I always have to laugh at myself and my friends who are actors; as we always talk about auditions in terms of “If only I did this!” or “I should have done that!” or “I could have done it this way!”, and we are all mumbling this to ourselves as we look at ourselves in our rear view mirrors, as we drive home from an audition.
I always want to say, “Actors we need to get a grip! We don’t need to beat ourselves up with, “what we could have done.”
Actors and Entertainers make choices. Our choice is what makes us different from other performers. Thoughts like. If only, or why didn’t I? makes us feel, less talented then everyone else.
If there is any advice I can hand out to actors, including myself, is, “we are all spiritual warriors.” Auditioning is a job and a business, we make our choices and we practice our craft and learn from the best teachers. If our choices are not recognized, we just need to keep going, like the energizer bunny, and know in our hearts, we have done the best we could do… at the moment we did it. Acting is reacting and being in the moment, not looking at it, after it passes.
I wish that for all of us!
The Hollywood Style of Acting
By Toni Attell
Welcome to Hollywood! You will find many excellent coaches, agents, and managers here. However, please take baby steps as you start out in this business. Acting is a business. Your face, body, and talent are all embedded in “YOU.” You are the merchandise. The casting director already has your image in a picture, so make choices with your objectives, (what the character wants), your movement through spine and back life, that help the words, written by the writer to life.
First let me suggest that before you do anything, know that Hollywood has a style unlike most other states and countries, so like any business, you must learn the different styles of acting and then find the acting techniques that work for you and feel free to mix the ones that work for you. Do not get stuck in just one style of acting. Learn Meisner, Uta Hagen, Bill Ball, Viola Spolin, Nina Foch, Alexander, Paul Sills, or Method styles and techniques, and combine them. You have to prepare before you get to the audition or set, as there is no time for a director to work for a long period of time with actors. Make your choices before you go to the audition and then forget them and do no “try” to be the character … just let the character make choices — in the moment .If you have done your homework, the choices will come. This is called the spine of the character.
Please do not let yourself be seen by an agent; manager, or casting director until you know your acting is ready to be seen. Big Mistake! Don’t take pictures or spend any money, unless it is to learn your craft through classes and then you can do the next steps.
Any agent or manager that asks for money is not a legal representative. Do not give your photos to a photographer without your permission or to anyone else, or you might end up as a cover for an insurance packet or other promos, and you will never get a nickel from it, as photos are not covered by SAG/AFTRA. This is a business, so remember to treat it that way.
Toni Attell holds On-Camera Acting, Improv, and Casting Seminars in the Valley for Teens and Adults. Her new book, “The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers” is out on Limelight Editions. She can be reached at (818) 787-8685.
Is There a Bully in the House?
“I think the greatest gift a parent can give their child, is a sense of humor”…Toni Attell
I have always wondered what makes a child or teen a bully. Is it their upbringing, their social network, or the fact that they might feel left out, or perhaps, are just showing off for their peers? Now with the movie Bully showing, I felt it was a good time to air my feelings about this topic, since I have worked with children, teens, and college students most of my adult life, and I have seen children taunted by other children.
I remember being bullied while I was in grammar school. When the kids were laughing at me, the feeling was … lonely helplessness. The lesson I learned was; that if I could control the comedy, that is, do something that would make the kids laugh with me and not at me, I would feel better.
With all the horror stories in the news, I wondered, if we created some new programs in schools, that were “out of the box” activities, like Improvisation, Stand-Up Comedy, or Clowning, perhaps the kids would not feel “that helplessness” and have a place to release their stress and harness it into something creative and positive.
For many years, I took children and teens, between the ages of 6- 19 years old and created comedy troupes, called “The Comedy Pups.” I created the troupes, because a thirteen-year-old boy, three hundred pounds, was bullied and beaten in his school. I taught him comedy and he performed on Jay Leno’s show, many times. The kids in school stopped bullying him.
Comedy and Improvisation is something the whole family can be involved with. Comedy gives kids a handle on how to present themselves to their peers. It also brings family together, with everyone participating as a group. We are all made up of stories of survival; we can turn it around and make people laugh with us … rather than at us. Storytelling is an American tradition. A sense of humor heals people like a good story.
Toni Attell is a teacher at UCLA-Extension and also teaches private acting classes in the Valley. She wrote a book called “Just Kidding, Stand-Up Comedy for Kids of All Ages” available in book form on http://www.TheBookPatch.com and Amazon-Kindle. You can reach her at http://www.attell.com.
Laughter heals the child in all of us. Some of the “Comedy Pups” rehearsing with Toni Attell.
The Hollywood story goes back for years and years and yes, even decades. Stories of people who came here with huge dreams and who were talented, some more, then others.
Now, today, every small town and city in the world has sent out the best of the best of talents, to this small city called “Hollywood”. It is overwhelming, because it is the best of writers, actors, directors, producers, stunt people, etc. Everyone is really good. So needless to say, the competition is great.
Most of the power of Hollywood is on the side of producing, directing and casting. Now, all these people are good people. They do all they can to help the ‘Newbie’ in town. However, there are some people here- who just want to have control. Period. Just control. These people, make all the rest of the talent feel like, they (the talent),are NOT ENOUGH. “You are too fat, not fat enough, too skinny, not skinny enough, too talented for this role, not talented enough, too ethnic, not ethnic enough, funny but not funny enough your pictures are not good enough, your tape too long.” You get the idea, the list is endless ..so you have to remember: That You are More Then Enough! It is just the nature of the business that makes us all feel…we are not good enough.
So, if you are going to play football, then get your gear on and get in the arena and play. Go to events and meet people, and I don’t mean bars. Parties, museums, events were like- minded people will meet. Talk randomly to a stranger on an elevator, nicely( of course use common sense here.) Casting director’s assistants are the Casting Directors of tomorrow. So be nice to everyone, and build your moral up with good friends,professional relationships, family and managers/agents.
It is the people who believe in themselves that get breaks. This is no town for humility, although in our hearts we should always have it.
Once as a young girl, I had the opportunity to meet the great Groucho Marx, of the Marx Brothers, who said to me, ” My brothers and I spent 14 or so years in Vaudeville, and Hollywood ate up all of our stuff (physical comedy) in 1 year!”
Pace yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Don’t let anyone tear you down and do not take anything in the business personally, or you will bring yourself down. Play the game with humor and passion,
Take baby steps and do it slowly, learning all you can about the craft of Film-making and you will surprise yourself at what you can accomplish. Go For it! And remember…well, you know what to remember.
For many of my students I try to encourage them to learn what I call, the CORE of acting. That does not mean, all the different techniques, taught by many really-good acting coaches in Los Angeles, but the CORE of what the character represents. Meaning, why is the character doing what they do, (usually all characters have a reason for why they are the way they are) and it is up to the actor to find the reasons, trying always to pick positive reasons, even if the character is making negative choices….like a bad guy or girl.
It is important to pick positive reasons so that the audience can understand and like the character. Example might be: I am taking advantage of this person because they did something very bad to someone in my family.
To play a bad, mean, dishonest person and to show that at the beginning of the character’s entrance or scene, is what I call, “playing the end.” You do not want to give away the ending of why the character is this way. Let the audience discover the reasons.
Sometimes playing a nasty person can be funny and yet still be scarey. Humor is based off of fear. False Evidence Appearing Real. If you study the history of Circus, you will find out that even the horses in the merry-go-round have their eyes open in fear and the clown faces are always exaggerated to the point were some children might even cry. The movie director from Italy, Fellini goes into this with some of his films. We laugh when we experience a “near death ride” at a theme park because we are relieved.
The CORE means: What does your character stand for? What are the boundaries that should not be crossed? Why is the character acting this way? what are their dreams? –to get married? Be successful in business? etc,). Is this dream met? The CORE is what causes conflict and conflict is important to character. We never just say how we really feel even in real life, we are covering what is really going on in our minds and this is called “covering in acting” and the covering adds many levels to the character, making it very interesting to watch.
I always admire the actor who starts out unlikable and then we discover how much we really are drawn to what their CORE is, like the TV show “DEXTER”. Many people seem drawn to the “why” of what the character is doing, even if it doesn’t fit into our own moral code of behavior.
The CORE is the Why and what happened to make you (the character) this way. This also includes the back-life and choices made by the character that brings them to this moment of their life. I will speak about this in one of my other blogs.
As an actress, and a on -stage performer, I had taken a new turn about 10 years ago with managing some of the students I had worked with. I did this for a short time and got about 35 people work. It was hard work for me with very little money, but a lot of satisfaction seeing the students I trained get work. I noticed that actors of all ages sabotogue themselves very quickly when they got near to really making it.
First they would stop taking lessons and or working with a coach, which is a very bad move. I still work with a coach when going out for a TV show or Movie. Commercials you do not need to coach with anyone, but you do need to make choice and learn how to really audition for whatever the commercial is about and you usually are not called in until a few hours before the audition with no sides,this information I will get to in another article.
The most important thing to remember about the business, ( and it is a business) of Acting is this: TAKE BABY STEPS.
Don’t get overwhelmed and confused by what others are doing. Your job is to take first some inexpensive photos You just need a good look to give to agents and managers, then they might wish to change the photos to fit the style of their agency. Agents like their own look and will have you visit some of the photographers they like. They will show you a book with many photographers, like any good businessperson, look and talk to the photographers. You want to resonate with the photographer as they are capturing …”the special you.”
Don’t compete. Each actor has his own timeline, and you do not want to be seen by a casting director or agent, until you know what you are doing. So many actors, after three months, think they know it all and are now ready. Once they walk into that agent or casting directors office…that’s it. If the Casting Director or Agent doesn’t like you and if you don’t know what you are doing, well then, unfortunately you have blown your chance. Remember, however, that you will go to many offices and some people will like you and others don’t. It is the nature of the business and do not take it personnaly. I know that is easier said then done. You would not call yourself a expert computer programer unless you knew how to program all types of computers. Same with acting.
Right now the business is in flux. Lots of actors, wanting to get vouchers to become SAG/AFTRA but what these actors don’t realize is that once they do become part of the union,( which in time, they will), but if the actor joins the Union too soon, they will end up auditioning against people, who have been acting a lot longer then they have and know exactly what to do.
Learn the differences between all the styles of Hollywood Acting. Know the modalities and changes between, multi-camera shows, to single camera shows. Comedy to Drama. Commercial to Infomercials Reality shows to scripted reality shows. The list is endless.
Knnow hot to get started in joining the many on-line clubs that put you out into the world of acting and which ones are good and which ones are just taking monies to let you exhaust yourself with lot’s of free acting bits on camera. You do need film and yes, doing it free will be a start, but don’t exhaust you or your parents ( if you are a teen) just doing “anything” it can in itself be expensive and overwhelming. I have only used my film tape a few times to get an agent. So, go slow, learn your craft and then venture out with knowledge and support to create a splash with casting directors, managers and agents. Take Baby Steps!
Recently I received a comment from a young seventeen year old who was concerned that he had a bit of acne on his face and if that would stop his career.
I wrote him back to just ignore the acne. It all goes away and remember there is makeup on the set. However, that said, I do remember once on a TV show, they actually lit up a huge bump I had on my face. It first made me so embarrassed but then I just used it as a flaw in the character I was playing. The bump, laughed , it cried, it got angry, but I did not make it about myself, it was the character’s problem and it really helped get over my own ego.
Please remember there is no dignity to acting and that all you fear is seen. So, create whatever you have going on in your life, whether it is a break-up with a loved one or acne, or you feel fat, bloated, or not yourself…then use it as the characters’ back-life. Makes for good acting and just give yourself a break. We are not all perfect and always remember…You are bigger then anything that can happen to you.
After many years dedicated to my students and the business of Acting, it has come to my attention, that the Biz, is no longer for actors who just wish to act. It is a business! Both young and older actor must take responsibility to read your contracts and if anything looks suspicious, or is not written in the contract or a rider, please call SAG/ AFTRA immediately and or your agent or manager.
I am still fighting a Disney show, who told me I was doing a SAG show, paid me SAG wages, but never reported anything to Pension and Welfare or Medical. Not their fault and not SAG/AFTRA’S fault, but mine.the show was made for Disney but not by Disney. I mean where was I? Nine years of residuals gone.
I was working and not looking at residuals for 9 years while they showed the show 4 times a day and I never got the money the residuals or Pension and Health. Please look at everything.As actors we want to please everyone, and our contracts usually come just before we perform…but take a moment to really look at what you are signing.
Don’t just think your agents know all of the information either. SAG for example does not cover photographs. If they are taking photos, ask the production company what the photos are for?t Call your agent to make sure that you have a rider for it or it is in the contract. If it says at Producers discretion, they can use your face, voice, whatever and you get nothing. Remember your face and body is your business. Foreign residuals on some commercials are never found Movies and TV shows, are usually checked by SAG/AFTRA,
This recently happened to me on a commercial and the Production Assistant said, “Oh don’t worry, if we use your picture, we will let you know.” I had my agent for a year calling them because they were using my picture on the web for their product and not paying me. I never got the foreign-use pay.It took me a year to get $3,600.00 when they really owed me $5,000.00
My suggestion to all actors is take a moment to read everything and ask your agent or manager to send you the breakdown as it is listed to the agent/manager,so you know what they are offering and can come from a educated place when talking to the AD or PA. You don’t want to upset anyone, but just be business-like with your requests and have your questions ready for when you are to sign. Also contact responsible Income Tax people to let you know what you can or cannot claim on W2s and on Income Tax. Classes and mileage can be taken off of taxes if it is continuing education and also miles for Commercial, TV and Movie auditions.You are a business, so treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated. Be kind but firm with what your needs are.
Toni Attell teaches at UCLA-Extension and has small private classes in the San Fernando Valley. http://www.attell.com