Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Moving for the New Year!

As 2014 comes to a close, we reflect on the year gone by.  Many of us have New Year's resolutions; it seems that this time of year is the perfect time to re-design our lives and make new promises and pledges.

While I am writing this post, I am also in the process of re-designing my website for 2015.  In the past, I designed sites using Dreamweaver and constructing them from scratch in either HTML or Flash.  But those methods are outdated with today's dynamic sites, and so I find myself having to go back and learn a new way of doing things.

WordPress is the new standard for building a site, and I can attest that once you figure out how to install it, construction of a site is really easy.   Since I am now building the site with WordPress, I will be migrating my blog over to my website, instead of having it linked to Blogger as it is now.

My official Website

So this will be my final post here at the Blogger site.  I will keep this blog as an archive, and instead of moving all my posts over to my website, I will just pick up where I leave off here.

Hope your holidays were merry and bright, and wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year 2015!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why Acting Should Be Like Sparring...

"Be water.  Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Now water can flow, or it can water, my friend."  -- Bruce Lee
The above quote is a great example of "going with the flow".  As actors, we've all heard about "being in the moment", a Zen-like state where we can react to our scene partner without any preconceived notion as to how we are going to respond.  Trouble is, when we've been in class long enough to have learned a technique, we begin to over-prepare what we're going to do and how we're going to approach the scene.  This takes a natural response and turns it into a kind of acting "choreography".

Choreography is nice when you're doing a dance number, or a fight scene.  But choreographed acting looks robotic and lacks any ability to change or adjust as needed.  When you preset all of your "beats" and "moments" in an audition, it turns you into a mechanical automaton and looks stilted on camera.

Lots of actors come from a stage background where this mechanical type of acting isn't as apparent.  And since stage blocking has a kind of choreography to it as well, it reads okay.  It's a lot like watching a kata performance in martial arts.   For those of you who don't know, a kata is a pre-arranged routine of movement and technique performed solo against imaginary opponents.  The pattern does not change and is the same every time you perform it.  It's very similar to a fight choreography.

But when you spar in the martial arts, all prearranged movement goes out the window.  You're required to respond to an attack that you don't know is coming, in real time.  Improv, so to speak.  While kata can teach you useful techniques, you have to be able to apply them in a live situation and adjust to the changing conditions.

So it is with good acting.  Even when the director gives you a way to approach the material, when you get on set or on stage, the other actors in the scene are going to influence how you perform.  Your preparation as an actor should be complete, but you need to be able to "let it go" when the cameras roll or the lights go up.

Improv and sparring are so similar, I often reference both of them when teaching.  I'll teach actors about sparring and being able to respond without over-thinking, and my karate students learn about Improv and "being in the moment".

So, preparation and good form are nice.  But remember, in order to apply them, you need to be able to  "do it live".

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Keeping That Inner Monologue Inside...

With the advent of Social Media, for the first time in world history, the possibility exists for millions of people to be able to read your mind.  Think about that for a moment.  I'm not talking about telepathy, rather I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even the lowly Blog post.

Take blogging, for example.  If you've read my other posts, as well as my other blog The Four Scorpio Production Report, then you've been able to tap into my thoughts, however briefly.  As a writer, I am putting my ideas down onto virtual paper where they are then posted into the ether for all eternity (thanks to the Internet Wayback machine, nothing ever dies online).

With Facebook and Twitter, people's thoughts are being transmitted all over the world in real time--billions and billions of postings each day.  With Wi-Fi, these thoughts can even be read in outer space.  Like radio back in the 1920s, anyone with a receiver (smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, etc.) can log on and see whatever you post.

Those of us who remember the 20th Century, or even the last decade, remember what life was like before all this technology overload.  Us actors, directors, producers, writers, and other Hollywood creatives who made the migration to Los Angeles back in the days of black & white headshots , pagers and messenger services have witnessed the biggest change to the entertainment industry since the advent of talking pictures.

Yes, the changes going on today are even bigger than when TV first made its consumer advent back in the 1950s.  Never before has it been literally possible to actually be able to communicate with so many entertainers and public figures in real time.  Anyone who's followed a celebrity on Twitter knows what I'm talking about.  You can literally talk back to them, and sometimes, they will answer you!

For those of us pursuing careers as public figures, this gives us an awesome opportunity that never existed before.  In the space of less than a decade, we have our own film distribution network (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), real time press releases (Twitter), and virtual audience meet & greet (Facebook -- which also works great as a time machine!)  But even the general public has access to this technology, and so the lines between public and private life are being blurred more and more each minute.

When Andy Warhol stated that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, I don't think he was envisioning today's technology.  But these advances have definitely fulfilled his prophecy.

So, back to my point about keeping an inner monologue inside.  Because everyone has access to this technology, the temptation to post, Tweet, blog, Vine or YouTube about anything on your mind is a very great one.  Whenever you see a post or article on the Internet that you don't like, it's very tempting to go on a real-time rant, texting furiously with your thumbs.  Sometimes, when you're not in the right frame of mind, you might be tempted to Twitpic a very inappropriate photo.

As human beings, our brains have the amazing opportunity to abandon all sense of rational thought at the drop of a hat.  None of us are immune from this.  Everyone from Einstein down to the lowliest of the lowly has probably said things that we've regretted.  But back in the 90s, it wouldn't come back to haunt us like it will now.  With average people making CNN headlines regarding sexting pics and the like that have cost them jobs and relationships, it's become more and more evident that this Internet is a loaded weapon with the same destructive power as the atom bomb.

So actors, beware.  Sometimes your inner monologue should just stay inside.  Considering that we're trying to build our own brand, it's very important that anything we do post or say is carefully crafted and thought out.  Stream of consciousness works great with Improv, but Twitter and Facebook is no place to practice being "in the moment".  Anything you say or post should be in line with your brand.  If your image that is being crafted is one of political activism, then by all means go political.  But if that's not your bag, there's nothing wrong with staying out of those Facebook rants and debates.

The only thing I would recommend being an "Outer Monologue" would be those uplifting news stories and videos that show the best of humanity (or animals doing cute things).  No matter what your religious or political beliefs,  posts like that can make us feel connected and restore faith in the human species.  With all the negative crap out there, stuff like this should definitely keep going viral.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Living The REEL Dream...

You know, sometimes this show business career can start to feel like a job -- lots of work, tedium, frustration, etc.  Those of us who've chosen to earn a living in this profession know the feeling.  It's hard, at times.  No one said this was going to be easy.  But just remember why you got into this business in the first place.

Only in show business can you have those moments where you realize that you really are living your childhood dreams.  Though those dreams seemed impossible when you were young, eventually you found yourself actually pursuing them, and once in a while, it hits home how far you've come.

It's good to acknowledge those moments and celebrate them.  Maybe there was an actor who inspired you when you were a kid, and now you find yourself working with them.  Or maybe you grew up being a big fan of a particular director, and they just cast you in their latest film.   Maybe it's that moment where you stand at the top of Beachwood, looking at the Hollywood sign, realizing that you made it all the way to L.A.

When I was a kid, I never fantasized about being with a particular agent or manager.  Hell, I had no idea how Hollywood worked!  I didn't know what a step deal, network test, or commercial residuals were.  I didn't care about that stuff.  As a kid, I visualized myself standing in front of a camera on a set on a big studio lot, where someone would step in front of me and clap a slate board, and a director would yell "Action!"   Then I'd "do my thing" and act.  Sometimes I'd think about walking the red carpet (usually during Oscar season), but for the most part, I was in love with the idea of working in movies.

I never fantasized about being known by all the casting directors in town, or signing a Schedule F contract and having a superagent negotiate a double banger while I'm on location.  I would imagine myself on location, filming and working with a huge crew, special effects and the like, the kind of stuff you'd see on those "making of" documentaries.

I'm not saying that all the other business stuff and money isn't important.  As a professional, this is part and parcel of what comes with the job.  But it's not the reason I chose this path.

We all get discouraged from time to time, for a myriad of reasons too countless to list on a blog post.  I suggest that during those moments, you stop and take time to remember what motivated you in the first place.   If you're an actor, pause for a moment the next time you're working on the studio lot, or on location.  Take a look around at the set, craft services, the camera trucks, C-stands, grips, camera & dolly rigging, etc.  Realize that you've "made it" and you keep making it every day that you can wake up and keep going.

Those of us lucky enough to be living the dreams we had as children should feel happy that we are living our lives on our own terms.  As a child, my father dreamed about being in the military as he would watch the freight trains transporting troops and materials off to WW2.  He always wanted to go to sea.  Growing up in Darby, PA, the closest body of water was the Delaware River, and it would seem that the ocean was a world away.  But after he finished college, he followed his dream, going to OCS and becoming a life-long Navy officer.   My dad would always talk about how much he loved being at sea.  That was his dream, and he got to live it.   Now I'm doing the same.

Don't cheat yourself out of the life you want.   Don't just settle for what you think you should be doing with your life.  Whatever it is that stirs passion in you, you should find a way to do that.  Life's way too short.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wearing the Writer's Hat...

In my last post, I spoke about the power of saying yes.   Well, I recently had another really good opportunity with my friends at WickedLit.  I was invited to write an adaptation of classic horror literature for to be considered for the main Halloween festival.  With the huge success over the past five years, the producers have realized that it's smart to open up to a larger pool of writers and directors so that there's more material to choose from.

Yes, I am a writer too,  although I primarily write feature films (a few which have been produced).  I've never tackled a stage play before.  I knew it was going to be a challenge.  Not only did I have to master the art form, but I also had to find source material that was both in the public domain, and of the horror genre. With all of the online resources, it would be a piece of cake, right? has proven to be quite a challenge.  The main challenge is finding the right story to adapt.  As a writer, I have really high standards for myself.  I don't want to adapt something that is too similar to what has already been successfully produced.  I also don't want to waste time doing an adaptation of a story that is physically impossible to produce in stage form.  There's a lot of great Victorian classics out there that don't work on the stage for various reasons.

This is where the fear comes in.  Fear that I won't find anything suitable, and that I will fail to complete this task that I've set upon myself.  I can't tell you how many times I've felt the futility.  But, I've kept myself to a strict regimen of methodical searching, and I can now say I have found a story that I believe is not only suitable for production, but it also is a story that I would love to see come to life.

I won't go into specifics, only that this material has really excited me, and I stumbled upon it by accident. Through searching for material by a more well known author, I came upon a blog post about this author and a mention of a story that was thought to have inspired another story I was considering.  When I looked up this story, I knew that this was the one!

When writing an adaptation, you need to read the source material several times.  A well written piece will reveal something new with each successive reading.  One thing I've learned about adaptation is that while you want to capture the original author's spirit, you need to let your own voice shine through.  When adapting for the stage, sometimes you need to change parts of the story to make it fit dramatically.  You also need to pick a story that excites you, as you will be working on it for quite a bit of time!

As far as mastering play writing, I understand that can take a lifetime, but I do know that as an actor who's appeared in numerous plays over the year, I understand the medium and how a story needs to be told onstage.  It's quite different from screenwriting, which is visual and action-driven.  A stage play is dialogue driven.  That's why the margins for dialogue are practically page width for a play and a narrow column for a screenplay.

It's been quite a journey so far, and there's quite a bit of re-writing to do, but it's a great start to 2014!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Power of YES...

Sometimes, it pays to say yes.   As creative artists, we are always told that in order to grow with our art, we need to take risks; think "out of the box".  It supposedly opens us up to new opportunity and experience.

That is absolutely correct.  I find that if something scares me, it's more the reason to say yes to it.  Now, I'm not talking about "extreme sports" or skydiving, bungee jumping, or things that might result in serious injury or death (to an untrained person).   In those cases, fear is a good thing.

But fear is a good thing in your career as well.  Sometimes it can point you in the right direction.  We get so used to doing things the same way year after year, that the comfort ends up letting us grow stagnant like an isolated pond.  Eventually the water goes bad, and so the same with our art.

Saying yes also requires that we are able to recognize bona-fide opportunities in order to capitalize on them. We don't always get that three-picture deal from Paramount, but sometimes we get an offer to work on a project that might or might not be something amazing.  Usually these indie projects end up going nowhere, but sometimes, they actually launch into something very cool.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a director on a lead role in a short MMA-themed film.  I also had the opportunity to choreograph the action.  The director really liked my work and wanted to work with me.  I looked at it as a way to really practice my craft, and an opportunity to try something a little different. It's very rare that an actor will get to collaborate to this extent, and so it can feel a little intimidating.

But if you've been working on your craft all along, it's time to trust that you can fly, and go ahead and say YES.    It might just take you to the next level.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

All about the Front Kick

As I've mentioned before, not only am I an actor, but I'm also a martial artist.  I thought that for today's blog post, I'd take a break from normal show buisness related posts and share some of my martial arts.  I'll be periodically doing this in the future too, so please enjoy!


If you've ever taken karate, Tae Kwon Do, or kung fu, then you are familiar with the most basic and fundamental kick in the striking arts...the front kick.  (In Japanese, it's called mae geri.)  This is the easiest kick to learn, but one of the hardest to perfect.  The main problem is that beginners fail to thrust their hips properly.  This results in more of an up-down motion with the foot, and doesn't have stopping power (unless you're kicking up between your opponent's legs, or under his chin.)

For folks who practice MMA, most of your striking skills will come from boxing and Muay Thai.  The Muay Thai front kick is called a teep, and is a front thrust kick used mainly in the ring to push your opponent away and create a gap so you can follow up with the round kick which is more powerful.

But if you learn proper fundamentals, you can have enough stopping power with a front kick, no matter what your style.  The best way to learn this is against a heavy bag.  Only by hitting something with resistance can you actually develop the proper amount of force.

Take a look at the below video for illustration:

In traditional karate, you have two types of front kicks:  the front snap kick (mae geri kekage) and front thrust kick (mae geri keikomi).  The main difference is that the thrust pushes more (similar to a teep), and uses the heel.  A snap kick traditionally is used more for speed, and thus a lot of power is lost.

I personally believe in a happy medium.  You want to have enough speed to snap the kick, but enough hip thrust to deliver full force into the target.  It makes no sense to just flick a kick out there (unless you're performing in an action scene in a movie).  If your kick doesn't have enough stopping power, you'll not be able to use it in a self defense situation.

But you don't want to just muscle your way through the kick, otherwise it will be too slow and lumbering.  to practice speed with power, I like to use a good-ol' top & bottom bag.  This bag is primarily used by boxers to practice slipping, bobbing & weaving while striking with their punches.  It's a lot more difficult to apply linear kicks against, since the speed and lightness of the bag makes it difficult for your kicks to have enough speed to hit it.  With practice, it is possible as illustrated in the video below:

So there you have it.  To improve your front kick, it's important to develop both speed and power.  Karate is all about balance, and this especially important in how you practice.

Happy Training!