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Dec 20 2005
I had to bluff a wee bit of guitar playing on Pretty Paper because I practiced so much my finger tips were *sore.* Ow.
As for remembering the words, I realised that when I only focused on telling the lyrical story of the song, I could remember them! I could visualize everything I was singing about.
Aside from a little flop sweat, I had fun - in fact, you could have served sweet potatos and green bean casserole with all the ham flying around the stage when I sang We Need A Little Christmas. I told the audience I had a costume change to make - and put on my green and blue winter muffler scarf for that special seasonal touch ...
Karen, the (brilliant) pianist who also plays with the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra, was fantastic. While all the other singers quietly made their way to the stage with their songbooks, nodding to her when they were ready to sing their lovely (mostly) more traditional and reverent songs, I bounced onstage, made my "costume change" and said, "Hit it, Karen!" She was right there "selling" the song with me. What a team!
I also had a great time watching and listening to all the other singers. The thing I loved most about the evening is that we were all there for the same reason: we all love to sing. We also want to improve our skills and develop our talents just because it's something we love to do.
The acoustics in the church where we sang were phenomenal; better than singing in the shower.
I now look forward to a "command" performance for my parents when I visit them in their Oregon retirement home for the Christmas holidays. And I promised my coach I'd sing in the next recital soon. The experience will do me good.
Meanwhile, I'm very excited for all the people I'm coaching; 2006 should be a very special year for all of us and a genuine breakout year for some. I'm blessed to work with such talented, good hearted people who are motivated, hard workers.
To you and yours - may this be the very best, most pleasantly memorable holiday season ever for you - whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or Festivus (for Jerry Seinfeld fans). May the coming year be the most rewarding, successful, happy and exciting ever for you.
Such is the case this coming Sunday, when I'm singing in a Christmas recital with a dozen other singers who study with Nedra Gaskill. Apparently the church in which we are singing has remarkable acoustics.
I have to admit, while I burst into song at least a dozen times a day without giving it a second thought, the idea of singing once again for the public - which I've not done in many years - makes me nervous.
See, I was a professional singer millennia ago (as I recall, I had to transfer from one stage coach because the horses were worn out from the first leg of the trek to the theater or saloon where I sang). I should say I sang professionally. That means I got paid for it, transportation was provided, we were interviewed by local media where we appeared, yadda yadda yadda.
Actually, I was "discovered" singing on the steps of some building or other like a library, entertaining myself singing and playing my guitar. Someone in a position to do it pronounced me a great singer, assembled a group of musicians and entertainers and put us on the road.
Mind you, I had never taken a single singing lesson and I am a self-taught guitar player, so while I love the feeling of singing, I had no idea what the hell I was doing as we traveled from one weather zone to the next. Namely, that guitar strings streeeeeeeech in warm weather (as do our vocal cords), and shrink in cool weather. This means one has to re-tune the guitars a bazillion times as one moves from one zone to the next.
When I started, I simply trusted that if the guitar sounded swell the night before in New York, it would sound just as good the next night in Iceland.
Yes, Iceland. The tour took us to many unheralded stops along the way. Not that Iceland is unheralded. If you live in Iceland, of course you know it is heralded. Cold and heralded.
So imagine my surprise when I strummed my Sears (bought on sale) guitar that night when the strings were tighter than Joan Rivers' face. Mercifully, real musicians also backed me so I could fake playing and continue singing.
My real problem was that I could never remember lyrics. I had to sing several songs from several genres - country, jazz, folk, pop, whatever - so lots of the songs had a familiar ring but the words were new to me or they-
No, face it. I just couldn't remember them.
But having that ingrained "the show must go on" side of the business in my being from my history of performing in plays, reviews, MC'ing and doing stand-up comedy, I just sang whatever popped into my admittedly addled mind. I'd simply say whatever my stream of consciousness came up with.
I'd realize that I was heading down the wrong lyrical road when members of the audience would, confused, turn to one another, wondering if they actually heard what they thought they heard. The unrelated to the song words I sang.
Fortunately for audiences everywhere, I've never wanted to become a career singer. For one thing I don't like to be on the road all the time. For another, I'm not sure audiences would sit through, "I get too hungry for dinner at eight/I love those dinners, especially steak/I never swallow whatever I ate/That's why the lady is a tramp."
Now, I've rehearsed the two songs I'm singing plenty - but every now and then I suffer from word slippage. Lyricus interruptus. At least I'm training myself not to rely on my stream of conscious thoughts to replace the lyrics.
I'll be accompanied by a pianist for "We Need A Little Christmas," which I can ham up shamelessly, and I'm accompanying myself on the guitar for "Pretty Paper." Talk about a range!
The rest of this week, I'm trying to put all those early public singing experiences to rest so I can relax and have a great time Sunday just singing - which is something I love to do.
And I'm arriving early to make sure I tune my guitar properly for whatever the weather might be.
A couple weeks ago I stopped at the local car wash connected to the gas station just a block away from my house. A young white man, early 20's, was drying my car with rags as I searched my pockets for a tip. The only money I had was a $10 bill, and I'm not in the demographic that can afford such a large tip, so I asked the guy if he had change for a $10 bill.
He reacted so strongly with his eyes .. wanting badly to have change, but didn't. He showed so many emotions in such a short period of time without saying a word - trying to solve the problem that in the moment was unsolvable - and we both realized the tip wouldn't happen that day.
Again I could read the disappointment in his eyes.
So I went back today, this time with a good tip and a business card. I told him if he is ever interested in seriously pursuing acting for the camera to give me a call.
He gave me another strong reaction. One of sheer delight. In fact, he used to be interested in pursuing acting. He even has some older headshots and had previously been involved with some local classes and an agent, but didn't find them effective. So he quit acting. I don't know how long ago that was.
I assured him I wasn't trying to pick him up, that I'm the real deal, to check out my website and to contact me if he ever gets serious about his acting again.
We shook hands and I left - without even asking his name. As I walked away I heard him happily shout at his fellow car washers how excited he was about what just happened.
I hope he does contact me - the kid has a real natural talent - and gorgeous eyes!
I told her the answer is simple. Simple but not easy.
It's a sense of self.
Who you are, what you want, why you're on the planet, your goals, your dreams, your background, your personal foundation. How you see the world. How you solve problems. How you experience life.
You'd think that a successful actor needs to lose that sense of self in order to become characters who don't behave anything like her actual personality.
Well you have to start with that sense of self in order to create different personality qualities to characters that are totally unrelated to who you actually are.
Sadly, I've seen too many aspiring actors lose themselves - their sense of self - when they get so wrapped up in trying to "make it" they forget the basics, which are first, a sense of self, and second, the craft. And they become frustrated and bitter when they don't get work because they believe they're doing everything they're "supposed" to.
Like get certain types of headshots - that show them as uber-sexual as they've been advised, or they try to have the same hair styles and length that is au currant. Or attend all the same parties. It's like playing "keeping up with the Jones's" in actorville, rather than just being yourself and working on the craft.
Interestingly, if you pay attention to actors who have become very successful, you will realize they have a strong sense of self. They have not let anyone - an acting school, a coach, other actors, agents or managers - take that from them. And believe me, plenty of people try.
More, they didn't achieve success by looking like everyone else. They stood out as looking like .. well, themselves.
There are many very successful actors whose careers you can emulate with real pride. George Clooney is someone I admire. He spoke about his early - unsuccessful - acting career on a chat show. He did everything "everyone" told him; he worked just to work whenever he could get work. Then came E.R. He took control of his acting career and craft. He wanted that role and did everything he had to in order to land it. He had a real and firm goal for his work. He's been in charge of his career/destiny since, hooking up with writer/director Steven Soderberg to create some memorable and increasingly important cinema.
Charlize Theron, Whoopi Goldberg, Reese Witherspoon, Renee Zellwegger, Angela Bassett, Aisha Tyler, Sandra Bullock, Kate Winslet, Phylicia Rashad, Laura Linney, S. Epatha Merkerson, Susan Surandon, are just a few of the women who have done the same. It all started when they decided to maintain their sense of self.
This is my wish for every actor I coach.
Since so many cop shows and films get too much wrong regarding character development, I thought I'd have to work really hard to have the script be accurate *and* entertaining. As it is, by telling it the way it really is, I think audiences will find it more entertaining because it will be different from what they've seen before on screen.
My representative, Vinca Jarrett, believes we can follow the feature film with a TV series because the lead character is so strong and such a unique screen presence. I'm not sure how we'll deal with that because I don't want to work in TV and I have four feature projects already in the works, including Train of Reckoning.
I enjoy writing. I write every day for at least two hours, but more when I'm writing on a project like a screenplay or book. Despite the agony of a million or so rewrites, I do enjoy the process. Characters, plots, visual interpretations, dialogue, action, whatever. I keep reminding myself of what Max Adams - a noted and successful screenwriter in Hollywood - says: Write like God. That is, understand that you are in control of all those things and need to make the most and best of that!
She works with me as my assistant when she's home for long periods of time; it would be embarrassing to admit just how much fun we have working together so I won't mention it. My little white Pomeranian Missy worships her and the feeling is mutual, so I'm not the only one who looks forward to Rachel's trips home! She's coming back for more than two weeks next month during the holidays, so she'll be back soon.
Another actor/friend I spent many hours with, J, lives here, so we get together socially regularly and our relationship becomes more rewarding for both of us as it becomes more equal - that is, he doesn't see me so much as a towering teacher but as a collaborator. He's worked with me for several years. The changes he has experienced in his craft and his life over those years have been extremely impressive. He's in *fantastic* shape ... I try not to notice all the women drooling when we go on long walks ... so he's going to help me with my physical fitness because I'm dedicating myself to total fitness in the new year, now that I've kicked cancer to the curb and my energy is returning!
Nov 22 - Career Killer
Instead of training themselves to read scripts properly, they rely on others to advise them.
Scripts need to be read for quality, to understand how a bad director can sabotage it or a good director can bring it to a beautiful life; how a too low budget can create problems or a too high budget can wreck the screenplay's sensibility.
One long time talent manager told E! Entertainment Television that when actors are approached by pals who want them to perform in their project without reading the script first usually suffer the consequences of a bad film - costing you time, money and reputation.
Agents can also play a role (so to speak). Agents who are only looking out for the percentage they get from your bottom line may line up some projects that pay a small fortune - but if they don't reflect well on you as a performer, your value decreases as these bombs go off.
There was a reality show on cable television in the US recently that featured five hopeful actors who went through a series of challenges to see who would win representation by a prestigious talent agency. Two agents from the agency followed the actors from audition to audition and had one very clear message: they only wanted to consider someone who would "make money for us NOW."
Which means they want to make money from what you can do now, not in the future.
All too often that means a limited time for success. You may fit a type "they" are looking for NOW. That "they" won't be next year.
Learn to read scripts and read hundreds of them - all genres, good and bad.
Actors should be reading at least part of a script every day. Even if it's just a couple lines of dialogue. Free quality scripts are available to download from http://screentalk.biz - check out the "scripts" section, where more than 200 are listed.
Then go to the "links" icon to check out the many other places that feature dozens of screenplays that can be downloaded for free.
Free registration is required - don't let that deter you.
One of the best scripts I recommend reading for people relatively new to the industry is Notting Hill by Richard Curtis. Terrific writing, and a script that was shot pretty faithfully to the written word.
Nov 21 - Diversity
One dictionary defines diversity as "The fact or quality of being diverse; difference. Variety." Another: "Noticeable heterogeneity. Or the condition or result of being changed."
Diversity in the workplace is supposed to mean that the company attempts to have employees from a variety of backgrounds and races, and help is supposed to be available to assist these "diverse" populations.
I've seen well-intended programs fail because everyone comes to the table with the idea that everyone is DIFFERENT. DIVERSE. Especially that new "special" hire.
Certain differences, especially differences in race and some disabilities can be experienced as being downright scary. Why? Generally because there is an ignorance about that other race - whether the race of the individual is familiar in the community, or type of disability - whether it's blindness or a mental disability.
If people are frightened because they are told everyone else is so different, how can everyone come together with a sense of common cause? Of community?
It may move the established group - generally white and male - out of its comfort zone, but if it's done with an emphasis on differences it can leave everyone involved feeling estranged and distanced.
Many places that have attempted to create a more diverse employee base have seen the people from the groups considered "diverse" leave those jobs after a relatively short period of time.
The turnover rate can be downright frustrating. I mean after all, look at all the money and energy employers have invested in making the place DIVERSE! And in too many cases, it just doesn't work because the "most diverse" people don't feel like they belong, don't experience genuine acceptance and don't believe that their view of the world is understood.
It's all in perception. And generally the perception is that of the people who have the most money and power making decisions that affect the culture, such as news media, television entertainment and education and films.
In films, it usually means the lead characters and most cast members are white; the story is generally experienced as entertaining by a group of people who share the same perceptions of the world as the decision makers who decide that the film they're funding should be paid for and made. Like a food fight scene in a film about a bunch of college fraternity brothers to an audience that shares the perception food fights are hysterical? Funny. To people who don't have enough to eat, or who believe food is valuable, the thought of wasting nutrition that could feed a small village? Not funny.
SAG and AFTRA - the unions that represent film and television actors - as well as the WGA (writers) and DGA (directors) have created programs to assist those who have been excluded in the name of diversity. Progress has been made, but I think everyone would agree it's slow.
Back on point: I don't like the word diversity because I don't think it defines the essence or goals of what most people want. And that is: INCLUSION.
Forget diversity. It implies division. Talk about inclusion. That implies interaction. We just need to learn each other's language.
We're all different, but we want to be included. We want to feel valued; we want to be heard and included.
I don't want my work to be diversified, I want it to be inclusive - including all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Not to make a point or for any political reason - but just because that's the way the world really is. True, film is not the "real world," but that doesn't mean that certain groups, values, cultures or individuals should systematically be overlooked, misrepresented, discounted or not represented at all.
Think of all the great films you've seen that are inclusive. That is, you're nothing like the main characters, but because of the writing, direction and acting, you were embraced by what you experienced onscreen?
I enjoy international films when they use the universal language of film to include the viewer, to draw us in, rather than make us feel like we're outsiders trying to figure out what they're trying to show us or say. The list of films that qualify as great - in part because they draw us in so completely no matter the language, no matter the vast differences between the characters and their audiences - is quite long.
Unfortunately for US audiences, those films are all too often relegated to art house theaters if they are ever shown in the US at all.
Roger Ebert is a great voice for these inclusive films that don't get studio advertising money so you may not hear about them. He is undoubtedly the best friend great under-reported and independent films have. His website is well worth your time if you enjoy a hot pop film like Harry Potter, a fine serious film like Syriana or an impressive independent film he has discovered.
One thing about inclusion. It requires an invitation. If you are a writer, actor or other artist, is your work inclusive or exclusive? What are you doing to expand your art and craft to include an awareness of others you previously overlooked? Personally, whom are you inviting into your world to make it inclusive? What are you learning about the people you'd like to include in your life? It's not just educational or expansive, it's exciting!
I took time to have fun, too - watching some great college football games and eat "football food!"
And to practice my French. I have several friends who speak French, some of whom live in France. Contrary to what many in the US may believe, all the French people I know are quite wonderful, kind, sweet, polite and very smart. They also get a *lot* of vacation time!
I'm one of those people who does not understand the concept of "bored." I don't recall ever being bored. There are always interesting things to do or learn or just be with. Like meditation, which I do twice a day.
I don't drink, drug, smoke cigarettes or drink much caffeine. I did drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes many years ago, but I'm much happier without them. My weakness is sugar - alas, I have a real carb/sweet tooth.
So that's something more about me - I'm told that people who read blogs like to know something about the person who writes them.
I think the biggest something about me is that I live a purpose-driven life. I'm not at all religious, but I am spiritual and enjoy helping so many people realize their dreams. To become the person they want; to do the work they wish. Most people say they want to do things - like write a book or screenplay or be an actor - but they are not willing to do what it takes to manifest that wish. People don't need a wish to become a writer, actor or artist, but a *desire.* A burning desire at that.
Working with people one on one is very challenging - because each person is so different and requires a unique approach to do the work. It's especially challenging for the actor or writer as well because there is not a group of people to hide behind if he or she doesn't feel like working hard a particular session as there is in a classroom - and if someone shows up unprepared or without completing their lab work, it hurts. It hurts the session itself but most of all it hurts the person here for coaching. They've lost a valuable session.
But the work habits gained are priceless. And that is what's needed for folks to succeed. I'm all about folks working and succeeding.
There's also a lot of work on the phenomenon of success. Anyone who doesn't feel worthy of success or recognition will, at some time in their career, self-destruct. Whether through the use of drugs, alcohol, sex or some other addiction; relationship or working problems that are created -- the person psychologically not prepared for success and great stuff in their lives will find some way to implode.
Well known people experience this and we read about it in the tabloids; but it happens even more frequently for people who are just starting to make their way up the food chain. "One hit wonders" are a cliche in the film business. That is, they do something worthy of praise and recognition and are suddenly not heard from again; are not cast or hired again.
As a coach, all I can do is try to be a good role model and share what I know. It's up to the coachee to take or leave what is offered. I always hope that people I coach will continue on their way up the ladder of more and better and well paid work by establishing great work habits and becoming totally reliable and consistently excellent in their performances.
All the actors who come here are always surprised how much work it is to prepare for working for the camera. Most believe that basically all you have to do is show up.
In part, that's because the actors interviewed about their work are pretty cavalier about their work when they appear on talk shows. In many cases it's because the chat show appearance happens many months .. in some cases more than a year or two .. from the time the film was shot.
Another reason is that highly esteemed actors like Sir Anthony Hopkins, when asked what he does to make his performances so outstanding, reply, "I just show up."
Uh-huh. Right. As shown in a documentary about Hopkins and his work, he does "just show up," but after an intense ritual that includes reading his script a minimum of 100 times; learning everyone else's lines as well as his own; he also draws a circle around the name of his character on a large sheet of paper and connects that character to every other character in the screenplay. If someone - even a waiter - does not seem to be directly connected in some way to the character, he questions the director. He wants to know why the unconnected character is in the film at all.
In most cases, when the director realizes there is no connection, the character is cut from the script. Or the script is revamped in such a way to create that connection.
More, good film actors like Michael Caine, as experienced and knowledgeable as they are, work out every move they'll make in the scenes they will be shooting the next day on the night before the shoot. Holding props, walking, sitting, whatever they'll be doing in the scenes, they're all worked out the night before the scenes are shot so they show up bright and early completely prepared.
Then they can honestly say they "just show up" for work. Right. Completely prepared to do the work well and quickly - and when movements are worked out by the actor, he or she is very easily directed because the emotional subtext of the scene doesn't change. Lines may change. The types of movement required may change and it's no problem for the actor because what they're really focusing on is that they move, period, and they are physically engrossed in the character as well as emotionally and psychologically.
It's a blast for me to help actors work through their scenes before the shoot. The shoot goes so much more smoothly and quickly when all you have to focus on is your character and subtext because everything else is taken care of. This is when magic happens, IMO, because the actor is so full of confidence and the character, she or he takes risks they might not take if they weren't prepared so well.
I think about this stuff all the time. I'm wacky that way.
My life is extremely simple, but no two days are the same and there's no such thing as a typical schedule.
Getting up early is part of The Life - in order to get everything done by the end of the day.
Some days I'm coaching actors from dawn to dusk; other days are devoted to research and writing; other days are a mix of writing and coaching speakers, a business leader, attorneys, TV news and talk show experts and guests or shooting actors' audition tapes for casting directors in England, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver and other places.
Still other days I'm either accompanying my actors to their headshot sessions with local photographers or taking digital photos of them myself for their websites as well as attending concerts, film screenings, Northwest Screenwriter's Guild - http://nwsg.org - meetings, filmmaking seminars in Seattle and Portland, hanging out with friends and family, walking around Green Lake with my dog Oscar, working out at the gym and keeping my two dogs and cat happy.
The internet plays a huge role in my work and personal life! I belong to a professional screenwriters' group online as well as an international community of fascinating and widely diverse individuals (age, race, work, etc) from every walk of life on a private website. It is truly amazing how closely knit people become - in many ways another family - without ever having met each other face to face.
Email is my lifeline to many friends, family and working colleagues who are located in England, New York, Los Angeles, Oregon, Canada, South America as well as other states and nations. When I work late, telephone calls in the middle of the night would probably not be as well received as a cheerful email first thing in the morning!
For fun, I study voice with vocal coach Nedra Gaskill and take piano lessons with Michael Maricle.
I help people with their pets for my voluntary contribution to humankind through my http://petcalmer.com website.
Since I live in a woodsy place, I have left the gardening up to God.
Derrick Williams is the executive producer of the feature I wrote with my best friend and writing partner John Beresford, and will direct: Train of Reckoning. Stay tuned for updates. Soon I'll be flying to Los Angeles to sign contracts when the project gets underway.
Two subsequent feature films will follow Train of Reckoning. The series is a trilogy, although each script/story can also stand on its own.
I'm thrilled with the new feature I'm writing - Everyday Evil. I'm doing a ton of research and background on it. It will feature a most original and genuine woman cop in the lead. She works in a crimes against children unit, but this is no SVU and this character is much more of an iconoclast than any other female cop you've ever seen on the screen. I'm definitely looking forward to directing this film!
Well, that's just a peek into my existence; I'm not sure what I'll write about in the future - I'm loaded with opinions, but I'll restrict the subjects to those associated with acting and the industry.
I'm very fortunate to be able to do what I love. But as anyone who pursues what they love to do as a career can tell you, it takes a remarkable amount of work; priorities that are singular and focused, along with a gotta do it drive that few possess. It also requires a sense of the absurd when finances enter the picture. Especially if you believe, as I do, that a sterling reputation and excellent quality of work are the real bottom line. It takes enormous dedication, a belief in yourself, great work habits and a never give up attitude.
And all the people who help along the way cannot ever be forgotten - not to mention those people who support and believe in you!
I'm happiest when I confine myself to writing and working in my studio, whether by myself or with my actors and other coachees. So I have to push myself to get out to hob and knob and market this and that as I should - but I'm getting better about that!
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