AudienceExperience-01

The Audience Experience & the New Middle Ground

Over the years of teaching stylistic prediction and adjustment, I’ve learned that many of us bring with us a pushback from really embracing where the work is supposed to live.  We often roll our eyes and/or judge/resist really going for it.  How crazy is that?  How likely are we to do our best work or book a gig when we are JUDGING IT?

I’ve seen it far too often to think it’s an anomaly.  It’s standard.  That judgment, I think, comes from a place of insecurity and the need for validation of our work. I think that happens because in doing our work to grow as capable actors, most of us develop a false valuation system for said work.

Most of us have come up through years or decades of heavy lifting to be as truthful as possible every moment.  That discipline is crucial to our development as actors: forcing ourselves to push past comfort zones; developing range and ownership of instrument; and growing as people and artists. But, when we are operating from a need for validation, the very positive reinforcement that keeps us growing starts to become the focus.   If we leave this perspective unchecked we derail the actual point of our work.

We develop a counterproductive and unhealthy bias that work is either full truth or it’s shit.

That’s a problem.  Turn on the TV.  If you REALLY look at it, there ain’t much ‘truth’ there.  Everything is skewed in some way or another – made lighter, fuller, more outlandish, more deadpan, etc.  It’s not OUR truth, which we have worked so hard to inhabit over years and decades. Rather, it’s the truth of the show and/or network.  It’s stylized.

I’ve learned that the process of arriving to truthful, full work within a stylized universe always presents  the ‘this feels like bullshit’ voice that I believe we carry from our years of growth as actors.  We need to work through the resistance and find ourselves truthful within whatever ‘universe’ that style exists.  No matter what stylings it has or who it’s intended audience is, we must make it real, unique, and interesting.  WHERE IT LIVES is not necessarily where we feel it the most.

We have learned to become master chefs, now it’s time to make a ham sandwich on white bread for the kids and LOVE doing it.  

I expanded on the resistance most of us have on this topic in a post I published a while back. To sum it up, if you are bringing an expectation of artistic validation to your TV auditioning, you need to reframe that expectation pronto or you are not going to be happy in this pursuit at all.

Once that perception is out of the way, it’s so much easier to recognize that the Audience Experience is really all that matters.

We must always remember that the entertainment industry is the Engagement Brokerage Business.  The Networks are in the business of acquiring the attention of an audience and selling that attention to parties who have an interest in profiting through exposure to that audience (aka advertisers). There are terms to each engagement – “stylistic parameters” – which are defined by the business directives of the network.  Business provides the space for the art.

We must answer the questions  ‘Who is the audience this network is looking for and how are they communicating with that audience? What is and isn’t appropriate for that audience?’  This is the Audience Experience that is being created.

 

THE AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE

How is the audience being engaged?  What sort of an experience is being created for them?  At the simplest level, there are only two categories of experience into which all other experiences fall:

Audience Participatory Experience or Audience Observational Experience

In Participatory, the audience is empathizing with the characters, drawn in to feeling the conflict, the cost at a personal and specific level.  In Observational the audience is excused from feeling that stuff, and are more observing what’s happening.

When we look at the work through this lens, everything starts to fall into place.  Style, pacing, irony, depth, humour, danger, intricacy, intimacy, and how far to take it all… it all becomes obvious to us.

 

OBSERVATIONAL Experience Characteristics

  • Action with moments of Stillness
  • Plot-driven
  • Faster paced
  • Faster paced means: less complex character & story – no time to get deep with the audience about it!
  • Emotional depth tends to be lightened up. It’s often still there, but the audience is excused from fully experiencing it.  Think “small talk at a funeral”.
  • What happened and who did it more than why it was done.
  • Heightened urgency, use of humour to lighten the mood.
  • “Character” as a vehicle for PLOT
  • A dumbing down and moving on, and often over-simplification of details.
  • “What”-based casting.  Casting highly image-dependent.  If you don’t look like a bank teller/cop/waitress etc it’s harder to cast you there.

 

It all adds up to a ‘sit back and enjoy the ride, don’t think, observe’ type experience.  Harsh stuff may be happening, but the manner in which it’s presented excuses the audience from having to feel it or take it too seriously.  It never gets too heavy.  Think about it some time you’re watching an action adventure movie or most comedy for that matter.  Slow things down, and take it truthfully and seriously.  It usually becomes way too much to handle.

 

PARTICIPATORY Experience Characteristics

  • Stillness with moments of Action
  • Character and story driven
  • Slower pace – room to breathe and consider
  • More complex character and story – if the pace is slowed down there needs to be some fullness and complexity to fill the gap.
  • Why things are done is a bigger part of the equation
  • Natural, under-pushed, full performances
  • Plot is usually a vehicle for character growth.
  • Extreme attention to detail on all levels.
  • “Who” based casting.  The essence/quality of your personality drives the casting more than just your image.

 

For a great comparison of the difference between Participatory and Observational, open up Netflix and watch the first 4 minutes of AMC’s The Walking Dead, then watch the first 2-3 minutes of SyFy’s Z-Nation.  Very similar subject matter, comparable log-lines for the shows, but entirely different audience experience.

Watch The Walking Dead First.  Classic Participatory:  Not even a word spoken till about the 3:45 mark.  So many question marks about who this person is, what is he dealing with, what is this world that he’s in – STILLNESS.  Then an event that we built to for four minutes then ACTION.  Followed by… stillness.

Welcome to an exploration of who this person is and how is he going to deal with the new world order.

Now watch the first two minutes of Z-Nation.  ACTION from the get-go: we are hit hard with exposition in the first 10 seconds we know everything we need to know about the world.  We are hit with gruesome images but denied time to process any of them, then more exposition followed by some soldiers being chased by zombies. Then a moment of reason – STILLNESS – hold your fire!  Whew, quick breath before we cut to the urgent ACTION of a soldier at a control panel urgently barking out orders as his superior officer then pops in gives more urgent instruction and leaves.

This experience is about “sit back and let us take you on a thrill ride”.  No time to think about who these people are, so there’s no time to really be in their shoes or feel what they are feeling.

I look at all the entertainment on a scale from Observational to Participatory.  We’ve seen an increasing polarization of the extremes of each in recent years, and there’s now an interesting effect in front of us: there’s a middle ground that looks for both.

It seems like HBO, AMC, A&E and much of the Netflix/Amazon/Hulu (‘new’ media) content has been driving to Participatory.  Gritty, real, heavy, complex content.  The big networks haven’t followed.  Why not?  I don’t believe they can.  ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX have huge, established bases that they risk alienating by going ‘too far’ with anything, so they can’t.  That’s what left the door open for others to take advantage.

As the demand has grown for this type of content, audiences have filtered off.  Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, etc.  They now have huge audiences that come to them for the “Grit”, the same way the Big Four have audiences that come to them for the “Polish”.  The Participatory Providers can’t really do the Polish, and the Big Four can’t really do the Grit.  You take yours and I take mine, everybody happy?

Yep… for a while.  Until….

The new MIDDLE Ground

In the past couple years, there’s a new area really filling out.  The same way that the Big Four networks left ‘Grit’ on the table for HBO and AMC, there is profitable space for a new audience experience and it’s coming up fast.

It’s the middle ground – the combo of the Grit and the Polish.   I read a review of Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce (BRAVO Network) during the first season that summed it up perfectly.  The author called the show Visually Flawless while all the characters were deeply flawed.

Lifetime’s Unreal is another example.  It’s got the polish and the glitz, but we are watching the characters go through some heavy stuff truthfully, and invested in real-feeling character arcs.

They have an advantage because they can serve a smaller audience who wants the polish AND the grit.

More and more, you’re seeing this combo-entertainment – SyFy, CW, Lifetime, Bravo, and many more are competitively creating content that presents flawed characters in a visually flawless environment.  The What AND the Who.  BUT… overall, this experience still errs to moving things along.  We’ll sit in something heavy in a full, truthful fashion, but then something will happen to move us along from it quickly.  The final episode of Season One of SyFy’s The Magicians illustrates it very well.  Find it and watch it.  You’ll see what I mean.

As you go through any show you are audition for, try to think along those terms.  Pay attention to what network each show is on, and if you’re unfamiliar with any given one, challenge yourself to predict how it is likely to be played out.  It’ll probably be hit and miss initially, but if you keep it up, it will become a second nature adjustment.

For me, that is the goal.  To know where the playground is before you even read the sides.  This way you will spend more of your time exploring, discovering, and making the work your own in the insanely tight window of preparation for your audition.

You will be a collaborator, and by definition you will be working more and at higher levels.

Bookings will take care of themselves.

As always, thanks for reading.  Here’s to a bountiful harvest for all!

#TeamJBA

WILD

The Gift of Failure

‘Failure’ is a label.

To that label, most of us have assigned a fear-based perception that teaches us ‘don’t do that again!’

Contrary to the messages that bombard us everywhere we go every second of our lives, we are in charge of our own perception.  That fear-based understanding isn’t real.  It’s just a decision on how to perceive something that happened.  Although the fear-based perception disagrees,  ‘Failure’ is most certainly not a final, non-negotiable, ugly, dark and unpleasant thing to be avoided. I propose that we reframe our perception and see ‘failure’ as the accomplishment and gift that it is.

Remember it doesn’t exist.  It’s really just struggle and growth in action.  It’s an incredibly positive thing. There’s no ‘giving up’, there’s only moving forward in an altered direction influenced by whatever just happened.  Everything we do… EVERYTHING… adds to and enhances the richness and value of the journey.  As story-tellers, the richness and value of the journey is kind of the point.  We should be running toward that which enhances the story we can tell.

Instead, most of us are so focussed on getting things right that we are missing out on all the really great stuff that makes the experience of our work full, real, personal, joyous, painful, surprising, engaging. When we operate under the mindset of ‘avoiding failure’, we are conditioning ourselves into safe, predictable, (aka ‘boring’) performances.

I think there’s a simple, gentle reminder we must grab onto:

 If you fell it’s because you were doing the job, challenging yourself, and putting it on the line.  

That’s GOOD.

Imagine you’re at the circus, watching the tightrope walker.  As the acrobat inches across the high-wire, suddenly… there’s a stumble.  The knees buckle, they sway back and forth, somewhat abruptly.  It’s a tense moment or three.  We’re on the edge of their seats not knowing what’s going to happen next, but acutely aware that things are about to go dramatically hard in one direction or another.  The audience holds it’s breath. The collective attention of the room is focussed in unison.  Present and invested, we wait.

And then… they regain their balance.

The rope now has a bit of a bounce to it and they slowly make their way across to the other side. The energy of the slip up is there the whole rest of the way.  It’s part of the experience.

Whew.  That was awesome.  What a show!

A second acrobat starts out across the chasm.  This one encounters a similar bump in the road, and they fight to stay up.  Overcompensating up and down to regain balance.  They struggle through it and just when they are about to catch up… boom!  They slip and fall.  Don’t worry there’s a safety net below to catch them.  They climb back up and go again.  The energy of the fall is there, but they are better focussed and prepared to work through any bumps in the road.  They work their way across, through a few tense moments and make it to the other side.

Both these acrobats are creating captivating experiences for their audiences.  They are fighting through the possibility of falling, and dealing with whatever comes up.  Both have effectively created the same result:  They made it from one side of the wire to the other.  But both have had a unique and interesting journey with the possibility of a fall that holds our attention more and more as they fight not to fall.  The falling may or may not happen, but the very real potential for ‘failure’ defines the value of their experience as the character and in turn,  our experience as the audience.

Engaging stuff.

Now…. a third acrobat gets up and starts across the wire.  They encounter a bump in the road and jump into the safety net immediately.  They climb back up, start again, hit the same bump, jump down.  They climb up again, hit a different bump a further ways across, they jump.  They climb up again, focus and make it all the way across.   Perfectly.

Then they get up and do it again.  Perfectly. Predictably.

That last acrobat, by jumping into the safety net is denying the chance to build real stakes into their work.  They are denying the experience of struggling through the unexpected and allowing that struggle to create new and interesting momentum, energy, intention in their work.  They are practicing removal of the possibility of failure from their work.  In so doing, they will lose the audience because they have created a predictable and uninvested experience for themselves and in turn,  for the audience.

I encounter this exact same scenario working with actors in the audition space every week: things are getting interesting, the unexpected is happening, they have perhaps a momentary lapse of dialog (which almost always means they are resisting stepping through the threshold to presence and the sense of danger this evokes) and they STOP.  And start again.  They jump into the safety net, refusing to embrace, nurture and develop the unexpected into their work.

I always try to jump in and get that actor to breathe and take that moment in.  I get them to stay in the scene, in the moment, and settle in.  It’s challenging to do initially, because it’s a safety mechanism kicking in, and our safety mechanisms tend to be pretty good at keeping us safe.

I remind actors:  that safety mechanism is kicking in at that moment because you’ve done a damn fine job of getting yourself up on the high wire, and are being affected by ‘gravity’. Now… fight the gravity.  Accept what’s happening (the unexpected) as part of what you must deal with as the character in the moment. Refuse to jump into the safety net – it’s ok if you fall, but never jump.  Don’t do gravity’s work for it.  Gravity doesn’t need your help – it was just fine before you got here and it’ll be just fine long after you’re gone.

We’re tuning in to watch a person FIGHT gravity.  We want to be inspired by the struggle.

When we reframe our perception of these moments from failure to progress, we grow.  Our work becomes nuanced, truthful, and full.  We are gifting our characters with the opportunity to fail and thus creating value for their achievements, and we are captivating an audience.

We are practicing growing.  One moment at a time.  And… lo and behold… we grow.

What a gift.

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Predict, Prepare, Prosper – The Opportunity in Obsolescence

Before I ever took the plunge and admitted to myself and the world that I’m an actor, I was a business person.  I  graduated from business school, and wore a suit and tie to work for almost ten years.   In that time, the most valuable lesson I took away as this:  ‘Make yourself obsolete before your competition does’.  The lesson was that in business, constant innovation is necessary, so much so that we must out-innovate ourselves or we will become irrelevant as someone else does.

When we are willing to see the opportunity on the horizon that replaces how we or others are doing things today, our path becomes clear.  Most often we are alone on it;  if it’s truly a unique opportunity, nobody will be able to understand its value as we do. If we let go of the fearful desire for someone to affirm us, we are left with a decision to pursue and once we make that decision, it all starts to happen.  This is absolute truth.

It took me a long while to become comfortable with that truth and to listen to what in my guts I knew was correct.  It is always “scary”, but over time, I’ve gained the benefit of experience.  I’ve stepped through “scary” many times now and I’ve reframed my relationship with it. Now it means that forward motion is eminent.   It’s where life really happens.  It’s always what leads to the next adventure and growth.  I find myself in an exhilarating pattern of prediction and preparation, and more in sync with my life and the industry,  innovating, letting go of the obsolete and creating opportunity.

I’m addicted. I’m always looking for what’s the opportunity of the next moment, and deciphering where to go next.

Predicting and Preparing.

This all really began to gain momentum for me about four years ago, right around the time of #SaveBCFilm. The passionate conversation of that moment was focussed on the influence of provincial tax credits on production levels. I started to look at what other factors existed, apart from tax credits, that influence production.  As much as possible I look at the big picture to the small from many angles.

It became clear to me that we were at the beginning of a historical shift;  we were going to see a big rise in production in the coming years because the players of the day were going to meet some serious competition.  The down time of that moment was temporary (no surprise there – everything is, after all), and things were going to shift in a very major way.  I began to plan for  what we are experiencing today – what I decided to call the Content Demand Explosion. So called “New Media” was coming to battle for the audience, production and distribution was going to get less expensive at an accelerated pace.  These factors predicted explosive growth in production, and we would see ongoing growth in content demand until the battle was done.

The length of the battle would hinge on how quickly ‘Old Media’ would adapt and/or how quickly ‘New Media’ would win.

As I look around the entertainment industry today, it strikes me (hard) that actors, writers, directors, casting directors, and all other content creators and providers are benefiting on a historic level as the result of an industry that failed to make itself obsolete and thus left the door open for others to innovate.  That’s what’s happening now.  The old models are obsolete, but still in operation even while the new models are rising, so we have an over demand for content.

In Series Study in particular, I’ve been pointing out the three main factors that have been creating this opportunity:

1. The rise of ‘New Media’

2. Low Canadian Dollar

3. World class infrastructure to support demand

The macro key is the first one – driving global demand for content.  The other two are localized factors that make our neighbourhood a good place to be right now. Together, they create a ‘perfect storm’ for Canadian Film & TV People (Especially Vancouver and Toronto).

But… as ‘New Media’ rises, ‘Old Media’ will fall.  Business models must shift, and it will take some time for them to catch up.  Until they do, we will be beneficiaries of inflated demand for our services.

The fact that the demand of the moment is inflated should laser focus us in on the fact that this explosion is TEMPORARY – just like all explosions.  Even while the Content Demand Explosion is happening all around us, the Content Demand Recession  is also already underway.  It’s just a little hard to see because there’s so much going on right now, but the signs are there.

Major networks are ‘trimming’ their big series – cutting the episode orders from 13 to 10 rather than cancelling. Perhaps a sign that they don’t know or are aren’t able to come up with a better answer?  Isn’t that basically keeping something on the air because it’s better than ‘nothing’?  And if that’s the case, doesn’t it follow that ‘nothing’ is the only other alternative?   Yikes. That’s not the sign of a thriving business model!

In response to his estimation that “the blurring of boundaries between television, radio, and the Internet will lessen the demand for traditional broadcasts” Lord Tony Haul,  Director-General of the BBC will be taking the BBC through a major overhaul.  Speculation is that it may be dropping it’s channel-based television and radio divisions. A sign of a pre-existing player endeavouring to make itself obsolete…0r perhaps acknowledging that it already is.

To my mind, what we are experiencing is the outright redistribution of power to create and distribute, and entertain. It’s a tipping point,  the democratization of that power – it is in the process of being redistributed down to the individual – or rather, the initiated individual. Once upon a time you needed massive dollars and infrastructure to wield this power.  Today you need a smart phone.

As power to create and distribute is itself redistributed from the super power networks and studios to the individuals, those individuals who prepare for the new responsibility will empower their creative careers.  Those who do not are going to fall by the wayside.

This is huge.  It’s historic. Plain and simple: it’s opportunity. Whether that opportunity is gained or lost is up to each of us.

The opportunity of THIS moment is to take advantage of the over-demand of content to book more work in order to direct the resulting exposure back to your own platform. If you don’t have your own platform, it’s time to make the creation of your platform the most important thing in your career.  Let the Content Demand Explosion be the fuel that lifted your platform up, not the trampoline that throws you in the air for a moment until gravity catches up.

What is your platform?

It’s your media-relationship to your audience.  It’s your website, your web series, your Instagram following, your blog, Twitter, Periscope, Snap Chat, Vines, your independent shorts, your podcast.  But all of those are just the platform.

What is the content for the platform?

Well… that’s up to you.  Remember when you started on this journey as an artist and somewhere you found something deeply personal that you wanted to share with the world?  A change you want to bring about?  An idea you wanted to get to someone?  Remember?  That thing?

To me… this is the point of it all.  Ask and answer FOR YOURSELF – ‘What do you want to say to whom?’. Then go say it.

You have that passion, and right now, if you prepare and take advantage of the change that’s upon us, you have the opportunity to own the ride.   You no longer have to wait for someone with a ton of money to give you the chance. Under their terms to say their version of your passion.

Those who do are going to be the heavy hitters who are still standing, thriving, and prospering when conditions change.  Those who do not will be lining up to ask for work from someone else.

Predict. Prepare. Prosper.

 

 

 

 

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The Casting Director Empathy Exercise

We’re professionals, right?  What does a professional do?  He/She helps make the project/task/goal at hand work most efficiently. They put themselves second and the needs of those around them first.  They satisfy the needs of others.

OK, so in order to do that, we should really understand the needs of those around us, right?

Over my many many sessions in casting workshops and Q&A’s with casting over the years, I’ve formed an idea of what it must be like to do their job.  I’m sure it’s challenging and rewarding to say the least.

But, I’ve been thinking about what the actual specific need is so both as an actor and as a teacher I can focus on helping them meet it.

So… in class this past week I posed the question:  “What does a Casting Director hope to achieve when he/she puts a session together? What’s the goal for that session?”

“To cast the role.”  Nope.

“To weed out bad performances.”  Nope.

Casting’s goal with that session is to have some great options for the client.  If the client’s got a tough choice, everyone is doing their job.

The Casting DIRECTOR will DIRECT us as they feel appropriate to meet the client’s needs. Our job is to collaborate with casting to help them do their job.  Give them options for the (OUR) client.  Work with them and their direction as needed.

The better prepared we are to do this, the further we go with our collaboration.

If we are overrun with nerves, not grounded, or way off the mark in terms of style, we actually impose on the casting director that they do my job.  We make them our acting coach.  Now they have to spend precious session time coaching us to where we need to be.  If we don’t get there, their session is less than it could have been.  Their relationship with their client is less than it could have been, and it’s hard for them to think of us as a go-to person to bring in.

If we DO get there, ‘there’ didn’t happen as efficiently as it could have, and that session was not all it could have been.  Again, hard to think of us as a go-to person to bring in.

Want to be a go-to person that gets brought in?  Put your personal/career needs behind you and show up more prepared than you ever have. If you’re a ‘wild-card’ spot (someone casting doesn’t know all that well yet), you have a shot to move into ‘regular’ spot by working smoothly and professionally.  By letting casting do their job, and your acting coach do his or hers.

That’s the goal, isn’t it?  To be specifically known and called in whenever we should be a good option.  That happens when you help things work.  If it’s not happening, you’re not helping things work as well as you could be.

Before you look to cast blame in any of the usual places, ask yourself, how many printable takes did you deliver in your last audition?  If it was only one, how many takes/redirects did you do to get there?  What can you do to make your FIRST take that printable take, and then use extra time (if casting wants) to play/explore and collaborate?

If you’re seeing this as depressing you need to reframe your perception.  The sooner the better.  All we’ve done is point out what needs to be achieved.  It is achievable.  Earn it.  “You have found her, now go and get her.”

In order to get in the room most often, we need to earn a reputation with casting that they always come away with interesting options for their client as a result of bringing us in. If you’re not getting in regularly, then every audition you have is really an audition for the regulars list.  And that competition is huge.

OK…Now… here’s the exercise:

Imagine you’re a Casting Director, and you have a session to put together.  What do you need for your client?  Options.  What happens if you fail at your objective?  Best case:  that client will be unpleased.  Worst case:  your professional reputation and ability to do your job will be seriously damaged.  Significant stakes, right?

Now do this:

  1. Find a list of 10 character breakdowns.
  2. Randomly find a Facebook profile or profiles that have 2,000 (you read that right) people you don’t know on them.  The key here as that you DON’T KNOW THESE PEOPLE.  You just have their profile pix to choose from.  Why 2,000?  10 roles – say 100 agents on average pitching two clients per role.  That adds up fast.
  3. Choose 20 people from the 2,000 to bring in and know that your professional reputation and your career growth is tied to your choice.
  4. Get it done in 60 minutes.

 

OK.  Those are the wildcard spots.  The new (to you) actors that get brought in.

Now, go to your own Facebook profile and pick say four people for each role.  How much easier is that?  You  know this person, you know what they’re like, and which people you would/wouldn’t introduce them to.  You know how reliable/professional/capable they are.

Casting needs to constantly be ‘adding to their friends list’.  Bringing interesting and legitimate options to the client is the name of the game. They need new faces.  They need old faces who have changed or developed. If you’re a ‘wild card’ auditioner, every time you go in you have a shot at moving into the ‘familiar and dependable’ list.

How?

By bringing options on the day and time you were invited to do so.

“What if I don’t bring options?”  There’s not a lot of time to hold a spot open for you to make that shift, because there’s SO. MANY. OTHER. ACTORS.  lining up for their shot. In blunt fairness – you’ve shown to not be ready.  How would you justify sticking with the same 20 knowing that 1,980 other actors knocking at the door? It’s only professional that Casting makes way to see if someone else is ready.

It’s not personal.  It’s practical and professional.

Focus on the opportunity.  On the Booking Equity.  If you are lucky enough to be one of the wild card peeps, your job is to deliver a printable take in take one, take direction and deliver another printable take.  As often as asked.  Now it’s easier to take the risk of relying on you. You are more likely to be top of mind. You are helping casting to solve their problems EVEN IF YOU DON’T BOOK THE ROLE.  You help the CD have interesting options for their client.

It’s so simple and obvious:  promote the success of those around you and they will want to be around you.  Hinder the success of those around you and it’s hard to have you back.

I often hear actors say something like: “I think I need a new agent.  Six months ago I was getting in the room tons and now it’s all dried up. I usually get a few redirects and we get there.  Every audition”  Hmmmm……

To those actors, I ask you (perhaps brutally) honestly: Is it possible that you are underestimating what success in the audition room really is?  Are you operating with a diminished sense of ‘how high the bar is’?  Is it possible that you need to work on something and that someone else is more consistent than you?

How many takes did you do in your last audition? How many of those were ‘printable’.  If that ratio is less than 100% there’s opportunity to grow.

Do it.

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The Printable Take

On the heels of a crazy busy month,  I was catching up on some actor notes from my most recent Toronto visit, working with Casting Director Sharon Forrest.

On the whole actors did some outstanding work. Impressive first takes.  Then it was time for notes from Sharon.  Previously, on our coaching day, I had prepared them to be ready for some interesting, possibly off the page redirects.  I’ve worked with Sharon quite a few times, and I know she likes to play this way, often citing the fact that a director will throw stuff your way just to see how you do.

So…. in our coaching day, I had worked to ensure everyone came in with RANGE.  NOT married to a choice, ready to adjust.  I think that’s key always for all our auditions.  Auditions are about engagement and engagement is the child of investment and unpredictability.  Our auditions only have a shot at creating those conditions when we bring in range, not a predetermined read.

As a result actors did great first reads, and were, on the whole, directable.

NOW… here’s where it got interesting:

often times the redirect was absurd (intentionally so)  “I’m not saying it’s good direction, it’s just direction”.  And even when they were absurd, actors successfully let go of previous ideas and delivered.  But wait.  half way though, that big moment that plays as a confession now makes no sense.  How do I play it now… umm…. (drops out, fumbles through, finishes take).  “woah, that made no sense.  hmmm…. i think it needs to go like this…..”  (does another take, nails it).

And THAT.  Right there is the missed opportunity to deliver the PRINTABLE TAKE.

That actor got to the printable take, but needed an ‘exploration take’ to get there.

That actor is not as hireable as the actor who delivered the printable take right away. Why?  It is likely to take longer to get the result.

That’s not luck, it’s an easily masterable skill, and I think it’s a golden opportunity for an actor to raise their professional image in the audition room.

We are being hired to deliver PRINTABLE TAKES.  The easier it is to do this, the more we will get hired.

When a director gives us a redirect, intentionally or otherwise, we are in a role play of what it will be like to work together on set.  We are testing each other out.  If I waste a take, it’s harder to hire me.

BUT…

If I take a little time to clarify, grab the sides, flip through and see where interesting change ups may occur as a result – explore on the fly BEFORE THE CAMERAS ROLL, then I am much more likely to deliver a printable take.

Not only do you have permission to take that extra little bit of time, you have the professional responsibility to do so.

In the wrap up, Sharon made note of the fact that not many actors can do that – take a wild redirect and deliver.  it’s not that they don’t possess the innate ability to do it, it’s that they simply haven’t been in the practice of doing it.

I asked her:  when you see an actor do that, does it raise their stock and make you want to work with them?  Absolutely.  She said.

Ok, so…. how about we practice that skill?

The first step is not being married to a ‘choice’.  So bringing RANGE to your audition.  The next step is taking the time to process and adjust BEFORE THE CAMERAS ROLL.

BOOM.  you’ve now delivered two very different printable takes with no wasted time.

“What a pro.  Think about how much I can get from this actor if I hire them.”

Yeah…. that’s a good thing.

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Nominated for a Leo

Working with Jeb Beach is among the wisest moves I’ve made as an actress. For 8 years, I have constantly looked to Jeb to help guide and mould me into the actor I so desperately wanted to be. He speaks in a way that empowers me to take risks, futher my understanding of story and always be emotionally exactly where I need to be. Acting is all about telling the truth in that specific moment with the truth that is being given to you. To say Jeb is astutely honest would be an understatement. A pioneer of truth and specifics in every scene, I often look to him for a deeper understanding creating dynamic and emotionally raw performances. I was recently nominated for a Leo for my lead performance in the feature film Black Fly and can without a doubt say I could not have gotten to such dark places without the tools he had taught me. His methods allowed me to be free to listen and receive in every scene, moment to moment. How does one sum up in words what someone like Jeb has done for me? It’s truly impossible as he is an anomaly, and anyone who has the opportunity to work with him should run not walk.

Christie Burke | Leo-Nominated Actor (Black Fly), Strange Empire, Falling Skies, Twilight

booking equity-3

BOOKING EQUITY: Building with Pennies

Success is on ongoing, long-term thing.  It’s not a result, it’s just a series of decisions that over the long-haul favour the result we’re aiming for.   If you want it, it’s yours right now.  Simple.

Those who really achieve have the discipline, commitment, and patience to build slowly, one small seemingly insignificant step at a time. Yes they may have a windfall from time to time but there will likely be unexpected setbacks too.  Long term, the definer is the equity that has been systematically built up.  The more they allow themselves to build up slowly, the less the day to day affects the outcome.  It’s a positive spiral that exponentially feeds itself over time.

That’s where we need to be, but if we’re coming at it from the opposite end (as we’re pretty much taught and conditioned to do by society and the media) it can feel impossible to establish this outlook.  By and large we’re focussed on how far away we are from our goal, which tends to fuel a sense of futility, and over-inflates our sense gain or loss in the now.  Everything becomes impossible. We get stuck in the moment, anxious, fearfully over invested in immediate achievement.  It can feel like a trap, or a whole that keeps getting deeper. It can feel like being urgently, deeply in debt with nowhere to turn.

STOP THE INSANITY.

Your life and career do not hinge on the book/no-book of any one audition, BUT the opportunity to build your BOOKING EQUITY exists every time you enter the room.  

We need to foster a sense of possibility, patience, persistence, discipline, and we need to gift ourselves with a sense of reward for doing so.  Create a positive spiral of slow, systematic building of  Booking Equity.

Equity is a great way to look at it.  It’s the value of our share of something.   Think of each audition as an opportunity in which you have an equity stake.  You do.  An actor who has just come off a successful multi-episode guest arc on another show on the same network cast by the same producer and has 2 million twitter followers has a lot of equity in their next audition.  Each of those factors carry weight in casting, that actor has built Booking Equity.

Booking Equity builds over time – those high level items are easy to identify, and easy to feel depressed about not having, but remember they were built from a lot of small wins.  The key is to be able to ID where those tiny wins are, and commit to achieving them.  One at a time.

In class, for years, I’ve used the analogy of saving $1,000 one penny at a time.

That’s hard to do.  Mostly because it’s so easy to look at the penny that you save or find as virtually inconsequential.  It’s hard not to think mainly about how far away from that $1,000 you are when you are picking up 1/100,000th of it.  It’s easy to justify NOT picking it up.  It doesn’t really make any significant difference to your goal.  It’s easy to make that justification because it’s true.  That justification voice (or as I call it, my Evil Genius) tells us there’s no point, we stagnate, fall further and further behind, and become understandably depressed.  Everything becomes harder to do, and it’s easier to justify not doing it.

The key, as I tend to espouse given the chance, is to get in the habit of picking up those pennies, and then patting yourself on the back for doing so. The sense of personal achievement and satisfaction keeps us going.  It frees us from the reward starvation that happens when we confuse achievement with success.  Remember that success is not a thing. It’s the decisions.  Make them, do them, and you are successful.  Plain and bloody simple.  The results will take care of themselves.

Take pride, reward, accomplishment in the discipline it requires NOT to buy in to the justification voice.  Get the sleep, say no to the pizza, turn off the TV, read a play, go for a walk. Save the penny. BUILD THE EQUITY. It’s damn hard to commit to those small decisions.  The game is rigged against us on many levels. That is precisely why we should be proud.  Try it out, it’s a little addictive.

By the way, everyone who’s ever achieved something scraped and scrounged through failure to get there.  It’s called growth.  Here’s a great video on ‘The Difficult Years’ which addresses this exact subject through the years.

For me, ‘The Difficult Years’ are (were?? I think…) about surviving while the pennies add(ed) up.  Growing equity.  We make educated investments, we experience a return on the investment, and our equity position grows.

So, we gotta build equity by picking up the pennies.  Great.  Where and when will I find the most pennies?

Well, first off, they’re everywhere.  They are precisely the simple decision that’s in front of you right now that leads you closer to your goal.  (By the way, an important note, sometimes picking up the penny is actually NOT picking up the penny.  Sometimes it’s time to indulge, relax, splurge.  I’ve had a wonderful nutrition and fitness guru who’s coached me into losing 25 pounds so far this year, and every week I have a ‘eat whatever you want cheat day’). Next, the more you understand what’s happening in your industry right now, and what WILL be happening in your industry, the more you can prepare for the demand and opportunity of the moment.

In the next few weeks, we will be entering Harvest Season.  This is the time of year when (hopefully, if we’ve been prepping optimally) we get to cash in some of the equity we’ve been building over the past year.  TV Series are ramping up, casting is starting, and many actors are carrying career humbugs into the room.

That creates big opportunity for best prepared.  It’s the first day of training camp, and the athletes who’ve stayed in shape in the off season have a shot of grabbing a starting position.

I’ve been pointing this opportunity out for years now, and it still holds true.  There’s a refinement in the perspective though, which exposes an undeniable truth:

The pennies we pick up or fail to pick up at the start of Harvest Season – this year in and around mid July – figure to be the most rewarding or costly ones of the year. 

Think about it. Let’s say (ahem, ‘hypothetically’) that there was a casting team or two in town that casts say oh I dunno, three CW shows.  Each of those shows is going to shoot 22-26 episodes this season, so 66-72 episodes total.  Each of those shows hire about nine actors per episode, so there’s about 600-700 potential roles coming up.  Your auditions at the start of Harvest Season are about much more than the one role you’re reading for, they’re about the 700 or more other roles that team is casting for just that network.

If we go in sharp, focussed, fresh, interesting, and READY in those auditions, we have a world of opportunity in front of us.  If we don’t, that equity goes to someone else.

Since we were kids, summer time is play time.  School’s out for summer baby.  Well, guess what, you’re an actor so those rules just don’t apply to you.  It’s SHOWTIME.  Your job is to be as ready and focussed as you can possibly be now, and especially into early-late July.

It’s time to shut out distractions, and make intelligent, Equity Building decisions.  Let your non-actor friends enjoy their summer vacation time, and politely decline the focus fragmenting distractions of the season.  Simplify, bear down, focus and prepare.

Be GAME READY for mid July.

There’s no guarantees obviously, but the return on the time and energy you invest over the next four to six weeks is the biggest equity builder of the year.

 

Make some positive decisions, will ya?

 


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July 4, 5, 7
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Toothpaste-3

Toothpaste

There’s a simple truth to the Entertainment Industry that many actors choose not to acknowledge.  Their personal pushback to that truth gets in the way of career growth.  It’s a truth that’s incredibly simple and obvious, and yet most of us are in some sort of denial around it. At least initially.

As with most things we keep hidden from ourselves, it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient insofar as it shatters some ideals we’d prefer to keep.  It presents us with a decision.  It becomes a self-imposed obstacle to growth, influencing us to choose comfort over cost of achievement.

Until we accept and shift our perception.  At that point, it becomes freeing.

The simple truth is that first and foremost, this is a business, and the needs of the business rule the day.  We are there to serve those needs.  We are brokering our artistic selves to the furthering of the business goals of industry.

The purpose of a business is to make money through the commoditization of something. In our case the currency is the attention of the audience.  This is not the first time I’ve pointed this out in writing, and it’s not the focus of this read. The focus of this read is what I see how to work within rules of engagement in this, the Engagement Brokerage Business.

The ‘Entertainment Industry’ is nothing more and nothing less than the buying and selling of the engagement of the audience.

Why?

To sell toothpaste.

Or cars, political ideals, cheeseburgers, ways of living, the stock of a celebrity, or simply the next story.

But that’s it.  The industry is about acquiring the attention of a particular audience through a particular, defined range of engagement mechanisms, and then selling that attention to someone who has an interest in communicating with them.

For a little history on how that all came to be and why it works so well, have a look at Edward Bernays Mr. Bernays (the nephew of Sigmund Freud) was cited by LIFE Magazine to be one of the most influential people of the 20th century.  And for good reason.  He invented the term Public Relations (before him we called it ‘Propaganda’). He made bacon and eggs the official breakfast of America and got Presidents elected. He even helped to overthrow a government.

He was the master of the manipulation of the masses, developing the scientific practice of opinion holding which he called ‘Engineering Consent’.

How?  He figured out how to really get to people:  emotionally, not rationally.  Eddy’s  Uncle Siggy suggested that we, the human animal each have deep rooted unconscious desires that we will never express and fulfill and thus we will never be happy.  Bernays was a pioneer in using media to influence ’the herd’ (that’s us, the public) to purchase by stirring up one of these desires, and sating them with a product.

You don’t have to look very far to see truth there:  Nike has become the solution to your ambition and drive (‘Just Do It’),  Axe is the answer to your need to be sexually virile, and Kodak (for those of us in our 40’s and up) has hijacked meeting your children for the first time.  Industry has “Kodak Momented” our humanity.  One subconscious desire at a time.

Yuck.

Every time I work on a television program or in a commercial I have the opportunity to do so because it’s helping someone ‘Sell Toothpaste.’  There’s a value exchange at hand: I get paid very well to explore a craft that I love (if I’m lucky, I might just affect some change in my world or community).  In return I help them sell.  Distill that down and there’s that harsh truth waiting for us:  as a television actor the sum total of my value to the industry is defined by how much toothpaste I can help them move.

Woah woah woah.  Wait a second Jeb, that’s harsh.  I’m an artist.

Yep, it is.  Yep, you are.  But being an artist has nothing to do with working in the entertainment industry.  Working in the entertainment industry (or any industry) is never about anything more than the needs of the industry.  Toothpaste.  Your value to the industry is your ability to help them sell Toothpaste.

If you’re having a pushback, there’s an incredibly important clarification you need to make.  It’s the reason I’m writing this.  I see it as the door to collaboration and self-directed career momentum:

Your value to the toothpaste sellers has fuck all to do with your value as an artist.  

Your value as an artist is YOURS and yours alone. It’s precious, one of your life’s great gifts.  It’s pristine, flawed, joyful, living, breathing, true, personal and utterly YOURS.  YOU define its value, YOU do with it what YOU choose.

The Engagement Brokerage Business happens to need the actor’s artistry and skill set to run.  It’s a vital component.  Actors are re-creators of real human experience.  We affect our audiences with our behaviour and discoveries.  We stir their emotions.  We stir their desires…..and then….the advertises sate those desires with a  product.

That’s the deal.

The key, as I see it, is to make a very clear personal distinction, and remind ourselves that our value as an artist has nothing to do with our value to the business.  These are independent values and must independently developed and nurtured.  All too often I see actors fuse the two together, making no distinction between the two. They seek artistic validation (another myth for exploration another time) by whether or not they booked their principal role on that cop procedural.  Something the industry is not there to provide, so they are on a futile mission, and they usually get stuck there.

The reason THAT happens, in my experience, is usually that there’s a third self valuation being crammed in that group.  The actor’s sense of personal worth.

Let’s be clear:  Your value to the the toothpaste sellers has nothing to do with your value as an artist which has nothing to do with your value as a person.  (There’s been a lot of great artists who were sons of bitches).

We must SEPARATE these values and remove them from co-defining one another. We must be good to ourselves. We must LOVE ourselves, so we can explore and grow as artists.  So that we can show up to an industry, gift them with a piece of our craft, help them sell some toothpaste and play for a living.

Once we’ve got a healthy, working relationships between these three aspects to our professional actor selves, we are able to really see the industry from the macro to the micro.  We lose our illusions about what we’d like the industry to be, and see it for what it is:  A corporate sponsored playground for creatives that charges admission to the masses.

Now we can consider both our creativity and the needs of our benefactor.  Now we can adjust to humbly serve the story AND the client.   Now we can collaborate for THEM because we aren’t asking them for any validation.

If we do, we will get to scare people, make them think, make them yearn, make them cry, make them laugh, make them smile.  And when they do their teeth will be bright and clean too.

Let’s sell some toothpaste.  The show must go on.

Jeb Beach - Vancouver Acting Schools, Classes, & Workshops
by Jeb Beach
Twitter: @JebBeach
Vancouver Pilot Season Acting Training Classes Workshops

It’s getting light in here…

Happy New Year!

If you haven’t been around in class lately (or ever), please consider this your formal invitation to come audit and see the perspective we’re applying.  New perspectives are settling in, light bulbs are turning on, career growth is happening.

The work we’ve been doing in the Pilot Season Intensive is finding its way out into Back to Booking and of course Series Study, because it is the opportunity that sits in front of us.
The ability to logically identify and prepare fully within the stylistic range of the shows is BY FAR the most underdeveloped skill in our community right now.  Working on this skill is making actors better collaborators with casting and it’s working.

One actor came to the Pilot Season Intensive ‘hoping something would finally click’. Saying she was getting callbacks, being brought in, but not booking.  Took and applied what we learned, booked two TV Series gigs less than a week after.

There’s a reason that the FOURTH instalment of the Pilot Season Intensive is almost full: this stuff works.


Presenting the Associates

Two years ago when I set off on my solo journey, I did so by sharing my ideas and perspectives hoping that people who resonated with my POV would find me.  They did.  I found that across the board at all levels of the industry the ideas of a positive productive collaboration through deep industry awareness have struck a cord.   A team of amazing people grew up around me, and I’m humbled to be associated with them.

It’s big team to introduce (you can meet them all here) – too much info for one post, so over the next little while I’ll profile every week or so.  Matthew Kevin Anderson drew the first position:

Matthew Kevin Anderson

Matthew knows the industry from all angles.  If you haven’t met him as a reader at your Clark & Page auditions in the past year or so, you have probably seen him on TV at some point – he’s got 20 bookings in under two years.

He’s a go-to comedy guy both as an actor and as a coach.  He’s kicking off with JBA with the one-day Back to Booking COMEDY Edition – February 7th.  He’s a recurring character on the new 30 minute single camera comedy Impastor.  He’ll be in the room reading with you when you auditioning for the show with Clark & Page – the show goes to camera at the end of February.  Talk about an inside track!

For a sneak peak, plan to audit Series Study February 3rd with Matthew when we cover Impastor.  Matthew will be filling in to teach that class.

As always, thanks for reading – stay tuned for lots of great stuff in the coming weeks and months!

 

 

 


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If you’re wanting support on the skills discussed in this post, consider:

Vancouver Comedy Training Classes Workshops Sitcom

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February 7th
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Pilot Season Vancouver Acting Classes & Workshops

The Pilot Season Intensive
January 31/February 1 & February 7/8
Info/register here

Vancouver Pilot Season

Working with People – Playing Between The Lines

Wow it’s the end of the year.  Tired?  Ready for a break?  Cool. You probably deserve it, and the timing is great. As pros we should be breaking with the industry, resting and preparing to meet its needs as the seasonality permits.

The industry will take a hiatus at the end of next week for about two weeks and then things will start to build back up and before we know it we’ll be in the fervour of Pilot Season. In a recent workshop with Casting Director JJ Ogilvy, a perspective hit me that I hadn’t quite put my finger on, and a bunch of ideas I’ve been espousing all fell into place with each other. JJ made the point “You have say 4 minutes in the room with me.  That means maximum we get 3 takes. The actors that I can collaborate with to take things the furthest are the actors I want to give that audition space to”.

Right.

We’re there to collaborate with casting to create interesting and viable character options for their (and our)  client.  The better prepared we are, the more fully explored, nuanced, open our characters are, the further we will go in the room, and the more frequently we’ll be invited back. Your audition prep time is  everything.  Anything and everything that helps you get further with your preciously scarce preparation time is crucial.

Lately in class I’ve been advocating that we look at the tiny 18-24 hours of audition prep time we have to work with the same way a play producer/director looks at a rehearsal schedule.  Manage it, time it, work it so that come ‘opening night’ aka ‘call time’ we are hitting the peak. Understand your personal audition life cycle (which starts when you become aware of the audition, and ends when you’re no longer thinking about it).  Understand it so that you can improve it, and get more out of the time, so that you can be removed from the result-oriented perspective of  of the book/no book and you can productively focus on being a better collaborator.

That makes sense, and actors nod their heads away.  But what to focus on? Where’s the opportunity?

I’m in a unique position to comment on this.  I have coached thousands and thousands of film and TV auditions in the past couple years – with five weekly classes, and many CD workshops, I have a living survey of the landscape.  It’s apparent that there’s a majorly underdeveloped skill out there: the combination of quickly deducing the stylistic range of a show PLUS the personal practice of playing in it.

There’s a myriad of styles with subtle and not-so-subtle differences around. A lot of the time, some of the styles can feel ‘false’ or ‘not like acting’ or simply ‘untruthful’.  Our truth alarm (or bullshit meter as some call it) starts screaming ‘you’re faking this, stop that!’. And we check out. We’re missing the point – and the opportunity – when that happens.  We’re making the mistake of going for “full truth” rather than the stylized truth of the show. Hallmark is not there to give the same style of ‘truth’ to their audience as AMC because their audience doesn’t want it.

As professional actors, we have to understand this, but we also have to practice freely, fully, and playfully inhabiting truth within a defined range. Think about when you first learned to drive and you were keeping the car between the yellow lines.  You were doing that and pretty much nothing else. You stayed there, but probably a lil white-knuckled, and tensely. After a while though, you became comfortable and could stay within the lines without even thinking about it.THAT is the level of familiarity we need to craft for ourselves, so we can show up and collaborate.

Then we’re ready to get further with JJ and his colleagues than simply be coached onto the road. To do this, you don’t need to watch and be deeply familiar with the plot of every show in town.  You need to think like your client, the network. You need to understand how they connect with their audience, and how that defines their lines, then you need to practice it. Come the pilot season madness when that 18-24 hours is more precious than ever, if you have prepared to prepare, you will get further every time. This industry is about collaboration – the more prepared we are to collaborate, the further we will go.

Work with people by working  with people.


It all starts with Network Awareness.  How to decipher the stylistic range, and how you uniquely inhabit it as your truth.  The One-Day Network Intelligence Intensive will get you going.

 

Vancouver Acting Schools, Classes & Workshops

 

For ongoing support in developing your skill and play between the lines, and up to the minute awareness of all the shows –  consider Series Study
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