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!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Myth of the STARmeter...

Hey there, aspiring actors!  Here's a nifty-difty guaranteed way to increase your perception in the industry!  For a low price of $199.95 (etc.), we can guarantee to boost your IMDB STARmeter!  Everyone knows that top casting offices look at your STARmeter as their primary source of who's good enough to audition!  Why, you don't even need to have that many credits to get within the top 25,000 in Hollywood!

(The above paragraph is best read through an old-timey megaphone while wearing your best ringmaster outfit and simultaneously playing the flim-flam with a set of spoons.  )

Those of us professionals who've been at this for some time is well aware of the IMDB STARmeter.  For those readers who aren't in the know, the STARmeter is this gimmick which ranks Hollywood professionals according to their awareness in the industry.  In order to fall within the top 10 or even 100, you have to be a pretty big star.  The reason for this is that those stars are constantly having articles, reviews, talk show appearances, trade mentions, etc., so the more that's published on you, the higher that you'll end up ranking.

Case in point, for several consecutive weeks this year, Jennifer Lawrence was at #1.  Between her SAG Award and Oscar win this year, plus production on the Hunger Games sequel, J-Law was popping up all over the place in the media.  That's how you boost your STARmeter, by getting bona-fide publicity.

If you're an actor who's been lucky to have been cast in a memorable role in a classic movie, you're guaranteed to have an awesome STARmeter ranking for practically the rest of your life.  The reason for that is that every time someone searches the movie you're in, it adds to your ranking.  Whenever they click on your IMDB page, that works too.

Now there are a bunch of folks who have figured out that this is a great way to manipulate your STARmeter ranking.  By forming groups who click on each other's page, it will boost the STARmeter numbers from a 6 or 7 digit ranking, (ie: 1,000,000s to 100,000s) to a 5 digit ranking (that usually only goes as high as 30,000).  The lower the number, the better.

If you're a subscriber to IMDB pro, then you have access to view everyone's numbers on their STARmeter. This gimmick has resulted in this century's version of putting extra work as "featured" on your resume-- the STARmeter manipulation.

Why would an actor want to artificially boost their STARmeter?  Well, there's this erroneous perception that agents and casting directors only want to work with high ranking STARmeter actors.  When an actor isn't getting auditions, or work, they make up all these cockamamie ideas as to why they can't get arrested in this town.  It used to be the old BS of "well, your headshots are lithos, and CDs only want photo prints", or "you're not SAG eligible yet, if you were in the union, you could get called in on the top projects".  Yada yada yada, blah blah blah...

So now, there's a whole new generation of actors who think they can skip paying their dues by cooking the numbers on STARmeter.  Guess what?  IT DOESN'T WORK.  Sure, your numbers will improve, but that doesn't mean you're going to get called in for the next Star Wars movie.

You can spot these actors a light year away.  They're the ones with 3 credits on their page in short films with no distribution, but their STARmeter is up to 25K.  Compare them to legit actors who've done multiple films, TV, etc. credits over a couple of decades with a lower ranking STARmeter.  Who do you think is going to get more opportunity to work?  If you take two actors of the same physicality,  age range, and same level of agent, but one has a STARmeter of 38,000 and two credits in no-name shorts, and the other actor has a STARmeter of 198,000 and has had guest spots on several series, plus small roles in studio films, which one do you think that casting directors are going to call for an audition?

On the other side of the audition table are the buyers.  The casting director is like the middleman between the producers (buyers) and the talent (product).  Even a low budget movie has several thousands of dollars being put up as risk.  Casting directors, producers, and directors want to work with professional actors who can nail the role, show up on time, get along with everyone on set, and who are a pleasure to work with.  The more experience you have, the easier it is to find work (relatively speaking).

Instead of spending your money and time on the next big acting scam, try booking work instead.  Short films, student films and industrials are great ways to practice your craft, while getting valuable footage for your reel, which will help get you to the next level.  Once you've got a full resume, you can then spend your time and effort on working in productions that are challenging, or higher quality.  You want to work with ambitious filmmakers who are themselves building a career, because those are the folks you will want to have a professional relationship with in the future.

Look at the great Hollywood working relationships.  From John Ford and John Wayne to Martin Scorcese and Robert De Niro and even Judd Apatow and his "conservatory" of actors he always seems to cast in his films.  That's where you want to focus your energy.  Don't worry about the STARmeter (the numbers go up and down each week anyway) -- if your goal is to have a career, then you need to work.  Can't have a career without the work!

As actors, there's very little we have within our control.  For those things that we can control, we should put most of our efforts.  The red carpet will come, trust me.  And you might even get to work with some awesome and amazing up-and-comers!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Tribute to Clawde

On August 30th, my wife Pamela and I lost our beloved and furry companion Clawde, who had been a part of our lives for almost 14 years.  I first got him in 1999 as a kitten.  We bonded right away.  I got him a week before I met Pamela.  In fact, today is the 14th anniversary of when he first came to live with me on September 27th.

Here's my all time favorite photo of him, taken in the first few days of being together.  By this time, I had given him his name -- Clawde.  It was the perfect name and totally fit his personality.

He was a little bundle of energy.  He loved to run around the house and jump up on desks and tables and shelves, etc.  But he made up for that in pure affection.  I've had cats before, when I was growing up, but never had such a close bond as I did with Clawde.  He had more personality than most cats which countered the stereotype of cats being aloof and snooty.  He was a very cuddly cat.  If you sat down to watch TV or read a book, within 90 seconds he'd hop up in your lap.  If you were laying down, he'd lie on your chest.

Pamela also bonded with him.  He loved sleeping with us in the bed, and he even had his own pillow.  No matter what stress was going on in your life, his presence would make your worries melt away as you pet him to the melodious strains of his purring.  And he was quite the talker -- he loved to meow, but not just when he wanted something.  It was his way of talking to us.  Whenever Pamela & I would sit together, he'd join in.  We truly were a family.  At times he seemed more like a little person than an animal.

As he matured, his boundless kitten energy mellowed out a bit -- but not so much that he stopped being active.  Actually, he continued to act like a young cat well into his "senior" years.  He was athletic enough to be able to jump up on a high table, and still sprint across the room, leaping over obstacles.

Clawde still maintained his youthful vigor.  Almost every day, he'd get the "morning crazies" where do his morning sprints just for fun, and he'd always run a lap or two right after using the litter box.  But he was a well-mannered cat.  On weekday mornings, he'd politely wait until my alarm went off before running to the kitchen meowing for food.  After feeding him in the morning, he'd like to take his post at our window, looking out at the scenery.

In the days when we still let him go outdoors, he'd hop up on the car's hood to greet us when we'd come home.  He'd catch large leaves and bring those to the porch as gifts.  I remember one time he had what looked like a lizard in his mouth, but turned out to be a long leaf.  He dropped it and proceeded to play around with it like it was prey.   Another time, we saw him chilling next to a squirrel as it was eating some kind of nut.  Clawde was the living embodiment of Ahimsa, or non-violence.

Pamela and Clawde had a special bond, as you can see from the photo below.  In fact, Most of our photos with him have us holding him, or him snuggled up next to us.

 Here's a recent photo from a few months ago of Clawde in one of his favorite poses on our bed:

Clawde's spirit was indomitable.  He gave Pamela & I unconditional love.  If you've ever lost a beloved pet in your life, then you know the heartbreak.  Our pets are more than just animals--they are our best friends. They don't judge us, and they don't demand (much) from us. They don't hold on to the past...rather, they live completely in the moment.  If we give them unconditional love, they return that love a hundred fold.  And when they leave us, it leaves a big hole in our lives.

I had never heard about the Rainbow Bridge until Clawde passed away.  Here's a link to the poem: The Rainbow Bridge.  I know someday Pamela & I will reunite with him there.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Keeping the Fire In The Belly...

Let's face it.  Actors are entrepreneurs.   We're the CEO's of our own businesses.   And as our own bosses, we ultimately are responsible for our progress and overall success.  Yes, it's true that audience plays a big part in how successful we can be, but the buck really stops with us.

Whenever I encounter a young actor still in school and not yet a professional, I always try to warn them about the harsh realities of doing this professionally.  Not the statistics about "only 1% of actors ever make a living...yada, yada, yada", but the harsh reality that this career needs to become a part of your life and a working routine if you ever want to achieve anything with it.  There's a lot of "punching the clock" that happens with this career.

Most of the time, (as is in life), progress won't be apparent.  You'll often feel like you're just marking time in a marching band that will never take the field.  It's during those times that you have to just keep plugging away and let go of your expectations.  It's kind of a Zen thing...if you're totally in the moment and not concentrating on results or progress, you can keep doing what needs to be done.

It's important to take the time to reflect on your progress, and if something isn't working, go ahead and initiate plan B.  But you don't want to constantly live in the state of critique.  If you know what day to day things you need to keep doing (via lists, plans, etc.), then you can keep on building.  Major achievements are reached through minor achievements, all adding up to the greater one.

The journey of 1000 miles might begin with a single step, but you have to keep on walking.  As Bruce Lee used to say..."Walk On."

Friday, June 21, 2013

When An Actor Needs To Be A Ninja...

The Ninja.  Shinobi.  Shadow warriors.  Those guys in the black suits with masks that appear as bad guys in martial arts movies.  Very popular in the 80s...not so much nowadays.  What do ninja have to do with today's post?  Good question.  As you may or may not know, the ninja were masters of invisibility.  Back in feudal Japan, they operated behind the scenes, generally as spies and gatherers of intel for the various feudal lords for whom they served as mercenaries.

The ninja were never about achieving notoriety or fame.  In fact, being known as a ninja could get yourself killed.  A ninja was successful if they completed their mission without being detected, and no blood was spilled.  This gave them a fearsome reputation.   See the book below for more info:

The Ninja and Their Secret Fig (Google Affiliate Ad)

But enough of that.  I need to make a connection with acting here.  So here's how you may need to be a ninja sometimes:

You may be fortunate enough to get booked on a studio movie, hit TV show, game show, etc. where the producers want to keep it a secret.   There's a reason why so many big budget movies & TV shows are closed sets.  They want to control the flow of buzz so that they can time it with the project's release.  Getting tons of buzz from actors & extras early on can kill public interest in the project down the line since everyone will already know.

It's not just actors who can leak spoilers.  Frequently, early movie reviewers inadvertently spoil plot points beforehand.  Case in point: well before  Star Trek: Into Darkness opened, there was a review that I read online that said Benedict Cumberbatch's character gets revealed in the movie to be one of the most infamous Trek villains of all time.  Hmmm...I wonder who that could be?  Anyone who's been around long enough to have seen the original Trek films in the 80s knew exactly who they were talking about!  Spoiler!  (I'm not going to name the villain.  If you can't figure him out, go see the movie.)

Another time when you have to be a ninja is if you're auditioning for a very high profile movie.  A lot of times the casting directors will post a high level breakdown to agents that doesn't list the exact project, and the cast breakdowns will be pretty vague, not naming characters specifically.  If you're lucky to get called in to audition, it's best to keep it under your hat.  Especially don't tweet it--again, the producers most likely don't want this leaked until they are ready to announce the cast.  It makes no sense to press release about who might be in the movie; that just confuses everybody and then they have to field calls by other hopefuls who want to get seen for the project, etc.   Besides, if you tell everyone you're "up for the role" in (insert huge movie franchise title here), and you don't get called back, you'll have a whole lot of "did you get it?" questions you'll have to answer.  Use your ninja magic!

In the wonderful world of television, there may be times where you're fortunate enough to know some of the producers or showrunners, and they want to use your services during development.  Script readings, pitch meetings, etc.  It's a great way to help them out, and also get your face out there as well.

Now if you find yourself in these fortuitous circumstances, absolutely "put on your ninja mask".  Resist the urge to post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.  Don't even post on your website.  These projects are meant to be top secret.

I know, I know..."but how am I supposed to generate buzz for my career?"  It's a fine line to tread.  I think that the best way to generate buzz is by engaging your audience.  Not necessarily by plugging every project that you're in, but by "giving back".   I recently "finally" joined Twitter.  While I don't always Tweet, (who wants to know what sandwich I'm having for lunch, anyway?)  I will try to reply or retweet something that I think is either very cool, or helpful.   In fact, in the business world, social media consultants are telling companies that this is the best way to click with their customers. (More about this in a future post)

But back to being a ninja.  Once you've entered into the "inner circle" of development, you may be lucky to be one of the "go to" actors whenever showrunners are developing a new show.  Though your participation in development doesn't always guarantee a slot if the show is picked up, it's a great way to build relationships with those folks behind the scenes who make everything happen.  Eventually when you get some notoriety (from other movies/TV/etc.) , they'll want to attach you to their new project .  And because you were a good ninja, your name will be at the top of their short list.

How do I know this?  Am I speaking from experience?  Well, like my Navy Captain father always told me when I'd ask about classified stuff as a kid:  "I can neither confirm nor deny it, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you."

So remember, sometimes it will pay off in the long run by working in the shadows.  While your low budget and indie projects will usually appreciate your generating buzz for them (as they don't have $$$ for advertising),  programs with lots of money behind them definitely don't want anybody leaking auditions, bookings, photos on the set, etc.

If your goal is to have a nice lengthy career, then you'll best avoid this "social media Darwinism".

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beginner's Mind, or Put On That White Belt...

There's a term in the martial arts called "Beginner's Mind", which refers to that initial state of having an "empty cup" when it comes to knowledge.  A true beginner is one who is eager and ready to learn, with no preconceived notions on how to do the skill that they want to learn.  They are like a sponge, ready to soak up as much knowledge as they can.

If you've ever studied the martial arts, you most likely remember your very first lesson.  If you studied karate, then you remember showing up to the dojo, or rec center, clueless on how you would ever go about learning how to do this punching and kicking stuff.  Most likely, if you were at a traditional dojo, your first lesson would be learning the horse stance, and practicing what the sensei called "blocking techniques", not kicking and punching.

But you had "beginner's mind", so you accepted that this was part of the process.  You had no previous knowledge of any other martial arts, so you just stood there in horse stance (with leg muscles burning) and did your best to mimic those strange arm movements that you were being taught.  If you were lucky, your instructor might have shown you how some of these blocks could be applied, and that made things a bit clearer.

If you continued on in your studies, eventually you probably earned your black belt.  It may have taken years of hard work, but you finally made it.  You finally reached that elusive goal that seemed so far out of reach when you were just a white belt.  Now you were an expert!

Except now that you made black belt, you soon realized that this rank really meant that NOW you were ready to embark on your lifelong study of the art.  In essence, it was time to return to "beginner's mind" and be open to learning new things.  Your training hadn't completed -- there was no "graduation".  There was so much more that you didn't know, that it began to sink in that perhaps you might be doing this for the rest of your life! (Hopefully that was an exciting and positive realization!)

The same goes with acting.  Most of us actors began our craft in the hallowed halls of elementary school, performing in various school plays and whatnot.  We began our careers knowing absolutely nothing about Stanislavski, Meisner, Method, Improv, etc.  We only knew how to "pretend", and that was usually through instinct.  We did learn that it was important to know our lines, as the script was our road map for the play we were performing.  But as far as "being in the moment" or "being real", we didn't really care about those things.

Those of us who took this early school experience and parlayed it into a professional career will recall our very first acting class.  How what seemed so natural and easy suddenly became so very complex.  We had to analyze practically every thought and "beat" of our character.   We did these weird exercises that seemed to have nothing to do with the scene.  It all seemed so awkward, but we figured that this was what we needed to do, so like the white belt with "beginner's mind", we embraced it.

Eventually we developed our own "method" and "technique", in essence, becoming a "black belt" actor.  But like a black belt karateka, hopefully it dawned on us that this "acting" could be a life long study.  But in order to do that, we'd have to be willing to put on that "white belt" mentality.  There's an enormous amount of comfort in thinking that we "know it all".  It means that there is no stone left un-turned, no more knowledge that we don't already have.

But that is where stagnation begins.  Stagnant water begins to rot and decay, attracting algae and bacteria that turn this life giving liquid into a deadly poison.  So goes the same with learning.  If we adopt the attitude that "there ain't anything more to learn", our minds begin to decay, we become fixed in our attitudes and grow into the grumpy curmudgeons that we used to make fun of as kids.

Acting as a profession is a lot of fun, but there are elements in the professional pursuit that are not fun, and actually quite tedious.  We never want to get to the point where we shut down as artists and are ever content with "phoning it in" on any job.  Because that's the time where your artistry begins to die.

If you need to put some life support back into your craft, then perhaps it's time to put that white belt back on.  Get your "beginner's mind" back.  After all, learning a new skill is always exciting and interesting.  A lot of industry gurus will tell you "always be taking acting classes".   I don't necessarily agree 100% with that, but I do agree with the sentiment as it relates to "always be training".

Sometimes learning a completely new and seemingly unrelated-to-acting skill can give our minds the jump start we need to bring back our enthusiasm.  But a lot of these skills can be related to our performing careers, whether it becomes a new special skill.

Another way to infuse your artistry is by doing something different.  By changing up your routine, you begin to expand your mind to new ways of thinking.  I spoke about this in my other blog "The Four Scorpio Production Report", mentioning this book titled The Artist's Way, which helped me get through creative plateaus in my career.  If you haven't heard about the book, you should check out my post "Keeping Motivated" here:

The Artist's Way Morning Pages (Google Affiliate Ad)
The Artist's Way at Work: Ridi (Google Affiliate Ad)

I always love to learn something new.  Back when I began martial arts, I was also learning how to drive as well as going to school, so there was that period in my life where I was spending most of my time being a student.  It was comforting to know that I didn't have to "know everything already", that it was OK to be "just learning".  We need to get back to that mentality and let ourselves off the hook.

So, put on that white belt, empty your cup, and enjoy the bliss of "Beginner's Mind"!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sun Tsu & the Art of Marketing

Actors' Marketing...

I think it's safe to say that this term and "branding" are the 2 new show business buzz words of the early 21st Century.  As actors, we find ourselves bombarded with articles and advice on how to effectively market ourselves.  But how much of it is really necessary, or effective?

I always use effectiveness as a litmus test.  Whether it's martial arts, or this world we call show business, there can be a lot of wasted energy with little payoff.  The trick is figuring out how to get the most bang for your buck, or the most power with the least amount of energy.

When I was a beginner, I wasted a lot of energy in mass mailings, drop-offs, and other various unsolicited submissions that were the equivalent of throwing ninja stars at the side of a barn.  Since I wasn't aiming at a target, it was a nice delusion to think that I was being "pro-active".

Sun Tsu stated in "The Art Of War" that one must "know thy enemy and know thyself". I think most new actors would do well to heed this advice.  Everyone knows about knowing "thy enemy", or targets -- ie. agents, managers, casting directors, directors, producers, etc.  IMDBpro is the perfect resource to do your online intelligence gathering.  There's lots of other ways out there, like Google Alerts and trade publications, so suffice to say I don't really need to cover this stuff.  But it's the other part of Sun Tsu's quote that I need to address.

To "know thyself" means to know where you fit into this big puzzle of show business -- your strengths, weaknesses, goals -- what do you want to accomplish?  "To be a working actor" isn't a strong enough reason, nor does it help you know yourself.  You need to have a specific, distinct focus in this business, not just a goal of "winning an Oscar".  Everything you do should move you forward to that strategic goal.  This is where "branding" comes in.

What the gurus call "branding" isn't really where you're typecast, rather, it's the image that you create for yourself.  Your headshots, reel, website, postcards, etc.  should communicate this image.  Anything that doesn't fit should be eliminated.  For example, my focus is on action, martial arts and comedy roles, primarily in film.  My materials support this focus.  Though I am called in for other roles that don't fit my focus, I look at that as a fringe benefit -- I'm not spending any extra energy chasing them.

There are those that will tell you that you need to adjust your branding to fit the way the industry sees you.  I'm here to tell you that will fail.  Ultimately you may come to resent the types of roles and projects you're offered.  And that will lead to becoming a bitter actor and a major killjoy on a set, which will end up in your perpetual unemployment.

Again, you need to have an ultimate focus.  Not an unrealistic goal, but one that can be achieved.   If I wanted my ultimate goal to be a teen idol, then I would definitely fail, since I'm way out of that demographic. I love action roles, but another unrealistic goal would be to be cast as Superman.  My persona and energy just don't fit in with the Man of Steel.  Any action role for a big invincible hero would also fall flat.  But I want to do action roles!  Does this mean I have to give up that dream?

If your ultimate focus can be molded to fit YOU, then there's nothing stopping you.  Going back to myself, if I mold my goal based on Jackie Chan type characters instead of Bruce Lee characters, I then have a better chance of succeeding.  Bruce's brand was always presented as a superman type, and this was true to himself, since he had incredible speed and strength.  Jackie was always depicted as an everyman thrown into extraordinary circumstances, often with comedic results.

It should be noted that in Jackie's early career, Golden Harvest attempted to pass him off as the next Bruce Lee.  If you look at those early movies, you see Jackie trying to come off as an invincible hero.  It didn't work, because it wasn't being true to his own persona.  Jackie realized this, and changed everything, taking advantage of his Cantonese Opera training to use his comedic talents.  His heroes showed a vulnerability that resonated with audiences and catapulted him to the top of Asian cinema.  To date, he is the biggest star in the world.

Bruce Lee once said that "to express oneself very hard to do".  But if you can achieve that, then rest assured, you WILL find your place in this art form.

P.S. - If you've never read The Art of War, I highly recommend it as many business professionals around the world use it as a handbook.
The Art of War by Tzu, Sun/ Bu (Google Affiliate Ad)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Delivering the Perfect Audition... almost impossible.  If you shoot for absolute perfection, you will always fall short.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt it.  Rather, you should not beat yourself up when you don't deliver a "perfect" reading.

Dropped lines, missed cues, and stumbling on dialogue happens.  Just watch any "blooper reel" from your favorite TV shows and movies.  That's why we have this thing in film and TV called "takes".  Now in live performance on stage, you have to take that flub and "go with it", letting go of your error and keeping in the moment.  But in film and TV, there's always a re-take.

Sometimes, a mistake can be thought of as a gift -- and actually enhances an audience's enjoyment.  As an actor, you have to learn to "roll with the punches" -- never break until the director yells "cut"!  Although there's evidence that certain actors may be able to control which takes are used by deliberately blowing takes that they don't like.  But the only way you can get away with that strategy is by being a highly paid movie star who's name guarantees a #1 opening weekend and international distribution.  Most actors would be wise to avoid this behavior.

In the martial arts, sparring is the ultimate "Improv Exercise".  Here, all fixed patterns disappear and one is left with having to "be in the moment", responding to an opponent's attack without thinking too hard.  In fact, the more you think about what to do, the more likely you are going to eat a head shot, and I'm not talking about an 8x10 photograph!

I like to look at auditioning like sparring.  Though the dialogue on the sides will dictate what comes out of my mouth, the intention and emotion will depend upon not only what's happening in the story, but also the energy of the room.  I don't mean going flat when reading with an assistant who doesn't put anything into their reading, but instead, being open to any emotional content that might manifest itself.  If you've done your homework, you can let it all go during the audition, letting things happen organically.  It's a bit scary, like sparring full contact, but that's where the magic happens.

If it sounds a bit Zen, that's no coincidence.  Being "in the moment" is like having "no mind".  The next time you have an audition, treat it like moving meditation.  The results may surprise you!

Happy Acting!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Artist Evolves...

Today I'd like to talk about evolution.  Specifically, artistic evolution.  I find that as I go through life, my ideas and attitudes change as I have new experiences, especially those that change my world view.  For example, my philosophy and beliefs were originally shaped by my parents. As I've lived an adult life, I've altered some of what I believe in, and have thrown out other misconceptions that I used to think were true.  While there's a part of me that has remained unchanged -- the mutable part of my personality has evolved over time.

So it is the same with my artistic pursuits.  As a teen actor, I hadn't lived long enough to experience a lot of life's profundity.  Sure, teen angst is pretty prevalent, but the challenges and triumphs I've experienced up to this present moment give me a much richer outlook and understanding.   I try to incorporate this into my performing.  There's more of a Zen calmness, even when delivering an emotionally charged scene.

It also carries over to the martial arts.  I'd like to share an example of what I mean by evolution.  Below is a YouTube video of me performing an Okinawan bo staff kata.  The first clip is of me in 1990 as a brand new black belt performing in my backyard in Hawaii (yeah, shirtless and in shorts, but hey, it's 80+ degrees over there!).  You'll notice how much effort is being put into showing the "power" behind the staff techniques.  There's a lot of energy being wasted.  At the time, I considered this to be a strong performance.  Especially noteworthy is how I have my head down looking as I deliver the first two low strikes.

The second clip is me doing the same bo kata in the present day.  There's a marked difference in 22 years of training.  The first strikes are quick and smooth, and I'm looking at my imaginary opponent.  I'm not trying to put power into the bo, rather, I'm letting the momentum take care of itself.  One thing I've learned in practicing with the bo over years is that speed is much more important than power.

As a young black belt, my experience with the bo was limited to kata and tournament competition.  So everything was about showing the movements.  Several years ago, I had the opportunity to practice sparring with karate weapons for a possible reality show pilot.  The details of the show are still confidential, but I only share this anecdote to tell you that I discovered quickly that much of what I was taught about the bo didn't really work in real life.  The deep and deliberate sweeping motions were too slow against another weapon.

I quickly adapted my stance and technique while sparring (this was with real bo, not foam padded kid's stuff), and threw out about 90% of the techniques I knew.  That left me with thrusting, and  sideways strikes without winding up.  Those techniques scored on my opponent 100% of the time, because they were too fast for them to react to.

Consequently, it's affected my kata practice.  In all the bo forms I know, my motion has eliminated much of the wasted movement.  While I still perform the same movements, my understanding of how a bo behaves in real life has modified my technique.  I no longer cling to old preconceptions just to hang on to "tradition".

When I train in the martial arts, I don't practice the same way as I did in the 80s, 90s, or even ten years ago. I've learned new concepts that I've applied to my training, and expect to keep evolving over time.  Though my core style is Okinawan Kenpo Karate, I also train with elements of Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and Kung Fu.

It's the same with acting.  A young actor first tackling Shakespeare will spend a lot of energy "showing" the Shakespearean style -- caught up in the trappings of "looking good" and being "true to the Bard".  But as an actor matures, and experiences other roles and life in general, they learn to find the intent behind the dialogue.  The technique becomes invisible, and all you're left with is the drama.  When I watch video of renowned English actors in their youth performing Shakespeare, and then watch them now (doing a different Shakespearean role of course), I see an evolution and deeper understanding that can only come with experience.

Have you evolved?  Are you still in the same acting class after several years?  There are some great teachers out there, but if you stick with them too long, you won't evolve -- you'll hit a plateau.  As great as a teacher may be, they can't teach you everything.  Most of what will make up your acting ability will come from your own work, not a class.  Classes are great to teach you new concepts or aspects of the performing arts where you may not have experience.  Improv, voice, scene study, audition technique, etc. are all skills that a performing artist should be well versed in.

Running water never grows stagnant.  Make sure you never let yourself grow stale.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Art of Acting, Without Acting...

A lot of times on an acting gig, whether it's a movie, TV show, or stage play, I find that a lot of times the subject often turns to acting training and "what's your method?"

I always find that question to be amusing.  It reminds me of the scene in Bruce Lee's most famous movie "Enter The Dragon", where Australian bully Peter Archer smugly asks Bruce "What's your style?" -- as though labels and styles actually mattered.  Bruce's response of "The Art Of Fighting, Without Fighting" is a nod to an old Zen proverb that plays out almost exactly as the scene does.  If you're not familiar with this movie, then you must check it out to find out what happens!

So, going back to the idea of acting methods -- or "styles" as you could call them (using a martial arts analogy) -- It really shouldn't matter what method you use.  As an actor, I use whatever method works for me at the time.  I'm not above borrowing from whatever teachers I've read up on, or stealing a good technique.  If it helps you perform a scene effectively, you should use it.  If it instead gets you into this tangled mess of "organized despair" (to borrow another Bruce Lee phrase), you should discard it.

Acting should be invisible.  Take a look at your favorite actors in TV and film.  When you watch them perform, do you forget who you're looking at?  They don't have to completely disappear into a character -- not everyone is Daniel Day Lewis.  Even if they're playing "themselves" -- if you're totally suspending your disbelief and going on the ride with them, then that's what I call Acting Without Acting.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a...

...single step.  Or so the Zen proverb goes.  I'm not new to blogging, but I must say that trying to find something worthwhile to write about is going to be a trick.  I guess for a first post, it would be wise to tell a little something about myself, like why I'm calling myself the "Hollywood Ronin".

As you may or may not know, a Ronin was a masterless samurai, forced to roam the countryside with no lord to serve under.  In many ways, I find myself in the same boat.  As a martial artist, I've been training most of my life, but only earned one black belt in Okinawan Kenpo Karate.  While I've trained in many methods and arts, I only needed the one Dan rank.  Acquiring extra certificates and belts means nothing -- I'd rather have the skills to back up the single Nidan rank I've earned.

Why only a 2nd Dan?  Again, rank doesn't really matter to me.  I just want to learn everything I can.  It's what's in my head and heart that counts, not what's on my wall.  The same goes for my acting career.  Many of my fellow actors concern themselves with who they're studying under, and what classes and workshops give their resume a higher pedigree.  But I've already received my basic training in acting -- I'm more interested in challenging myself as a performer and improving on my foundations.  While I'm always open to possible study with some high level teachers, I don't worry or concern myself with not having studied with so-and-so, or not having gone to such-and-such Academy.  In the end, it's going to be the craft that will speak for itself.

Training is important, but it's a means to an end, not an end in itself.  The goal of the actor, or martial artist, is to be able to stand on their own two feet and face their challenges head-on.

So what I hope to accomplish with this blog is a way for me to share some of the insights and observations I've had on this journey.  Whether you're a martial artist, actor, or both -- I hope to give back some useful tips, as well as share some of my own struggles as close to real-time as possible.