Eight Hours a Day (At Least)

Eight Hours a Day (At Least)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life Quality = Work Quality = Acting Quality

"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important." 
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I was watching the latest Sherlock Holmes film recently and marveled at how brilliantly the game of chess was written and conceived at the film's climax.  It reminded me though of a discovery I made about myself years before...

Recalling how I used to play chess, back in the day, it struck me that I always played pretty much the same way.  No matter how often I told myself to hold my queen back, think a move ahead, secure defenses and retain control of the middle of the board, I didn’t.  I’d see a hole in the opposition's defense and drive my queen right into it.  Depending on the skill level of my opponent, this would either provide the element of surprise (and my victory) or prove the death of me. 

More often than I would have liked, it was the latter.

From this experience though, I began to look at the rest of my life.  How did I clean up my apartment?  Make a meal?  Write a letter?  Prepare for an audition?  I began to be appalled that I was approaching pretty much everything in the same way.  Initial excitement, send in the big guns, win or lose based on the strength and experience of the opposing force.  Think about it.  Cooking for someone who has a sensitive palate is far harder than cooking for someone with no taste at all.  Writing an application letter to become a plumber is going to require less formal writing prowess than one to become an English professor’s research assistant.  Cleaning your apartment for a visit from a friend is less stressful than cleaning for the queen.  And so on. But because you so often can just 'get by', doesn't mean you should just get by....

Quality is entirely controllable and should never be compromised. Unless you are aiming for a career of mediocrity, that is. 

What though, of preparing for an audition?

When I examined my preparation habits for auditions, I found that I would pick up the script at the last minute and read the lines in many different ways.  I would yell and scream and whisper and cry, and eventually…. become bored.  Just like cooking.  Or cleaning.  Or writing application letters.  Or playing chess.  Even in situations where I had ample time to prepare, I didn’t know what to do and yet, I blamed the game, the recipe, the job or the audition.  Never, did I think, to blame my lack of training or experience. 

So what do I do now?

A lot.  When I get an audition I do a lot.  I do not have enough time to do everything I need to do but I still try and get it done.  I build across, not up.  When the first layer has been set, I build another layer across, not up.  Always resisting that persistent urge to shoot up, into the sky.  Build solidly and build across.  Towers topple.  Structures don’t.  Build a defense in chess, even though this may take half an hour.  Build flavor in the cooking process, even though you may need to marinate overnight.  Build a relationship with the HR department, even though this may take five written applications and plenty of research.  And build the character, connection with the text and emotional life, even if this means you don’t sleep the night before your audition.  Make your choices memorable, even it it means saying no to that party or dinner with friends or episode of your favorite show or hours on the internet.

In time I realized that each activity in life was a microcosm of the way I approached life in general.  And if I honed in on perfecting just one of these, then, like altering a microscopic strand of DNA, I could alter the whole being. 

How do you approach things?  Bull at a gate or slow and steady wins the race?  How do the smaller activities in your life illuminate your work and acting lives... ?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Actors, the Opposite of People

Next time you have a fight or even a slightly confrontational moment with your significant other, your roommate or the grocer down the street, observe something for me. Then watch the same thing on TV and in film and tell me why they are so often polar opposites….

Whenever my partner and I fight over something, I have noticed that we barely look each other in the eye. For sometimes up to an hour we could avoid eye contact, usually making eye contact only when the other person is speaking. I’m not saying it goes ‘Look away, look away, look away, stop talking, stare, stare, stare’. No. But the majority of the time during a confrontation, I look when I’m listening and don’t look when I’m talking. What do you do?

Now what do actors do? Tom Stoppard, in his play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, wrote “We’re actors, we’re the opposite of people!” and, in a number of ways, he hit the nail right on the head. So much of what we do as actors is accepted artifice, not genuine reality. It stems sometimes from necessary on-set practicality or expediency, but oftentimes from lack of preparation, ignorance, laziness and sometimes just plain absence of everyday human observation.

We have accepted the behaviour of actors on stage and screen for so long now that their performances seem more representative of life, than life itself. The sound of a gunshot on screen is nothing like in real life yet we accept that it is after hearing three million versions of it on screen. Comparatively, the splintering, tinny crack that marks an actual gunshot sounds as unnatural to us as the actual sound of a fist hitting a jaw in real life. When your only experience of these things comes from TV and film, it is impossible to accept that – in real life - a punch does not sound like a mallet hitting a slab of tenderloin, it is actually very quiet. In a lot of cases, one punch is the end of most conflicts, despite what James Bond and Vin Diesel might have us think and yet films will fill ten minutes of men walloping each other and barely breaking a sweat. When someone points a gun in real life, you do not hear the sound of click-click-clack that you do on TV and film. Why would a fully automated Glock with almost no moving parts make the sound of metal clicking and grating on metal, or – worse still – why would it make the sound of a pistol being cocked? And yet, in TV and Film Land, it does….

With inconsistencies like this being swallowed by audience members every day in cop shows and action films, why would we be any pickier about actors palming faux human behaviour off onto us? Well, because most of us (thankfully) stay well away from punches and gunshots in real life, but interactions with human beings are almost impossible to avoid. As such, the ridiculous SFX added over a rifle being aimed may not surprise you, but the following should (and I believe, do) leave us scratching our heads…
When was the last time you watched a scene where two people stood (or sat) in the middle of a room, face-to-face, a foot apart from one another, and just spoke at each other for three full minutes? Well, if you didn’t consciously notice, I’m sure your unconscious mind said: ‘Huh? Why are they – OH! It ain’t real’ and then sat back from some mind-numbing un-reality. As a part of my job I see a lot of film and TV and this scenario is unfortunately more commonplace than unusual. If you haven’t noticed, the close-up hid the trick. Now when was the last time you did that in reality? Face-to-face? With full eye contact? If you said 'I do it all the time', I call shenanigans. Studies have shown that human beings look each other in the eye as little as 15% of the time when they are communicating, preferring to take pressure off communication. Actors, on the other hand, have been trained to pursue their objectives so furiously that the percentage is more like 99% eye contact. It just ain't real.

What about a scene where someone is trashing their own apartment in search of an ‘important’ thumb drive? Vases are smashing, trinkets are being crushed underfoot, clothes are flying, paperwork is scattering around the room. In their own apartment. Er, yeah right. Firstly, this is the least likely way to yield the result the character is shooting for and secondly, it fails to establish any personal relationship with the objects being ransacked. So why do they adorn the apartment in the first place? They now appear as props in a show rather than possessions of value to the protagonist. There is no doubt that sometimes we are so desperate that we don’t almost care about anything else. But if one of those objects was the only remaining photograph of your deceased father, or an irreplaceable copy of The Beatles White Album – or even your essay that is due in two days – you won’t just scatter them to the four corners of the earth, I don’t care how ‘important’ that goal is. Further, if you established a relationship with these objects and still chose to destroy them, it would prove even more how important your goal is.
Think about it. The reason why it appears we have no relationship with these objects is because... we have no relationship with these objects. Every actor has at some time done a drama exercise using their own belongings and every actor has, at some time, done a similar class exercise using a box of props. You know the difference. Why don’t you act the difference as well? Get on set before you are called, define those props during rehearsals on stage or, better still, choose them with the prop supervisor or set designer. The difference is massive and well worth the effort, believe me.

One of my favourite ‘Actors: The Opposite of People” moments - on stage or screen - is when the actor ‘loses it’. For many actors, accepting a good role is simply hiring a trusty porter to bear emotional baggage, and ‘losing it’ is the requisite climax of the catharsis. ‘Emily’ is a timid librarian. She lives alone, has few friends; tends to her ailing mother and incontinent cat. Her mother treats her like garbage, she is underappreciated at work and the cat regularly poops in her shoes out of jealousy for the attention she gives her mother and career. Being a ‘good’ person though, she never gets angry. She just keeps it all inside. Picking up the poop and practicing breathing exercises, at work, Emily releases herself deeper into the comforting embrace of the Dewey System. But one day, Emily has had enough! So what does an actor do with this moment of Emily ‘losing it’? Commonly, this shy, timid, pacifistic character becomes – momentarily, at least – a tigress. (The equivalent of the teen flick where the wallflower takes of her glasses, lets her hair down and becomes a sex-bomb on the dance floor). WTF?! Where on earth did that come from? It’s BS and you know it. Even if you don’t consciously admit it to yourself, you know it. No-one ever 100% loses it. No-one, let alone Emily. Trust me. Even actors, who love to feeeel in front of other people still have insecurity that holds back some of their real feelings. Despite the brain-washing of countless episodes of TV shows that attempt to convince us otherwise, real people never let go 100%. Look at your family, look at your boss, your partner and yourself. You know to be true. We always hold something back. Especially timid, reserved wallflowers.
Declan Donnellan (author of The Actor and the Target) wrote: "Expressing yourself through words is like knitting a scarf with tree trunks". Words, he believes are woefully inadequate at expressing how we truly feel. Rather than this being a problem for the actor, it is the actors one true gift. We don't know what to say. We don't know how to say it. Expression is a difficult thing and ain't that grand! Otherwise, everyone would do it and there'd be no reason to watch actors attempt to do it better on stage or screen. 

Now back to Emily. After thirty years of being downtrodden, mistreated, disrespected and violated, of course she’s going to have a boiling core of molten lava ready to spew forth when cracks appear in her protective surface, but will it shoot into the air continuously and maliciously for a year, systematically killing everything in its radius? Or will is explode initially to the east, aimlessly splutter here and there unpredictably, and then dribble out the sides, ruining some good buildings in the east but leaving others entirely unscathed, eventually settling for another 400 or so million years of dormancy? Why should our understanding of human beings be less astute than our observation of forces in nature? 

 Emily freely and coherently expressing herself - given her emotional history - would be akin to Woody Allen, during a mugging, destroying his opponent with Ultimate Fighting moves. Even if Woody studied every Kimbo Slice and Anderson Silva move on cable for a decade, he would still be incapable of such feats. He might try, sure. He may even succeed at actually defending himself, but his effort will look less like Anderson Silva and more like the Star Wars Kid on Youtube. So too, our dear, slighted, under-appreciated characters, need to obey the laws of nature when they grace our stages and screens.
Be honest with yourself, be honest with your character and be honest with the audience. Actors are quite often the opposite of people, but it need not be the case. Or as James Dean once told Dennis Hopper: “Don’t ‘act’. If you’re smoking a cigarette, smoke it. Don’t act like you’re smoking it". When you live truthfully and let the BS fall away, it's really a lot simpler than you may believe.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Women-Haters (And the Women Who Love Them)

Within three days I have been affected by as many separate online posts. The first was the report that Kyle Sandilands found it impossible - once again - to retain any humility or masculine dignity by keeping his mouth shut in the face of perceived criticism.

 Reading that his latest effort at perpetuating low-brow fare - under the thin veil of ‘entertainment’ - had fared poorly in the ratings (impossible to refute), Sandilands called the article’s author a “fat slag, a “little troll” and suggested she have “not enough titty” for her blouse, followed by insulting her hair and threatening to “watch (her) mouth” or he will “hunt her down”.  Happily, I support any petition asking for his removal from planet Earth before visiting alien anthopologists actually mistake him for a member of the human race and judge the intelligence level of us all by his incredible sub-genius.

Sadly, the countless blog comments supporting his puerile, infantile and brainless vomit indicate that there are many who don’t mind a little bit of old-fashioned hatred towards women.  The threat of a gun is considered in a robbery to be armed robbery.  The threat to commit violence towards someone (female OR male) should also be considered the equal of actual impending violence, and prosecuted as such.  Sandilands is a powerless, spineless hack that no doubt prefers to masturbate to pictures of his own B-level celebrity appearances at shopping malls rather than confront people in person, and yet an impotent threat is still a criminal offence.

The second article to impact on me was the woman suing IMDb for illegally disclosing her age and failing to comply when she asked for the information to be kept private.  

Interesting but unremarkable as a story, the comments from readers sickened me the most.  ‘Alan’ says: “Oh please. Maybe she’d land more roles if she had talent and auditioned more”.  ‘Jackson’ escalates with “How idiotic. I hope her name gets released and she never works again”.  It’s ‘Jackie’ though that lands the knock-out punch with: “Just let the old bat try to collect. Ha!” “Old bat”. Had Jackie researched her age, considering it wasn’t included in the article…?  Didn’t seem to matter, why let adequate levels on information get in the way of a perfectly good 4-year old-level insult.

Since when did ad hominem attacks on age and femininity make the attacker (often, but not always male) so righteous?  

The third article illustrates itself far better with a quick Google search for “McKeith Lawson”.  

A brief sampling of the comments about outspoken healthy eating advocate, Gillian McKeith, yield: “wrinkled”, “leathery”, “old”, ‘shrivelled prune”, “shriveled hag” and the highly respectful and intelligent “...it would take a very brave pissed sick man to have a go on McKeith.”  On the flipside, celebrity chef, Nigella Lawson, receives “hot as hell”, “beautiful, sexy”, “sends men’s pulses racing” and “I dare say she gets ridden like a show pony!” The fact that the pictures presented as ‘Exhibit A’ and ‘Exhibit B’ are indoor vs outdoor, wearing make-up vs no make-up, Photoshopped vs raw picture and deliberately unflattering vs red carpet shot seemed to be touches of honesty not fit to include as criteria by which one might judge the ‘beauty’ of an apple vs an orange.  Full disclosure, after all, is the enemy of mindless sensationalism and salacious bigotry. 

I was curious to see where this comparison even began.  Luckily, people stupid enough to make such claims are also vain enough to claim such muck.  ‘Diary of a Domestic Goddess’ seems to claim responsibility in her blog, with the alleged original here.

In a poor attempt at mastering Photoshop myself, in two minutes, I attempted to level the playing field somewhat (by pasting two snaps from Google) and see what people think of two real women for reasons other than pageant-inspired (d)illusions of beauty.

Once again, the most shocking aspect to me is not the derogatory comments about women, this has been happening repeatedly since Grug grabbed Gronda by the hair and told her she’d be easier to drag from the cave if she ate less brontosaurus once a New Moon.  But why, oh why are they started by women?  Why are they gleefully perpetuated by women in blogs and magazines?  Why are they laughed at and sent virally online by women, many of whom – by the law of averages - know that they share far more genetic similarities, facially, with McKeith than Lawson and bodily, vice versa.  And why on earth has Nigella Lawson not commented on this rot to offer her support of McKeith, all women generally and healthy diets overall, to distance herself from the hatefulness spread in her name?

And why.  In all my searching of hundreds of references to this insulting and widely-distributed blog did I find only ONE that denounces this pandemic of systematic pathological sexism?  The following blogger puts it eloquently in her ‘Stop Sharing This Female-Bashing Photo’ blog. Read it. Spread IT. 

Perhaps the aliens are already here but instead of anthropologists they sent millions of humanoids with the minds of sheep.


(Addition: below is another example of misogyny that I've seen as a regular and growing trend in unregulated paid advertisements recently. Not that we're starved for examples...)

'Nuff said. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Netiquette Vs. Ettiquette

Don’t let ‘netiquette’ overshadow good old-fashioned etiquette.

I read an interesting blog the other day and felt so passionate about it that it drew me out of my recent blog-writing hibernation. If you have a short attention span, stop reading now, because I’m talking about you.

The author of the blog, Kevin McShane, offers invaluable advice on the 'netiquette' of differentiating ‘Interruption Marketing’ on the internet from ‘Permission Marketing’. (Follow the highlighted links on the blog for his other excellent blogs on the topic). The main thrust of the blog I read being that people will simply unsubscribe, remove, avoid or block anything they perceive as ‘intrusive’. Which is true. Seth Godin (McShane’s reference) defines ‘permission marketing’ as: “The privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” Protecting the rights of the humble internet user from being bombarded by invitations to events, such as comedy shows and the like.

Allow me to welcome you to The Age of Rights Without Responsibilities.

For all its wonderful contributions to society, the internet (and one could argue, sites like Facebook and Twitter in particular) has the potential to undermine society's growth more than any other tool created. We have the ‘right’ to view, to read, to share, to comment and we also have the ’right’ to harass, denigrate, defame and vilify. All with perfect anonymity. No backlash for participating in the smear campaign of a celebrity, no penalty for spreading lies about politicians to skew public opinion of them or plagiarising and misattributing quotations, and no appreciation or respect for performers who have spent years building an act and are attempting to publicise their shows as they present their Art for peanuts. If they're 'bothering' you by taking up half a second of your valuable attention, block them.

With the modern internet, we have created the perfect vehicle for our New ‘Rights Without Responsibilities’ World Order.

When something is annoying, we block it. When it is amazing, we ‘’like’ it or ‘share’ it or ‘tweet’ it or Digg it. But what of everything in between? What of stand up comedy, art exhibitions, music events, plays, independent films and creative projects that are interesting to us, but not yet fully formed? What about products and services we are curious about but the herd hasn’t yet told us it’s OK to publicly associate ourselves with? Do we email them and congratulate them on their hard work? Do we offer advice to help their growth? Do we go out on a limb and emblazon their marketing across our online social identities, with the hope that everyone’s taste will soon catch up to our own? Sadly no. Like a wonderful restaurant that sits empty beside the junk food store with bulging queues, we tend to follow the crowd. 'Cos the crowd can't possibly be wrong, right? Once again, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The more society has given us rights, rights and more rights, the greater liberties we have taken with what we are given. The internet is undeniably about giving people what they want. Free. And in less than 140 characters. And we now have a generation who has never lived without the internet. The times, as Dylan sang, are a’changin’. (And considering the recent trend of misattributing quotes - such as the fabricated Martin Luther King Jr quote when Bin Laden was killed), I'm now doubtful it was Dylan, and almost certain it was Lady Gaga.

What’s disturbing is that with this right comes no responsibility. Even Spiderman - re-jigged for the 21st century – retained his hard-(l)earned mantra.... ‘With great power comes even greater responsibility’. A brand-new army of web-slingers in our society (and it isn't exclusively Generation Whatever-Comes-Next) have been conditioned to believe it is acceptable to expect, as their right; to take, take and take some more, without ever believing there is a responsibility to give back.

This seismic shift in societal mores, as Hamlet might say, ‘must give us pause’…. Or was it Robert Pattinson who said that, in one of the Twilight movies? I’m not quite sure…. Was it John F. Kennedy who prompted America to consider ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country’? Or was that a Katy Perry song? I'll admit, I didn't read JFK’s whole speech, it was more than 140 characters...

How many times have you complained about a service in person? And how many times on the internet, by clicking of a button? I’d wager my left nut that the latter is far higher. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say we think something sucks, with an anonymous click than to offer feedback on someone's hard work, even if it's not for us right now. We can smile politely to a waitress and hate them in our guts, knowing ‘We’ll show her!’ when we get back to Yelp. (Where she can’t retaliate by spitting in our food). We have the final word. Or click. Either way, hate them or ignore them, it is our right. We are living in the Era of Zero Responsibility. And we question why people don’t extend us the courtesy we so rarely offer others.

How many times have you complimented a service, product or show in person? How many online? I’d wager my remaining nut that they are about equal. And low. Like a spoiled child who demands much, gets more, and goes without nothing, we are failing in ‘doing unto others as we would have them do unto us’, as it says in the Bible. (Hang on, it could have been Harry Potter 6: The Chamber of Forgotten Manners… What the heck is going on with my memory!?)

Growing up I took three things as my philosophy:

1) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Bible)

2) To thine own self be true (Hamlet) and

3) Help people when you can (Mum & Dad)

This triumvirate of ultimately non-denominational governing common-sense principles in my life prohibit the ‘Rights Without Responsibilities’ mentality. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite mesh with a lot of people today.

I remind myself that technological innovations are the result of creativity and hard work and the 'bad press' they receive often says far less about the creation itself than the individuals who populate them. I left My Space originally due to bullying and death threats. Seriously. Death threats. Don't write a popular blog on My Space. My Space didn't create this cowardly mob mentality, it simply provided a vehicle with tinted windows from which e-thugs felt empowered to 'drive-by' cyber-pedestrians. Facebook has its hate groups, Twitter has its cliques and the internet is rife with irresponsibility and ignorance, but the sites themselves are just bits and bytes. That's all they are. These social networking 'advancements', therefore, become a sort of Rorschach test of those who use them.

Let’s not fail the test.

Back to McShane’s inference that promoting comedy shows ‘without permission’ is unacceptably intrusive. Has anybody noticed that Twitter and Facebook are provided as free services? Would you complain about a landlord who took the opportunity to hang up his shingle on your front lawn and try to sell you Tupperware, in exchange for free room and board? Why not email one of these people you’re blocking and at least tell them why. Contribute to the productive growth of art, products and services in your (global) community. Otherwise, their quality may diminish commensurate with your attention span, until the only thing that is able to hold you longer than three seconds is the latest iPad2 app. And even then, barely.

I am personally less concerned by legitimate advertising on the internet than I am by ignorance and stupidity on the part of the internet user. When the poor harassed internet user by-passes a product, service or comedy show that has taken a lifetime to create, yet dives headlong into 'check out my sexy new video' spam, somewhere, another potentially hilarious comic holsters their microphone in favour of a day-job, at exactly the point they have something to really joke about.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Archive of Musings...

I've begun an archive of my blogs thus far. Please feel free to browse and comment and as usual, subscribe and encourage friends to do so as well. One simple click beneath each blog will post it to your Facebook wall, send through Twitter and other social media. You can also email it to friends and classmates as easily or send it out using ESP.

In the comments section of this post, why not suggest a topic you'd like me to tackle? It might be specifically related to Acting on camera or stage or have a broader context but still relating to our craft. Make suggestions publicly or, if you're a little shy, just email me at paul@acting4camera.com.au and tell me if you'd like to mention your name in the blog or simply say "A little birdy wanted to know about...."

Click the titles to jump to the blog of interest!

Cool Your Jets
"So, you’ve done a course on the US accent, shot a showreel scene from CSI: New York, you’ve Googled ‘O-1 Visa’ and people keep talking about how great US pilot season is - if there’s ‘gold in them thar hills’ you want in!"

"The question I have been most frequently asked since starting this blog is: ‘What does EIGHT HOURS A DAY (AT LEAST) actually mean?’ Check out this link for the answer."

"It seems that unions are having another argy-bargy on our behalf, but is it really in our best interests?"

"My father always used to say "You can't argue with opinion". Experience confirms the truth of this statement on a daily basis."

"Something dawned on me recently and it has kept me away from blogging for while."

7 Clues That Your Acting Teacher Sucks (Or Rocks)

"Everyone learns differently just as everyone teachesdifferently. All you need is to find the teacher you like and actually learn something. Simple. Or is it?"

Acting Student Stockholm Syndrome

"As the next lamb is led to the slaughter, to demonstrate this 'technique', I was reminded of the final scene in Gallipoli where Mel Gibson and mates are all mown down by Turk machine-gun fire."

The Final Fricken Straw

"Slow to anger but formidable when challenged, I wish I could draw the line at becoming defensive only when I’m the one being attacked."

The Idols Of Our Age

"I grew up believing in idols. Thinking that life was so much better in their world (and mine was better for their existence!). They were brilliant, perfect, sexy and infallible."

You Either Got It Or You Don’t!

"Do you believe that talent is a 'gift', given you at birth? Or conception, even? Or do you think you can spend your entire life 'learning' and still never become 'talented'?"

Eight Hours A Day (At Least)

"This is a story I've told before but can't imagine a better way to start blogging...."

Brought to you by Paul Barry at Acting 4 Camera & Showreels Australia


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cool Your Jets

So, you’ve done a course on the US accent, shot a showreel scene from CSI: New York, you’ve Googled ‘O-1 Visa’ and people keep talking about how great US pilot season is - if there’s ‘gold in them thar hills’ you want in! So much so that you’ll sell everything you own and fly over there tomorrow. You’ll pay any money, do any course, and take any advice, just for your shot at the title?

I have one thing to say to you: Cool your jets!

Now, I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m telling you to lose the fire in your belly and to stay away. Far from it. I sold everything I owned and moved over here myself, but let’s be realistic. I am a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. I have worked solidly in the industry as an Actor, Writer, Director and teacher for 15 years. I have an extended network of thousands of industry members worldwide. The first time I came to LA was 10 years ago. I came here again in 2006 for two weeks and again at the end of 2009 for two weeks. I’m starting to know the LA layout pretty well. I have an agent with some nice connections in LA and she represents people who are starting to do solid work here. I personally have many years of credits on www.imdb.me/paulbarry , have made a number of friends here over the years and have a fiancĂ©e who is a US citizen. Based on my credits in the industry, a large amount of money and a bloody long wait, I finally have my Green Card, which means I can work in the US workforce in ANY field I choose (unlike the 0-1 or student visas that require you to work in particular areas exclusively.). If you were ME, would you take a risk on moving to America to pursue a career in the film & TV industry?

I would call myself a risk-taker, but a calculated risk-taker. If you’re the kind of person who jumps in boots ‘n’ all, fails and then works a desk-job for the next ten years to get themselves out of the hole they created, good luck to you. That ain’t me. With all the above going for me in the States I am certainly no shoe-in. Any success that comes my way will come from hard work, research, genuine connections (not bullsh*t drunken party business card-swapping and two-faced back-slapping). I am in for a long, solid career, not a flashy, momentary, fluorescent one. It has taken me a long time to get where I am and it will take me time to get where I want to be. I’ve always believed in the “Get rich slow” philosophy.

“He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.

- Leonardo da Vinci

What do YOU believe in?

When I graduated from NIDA 15 years ago, I met with 14 agents. I told each and every one of them that I didn’t want a rocket-ship career (goes up and comes down soon after), I wanted to build a solid basis and then add layer upon layer, so it could never fall down. I chose my agent and 14 years later had the same conversation with a US manager. After all these years I still have the same Australian Agent but after a couple of months I fired my US manager. Three weeks later, his bosses fired him. He was a bullsh*t artist and never followed through on anything. He convinced me he was excited about making things happen and yet failed to generate anything at all. LA is full of these people. Full. Of them. Know this. Do your research. Then get over it. Their rudeness is a symptom of their insecurity, it is not your issue to deal with.

When I came to LA I had heard all sorts of horror stories. I was surprised to find out how liveable the place actually is. Very quickly you find the areas you regularly go and every now and then branch out somewhere a bit different. The only people with moviestar lifestyles here are people on holidays. The moviestars actually work very hard.

La is a grid of hundreds (thousands?) of individual communities and it actually isn’t that hard to find somewhere to fit in. Groups are available for any interest and there is always something going on that will generate a crowd. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that events are created entirely for your enjoyment or convenience. For the most part, LA is motivated by money, greed and fame. Pursuit of all three is also OK, as long as your morals are flexible. Am I saying that there aren’t any nice people in LA? No trustworthy people? No folk who do things out of the goodness of their hearts? Of course not. Just don’t expect to meet many and you’ll never be disappointed.

In the Dragnet remake years ago, Dan Ackroyd said “In the City of Angels, even some halos slip….” How true. But “some”? What an understatement. If Los Angeles is the ‘City of Angels’, then Sydney is the ‘City of Reliable Public Transport’ and Queensland is the ‘State Where Nobody Needs An Umbrella’, but as long as you know the ‘City of Angels’ title is an ironic one – you’ll be OK!

So, you still want to sell your car and DVD player and vintage Superman comic collection for a crack at the Big Time? Great. So what are you going to do when you get here? Which Agents and Managers are you booked in to meet with already? Since pilot season for 2011 has just begun, any Agent/Manager worth their salt is going to be time-poor when it comes to meeting you. But you’ve considered that? OK. Where are you going to live while you’re here? How are you going to get around? You know that it is impossible to get around in LA without a car, don’t you? You know that all the people who told you that you could crash on their floor will be inundated by twenty friends asking the same thing, don’t you? No problem, you’ll stay in a less than comfortable hostel and hire a mule to get around! Phew. At least you’re sorted for transport and accommodation.

Now what about classes? You know no-one cares who your Agent is here, they all want to know what classes you're taking? You’ve no doubt been sent all manner of expensive spam about stuff going on over here, but let me tell you this for free: The stuff you hear about loudest is generally the weakest product. Eg: The New York Film Academy does NOT have a good reputation over here. It may impress those-not-in-the-know in Australia, but not here. It’s a money-making private enterprise that preys on international students with hearts of gold and wallets of the same precious metal. I’m not saying you can’t learn anything there, you may very well learn a great deal. Who knows? I’m just saying that the reputation you THINK they have (due to their promotional propaganda machine) is entirely false. I could start the Sydney Film Acting Academy (SFAA) tomorrow and it would sound remarkably impressive. But it wouldn’t be. It would simply be a one-day old venture that stands to make me very rich. And if I could AFFORD to advertise it effectively in, say, Chicago, how much money must I have? The answer is: More than I need.

Welcome to one of the differences between Australia and LA….

Australia has always been great and calling people on their bullsh*t. On one side it’s the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” but on the other, it took down Skase, Bond and all the shysters providing non-stop content for current affairs shows Australia-wide. LA has so many scam artists and so few people policing them that they get away with so much and then, when sniffed out, simply change their name and move onto the next scam. This LA attitude has been gradually bleeding into the Australian film and TV industry and, unless stopped, will poison our entire industry.

The number of courses that offer Aussies a breakthough experience in pursuit of their LA Dream has risen dramatically in the last few years. The net result of these courses in real terms (attending Actors securing great representation and work in LA) is not impressive. The promises are huge but the payout is paltry (and usually non-existent). Think of the last (first or only) seminar/course you went to about ‘Going to/ Making it in LA’. How many attendees have gone onto solid work in LA from these courses? (Not what the COURSE tells you, the actual person? Google them. IMDb them). If you can think of someone, can you imagine them NOT being successful without this particular course? I doubt it.

When a course claims it ‘secured representation’ for their client – who is the representation? Just because my theoretical manager WORKS FOR a company who ONCE REPPED Christian Slater does not mean that the person RESPONSIBLE FOR MY CAREER is any good at representing me. Do you know how many Agents/Managers work in any given representation firm in Los Angeles? As little as 12-15 but frequently, hundreds. Saying that Gary X, who works for ABC Agency, is great because ABC represent the chick from Twilight, is like saying I’m great because my best friend was once in a film with Michael J Fox. Do your research. Get an IMDb Pro account and look them up. Who do they PERSONALLY represent? They may be the bottom of the entire food chain at that agency/management firm. They may deal exclusively with Aussies, teens, the quirky or the inept. Find out who they are, what they do and what other people say about them. Not people who have done their courses or paid them money, but the people they have secured WORK for. You may just find that, like my ex-manager, their head is already on the chopping block while they’re wining and dining you….

I have a fairly simple rule that I’ve stuck to for years:

“I don’t put anyone in a position of power that hasn’t earned the right, in MY EYES.”

I don’t care if it’s Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg or Mother Theresa. If they haven’t legitimately EARNED the right in MY EYES, I don’t give them any power over me. Why should I? And why should YOU? Have you so little self-esteem that you will let others tell you what you can and can’t do? What talent IS and whatit ISN’T? Will you placidly read these words and not go to LA? Will you trust me based on what I’ve said here? I have no idea. That’s entirely up to you. The main difference here is that I’m not SELLING anything. In fact, every time I speak my mind, I put my potential sales in danger. Perhaps you’ll disagree with me and stay away from my businesses. You may find me too abrasive to work with and seek elsewhere for your training. But I don’t care. My passion for preventing wholesale robbery is far greater than my need to protect my own commercial interests.

Please heed my advice.

Whenever you see an advertisement for something with Casting Directors, Teachers, courses, tours, seminars etc. connected with coming to LA, please stop and do the following things:

1) Ask yourself: If I put aside what this course/group/business tells me about itself, what do I know about it?

2) Do the ‘experts’ listed have Google profiles? And what are they? (There is a biiig difference between ‘Casting Director of Aliens’ and ‘Gary X worked in casting ON Aliens’. If you don’t know the difference, then work it out) Do the things I read on Google seem to only be written by THEM? Have I actually seen any of their work and do I like it?

3) What is the cost in financial terms? Look at the price and try to Google yourself a comparable trip/course. What profit margin are they making on this tour/seminar? Everyone deserves to make a good profit on a good idea, but is this a reasonable figure to ask you to pay for the quality/content you receive?

4) Do they really have the connections they say they have? I could honestly tell you I have one degree of separation to cast members of half the shows in LA, but does that help YOU? No, it only helps your IMPRESSION OF ME.

5) Ask yourself what this person/group/business has to gain besides your actual money. Oftentimes they are less interested in your money than the career-advancement possibilities for themselves. Many US ‘Casting Directors are starting to visit Australia. Are they being generous with their time and experience or are they getting an all-expenses paid holiday in a place they’ll be treated like royalty? At home in America they are unemployed nobodies; in Australia, they are handsomely paid deities. Even if they do it for free, they’re still getting a great deal. Do you really want to further feather their nests?

6) Do the people I respect in the industry support this course/ tour/ class etc? Not just someone with a name, but someone I respect? If not, then try a different one - or just wait. Wait until a good one comes along. They’re coming, believe me, they’re coming. Australia is the New Frontier as far as the US is concerned (and not just for talent, but as a gold mine of wannabe Actors with disposable incomes and stars in their eyes ….)

7) Can you afford this in emotional terms. If you pay thousands of dollars, take this course, go to America and come home with an empty bank account and your tail between your legs, how will you cope? Honestly. How will you cope? If you say “Bring it on”, then you’re insane enough to have a shot, but if you honestly don’t think you’ll cope – don’t do it. Wait another year until you have more work on your reel, more money to support yourself and a lot more information about the territory you’re looking to conquer

8) Let’s say you go, they love you and they want to hire you! Can you work there? Do you have legal working rights? In a small number of cases, they may help organise you an O-1 visa if they LOVE you and want you for a lead role, but keep in mind that this expires when the job ends, then you’re back to square one. If you don’t get job after job, back to back, then what will you do?

9) Have you honestly got enough backing you up career-wise to even consider it? I spoke with Chris Hemsworth’s (Thor) manager when I came to LA last year and she said how hard it was for him to get a foot in the door. Do you feel more confident than Chris about your talent and body of work? Do you have more money to live off than he would have, coming to LA, initially?

10) Are you going for the right reasons? If it is your “Last chance” or "Couldn't be worse than here" or you think “I can do better than HIM” or “I’m gonna be rich and famous” or “Man, it’s a gold mine over there!”, please stay home and keep the freeways clear for everyone else who is serious about it. But if you have been gradually drawn for years by the genuine opportunities you see for yourself, then maybe….just maybe…it’s time for you to get on a plane and pay Hollywood a visit

If you still wanna go, here are some tips (off the top of my head):

a) Do not bring headshots or a showreel on a Visa Waiver. You can be turned away at the border and banned from the country for many years. Use a Dropbox account, Yousend it to yourself or mail hard copies in advance. Better still, do it all legally and organise visas well in advance. Also create yourself a business card on www.moo.com and get them delivered to you in the US.

b) Do not pay a fortune to a dodgy Immigration Attorney who promises to get you an O-1 Visa for $3000. You will have your application rejected and you will not get your money back. O-1 Visas tend to be around the $6000-$7000 mark and only last as long as the deem appropriate. They can be revoked at any time if it is deemed that you have done something inppropriate.

c) If you choose to go ‘through the backdoor, so to speak, (not recommended) on the O-1 Visa issue and have someone illegally sponsor you, be prepared for an Immigration crackdown. As more and more Aussies apply for them, they are becoming far more rigorous in their vetting of applicants. If an illegal sponsor is found out, the first thing they will do is look at who else they’ve sponsored. Could be you.

d) If you’re looking for a place to sublet or a car to buy/hire on Craigslist (http://losangeles.craigslist.org/), read all the ‘scam warnings’ first. Talk to someone who has used it regularly and never meet anyone on your own, unless you are supremely confident in doing so. During the day. Especially if you are a woman. "Nuff said?

e) Audit classes in LA for free. Don’t fall into paying immediately for classes because it’s the only Acting Coach you’ve heard of in Australia. There are literally hundreds of Acting Coaches in LA and you can audit all of their classes ONCE for free. Go to as many as possible before you start paying for anything. At the very least, if you start paying, then keep attending other free classes as well. Assuming that one teacher is your guru is lazy and destructive.

f) Look good everywhere you go. Dress well, groom yourself, have enough money to buy a drink or a meal and say yes to every offer you can responsibly afford to. You never know which party you’ll end up at or who you may run into at that coffee shop around the corner. Sleep well and drink lots of water. Enjoy the sun, there's plenty of it over here!

g) Hand your business card to everyone who asks for it. (I personally don’t give my card to anyone unless they ask for it. I’d prefer them to WANT it than to throw it in the bin when my back is turned. But each to their own)

h) Network intelligently. What’s the point networking with 300 other Actors? Or 40 Directors who never actually direct? Or your Acting Coach? Or a casting Director’s assistant who once played the second vampire from the left in The Lost Boys? These connections may stroke your ego and inflate your sense of what’s possible, but where are they actually getting you? Intelligent networking is about building actual relationships with people you like and respect – and hopefully the feeling is mutual.

i) Give, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Give your time. Give your ear to someone who needs to vent. Give your talent to someone who needs a scene partner. You get what you give. Just make sure you’re not giving your energy into a black hole. That is counter-productive. It is very easy to perceive if the person is a black hole. You ever heard of He’s Just Not That Into You? Same principle. When you need them, they’re not around. When they need YOU, presto! They’re there. It’s amazing, really.

j) Don’t be desperate. You are who you are. They can take you or leave you. For every Spielberg who doesn’t want you right now, there are hundreds of other directors to whom you may be the next Guy Pearce or Naomi Watts. Be you. Be very good at what you do and just keep doing it.

k) Take advice but make up your own mind! The one thing I’ve discovered here is that people are looking for a reason for you to NOT be successful. If you give them a reason, they will take it. A friend of mine was told that her US accent slipped in a take and she politely told them with a big smile that it didn’t. They were mistaken. If she had softened and apologised, they would have devoured her. (Not because she got the accent wrong, but because they wanted to test her)

Now if you’ve read this far I’ve probably just preached to the converted. To your mates, tell them to skim through this blog and hopefully some common sense will grab them on the speed read.

As usual, please subscribe, click the link below to share on Facebook (one click below) and send the link to your friends. The more informed people are about coming to the US, the more likely they are to stand a chance when they get here.

Good luck to you all!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Truly NEW Year

The question I have been most frequently asked since starting this blog is: ‘What does EIGHT HOURS A DAY (AT LEAST) actually mean?’ Check out this link for the answer.

The second most popular question is: ‘How the hell does anyone commit eight hours a day to their passion?’ Although the initial blog goes a good way to answering this valid concern, I thought I’d go further today by describing my year.

2010 has been one of the toughest years of my life. It has also been the most wonderful. Let’s start with the tough bits. I sold everything I owned, uprooted myself from the country I’ve lived in my entire life and went to America, with pretty much nothing. I did not want to dip my toe and come running home if the water was cold, the only reason to ever come back to Australia was for work. Leaving behind me a vast network of family, friends and hard-won industry connections, I ventured into territory that - although many have gone before me – was entirely uncharted my me. I did so with the belief that Australia has supported me in the way an impoverished, single parent supports one of its 15 children. That is to say, not so comfortably. Like so many people in history, I see America (for me) as a land of wonderful opportunity.

I am often told by Actors and clients that they aren’t happy with their agent. They say they aren’t getting enough auditions and when they DO, they miss out on account of their age, look, race, sexuality, lack of profile and a swag of other superficial reasons. This may even (to a certain extent) be true. Regardless, this doesn’t change anything for them in a positive way. I have long since ceased concerning myself with reasons why other people MAY or MAY NOT be casting me. (This is not to say I don’t care). I recently missed out on a lead role in Australia which was the very role I’ve been type-cast in for years. When one complains of type-casting yet misses the role to which they are clearly so suited, what does one turn to as justification…? ‘I must have been too old’, ‘They obviously wanted a celebrity’, ‘That Casting Director has NEVER liked me’, ‘I didn’t have enough time to prepare’, ‘The sun was in my eyes’ etc. What remarkably resilient creatures we Actors are, to divest ourselves of all responsibility so quickly and simply. It also presupposes that there actually ARE roles out there for all actors, which is patently untrue.

The only solution I see to unemployment (in any area) is work. If it isn’t paid, then it must be voluntary. I have never known a person who volunteers to go unpaid for very long, if that is their aim, but I have seen many unemployed people who will not lift a finger to help promote a film, paint a set, swing a boom, string up decorations or tear tickets at a fundraiser. Work (unpaid) begets work (paid). If you doubt me, try it and see for yourself!

Eight hours a day is a lot of time to spend on something you hate. Something you fear. Something you feel you are terrible at. Eight hours a day is NOT a lot of time when you are IN LOVE with what you do, enjoy DOING it and know you have a certain flair for it.

Eight hours a day (at least).

Fat people will spend eight hours a day eating. Lonely old men and teenage boys spend eight hours a day surfing the ‘net for porn. Lonely ladies will spend eight hours a day on dating sites or dreaming about the perfect man. Parents will spend eight hours a day doting on their babies - and their babies will spend eight hours a day trying to work out what the hell mum and dad are trying to say to them, or else, communicating that they have a full nappy or an empty stomach. Eight hours a day is easy when fuelled by Love or Necessity. Since I can’t imagine there are many of the millions of actors worldwide who would DIE without it, Acting therefore must be a love affair. And without nourishment and constant attention - like most relationships - it will wither, die and eventually rot in their lives.

The most frequently Googled name of 2010 would have to be Julian Assange. Do you think he spends four hours a day reading cables for Wikileaks? Do you honestly believe Steve Jobs pops into Apple for a few hours and day and then clocks off to play bingo at the local RSL? Surely Rafael Nadal, Kelly Slater, Madonna and JK Rowling must spend a little more than the suggested eight hours a day on what they love. I also guarantee you, they don’t do it for the money. If they did’t LOVE it, I’d be fascinated to know what NEED they are desperately attempting to fill.

There’s only Love and Necessity.

The body builders I have met confess they were often bullied (or at least felt outcast) as a child and create the perfect fortress out of their own bodies. Anorexic girls don’t DECIDE to develop this disease, there is a tremendously deep psychological drive in them to fight their natural urge to replenish the body with food. Serial killers don’t murder because they think it’s cool or might get them laid. Heck – Hitler didn’t DABBLE in his monstrous plan for world domination. Barely a second goes by in the mind of a body builder, anorexic teen, serial killer or dictator where they are not CONSUMED by the drive to perpetuate the very things that make their existence a spectacle.

Mother Theresa, Kofi Annan and Narayanan Krishnan have the same zeal as their counter-productive counterparts, their compasses simply point a different direction. This ‘zeal’ though is only one way, the other is through Love.

There have been times when I have been told how blessed I am that I have the ability to commit so much time to what I love. I have no mortgage, no children, no full-time job – how blessed! I recall a well-known older Aussie actor seeing me in a play at The Old Fitzroy Hotel years ago and telling me how he wished he could ‘just do plays like that’. I asked why he couldn’t and he lamented the mortgage and responsibility of having children. This guy has been in more Australian films and TV shows than I may ever be! But before you think I’m having a crack at him, I get it. I GET it. It took me years but I GOT it. The thing is, it’s not about the mortgage and the kids and their soccer weekends and saving for little Johnny’s uni fees. It’s about priorities. I no longer wish to spend my time in a small theatre, working 16 hour days as a Writer, Director, Actor, Set Designer/Builder/Painter, Publicist, Producer and Psychotherapist for such little reward. I no longer wish to run into a thousand people, the week after my show closes and barely breaks even, who say “I didn’t get to see it but I heard it was wonderful!”. I GET it. Let’s be honest though, it’s about priorities and there is no shame in prioritising your kids and full belly and widescreen TV and trip to Bali over pursuing a dream that could crumble at any second if someone you respect tells you that you’re crap or you get a luke-warm review on opening night. I get it, but let’s call a spade a spade.

Success is about balancing Priorities and Desires. Either one can too easily swamp the other.

I don’t have kids yet, that is true, but I will within a few years. I don’t have a mortgage yet, personally I’d rather become rich and famous and buy a mansion with cash, than bury myself in debt for the next thirty years over a house that wasn’t exactly what I wanted anyway and only served to keep me away from my passion. What I DO have and what I do WANT is to continue being an Actor and a Director and a Writer and a Teacher for as long as I live. That is my Love AND my Necessity. And that is how I see eight hours a day (at least) as very little to contribute.

When you are in love, you cannot stop thinking of that person, or bear to be away from them. Their well-being, safety and happiness is of far more concern to you than your own. Your dedication to this person is second to none. You may feel it for a parent, lover or child but you FEEL it and you cannot prevent feeling it. I feel this way about acting, writing, directing and teaching.

I guess it’s true then - I AM blessed! :0)

“I feel that you are justified in looking into the future with true assurance, because you have a mode of living in which we find the joy of life and the joy of work harmoniously combined. Added to this is the spirit of ambition which pervades your very being, and seems to make the day's work like a happy child at play.

- Albert Einstein

So what do I DO? Well, for this last year when I haven’t had a great deal of acting work land in my lap, I have created it, I have taught it, I have read about it, I have watched it, I have studied it, I have analysed it, I have written it. I have loved it, hated, it, chewed it up and shat it out. I have even turned down paying jobs to create it. My business, Showreels Australia just produced ‘Without Fear’, a dark, psychological thriller that I wrote for Trop Fest. I wrote it out of Love and out of Necessity. I wanted to play this role, I wanted to speak in this accent, I wanted to try a genre piece and I want to win Trop Fest.

My friend Alex and I have maintained regular meetings in LA in pursuit of getting our web series off the ground. I have shot showreels since coming home, edited non-stop with my business partner, Tristan. I have devoured a book called ‘Your Screenplay Sucks’ (very funny and highly recommended) and written an outline for another web series to be shot here in Australia. I have contributed many extra chapters to my acting training book (and even discovered that a series of books is far more likely than cramming everything into one). I have watched movies, discussed cinematic techniques with anyone who’ll listen and I have debated with a friend why she still thinks I’m so negative. I understand her point of view but realise now that I may not be sharing my whole life with her, otherwise she couldn’t possibly think that. Something else to aim for in 2011!

In every spare second I have, if I am not contributing to my love affair with acting, I am thinking about it. Even the hours I spent carelessly playing with my gorgeous six month-old niece have taught me about how human beings function, as well as the formation of talents (or complexes) through interaction with family and community members. I’ve always preached that learning about Acting should make you a better human being and becoming a better human being should improve your acting. If not, there’s something wrong. Like those strings of hundreds of Christmas lights that don’t work because one tiny bulb has blown, it can be a trial searching your life for the short circuit. Do it. If you ONLY do that, it has got to be helping. Eight hours a day will be eaten up in no time.

2011 is a heartbeat away and if I leave you with only one thing about me, let it me this:

Every year I look back and think about what I have achieved over the preceding twelve months. I can honestly say that despite missing out on jobs, having my heart broken and squandering possible opportunities along the way, I am never disappointed when New Year arrives. Never. I have probably acted less in 2010 than I ever have before, but I’m stoked with everything I HAVE done. Counter-intuitively, I have packed up and sold everything in Australia and moved to the States. I have developed many personal and professional connections there, changed house four times and drafted outlines for web series’, both in Australia and the US, as well as a feature film, with the aim to shoot in Poland in the coming years. I have written and acted in my business’ first short film, our business has produced top-notch reels for loads of new clients; our hot new website is almost ready for launch; I got engaged to the most wonderful woman in the world; my Green card is weeks away and – most importantly - I’m still alive! :0)

New year's resolutions, as the joke would have it "goes in one year and out the other". Doing is the only way to change your life.

2011 and gonna rock.

Happy New Year and a productive, lucrative and fulfilling 2011 to all.