who does not recognise you exist in their space. Think about it. I am sure you have many examples of this in your past.

Walking into an audition room without recognising in some physical way the presence of others is rude. Simple. Not complicated. If you have a fear of meeting new people or you think these people who are auditioning you have some sort of power over you that they can wield and ruin your acting career forever therefore you can’t look them in the eye, you will be acting out something that will reduce your professionalism and therefore your chances of being worked with.

Often a new actor, out of fear or unfamiliarity, may keep quiet in the corner and feel like staying out of everyone’s way. While it is good not to inhibit the crew and director with their work, it can also come across to others like you feel you are better than them and you don’t want to look down and talk to the lowly crew. (I’m exaggerating here…a bit.)

Filming a movie or TV series means working in close proximity with many people. People rub shoulders due to tight spaces or just the shear volume of crew. Manners are the key to keeping things running smooth. Everyone appreciates good manners whether they think they do or not. Excellent manners are the sign of a true professional. Giving someone honest, positive statements about their work. Truly caring about their existence and assistance and contribution helps everyone work better.

Practice excellent manners.

KNOWING YOUR PLACE

By this I mean understanding what filmmaking entails and how you, the actor, fits into the grand scheme of things. You should take a hand at screen writing, understand cameras and lenses, get why sounds can’t be mushed and edit some scenes so matched action gets burned into your brain. When you understand to some degree all of the posts around you on set and even in post production, you start to get an even higher affinity for filmmaking and how you fit into the whole process. Increased affinity and understanding shows the true sign of a professional. It’s the sign of an actor who understands hitting marks and not snapping a book shut while speaking. It’s the sign of an actor who takes the effort in remembering where the items were on the table from the last camera set up and knows how to play to the camera.

Working with an actor like this on set is a joy. The director will notice it and respect you for it. You will be seen as a true professional.

The above three categories are by no means the only ones but they do cover a lot of ground. Of course there are the regular ones of knowing your lines, being on time, keeping your personal problems at home, etc. Most people know and understand these.

When working with stars observe them on set and see what is professional about them. You will soon be the exemplifying professional for others too. And a director and producer are always willing to hire a true professional.

Be a professional.

©️2016 by Neil Schell

“PRESSURE” OF AN AUDITION

OASIS 3

“PRESSURE” OF AN AUDITION by Neil Schell

What is the source of the pressure of an audition? How can it be that this necessary action can be such a daunting experience? Is there any way to effectively deal with the stress of it and put your best creativity forward?

Most “pressure” an actor feels in an audition comes directly from the actor not from those who are “judging.” The truth is those who are watching your audition are on your side. They want you to do well. They want to hire you because they don’t want to have to keep looking for someone to play the role. Those who hire actors (directors/producers) have many tasks to complete and the sooner they complete the task of hiring an actor for the role, the more time they will have to complete their other tasks.

The idea that you have to nail an audition perfectly in order to get the role is not only false, it creates unnecessary, self-imposed pressure on the actor. It astounds me to discover that most actors think they must give a final performance at an audition on material they have had only a few hours to work with or less. This amount of pressure is completely unwarranted.

If one truly looks at the film making process and how movies are made, it is simple to see that requiring a final performance at an audition is a complete falsehood. Not only is it not necessary, it is quite detrimental to the actor’s talent. The added stress of trying to put on some slick delivery of a couple of scenes stifles the actors true talent of connecting to the material instinctually and bringing life to the character in the audition room.

Another way to properly think about auditions is this: Your chances of getting that specific role you are reading for are quite low. This is just a truth. It is so highly unlikely that you’ll get that role, you might as well not even think you are going to get it. Sure, you want the role, otherwise you wouldn’t even bother going to the audition. But getting that specific role shouldn’t be your primary concern. The primary concern is you are going to an audition to demonstrate your product (skill and ability as a professional actor) and meet those people are in the business of hiring the services of actors. So, really, first and foremost, you are there to either establish or maintain a business relationship with someone who may or may not need your services now or in the near or distant future. Remember, they may or may not need your services. If you keep this frame of mind when you are auditioning, you are really saying to those who are hiring, “I am a professional. Here are my abilities. If you need them, call me and we can talk. If you don’t need them, that’s fine. Call me when you do. I am here. I am professional and I can provide you with what you need when you need me.” That’s a healthy, business minded actor knowing he or she has something of value for his or her prospective buyers.

If you go into the audition with the viewpoint and thoughts of, “I really, really, really want this role. I just HAVE to have it. Please give it to me. I know I can do it. Just give me a chance! I know I am new but I can really show you. This role is mine.” you are not telling those who are hiring actors that you provide anything. All you are thinking and getting across to them is that you need them to give something to you. That’s backwards. You see, if I am going to buy something, I want to know what I am going to get for my money. I don’t want you to tell me how much you need the money and how much the money is yours and how much you need what I have. That turns off most buyers immediately and they become completely disinterested in dealing with you.

So, if you go into the audition room with the viewpoint that you have a service that you are completely professional at delivering and that you will not only deliver but give to the director and producers more than they are paying for or looking for, you are in the right frame of mind and will build a very successful acting career. And it will relieve you of the pressure of having to be “perfect” in the audition. And you will not, in any way, give the director and producers the idea that you are “needy” actor who just wants to get something from them.

With this mindset and viewpoint, you can then go into that audition room knowing that you will accomplish your real goal which is to create or maintain a professional connection in the industry so that when they are in need of your services, whether it be today or next year, you will deliver professionally with confidence.

Neil Schell

THINK HUGE

THINK HUGE by Neil Schell

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Your thinking effects what acting work you are being considered for and what acting work you actually book with a contract. The truth is, if you don’t think huge you won’t even get large. It’s an interesting phenomenon; if you focus on a particular target of any given size it’s easier to attain if you focus on a target that is larger. If you are not getting what you are aiming for, you are not aiming big enough.

Sometimes obstacles can obscure what you are aiming at as well, even give you cause to quit. If you put your attention on something that is in the way of what you want to attain, you will only reinforce the obstacle and have more difficulty reaching what you truly want. For instance, you know you need a new headshot but the obstacle of insufficient funds seems to be effectively blocking you from getting it done. If you keep talking about not having enough money or not being able to afford it, if you continually put your attention on the lack of finances to execute your desire you will never get the money you need in order to do the steps necessary to having that new headshot. You are putting way too much attention on the obstacle and by doing so are reinforcing that obstacle and it just gets more and more solid.

The remedy to this is to put your attention on the purpose of your new headshot. Envision it and see how it will help you to open new doors and be considered for the roles that are right for you. See in your mind how it will impact those who are in the business of hiring characters to tell stories. Think HUGE with the idea of your new headshot. By expanding your ideas of the purpose of your new headshot, the so-called barrier of “no money” will melt and fade into the obscurity of yesterday and become nothing more than a silly notion without meaning.

This can be applied in a larger way with your overall career. It’s the same principle. If you are having trouble getting a speaking role in a TV series or feature film, aim at something much larger. Put your aim on a starring role and recognize the purpose of having such a role. Your mind will flood with ideas on what you need to do to make it happen. You will be introduced to the knowledge you need to succeed. You will take action like never before. The speaking roles for TV series and feature films will start rolling your way, almost like magic.

Think huge. It will benefit you and everyone you know.

© Copyright 2009 by Neil Schell

The Courage of an Actor

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The Courage of an Actor

Most actors, when they finally decide to do something about their incredible urge to get on stage or in front of a camera and transform into someone else in order to entertain large numbers of people, aren’t completely sure that they can do it. That they can “act.” I mean, it’s them up there and only them – their body, their voice, their movements – so it’s a bit intimidating, or can be. It’s not like they are playing an instrument or painting a painting with a brush, paint and a canvas that someone looks at and either appreciates it or doesn’t. It’s their own body, their own voice and their own movements that are being looked at. No one is judging a canvas they worked on. They are being judged directly.

It is because of this that actors are the most courageous of artists. It is a well-known and over-used fact to the general population at large that standing up and speaking in front of an audience or crowd is more terrifying than death itself. Yet an actor does this for their daily bread. Courage indeed.

But an actor takes this fear to another level and that is, they not only stand up in front of a crowd and speak they allow those who are observing them to judge them. They allow them to have an opinion of their ability to “act” and to play a character. I am sure one and all have at one time or another made a statement similar to this, “That person just isn’t a good actor.” or “What a great actor!” Being open and vulnerable like that requires even more courage.

Now I have set the stage.  But this is only the beginning. Let’s add another layer. The layer of rejection. Yes, that’s what it’s called, rejection. Actors must stand or sit in front of total strangers (directors and producers) and bear their souls and be judged in order just to get cast in a role.

And the next layer – after doing all that in front of these judges the majority of the time they never hear back. Close to 90% of the time. There is this complete void of communication. Silence. I don’t know about you but when there is silence from a person that I just communicated to I tend to fill it with, let’s say, unwanted thoughts. Here are few that I used to think when I first started auditioning, “I really screwed that one up.” or “I guess I just don’t know how to act.” or “I mustn’t be talented.” or “I’m too old.” or “I’m too young.” or “I’m too fat.” or “I’m too short.” or “I started too late in life. I should have started when I was 4!” or “I’ll never make it.” The list goes on. Facing this fact of rejection takes strength and yet another level of courage is required to continue. One more notch of courage.

This quality of courage is the very thing that audiences the world over admire. When an audience member watches one of their favourite stars overcome some of the most incredible odds in order to save themselves and probably the world at large, their courage is what is attractive. One can easily say that it’s really the “character” that the actor is playing and that it’s just a movie. True. Very true. I say, though, the essence of the actor him or herself must be present in the “character” as well and that the most attractive quality the audience identifies with or wants to experience in themselves is courage. If that actor doesn’t have courage in themself, it will not come through in any character they play no matter how well it is written for them.

So what makes up courage and are people born with it or can it be developed? What I will write here is strictly my opinion as an actor myself and a director. I am no authority on the subject but I have observed some things that may help the neophyte thespian.

People, in general, are not courageous. They are not born courageous and very, very few demonstrate this quality in life. Most of us are busy looking for security and safety and comfort. We avoid at all costs any situation where we must be courageous. Just look at the fact of standing up in front of a crowd and speaking as being more terrifying than death to most people. That tells me something about the level of courage most people have.

Courage is feeling the fear while taking action and not letting that fear overwhelm you to the point of inaction. With actors it starts right from the very beginning – admitting you’re an actor and taking action. It takes courage to admit and it takes even more courage to take action. Because that action will undoubtedly get some strange reactions from friends and family. Not everyone but some. Usually, though, the thought of what someone might say or how frightening it will be to stand up and speak and move with a character’s lines in front of others is far more scary than what happens in reality. If you have finally mustered up the courage to admit to yourself that you are an actor, do not let these thoughts sabotage your passion and what could be your calling in life. Stand up to them. Take that same courage you used to admit your calling and infuse it with enthusiasm and you will soon be standing up to most anything.

Following the career path of an actor develops courage. Some actors start with more courage than others either through their inherent personalities or the conditioning they have had in their upbringing or environment. Regardless of your inherent courage level or ability to stand up to fears of performing that you might have, most likely you will be tested along the way.

Courage is needed in many instances. It takes courage to admit your an actor to yourself and to others. It takes courage to do something about it – take classes, go to auditions. It takes courage to perform on stage. It takes courage to perform in front of a camera. It takes courage to work alongside a superstar. It takes courage to watch your own work. And it takes courage to continue when it seems like your career isn’t working.

As an actor develops their courage level and ability to stand up to fear, they become better people in life and they learn to handle life with much more certainty and strength than the average person. Actors who truly make it do become a shining light for others. A star to set an example. Of course, anyone can become misguided and make some terrible mistakes, stars included. But there is no doubt in my mind that the works of art they are contributing to and the stories they are helping to tell do make for a better life for all of us. Where would this life be without good movies? Without the courage of the actor, there would be none.

©️2014 Neil Schell

Reducing Casting’s Ability to Reject You

 

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REDUCING THEIR ABILITY TO REJECT YOU by Neil Schell

What an interesting career you have chosen! An actor for hire. Or, more appropriately, a character for hire, for stories. No matter how you look at it, a professional actor has to learn to deal with rejection. Fact. Most of the roles you will read for you will not get. This is true whether you are just starting out or are a name actor who is close to superstar status. Most of the roles you go out for and want, you won’t get.

The first step in dealing with this is to confront it. Anything you confront will simplify. Simplifying rejection as an actor means seeing it for the truth of what it really is rather than what it is when it’s not understood at all – a roller coaster ride that makes Magic Mountain look like a kiddy park.

Let’s look at the situation – confront it. You have a producer and a director, at minimum, looking to hire a character for their film or TV series. A casting director is hired who then issues a breakdown of all the characters he or she has to find for their employer. Let’s say they want a 5 hour session in two days from now and they’re hoping to cast 7 characters of the 20 they need.

Typically, in a filming centre like Vancouver or New York, the casting director will receive around 150+ submissions from agents for each character they are looking for. That means they have 950+ headshots to go through! (That’s a hint at how important your headshot is.) Out of those 950+ headshots, they will usually bring in around 42 actors (6 per role).

When you see a ratio of 950/42 you realize right away that the casting director has to reject way, way more than they select. Their biggest job is rejecting. All you have to do is look at the numbers. If you have a good headshot in which your character is clearly evident and you have been appropriately submitted, you are effectively reducing their ability to reject you. There are great long dissertations written about headshots and what they communicate so I will not go into it here. But I do want you to get the idea that your headshot is an important part of reducing casting’s ability to reject you.

Next, let’s say you are one of the ones with a great headshot that clearly communicates your character and you are selected for an audition appointment. Yes! Now a similar situation exists. Those who are in attendance at the audition and/or those who will be seeing the tapes from the audition still have the greater job of rejecting more than selecting. They select one actor and they reject five actors. That’s if they only hold one casting session. When they find the right character, it’s easy for them to reject the rest. But it’s not just the right character, it also has to do with the right person they want to work with – especially if it’s a long shoot.

There is a whole science on how to reduce the “rejection factor” in a situation like this but one simple idea is; The person who needs to reject more than they select (director, producer) finds it way more difficult to reject someone they like. And when it comes to selecting an actor for a role it is not always about your acting skills. It’s not just about liking your acting. It’s about liking everything – your manners, your confidence, your skills and your professionalism.

Here’s a simple everyday example of how you can employ this. Everyone has experienced a time when you were walking down the street and a person walking toward you beamed this huge smile. What did you do? You smiled back. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to resist doing so. That person was making it very hard for you to reject their smile. In fact, when such a gesture is genuine, it’s practically impossible to reject it.

When you walk into that audition room genuinely smiling (I am not saying you “have” to smile for it must be genuine) and having the complete honest intention that you are going to like everyone you meet in that room, you will make it very hard for them to reject you. It doesn’t mean they won’t. It just means that you are making it difficult. And that is part of your job. Making it difficult for casting to reject you.

And why wouldn’t you like or potentially like everyone in that room? They have managed, through their hard work and determination over years, to get a good concept, a good script, some sort of distribution and financing to go ahead and make this movie or series. What actor can’t admire that? And who can refuse genuine admiration? Practically no one. If you love this industry and the people who make it expand and improve and be the viable industry it is, it will show. It will be seen, felt and acknowledged.

Of course, all of this is in addition to your acting skill set and ability to assume the identity of the character and so on. But it can’t be reduced in importance. For, after all, this is a people business.

NOTE: Neil Schell gives online acting coaching for auditions world-wide. He was a pioneer in doing online coaching to help his students across Canada over 10 years ago. Get his introductory offer and start booking! CLICK HERE

© Copyright 2009 by Neil Schell – revised ©️2016

Characters Are Cast, Not Actors

OASIS 3

Character in Auditions

by Neil Schell

With so many acting teachers always stressing the perfection of your acting technique, actors sometimes loose sight of what the key people who hire actors are looking for. After all is said and done, actors aren’t really hired at all. Characters are. This piece of wisdom was imparted to me by Mr. Bob Fraser. And here’s a little story that completely confirms it.

I once had the most amazing experience at an audition. I had been given an audition for a very wordy commercial. Commercials help pay the bills. They are not vital to an actor’s overall advancement in the film and television industries. “Well,” I thought to myself, “this is the time to try something new. I’ve really got nothing to loose.” There were no sides (script pages) provided ahead of time. We could only see them in hard copy in the audition waiting room. Perfect. There was absolutely no way I could do my usual mental gymnastics with the script – working out beats, verbs and objectives and trying to memorize it – because I wouldn’t have enough time.

Like most actors who regularly go for and get commercials, I know that when you have a long-winded script, it’s got to be condensed into the 30 seconds or 60 seconds that commercials run. I was trained to make sure that when doing a wordy commercial audition I had to get all of the mumbo-jumbo spit out before the almighty stop-watch reached it’s pre-set limit. But this time, I was not even going to try and do that. I was going to ignore everything except my impulses and reactions to the text of the script. Period. In other words, I was not going to do anything I had learned that acting was about.

I went in the room. There was a panel of 7 people. My intellect was yelling at me, “You can’t go through with this!” I ignored it. I greeted everyone politely. The cameraman said his ominous, “Rolling!” And I pushed forward into the land of the unknown regardless of what thoughts were trying to enter my awareness.
I slowly connected to the text a few words at a time. I didn’t try to sound slick or cool in any way at all. I just let whatever impulses or ideas that came to me from those deliberately chosen words on that page take control. I felt free of the worry that’s related to trying to do a plan. I plodded along, paying no attention to time or perfection or performance. My intellect was racing with ideas of failure because of it. I forged on.

After what seemed like ten minutes (I am sure it was more like two and a half) I said the very last words that I could read on that page. I looked up. I was certain the giant hook that often takes the form of a cordial “Thank you.” was going to come out of the director’s mouth and yank on my neck until it broke. But I was wrong. Or should I say, my intellect was wrong. I, in fact, could hardly believe what I was hearing from the director’s mouth. He said in a very friendly and collaborative voice, “I really like that character.”

“Character! What character?”, I thought to myself. I was dumbfounded. I could hardly speak to thank him. I had just gone through one of the slowest, unslick commercial readings of my career. I had railed against everything that I knew I was “supposed” to do. And there I was, listening to a comment unlike any I had ever heard before. My acting career and life changed forever.

I have since zeroed in on exactly what I was doing in that audition and then developed how to pass that along to others. It works. I got my acting out of the way so the character could be there. The more consistently you can do that the more you will get hired. Why? Because characters get hired and actors don’t.

Having directed and act over 120 TV episodes I can 100% endorse that viewpoint to this very day.  Skill is part of the selection process, character is primary.

© Copyright 2009 by Neil Schell

©Copyright 2016 revised______________________________

The Hardest Part is Not Acting

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THE HARDEST PART IS NOT ACTING by Neil Schell

I once saw an interview with Billy Bob Thornton in which he made a statement something to the effect of, and I paraphrase hugely, acting is easy, it’s not acting that’s the hard part.

Often these short quips about acting, like “less is more”, trigger all kinds of ideas and possibilities. Sometimes, wrong ideas can be triggered by them as well as correct ones.

What I like about “the hardest part is not acting” is it covers, for me, all the things an actor has to do to take care of their career. The fun part of an acting career is the acting. I mean, why else would you subject yourself to as tough an industry as this? Your love of acting and the effects you can create by doing it of course. There truly is no other answer.

Let’s look at some of the things that make up the “hardest part”, the “not acting” part. Marketing and promotion is a good place to start. Since you yourself are a product you must learn to market and promote yourself. It’s an invariable fact in our society at this time that everything of value has to be sold. Ideas, scripts, clothes, glue sticks, computers, even soap has to be sold. If you don’t sell it, no one thinks its worth anything. An actor who continuously works for free creates the idea that their acting isn’t worth anything. If they don’t sell their acting, no one thinks its worth anything. Part of selling anything, including acting, is marketing and promotion.

The purpose of marketing and promotion is to create an awareness of a product. But, more importantly, it is to create a “want” for the product. There are many excellent texts on how this can be done, so I will not go into it here. But once you see that you are your product and that you must create a want for your product, you realize that you really should find out how to market yourself.

Marketing and promotion are a couple of the “hardest parts” because they aren’t the fun part, the acting part. (Once you realize how important this part is, it becomes fun.) Another hard part is figuring out just exactly what it is you are marketing. If you don’t know, you are kind of like a store owner who says he has this one product that “does everything.” So, tell me, if you were looking for a vacuum cleaner and a store owner came to you and said, “I have this one product that does everything” would you be interested? Even if this “product” could do everything, would it be smart to sell it as such? Wouldn’t it be better to be specific and decide what the product does best and then market it that way?

Let me ask you this; Are you an actor marketing yourself as being able to “do everything” in an attempt to increase your chances? If you are, maybe you should rethink that marketing strategy.

You need to find out what it is you specifically bring to the film and TV industries before you can truly market it. This is hard to do because you need to be objective about your product – you.

As I have said before, there are many “hardest parts” to not acting. One of them is directly in regard to the craft of acting. You see, you really do have to “not act” in order to service your audience. All those actors you love and think are brilliant, you just can’t catch them acting. That takes many, many hours of practice and experience and skill building. It’s debatable as to whether or not this is one of the hard parts of acting. It certainly takes tenacity to follow through with it.

Then there is simply the “not doing anything” when you are playing a scene. The temptation to do something (act) when there really is no true impulse (not act) makes it difficult to “not act.”

The hardest part is not acting. Take care of it.
© Copyright 2009 by Neil Schell
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The Mind of an Actor

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See Neil talk about his Training Program for Actors HERE

The Mind of an Actor

I am an actor. I am an actor trainer. I am also a director.

I have appeared in American TV shows and Hollywood movies. I have trained actors for close to two decades. I have directed actors in over 90 episodes of television.

I have worked with the minds of actors and I, too, have the mind of an actor.

I have been asked many times, “Can anyone become an actor?” “Yes and no.”, is my paradoxical answer. The paradoxes of art are many. And acting is no exception.

An actor’s mind is a creative mind. To create, one must walk where no one has walked before. An actor brings into being a character that’s never been seen before. That’s what creating is all about.

It is my theory that an actor must rejuvenate their creative mind to an extremely high level. I say rejuvenate because, as children, we all had our creative minds in full swing. We used them continuously until we were “taught” that it was really a bad thing and we shouldn’t be doing it anymore.

All of us have been “schooled.” This is a very dangerous activity for an unwitting actor-to-be. Schooling has it’s place but schooling is a destructive activity in many ways to the unsuspecting creative mind of an actor. By “schooled” I mean to say, disciplined to obey authority or suffer the consequences of some painful gesture – whether it be physical pain like that of being hit with a measuring stick or ruler, or whether it be some sort of embarrassing pain like being humiliated in front of your peers, or whether it be the pain of a loss of a privilege or an object one possesses.

We are all taught to sit still, to be quiet and to listen. It takes several years to accomplish this because, naturally, we listen to ourselves, not an authority. If we want to pinch our fellow classmate, we do it. If we want to talk loudly to our neighbour, we do it. If we feel like jumping on a desk, we do it. At least in our early years until we are “taught” differently.

Listening to our natural impulses or instincts and then physically following through with them isn’t always what the teacher wants and, so, in order to avoid the pains offered for disobeying, we learn to obey. We learn, in effect, to not listen to ourselves and to only listen to the teacher or the policeman or our parents. At some point, we may even believe that following instincts and impulses and our imaginations completely equals pain. Slowly, day by day, year by year, listening to ourselves becomes far less important than listening to the authorities. The creative mind, or the mind that generates those impulses, instincts and imaginations, gets used less and less and, in some of us, goes completely dormant.

The intellect begins to take over. It gets rewarded for behaving and following prescribed patterns and rules. It gets told it’s smart and is rewarded as being “good.”

We are trained to build up our intellect and suppress our creativity. In fact, we start to believe we are our intellects yet it is only a part of our mind we use. It is not us at all.

The intellectual part of our minds becomes overused and is given far more importance than our creative minds. “Smart” is associated with intellectual capacity while creativity is associated with “misbehaving.”

But this is quite the opposite of what is required of an actor’s mind. An actor’s mind must be a strong creative mind. The intellectual aspect has it’s place in acting but it is greatly overshadowed by the creative mind.

What I have discovered is that the creative mind, that part of the mind that is creative, is far more intelligent than the intellectual part. The creative mind has the incredible capacity to bring into existence something new and never seen or experienced before. While the intellectual mind regurgitates facts and figures and obeys commands.

The intellectual part of the mind does not have the capacity to grasp an intelligence greater than it such as the creative mind is. It is in comparison to the mind of an insect understanding the mind of a human. The capacity is simply not there.

When an actor realizes or understands just how intelligent the creative part of their mind is they then learn how to keep the intellectual part of their mind at bay. They learn to have it ‘step aside’ and observe just how incredibly powerful their creative minds are.

An actor has a well developed and free creative mind that they have used to discover and create characters with. It is not trapped by the ever-obedient intellectual part of their mind. That is not to say that their intellects are turned off or gotten rid of or some other related idea. But it is to say that the actor has learned where and when to use the intellect and where and when and how to unleash their creative minds.

It takes courage to free one’s creative mind from the do’s and don’t’s we have been so heavily trained into. And this is what is at the heart of every actor, courage. Audiences instinctively recognize that quality in actors. It is their courage that becomes an ideal to live up to.

Rejuvenating that creativity is what helps an actor to “become” someone they aren’t and never will be.

The mind of an actor is their creative mind. This is the place of imagination, of instinct and impulse, of courage and the willingness to have the freedom to fail or make a fool of themselves. My hat goes off to the mind of the actor for, without them, this would be a very dull and boring world indeed.

The Responsibility of Actors

The Responsibility of Actors by Neil Schell

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Directing RUSH

Actors carry many responsibilities. To many such a word as “responsibility” might seem a bit repulsive or scary. Equating the word “responsibility” with negative ideas is usually borne out of past experiences. You know, a parent coming down on you hard for not taking “responsibility” for the state of your bedroom or the heavy-handed teacher declaring your lack of “responsibility” for not having completed your homework. When a word is used in threatening situations over and over, one can get the idea that it’s a bad thing. It seems like it comes from that gruff world that so many stoic, serious people seem to preach as being “reality.” The truth is it’s a good word to embrace.

I stumbled across a definition of responsibility that I love using. It kind of wipes away all of that threatening stuff and gets me to see the truth of the word “responsibility.” Responsibility is the action of disallowing anything to get between you and that thing or idea or person or duty you are taking responsibility for. If you want to take responsibility for your car working when you need it to, you don’t let inoperable parts get between you and your car. It is a certain thing that a flat tire will not allow you to drive until you take responsibility for that inoperable tire and fix it. Once fixed, the flat tire is no longer sitting between you and your car.

Similarly, an actor can’t let anything, anyone or any idea get between them and the success of their career. If an actor says, “Oh, my agent takes care of everything.” they are letting that idea get between them and their career. Which means they are not being responsible when it comes to their career. Another example of allowing an idea to get between you and your career is blaming. Anytime you blame a person, an economic condition, your age or your hair color you are allowing those ideas to get between you and your career.

You can make up many examples for yourself and after you do so you will clearly see the truth of what responsibility is – not letting anything get between you and whatever it is you are taking responsibility for.

With that in mind, what is it the actor has to take responsibility for? The list is huge but some things are much more important than others. Finding out what the priorities are is the trick to being an efficient person and to simplifying the subject, art and business of acting. Figuring out what the important things are is the hard part.

One of the things that is, in my opinion, near the top of the heap, if not at the very top, is the audience. The audience is the end user of what you do. Without them there is no movie to be made or TV series to shoot. And acting on a stage would be…well, you get the idea.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the idea that the consumer of your skills is the casting director, director or producer. It is true that they may be involved in your employment but the final consumer is the audience in every case.

So how on earth does an actor take responsibility for their audience? Well let’s take a good look at it. If responsibility truly is not allowing anything, including ideas, to get between you and what you are taking responsibility for, that means anything that gets between you and your audience has to be dealt with. Can’t think of anything? How about this very simple example – mumbling all of your lines? Mumbling gets between you and your audience. By not correcting this you are irresponsible to your audience. They can’t hear you. When I am part of an audience and can’t decipher what an actor is saying, it breaks whatever empathy I had for that character as well as the suspended disbelief I had for the story. I get a feeling of being “kicked out.” The bottom line is; the story I am watching becomes much less enjoyable. This is what is called “loosing your audience.”

If you were to sit down and review all of your work, including what you do in an audition, with the idea that you didn’t want anything to get between you and your audience, you would be heading directly at attracting a bigger audience. The bigger your audience, the more employable you are – everybody wins.

© Copyright 2009 by Neil Schell
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What I Look For When I Cast Actors

WHAT I LOOK FOR WHEN I CAST ACTORS
by Neil Schell

P1020963When I cast I look to the essence of the actor. This essence is character. Like a heat seeking missile, I hunt down with my senses what is in the heart of this actor that I see before me. If the actor truly lets me see that without trying to show me how good of an actor they are, it is easier for me to cast them. Actors who can do this are far more interesting and exciting than those who are trying to be good actors.

If you look at this in terms of rhythm, it might become clearer. If you portray the rhythm of everyday life you will be boring. Entertainment must have a rhythm that is not like the everyday. Finding your own unique, internal rhythm of a scene or a character in the scene will make you stand out. Falling into any sort of ordinary rhythm is fatal because it is boring. People don’t watch TV or movies to see exactly what life is like – to see the day-to-day rhythms. They are already living that. They want a different rhythm, something that kicks them out of the mundane, the plain, the ordinary.

Skill as an actor, I believe, is necessary. Skill has value because a skilled actor is productive and easy to work with. A skilled actor is often needed for difficult roles – highly charged and emotional scenes. Never stop increasing your skills and becoming more professional in your work. But before all of that, before you start beating your brains in with Meisner technique or sense memory work or freeing yourself from your unwillingness to get angry and throw things or spit or being able to pick your nose on camera, you must be interesting and entertaining. Good is BORING. And BORING is the ultimate sin in this game called acting.

When an actor steps in the casting room or walks into a restaurant for a lunch meeting with a producer or is met on the street by accident by a director, their ability to let their true essence come through is what will advance them in their career. It is what is sought after most. For if the director or producer can clearly see an actor’s uniqueness then so too can the audience. That true essence, that character, is what an actor brings to any role. And once that actor knows what that essence is, he or she now knows what they are selling. “Good actor” just doesn’t cut it and isn’t unique and interesting and therefore has little to no entertainment value.

When you walk into my casting room I am watching from the moment you enter.  Within seconds I can see if you are in the running to book this role.  Everything from your mannerisms to your attitude are being observed.  I am open to the fact that you may be the character.  I don’t have some strictly defined image or specific energy I am waiting to see walk in the door.  No.  I do have some boundaries for sure that cannot be crossed but generally I am open to what you have to bring to the character.  You could be the most amazing actor in the world but if you don’t suit what I need in the character in order to tell the story, then your acting ability will not win me over – not if it’s an important role.  I won’t forget you if you have talent and are professional.  But if you don’t “fit” the role, I won’t cast you. The “best” actor does not always get the role.

Regardless of what the critiques and the coaches say, it is the audience who determines who they want to see on the big screen. Arnold Swarzeneggar is a prime example of this. When he arrived in Hollywood and said he wanted to be a movie star, people in the industry stared at him in disbelief. He didn’t look like any other actor working at that time. He couldn’t really act that well. He had a terrible accent (to Americans) and his name was just weird and too long for the marquee. Yet, somehow he got through that wall of “no” from those who “knew best” and connected to an audience of huge proportions. At one point, Arnold was the highest paid actor in the world.

If you know the exact qualities of your character and you know when they are needed or required you are way ahead of the game.

Arnold was not trying to sell the fact that he was a good actor. He was way too smart for that. He knew what he was as an actor but he also knew that he had something the industry needed or would need. Arnold was and is a very disciplined individual. You don’t get to be Mr. Universe four times (or whatever it was) by being a couch potato. His inner character was displayed in what he did to his body. He had a strength of discipline and the courage to be unique. And this came through to the audience. Audiences just love to identify with courage and uniqueness.

This, too, is what I am looking for.  But it must match the character in the story. Being clear about your attributes for the film industry and the characters we need to cast. Knowing what it is you bring to the table and clearly marketing and revealing that in your work helps you and helps the director.  It will be blatantly obvious as to what characters you can play and you will be cast in a role that you are strong in.  Being correctly cast makes you appear to be an outstanding actor as opposed to an mediocre one.  Actors who win awards have been correctly cast.  It truly behooves the actor to understand what they bring to the industry and how they are perceived by industry professionals so they are correctly cast.  When actors get this right, they become in-demand actors.

So what steps can you take to move toward not only knowing what you are selling but also selling it with confidence and strength so you become an interesting actor that directors want in their films? How does one get away from this homogenized “good actor” and start being a unique and interesting actor?

The first step is to throw away this idea of being a good actor. That might be hard to do because, most likely, this is the only thing you have been relying on and aiming for.  Be skilled, be professional but don’t be “good.” Once you’ve really let go of the concept, of that goal, discover how you are perceived by professionals working in the industry, discover where your strengths lie in terms of character.  Then zero in on it and market it and be the very best at it.

Copyright © 2012

revised 2016