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November 2015

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Posted by admin, November 26, 2015 12:51 pm

One of the best things you can do for your acting career is to practice gratitude. Although this may feel counter-intuitive when things aren’t going the way you’d hoped, gratitude is a treasure that can give us the opportunity to unlock the indomitability that we never knew we had.

Casting Director John McCarthy once told me that you should be grateful for every audition – you’ve been selected from a pool of over 2000 submissions! He also says that if you book the job, it’s like winning the lottery!

But really, it doesn’t take much to act gratefully. Try these few easy steps to get you started:

-Remind yourself of your past successes. This is one of the biggest reasons to keep an Acting Notebook. Looking back will help you feel a surge of gratitude for those who gave you the opportunity to do what you love…and shine at it!!

-Thank your mentors and professional colleagues. Remember that without their support, you wouldn’t be the actor you are today.

-Give Back. Teach kids. Donate. Bring someone a meal. “The soup of civilized life is a nourishing stew but it doesn’t keep bubbling on its own. Put something back in the pot as you leave for the people in line behind you.” -Alan Alda

Whatever challenges you may be facing, the practice of gratitude will always allow us to live a happier, more creative life. It can change our experience from “not enough” to abundance.

And finally, this: I’m so grateful to you; my readers, my students – you allow me to make my living as a creative person. I’m grateful every day that I am charged with the privilege of coaching and teaching such wonderful actors.

So on this Thanksgiving Day…and every day…I thank you.


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Posted by admin, November 17, 2015 3:14 pm

Cole Massie got to hit the red carpet at the AFI Film Fest screening of the film “Chronic”! He got to hang out with this co-star, the amazing Tim Roth, and the director, the incredibly talented Michel Franco, pictured here!  CONGRATS, COLE!!

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Posted by admin, 2:40 pm

Did you know that a page number can help get you a call back?

Once you know basic story structure, there are some key things you’ll need to look for in your script.   Start by looking for the number at the top of the page (NOTE:  this is NOT the casting director’s handwritten number which tells you how many pages are in the sides.) Look for the actual printed page number at the top which tells you where you are in the story.

Here’s a general guide:  Sitcoms run 25-40 pages, 1 hour episodics go 45 – 63, and a movie is about 110 pages.  Looking at the page number will tell you approximately where *your* scene falls in the story.

This is important for network pilot season, which is coming up in January (cable networks and web productions shoot pilots year-round.)  For TV, casting is looking for series regulars and leads. In movies, they need to see your character arc.  So in pilots, most audition sides are at the beginning of scripts – that’s because they want to see how you establish your character.  A lot of feature auditions, however, are at the ¾ point – around page 75– because that’s the climax of the movie.  The stakes are high so they want to see if you can play that. That means if your sides start at page 75, the stakes have got to be life and death! Make sure you put something at stake in your feature audition, because that will make or break a callback!


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Posted by admin, 2:35 pm

As an actor, you are part of the storyteller’s vision.  That means you have to live inside the story and share the experience of it. So, knowing how writers structure a story is essential. Pull out a screenwriter’s book and study it before your next movie trip (Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies is one of my favorites.) It makes watching movies so much more fun!

It’s important to learn this basic structure because it’s EVERYWHERE.  Once you know the set up for, say, a crime drama, you’ll see it in all the major shows: CSI, Hawaii 5-0, and Law and Order all follow the same structure (opportunity, new situation, resolution.) Sit coms like Seinfeld was always set up the joke, expand on the idea, and then hit the punch line.

Your favorite movie is no exception.  Here’s the basic structure:

-Our hero has a goal and at first, s/he thinks s/he can’t (or doesn’t want to) achieve it.

-Something motivates the hero and s/he starts to gain momentum. About half way through the movie, they commit to their goal…and start to fight for it!

-Once s/he does get momentum, the world starts to cave in; everything starts falling apart and it appears that all is lost.  This gets you about three-quarters of the way through the film.

-Finally, the couple breaks up or the protagonist appears to be winning and the hero must conquer the enemy or overcome the fear/obstacle.  The movie resolves when our hero is successful.

So pay attention, watch, and learn; you’ll soon start to see how predictable Hollywood really is!  Understanding story structure will take your audition (and your performance) to a whole new level, so get to know your story!


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Posted by admin, November 2, 2015 7:04 pm

Check out Benji Risley in this new Ameriprise commercial!  (He’s the SUPER cute, smiley kid at the end!)  CONGRATS, BENJI!!

\”Be Brilliant\”/Ameriprise

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Posted by admin, 6:46 pm

Being in class and the practice of auditioning will give your body the muscle memory it needs to stay in its sympathetic nervous system so that you can be completely present.

Nerves still taking over despite your best efforts?  You can make that work for you, too.  Here’s how:  not long ago, I was watching American Idol. You know the Top 20 segment of the show where the contestants have to walk in and face the judges?  These poor people are about to have a coronary, they’re so nervous!  But this time, I heard J.Lo’s response to a young woman who had just expressed how nervous she was:  “Don’t you love that feeling?  I LOVE that feeling!” she said.  And then Keith Urban said, “I know!”  And then Harry Connick, Jr. chimed in with “Yeah!”   And I thought, that’s why they’re super stars:  because they walk into a stadium of 50,000 screaming fans, get nervous and then turn that into usable energy!   So learn how to embrace that and go, “Yes!  That’s my fuel!  That is MY JUICE!’

Got jitters?   Get juiced!!


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Posted by admin, 6:29 pm

Butterflies.  Jitters.  Pins and needles.

If you’re an actor, you’ve had ‘em.  But how do you keep the heebie-jeebies from spilling over into your performance?

Let’s start by understanding what this is, why it’s happening, and where it comes from.

When we’re nervous, our bodies go into fight or flight mode (that’s why right before you go on you’re just SURE you have to pee!)  That’s your body’s natural response to stress.  The reason you think you have to pee is because your body’s thinking, “Empty the bladder in case you have to run from that animal because if you don’t, you’ll DIE.”  Those are our natural instincts and they were built in to protect us.

Think of the audition room as an incubator for our greatest fears and insecurities.  It can push us right into our fight or flight experience, which means our sympathetic nervous system is going to kick into overdrive.  That’s why you have to pee, your heart is pounding, your hands are clammy, etc.  We might be hyper aware in our attempt to listen, but we’ll fail miserably.  At that point, it’s too late to really connect with your body because it’s already gone into panic mode.

That’s why the practice of auditioning is CRUCIAL.  You have to train yourself to be able to switch your sympathetic system (fight or flight) off…and your parasympathetic system (rest and digest) on.  I often encourage people to just go and audition, even if they think it’s something they don’t care about, because retraining those responses is the key to calming audition and performance nerves!


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Posted by admin, October 28, 2015 5:01 pm

There’s definitely an art to sketch comedy and it’s a great one to master as an actor because it gives you the flexibility to do so many other things.  Remember to use what you learned in Part 1, then add these:

-Don’t Telegraph.

As with physical comedy, don’t give the gag away.  Don’t flinch before you fall, don’t look at where the pie is going to come from.  Stay in the moment and you will simply react naturally.

-Less is more.

Don’t mug or be intentionally goofy (unless that’s what the script calls for.)  Avoid the temptation of extraneous movement (fidgeting, shifting nervously, etc.)  Work in front of a mirror so that you become conscious of what your body’s doing when your busy acting.

-Have fun!!

Remember why you’re here!  Comedy can be challenging, but it’s also a blast!  And expected the unexpected; when you’re present, listening, and reacting, you create a space for the funny to happen …and that’s where the magic is.  There’s no place where you’ll work harder, learn more or laugh as much as when you do comedy!


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Posted by admin, 4:32 pm

Four decades after it premiered, Saturday Night Live is still a huge hit watched by millions.  Why?  Because they’ve mastered sketch comedy.  When it works, it rocks your audience, has them repeating lines around the office (sometimes for years!), and gets them to come back for more.  Welcome to the fine art of sketch comedy!  Here’s how to make it work for you:

-Always Play the Truth.

Play it straight.  The minute you start trying to be funny, you’re not.  The funniest moments come when you stay present so that you can react genuinely.   And The 9 Rules of Intentional Acting still apply!

-Learn How to Extend a Moment.

This is a choice; you don’t want to extend *every* moment.  But this can pay off nicely if you chose a good spot for it.  Is your character looking for her keys?  Don’t just pull them out of the first pocket you find.  Search around, pat yourself down, let that “oh-man-I’ve-just-locked-myself-out” look cross your face.  Fun little bits of business like this can pay off big!

-Be willing to use your body (pratfalls, etc.)…including your face!

Fill up the space with your body.  Remember that the frame of the shot is wider for comedy specifically so that you can react with your body and fill it. Is there a gesture or physical way of expressing your intention?  Also, the larger frame allows for bigger facial reactions, so use that to raise the stakes.  It’s not just     “What?”   It’s “W-H-A-T???”   Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions!

Again – watch the greats do physical comedy:   Melissa McCarthy, Will Farrell, and Jim Carrey.

Next Up:  Sketching Out Your Funny


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Posted by admin, October 22, 2015 1:49 pm

Now that you understand the basic set up for physical comedy, here are a few ways to start sharpening your skills:

-The Element of Surprise:  The reason the house falling on Buster Keaton works so well is that he has absolutely NO IDEA what’s coming.  In fact, he thinks he’s totally in the clear.  Remember:  if you flinch or show any sign that you know what’s about to happen, the jig is up and you’ll telegraph your funny.  Stay in the moment and let the funny come to you.

-Don’t Mug: You just can’t force funny.  Just as in regular acting, physical comedy should always look like it’s happening in the moment.  Make sure the added elements of physical humor support and add to the content of the scene but don’t overpower it.  Know your 9 Questions and you’ll know your character…and how they’ll react!

-Watch the Greats: Just like the study of timing, you’ll need to watch the masters.  This is a critical step because it’s important to see how the physical weaves in with timing and storytelling.  A nearly perfect example of what happens when all of those things come together is The Dick Van Dyke Show’s “100 Terrible Hours”.  The awesome writing by Carl Reiner, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff, incredible physical work by Dick Van Dyke, and fluid directing by Theodore J. Flicker create a brilliant triumvirate.  Grab yourself a beverage, make sure you won’t be interrupted, and enjoy:


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