essays, thoughts and stuff
It's simply this:
No matter how much physical pain I experienced, moment after moment, day after day (and sometimes continue to) - I was never unhappy.
--by colleen patrick
1) Establish your body's personal and professional boundaries.
Nudity is becoming more and more common in film and video projects. But you must decide under what circumstances, if any, you are willing to take it all off.
Denzel Washington, despite pleas, pressure and the promise of major BO, won't do it.
Kate Winslet, a modest woman in real life, has lost more clothes than airline luggage handlers portraying decidedly immodest characters.
Both are brilliant actors, and each has sound reasons for making their personal/professional decisions.
You must decide if the quality of the project or script, working with a specific director or other cast members, the character you'll portray, or just getting a gig is the nudity/sex deal maker or breaker for you.
You are in charge of your body and your career. Don't forget it.
2) Get it on paper
You'd be astonished at how many director/producers insist there will be no nudity in the role when they audition and hire actors, then "change their mind" once the shoot is under way.
If you don't have some sort of clear agreement with them in writing, it can cause problems for the actor who feels they "must" do what a director tells them to do.
The best thing to do is to get an informal letter of agreement written by you or them, signed and dated by both parties that clearly states there will be no nudity demanded in the role. Or if there is nudity, how it will be represented.
Too many actors feel coerced to do nudity after the shoot is already underway and they understand how expensive it would be to start over with another actor.
If you agreed to do nudity and decide not to, that is another problem. But you may choose to withdraw if suddenly a sweet lovemaking scene turns into a violent rape. Again, this has to be made clear in a written agreement to protect both parties. If someone resents this or balks at it, chances are you wouldn't want to work with them anyway.
Love/sex scenes should always be choreographed, just as fight scenes should always be choreographed. Making actors work it out for themselves is bogus. Filmmaking is based on how things are framed, movement, contrasts of light, composition, etc.
3) Preparation for love/sex/nude scenes is the same as any other scene.
4) If your character needs some physical assistance to portray what s/he is thinking and feeling, you can:
One way to protect yourself is to work with a protective coach. Good coaches know too many people in the industry and don't tolerate the abuse or harassment of their actors.
On the set, there is protective wear for women and men to avoid direct contact. SAG, AFTRA and common sense want actors to avoid spreading disease.
There is no need for an actor to make genital contact; it is called acting
As for photographing what should not be captured: Angelina Jolie actually used a large tattoo on her lower abdomen to assure cameras did not go lower.
Despite a crotch scene that made her a star, Sharon Stone still felt betrayed by the director who took it without her advice, knowledge or consent.
I've directed scenes with women and men who were - or appeared to be - nude. Crews were respectful, the actors wore robes until shooting started and the nudity was not at all gratuitous. The actors and I discussed and rehearsed the scenes so when shooting started, the time on the set without clothes was minimal.
Some actors have absolutely no qualms about dropping trou - and I work with them the same way.
Kissing scenes should also be discussed - making sure actors use breath spray out of consideration for their scene partner, and explaining where cameras will be located to ensure the most effective angles.
Again, spreading diseases is a real concern for all actors and should be respected.
Michael Caine advises all male actors to always be exceptionally professional with women sharing love/kissing/sex scenes and to never take advantage of the situation.
Women and men should never put up with sexually inappropriate behavior from another actor. Report them - to the director and most assuredly to others who might be on the receiving end of such unprofessional and demeaning behavior.
One now has-been actor in an American prime time TV soap opera (no longer on the air) used to "tongue" actresses in his kissing scenes. One woman pleaded not to have any more scenes with the guy.
I would never suggest that women on the receiving end of such abuse sabotage another actor, but if the powers that be don't take care of a weasel like this, then perhaps a discreet action of prevention might help. For example, he would not look good pleading to the director that must stop working for the day because he is in too much pain - because his kissing scene partner put a red-hot chili pepper in his mouth when he tried to tongue her.
6) NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER get sexually involved with someone with whom your character is sexually involved during a shoot.
After the shoot is over? Go for it like prairie dogs.
When actors become sexually involved during a shoot, the sexual tension that is supposed to exist between the characters disappears.
The set becomes a soap opera. One day they're humping like lab rats, the next they hate each other and are fighting like kangaroo boxers. It's a nightmare. It's also expensive, costing us time and therefore money. This used to be tolerated when budgets were lavish. No more. It can actually cost careers now, just as using drugs during a shoot will.
Worst of all for the performer - it wrecks any semblance of acting technique or skill.
When you mix your personal life with your character's life, you lose your sense of character and muddy your own psychological waters. In short, if you're thinking sexual thoughts as YOU, you're out of character. We need you to be in character 100% of the time the cameras roll.
It's very difficult to have your character sexually relate to someone else when your persona is ruling the situation.
Your character does not love, behave, have sex, think or feel the way you do. Free your character to be who she or he genuinely is - not a reflection of you.
If you're in this conundrum, you are denying the character his or her own soul, which means that you are never completely free to let the character go - setting the character free to be completely who he or she is.
Try as you may, you cannot separate yourself from the character and the project is harmed.
I have to add that people who get sexually involved with anyone - crew or cast - during a shoot are extremely unprofessional. The director should set the tone with everyone, making it clear that this will not be permitted during the shoot.
As I say, after? Go for it like spider monkeys.
On set affairs are distracting, energy draining, infuriating for co-workers who remain professional, and create a hostile work environment - giving the director one more headache he or she does not need.
But if the director sets the tone and the rules from the getgo, it should not be a problem.
7) Know camera-acting techniques
Most actors find filming sex scenes very frustrating. They're contorted to appear to do something they're not in real life, they take a long time to shoot because lights have to be adjusted for every angle change - all the while the actor must be in character, reeking of subtext - suspended in splendor. If you're working and don't understand these things, it's an even less pleasant experience.
Know how to cheat for the camera - let the camera see your face and eyes to let the audience know how you're responding - how you feel and what you're thinking.
Be aware of lighting, angles, framing - all the while your character must "ignore" these things that are blatantly inches away.
8) Most importantly, after keeping all these things in mind, just get out there and have fun!!
--by colleen patrick
As many of you know, my concern for the welfare of kids training and working in the industry runs deep.
I'm suggesting to all my industry colleagues that we request background checks on ourselves and coworkers, posting the results prominently in our studios and offices to show that we are more concerned with the safety and welfare of children with whom we work than exploiting them.
I'm referring to teachers, agents, casting directors, producers, directors, anyone who deals with kids at any level of the industry.
I coach very few youngsters; most of my practice is with adults.
But because I believe this is such an important issue, today I had the Washington State Patrol conduct a background check on me; I've printed the certificate declaring their findings - an expected clean background - and am posting it prominently in my studio.
This letter is not just to let you know I consider this matter extremely important, but to inform my colleagues and parents that the process is simple, inexpensive, and can even be conducted online.
Washington State residents can go to: https://watch.wsp.wa.gov/; the procedure is relatively fast and costs only $10.00 per person, except if you are a member of a nonprofit organization - in which case there is no cost. People from other states can contact their own state patrol website.
I believe it's important for us to take every precaution to assure the safety of kids training and working in the industry, and this is an inexpensive, important way to show we're doing our share. That we care.
There is also information and a poll on this subject listed in the "industry professionals" section of http://actorsnw.com, which is open only to industry professionals, not the general public.
Likewise, parents wanting to check out people who will be training or working with their kids can enter their names on their state patrol's website to check out anyone's background.
There's no search into people's finances, traffic tickets, tax issues, participating in protest marches or anything like that. It's strictly a criminal convictions investigation regarding offenses of children/adult abuses.
Myself, I do not consider it an "intrusion" or invasion of my privacy for people to run a background check. I would not be offended in the least if a parent checked me out - or anyone else with whom their kids work. I wish more parents would check us out.
I hope everyone who works with kids or whose employees work with kids joins in this effort to take one more small, fast and inexpensive step to protect our kids - industry professionals, casts, crews, educators, parents and guardians.
Yours for a safer world for our children,
"The moment we find something to live for, we've found something for which we'd also be willing to die."
- Colleen Patrick
--by colleen patrick
Most mornings my friend Joann, my Pomeranian Oscar and I, along with a good chunk of Seattle's population, walk around Green Lake.
It's a great way to start the day.
Oscar loves the exercise - three miles is a stretch for a little six-pound dog - and it gives Joann and me a chance to catch up with all that's transpired the past 23 hours. In detail. We talk about how we REALLY feel about this person, that situation, our triumphs and defeats, the garage that ripped me off and general lunacy in the world.
With one caveat. I'm an on-camera acting coach and I never share the personal things my actors talk about with anyone.
We're not alone. Everyone walking with a partner dishes, disses, chats, complains, moans, weeps, brags and, most importantly, confesses.
Come to think of it, there have been a couple of people walking alone who have done the same, but I'm not sure they were aware no one was with them.
Eat your heart out, soap operas. Green Lake is a real ratings getter, and long after you've been cancelled, the Lake will still be drawing a crowd.
Although we share all the highs, lows, failures, successes and humiliating stories of the day, I'm sorry to say that our lives are not high drama fodder for juicy tabloid tidbits. But wow. If you listen to what everyone ELSE is talking about, you've got yourself a novel of the steamy variety.
Office politics - someone is going to be fired, someone else should be but won't be, "at least until I show my report to-" Damn! Why did he have to walk so fast!
That is a problem with people walking in the opposite direction. All you get is bits and pieces. Tantalizing, but tiny.
Relationships - affairs, problems, the other woman/man, being the other woman/man, travails, triumphs, romantic, salacious and rancorous details - they're all discussed openly and with an assumption of confidentiality.
That's an odd assumption, since everyone speaks at a normal volume, easily heard by anyone in the near vicinity.
Again, the main gossip listening drawback is that the walk is aerobic. We move too quickly to hear enough of the scintillating, suggestive conversations to get the complete picture. But it's fun to make up the missing details. Being writers, it's a special challenge.
All is not glitz, glamour and gossip, however. For some reason, boring people tend to move slowly. These folks talk about breast pumps, allergies, blisters, hangnails, and other who cares stuff. We try to walk around them quickly, but we still hear more than we'd like to. For the old black guy in the dark blue sweatsuit, hemmerrhoidal details fall into the TMI category - Too Much Information.
Worse, people who smoke on the trail also take their time. I think they have the notion that just because they're outside the smoke dissipates and somehow becomes harmless. Wrong. It's just as misery making for the rest of us as it would be inside a large room unless there is a near gale force wind. And why would people find the need to smoke as they walk to improve their health? Wouldn't this sort of cancel each other out?
Why can't just the zany, dramatic, wacky sinners drag their feet?
It's fun to guess what people do for a living. And whether their walking partners are pals, business partners, coworkers, or closer. You can always tell the nonprofits from the private sector walkers. The nonprofits are much more animated and social; the privates have that searing, ultra focused gaze.
Older people holding hands making their way around the lake always make me smile. I know some people who snidely criticize couples who wear identical outfits. But those aloof naysayers also tend to remain single. The couple that wears together pairs together.
With so much inside information being traded, I wondered if private detectives use those listening devices that can hear conversations from long distances here. Sitting in their cars, pointing a shotgun microphone, following a cheating spouse talking to an illicit amour as they jog around the paved path. I doubt it. With the design of the lake, it would be difficult. They'd have to chase them, packing all that gear, dashing behind every tree along the way, hiding as they forge their spying trail like Wile E. Coyote.
Then one day it hit me. I thought of all the intimate, personal, confidential information I've exchanged with so many people walking around that lake over the years. I was relieved that no one could hear more of our conversations than we could hear of theirs - EXCEPT The Lake!
The imagination boggles when I think of The Lake That Hears All And Never Sleeps. For as long as it's been in existence, The Lake has heard walkers, joggers, boaters, sunbathers, skaters, swimmers and cyclists, local and tourist, all those years. The great and near great.
I thought, we're so busy buzzing, crying, whining, pissing and moaning with one another that we fail to listen to the soul that has lived longer and has more wisdom than any of us making our way around the shorter inside or longer outer path.
We might make better decisions if we simply say what's on our mind, then listen for a response from the Lake. Here's what I think Mother Lake would have responded if people had taken the time or trouble to hear what she had to say over the years:
"Norm, you're Seattle's police chief. Trust me, the WTO is a big deal! You better prepare everyone."
(He didn't listen to the lake. Mayhem prevailed but he didn't. Buh-bah.)
"Paul, you're Seattle's mayor. Trust me, the WTO is a big deal! You better have Norm prepare everyone."
(He didn't listen to the lake. Mayhem prevailed but he didn't. Buh-bah.)
"A coffee shop? Selling stocks? Buy!"
(OK, I didn't listen to the lake on this one. Starbucks was just this yuppie little corner coffee shop in Seattle ... who knew?)
"Bill, listen to the Secret Service. Watch the lap dances. And keep the zipper up."
(Clinton did listen to the lake about the lap dances. Unfortunately, not the zipper part.)
"I'm telling you, even Microsoft isn't immune from karma..."
(After years of consternation with the Justice Department, Bill Gates now listens to the lake.)
"Elvis ... the donuts..."
"Colleen ... the donuts..."
(Again ... too late.)
-- by colleen patrick
That means I make stuff up.
I create despicable worlds I would never step foot in as well as places that operate the way I wish the world would.
They're not real. They're fabricated. Just like the people who live in them.
The part that is real, the reflection of the true me that shines through my writing is my disdain for people who abuse power. That and the conviction that we manifest who we believe we are.
I have fun making the lives of my (invented) characters miserable as well as showing them a way to get out of an (imagined) impossible situation.
Letting the (make believe) villain be the master of his own destruction.
To do this well, this manifesting on paper what we envision in our minds, is very hard work.
Unfortunately, many of the people who should be most aware of what we do and how difficult it is appear to be the most oblivious.
True story: A producer calls a screenwriter. He's all, Wow this is really hot. She's all, I bet a deal is the next thing out of his mouth. Then he says he loves the scene with the bizarre kidnap in a totally unexpected place.
"That must have happened to you, huh?"
Well, no, it didn't.
He doesn't believe her. "It must have happened to you."
She repeats: no. More than once.
Finally, in disbelief, he says, "You mean you made it all UP?"
It's what we do, although I can't exactly describe how we do it.
Long periods of solitude and isolation probably make us a little loony. That's a good start. I know one writer who dresses her dogs for entertainment.
That's what happens to people left alone too long.
Facing blank pages. Spurred by the most unlikely sources of inspiration. It can be a stubbed toe. A nightmare. A broken heart. A need for justice that will never happen in real life. A joke. A disaster.
Whatever it is catapults us into worlds that did not exist before we started to define them with words.
My turn. A producer asks me to pitch my screenplay.
I do. "Chalk and Cheese" is a comedy about two people trying to kill each other to get a promotion in a London public relations firm.
He wants to know if I've been in that situation. Ever wanted a promotion bad enough to kill someone, ever desperately wanted to claw my way to the top, that sort of thing.
I try to explain that the script isn't about me, it's about this man and woman who, I mean, I know how the characters feel --
Not biographical? He passes.
Next time this happens I'm going to say, "Why yes! In fact, I'm calling you from jail -- in 25 to life for killing the competition!"
My friend Mikey suggests I hedge, then say, "Well, I never got caught. And she eventually recovered ... so it wasn't really murder."
I like his answer better.
Another, wiser writer has a hot script about a single guy who is asked to sleep with a friend's wife. A producer wanted to know if it was based on personal experience.
Writer: "Why, you married?"
A friend worked like a prairie dog looking for a story about violence in kids' sports because her producer wanted to use a real life incident for the script. After months of searching, the writer found the perfect true story.
When the producer took the news item to the studio to get money for making the movie, the studio said forget it. Since it was about an actual ripped-from-the-headlines event, there were "too many legal headaches."
This writer could have been spending her time creating a hot, completely manufactured story about violence in kids' sports, maybe even dressing her cat during writing breaks.
Why do producers do this? I don't know.
What I do know is my next pitch: "It's a comedy about a writer who kills the producer who asks if that actually happened."
-- by colleen patrick
I asked one of my new actors how he determines his character's responses to his dramatic dilemmas and other characters.
He said he first asks himself, "What did I do when I experienced something similar in the past; I try to remember how I felt. Then I use that for my character."
How do you make yourself cry?
"I think of something really sad. Like if someone has died, or when someone broke up with me, something like that."
OK. So you're telling me that if you play a young man whose infant son has died, you'd react the way you did when your girlfriend broke up with you - or when you were twelve and your dog died?
"Well, maybe start there …"
But the problem is your character is not you. At all.
The complex nature of an actor's relationship with a character is that the actor is all too well aware that the character exists. The character should have no idea that the actor exists.
If you're in character, you're fundamentally oblivious to anything other than the imaginary world you have created for him or her. It's an imaginary world which you need to be able to enter and leave at will. It's like stepping into a hologram of the character when you free him or her to have their own individuality, their own unique soul.
In my mind, that is the definition of a great actor - someone with the courage to relinquish control of the character she has created, permitting the character to be completely herself. This enables the actor to still maintain control of herself to leave this imaginary world at will.
You may be the physical vessel portraying this imaginary character, but you will prevent him from becoming genuine and a real persona if you try to associate yourself and your own experiences to someone who is not at all you.
You must give him the respect of letting him have his own soul.
In my experience, actors who remove themselves from who they are as they create a character fare far better portraying characters than actors who keep trying to count on their own experiences and responses.
In reality, the toughest type of role to play well is someone who is "just like" you.
Because no one is ever "just like" anyone else and it's nearly impossible to let go of controlling someone who feels so similar to you. So there is a tendency to fear giving the character complete freedom, liberating yourself to be the other person because subconsciously you feel the connection of someone somehow representing you.
When we feel our identity is attached in any way to the person we are portraying, there is a tendency to subconsciously edit our behavior in the performance.
We're not looking for a clone. We're looking for a character who has your look and perhaps even the tone of your persona. People who are hired to be only themselves on screen tend to be unsuccessful when they discover how hard this can be - and are seen as someone with no range, becoming typecast.
On the other hand, many gravely underrated actors like James Garner come off as if they are naturally playing themselves, but when you meet them in person, you see they are very different than their character. Sometimes when actors are "too good" at their craft, they make this challenging craft look so easy.
Part II: SEPARATING YOURSELF FROM YOUR CHARACTER below
--by colleen patrick
Most people do not understand the distinction between working with a teacher in a class and a personal coach.
Teaching a class normally involves an exact curriculum that is presented to a group.
Coaching means attending to an individual's specific needs while enhancing his or her particular talents, skills and goals.
The best aspect of working with a coach, one on one? Someone is always in your face, instructing, guiding and cheering you on!
The worst aspect of working with a coach, one on one? Someone is always in your face, instructing, guiding and cheering you on!
Many of my actors develop good work habits as they develop a system of addressing, analyzing and performing any sort of material. Good work habits equal success in the industry, whether you're a writer, actor, director, producer, DP or PA.
I can only speak of my personal coaching techniques for individuals or casts. It's important to understand them to avoid surprises if you have not previously worked with a coach.
What to expect from a coaching experience:
1. When it's just you and the coach, there's no chance of hiding behind others in a class when you haven't finished your homework or when you don't "feel like performing." You do it anyway.
2. You must attend all your sessions, be there on time, with your "lab work" finished.
3. If you have problems in any of these areas, it's important to discuss them with your coach so she or he can help you overcome behavior that gets in your way of success. Coaching is not just about the performance, it's about dealing with the individual's personal blocks to preparing properly and performing well.
4. Talk to your coach. If you're having trouble playing a character, don't just force yourself to try - share your frustrations with your coach. Together you should be able to develop ways to work through, circumvent or overcome preparation and performance troubles.
5. Coaches like me have mentored so many hundreds of people, there's nothing we haven't heard. The more open you are in your sessions, the more open you will be in your performance. Because of this, coaches and clients should never become romantically involved while in a coaching relationship.
6. Confidentiality is a must. I do share when my actors are doing very well or when they've succeeded at something. I share stories about lessons that have been learned the hard way by clients - but the identity of these people is not shared, at least not without their consent. Many actors who learned a tough lesson encourage me to share their story with others.
7. There are more and different types of lab work assigned here than there is in a class because there is far more camera time during coaching sessions. I have taught camera acting classes (and still teach occasional seminars and workshops for actors who already work with me) and find that people learn much more rapidly in a one on one coaching situation. After the actor is ready, you will work with other actors on camera as well.
Note: Most camera acting is not done with other actors but interacting with an eye line or camera, so it's important to know how to work on your own. A script supervisor may read the lines of the other person who is "supposed" to be in the scene at other times. Personal theater acting coaching must be done as an adjunct to a rehearsal or class because you're normally working with another person on stage.
8. I help people gain a solid foundation for all their work - preparation and performance - so they can handle any sort of material handed to them confidently. Some adults, particularly, find many of the exercises a little redundant, duplicated, and repetitious. ;-) Others thrive as they see the results from doing them daily - in their voice, face, eyes, articulation, attitude, comfort and performance on camera.
9. The person who communicates gets the work. Learning to communicate with your coach as you would an agent, director, or anyone with whom you'll work is a terrific way to comfortably deal with anyone you must talk to as your career begins or expands into new and successful worlds you never imagined.
10. Honesty between coach and coachee is crucial. Any sort of communication can take place between us except a dishonest one. The coaching relationship is by definition personal, significant and trusting. If you cannot afford coaching, it's best to wait until you can rather than not tell the truth about mailing a non-existent check. Unfortunately, this has happened so often in my practice that I now insist on prepayment.
Underpromise and overdeliver.
I've been promised so many things that were not delivered by so many people in the industry. Unfortunately I made the mistake of repeating those false promises - without realizing I had not been told the truth. Now I wait until it's a genuine go, the money is in the bank and only deal with people who keep their word.
The discipline is similar to an athlete's drills - akin to football players jumping through tires, pushing heavy tackle dummies and executing calisthenics. They must do this in order to gain a superb degree of fitness required to limit their vulnerability to injury and to build stamina.
Avoiding "injuries," gaining and maintaining stamina is crucial for camera actors, writers, directors and producers.
The energy it takes to do this work cannot be overstated, for, like all champions, the single element that defines them in the end is stamina. You can win baseball games all summer, but if you don't continue to have a full tank at the end of the season, you won't see any action in the playoffs.
Show biz is an occupation of attrition, artistic growth and endurance.
If your voice isn't as fresh on the 40th take as it was on the first? If your energy isn't as high as it needs to be for you to chase the bad guy down the street one more time? If you're flagging at the end of a 16 hour day? You won't last long.
To make it in an industry so full of competition, talented people and folks who do know the industry, I tell my people to train like an Olympic athlete. Know what you're doing or whom to ask for more information if you need it; do empowering exercises daily (I call them "MDR's" - minimum daily requirements) and keep working.
The reason actors go to coaches while they are not doing paid work is to continue performing scenes, creating monologues, and pushing themselves farther and deeper, always preparing for the challenge of the next audition and job.
Keep your chops sharp at all times!
Another thing that cannot be overstated: know how the industry works! Most people have no idea how it operates, and it's crucial to advance your career.
Believe it or not, there's a lot of fun to be had in all this. But as in any profession, it's only really enjoyable if everyone performs professionally.
For those who ultimately realize the work or coaching is not for them? They leave with knowledge and skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives in any field they pursue.
A word of caution: Some people somehow deceive themselves into thinking that just going to a coach will get them into the business. Um, the coach can't do anything for you without you doing the work first. I don't casually give connections or names - only to those who work hard and deserve the opportunities.
Last: the coaching experience is all about you. It's not about the coach. I am focused on you. Helping you, training you as I address your individual, particular and unique needs and talents. I want you to succeed. I don't yell, scream, have tantrums if things are not completed or done "my way." It's not about me. The work is your responsibility to complete.
And you need to feel safe, confident, comfortable, and strong in order to do the work well and succeed in this industry. It's not about me trying to make you yet another cookie cutter performer or writer or director who churns out the same (boring) stuff others have been required to.
It's a collaboration, not a guru-ship or a dictatorship, which should help you enhance your talent, your skills and your life.
-- by colleen patrick
Part II - Separating Yourself from Your Character
The first thing I recommend to my actors is making a full, specific list of every element in their lives. The essentials every one of us has in common.
I'm not talking about the standard list of general stuff to create about a character like education, economic class, race and age or information that conforms to who you believe the character "should" be.
Components created by the actor using only the imagination but not generated on anything based in reality tends to fail to feel the depth of the character's core and psyche.
Too often the actor doesn't feel the authenticity of characters built like this and ends up *pretending* to be the character instead of truly *acting.* Instead of simply and genuinely being the character while performing, which is fundamental for a camera performance.
So write down every aspect of you on the left side of a page.
On the other side, write down the reality of your character - her background, her experience, her soul. Make the character's life significantly different from your own.
Even if you have a great deal in common with the character, make certain even the similarities noticeably distinguish themselves from your own circumstances.
Now, even if the character and actor have "living on a budget" in common, there should be a specific distinction between the way the actor lives on a budget and how the character deals with limited finances.
Separating yourself from the character in infinite and finite ways is a great way to distinguish your character and your performance, making it sharper - with more depth.
"One day I hope to become the person my dog believes I am."
- colleen patrick
...but cancer does not have me
-- by colleen patrick
More than a year ago, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular cancer - an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Since then I have had three surgeries - four if you count my appendectomy in December - followed by a 12-week course of chemotherapy, 7-weeks of radiation treatment, and I'm currently undergoing a second round chemo for 12 weeks.
My first chemo round was interrupted by a severe case of appendicitis.
When they discovered it, my appendix was already gangrenous, resulting in a serious e-coli infection and instead of being the ordinary half inch long, my appendix turned out to be nearly 7 inches long.
I spent a full and exceedingly painful week in the hospital following the surgery.
Appendectomies are considered pretty easy half hour surgeries. Mine was a two and a half hour ordeal by the medical team.
Although they used a case number instead of my name, my amazing appendix diagnosis and operation saga was written up in a medical journal.
I *was* hoping they would at least mention my project The Director, but no.
My prognosis is pretty positive; surgeons and oncologists believe they caught it "just in time."
Only time will tell, but my attitude has been "you cells picked on the wrong body! Get the hell outta here!"
I was not too shaken by the diagnosis - friends and family took it far harder than I because I saw it as a problem to be solved and something passing through my already bumpy life.
The most uncomfortable procedure for me was a biopsy that has us lie on our stomach while the doctor probes inside the breast to grab cells from around the identified potentially cancerous area.
After two of those, I opted for a surgical biopsy for yet another area that had been identified as potentially cancerous. I was in far less pain and recovered much more quickly than with the other procedure.
My lumpectomy surgeries were conducted at the University of Washington Medical Center and believe me, these folks know what they're doing. A doctor who moved here from Russia told me that this facility has the latest knowledge and technology for treating patients like me.
Chemotherapy is administered through an IV catheter that is surgically implanted in my left arm once a week. But I take several medications daily, including chemo pills, so while many people think it's a once-a-week treatment, I actually take chemo pills daily to augment the IV treatments.
Generally, I feel semi-nauseous and take my mind off it by doing what I love and thankfully I belong to two sensational online groups that kept me entertained by sending me hats and caps from all over the world.
One of the caps helped me lower my fever as they were diagnosing my appendicitis - I stored ice packs in it to cool my head.
Radiation is a procedure that must be performed every weekday, Monday through Friday. So five days a week I underwent radiation treatments. For the most part, I did not suffer as much as others I know from radiation fatigue.
But during the last week of treatment, radiation burns grew larger and were excruciatingly painful.
Moving my arm was difficult and I was in pain 24/7 - it interrupted my sleep and daily activities. More than a month after the last radiation treatment, the burns are finally, basically healed. Most breast cancer patients suffer more severe radiation burns than patients with other cancers because the tissue is more vulnerable there.
Now I am back on chemotherapy for the second time. Because the radiation fatigue becomes worse after the treatments stop and with the onslaught of chemotherapy poisons reintroduced to my body, my energy and immune system have been kicked to the kerb and I'm pretty vulnerable to any passing germ/bacteria/virus so I have to be careful about staying away from crowds.
From the beginning of chemo, it has meant no crowds (though I have broken this rule a couple times when I felt I absolutely had to), no theater going, shopping during off hours when I do shop, and being aware of staying away from people with anything close to being the flu or a cold.
So this is a condition I live with, but it's only put a mild cut in my strut. For the most part life is pretty normal, and I have three pets around me all the time to speed up the healing process.
It has slowed me down but not stopped me.
Friends drive me when I should not be behind the wheel, but I co-wrote the script Mixing Karma with Ken Oelerich during several chemo therapy sessions (each lasts several hours). He would drive me to and from, we'd work as long as possible, then I'd go home loopy from chemo.
My oncology nurses were amazed and not thrilled that I actually worked during the chemo process, but I knew the work had to be finished on time and loved the process anyway. And I was very pleased with my work.
Fortunately, most of my actors and writers have been extremely understanding about my situation; some I have had to ask to wait until the fall to rejoin their coaching sessions because I'm simply not in a position to do more than I am now.
And I have to apologize to the people who signed up for my class at North Seattle Community College when it could not be held because I was too ill to teach that Saturday.
After I'm off chemo, I *should* be cancer free, regaining my standard break neck schedule.
I have one more surgery: Shirley, the affected breast, is considerably smaller (and wants all the attention) than LaVerne, so LaVerne will be downsized, probably this coming December.
If I am one of those chosen to attend the Filmmaker's Lab at Sundance, I will be completely re-charged, ready to go! I have many, *many* good years ahead of me!
Though resources are definitely limited, the people working at the VA hospital where I am being treated (I am an Air Force veteran) could not be more attentive, caring and knowledgeable. I'm usually the only woman patient in the room, and I want to pay tribute to all veterans who are struggling with this formidable challenge after putting their lives on the line for our liberties day after day in their service to the US.
To all patients and survivors - the only thing I can say is that a positive attitude has been my best friend.
I focus on helping my actors, writers and people with pet problems; I focus on what works in my life; I take better care of myself; I focus on the two wacky Pomeranian dogs and ancient cat who share my home; I surround myself with positive people and images; I focus on the humor of life; I focus on how grateful I am to have such extraordinary, affectionate, devoted and generous friends (including my webmaster!!) as well as a completely supportive, loving and caring family.
I'm indebted to each and every person, pet and chalupa (long story) who has inspired and helped me through this entire ordeal; I have learned so much about this disease, surviving with a sense of humor, myself, my friends, family and the world of cancer caretakers, patients and survivors.
My life will never be the same.
I thought you'd like to know. -cp
--by colleen patrick
After about a year and a half of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation I'm thrilled to tell you that my cancer is now in remission! Not a suspicious cell to be found in the area that was cancerous. I'll be tested later to make sure the cancer did not spread but the prognosis is excellent.
It will take time for my energy to return to its normally kickass level, but I'm already feeling much better than I did during treatment.
Thanks to each and every person who has provided me with support, encouragement, suggestions for healing concoctions of every description, get well wishes and entertaining distractions!
Over these many months I've learned so much - about myself, others far more courageous and dedicated than I who care for cancer patients and about the disease itself, I look forward to sharing the essence of my challenging and inspirational journey with you through work I will be creating in the near and distant future.
Again, thank you.
And if you have a moment, please give Elizabeth Edwards and other cancer patients a good thought.
For all the people who have been patiently waiting to attend my "Breaking into Film and TV" workshop, I'm looking forward to meeting you next March!
-- Puget Sound Business Journal
-- by colleen patrick
When I told one of my actors I am now studying with a vocal coach, he asked what it's like for me to work another coach.
When I explained how I work with my coach, he suggested I tell you - so I'm taking his advice.
A little background:
As a child I loved to sing. My parents and brother would suffer near death experiences when I would volunteer to sing at any and every public opportunity I could with them in the audience, including the night my brother's Cub Scout Pack's skits were being judged. The MC told us the judges needed more time to make their decision and laughed, "so if anyone wants to fill some time singing a song..."
Before the words were out of his mouth and my parents could stop me, I took the stage and treated the audience to a near-never ending rendition of a then popular ballad.
Singing always made me feel wonderful; a truly spiritual experience. It's communing with the Infinite, the Great Mystery, being at one with the universe.
When I was 19, someone heard me singing and playing my guitar sitting on the steps of ... where? Some place nondescript like a front porch. That someone was responsible for me soon going on tour, singing.
If that sounds like a dream come true, it seemed that way - at first. It was fun for awhile - but I soon found I couldn't abide the lifestyle. Travelling, rehearsing, media interviews, performances and the late night environment of alcohol, drugs and marital infidelity by some of the tour members just wasn't for me.
More, I had never taken a singing lesson in my life so I was constantly in fear because I had *no* idea what the hell I was doing.
Because I had no training, my performances were not consistent. I didn't know how to care for my instrument - performing in all sorts of extreme temperature and humidity changes. My poor Sears guitar - I taught myself to play - suffered much more than I did. Thank heaven for the musicians who were on the tour - they were exceptional and incredibly supportive artists!
Anyway, after our second tour, I basically stopped singing. My ego was apparently unchecked because I became afraid that if I sang anywhere public, I'd somehow find myself suffering through a lifetime of singing tours.
But over the years, I realized that singing is simply too rewarding for me not to pursue strictly because I love it and the way it makes me feel. It's also a great personal gift for me to share with friends and family. More, I like to use vocal examples to teach my actors and writers about subtext.
And at my age, no one would ever consider putting me on tour!
Back to the beginning - how I work with my coach.
The first thing I did was find a really fine coach - someone whose skills, techniques and style I respect and enjoy. That was easy for me, because I not only have worked with her before but I recommend her to anyone serious about vocal training - including a NYC Broadway singer/dancer/actress who did an intense camera acting study with me over five weeks.
Nedra Gaskill's in house studio is several miles away from my North Seattle home, so I always leave in plenty of time to make sure I'm right on time. I wouldn't dream of being late. If I'm a little early, I wait until it's time for my appointment.
I arrive ready to work with my "singing kit" in hand.
I also like to give her a little gift when I arrive. Nothing big, but just something to express my appreciation - a special candy or small candle or something thoughtful.
It's a sharp, thin, briefcase-style carrier. It contains my singing tape (on which we record my warm-up exercises, instrumentals and vocalizations to practice throughout the week), sheet music, a large handkerchief (blowing one's nose is imperative), a cork for mouth exercises that I've devised for myself, nasal spray for my sinuses, throat lozenges, throat spray and bottled water.
I bring goals and ideas about what I want to work on - with my voice or music selections - along with music (sheet, CD, cassette tape) that I'd like to consider or sing in the future. She also has ideas, so we collaborate on what works best for me and my voice and my goals.
I share any problems or concerns or physical problems I might be having because they all influence the voice. There's no problem a singer has that Nedra can't solve because she is so experienced. Another reason I love working with her is that she just doesn't have people do things just because "that's the way it's always been done."
Like my original work with actors and writers, she develops the most practical, beneficial techniques to help her singers.
The session is always enjoyable for me - and I think for her.
During the week, I do my daily vocalizing exercises and homework with a dash of zeal. I don't vocalize like a robot, I put feeling and intent in every note of my scales and other vocalizing I perform. Then when I sing my songs, they have just that much more emotion in them because I try not to make a sound without having a strong subtext behind it.
I also research more songs I want to sing and search for sheet music. Right now I use http://www.musicnotes.com for my sheet music because it can transpose the song in your key and actually play the music on the spot. Like Elton John, I believe in buying music that supports artists.
In short, I approach my sessions in a professional, respectful and diligent way, making the most of our time and Nedra's skills.
By the way, we're also friends, but when I'm at my session, we're working. It doesn't feel like work, but we accomplish a lot!
-- by colleen patrick
Does not mean giving up!
"I'm no quitter," one of my actors sobbed.
She needed to beg out of an acting job after realizing it would be too difficult a role for her - at least in her mind. It would take her far too much time to prepare, and she was already stressed with too many other projects, family obligations and demands on her time.
"Is that what you see yourself doing?" I ask. "Quitting?"
Tearfully, she nods, "yes."
"So … are you saying that you're quitting your training?"
"Decided you don't want to be a successful actor?"
"Given up on your plans to move to LA, have you?"
Dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief, she shakes her head emphatically. No.
"I see. You've withdrawn from a non-paying shoot weeks before cameras roll because it would be far too stressful on you right now. Now you think you're a quitter."
"Well," I draw a breath, giving her time to listen a littler more closely. "I consider yours a healthy choice. One intended to take care of yourself at a time of unusual stress and obligation. And you made your decision far enough in advance that the shoot won't be ruined because you realized you should not - could not - be in it."
A glimmer of light beams through her blinking eyes. Tears disappear. She agrees.
She's not quitting. She's simply saying, "no."
She ought to have turned down the role when she was first offered it. But like most of us, she thought she could push herself a little harder to handle the extra work.
Fortunately, she realized she overdosed on saying "yes" in time for them to find a replacement.
Viva La Difference!
The distinction between giving up and quitting is immense.
Quitting means stopping - saying no - it does not mean giving up on yourself. It does not equal failure.
Saying no - quitting - can be a way to protect, strengthen and help yourself, your relationships and your career. Like withdrawing from anything destructive to you and others, such as quitting smoking or taking drugs.
The challenge is to make sure that what you quit is genuinely injurious to you and others, not merely an uncomfortable or bruising bump in the path to your pursuit.
I know people who have let go of their screenwriting and writing aspirations. They worked hard at their craft and for whatever reason decided to say yes to another pursuit they experienced as more positive. I respect their decision to create other destinations. I don't see them as "quitters," even though they might consider themselves failed.
When the decision to say no is positive - that is, based on the need to say yes to something else - you're no "quitter." You are not giving up on yourself.
But if you say no only because you're afraid -- afraid you won't do well, afraid you'll never be "good enough," afraid the work will be "too hard," -- without ever trying to give your dream a voice? That's giving up. Giving up on yourself, your aspirations and the possibilities of what could be in your life.
KNOWING WHEN TO SAY NO
People who deeply regret a life-altering decision (whether it is to do or not to do something) usually realize they made the wrong decision too soon. Those who made the right decision at the right time feel free from the yolk they carried when they did what they thought they "should," rather than express who they are authentically, and what they want to do.
Years ago, the baby was the last person in the family to be bathed - in the same bath water. By the time the infant's time came, the water was sometimes so muddy it was hard to see what was in it. From that came the admonition, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
Check your murky water for anything that should not be tossed before you dump the tub. You can throw out some things that aren't working, then add clean water - new material and methods - to the mix.
Adjusting the definition of your dream is not deserting it. It's simply saying "no" to what's not working and "yes" to something that would.
Perhaps the change of attitude means that you now envision writing as your "real" job, and working for money as your "side" gig.
Before making this decision, you may have defined yourself as a wannabe writer because you weren't being paid (or paid enough) for writing and had to hold down a job unrelated to writing to put food on the table.
A writer is a writer, no matter what else she does in her life, no matter the pay.
Writers who are also lawyers, doctors and other professionals think and live as writers first. While still giving 100% to their professions, they continually pursue excellence in their writing.
As I wrote in one of my previous columns, lawyer John Grisham wrote every morning before he left for work. First to his law practice, then his office as a prosecutor and later his office as a state representative, always working to perfect his craft.
While developing his creativity, proficiency and writing skills, he gained an immense knowledge of the law. Not to mention an extensive catalogue of characters who practice it well and poorly; of characters who are protected, helped and victimized by it; who exploit and abuse it; who employ it with a rational respect for the judicial procedure and those who worship law beyond reason.
Every element of his life served his goal to be a professional writer.
If writing is your dream, you will understand how every single thing in your life contributes to it.
If supporting your writing habit is a question, there are many unusual solutions.
In many cases, a partner carries the financial burden of the family until a writer finally breaks through with a sale sizeable enough to support the family. I always admire people whose partners believe in the family writer so much they agree to provide the family income and live extremely modestly while the writer works. And relatively few ever make that colossal sale.
Sylvester Stallone's first wife supported their family until he sold his seventeenth script - Rocky. Although long divorced, Stallone has never forgotten the sacrifices she made while he was struggling and continues to support her generously.
And some writers take part-time work that allows them to at least pay the rent while they pursue their art, no matter what high-powered career they may have had in the past.
THE WRITER'S ACHE
I don't know any writers who don't suffer from The Writer's Ache. This is an internal agony we undergo during the creative, writing and editing process. I always end up screaming, "How did I get myself into this?" and "I need more time!" toward the end of any writing project I undertake.
This is a bittersweet ache that leaves most of us feeling miserable, but yearning to go back there because, for me, I know that is when I'm doing my best work.
This may sound extreme, but I compare it to modified labor pains, a part of the natural creative process.
It is not to be mistaken, however, with emotional pain that interferes with or demeans your artistic quest.
QUITTING IS EMPOWERING
If you say no to things in your life that are not working - people who wear you down, abuse you, don't appreciate you or who sneer at your aspirations; destructive habits that interfere with your work - that's good. Still, note that you're only saying no to elements of your life, not your entire life.
Quitting - saying no - is amazingly empowering when it's said to the right people for the right reasons.
Try it: Think of three people or activities to which you want to say "no" but have not because you're too frightened. And when you imagine them in your mind, say "no" ALOUD.
Who's the first person? What are they asking or expecting you to do?
No explanations, no excuses, no fabrications. Just say no. Period.
What's the activity you want to say "no" to? Think of it. Then:
What is something or someone else to whom you want to say "no?" Identify it and:
Doesn't that feel great?
Saying no is empowering. Quitting whatever makes you unhappy, that hurts unnecessarily, that makes you feel "unworthy" - will only prompt you to say "yes" to what actually makes you happy; what actually works. It also stops the hurt, creating room for loving vibes that help you feel worthy of all the good things you envision in your dream life.
ONE "NO" AT A TIME
If you are experiencing people or projects to which you know you need to say no, you may want to prioritize them, tackling each task individually, starting with the easiest, least constraining encumbrance.
To assist you in the process of clarifying your goals and work adjustments, you may want to separate yourself from the cause of your distress.
Many a writer has taken a leave from slapping words on computer screens and paper and found the break helpful, refreshing their enthusiasm for the craft. They've said no to whatever soured them on writing or weakened their work, and yes to starting a fresh approach to their work.
Quitting writing, or some aspect of it, for a specific period of time gave them the distance they needed to gain a clear perspective on what they are doing in fact rather than what they think they're doing. Then compared that to what they want to do - their truth.
It gave them the space to create a new plan of action for their renewed love for writing - or a life without writing.
There are places you can go for a writer's retreat. Some assist writers work, others are just there for you to get away completely from the work to reorganize your life and get lots of inspiration along the way.
Still other writers have taken a vacation from verbal sculpting and found they preferred not to resume writing when they returned. Ever.
I'm not suggesting anyone quit; I am suggesting, however, that as much as some people want to be writers, being a writer is a state of being as much as it is a state of mind.
If something about the work is not rewarding, renewing and thrilling for you, you may ask yourself what you need to reject in order for writing to take on an air of inspiration that never ceases.
Quitting - saying no - is one powerful way to take charge of your life, your career and your craft. When you reject those things that hold you back, you will be saying yes to positive, constructive ways to approach the way you want to access your authentic truth.
"An artist with complete and total freedom?
- Frederico Fellini
-- by colleen patrick
Since I'm casting my new project (with my assistant), Making the Grade, myself, I put out a casting call through a reputable online casting notification service, http://www.performerscallboard.com.
After receiving the first deluge of responses, I feel compelled to help actors who are submitting headshots to make their way through the audition selection maze and to the top of the "call" pile. I can only speak from my point of view, but the casting process is pretty similar throughout the industry.
1. Imagine yourself opening the envelope you send. Keep it simple. A plain brown envelope is fine, and less expensive - for its cost and postage.
Even if your photo gets bent in the mail - which they never are - its effect won't be harmed. We just want to see what you look like - and I especially want to see subtext in your eyes.
2. Color or black and white.
3. Age and headshots.
If I want to cast children, I want them to look like real kids, not like children who are made to look "hoochie" by a photographer. Even young stars like Lindsay Lohan, when she started being more mature in her personal life, still had age appropriate headshots, clothes, make-up, hair styles and roles.
Parents should not permit photographers to take age inappropriate headshots, and photographers should not let themselves be talked into taking those photos by parents who request them.
4. Resumes, letters, background information.
Amazingly, I've received several headshots with resumes not only unattached to them, but just stuffed in the envelope, so it did not come out with the photo. That makes for more work dealing with the headshot and does not reflect positively or professionally on the actor submitting the audition headshot.
5. Multiple headshot submissions/composites.
6. Photo containers.
7. Letters, notes, business cards.
If you or your child for whom you are submitting is an amateur and you're sending in a good snapshot, a letter is the place to mention any background information. If amateurs are welcome to audition, acting education or experience is not expected so just talk about favorite hobbies, interests, and special personal or personality information. Business cards are good if your headshot is on them. Letters, notes and business cards can be attached with a paper clip.
Keep it simple.
I'll be interested to hear how many casting directors ask actors and agents to read this article!
-- by colleen patrick
It's a fact.
Drugs and alcohol are evident and abused in every segment of the entertainment industry.
Whether it's steroids in sports, designer drugs in modeling, alcohol and drug abuse in New York, Hollywood or Great Falls, Montana, there is little evidence of even a skirmish on drugs, let alone a war.
But here's the deal: drugs dull and kill emotions. The addict escapes feelings he'd rather not face with his drug of choice.
Acting is all about emotions - showing them in subtext and expressing them with speech.
IMO drug and alcohol abuse is counterproductive to any serious actor because it interferes with accessing the most important tools of your trade.
Worse, alcohol abuse and drugs screw up your appearance. They dry skin, increase wrinkles, retain or drain weight, thin hair, destroy teeth, emaciate nose cartilage, distort facial and eye features, and the list of brain cell and physiological disintegration goes on.
For extreme close ups, even the skin drying effects of caffeine can't be covered with make-up.
Artists who have been known for drug and alcohol abuse admit life is better without being at the mercy of their addictions. They're in charge of their lives, not their drugs or booze. Willie Nelson recently said he does his best work cold sober. He said that when he drank and drugged he used to write songs and have to toss them the next morning because while he thought they were so good under the influence, they downright stunk in the light of day.
The days of putting up with the big star - let alone beginning actor - who shows up drunk or drugged for a professional film are over. Budgets and schedules are too tight. And frankly, there are too many great, dedicated and skilled actors waiting in the wings who are clean, sober and ready to take the job of someone who's been tossed off a project because of alcohol or drug abuse.
There are stories about actors on film sets who party while they're working - like Elvin Danko. Never heard of him? Me either, and you won't. Because while they didn't outright fire him, word got around that he was drinking or hung over and his performance was neither reliable nor consistent. Fortunately he only had a small part. Which hit the cutting room floor.
Because drugs and alcohol are everywhere, it's up to you to make smart choices.
People who want me to coach them have a choice - without judgement - be drug/alcohol abuse-free and work with me ... or don't. Up to you.
As of today, none of my actors smoke cigarettes; only one abuses alcohol but is dealing with the problem and none use drugs.
I wish you healthy, positive choices; choices that increase your chances of success. If drugs and alcohol currently put a cut in your strut, round off your edges or interfere with the career you believe you deserve and for which you want to work your ass off? Cut it out. Find people and places who can help you learn how to live without soul and mind killing addictions so you can courageously do your greatest work.
Acting well and skillfully is a total high! I hope you make that your addiction if you must have one!
-- by colleen patrick
Love the sociological concept, don't like the word. Never did. I don't think it accurately describes what the concept attempts to relate.
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!
-- by colleen patrick
If you've seen the fascinating film March of the Penguins, you are probably ... well, fascinated.
Only it made me think about the primary difference reported by "behavior experts" between animals and humans. Which is, humans are capable of rather sophisticated reasoning - at least when we want to. Most animals do not possess the capability of reasoning beyond that of a human toddler, no matter how old they get.
If you expect your pet poodle to be reasonable? You will drive yourself insane.
On the other hand, humans are supposed to have few genuine instincts left from our cave person days millennia ago, whereas animals are rife with them.
I can't remember a day when I've felt an urge to swim upstream and spawn or sense an earthquake or tsunami coming or walk 70 miles through horrifically cold weather and rough terrain to lay an egg to produce a Mini-Me, let alone have some inner knowing that I need to take that walk a dozen times to feed myself, the baby and my mate. Nor how to survive a blizzard on my own, without several trips to REI.
Nor am I aware of any humans who have a deeply wired instinct that he or she should be monogamous with a partner for a full year - only until my offspring is capable of swimming and caring for itself. After that? All bets are off. I'm free to hook up and do it all over again.
Instinctively, I guess, we humans can be attracted to someone. And often that turns out to be a *bad* instinct and don't tell me you haven't suffered from your own variety of animal magnetism. Even children need to be taught to stay away from things we take for granted are dangerous like fire.
An animal instinctively knows to stay away from fire - and I've yet to see an animal stuff a stick of tobacco in her mouth and light up. They instinctively know this is not a smart thing to do.
OK, on to the point.
When the penguins started this trek to reproduce eons ago - possibly before the ice age - the terrain was probably different. The weather was different. If they started before the ice age, there would have been no ice. But they're instinctively wired to go to a specific place to perform this ritual no matter if the environment and land have changed over the centuries. They have physically and psychologically acclimated to these changes because they most likely occurred slowly.
So who knows? At one time, that trek may have been their version of a Caribbean Cruise. Then when they landed at what they came to call "Our Place" after hearing "Our Wind," romance filled the air and they decided to have a baby there. Suddenly, they realized there was no food and didn't want to move the egg - no telling what happened to the neighborhood with all those sea lions invading.
Thus began an instinctual ritual that has survived thousands and thousands of years, even at the peril of their own lives, many of which are lost on that cruel regenerative 70 mile jaunt time and again over the next several months. Starving. Back. Forth. Back. Forth.
We'd use our reasoning powers to figure out: 1) that there's no need to walk across the street, let alone 70 miles away over treacherous terrain time and again when we beget ourselves. 2) We'd make sure our quarters remain at room temperature and that there's enough food so we don't have to visit the local grocery store more than once a month in blizzard conditions.
As for that monogamy thing - if there are only two people, well, there's a decent chance at that.
But surrounded by a village full of people? Where everyone snuggles up next to each other when it's cold?
That tends to be when our extraordinary human reasoning abilities take a hike and we capitulate to one of the few instincts we have.
What does it mean?
I guess that any combination of instincts and reason - no matter how weak or strong either happens to be, make for fascinating films.
-- by colleen patrick
I've met so many people who get in the way of their own brilliance, achievement and success with what they perceive as their "perfectionism."
They get so wrapped up in doing things perfectly at the outset, they choke off all possibility of doing, saying or creating anything genuinely sensational.
I know a woman who concentrates so intensely on saying things "perfectly" that by the time she starts to speak, whatever it was she wanted to say or talk about is forgotten - or the moment to cast her pearls of perfect wisdom is long lost.
Worse, these "perfectionists" beat themselves up when they don't do things "perfectly" right out of the gate.
If they fail to do anything "perfectly," they become angry with themselves and wonder why they didn't say this "right" or do that "correctly" or make it "the way I should." They feel badly about themselves and can spin their "mistakes" over and over in their heads for hours, days, weeks and even months later.
That blistering baggage builds over the years. It must be tiring trying to keep juggling all those errors as they pile up one after another. I can't imagine the flashbacks! Ouch! Eeek!
My stomach hurts just thinking about it.
When I thought about it, I realized there is a huge difference between being a perfectionist and someone seeking perfection.
Perfectionism is a debilitating habit. Seeking perfection is an exciting, positive, exhilarating experience.
As artists have illustrated throughout the millennia, the only way to reach real perfection is .. imperfection. The most important aspect of their process is that they only expected each step to be just that. One step of *many* that would lead to a work that would satisfy their desire for creating a satisfying work - one that we would most probably consider perfect.
Witness the work of the great classic painters: an idea becomes a vision; a vision becomes a sketch; a sketch becomes a drawing; a drawing becomes the outline of a painting; the outline of a painting becomes a small version of what ultimately becomes a larger masterpiece.
Serious writers start with an idea. Research, fleshing out the idea, outlining the work, writing and constant rewriting create a great work.
Artists who attempt to put out any project perfectly without any process that provides growth, insight, increases substance, depth and breadth of the work actually prevent any chance for it to be very good, let alone perfect. Because there is a "geared to fail" element in this sort of thinking, it provides more and more fodder for the prison of self-flagellation.
Think of all the time we spend beating ourselves up that could be spent moving forward with a process that helps the artist do what we're supposed to: create something out of nothing with a process that *leads* to perfection and success.
I wonder if this mentality has developed as part of the American phenomenon of instant gratification.
By allowing yourself the freedom (yep, freedom!) to go through a process to expand, shrink, change, raise, lower, move, inflate, deflate or squeeze the work - you provide yourself with the potential to exceed your greatest expectations.
The possibilities become limitless, allowing enough excellent material to edit, define, refine and hone into something of which the artist can be proud and others can appreciate. Now, this is no day at the park for any artist, but sweating it out working within a medium rather than beating oneself up is a heck of a more constructive way to spend time!
Another influential element may well be that so many accomplished people we see in media interviews seldom talk about the ten or twenty years it took to get where they are. They don't discuss their process of starting with an idea of what they want to do and setting goals; how they methodically created a plan to take one step at a time to reach those goals along the way. Perhaps it leaves us with the impression that perhaps it *should* be easy to whip out a wonderful song, book, screenplay, sitcom set, painting, drawing, sculpture or performance.
The biggest complaint from agents, writing competitions and producers is that screenplays are submitted far too soon. They need much more work, many more rewrites than the work new writers are presenting. These writers may think they're "perfectionists," but they're putting their work out of contention because they've failed to seek perfection for their scripts!
Several actors who have come to me for coaching actually believed that all an actor has to do is show up on a set to be a film actor! That the performance just sort of automatically comes out of their mouths or that they can improvise their way through an acting career.
If this sounds like I'm describing you, I recommend you figure out a way to a) relieve yourself of trying to do things perfectly at the outset; b) prevent self-punishment; c) create a process that frees you to work toward perfection - one step at a time!
-- by colleen patrick
One of my actors recently had a passionate discussion with a theater actor at a party about working with the camera.
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.
-- by colleen patrick
One of the things I help people with is finding their passion.
Interestingly, several people have come to me for acting coaching but have not revealed much, if any passion - not just for the work, but for life or ... well, anything.
They're afraid to go all out - commit themselves completely, fall passionately in love, care so deeply about something they can't imagine living without ... whatever or who ever it is.
Many men pursue acting to help them get in touch with their feelings in a way that is still seen as "manly" - and of course this emotional evolution helps them communicate with the women or potential significant others who may cross their path in and out of The Biz.
I believe that when we find someone or something to passionately live for - we've also discovered what we are willing to die for in order to protect it/him/her. New parents tend to experience this phenomenon. They've never had the willingness to become so vulnerable. To let someone in so deeply.
That's how you know the homicidal maniacs who claim they kill their partners and children because they love them so much are lying. When we love someone, we do whatever we can to protect them, not hurt them.
Truthfully, I can't imagine not being passionate about anything - if I'm not passionate about something, it's not in my life.
I've only been genuinely, deeply passionately in love once. And I cherish every moment of that relationship so special I felt it akin to the love about which poets write and songs are written, even though the ending was nothing short of a tragic. Will it happen again? I'm certainly open to experiencing true love once more. I know how it feels and what it looks like so I'll be able to recognize it when it comes along.
Meanwhile, I'm working with a young woman who is becoming a broadcast journalist and the criticism she's received in the past for her on camera reports in journalism classes is that she doesn't show any "personality."
Then it hit me.
If she showed her passion for the work, her personality would automatically shine through.
I said "If you aren't passionate - if you don't care about your work and your stories, why should anyone else?"
That's true of every aspect of life. If you aren't passionate about your relationships, your work, caring for your pets, family, clients, art and everything in your life? What will you have to look back on when it comes time for you to .. well, look back?
If you aren't passionate about *you* - and your ability to make a difference in your own life - how can you pass it on or be an inspiration to anyone else?
So we're talking about what kicks in her passion. What lights her life's fire. What ignites her burning yearning for learning.
We had a long discussion about this - and she found areas that do push that button that stirs her adrenaline, that makes her care deeply. Now it's a matter of sharing the wealth with other areas of her life.
While journalism has really taken it in the shorts over the past couple decades for being so sensational, sleazy and that too many story selections are driven by ratings and finances, the fact is that journalism in its purest form is an honorable, valuable calling.
When we do not, cannot, or refuse to identify a wound in our midst - whether on our bodies, in our communities, nations or world - it only festers. Sometimes to the point that whatever is injured becomes unalterably destroyed.
The job of the journalist is to identify these wounds, making it possible for us to devise treatments - ways to heal them. In some cases to outline options for solutions.
Enough about journalism. I was talking about passion. And personality.
Your passion defines your personality. If you have no passion, chances are your personality is a little .. well, wanting!
I hope your life is one full of passion and that you therefore have a great personality!