Actors ask me all the time how to do this or how to do that. I’m happy to tell them, but the fact that they are asking is what concerns me.
Sure, you might say. You’ve done it and they haven’t so they need your help.
Yes, and no.
Yes, I’ve done it, but no, they don’t need my help.
What they need is a little self-reliance, a little planning and/or as my mother used to say…a little gumption (not to be confused with Forrest Gump). Gumption (I believe…she never told me) is a combination of confidence, motivation and determination wrapped up in some WWII terminology like SNAFU (look it up). Maybe it will make a comeback (come on, everyone…use the word ‘gumption’ at least once today). Maybe it’s because we live in a ‘coddle your kids’ culture where everything is provided and there’s little left to learn on one’s own, but unbeknownst to many of us, we all have it within ourselves to figure out how to do things we don’t know how to do. Yes, just like birds can fly and wildebeests can stand, people can ‘figure stuff out’. It’s called instinct or common sense. I hesitate to say common sense because most of what passes as common sense is actually politically correct BS, so let’s break it down even further to primordial instinct.
You walk out into traffic and a large vehicle is bearing down on you.
Do you stand there waiting for it to stop, go around or collide with you? No you jump back. Whoah! I won’t do that again (unless I’m drunk). That’s instinct. You don’t need to be hit by a car to know it will probably hurt and cause you to miss cheerleading practice. Just yell at a baby (well don’t actually yell at a baby). They will cry.
Why? I don’t know, but they seem to know when someone is pissed at them and they also seem to know they don’t want people to be pissed at them. How? Instinct.
So WTF does this have to do with acting? Well many of us walk around asking everyone what to do about their acting careers when in fact they know exactly what to do. How do I know this? Because if I asked all these people how to become a doctor, or a professional bowler, they could probably give me a reasonably good answer even though that is not their chosen path and have never researched it. How? Because just about anything requiring any skill and training has more or less the same career path, give or take a few specific elements. No, what these actors who ask for my help are really saying is, “Help me make acting easier.” How can something so simple looking as acting be difficult? What was difficult was leaving Oklahoma in the middle of winter without my parents. Acting should be easy. At least that’s what I’m counting on. I’m going to move and things are going to happen…because…I’m special…aren’t I? That’s what my daddy said.
Now, why the F didn’t my daddy tell me that acting is a career that people dedicate their entire lives and souls to. Why did he let me go pursue my dreams without telling me I had to work my a– off?
Because nobody gives acting any respect. Acting is the Rodney Dangerfield (anyone remember that guy?) of careers. You stand there in front of a camera and talk. How hard can that be? How hard? Really f–ing hard. I don’t even know why. It just is. But I guess I could say playing tennis is really f–ing hard too, even though I can make that look pretty easy. See if you look at the results, anything looks easy, but if you break it down, there are so many moving parts, that it took a team of engineers 10 years just to get it to walk (ok, that was Asimo the robot from Honda). But basically it’s the same with acting. It took years of training and practice, business savvy, a team of agents and casting directors, producers and directors, all just to make the career of one decent actor. Deep down, you know this. Deep down you know that anything so graceful, so artistic, so full of meaning required unthinkable effort and commitment. But you want to do it so badly, and you want the trappings of fame so badly, and you don’t know if you have it within you or if it is within you whether you can get it out of you. So you pretend you don’t know. You pretend that someone has figured this out so you can superficially do a few things, send out a few headshots, attend a few workshops, tinkle a few glasses…and that’s enough…just to give you a taste anyway. You don’t need it all…just a taste…
Too bad, reality check. It’s not easy and you know it. You know exactly what it takes. It takes desire, goals, planning, training, research, service, and…time…time…time. Sorry, did I wake you?
OK, now that you’re awake, what are you waiting for? Sure I can help you. Here’s the map…see you later. Yep, that’s it. That’s all I can do. Give you a map. You need to do the rest. And you need to do it every day, and you need to do it in bad weather, when you’re poor, sick, unhappy and forlorn…and you have to love it.
Acting is not a mystery. It’s straight forward. No special skills required…no anatomy class, no cadavers, no law library, no case studies, no welding, and no sawing…you can fake it all the way. So being as easy and straight forward as it is, what is the problem?
There isn’t one. You people (not that ‘you people’…I ain’t no Ross Perot) have created a bunch of roadblocks for yourselves. By playing the helpless victim with no knowledge or power, you have put the power in the hands of others. Mr. agent, which headshot should I use? Miss casting director, how should I play this? Mr. editor, which scenes should I put in my reel…what’s my type, what’s my color, what clothes should I wear, how should I do my hair, where should I live, what classes should I take, how do i get an audition, where do I look, how do I slate, what’s my name (bitch…sorry American Pie). One answer…. WHATEVER IS RIGHT FOR YOU! If you don’t know what that is, you better figure it out…and fast…because otherwise there’s a whole flock of vultures waiting to take your money and your soul and your dreams.
OK…on to something lighter. So now you know. Well, you always knew, but now you know…for reals. You need to decide right now, what you want. Then figure out how to get it. And don’t ask anyone else. It’s all on you. Then articulate, elucidate, pontificate your exact clearly specified goals, and create a plan on how you’re going to reach them.
And your plan better not include anyone else’s help. Because no one is going to help you. They’ll pretend to help you…for money. But they’ll really be helping themselves. If you fail as a result of their help (and you will), there’s plenty more suckers to take your place.
The good news is that most people will never get this message and of the ones who do, few will act on it. This is your mission, and if you choose to accept it, you will be one of a select few…a few greats.
Set your goals high and your work rate even higher and there’s really nothing you can’t achieve. No excuses…no stories of other failed actors…they are not you and their story is not yours.
Just want, then do. That’s it. You’re hired.
David Patrick Green is a red-haired, left-handed, only child and ideologue who also happens to be a professional actor, not to mention running the universe’s only acting-career-management program at Hackhollywood.com. It is there that he inspires other actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. Mr. Green has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant and advertising executive before noticing that Platinum frequent-flyer status has few rewards other than bedbugs, beer and boredom. Among other places David has lived and worked in Warsaw, Poland and is still kicking himself for leaving the French Alps where he taught skiing and drank wine with European royalty. He has spent the last 10 years acting in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor.