As often happens, I was inspired by a conversation going on at Hollywood Happy Hour for this week’s column. While the topic was about respect and by-the-books treatment at casting sessions (specifically about readers skipping sections of dialogue in auditions, as well as actors being paid for late-running auditions per SAG, and not being blacklisted due to signing out or reporting the late-running sessions to SAG), what really struck me as column-worthy was a post about Fairness by David H. Lawrence XVII, best-known perhaps for his role as creepy Eric Doyle on NBC’s Heroes.
From his post, in reply to an actor who regretted not speaking up when she felt she was not given a fair shot in the audition room:
It’s not fair. It wasn’t then, and it won’t ever be. To think that you were within some set of rights you think you are given as an actor to do something to change the situation is a waste of your time. You have only one choice: not to stay and do the audition. You can kill your chances by attempting to be “right” as opposed to being productive and logical. And if you’d done that, asked the CD to read to you, it would not have been to your advantage. They would have probably done what you asked, and all the while been pissed that you did, immediately ticking you off in their heads as a “problem actor.” And THAT would have been on you, not your performance.
We are asked to do things that are painful, awkward, absurd, disrespectful, advantageous to the CD/client and not us, and, ultimately, unfair all the time. These are the situations that test us and help us determine what we’re willing to do to get work. They didn’t ask you to do anything illegal, they didn’t do anything illegal, and you made the best of the circumstances you were given.
Remember: somebody DID get that gig. And I bet they didn’t exercise their “rights” to get it. They did what they were asked to do, happily and collaboratively. (There is also the chance that the client’s niece was cast, but that is beyond your control and beyond the scope of this posting.)
You can disagree (I know that you do), but ask yourself why. Is it because you want things to be fair, or because you want to be successful, and choosing that path would have been more successful than not? I think you feel the way you do because justice, not career success, is more important to you. And I would ask that you consider that — actors tend to retard the growth of their careers when they think that way.
Now, I’m all for standing up for violation of rights (you signed a contract that said you’d get a copy of your footage, you are due that footage and need to make noise to get it if they don’t make it easy for some reason; you were told there would be no nudity and then you’re on set being asked to drop trou, that’s your cue to exit stage left; you are held way too long at a commercial audition and SAG has fought for you to get paid for that, and you should), but I’m also a fan of being HAPPY. And I think a lot of the things that actors choose to get upset about are things that aren’t going to change — no matter how much energy we throw at them — and there’s just far better use of that energy, in my opinion. Especially when the focus on the unfairness of it all pulls you out of happiness.
Sometimes what smarts is a room full of gruff attitudes, in an audition. I’m reminded of a brilliant take on that from showrunner Jonathan Shapiro, shared during an episode of Your Actor MBA. When we talked about “the room” and warm rooms vs. cold rooms and changes and how actors are treated, Jonathan stressed that we’re looking for actors to come in, do a job, do it well. Sure. We all know that. But when he shared an analogy about how everyone in a position to kill the series, fire the showrunner, end a career is behaving about the importance of every decision and every moment, it became crystal clear to me.
He said, essentially: “When my house is on fire, if I’m less than polite to the firefighters, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them. They have a job to do, and I’m in a panic about 100 things.” No, we’re not saving lives as we produce content to entertain people, but because the higher-ups treat it as such, those who are in the hopes of getting hired, making a good impression, being asked back need to at least understand the mindset, as unfair as it may feel. Come in, do your job well, and don’t need love. Enjoy it if you get it, but find love in other places — don’t go looking for it in the casting room. Or in Hollywood, for that matter. More on that in a bit.
I recently got invited to an “event” at Facebook to commit to sign a petition to have ages removed from IMDb. Now, this isn’t a new movement. I’ve written about various campaigns to remove actors’ ages from IMDb for years. (Oh, and by the way, creator of IMDb Col Needham has made it clear, the ages will not be coming off, although members of IMDb Pro can opt to have their ages more difficult to find.) Still, the campaigns come together and while it’s great to weigh in on something you’re passionate about, I find the energy expended — and with such vitriol — to be a waste of creative energy that could be used to inspire! Sign the petition and move on. Don’t stew! The language that stood out in this particular Facebook “event” was this: “Getting a job is hard enough without the blatantly spiteful, privacy violating, ageism abetting tactics of IMDb.” Wow. The only reason IMDb posts birthdates is because it’s a fan site, first and foremost, and public people are in the public eye. If Breakdown Services — a site created for connecting actors with job opportunities — were to post birthdates, that would be different. But IMDb is a fan site that has evolved into a source for industry information. And IMDb has acknowledged that, by making date of birth hideable from the IMDb-Pro side of the site.
The bigger point, here, though, is that the energy these folks are expending promoting the petition could be used to create content showcasing them in whatever age range they believe IMDb prevents them from being hired to play. Prove the number wrong by showing us what your age really looks like, on-camera, rather than raging against the machine and having no time to write your great script, produce your amazing short film, showcase your talent to the potential buyers out there. Of course, some folks love to have things about which to complain, and would find something — anything — to complain about.
I have to — at this point — share a story about something that happened in my previous life (between living in LA as an actor in the early ’90s and moving back to LA as an actor-turned-writer in the late ’90s) as a middle school teacher. The following is from a series of tweets I posted on October 21st, in response to dialogue with commercial casting director Renita Whited.
Fun fact, @RENITACASTING, I’m not Catholic, but I started giving up complaining for Lent back in 1998. (Multi-tweet story coming up; cont’d) Thu Oct 21 10:26:08 2010 via Echofon
In 1997, I was on a field trip with other middle school teachers as chaperones (another part of my life, another story for another time) and… Thu Oct 21 10:26:48 2010 via Echofon
…it was MISERABLE. Raining, sights scheduled to see with 60 whining 6th graders all closed due to bad weather, HORRIBLE vibe on the bus… Thu Oct 21 10:27:17 2010 via Echofon
and this one teacher NEVER complained. Not once. I asked, “How can you not agree with us about how CRAPPY this is?” She said, “I gave up… Thu Oct 21 10:27:44 2010 via Echofon
…complaining for Lent.” That stopped me in my tracks and I decided I would learn what this “Lent” thing was and do it myself the next yr. Thu Oct 21 10:28:06 2010 via Echofon
Sure enough, every year for over a decade now, I give up complaining for Lent. It’s the most peaceful, productive, happiest time of my life. Thu Oct 21 10:28:47 2010 via Echofon
Soon after posting the above, I got a reply that made me get very clear on the whole Social Networking and Negativity thing. This is my reply/RT of it.
TRUE! Social networking brings grousing out. RT @jefbot: no complaining!? guess that means i’ll give up Twitter and Facebook for Lent, too. Thu Oct 21 10:59:39 2010 via Echofon
I revisited this point about how social networking allows us to easily connect with fellow poison playmates (or co-conspirators, if we’re the more positive types, of course) in a long-ass blog post called Facebook: How I Unplugged, wherein I detail my plan for year-end Scorched Earth Facebook (I’m seriously having SO much fun with this). Thankfully, most social networking sites — should we choose to stay on them — allow for blocking or hiding folks whose streams of negativity pull us down. Problem is, a lot of times, we don’t realize we’re being pulled down ’til we’re so far down ourselves that we need a lifeline.
Complaining is a choice. Social networking makes that choice easier, it seems. One of the things I like to say is that this industry is a machine that’s been in place for a long time, and even though in many ways we’re in the Wild West of the entertainment industry, it’s still easier to change this beast from within. And that means understanding it — unfairness and all — and then getting inside, where we can make changes and turn this into the business we want it to be.
I like to visit acting classes from time to time and see what actors are doing, under the direction of various coaches. One of my favorite coaches, Adam Marcus — about whom I’ve written before — does this very cool thing before each week’s scenes, wherein he asks the actors to share good news. I love this practice so much that I started doing it with actors in my Self-Management for Actors Seminars each week. I hope you’ll find a way to work it into your regular gatherings, too. Just by looking around each week and finding things you can share, when the time comes to go around the room for good news, you will see that this town, this business, these people we meet every day are giving us FAR more things to celebrate than to rail against. Rather than racing to the computer or handheld gadget to post a status update or tweet about some jayhole who cut you off in traffic, how about racing to share that you’re on avail for another awesome spot? And if you get released from the avail, share the good news that you came *thisclose* to another booking, and that’s always a good sign that you’re doing excellent work and getting in front of people who are now your fans.
Find things to celebrate. Then fairness won’t even pop on your radar. I promise.
Even though I knew this was going to be this week’s topic, I couldn’t have asked for a better “AMEN!” to this piece than the one I got in attending Don B. Welch‘s world premiere play Love Buddies on Friday night. In addition to the piece being fantastic — as I knew it would be — the community was inspired and inspiring. At the end of the show, each of the actors took the stage — introduced by name — for bows. Then Don joined his cast on stage, thanked — by name — each of the industry supporters who turned out for this night’s show, singled out some of his crew for all the excellent support they had provided on this journey, and then had each actor share GOOD NEWS. Some shared recent bookings, some shared recent close calls, some shared personal good news, some shared plans for creating good news down the line.
Point is, there was a significant segment of our time together at this play spent on celebrating the people who had come together to make this night happen — and to honor the good things going on in our lives. The stuff that cuts through the noise, the grousing, the complaining. The stuff that matters. I was so moved that I sent the following email to Don.
Thank you so much for including us at your opening Friday night. Love Buddies is not only exceptionally well-written and beautifully directed, it’s expertly acted by some really exciting new talent that I am thrilled to know, thanks to you.
Most importantly, this community you’re building — to foster, nurture, mentor, and help to conspire for its collective success — is something I feel very strongly about and want to support. For the past several years, we’ve been bringing together a small group of actors to work on the business side of the acting thing (via my book, Self-Management for Actors), and we’ve seen these actors collaborate on indie projects, short films, webseries, sketch comedy groups, and even romances! 🙂
It’s just delightful to feed a community with hope and support so they can find value in a town that many like to say “tears you down.” You know what, I don’t know that town. I’ve been here a long time and I always see people supporting, helping, building, creating, co-conspiring for huge success. 🙂 So, it was delightful to connect with your group and know that there are pockets of these communities all over this town. Imagine how much stronger we all are together than alone. 🙂 LOVE IT!
Please share my love and good vibes with your amazing cast and crew. It was delightful to spend time with y’all on Friday and I look forward to our next meet-up.
Keep creating and inspiring!
While in the lobby after the play, standing around chatting with some of the 18 actors in the cast — some in town five years, some two years, some just four months, one not even local but commuting from North Carolina for this experience — I commented on the creation of community and how much can grow from the CHOICE to create, rather than to complain about lack of opportunity. I mentioned how much I liked seeing Don call out each of the actors, challenging them to share their GOOD NEWS. One of the actors — in town one year — said, “You see Don bragging on everyone for all the little things they’re doing for their career and it makes you start looking around for who you can celebrate, for all they’re doing for their career. It’s addictive!”
Indeed it is. On that note, I’ve issued a challenge in this week’s Your Turn that I hope will take us through the end of 2010 riding high, celebrating our good news and our ability to conspire for collective success of those in our community. We’re creating what Hollywood will be known for, every day. Choose: Inspired!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001265.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.