What Inspires You?

 

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“Storm Hits The Sideshow” was the first painting I ever acquired. Famed acting teacher and director Milton Katselas painted it and the second I saw it in his art gallery, I knew I had to have it. As a matter of fact, I walked into his Saturday master class during a break, marched straight up to him, looked him directly in the eyes and said, “Milton, I love your painting, ‘Storm Hits The Sideshow’, and I must have it. I will own it.” And in true Milton fashion, he put one hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Good!” That’s all he said and I knew that he knew the painting was going to be in great hands.

I purchased the painting a week later, and to this day, I still love it.

This is a work of art that inspires me and is personal to me. If you zoom into the picture of the painting, you will see a guy riding a motorcycle in the middle of this storm. I always saw myself as that guy. I am cutting through the storm, the uncertainty and the craziness of this industry. I am that guy on the motorcycle who is cutting through the ups and downs, the naysayers and the rejections with force and intention.

That guy on the motorcycle is stepping into the storm. He’s stepping into the fire to get to the other side. He is bypassing and pushing through any doubts, fears and considerations he has. I have no doubt that this guy will make it to the other side of this storm and into a place filled with sunshine, clear skies, rainbows and drag queens (Yes to RuPaul’s Drag Race!)

I know that I too am pushing through with intention, even when I don’t have all of the answers. Even when things look dark. Even when it looks like the storm will never end. Why? Because I can ask the next question. Because I am on go. Because I take specific actions for my career. Because I am surrounded by a great community of like-minded artists and friends. Because I am a motherfucking artistic force who knows this is what I want to do with my life. In this painting, there is no sense of where the storm begins or ends, but it doesn’t matter because I am creating and building my career one action at a time.

I would love to read your comments below about what inspires you! Is it a painting? A song? A movie? I would love to know!

Assassins (Wanna Produce Theater?)

Hello! Hope you’re all doing well! I love paying it forward and this week’s blog entry is a GUEST BLOG! My brilliantly talented friends are doing an exciting production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” in May! And here to share some lessons and tips of producing for the theater is Lindsay Hopper, one of the producers of Assassins.

Lindsay, take it away!

Adventures in Producing a Musical, From Start to Finish.

By: Lindsay Hopper

As a film producer, I’ve been fortunate enough to find my routine, my preferences, my people. When all of those things are in place, my job is easy. Well, as easy as it can be when putting together all pieces of a film puzzle in place, Richard Lawson, my mentor, always says “prior planning prevents poor performance” and I couldn’t agree with him more. And while I adore film and working on a set, this year I got to a point where I could no longer ignore my first love: theatre. More specifically, musical theatre. I grew up in a world where people would sing and dance to express themselves, where the magic of storytelling happened in the beat of a drum or the playing of a chord. So naturally, when I was approached by my dear friend and talented colleague back in July and he said “let’s do a musical”, I was all in. This has been one of my biggest dreams for as long as I can remember, and while I always thought it would happen later in my career, now was the time! I’ve produced a number of different projects, how hard could it be to produce a musical?

Famous last words.

We did everything backwards. Everything. I’ll admit it. But you know what? We made it go right. And the result is going to be something full of more of the magic I talked about before than I ever thought was possible.

Last week, a friend of mine asked me: “What would you have done differently”. The easy response would have been: “Everything”. But instead, I thought about it. And in thinking about it, I realized I now know how to do this!

So what are the steps in producing theatre? (and I recommend doing them in this order)

Find a venue. We had a theatre lined up but it was still being built. Our goal is still to eventually mount our show there but had we had a solidified location for our show, a location that was already built and established, this process would have been smoother from the get go.

Have money. Seriously. Film you can produce guerilla style on no budget while borrowing, begging and making everything you may need. Not in the theatre. The amount of things you need money for, from the licensing (if it’s not an original play) to the props to the musicians, if it’s a musical, is astounding. Seriously, I could have made like 8 short films for the cost of this small show we’re doing.

Design the show first. Everything from props to lighting to sound should be put in place before you even start working on the show. It’s really hard to make a budget if you don’t know how much it’s going to cost to create the director’s vision. Think about what you’ll need to buy. Think about who you’ll need to hire. And how much all of that will cost. Once this step is done, you can make a pretty realistic budget and you’ll have a good grasp on how things will need to be structured.

Find the licensing and purchase the rights to the show. And yes, this can be expensive. Could you do a play without the rights? I mean, logistically, yes. You can easily go to Samuel French, purchase the play and say “I want to do this show, and we’ll do it for 6 weeks and charge for tickets and it will be great!” but you could get in a lot of trouble. Writers need to make money too!

Hire a kickass PSM (production stage manager) and stage management team and make a schedule. Ahead of time. Seriously. Without this, you’ll cast people and then all the sudden they tell you they won’t be there for the dress rehearsal and all hell breaks loose. Having a schedule allows the people you bring on to work their schedules around your project from the get go!

Cast the show! This is the fun part. And in my case, I really achieved one of my biggest dreams because I was able to cast all my talented friends and have been so fortunate to work along side of them and their art for the last 4 months. This is really where the magic is.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Everything. Rehearse with as many props, food, costume items you can, as early as you can. Drill the songs over and over again. Run the scenes multiple ways. Practice the lights, the sound cues, transitions to and from the stage. All of these things need to be rehearsed so that the magic can live at the performances and not be clouded by logistics.

Have fun. This is the most important thing. Theatre is not a huge money maker, but, as I keep saying, it’s magical. This is why we do it. So always come back to that, because it’s what will keep you going. The last thing you want is to resent your child, and I’ll tell you, producing a show is like having a child.

Our show opens in 5 days and I don’t think I’ve ever learned as much as I have over the last four months at any other point in my life. But the most important things I’ve learned is to hold on to gratitude and enjoy the process. It’s a hard road but it’s worth it 1000 times over, and I can’t wait to see everything come to life.

All The Feels Productions production of Assassins (by Stephen Sondheim) opens at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in Silverlake (Los Angeles) on May 5th and runs for 2 weekends (May 5, 6 & 12 @ 8pm, May 7 & 13 at 2pm and May 14 @ 6pm)

Tickets are available online at allthefeelsassassins.brownpapertickets.com

You can also support the show by donating to their production at www.gofundme.com/allthefeelsassassins

Sleeping With James Franco Part 2

Dear James Franco,

I haven’t forgotten about you! I know, I know! The last time I wrote you an open letter was on July 15th, 2015. It was titled, “Sleeping With James Franco For 8 Months”. For those of you who are interested in reading that blog entry, here is the link:

https://chasingthegeorge.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/sleeping-with-james-franco-for-8-months/

Rest assured that I haven’t forgotten about you! I am implementing the next phase to seal this deal! And to make it up to you, here is a song I want to dedicate to you from “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd”. Lyrics appear below the picture.

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“Look at that face –
Just look at it,
Look at that fabulous face of yours.
I knew first look I took at it,
This was the face that the world adores.

Look at those eyes –
As wise and as deep as the sea.
Look at that nose –
It shows what a nose should be.

As for your smile, it’s lyrical –
Friendly and warm as a summer’s day –
That face is just a miracle.
Where could I ever find words to say.

The way that it makes me happy
Whatever the time or place?
I’ll find in no book
What I find when I look
At that face.”

Demo Reel Tips

A demo reel or a theatrical reel is a collection of short scenes that showcases your best work as an actor. It lets the viewer know what you’ve done, but more importantly, it shows them the kind of characters you can play. A reel can also be used in the voiceover world, the music world, the directing world, the producing world, etc.

The following are tips I have learned and applied for myself and have shared with others in my artistic community.

**Your reel should be concise and to the point for maximum impact. Your scenes should be 30-35 seconds max. Nobody will sit through a 5-minute, 7-minute, and in some cases I’ve seen, a 10-minute reel! Too freaking long! Trust that people are actually smart and intuitive. They get your casting and your ability to play the part in seconds. Each scene on a reel should give the person watching it just enough to leave them wanting more. Find the “heart” of the scene where you’re shining as your character, where we see the height of what’s going on, hook your viewer with that section and then move on to the next scene.

**Don’t use multiple scenes from the same episode or film in your reel. We already saw you as the U.S. Senator in “House of Cards” or “Scandal” in the beginning of your reel, so we don’t need to see you again as that same U.S. Senator later on in your reel. Similarly, if we already saw a clip of you as a detective from one show, we don’t need to see you playing five other detectives from five other shows on your reel. We got it the first time! You’re a detective! Are the other five detectives going to be vastly different from the first detective we saw? Don’t be redundant. Get to the point. Show us other castings. I think people do that to show off the number of credits they have. They want to show that they have been on numerous network shows or feature films. Remember: Quality vs. Quantity. Things will all look and sound the same if you put five detective scenes on your reel. Pick your best detective scene and let people go to your IMDB page to see the rest of your credits.

**Production value! If you’re just starting out and want to create your reel or if you’ve been in the business for a while and want to update your reel, you can generate your own material and shoot it yourself. Shoot it with high production value so that it can stand up to things that were professionally shot. And for me, production value includes:

  1. Utilizing a great camera.
  2. Utilizing great sound equipment.
  3. Utilizing great lighting equipment.
  4. Having a small crew of people who are proficient with 1, 2 and 3. Also, having a small crew that can assist in other areas such as production assistance, script supervision, a first AD, etc.
  5. Writing a scene that puts you in your best, strongest light. A scene that brings out your great acting work. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, the rule of thumb is that one full page of text usually equates to one minute of screen time. So write a half page scene for your reel and keep the scene focused on you since it’s for your reel.
  6. Rehearsing with your scene partner to carve out the performance.
  7. Creating a simple, yet effective, shot list. Because this scene is for your reel and it’s to showcase you, a medium, dirty over-the-shoulder shot will do the trick! A dirty shot is a shot that contains some physical intrusion, usually in the form of a body part from another actor, like their shoulder, head, hand, leg or waist. The director may want to make the shot dirty to simply give a sense of distance between the two actors.–actinganswers.com

Here are two examples of a dirty over-the shoulder-shot:

This particular shot keeps us focused on you. It’s your reel. You’re the star. If you want to keep the shot static (where we don’t cut back to the other actor) then make the scene shorter. In this way, you lessen the risk of people losing interest in your scene since it has no one to cut back to. And because of the way the above shots are framed, you can set up a nice and simple production design in the background that gives us a sense of where we are.

**When you edit your reel, find the musical rhythm and flow of it. Is your first scene light and fun and then the rest of your reel alternates between dark and light scenes? Do you start your reel with something light and end it with something light? Do you have three procedural scenes next to each other that need to be broken up by a scene from a different genre? Depending on the scenes you’ve shot, you will arrange them on your editing timeline in a way that creates a musical rhythm and flow.

**As you play the scenes on your editing timeline, make cuts as needed. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, when you look at an entire scene you’ve shot, find the heart of the scene. Feel where the in and out points are in your 30-35 second clip. I’m really good at feeling the in and out points of a scene. As a dancer and as someone who loves music, I can feel where the scene should begin and where it should end. My body does this physical motion of when it feels the scene should begin and where it should end. I hope that makes sense LOL.

When I look at someone’s reel, I’m good at saying, “End the scene right there. Don’t go past that moment.”

Hope these tips help you!

ShondaLand Update!

So in last Sunday’s blog entry, “Yale + Harvard = ShondaLand?”, I shared with you all an assignment I received to read challenging material out loud for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night for one full month. The objective was to train myself to pick up material cold, on the spot, and read from it with confidence and fluidity. This practice will help me with procedural auditions (cold readings in particular)

I decided to tackle articles from the Yale Law Review, the Harvard Medical Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine. I want these journals to be one of the tools I use to understand and get myself into a procedural world like ShondaLand.

Lord chile! I stumbled through all of the journals for the first fews days. I think I had a 70% success rate of ease and comfortability. The remaining 30% of challenge came from law and medical terms I was not familiar with. Or a series of large words that require effort and thought. Every time I stumbled, I would read the section over and over again until I nailed it.

DEFIBRILLATOR!

AORTIC!

UNILATERAL HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION!

Critics of the criminalization of aggression adopt the same understanding of the internal normative posture of the law, but object to its classification alongside the other international crimes precisely because it privileges sovereignty over humanity. (Yale Law Journal. “Why Have We Criminalized Aggressive War?” by Tom Dannenbaum)

The cool thing I noticed was that I read each article as an actor. Meaning that even though I stumbled over unfamiliar words here and there, I still had a strong sense of storytelling. I understood setup and payoff with certain sections. I added emphasis in certain sections to drive a point home. I felt like I was delivering a speech to an assembled audience of doctors or lawyers and I wanted to make sure that my communication landed on them. That I was impinging them. That I was connecting to them.

One week down! Three more weeks to go! At some point, I’d love to film myself reading one of these articles cold and then sharing it with you all.

Yale + Harvard = ShondaLand?

I recently did a cold read audition in class. I had 10 minutes to prepare for this procedural type material. I was playing a character who was one of the top heart surgeons in the city. I quickly started making strong choices, but I found myself tripping over the medical terms. I realized that procedurals are an area where I need more strengthening. By the way, “procedural” is a term used to describe a type of television series: medical, law, cop/detective.

I did my cold read on camera and it went very well. When I watched my audition and assessed my work afterwards, I said that I was happy with what I created in 10 minutes. However, I could see that my attention was on making sure that I delivered the medical terms correctly first and that my performance came second. I was more focused on getting the words right then focusing on my performance.

So my teacher, Richard Lawson, gave me an assignment. Actually, he gave the entire class an assignment. Over the next month, he wants us to pick up and read challenging material out loud for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. In this way, we build certainty and strength in picking up challenging material and reading it cold out loud.

Like anything else, it’s about the reps. It takes practice. Some people are just naturally at ease when it comes to procedural terminology. For others, like myself, it takes practice. If I go in for any procedural show like Scandal or NCIS New Orleans or Chicago Med, I need to be comfortable with saying their words in a clear and confident way. Picking up challenging material and reading it out loud for the next month is going to be very helpful.

So I decided to read articles from the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Medicine Magazine. I’ll also read articles from The New England Journal of Medicine.

In a month, we’re going to do cold read auditions again and he’s going to give us sides from procedural TV shows. It will be great to see how much I improve in picking up challenging procedural sides and reading them cold with more certainty and confidence.

Will Yale and Harvard lead me to ShondaLand?

Stay tuned!

Sending The Elevator Down

I recently met with a talented actor and friend to help them with his business plan-or DOIN’ as we call it at the Richard Lawson Studios. DOIN’ stands for Declaration of Independence. We only focused on his raison d’être (which literally means your reason for existence. Your reason for being.) In other words, purpose. What is your purpose as an artist and as a person? Why are you pursuing this particular career and not another one like law, medicine, etc.? We only focused on this part because the raison d’être is the engine that drives everything. It colors and influences everything that comes after it in your business plan.

It was great to hear his raison d’être and then ask the next question so that it could be a little more specific and personal to him. What he had already written down was great! I just asked questions to help him take it to a higher level of specificity and personal resonance.

And there was one part in his raison d’être that really struck me. He mentioned “sending down the elevator” to others when he reaches a certain level of success. “Sending down the elevator” meaning that he’s reached a high level of success and now wants to give back to others in the same way people have supported him in his journey. He wants to pay it forward to others who are just starting out, who need direction or help, etc. He took the elevator up to the top and now wants to send it down to others and help them make it to the top as well.

It’s interesting because I’ve heard this similar desire in others who have shared their raison d’être with me before. They too want to help and inspire others. And what I told my friend is that he can send the elevator down NOW. Through small, simple, meaningful actions of GIVE, he can help others now.

Now, as he becomes more famous or wealthy, his sphere of influence and give will increase. But he can take actions now. He loved that perspective and it opened up his eyes to the fact that he can give now. He’s excited in what he can do now to help others and I can’t wait to check in with him to see what actions he’s taking.

So, you don’t have to wait until you “make it” or become famous or rich in order to send the elevator down. Your raison d’être exists in you now. That’s what drives you every day to be who and what you are. So give now.

For those of you at home experiencing a similar situation as my friend, here are some simple, doable actions of give that I’m going to quickly throw out as they pop into my head:

Offer to help someone do their first scene in scene study class.

Offer to help someone with their film shoot by being a production assistant or first assistant director or running craft services, etc.

Support someone by attending their comedy showcase.

Help someone out with their audition.

Be a buddy or mentor to a new student in class and show them the ropes, the ins and outs.

Offer to help someone out at their headshot session.

Share someone’s weekly blog entries with your contacts and on your social media 🙂 🙂 🙂

Introduce someone to your agent or manager.

Introduce someone to your friends.

Volunteer at a shelter.

Donate money or time to charities.

Donate money to a fundraising campaign to help bring a person’s passion project to life.

Offer to listen and provide helpful advice.

If you see an opportunity for someone, let them know about it.

Go to the movies with someone.

Take someone out to lunch.

Share someone’s weekly blog entries with your contacts and on your social media 🙂 🙂 🙂

Write someone a note of thanks and appreciation.

Do research for someone in a particular area they need help with.

Donate items to someone’s yard sale.

If someone is looking to repaint or redecorate their room, offer help.

If someone needs help moving out of their old place and into their new one, offer help.

What other ways can you think of to pay it forward and give? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below!