Dance Monkey Dance! (Or: How To Stop Worrying As An #Actor)

This will be a short one, but I need to put it out there, because the more I feel I’ve repeated myself, the more I meet people who don’t seem to understand this concept at all.

In your defense, actors of the world, you’ve been fed lies since you started watching behind the scenes documentaries, or interviews with cast & crew. Rarely, if ever, do you truly appreciate the concept of teamwork that is integral to making movies, the spontaneity of it all, the joy, the importance of every team member, and most importantly, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Yes, even greater than you.

Because despite what the world wants us to believe, despite every instagram account you see, despite every glowing review of a star’s abilities, you too are merely a cog in the machine. An Assistant Story Teller. A Dancing Monkey.

This isn’t a bad thing, though, when you come to terms with it. You’re there to play pretend, and make it seem real. Realizing that you cannot possibly hope to do this without the help of every single member of the team teaches us humility, grace, and an ability and willingness to collaborate.

Far too often, I see actors responding to the DIRECTOR OF THE FILM’s directions with “Nah, I don’t think my character would do that.”

On behalf of everyone: Please drop this line of thinking immediately. Shut your mouth, and realize what you’re saying.

You are saying “I know this character than you, boss, and you are wrong and you should change your vision because I say so.”

Even if the director lets that go, rest assured, they think you’re an asshole.

The thing about collaboration is that you “should” speak your mind when you have concerns- because your job is to be intimate with the character. If you’re doing it well, your gut should tell you when something doesn’t feel right.

But never, ever again should you be saying “My character wouldn’t do that.” Ever again. Because your job is to find a reason for your character to do that.

Get it?

Look at it this way: You’re playing a character who’s intrinsically shy, but then gets into a fight. Why? Why would they suddenly fight? This makes no sense! Guess what, mate: It’s your job to make it make sense. State your concerns, talk to the director, find a way to compromise.

Do not be so arrogant as to stick to your preconceived notions of character. That fundamentally denies what we as actors are supposed to be- empathetic. We need to understand our characters so well, that we can justify anything, with help.

You are not better than your director, your sound guy, your make up artist, or your First AD. Your ideas are welcome, but a part of a collaboration. You, like the rest of them, are here to create a vision together.

Do not get lost in the fantasy that Hollywood feeds you, that the actor creates these characters completely on their own, without help and without compromise. It is tripe, and it makes you a less versatile person, and a less empathetic human. You can do better.

Remember, monkey. Now Dance!

Actors and amateur auditions

Hi there! How are you? You’re looking dashing next to your shmancy keyboard. For those who just randomly found this blog and don’t know who I am, I’m Jack! I’m an actor, comedian, writer and general whatever I can do to avoid a 9-5job-er. So, with that in mind, I’m going to take a moment to talk about student and independent films, feature, short or otherwise.

First off, this is going to be a blog about all the professional things I do, so if I’ve auditioned for you, you can be almost certain that I’m not talking about you specifically (unless you were a real jerk, in which case, kudos to you for recognizing it, now go away). I’m talking in general terms.

Also, I swear. So, you know. Be prepared for that.

I’ve been a professional actor since 2009. By this I mean that I have been paid for jobs. Everyone’s definition of this is going to be different. Some will state you’re not professional until you’re with a certain agency or a TV series of note. Personally, I live in Australia where professional jobs go to the same 5 people and our idea of a film industry is laughable at best. So, quite frankly if you’re making ANY kind of scratch, you’re a pro in my books.

Sadly, having to be a part of student and Indie films is a part of life. It’s incredibly frustrating, because it feels like you are making no progress as an artist, but the sad fact is that if we didn’t do free gigs we would be doing nothing for months at a time. Free gigs fill your portfolio, and a large portfolio makes you more desirable. It’s a metaphorical dick and you better limber up yer jaw.

Student and indie film makers meanwhile have the less than glorifying task of having to create these projects and make them as awesome as they picture it in their heads on a tiny budget. Sometimes the films you work on as an actor are the first ones these folks have ever done, and it’s not a great end result. Not only that, but they have to fund this gorram picture somehow. Yes even the students. Do you ever wonder why there are kickstarter campaigns for student films? It’s because universities offer the equipment and nothing else. Zippo. All the production design you see in beautiful student films often comes from students own pockets.

I get that, I understand that. I’ve made a few flicks myself on a shoestring budget, and they’re hard to make. There’s a reason Hollywood flicks costs as much as they do. We’re all in this together in this boat filled with holes.

So is it too much to ask for you to maybe have your shit together in your audition? Let’s create a scenario, shall we?

It’s 9 AM. You’re a tired student and you’ve got your first audition of the day. Your director is not all there and your actor arrives. It turns out your director hasn’t given one bit of thought on how they want to direct the actor, and so your actor tries his best to act to a vision they cannot possibly be as aware of as you, the production team. More than likely, the actor doesn’t get the gig. But let me ask you. Is the actor really to blame there?

Let’s try another one. An actor shows up and you are the director. You know what you want, but you can’t communicate it. The actor does his best with the material, but he doesn’t do what you want him to do. Another pass.

One more. An actor shows up and you want him to attempt his scene with different energy, or an accent, or with stooped posture. But you don’t tell him this.

A variation of all of these has happened to me in indie and student productions, and let me tell you, it isn’t just infuriating, it’s incredibly sad.

Here are the facts:

You are film makers.
They are actors.
They have traveled, possibly a great distance to audition for you, if not for free than for a promise of money IF the film is successful.
They have (if they are worth their salt) taken many hours to memorize your script, make artistic choices on who the character is, some even meticulously plan how they’re going to sit, whether to bring props, etc.
You want a successful film.
They want a successful film.

So why is it so hard for you to have your shit together?

You are the face of your film, and reputation is everything. Actors want just as badly as you to make something amazing? Are you kidding? Imagine the awesome that could be created with you two at your creative peaks? Freaking rainbows of awesome fly off the monitor, man. WE WANT THIS SO BADLY. Why do you think we’re there? We can see the potential in you! We wouldn’t show up otherwise! No one likes having their time wasted. Actors are literally the best dumpees in the world. We will keep coming back to you with a mug of hot cocoa and a DVD of The Notebook if we think you’re worth it.

So please, make us want to want you. Just follow this basic structure in the audition.

Have all the scripts you’re going to need.
If the director isn’t a good communicator (I would ask why he wanted to be a director but anyway) get someone to communicate for him.
Know what you’re looking for, be organized.
Finally, for the love of god, bring your A game. Actors are typically insecure people and they will not appreciate a unorganized crew, this will make them lose confidence, and someone who could have been perfect for you will be unable to deliver the goods.

I know this seems like simple stuff. And here’s the dirty, dirty secret. It is. We all want the same thing, to be recognized by our peers as the best at what we do, and ideally make money out of it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get actors to trust you, if you know what you’re doing.

Hell, even if you don’t, just have your scripts in order, a solid idea, a keen eye and constructive criticism and we’ll never know.

Oh, and compliment us. We dig that shit.

Cheers!
-Jack
http://www.jackinaction.com

PS: Actors are kind of like “nice guys” in that we’re quick to jump on the “I’M NOT LIKE THAT” train. If you can handle what I’ve written above, bully for you. That’s why I used the word “typically.” Everybody is different. Constructive comments however, are welcome.

PPS: Students and indie film makers, I love you. Without you I would literally have nothing but maybe 10 items in my portfolio. You are amazing and you can do amazing things. ROCK IT!