Tuesday’s Tip for Wannabes

Don’t feel bad if you don’t have a good answer when people ask “Have you published anything yet?” or “What have you been in that I might have seen?”  Only Wannabes and people working in the biz know how crowded auditions are, how you can shoot an entire indie feature film that never sees the light of day, or how many rejections you have to get before you can actually see your work published. Try not to measure your success through an outsider’s point of view. A callback for an audition or a request from an agent for your manuscript is a big deal, even if it’s not easily visible to others.

Advice for the Beginning Actor

 Today’s Guest Blog is brought to you by actor Gabriel Voss. Gabriel is a prolific actor who recently received a Best Actor nomination from the World Music and Independent Film Festival for his lead role in the feature BRIGHT LIGHTS & PROMISES. Visit his inspiring and educational acting blog, see his monologue, and see his impressive resume on IMDB. Many thanks to Gabriel for stopping by Wannabe Pride and sharing his inspirational advice!

“Never, never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

If you are just getting your feet wet as an actor, then everything I’m going to say in this blog has already been summed up above. If you’re busy (as most of us are), you need read no further. The Cliff Notes version is in Churchill’s quote. If you have a few minutes extra and want the full story, read on. 

Perseverance is the key to success in any field, acting not excepted. When you’re starting out as an actor, it’s all excitement, all illusions of grandeur that you’ll be “discovered” in short order and off to Hollywood to make loads of money starring in blockbuster films. Even for the more grounded among us, it’s difficult to keep your head out of the clouds when it comes to envisioning your acting career. So snap back to reality with me for a moment. 

Typically, new actors struggle to get their first gig. By “gig” I mean acting job where you actually have lines to say – whether in a commercial, an industrial, or a film. Many wannabe actors get discouraged at this pupae stage of their career and decide it isn’t for them. For those that stick around and land their first gig, it’s completely intoxicating.

 You must be good or they wouldn’t have chosen you over the dozens or hundreds of others in the crowd. You’ve been discovered! You’re on your way! Next stop, Hollywood! Okay, I’m belaboring the point, but only because I’ve been guilty of getting carried away too.

The elation of landing that first gig starts to wear off the second shooting is wrapped and you realize people aren’t flooding your inbox and phone with requests to be in their next project. When you’re back to square one fighting tooth and nail for the next gig.

 Some get lucky here and book back-to-back projects (the film industry loves new faces, but only for a short while). Others have trouble getting the next audition and even more trouble landing another role. The first group is still at the top of the mountain emotionally, while the second group is beginning to understand what the dark and lonely valley of the acting world feels like. Eventually, even those that booked a lot of stuff initially will hit the doldrums, will question their ability and themselves. It happens to everyone.

 I say this not to discourage you, but to encourage you. To let you know that when you go through droughts (which is harder to take earlier in your career), you aren’t alone. No matter how much it may seem other actors you know are forever busy, they have their slow times too. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad actor or that no one wants to hire you. It’s just the nature of the beast. It will get to you, there’s no way around that. But don’t let it take you down. 

A personal example might help. I’ve been acting for a little over two years now, full time for almost 6 months. Three weeks ago I had the following 10 day schedule: spend 6 days in LA for a film festival at which an indie feature I was the lead male in won best musical, film a lead role in a comedy short, two auditions for major commercials, two shoot days on another indie feature film, and film a webcast hosting gig about lunar exploration. My schedule was packed and I certainly felt in demand and like things were taking off. Two weeks later, I had nothing – no filming, no auditions, no prospects. I felt like I was almost back to square one. What happened? What had gone wrong? 

Nothing. That’s just how it goes.

 There are incredible highs and heart-wrenching lows in the acting business. You never know what’s going to happen next. Maybe it’ll be the big break you’ve been waiting for; maybe it’ll be nothing at all. As a new actor the best thing you can do is resolve to just keep going not matter what. Eventually (and it could be years), you will get noticed, your career will pick up steam, you will find yourself going places. But you can’t get there if you give up. 

I’m not the only one saying this. Ask anyone in the business and they’ll say the same. Yesterday I got an email from a friend of a friend who is a low-level producer in LA. I’d asked him for insight on the LA scene based on his 5 years experience out there. The first and only piece of advice he gave me: “The best advice I can give you is to persevere and not give up.  Many of the people working in the industry are not there because of sheer talent but because they keep trying.”

 Never, never, never, never give up. If this is what you want to do, do it. Keep doing it. Day in and day out. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you in your journey – you will need them. You will want to quit, you will question your ability, you will cry.

 But if you keep at it, you will succeed.

I’ll end as I began, with the timeless words of Winston Churchill who knows a thing or two about perseverance: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” 

Welcome to the struggle. It is immensely difficult but ineffably rewarding. We are all rooting for you. You can do it.

 — Gabriel Voss

Rebecca Black’s “Friday”

I’ve heard a lot of talk in passing about Rebecca Black and her Youtube song/video “Friday” and it’s taken me until now to finally go take a look at it. If you are one of the 101.6 million people to date who have viewed it, you know that it’s kind of a silly song with silly lyrics. Nothing more, nothing less.

There are more than 2.1 million comments on the video. 2 million of them are negative.

This is highly, highly disturbing. The girl is 13 years old. She’s a beautiful girl. Her voice isn’t bad at all, though it’s rumored to have been “auto-tuned” significantly. The comments are unbelievably cruel. One says  “I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you look pretty. I hope you cut and die.”

You talk about cyberbullying. That is just beyond horrific.  She’s just a child. And she’s a hell of a lot braver than those cowardly, anonymous, internet commenters. They offered to take down the Youtube video but Rebecca declined. She didn’t want to let them win.

It’s all so depressing, I just don’t even know what to say, except that this is just another reminder that there an awful lot of bullies, cynics, and critics out there and very few people like Rebecca who are brave enough to take them on while they pursue their dreams. It takes a lot more guts to sing out loud, go to an audition, or send out a manuscript than it does to make snide comments while hiding behind your computer.

According to the (always reliable…) internet rumors, Rebecca is nearly as hated as Justin Bieber. Well, THAT kid is laughing all the way to the bank.

I hope Rebecca doesn’t give up. I hope she makes it big someday and shows everybody. Most importantly, I hope she has a very strong family support system. Young people have killed themselves over things like this. It’s always cruel to make nasty comments about someone’s art, but to do it to a teenager is unconscionable.

I don’t know what else to say except – Don’t give up, Rebecca.

Rock on, Wannabes.

Once More…From the Top

My last post was about how I was waiting on a review of my latest outline of my script, which I spent 3 months on, from my trusted script analyst .

So the review was…not great. Not horrible…. I still have a ways to go, which is disappointing. However, I really was expecting that there was more work to be done. Isn’t there always? I’m very glad I didn’t write out the whole script yet (like last time….) I’m still tinkering with the premise and the story structure and that’s what I had gotten reviewed and critiqued. One of the many blogs I read asks authors if they are “plotters” or “pantsers” – meaning do you plot meticulously or do you fly by the seat of your pants? I have been quite surprised to see how many of them are pantsers. Most of them are. That doesn’t mean they just write gold from day one right off the top of their heads. I’m sure they probably go through as many drafts as I do, they just kind of write as they go. I know that story structure is my weakness, which is why I labor to outline carefully first.

One of the most disappointing things about this review is that I want to write pages. Not outlines or story beats, but dialogue and characters and, well the STORY. I want to tell my story already. But for me, there’s no use in writing out a 100+ script if I haven’t gotten the story straight yet.

 I didn’t get the “so, I think this all hangs together better now” that I get from my trusty script reader when I’ve finally gotten the story structure down. I got a “so I still don’t think you’ve cracked the story yet.” But I did get a “I think there’s definitely something here, but you really need to find a way to make it work.” So I’m getting there. Slowly.

One of the problems with getting this professional review is that there are some suggestions that I can see right away will be helpful, but there are a few that I’m really resistant to. I just don’t want the script to go in that direction. It’s times like these that I really, really wish I had other writer friends to bounce ideas off of. I would love to get another writer’s opinion. I just don’t really know any writers. It can be very hard to trust yourself as a writer, but I suppose in the end, you have to go with your gut and write the way you feel you ought to. At the end of the day, it’s my story. I have to have faith that, eventually, I will be able to tell it right.

On to the next draft….

Revvin’ up for Rejection

It’s time again to send out for another review. It’s just an outline of a script this time, but I spent a great deal of time, thought, and effort on it. I’ve woken up at 5am to work on it, scribbled notes while I was on the treadmill, listened to music to help figure out characters and motivations, and thought about the story while I was in the car during my 45 minute commute to work. I’ve agonized over it, trying to add enough tension, motivation, humor, and heartbreak to make it a compelling story.

 And I’m fully prepared to watch it get torn to pieces before my very eyes. 

Well, as prepared as I can really be anyway.

 Maybe prepared isn’t the right word. Expect. I fully expect that it will get torn to pieces.

This will be the third major overhaul for me for this particular script. I spent several months on the first outline, only to be told by my trusty script analyst that the basic premise just wouldn’t work out well. I took a step back to look at it and I realized he was probably right. So, on to draft two. Again, several months of work. I incorporated some but not all of his suggestions for the first draft. This time, I wrote out the entire script. It wasn’t just an outline for review this time, it was an entire script. It was “getting there”, but there was still a long ways to go. I wasn’t expecting the review to be as bad as it was, but it happens.

I took another step back and really looked at what I had written on the second draft. Even though he indicated that I was kind of on the right track, I wasn’t happy with it. It just didn’t feel right. I found I didn’t like some of his original suggestions after all. It’s not that I didn’t agree with them, I just found they didn’t seem right for the story I wanted to tell. One of my analyst’s greatest strengths is the way he always tells me to filter his statements through my own desires for the script. He doesn’t know what story I want to tell. Only I know that. He offers many suggestions and tells me to use the ones that fit right. 

So I pretty much shredded that draft and started completely over. That was in January. It’s taken me that long to pound out a 10 page outline. I wish I could work faster than that, especially given the chance that I might just have to start all over AGAIN.  Like many others, I’m balancing a family and a full time job. My progress is slow, but it’s steady. I’m always writing. I’m also always reading. I try to read a screenplay a week, a novel about every two weeks, and I read many blogs.

 The blogs have been especially helpful in the interim since my last script review. I love reading SCRIPTSHADOW. The blogger, Carson Reeves, reviews all kinds of screenplays, from Hollywood’s hottest spec sales to produced screenplays to amateur scripts. And you know what? They ALL need revision. Even the ones that sold for half a million bucks. They’re all in need of rewriting all the time. Big changes, small changes, character improvements, dialogue sharpening, and more. Some of the reviews of supposedly excellent scripts are far worse than the reviews I received. 

I’ve always known that all writers need revisions and that everybody gets their work critiqued. Intellectually, I know this. It’s really a different story to actually get to read some of the scripts and then the review. 

I realized, for the first time, that it’s really NOT just me. I’m a writer. I get bad reviews and I start over and rewrite again and again because I’m a writer. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. 

Pete Docter, of the incredible PIXAR Studios, said “Pixar movies don’t get finished, they just get released.” That’s such a wonderful reminder that those Pixar movies that contain some of the best screenwriting ever produced got that way by being rewritten again and again and again by a whole team of writers. They didn’t get it right on the first or the twentieth try and neither will I. What we have in common is the perseverance to work hard and make the writing the best that it can be.

So I’m preparing – um, EXPECTING – that this latest outline will need revisions. And I’m ready to do whatever is necessary to make this script the best that it can be.

 But I’ve worked very hard on this outline and I’m still hoping that this review will be better than the last one.  

Stay tuned.