I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro is one of the most important films of the decade thus far. Based on author and social critic James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, and directed by filmmaker Raoul Peck, the documentary discusses what it means to be black in America, from slavery to the Civil Rights Era to present day. Samuel L. Jackson gives an impassioned narration, bringing life to Baldwin’s words in only the way Samuel L. Jackson could. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, this powerful film is a must-see.
Baldwin’s book Remember This House, which he was still working on when he died, makes up much of the film. The book is written from the perspective of three black Civil Rights leaders, all of whom were close friends of James Baldwin, and all of whom were murdered in the 1960s. These men are Medgar Evers, who was killed in June of 1963; Malcolm X, who was killed in February of 1965; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed in April of 1968. Throughout the film, Baldwin’s words are used to help us reach a better understanding of who these men were, beyond the characterizations that modern society has come to know. For example, we know that Malcolm X and Dr. King had competing philosophies throughout their lives, but when each of them died, they both saw and understood the world rather similarly.
Casting director Mel O’Neil of Mel and Liz Casting joined us for our January 2017 seminar, where she gave us lots of helpful hints and useful information. Let’s check out some of her wisdom below!
1. Getting an Audition Is Like Winning the Lottery
Sometimes, actors tend to be nonchalant about having an audition. But the fact of the matter is that of the potentially thousands of talent that were submitted to a given role, if you are one of the lucky few to get an audition, you have essentially won the lottery. Don’t take that for granted! Show up ready to go, and be grateful for the opportunity!
What does politics have to do with acting? Nothing—nada, zip, zilch, zero. (And for the record, whatever yours are is fine by me. One of the greatest built-in features of the country where I’m writing this now is the right to free speech in all of its forms.)
But what, you might ask, does politically-motivated action have to do with acting? More than you might think!
Here are three performance-related insights I’ve gleaned for, and about, myself over the past month or two.
1. Taking an action is far more difficult than thinking about one.
Before I took my first real acting class, I had so many opinions about other people’s acting and so many ideas about how great an actor I was going to be. All of that changed the moment I stepped onstage (and later, in front of a camera) because I suuuuuuucked. And not only that—I sucked for what felt like a long, long time.
I am not sure how I missed the class on the importance of action, but I suspect a part of the problem is that I was pretty good at most of the things I’d both wanted to do and tried doing right at out of the gate.
Actors at work, focusing on what really matters
THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPON YOU HAVE GOING FOR YOU
When I am a guest at an informational event for actors, the questions are inevitably geared towards all kinds of do’s-and-don’t’s regarding how talent can ultimately get auditions, excel in their career, and be likable to casting directors—some of which include the questions listed below.
Popular Questions and Do’s and Don’t’s
What makes up a good, professional headshot?
What does a casting director look for on a resume?
What makes up a good reel?
Don’t be late for your audition.
Let casting know if you are not showing up.
Don’t wear cologne or perfume.
Read the instructions.
QUESTION: My daughter loves to act and I want to encourage her, but I also would love for her to stay humble; is that even possible in the world of acting?
ACTOR: Not only is this possible in the world of acting, but also in a world that is often tainted with big egos and a “me generation.” It does start with “Me”—not the Me that wants everything for me, me, me, but the one that wants to give everything away in spite of Me—for what we give, we get.
True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. – C.S Lewis
I absolutely love this quote and feel that especially with where our world is today, humility is a lost art. Yet I stay hopeful, for all good things come to those who are humble. I’ve witnessed it in my everyday life and on reality shows like The Voice, American Idol, and even The Bachelor. Humility wins over ego every time, hands down!
An actor isn’t successful unless famous. A musician isn’t successful unless they have a bountiful bank account.
The anachronistic movie musical La La Land, filmed in the style of a late 1940s/early 1950s movie musical set in modern day, demonstrates how Hollywood perpetuates a mythical “La La Land” that doesn’t exist, but insists to civilians, “This is how the entertainment industry really is.” No, it’s not.
Young actresses with questionable representation (or virtually no agent) don’t get into first-rate auditions or plucked from one-night showcase obscurity into fame as this film pretends is reality. Yet the film, like most third-rate Hollywood portrayals about Hollywood, relies on worn clichés as fact: casting directors are distempered women; directors are cold hearted; young actresses are all white and from Small Town, U.S.A.; jazz musicians are moody (though in this case white); actors would be truly happy if the love of their life gave up their dreams, so they can achieve the success they desire.
No, it’s not that you’re unlucky or that you deserve what’s happening to you right now—hitting hard times is just a normal part of existing. Rather than wasting energy whining, “Why me?” get hold of yourself, find your feet, stand up, and move through it. Sometimes you just can’t make sense out of crazy. You do all the right things, invest in becoming the best you can be, show up, take your career seriously, pay your dues, do your homework, take responsibility—and things still don’t go your way. It’s just the way of the world. I hear you, it’s hard and it’s unfair. But when you hit difficulty and it feels like an arrow pierced your heart, do you really need to put another arrow in by ruminating and obsessing about it? No, you don’t. Try this fresh approach:
1) Don’t suppress feelings, especially the bad ones.
Fighting feelings gives them more power. Think of trying to push a beach ball underwater, you push and push only to have it pop up more powerful. Feeling your feelings won’t kill you. It’s usually what people do in order not to feel their feelings that is most harmful. Appreciate every experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly—by focusing on the treasure it will reveal in time. Instead of running from unpleasant situations by denying them, put some space around them—it will help to make them feel less claustrophobic. Befriend, don’t defend difficulties. By inviting unpleasant feelings in for a cup of tea, they will feel less threatening. In fact, confronting feelings makes them hang around a lot less longer. Build mental muscle by cultivating the attitude that you are going to be with whatever shows up today. Remember that all feelings come and go, just like the weather. As bad as you may feel, remember nothing in life is fixated.
Storytelling is hot. I think it’s been hot now for quite some time, so maybe I should say hotter? But that doesn’t sound quite right. You get the idea. I had a terrific plan to follow the heat and catch The Moth GrandSLAM in downtown Los Angeles and share my experience with you, but it was sold out. Remember, storytelling is hot! So I searched the internet for an alternative. I landed on Rant & Rave at the Rogue Machine Theatre. Something like Mortified would have been a closer Moth match, but Rant & Rave is a storytelling-ish show and I was going!
Rogue describes the show as, “An ongoing art project where prose finds voice.” They select a group of Los Angeles writers, give them a topic word (the January show was “ESCAPE”), and a 20ish minute time limit—as far as I can tell—and the writers get up and deliver their own words. The show runs one Monday evening per month and I believe it always sells out. It runs about two hours and there is an intermission. That’s the deal.
I spend a lot of time talking about actor tools and how they play an essential role in commercial success. There’s training, headshots, special skills, the resume, and agents (to name a few) that should be consistently razor sharp. I’m also a big advocate of extreme professionalism. Arriving on time, prepared, and in proper wardrobe seems easy enough, but actually isn’t always a given with commercial actors. But in the end, while working on consistency in all of these wildly important things, if an actor can sprinkle kindness on everything they do in the industry, they may see results that can’t be imagined.
Commercial actors should never underestimate the power and effectiveness of being kind.
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know this isn’t the first time I’ve taken on the topic of kindness—it’s a big one for me. I value kindness in people and especially actors. I don’t want to take a political turn in any way, but I’m feeling the importance of showing kindness is growing daily all around the world, and in our commercial industry. And frankly, there are a lot of not-kind moments that can and do happen in commercials.
Yes! The notification from your agency pops up in your email: you have an audition! The excitement wanes a bit as you realize it’s half a city away at 4pm. While the dread of traffic is normal, my Health Coach brain starts thinking of what snacks I am going to bring for the length of time I’ll be in the car. Performers spend an exorbitant amount of their day on subways or driving to auditions, set, etc. Staying properly fueled to arrive strong and smart—as well as snacking on foods that encourage a calm and centered mind while returning home—makes all the difference.
I’ve got you! Here are my top 7 car snacks that book the role!
1) High fiber fruit
Most people don’t get enough fiber in their diets. How much do we need you ask? Around 25 grams a day. This is an easy way to up that number. Fiber keeps you full longer, lowers cholesterol, protects your heart, assists in weight loss, and keeps the “pipes” clean.
I always grab a green apple because they have the least amount of sugar. No one wants to sugar crash as they walk into the audition room. At almost five grams of fiber, they’re also loaded with vitamins and minerals. Plus, green apples help with digestion and prevent diarrhea. Don’t act like you’ve never gotten nervous runs. This green bad boy also improves memory—no more “what was my line?” And you can thank Mother Nature for making the crunch of an apple the toothbrush of produce.