Comments or questions for Colleen? Leave a comment on her blog.
Feb 28 2006
Evenings were special because there was a pheasant couple that always came out singing.
Kitzel and I would watch sunsets overlooking the nearby waters of Puget Sound. I'd take at least two long walks a day, sometimes visiting the llama farm up the road. The owners were kind enough to let me hug them. There's nothing like a llama hug.
Sometimes I'd head the other way and check out the lighthouse at the end of the inlet. I've always considered lighthouses very cool.
And sometimes I'd head out in an entirely different direction and make my way up the hill to drop by the home of a lovely and colorful woman who was in charge of the Post Office. Her family was so kind to me. We spent several evenings laughing about ... well, just about anything as I recall. They had the most amazing meals! They were wonderful cooks!
Everyone seemed to be excited about having a journalist/writer in their midst. I never think anything of that - so I'm always surprised when people tell me how impressed they are; how they've always wanted to write. A book, a screenplay, articles, columns, whatever.
I tell everyone the same thing: if you want to write? Write. That's all there is to getting started. Really. Then just do it every day, even if it's just for five minutes. Three minutes. One minute. If you can't think of anything to write? Just sit there and copy something you admire. Of course you can never claim it as your own work or creation, but doing it helps get the bugs worked out until you finally realize that you can write on your own!
One afternoon I was walking along a very long country road, heading toward the waters of Puget Sound. In the distance I saw a little dot in the sky that continued to get larger. As it grew larger, I realized it was an owl flying - what appeared to be - straight at me! I looked around to see if there was something around me that might be considered dinner for this winged visitor and saw nothing but trees, trees and more trees.
I thought I must be imagining this at first, but as I saw the bird grow larger and larger as it drew closer and closer I thought of running. But I knew better than to flee from a wild animal.
Incredibly - and you must believe I am telling the truth here, because I am - this huge owl moved into what we'd consider a "standing" position directly in front of me. He was nearly as tall as I (I'm 5'6"), and flapped his wings in a way that nearly surrounded me. It was a near out of body experience.
This tall owl - flapping its wings around me to maintain a stance directly in front of me - its face so close I could have touched it had I reached out.
I sank into a near meditative state. I felt myself breathe deeply and slowly. More to be able to remember the event itself and the sensation as they happened.
The owl remained in this position what felt like a lifetime - I didn't move - but my hunch is that it didn't take more than a minute, when it suddenly turned its back to me, flying back following the exact path it took to stare at me.
I later asked a Suquamish Indian man I knew who lived in the area what he thought it meant, and he told me he considered my experience "good medicine." A positive sign.
I took part in a tribal sweat lodge, which I hoped would give me some clarity about the event. I ended up just appreciating the highly unusual experience. After one speaks in the sweat, people say, "ho." Loosely translated it means, I hear you. And so it is. Amen.
I can still envision the owl's immobile face staring at me.
A woman I know who studies animal behavior recently told me the owl may well have considered me a meal, carelessly lollygagging alongside a country road, and was shocked to see how big I was. So it just stared at me, trying to figure out how to devour me. Not finding a solution, it just took off, seeking smaller prey.
Gives new meaning to the term .. "Just a flyby," doesn't it.
I still like to think that it was somehow "good medicine." Which I continue to pass on.
Feb 26 2006
While I was writing my book Mind Over Media, I took care of a farm about 90 minutes northwest of Seattle in exchange for room and board while the owner family was away on a working vacation in Hawaii nearly four months.
I should say my cat Kitzel and I took care of the farm, including a couple cows - one of whom was pregnant - 25 newly hatched chicks, large just planted vegetable and fruit gardens and more.
It was a new world for me - I learned first hand just how much work it is to care for wee and adult farm animals, fruit trees, vegetable and fruit garden. Remember, I'm the original brown thumb, so these were especially challenging tasks.
Just to be on the safe side, I became a volunteer firefighter and took the weekly training just in case the animals needed CPR or got hurt or a fire broke out or I came by someone who got hurt or whatever - I would always be prepared. After all, Kitzel and I were quite on our own out there - even with a gas station and neighbors down the road close enough to beckon if need be.
I'll post my volunteer firefighter experiences later - today I want to tell you about Big Red.
As those little chicks grew - rather rapidly - my nerves improved. Every day was tension-filled for me when they were still in the fuzzy stage. I felt so responsible for all these tiny souls - and looking forward to the day they would lay eggs. Mmmmm. Free range chicken eggs, ripe raspberries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with other fresh fruit and vegetables as they matured. I could hardly wait!
One of the little critters stood out. Not only did she grow faster than the others, she followed me and Kitzel around like a little puppy. Kitzel was more like a dog than a cat in that respect. She would stay with me as I fixed fences and did other work around the farm - getting up very early to start the day.
At first I tried to keep her with the other chicks, chasing her back into the warm hen house with timed lights. As she got larger and grew colorful feathers, however, I named her after her physical features: Big Red.
So the three of us would head out daily to take care of all the chores that one must to keep a farm in good working order, rain or shine, heat or chill.
Big Red was able to jump up on a fence post and watch as I did whatever I had to do, Kitzel nearby. One day, I had the notion that Big Red would like to be petted like Kitzel gets petted. To my surprise, Big Red *loved* to be petted and wow! Chickens are very, very soft! So I took to carrying Big Red around to places Kitzel and I would go around the farm when I didn't think it was safe enough for her to walk, petting her all the while.
OK, I admit, I also started kissing her on the head, just like you do any adored pet.
She and Kitzel became fast pals. I can't recall if Big Red actually learned any commands, but it seems that she would because all the animals I've lived with always have. Except for that turtle ... Right, right.
Now, the hen house has a little door that lets the chickens out during the day to peck, scratch, eat good stuff, gossip, chase each other around or play whatever games chickens play in the fenced chicken yard. No pecker jokes here - this is a PG rated blog...
Likewise, they would go back in the hen house every late afternoon, early evening. I'd close the door and little latch to keep them safe from varmints like coyotes or raccoons.
One night, to my horror, I was startled awake by shrieking and mayhem in the chicken coop! I kept Kitzel inside, racing out, yelling to stop whatever was causing it!
Unbelieveably, a raccoon used its little fingers to push the latch open, which opened the door - letting himself in and helping himself to the defenceless chickens. Many had rushed out of the henhouse trying to escape, to no avail.
As I rushed to the site - not that far from my living quarters - I saw the raccoon bouncing away. And the massacre. He had not just killed but ripped apart 10 of the 25 chickens.
Including Big Red.
I was devastated and felt completely responsible.
I called the farm owners and they told me it was not my fault, but wondered if someone in the area had been feeding raccoons, because if humans feed them, they get pretty brazen because they lose their fear of us and anything we use to keep them away. And they told me if that's the case, the raccoon will be back to finish off our chickens!
Sure enough, I did find someone down the road who had been feeding raccoons dry dog food by the bagsful - even getting some of them to eat out of his hand! He didn't think it was a bad thing - and in fact said he figured if they were "full" they wouldn't bother chickens or other small animals like cats and dogs, which they are infamous for killing as well.
Now, as upset I was about losing Big Red and the other chickens, I love animals and greenhorn that I was, tried to figure out other ways to deal with the raccoon. In farm country there's no such thing as transplanting a wild animal into an area they can freely roam .. they're *already* there! So I had no choice. It was him or my little wards.
So I borrowed a .22 rifle from a neighbor (in farm country, this is no big deal -) and decided to put an end to Mr. Raccoon's chicken coop raids.
Night after night, I slept with the rifle in the hen house. One weekend my city slicker friend Nancy joined me. It was miserable - chicken coops are not even half star accommodations and there were *two* of us!
Then one morning as I was out doing chores, I heard rustling from the chicken yard where everyone was out in the yard - and saw Mr. Raccoon approaching! I threw rocks at him! I yelled at him! Nothing bothered him. He was sure nothing would happen to him because he had no fear of humans.
Finally, as he walked fearlessly toward my hysterical flock, I grabbed the rifle and held him in my sight. I'm a very good shot. But I'd never killed an animal before, so my throat was so dry I couldn't swallow, my knees were shaking so violently I felt nearly faint.
But as he drew closer, I pulled the trigger.
RIP, Big Red.
Feb 24 2006
Although she was quite ill with serious flu symptoms, she said it was the best she has ever danced in her more than 14 year career (she was discovered at the tender age of 9 and flown from Indonesia to London's Royal Academy of Ballet for formal training)!
And who should rush up to her immediately after, gushing over her spectacular presentation? Only THE American institution of great dancers and choreographers, Debbie Allen!
Allen wanted to know who choreographed the piece, so my ballerina (whom I'll call Cinderella - that's a fake name .. ;-) thanked her, told Ms. Allen the woman's name and left to take care of her sickly self, *failing* to add, "But the piece would be nothing - NOTHING - NOTHING YOU HEAR ME - without Colleen's coaching!!!"
We had a good laugh about that.
This happens to coaches all the time, doesn't it...
Anyway, Cinderella said she was too ill to kibbutz with those in attendance, many of whom lined up to congratulate and chat with her after her performance. Though she recognized several celebrities in the audience, the one who made the biggest impression on this young woman? Said Cindy, "Kevin Costner is gorgeous!"
Cinderella now looks forward to more appearances at similar events!
Congratulations, Cindy! ;-)
Feb 22 2006
The only thing that I believe works is clear, constant and consistent communication. Explain our wacky jargon, what's happening, what you're learning. When possible include your partner/significant other in social and other gatherings.
Even more importantly, talk about your feelings about your work. Something that can be difficult for "earthlings" or regular folks to deal with is the up and down nature of the business. It's mercurial. We understand that and have developed coping skills. Those who don't have these types of coping skills can feel badly about those ups and downs, especially the downs, and need special attention when they take those downs much worse than we do.
The more your partner understands the process, that it's really all about the work of acting; how important that is to you and whatever goes with it is just part of the business, the more he or she will be able to develop his or her own coping skills regarding the business and your experiences in it.
Hopefully your partner will be just as open about his or her life's work so you can be just as supportive.
Oh - I've also known partners who really aren't all that interested in the industry, but are happy communicating more about the personal relationship. I've found these folks to be very stable and secure, and usually pursuing their own passion!
Feb 20 2006
One of my young adult actors - truly gifted - is constantly being discouraged from acting by her extended family and it's starting to get her down.
Since only 2% of SAG actors actually make their primary living from acting, I can understand why a family would be concerned. On the other hand, if it's someone's passion, why would anyone who truly loves someone discourage them from a passion many people will never experience in their entire lives?
We only have one shot at this lifetime, why live it frustrated because you did not pursue what you really want to do - who you really are or want to be?
Still, there seem to be "friends," family, coworkers and acquaintances who will diminish the importance of this study and work for any number of not so nurturing reasons ranging from jealousy to projecting how fearful they are to pursue their own dreams.
My advice is to stay away from people who are not supportive; if you can't keep a distance from them, don't talk about acting (or any other artistic endeavor you desire to pursue) and when they ask simply shrug and say you're doing OK. No details, not even if they ask because they have made it clear they disapprove or don't understand your passion for doing the work.
The Artist's Way - a book by Julia Cameron and the basis of a workshop I'm currently teaching - has several suggestions for dealing with toxic people in your environment. Again, the basic advice is to stay away from them or refrain from discussing your art with people who don't "get it" or who are against your artistic endeavors.
Interestingly, over the years, I've found that many boyfriends and husbands tend to support their significant other's acting ambitions until it appears a career is actually being created by the women. People who work with me only come to me for that very reason - to either start a bona fide camera acting career or to take a quantum leap in an already established career. I don't work with dabblers.
So taking class after class is fine for their girlfriends and wives, but developing careers seems to create concern, so the women are frequently, at that point, discouraged if not given ultimatums to quit. This has not been true in every case, but I would have to say in most the women have given up promising acting futures to appease the men in their lives. Some gay men with whom I've worked have also had the career issue come up in their relationships, with some deciding to forgo their acting aspirations to please their partners.
Pursuing a passion generally affects relationships by either making them much stronger or causing serious problems. It's wonderful to see the bond grow between two people who respect and love each other's desire to become all they want to be. It's heartbreaking to see people reluctantly decide to give up their dream just as they are starting to make it a reality because they think they "should."
I think doing what you love can be seen as a threat to someone afraid you won't have enough love to spread around if you are sharing your love with your passion - your art. But those people might consider that the more love there is, the more love there is. Love that is free to grow .. well, grows.
Hearts tend to expand when they are free to love what makes them happy and whole. I don't love anyone less because I'm doing what I'm crazy in love with. In fact, it frees me to feel that much more love and to express it generously with my family, friends, pets, filmmaking coworkers and coachees.
I agree with Mark Twain, who said: "Stay away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Feb 18 2006
Last week I had the pleasure of coaching Brittany and Dustin for auditions with some pretty good projects! Both did their homework before we had our sessions, so we were able to pull their performances head and shoulders above where it was when they came in (which wasn't shabby by any stretch).
If actors come to coaches with little or no homework done, chances of moving them far beyond their capabilities are much less possible than when they come in already prepared to the best of their ability.
The folks auditioning them were duly impressed and while Dustin waits to hear about a callback next week, Brittany already got her callback for a television program in which she is considered for portraying an obnoxious (yes, you're reading right), hilarious character. She shows a keen talent for comedy, which is great for her personally and professionally. Do we have another Sandra Bullock in our midst? A beautiful actress who is also a gifted comic?
Portraying characters "against type" well shows us they can act their a** off. In the audition she portrayed the same lines as three distinctly different obnoxious characters - apparently impressing the people holding the audition enough to give her a callback right away.
Dustin, a very warm, down to earth and friendly person in real life - not a person hung up on his great looks at all - can become a smoldering, cool character whose look can pierce you like a laser light when he's in that sort of subtext - and that's what he had to do.
For the audition, he was also asked to portray the other character in the scene - someone exactly the opposite. A man sweating bullets, extremely uncomfortable and frightened of the very cool character.
The most important part of auditioning is networking. So while I have a strong feeling they both have a real shot at landing these roles since they both nailed the auditions so completely, if they're not cast, the people for whom they auditioned know that they are topnotch, talented actors capable of taking direction and delivering whatever is asked of them 100% of the time because of the preparation system they have developed.
Which means they now know two extremely good actors to consider for future projects!
Way to go, Brittany and Dustin!
I'll let you know if they were cast!
Feb 16 2006
It seems Mousie, a 3-inch stuffed toy, was tied to two balloons as part of the birthday celebration for its owner's kid sister. To their horror, the family saw the little mouse drift out an open window, last seen soaring over the East Bay area despite their best efforts to chase it down.
Until that fateful day last September, Mousie lived above 11 year-old Caroline Nielsen's bed ever since her dad brought him home nine years earlier. She wanted to make her sister's birthday party special and let the roving rodent see the house from a bird's eye view - for while he appears to be a toy to you and me, he was a very real companion to the distraught Caroline.
"I don't think he wanted to see the world," she said remorsefully. "He wasn't that kind of mouse. But he's seeing it now, whether he wanted to or not."
Sometimes I feel like that little mouse.
Feb 14 2006
Brittany Quist was driving home on a rural-ish road and spotted a large dog frantically dashing about - in and out of the traffic.
Brittany realized how disoriented the poor pup was, pulled over and parked on the shoulder.
Leaving her own small dog, Dom, in the car, she grabbed a leash and tried to approach the frightened dog, who wore a collar with a name tag attached. She finally got close enough to attach the leash and read the tag - calling the phone number engraved on it. No one home.
She attempted to drag the dog into her car - no luck. Little Dom was too territorial and Large Dog was too frightened to come near the stranger's vehicle.
Car after car and pickup truck passed by, observing Brittany's quest, yet not a soul stopped to help.
Sighting a veterinarian sign a couple blocks away, she decided to try to get the dog there so he would at least be safe until the owners got home to pick him up. It was a tough go because the dog was not cooperating.
Finally, someone did stop to help! A police officer wondering why the heck she was dragging this big dog along the shoulder of the road.
Just as they were about to try - the two of them - to lift the dog into the police officer's car to take him to the address on the dog's tag, Brittany's cell phone rang - it was the dog's owners. Who said they would be by to pick him up within minutes.
The officer thanked her for helping one of the community's canine citizens - and reminded her that her license tags needed to be renewed. Um, now. (Which she did!)
Brittany says the greatest change in her approach to this dilemma from the past (before coaching) is that she was calm, cool and collected through the entire ordeal, systematically solving the problem. She didn't feel helpless or lost or uncertain of what to do next.
She was pretty bummed that none of the people driving by stopped to give her a hand or even see if she was OK, however.
Way to go, Brittany Quist! Atta (Acting) Girl!!!
Feb 12 2006
We ordinarily get up very early and have a *lot* on our minds, especially working up films and dramatic TV programs that are shot as rapidly as possible.
It's not that we're not capable of driving, it's that the insurance company wants to make *sure* that we get there alive and preferably in one piece, because it would be a colossal disruption to the shooting schedule and budget/insurance payoffs if any one of us got in a wreck or, worse, were injured or ... worse.
So before you think it's because we're such a big deal (or that we think we're such a big deal) that we have someone driving us to and from, it's really to cover the business of the budget and of course because they hope to retain the same cast, director and producer they established for the project. We've been working together to make the best possible film so should be in synch and ready to bust our a**es every minute of every day of the shoot!
Oh, that's another thing - it saves energy for us not to drive, and especially the director needs every iota of energy possible. I'm usually the first onset and the last to leave. If I had to think about driving, too? Oy!
Feb 10 2006
I just have to work too hard when I'm behind the wheel.
Meaning: to help me concentrate and focus on the business of keeping me on the road and safely in the company of other vehicles, I must use a stick shift. Four or five on the floor. No automatics for me because the shifting constantly reminds me that I am, indeed, a good and careful driver.
Otherwise I tend to do what all writers do - daydream write. Plot problem solve. "Now, if he's the killer - she has to know something is up when she makes the call. No, wait. She realizes she *has* to make the call, but she can't because he's holding the gun against her head. Wait. No. Not *her* head. Worse. The kid's head. Yeah. OK. Then-"
You get the idea.
The upshot is whenever I can, I prefer to let other folks drive.
So the car I brought brand new going on four years ago, has only a spit above 14,000 miles on it. What is that? 3,500 miles a year? Since I work out of my home studio, I'm spared the dreadful commute suffered by millions. Because everyone generally comes here, I don't suffer any lack of social interaction.
Unfortunately, even though my car's brand and model does not appear on any "most stolen cars list," my monthly car payments are astronomical. So I checked into getting another car with lower payments from the same dealer that sold me this car and two others before it. Maybe even think a used car. The bank already had a hearty laugh at my expense after reading my refinancing request.
"I understand your problem." the car sales guy says. "You drive so little. And you don't really enjoy driving, do you. Yes. Yes, yes."
Without as much as taking a sip of coffee, he spun around. "You should have fun when you're out there!" and introduced me to a new hot sports car with a moveable seat, computerized this and that, four on the floor and a snazzy demeanor. Do people say, "snazzy" any more? Anyway, it was impressive.
I'm ordinarily a very assertive person, but for some reason - was it that little watch he kept waving back and forth? Back and forth? Back and-
Anyway, I found myself taking a road test while he listed all its colorful, practical and sexy features.
People watched me with that, "Wow, lookee that lady drive that hot car" look. Thanks to that car, I felt a little taller and at least ten pounds lighter. The sales guy tells me very very few women ever ask for a stick shift car. Not only that? I drive it very well. OK, at this point? I'm feeling maybe 15 pounds lighter. And totally in charge!
Vrrrrrooom vrrrrrrooom, taking the corners! SHIFT! Vrrrrrooom! Over the river! Through the woods! Idle idle idle at the stop light. Then OFF AGAIN.
Hey, how much fun is *this?* I could see myself racking up .. what? .. at least 4,000 miles a year in this baby!
Back at the dealership, reality hits. "THIS car has lower payments than the one I'm driving?" I ask.
He mumbles, "Um, no. But it's way more fun-"
But nothing, Dealer Douchebag. This is how I got into too much debt for a car to begin.
The same car I'll apparently continue to drive for several more years.
Feb 8 2006
Stephen Lennstrom was the tuxedoed kid in a limousine who asked the snooty guy in the limo next to his if he had any Grey Poupon mustard. The commercial enjoyed a long and memorable life; it would be fun to see it again. He also had significant, if not lead roles in three independent feature films.
I worked with Stephen from the time he was about 10 until he was 14, when he *wisely* decided to take a break from show biz just to be a kid. His mom Connie and I both supported his decision without question. I was proud of him - asking for what he thought was best for him (something I try to teach all my coachees).
Anyway, Stephen helped me with my yard work and one day we were out in my back yard - when I accidentally raked a wasp nest! YIKES! They started to swarm on me, stinging, as Stephen and I both tried to brush them away! We dashed inside and saw the damage done - only four stings but they were whoppers. Especially the one right above my lip.
I called Poison Control immediately because I'd heard that these sorts of stings could be if not fatal, dangerous. The voice said to put ice on the sting areas, take some benedryl and wait. That any anaphylactic response (essentially lethal) would become apparent within 10-15 minutes.
OK. So I put ice on the affected areas, took a pill, stretched out on the couch, gave Stephen my health insurance card in case he had to call 9-1-1 for help and told him to go outside and keep himself busy in a safe area for about ten minutes so he would not just have to sit there and worry about me.
When he returned within five minutes - and this is the telling nature of our caring, nurturing, supportive relationship - I heard him close the door and ask, "Dead yet?"
We laughed ourselves silly.
He invited me to his 12th birthday party. It was held at a bowling alley. There we were - all his 12 year old boy pals and ... me. His mother was over at the refreshment area, preparing the cake candles for blowing out later and other fast food delicacies boys love.
So there we were, a great group of boys about as tall as my ... chest ... and me. I was surprised the boys didn't mind me being there a bit. I'm not sure what Stephen told them, but whatever it was made it OK with them that I was among and in many ways accepted as one of the gang.
I told them I was honored Stephen would have a girl (regardless of the age sitch) attend his otherwise stag party, and that if I were a proper adult, I would let them win all the games. But that clearly I'm not, so they better get ready because I was out to kick some BOY BUTT!
Which I did!
I bowled as I'd never bowled before - or since!
Strikes! Spares! Ping! Pow! Flap! The pins flew!
Winning as I did, with just a *touch* of hammy flare, (coff coff) I wondered how the boys would take it. I mean, I was ready to start pulling back to let them take the rest of the games, because after all, enough is enough. Then after an especially nice strike (completed with a little hip action), the boys yelled, "GIRL POWER!!"
The Spice Girls' claim to fame may have faded with their fans, but it was brought back to life by a group of 12 year old liberated Seattle boys!
I was at once amazed, flattered, charmed and feeling like the final clutch play winning quarterback!
That was the cheer from our side of the bowling alley the rest of the afternoon.
I'm not sure what Stephen wished for when he blew out his candles later, but I was wishing - hard - as they went out that whatever it was, he would receive that and more. I've never had a better time at anyone's birthday party - including my own.
I always dress pretty casually, but at the time Stephen and I worked together, I wore a baseball cap someone gave me - backward. I think it was because I was so busy I didn't want to bother with my hair. He also gave me some soccer lessons, so I had to be ready to be physically active! I was a little upset when he showed me some shadowy moves, and when I questioned them he said his coach told him if the officials don't see it, it isn't a penalty. Hmmmmmmmmm.
I decided to pick my battles on this problem, since Stephen was in charge of the soccer session, so I said nothing. Drives me crazy when coaches teach young kids to try and get away with foul play.
After our practice session at the nearby park, I told Stephen I wasn't pleased that I had to go to a froo-froo event that night.
"This will come as a surprise to you," I said, "but I don't enjoy dressing up."
"I know," giggled Stephen. "What do you do when you dress up? Turn your (baseball cap) bill toward the front?"
The thing I'm most proud of is that over the four years I worked with him, he grew to love reading, math and geography - all of which he disdained when we first met.
Today, he is a remarkable and *tall* young man (he was such a short kid!). Still a teenager, but so mature and impressive. Last time I saw him in person, I was visiting his high school to see another of my young actors perform. His shocking red hair was quite long. He was growing it for Locks of Love - an organization that uses donated hair to make high quality wigs for kids who lose their hair undergoing chemotherapy and other medical treatments. It was great catching up and sharing a long tight hug.
He told people around us how important I was to him and what a difference I made in his life.
Um, that door swings both ways, Stephen.
I miss you, Buddy.
Feb 6 2006
There you sit. Stand, really. Black and skeletal like the Ghost of Christmas Future, pointing its bony finger accusingly at .. something.
After gracing my front porch plant boxes for lo, those many weeks - or was it days - replete with beautiful plump red, purple, yellow, orange and white blooms and blossoms, you died.
Did I not speak to you enough?
Did I talk to you too much and water you too little?
Did I lose track of time and water you too much?
Funny, I don't remember watering you, probably because this is supposed to be "rainy" Seattle, so perhaps that question is moot.
Still, I feel somehow responsible for your demise.
Well, now I do.
Before now, I assumed the cause was your genes, your destiny, your fatal flower fate.
Then my parents gave me The Christmas Flower Plant - a poinsettia. Interestingly, this is a plant whose flower is expected to cross over, pass on, die, whatever you say about blossoms with a short life expectancy at the end of the holiday season. But day after day, it remains in good health with its bright red petals greeting me first thing in the morning, outliving all its sibling 'settias by *weeks!*
Because it continues to glow long after its life was expected to be extinguished, I've come to call it my Hanukkah plant, which I've nicknamed "Hansettia" or "Hans" (how do you tell if it's a girl or a boy?). It sits in the middle of the table where I speak with most of my coachees, so many have marveled at its resiliency since their own have gone the way of dried up Christmas trees a month ago.
The longer it hangs around, the more interest I've taken in it, especially since I have the original Brown Thumb. When it comes to relationships with plants? Um, my record is, at best, spotty.
When my friend and actor Will filled my planter boxes with those breathtaking blooms, I swear I could hear them screaming, "NO! NO! Not here! Not her!" and "AARGH! It's The Annihilator!"
A little judgmental, I thought. Yet, the proof was undeniably hanging lifeless, leaf and petal, only weeks/days/whatever after.
When I finally noticed their sickeningly sad state - I walk by them several times a day - I could swear I heard a final faint grasping, gasping *cough.*
Naw. No way. Couldn't be. There's that writer's imagination run wild, eh, C.P?
One thing about Hans/ettia, s/he has fine listening skills and I have the notion that s/he is always smiling, appreciative of being around such a warm, welcoming, cozy household and all our terrific visitors.
Daily, I find myself sharing my schedule, concerns, highs, lows, and music with my New Best Friend. And continue to be amazed that continuously colorful Hans/ettia brightens our home studio and OK, I don't want to brag, but I do believe I heard it laugh at one of my jokes.
Note to self: practice new stand up and comedy screenplay material with Hans/ettia.
I check every morning to make sure its soil is *just* moist and no more, taking out any petals or leaves that have faded overnight.
As I petted its leaves and flowers gently today, I saw signs indicating The Circle of Life. Ouch. What does one do with a plant whose destiny is supposed to be termination within a season? What do I do when it comes ... time? Apply CPR? Cardio Plant Resuscitation?
Or do I simply thank it for being such a welcome and extraordinary member of the household; appreciating every day it hangs around that much longer, making sure all of its days - however more there may be - are as comfortable as possible - properly watered and cared for? Sharing its beauty and essence with all who pass through and think, "Hans/ettia, we hardly knew ye!"
OK, this is a letter to all my dead plants out there, whom I'll now have to give a proper burial. Thanks for sharing the pollinated time you had with all who saw and enjoyed you. I now understand you needed a bit more attention than I afforded you. You'll be happy to know I'm now learning how to practice Plant Parenthood - one seedling at a time.
Feb 4 2006
After having a great conversation with one of my actors yesterday, I need to explain how and why all artists must have faith.
Mostly, we must have faith that we can create something out of nothing. Our basic tool is our imagination. In many cultures artists are considered leaders of the culture because they can see and foresee what most of us can't. Think of the novelists and comic book artists and filmmakers who imagined and put on paper, in pictures and on celluloid rockets going to the moon and visiting other planets.
When they first came up with those concepts that was crazy talk, but in time, science caught up with them.
I've met a lot of artists who don't think they have faith, but in fact are rife with it.
For example, you must have faith if:
You get the idea.
The vast majority of our lives are lived in faith that we can do certain things and that when we do them, certain things will happen (or not happen if that's the goal).
We also have misguided faith. That is, if you believe incorrectly that your wife is cheating on you, that a certain type of people are inherently bad just because of who they are, or that you are entitled to a number of things that other people must earn - chances are you will run into some serious problems trying to be "right" and be happy simultaneously.
For the artist, we must believe - have faith - that we can create something literally out of nothing.
Like when we stare at that blank page or screen we can fill it with words. Hopefully, words that mean something, that paint a verbal picture, that are structured and finessed in a way that will make sense, be read, be appreciated, be published or produced, or even simply greeted gratefully by its intended audience - even if it's a heartfelt email or letter to your brother or parents.
The artist must believe that she or he can create something out of virtually nothing. That's faith. It's faith in the power of ourselves to make a vision become visual - "real" - in some form.
Years ago, the computer was nothing but a wacky idea. Having hundreds of television channels from which to chose was not considered possible.
I'm always intrigued by people who don't tap into their power of personal faith - that is, believe in their own personal power. Here's an exercise I give my coachees which seems to help them get in touch with that invisible reality: choose three ways to do everything you normally do or take for granted for just one day.
So if you usually get up to the sound of an alarm clock, figure out two other ways you can be awakened - maybe have someone call? Let the dog pounce on you? Set the clock radio or TV?
If you always get up from the right side of your bed, choose two other ways to get your bum up and going. Ordinarily have cereal for breakfast? Think of two other foods you can eat. Two other ways to consume your food than usual - rather than use a spoon you can ... what?
Believe me, by the end of the day you'll have two strong reactions. The first is grief. You'll be quite sad about all the power you've always had and never been aware of, let alone used. And you will feel amazed, thrilled and like a super hero - getting in touch with all that power you can use from now on!
Feb 2 2006
The theater actor believes actors shouldn't act *for* the camera - that is, acknowledge its presence and make sure it sees your performance - but instead to simply act and let the camera catch you. There is no need to "cheat" for the camera. That cheating makes the actor look phony.
My actor has been convinced - not just by me, but by watching lots of successful camera actors - that acting has to be performed for the camera. That cheating is a must. She said she had a difficult time explaining herself, so I'll pick up where she left off.
I must preface this with the fact that I have no desire or need to convince anyone of anything. However, I will explain my point of view.
For if an actor believes there is no need to cheat or act "for" the camera and he or she has been cast in more films, TV shows, commercials than she or he can possibly perform in a lifetime, who cares what anyone else thinks?
But, I train my actors to consider the camera a witness - much like the audience would be for the theater actor, only much more intimate. A witness who understands what the character is thinking and feeling.
If we, the audience members experiencing what the camera sees, cannot determine what the character is thinking and/or feeling, we cease to care about the character. And audience members include directors, producers, casting directors and others in a position to employ actors.
The primary complaint of established directors is that too many actors don't understand how to cheat for the camera.
"Cheating" in most cases means turning your head as you perform so the camera can capture at least enough of an angle on your face that we can see your eyes - which should indicate what your character is thinking and feeling. In other cases, it just means capturing enough of your face/head that we can determine your attitude about what is transpiring.
There is also a special type of cheating for "the reveal" shot, wherein a head may be turned in profile or away from the camera for a specific reason: to enable the actor to turn toward the camera to deliver an important or key line. Director George Clooney uses this technique beautifully for his actors in Good Night and Good Luck.
Cheating should never look "phony." If the actor is in character and the character is in subtext? The movement or cheat should look and feel completely natural.
I believe the relationship between the actor and camera is a spiritual experience. It ceases to be an inanimate object, especially when the camera is used to represent another character with whom one actor is speaking. This technique is used fairly frequently. The other actor in the scene may not even be on set when you must speak to the camera as if it is that other character.
If the actor can't summon enough imagination to believe the camera is the other character? It does look phony. If, in this case, the actor can't act "for" the camera? We lose the scene and have to go back to a two shot or some other way that is far less real and intimate. That hurts when the scene we lose should be as intimate as possible to serve the story and film.
Study lead actors in films that are well done. How often are the lead actors *not* cheating for the camera? Um, almost never.
To be clear, I am not referring to an actor accidentally or inappropriately "spiking" the camera or looking at the camera when s/he is not supposed to!
However, some supporting characters trying to make their way up the acting food chain will be caught not cheating, which weakens their performance. There is no time to coach or teach them how to cheat or convince them that in this case cheating is the best way for a character to connect with the audience in a very intimate way. So the weakened shot stays the way it is (unless it can be cut) and generally nothing is said to the errant actor.
When I'm casting, I look for reels featuring actors who understand how to cheat for the camera. I won't necessarily disqualify a really great actor who doesn't understand cheating, but I will ask the actor if s/he is willing to learn.
Jan 31 2006
They smile, tongue hanging out, hop around, bark, want to play fetch, rub up against me, all expressing abundant, unadulterated joy that I am safe and in their presence once again.
OK, I don't wag my tail, pant or bark when my actors, writers, etc., come in, but I do greet them enthusiastically because I think it makes people feel good .
It helps them feel welcome, wanted and maybe even perked up a bit if they're having a tough day or a long day or they've just come through a horrendous traffic jam.
Thus, my tip for the day: greet people you like, love and care about *at all* with the same enthusiasm your pets greet you!
Jan 29 2006
There's not a whole lot to do there, to put it mildly. Nancy (fake name, natch) is an urban girl who loves urban activities (concerts, etc.), and has always held challenging and interesting jobs -. none of which are remotely (sic) available where she lives now.
Since she has done some writing, I suggested she check out the local newspaper to see if there were anything they'd like her to do. She could write a column, or perhaps freelance stories. Wouldn't hurt to at least check it out.
The editor of the local newspaper agreed to meet with her - he said there are no jobs available but they're always interested in good freelance pieces.
So she asked me what I thought she should bring to that interview. Here's my response in case it might spark any interest you may have to do the same, whether you're rural or urban:
As an editor here's what I want in a columnist:
1. a writer with an expertise, a "niche," or subject she specializes in, a speciality (remember Erma Bombeck - simple but wonderful commentaries on everyday stuff), something about which she is passionate.
2. a writer with a POINT OF VIEW. It's the way she sees the world.
3. a writer who shows her personality through her writing - lets it all hang out there, isn't shy- um, never mind, "Nancy," you have that covered.... ;-)
4. a writer who writes well (doesn't have to be award-winning, but clear and communicative and with a bit of a flare)
Here's what I'd want in a freelance writer/reporter
1. a sense of what is news, newsworthy or that would be valuable or interesting or entertaining for the readers.
2. the ability to interview people and extrapolate what they're saying, rather than just rely on quoting them. Ask the questions that draw them out as well as make them answer clearly. Go for the truth.
3. the guts to cold call folks to get a response to something or to generate a story from a person/personality - whether politician, business person, etc. As a new person there, lots of people will want to "fill you in" on who's who and what's what, so they'll give you lots of tips for stories *they* believe are newsworthy. That's invaluable to an editor who's sitting in his office wondering what readers want to know about!
4. the ability to put stories together quickly.
I would need to see THREE writing examples.
Tear sheets (which is the page you ripped off the newspaper that published your story previously) are fine, so are other forms of writing, like on regular 8x11 sheets of paper, double spaced. They should either be evidence of being able to produce three columns from your mind/POV, or evidence of the variety of stuff you could cover re: interests, stories, whatever.
For a freelance reporting gig, I'd hope you can also take some digital photos of the stories' subjects.
Here's the kicker: I especially need someone to come in and tell me WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
Read the paper or publication you want to work with or submit material to thoroughly. If there's a void in coverage ... environmental stories, let's say .. you can offer to cover stories on X, Y and Z, all of which relate to the environment.
Since he didn't say we need freelance writers to give us more coverage on (specific subject), it's up to you to suggest after reading his paper.
Again, if you want to do a column ... he should have three writing samples.
So, figure out exactly what you want to do. What do you want to to write about? What piques your passion?
For a starting pro writer, don't try to write about anything that might be too over your head. Start with simple stuff you can do and build from there.
And don't dress up for the interview. You're a writer (reporter, columnist, whatever). We don't dress up when we work, and he knows it. Just wear nice casual. You always look *hot* so don't worry about that!
Last, but not least, "Nancy," you are oh, so smart. You know a lot about many things. After the interview, no matter what happens, make plans to chat with the editor regularly in the future so you both can brainstorm about story ideas, the paper's needs, your schedule and deadlines. If you lived in a big city and this were a big newspaper, he'd let you know whether you should chat any time after, or set a time to check in again with him after you've got a little more experience under your belt.
Consider writing a blog to build experience - there are many bloggers who work hard at the craft of writing and reporting, who are becoming - or have become - fine reporters, columnists and writers.
Good luck, Girlfriend!
Jan 27 2006
Anyone interested in directing would do well to get the DVD when it comes out to study classic, effective composition, the use of culture as character (in this case it's cigarette smoking), hair and makeup, the interaction of the actors with the camera and one another - I could go on. All this without any sense of self-consciousness or bringing attention to the directing in a way that would distract from the story.
I'm going to use it for any presentations I make on directing in the future.
A young woman I worked with as a teenager is now studying to be a professional photographer, and says she's wild about black and white as a film medium.
Me, too. It has its place just as color does, IMO.
Sadly, many of the businesses that have made black and white film in the past no longer make it.
The power of this film would have been denigrated substantially if it had been made in color; I can't imagine it being made any other way. And obviously, neither could George Clooney!
I've followed Clooney's budding directing career, and believe he is gifted. The episodes he directed of the short-lived HBO series "Unscripted" were, IMO, excellent - a noticeable cut above the directing of most of the other eps.
Congratulations, Mr. Clooney!
Jan 25 2006
Like don't just say, "I want a lot of money."
Our singer/singing coach told the group last week she wanted to "move." As in get more exercise, perhaps even dance to music.
What she got was a flooded basement, forcing her to move *many* filled boxes to higher ground. The problem with her house is bad enough that she is now consider moving - as in, out of her flooded house into a new one - with a dry home basement!
I recall one person who put out to a self-actualization group like TAW that she wanted a BMW.
She got one - in a cereal box. She gave it to her grandson.
Write out what you want - describe what you *really* want. Don't be shy! Then come up with a plan to get it - no matter how distant your goal might feel - and you're underway!
Jan 23 2006
Writing partnerships are popular in US TV sitcoms, and they're enjoying growing popularity in screenwriting as well - *if* it's with the right person!
Thanks to the Internet, faxes and phones, you don't even have to live in the same country, let alone state, city or neighborhood. John lives in Chorlton, Manchester, England - I live in Seattle, Washington, USA.
How we met is a long story - briefly, we're Coronation Street fans and participated in an *incredibly witty* international "Corrie" chatroom. John had to visit Seattle for a seminar, so we agreed to meet.
We hit it off fantastically, had a wonderful time chatting and formed what has turned out to be a mutual admiration society.
But for fun we told our chatroom mates the most disgusting stories about one another. "Rude, pushy, chauvinistic, typical Yank," went his story about me.
"Oddly, he doesn't seem to shower - and he ate his mashed potatoes with his hands," was my report. I also said despite his rather conservative computing career, he had several new large dragon tattoos inked on his neck and arms in a dicey part of town .. and that they were scabbing and oozing badly.
I believe he told our online friends he always heard Americans took pride in their dental care, but found my one nicotine-stained tooth distracting as I gummed my food.
At one lovely restaurant, just as the wait person approached, I asked him, "So. How is the witness protection program working for you?"
At another even more lovely restaurant, the wait person was setting the table when we sat, at which time John gasped, "No knives!" as he whisked my dinner knife away, handing it back to the wait person.
You get the idea.
On a long ferry ride, he confessed he always wanted to write, but never found the courage.
I said I need a webmaster for my website(s), but never found the money.
From that point, I coached him long distance. He's been my long distance webmaster.
We became best friends, emailing one another daily.
What can I say about John? He's my best friend - the best of the best; a devoted father of two beautiful daughters; a dedicated companion to his life's partner, Nikki; a tireless award-winning karaoke singer, poet, lyric writer, budding novelist, screenwriter and this is the short list.
One day, he told me a bizarre story - one small part of which it fired my imagination. I asked if he wanted to co-write a screenplay with me. I outlined my idea - wherein that bit would play a significant role - he said yes!
First things first:
Even though we are best friends - *always* work with a contract. I've co-written several projects; the only two times I ran into problems was when I worked without a contract. We drew up a simple writing partnership contract, which outlines what is expected of each person, penalties for not doing what is expected, money and expenses split, how to deal with illness or death of the partners, etc. I don't believe in taking template contracts out of any books - they're too full of legal gobbledygook. This is clear, understandable and just as legally binding as a contract full of "whereas's" and "wherefore's."
From there, we completed an outline of Train of Reckoning, then took turns writing the script. We finished the script in a relatively short time.
All the work is carefully delegated, reviewed, rewritten, re-reviewed and rewritten several time to get it to a saleable quality.
This explanation excludes the phone calls, the email discussions of characterizations, motivations, the exchange of exciting and splendid ideas and the relationship part of the partnership. There were never any problems.
A sense of humor (humour!) also plays a large part of a successful partnership.
Because I had far more experience, I was the lead writer on Train of Reckoning. I then outlined the sequel, Gordon Unplugged, and started writing that screenplay, turning it over to him to continue the next patch. At this point John is now more experienced, and is becoming every bit the perfectionist that I am (though I am, admittedly, the control freaque of the duo), and has already outlined the third script in the sequel on his own, and is ready to start writing it once the production of Train of Reckoning gets underway.
Meanwhile, we are free to write and create other projects (he just finished a CD of songs for which he wrote the lyrics and sang!), with the understanding that when Train of Reckoning requires our steady attention, we'll both be there.
So that's how it works for us.
I won't mention all the fun we have because we want our producer to think we are *always* working seriously on our projects!
I've already started preproduction work on Train of Reckoning, since I will be directing it.
Jan 21 2006
After coaching my professional ballerina to inspire - breathe in - the joy of life in her performance, I returned to help one of my clients write the eulogy for his father's funeral.
Mind you, I'm no dancer, but I do understand performance, so my ballerina was thrilled with our session - me, too. Before she was just going through the intricate motions. Now she has the freedom to become a full fledged, 3-dimensional character passionately showing us she is thrilled to be alive and in love!
What a difference. We met at a dance studio in North Seattle she rents, where they have a CD player for the music. She's rehearsing a piece to perform in Los Angeles later this month for a celebrity charity event. The head of the International Ballet Company in Bellevue, Washington, choreographed the tantalizing piece.
She was exhausted at the end of the rehearsal - she said she had never been so tired at the end of any rehearsal, ever - and she has performed as Giesel! But she also told me she has never been as happy with a rehearsal outcome as this one, either. Even though I was moving with her, I wasn't tired, I was energized. But then, I wasn't on my tippy toes or kicking legs that go from here to the ceiling, either!
So I felt a little puffed up (OK, and sweaty) after such high praise from this young woman trained at London's Royal Academy of Ballet!
Working with such hard working, disciplined people as ballet dancers is a pleasure - and it is a thrill to be in the company of such an accomplished artist!
Pride turned to humility when I returned from the dance studio to help Chuck with his dad's eulogy, which he delivers tomorrow.
What a fine, wonderful man his dad was. And his dad has every reason to be just as proud to have Chuck for a son. We both shared many laughs and shed even more tears as Chuck took me through the journey of a lifetime living with his dad, "Chuckie." One of his dad's greatest memories was to have an autograph by the heralded boxer, Rocky Marciano: "Keep punching, Chuckie."
That became his motto in life.
I am so incredibly humbled, proud and honored to share the lives of the people I coach.
Keep punching, Chuckie.
Jan 19 2006
I guess the reason is that writing is such an integral part of my life that I take it for granted, and I'm doing considerable research for two screenplays I'm writing as well as articles, columns, books, short stories, morning pages, my journal and other stuff.
I'm one of those writers who loves the feel of computer keys. I look forward to tapping words out several times a day. I average more than two hours a day when I am coaching; several more when I am not coaching.
Because I do so many other things, it has been a challenge to settle on a specific writing schedule, but because I'll be writing the two screenplays straight through I must.
Writing puts me in "the zone," a place I genuinely love being. My friend noted screenwriter Max Adams says that when we are writing seriously we consume as many calories as if we were working out at the gym! I'm not sure my scales would agree, but I certainly do feel like I've been put through the wringer after a long day at the keyboard.
I suggest to all the writers I coach that they take a break every few hours; I have to start doing what I suggest. My pups Oscar and Mistletoe help me take certain breaks, but I find myself losing complete track of time and staying far too long at my computer. As much as I love it, I know it's more important to take periodic breaks - for my work and for my physical well-being.
So I'm working out a schedule for taking breaks so I can get up, move around, practice piano, singing or my guitar - perhaps even leave the studio (ACK!) for a period of time before returning to my keyboard.
The reason I'm writing about this is because so many people tell me they want to write - but they simply don't. As in, they don't even pick up a pen or whatever they would need to put words together.
Seriously, if you want to write, just start writing. About anything. Start with "once upon a time." Tell the truth. Make something up. Keep it short. Once you've finished, give yourself an A+ at the top of the page! Then keep it up. Read the stuff on this website that can help you get better and better!
I know some extremely successful writers, and one thing about them - they write. They write all the time, day after day, without letup and without fail.
Because I also enjoy coaching and directing, my current writing schedule has to be more flexible. In the future, however, when I begin preproduction on my feature Train of Reckoning, followed by directing the film and working through post production, my coaching schedule will be significantly reduced and my focus will be more limited to writing and directing.
Especially because I will be directing at least three more subsequent features once TOR gets underway. I'll be writing more about that process as it begins.
As excited as I am about the shift in my work, it will be a bittersweet change because I absolutely adore the people I coach.
Jan 17 2006
There I was, at the Kennelly Keys music store to buy some sheet music - Chopin's Polonaises - and add a couple of acoustic instruments to my collection.
Here's a hint: "More cowbell! More cowbell!"
That quote is from a famous Christopher Walken sketch from Saturday Night Live in case you haven't seen it.
After finding my music by the "Chop-meister," or the "Chop-man" as Jason the astute clerk referred to him, we chatted about our work. He's also a working musician (jazz), and of course I had to break into my camera coaching riff when he made the mistake of asking me, "What's the biggest mistake people make when they start to act for the camera?"
Well, that discussion (see all the stuff I've written about that in other parts of the website) led into a deeper and more detailed discussion of all sorts of camera acting odds and ends. A man waited patiently beside me; when Jason offered to check him out, he said he wanted to wait - that he was being entertained by our conversation.
Well, one thing led to another - and the person I met turns out to be Erik Esvelt of The Gary Hammon and Erik Esvelt Jazz Improvisation Workshop - and they're playing tomorrow night at a place called Tula's.
Tula's is a top jazz restaurant-nightclub in Seattle's Belltown district. The show starts at 8:30pm. I would not have gone a month ago - but with the passage of a sweeping smoking ban law in Washington State? I'm so there and looking forward to it!
I may also attend one of their performance improvisation workshops, because Erik says they include vocalists. Remember how much trouble I have remembering lyrics? Um, I think I'd do *great* at scat singing. I wonder if that's how scat started? When singers forgot the lyrics.
Nah. I know scat is a bona fide art, craft and talent. BUT - no lyrics!
Jan 15 2006
Days when one of my actors and I go to see photographer Susan Rothschild for headshots. Susan splits her time between Los Angeles and her home in the Great Northwest, so my folks get their headshot appointments early.
Actors are normally left on their own during the headshot process - I think they get far better headshots when they are properly prepared before seeing the photographer.
A couple weeks before the shoot, we create the actor's new personal style and headshot wardrobe. For women it's usually two distinct looks, for guys, three.
They bring all their *casual* clothes. This is defined by who the person actually is .. if their "casual" clothes are more formal than most of us would define casual, so be it because that is the truth of this particular actor. Likewise, if street sloppy is their genuine personality, fine. However, if the actor's normal "casual" look equates to *trailer trash,* time for an upgrade.
From the changing room, they emerge time and again with a different blouse, pair of slacks, skirt, whatever, for me to photograph. At one point, I start asking for them to wear specific items they've modeled together, like, "Please put on the white blouse, red vest and torn jeans.."
We look at the tape of the fit parade and decide on the two/three styles/looks.
Then we take an hour to do nothing but emote (not model) for the camera. Testing all sorts of positions, using walls, bar stools, chairs, just standing, the actor emotes as many emotions as we can squeeze in.
Now, we're ready to see Susan!
We show up, selected styles in hand with a few more just in case Susan thinks we need a little something different or extra. She normally agrees completely with our decisions, but I always like to bring something more just in case we might be missing something she can pick up on.
Susan is a former top model, where she learned her craft - makeup, photography and hair. Her makeup work alone is amazing and visiting celebrities pay her plenty just to do their makeup!
Headshot sessions are more fun than work for the actor. His/her only job is to relax and emote when the time comes.
Makeup takes the longest time - then come the clothes and we head into her studio - where it's light, camera, action!
Susan and I have worked together several years to help my actors get fantastic headshots, so we nearly finish each other's sentences as we work.
Basically I make a fool of myself chatting with my actor, drawing out that spark I know he or she has, while Susan gives other types of directions and instructions that help the actor keep energy up. Properly done, it takes a boat load of energy to do a photo shoot properly, but it doesn't feel like work because we're having such a blast!
Music, laughter, creative input/output, kibbutzing, solving the problems of the world or reviewing current films, it's a great experience for one and all.
Today it was Kristen Hultchur's turn. Kristen has worked with me for about a year, and is ready to send her headshots out to casting directors, directors and producers.
By day, she's a third grade teacher - which means she has a legion of personal experiences and can outwit most anyone who tries to talk her into anything. By night - she's a dedicated actor. She hopes to do both, because she loves teaching and she loves acting. If she had to choose, however, she would pick acting. Hers is mostly a theatrical background. She's got a great commercial look.
So we make the most of her commercial look (meaning you can imagine her doing a lot of commercials!) and she emotes away as Susan snaps her lights and camera for about an hour.
Polaroid black and white snaps give us a good idea of how the photos will look - and they look fantastic. Kristen, Susan and I are very happy campers.
Susan only shoots black and white film.
Perhaps because I'm an experienced director, I prefer black and white headshots. Color headshots are too busy - they have too much extraneous information. I want to know if the person can speak with his/her eyes and what they actually look like.
Most people casting accept black and white and color headshots. Commercial agents favor color digital these days, but if you have a knockout headshot that is black and white, it's still a great introduction to your look, talent and skills. I suggest camera actors have both. And it's easy to digitize black and white photos.
Kristen says the thing she really appreciated about the experience was understanding what to expect, every step of the way, and to feel supported and prepared for this event - one that will play such a large part in her acting career! Congratulations on a successful headshot shoot, Kristen!
Jan 13 2006
Especially if you're a stubborn 86 year-old man who falls into the street in front of our local library, whose head is bleeding from the point of landing, whose glasses, hat, change, book, etc., are strewn everywhere and who tells people to leave him alone, he's OK -- as he clearly can't get up even though his arms and legs are moving -- and keeps ordering everyone who reaches toward him, in a just-this-side-of-frail voice, "Give me a minute! I'm OK!"
Seeing he was conscious, verbal, aware of where he was, what was happening and not bleeding profusely, I stepped in, motioned to three guys to help me lift him up and said, "You're minute is up. You are not OK."
Upright, he demands we unhand him because he's "OK." So the man helping me on his other side starts to walk away as I stuck my arms out in front and in back just in case .. and sure enough, his balance is way off, he nearly takes another header.
I grab him, yell "Get him!" to the man helping me and tell a librarian to call 9-1-1.
The guy says, "No. Don't call. I'm fine."
Me to librarian: "Call 9-1-1."
Apparently I had *that* look in my eyes because the librarian's eyes opened wide and he *ran* to call!
Me: "And you. What's your name?
He gives me his (Name).
Me: My brother and dad are both (same name). How old are you? (86)
As we make it inside, I say, "We need a chair." Presto, another librarian had already put one near the entryway.
The guy refuses to sit! I say, "(Name). Sit. Down. Your head is bleeding. I know how you feel because I've had cancer and *hated* asking for help. But you know what? It was the best lesson I've ever learned. Now sit."
He finally sat down and I could hear him exhale, letting go at least a bit.
I asked for a cold wet paper towel and I dabbed the wound. I saw he also had abrasions on his hands - undoubtedly from trying to break his fall. Dirt smeared his jacket, shirt and pants.
I asked for a cup of water. Typically, he refused to drink and I ordered, "Take a sip."
He sipped. I just wanted to see that he could.
The fire fighters arrived, I gave them the lowdown and they took over. But he gave them the wrong information - like he was OK.
I interrupted him with the right answers while I checked out my books:
Firefighter: Can you walk?
Me: No. His balance is unstable.
I stopped in front of him on my way out, pointing. "You. (Name). Take care of yourself."
He actually broke into a smile. The firefighters had him on oxygen and were testing him for a number of potential problems that could have caused the fall - or been caused by the fall.
I could tell he felt good being taken care of so well. "Will do," he said, continuing to smile. He has a *great* smile!
I added, "And do *everything* these guys tell you to do. None of that I'm OK bunk."
"I'll do that, too," he smiled.
I smiled (first time for me), "Good for you."
As I headed for my car, another librarian asked me for my name and contact information. I gave him my card. "Are you a nurse? Doctor?" someone asked.
"No," I shook my head. "I-" I started to say, "I'm a director." But for some reason I didn't. Instead, "But I do take care of people."
Is everyone else's life rife with episodes like this? I seem to have blog-worth events by the dozen all the time! I'm just grateful I could be there to help and believe that with treatment for whatever's going on with him, he really will be .. OK!
Jan 12 2006
One of my young actresses told me some time ago that she had a humongus crush on an actor with whom she was working.
She: early 20's.
It's the greatest fear of many an actor's partner: that one day the actor/ess will meet someone with show biz bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors - enough to woo the bedazzled actor/ess away from home and hearth.
Sandra Bullock once referred to movie sets as "a dating service," because there are so many single people with similar interests, the days are long and there is a fair amount of time waiting for light setups to chat each other up.
There's another element in the movie set that makes it easy to feel close to co-workers most people don't know about: the camera. Well, that is working with the camera. Because the lenses used for shots closer than above the knees of the actors slightly distort the spacial relationship to everything in the frame, actors must constantly work extremely close together.
That is, they must be physically up against each other, right next to each other or extremely close. It's a big challenge for the beginning actor because no one in the Western World is used to being *that* close to anyone with whom they work, let alone for *that* many hours. Any actor not coming to work with a professional attitude, not used to such a tight proximity can get themselves into at the very least a state of confusion, at the very most, big trouble.
I mean, not only are the people on set already beautiful, they're wearing makeup to make them even more attractive! The hair is high. The costumes are great. The breath is fresh-
He's not sitting around a messy house in his skid-marked jockey shorts, drinking beer, puffing a blunt, farting and scratching himself while he watches football from dawn to dusk.
She's not sitting around a messy house in her old ratty sweats doing her nails, wearing a facial mask, her hair reaching the sky with a clay pack treatment, farting and watching Oprah reruns-
Where was I?
Oh, right. My young actress and her senior crush.
Well, this was not at all a case of the older guy hitting on a younger beautiful woman. Nope. He was well experienced, completely professional and in fact had *no* idea - I'll call her "Martha" - considered him any more than a capable co-worker.
Wait, there's more: my fledgling actress was married. Not exceptionally happily, by the way, and her husband did not support her quest for an acting career.
The actor was married, too, but it didn't make any difference because his eye never budged, let alone wander.
When she told me about this, I advised her that the best thing she could do was talk about it so the "secret" didn't fester and make a mountain out of a molehill. That propinquity can challenge even the strongest will and that it happens quite often, but it's important to understand that the excitement any film set provides kindling to anyone feeling something missing in their lives or primary relationship.
So she and I spoke at length about this several times. I also advised her to speak to a friend not close to her husband or a therapist to get all the feelings out and to address anything missing in her marriage with her husband.
Within a week she reported that her work was very successful and she no longer had any yearning to be closer to her co-star than the outstanding working relationship they had. In fact - as so many of have when we look back on our relationship choices - she wondered what the *hell* she had been thinking!
(Certain elements of this post, based on a true story, have been altered by me to protect the identities of people involved.)
Jan 11 2006
I get a real kick out of enlightening people about the industry, since so few know the reality and especially the attitude necessary to make one's way up the food chain. I enjoy watching faces brighten as I explain what is expected of them and how to do what it takes to succeed. It's a lot of work. And since this is so often success is the business of attrition, it's vital to understand how much dedication and persistence is involved.
Lots of people charge hundreds of dollars for these types of seminars, but I asked that the fee be as low as possible because this is my contribution to the community since I only coach actors one on one - with the exceptions of master classes I hold only for those actors already working with me.
Like the last seminar I taught, one of my actors will assist me. Many thanks to Mike Liu for giving me a hand last summer; January 21 Brittany Quist will help me out. The way Brittany's career is escalating (the Bowflex commercial she is in is airing now), I'm prepared for the folks attending to stampede over me to get her autograph.
So if you're attending, I'll be the woman at the front of the classroom with the broken glasses and big dirty shoe marks on her face ... ;-)
Jan 10 2006
During the first session, one of the participants, a singer/songwriter, broke down, crying. Others said they were close to tears here and there throughout the two hours as well.
This is a group in which we can all feel free to cry - or express any other emotion, for that matter, because all too often our art is stifled with feelings we have been suppressing for, in some cases, most of our lives. Crying is a way to start the release of those feelings, and it's important that we all feel safe when this process of release and letting go begins.
Which is why I start the whole series with a guided meditation that puts everyone in a very safe space, to which they can return whenever they feel frightened, threatened or confused. In some cases, individuals are also seeing counselors/therapists who can help them if there is the sensation of overwhelm. No one was overwhelmed in the group.
This means that our singer/songwriter has started the all important grieving process. When we accept that a major change is taking place in our lives, it means something - in some cases someone - must be left behind. We are leaving what does not serve a healthy relationship with ourselves and others, and accepting new and different ways of dealing with life, all of which affects our art.
It's also important that we congratulate each other for every step of the letting go of the negative crap and welcoming healthy, positive ways of creating. So as we spoke about things to release and what we want to have instead in our lives, the group responded with a resounding, "GOOD JOB!"
All of this resonated powerfully with the singer/songwriter and the rest of the group - all of whom were also encouraged to figure out what makes them feel especially safe so they can visit that place, activity or thought throughout this dynamic process just by mentally clicking on the vision.
We need to hear verbal approval of our creative and artistic efforts. This is significant because there will always be someone - generally among family members and some friends - who will be a nay sayer; who will tell you to forget your dream, to "get real," to make money and not waste your time beginning a career creating something out of nothing!
At the end of the meeting, the singer/songwriter proclaimed she wanted to pull out all the stops and write a GREAT song this coming week. She is ready. The rest of us also announced what we intended to create this week, and in a systematic way, which received everyone's earnest, honest approval!
Jan 9 2006
Powerful, purposeful, persistent people - we were all pretty blown away with how well we all fit together and how excited we are because of this group dynamic. Each of us empowers one another and the group itself creates another level of healing and positive energy.
Everyone has specific and overall goals that we shared - and we begin with the strong sense that it will be a challenging process because we need to deal with whatever has blocked us in the past; that has prevented us from achieving our extreme potential and receiving the very best for what we do and who we are.
This extra effort put out by these artists, each of whom already works in his or her art to some degree, some full time, some part-time, will assist them in both the creative and business sides of their life's work.
Although we're doing a lot of additional exercises and work not included in Julia Cameron's book, I highly suggest anyone - even someone who isn't sure he or she has an "inner artist" - read and heed its guidance and lessons to give your work and your life a brand new kick start!
Jan 8 2006
Most actors are instructed to stare into the other character's eyes while they say their lines, without any natural eye movement reflecting feelings or thoughts. There's a very popular exercise that requires two actors to sit across from each other, look into each other's eyes and guess what the other person is thinking or feeling.
I disagree with this technique because the way we organically communicate is not to worry about how the other person is feeling, but how *we* are feeling. True, we want to respond to the other person, but we listen with filters determined by our personality, experience and family interaction. Then we process what is being said - verbally and nonverbally - through another set of attitudinal filters. Again that attitude is determined by our personality, experience and family interaction. Then when we speak, yet another set of filters kicks in before we open our mouth.
Are we afraid to tell the truth because we believe that truth might upset the other person - whether it actually may or may not upset that person? While we care if the other person would be upset, our process is always more important than the other person's.
How many times have you waited with bated breath, wishing the other person would hurry up and finish what he's saying so you can bust in and get what you want to say off your chest?
When you were waiting, were you staring at the other person wondering what they were feeling and thinking? Were you thinking, "Um hum. I believe you're feeling a little ... on edge and you're thinking ... oh, that you're concerned about ... that itch you haven't been able to cure?"
Or were you thinking, "Would you hurry the hell up and finish what you're saying because I've got to tell you I finally got a date with Charlie!"
Just another CP camera acting theory. But reacting naturally with eye movement illustrating your character's inner reflection looks genuine on camera; it allows your character to tell the camera/audience the truth. And you can't ever lie to the camera - it will love you forever if you tell the character's truth - it will flatten you and chop you up photographically if you try.
Jan 7 2006
Remember, acting is behaving naturally in very unnatural situations! And any film shoot is an unnatural situation. When the close up is shown on screen, we believe that the character is actually in a kitchen. Truthfully it may just be a set - with only half a "kitchen" and a fly wall (a wall that can be removed to accommodate camera angles to be shot behind it), the rest of the area surrounded with lights, the camera and crew, cables and lights all around.
If an actor can't imagine that the part of the room swarming in cables with all those crew people, a big camera and lights beaming brightly is the rest of the kitchen, well she or he won't do well in camera acting. That essential imagination is crucial for camera actors.
So many actors are taught never to look at the camera while they're performing, but all camera actors need to know how to look into a camera and imagine that he or she is speaking to the other character in the scene. That is, imagine - and believe - that the camera is the other character when it's necessary.
Of course if you are speaking to another character who is situated at another angle, you do not look at the camera because the camera is just the voyeur or observer of the scene. But if you are expected to speak to the camera as the other character, you must know how to do this in a comfortable, skillful, completely believable way.
I've worked with actors who are afraid to look at the camera - ever - because someone has yelled at them to NEVER LOOK AT THE CAMERA! Ouch. A little rehab over time usually solves that problem. If you're an acting teacher, please do not ever tell your students to NEVER LOOK AT THE CAMERA. It's wrong and it hurts your actors.
I also don't understand acting teachers who yell at or belittle their students.
I have to do a lot of rehabilitation work with actors who have been chastised so much in classes that they don't feel safe when they're acting. When they don't feel safe, they can't let the character take over their mind and body because they're so busy "protecting" themselves, or "guarding" themselves from another verbal attack.
When actors feel safe? With support and guidance, they can go anywhere their imagination takes them. They are inspired, passionate performers.
Meanwhile, once you get the knack of imagining the camera is another character, you can actually feel the camera's "breath" and even hear its heart beat. Fascinating stuff. I love working with cameras because there is such a deep sense of intimacy with them.
In so many cases the camera is a reflection of the character's soul. I consider the camera an organic part of any film scene, whether voyeur, observer or character.
Jan 6 2006
The Artist's Way is a thoughtful, systematic and spiritual method for you to get in touch with and bring out your inner artist and art if you're searching for them, as well as give a big boost to your life and career as an artist if you are already practicing your art - as a career or as a sideline.
It has helped countless actors, directors, writers, artists, performers, singers, sculptors, you name the art, over the years.
I've led successful TAW groups in the past; I teach them only occasionally - when I believe my life and career are taking a quantum leap so I can share the process with others who have the same goal - to take that quantum leap, but without hurting themselves!
You can follow the book on your own - you don't need to be part of a group to enjoy its benefits. However, the group dynamic brings the addition of the visceral positive energy shared by its members, which makes it a pretty powerful experience.
With their permission, I'll share the stories of process and success over the weeks by the workshop's members. Mine, too!
Jan 5 2006
Incessant surprises might drive most people crazy, but I love it.
Today I was told that a prominent Russian ballerina is moving with her husband to the Seattle area and, surprisingly enough, only speaks .. Russian. She apparently also wants to work with me to transition into camera acting. Note to self: learn a decent amount of Russian before she arrives this summer.
I currently work with another professional ballerina-turning-camera actress who dances and teaches with a local ballet company, and I'm so grateful that her dancing coach - in Europe at the time - found me to work with her, thanks to the internet!
I can understand why the success of Oscar winning South African actress Carlize Theron, who started as a ballerina, gives these dedicated, determined, disciplined dancers hope for another creative profession based deeply in subtext as they "age" into their late 20's.
And trust me, they keep this camera acting coach on her toes!
Jan 4 2006
I do what I love with some pretty terrific people who are either in the process of finding their passion or they already know and want to learn how to pursue it professionally.
I'm counselling someone tomorrow to help them do this very thing; I'm really looking forward to our session. It's like helping someone search for who they really are - almost like finding that joyous, excited someone they left behind somewhere in their past for any number of reasons.
So I counsel people how to find that key - which may have nothing to do with acting - in their life. What lights that fire, that desire to devote themselves to something they yearn to delve into wholeheartedly. No holds barred, pedal to the metal, all systems "go."
The most exhilarating part of this process for me is to see the spark in the eyes of people as their eyes light up, their spine straighten and they inhale a deep breath of inspiration to drive them forward. It takes considerable courage to do this, but usually people who come to me are unhappy enough to want to change the status quo. So they are motivated to dig deep, which is the only way enlightenment will strike.
And of course this is only the beginning because like any significant change, whether for the best or the worst, it means nothing will ever be the same - and that can be frightening. The future is always unknown, but it's of special concern when the future deals with something you can't quite picture fully yet -- you just know the decision to change that you've made is right.
Which is why it's important to deal with the fear, and figure out the steps to take that can lead you to getting where you want to be without hurting yourself or others unnecessarily in the process.
Come to think of it, a lot of actors start working with me at this time as well, deciding to kick up their camera acting careers in the new year.
Jan 3 2006
Jan 1 2006
With all the aspirations, anticipation, resolutions, hope and plans that make it my favorite holiday.
If all goes as expected, 2006 should be a banner year for me. I don't get too excited about much of anything - so I don't go too low, either. But I am actually excited about all that is ahead for me this coming year.
And I'm thrilled to take along all the wonderful people who have contributed to making this year so extraordinary; to find new quality people with whom I can share it as well.
The projects, the people and the possibilities are indeed, worthy of a little pep in my step and big ol' smile on my face.
Perhaps most importantly, I remain cancer-free and my energy has returned with a vengeance. With the help of my medical team and an inspiring personal workout trainer, I'm on an effective program to rid myself of the excess weight I gained during chemo. Breast cancer is the one cancer whose treatment tends to put weight on its patients! Perhaps it's because we're allowed to eat anything we wish as long as we can keep it down. Ben, Jerry and I became very close friends during all those months!
I have to make a wish for our troops - may they *all* be home safely enjoying the holidays with their loved ones by the end of this year.
So to you and yours - may the very best of everything grace your path; may you enjoy perfect health and breathtaking energy, and may you have good reason to do the Snoopy happy dance at least once a day throughout the new year!
Bless us all. cp