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"!