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Brain Power

By Allen Levin

So much of this acting dream is developing your brain so that you can accept that this is really your life. You have to truly believe down to the fibers of your being that you can and will do this. You put your believes into action on a daily level and you walk up the mountain. It’s all in your brain. When the chips are down, do you believe in yourselves?

I like to lead by example. I believe I should be an acting coach. I have put a couple decades into my acting coach training and I have many success stories under my belt. These are the things I remind myself when I have a star actor wants a private lesson (that’s still intimidating!). I have to remind myself I have plenty to offer someone that could already be a guest speaker. I’m able to challenge and improve artists. This is what I do. So many times I’ve gone into a session with some anxiety only to come out with genuine praise from the artist. Fantastic! This is who I am. This is what I do. What do you do? How do you remind yourselves that you are right for the job?

One way to become strong in your brains is to remind yourselves that no one else is you. Only you have certain truths in your life. That provides big advantages for many roles. Sometimes the director has already envisioned you in the part. She needs you. She needs your face. She needs your talent. You are the only you! Awesome! You qualify to be you. Also you should know that sometimes you are simply the closest around to the actual character. Don’t get in your way. Don’t get too emotionally attached to validation. Sometimes you’ll book roles when you thought they didn’t like you at the audition! No worries. You qualify for your dream. Remind your brain whenever necessary.

All of the successes I know, all of them at a point sooner or later decided that they qualify for their own dreams. As years went on they became stronger and stronger in the brain. They believe in themselves. They believe in their worth. They know that they add value and are willing to work hard. They are flexible and can deliver the goods. Prove to yourselves that you can deliver the goods! Get in a couple really challenging scenes. Scenes that scare you. Do the things that scare you now, when the stakes are zero, so that when the stakes are high you don’t get stressed out.

Take risks. Watch as the risks either pay off or they don’t. The risks should be sensible. Don’t jump off a roof to get subscribers for a Youtube channel. Don’t disguise yourselves as a pizza man and deliver pizzas that weren’t ordered with your head-shots in the box (sound familiar?). These risks are not going to help you and will likely hurt you. Keep an eye on the communication you are sending. Do legitimate artists need to do this? When in doubt, act. Do another scene. Do something that scares you within your work. How about “The Other Sister” or “Brokeback Mountain” or “Trainspotting?”

The more you act, the more your brain will accept that you are an actor. When people ask you what you do, tell them proudly you are an actor. When they say, “What have I seen you in?” You can say, “I’m working right now on a highly functioning autistic character. It’s nearly ready! Just wait, she’ll blow your doors off!” Communicate in a fashion that has integrity and doesn’t hurt your brain power. Don’t sheepishly slink off after saying, “Nothing…..yet. You haven’t seen me in anything yet.” You are better off saying (with humor and a smile, please) “What are you casting?” Most people will get the subtext of (“I share my resume with people that are hiring”). Try not to be too snarky, but don’t let people slow your confidence.

Confidence is a journey. I know people that are big stars that have trouble with confidence. I know a strong talent that comes to me because while the world thinks she is nothing but confident, that’s where she lacks. She appears to be very confident and it’s not the truth. She told me once that she was completely dependent on me and that she wasn’t going to audition unless she worked with me first. I reminded her that she wasn’t. She’s gone on to do even bigger shows than the one she was starring in at the time. She still needs some work on the confidence, and she’s become patient. It’s a journey.

Confidence is your brain power. Why shouldn’t you qualify for your dreams when clearly so many others march confidently out and take theirs? You do. You should. You will. Be patient and tenacious at the same time. Be greedy with your day. Make sure every day you do a little reading, writing, rehearsals, and administration work. Don’t let anyone stop you. These are the things that are going to make you supremely confident. Having a bit of trouble remembering lines? Ok, add memorizing for 15 minutes every day to the list. Memorizing lines will become easier each day. Ultimately you’ll be able to be off book so quickly it will thrill you.

Get confident. Feed your brain with positive thinking each day (15 minutes of reading will get you there). Know that this dream is yours. Join me in a “pinch-me-am-I-dreaming-???” life. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to get your art out there. We need you more than ever.

Onward and UP.

Fast Food Inspiration

By Allen Levin

If you need a quick dose of inspiration, where do you go? I’m talking about spontaneous and fast inspiration. Who is a role model for you? If you only have a few minutes and you need to be inspired, here are some ideas that can help bring home some “fast food inspiration.”

Youtube. Looking to get inspired about an audition for a sketch show? Watch some of SNL’s best characters including “You Need More Cowbell” and “….living in a van down by the river!”. Perhaps more inspiring will be Key and Peele’s “Flicker” or “Lightning In a Bottle”. Maybe The Lonely Island is made to order. Have a look at “I’m On A Boat” or “I Just Had Sex”.

If you are about to bring the funny, it sure doesn’t hurt to be in the mood. Getting inspired by those that have made us laugh before you isn’t a bad idea. Unless it’s a bad idea! If for some reason this mode throws you out and you no longer book, don’t do it. Remember, everything you do is an experiment. People can swear by certain techniques but until you try them for yourselves you won’t know if they work for you. Try this. Up for a comedy? Have a look at your phone during some of the 30 to 60 minutes you’ve arrived early and make yourselves laugh. Get yourselves in a great mood. Now go in the room at your time and just enjoy!

If you have a couple hours and you need inspiration, what is your absolute favorite movie? Watch it. Up for a drama? Why not watch “The Pianist” with Adrian Brody. Wow! What commitment to character! He was a walking skeleton. If “…then why the fucking coat??!” “Because I’m cold.” If that doesn’t hit you in the feels, you must already be dead. What about the performances in “The Savages?” Still dramatic but definitely a bit of a dramedy. Hoffman and Linney are amazing together as siblings. Once again, looking at comedy? Have a look at “Hell Baby” or “Super Troopers.” What about “Superbad” or “Napoleon Dynamite”?

Do you have any books that inspire you? “Audition” and “Acting In Film” should always be in your car’s trunk, ready to inspire you and remind you of your trade. How about “The Actor’s Life” or “How To Win Friends and Influence People?” I’m reading “Gasping For Airtime” by Jay Mohr right now (“Bob Sugar” in the movie Jerry McGuire, the guy who fires Tom Cruise) and it’s a pleasure read. If I was feeling stressed about anything, I’d just take in a chapter of that. This “fast food” is good for us!

How about any scripts that you love? What about plays? Ever get into “Butterflies Are Free”? Love Shakespeare? How about Mamet? Tennessee Williams? Eugene O’Neil? August Wilson? Want more current? How about Sam Shepard? He only died last year. What about Neil Simon? He passed away this year. Who do you love? Get to know and read plays. Reread those that inspire you.

Does your own work inspire you? It’s ok if it does. I know it seems cooler to never watch your work. That wasn’t me. I loved watching my acting. I would study it and be inspired by my moments and get hungry for more. Every time I needed a reel (we handed our reels out on VHS!) I would literally cut an original reel for who ever needed it. I enjoyed doing it and I left feeling inspired that I work as an actor and more work was coming. Sadly, I don’t think I ever kept any reels! DOH! I have no reel to show (even for fun these days). I might, but it would take a lot of searching. In any case, if your work inspires you, great. Just track it. Do you book more or less right after watching your own work? If the answer is more, don’t worry, enjoy!

Create a list that you can get to in a pinch when you need inspiration. You might be feeling in need of fast food inspiration just before you step on stage! Do you have some pictures saved in your phone that inspire you? Perhaps it’s pictures of actors working in iconic scenes. Perhaps it’s pictures of you on set. Perhaps it’s pictures of your parents or grandparents. Many people get great inspiration from their lineage. This is illustrated beautifully in Jessica Andrews song called “Who I Am.” “I am Rosemary’s Granddaughter. The spitting image of my father. And when the day is done my momma’s still my biggest fan.” If you get excited about where you come from, perhaps this song will do the trick.

Speaking of songs – which songs pump you up? You should have a playlist on your phone. Perhaps “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten is one of them?

“This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me”

That inspires me! What inspires you. Keep your fast food inspiration close. You never know when you’ll need it. Be ready. Use it.

Now go inspire others with your work!

The best artists are inspired by other artists. It doesn’t make you lesser to utilize the inspiration you need. It can enhance your work. (“Enhance…. enhance…. enhance…. – yep. Back to Super Troopers. These are the jokes, folks!).

Onward and UP.

And here:

Concise / Supportive

By Allen Levin

“Concise”

Learn to be concise. Have a point. Make it. Let it go.

—next blog—

“Supportive”

What does it mean to be supportive of other people? How can we identify when people are supportive of our life and when they are not? What do we do with those that aren’t supportive?

Let’s start with the “easy” one. What do we do with people that aren’t supportive? We make an attempt to work with them. We give them the chance to reform, to become supportive. If they ultimately will not be supportive, we eliminate them from our lives. Sounds harsh? It’s necessary for a true artist. Do not associate with people that make fun of you, that take from you, that don’t have your best interests at heart. Someone that truly loves you will take the effort to learn what you need and will deliver. You should never ask for something you aren’t willing to give.

What does it mean to be supportive? Being supportive is taking a position of understanding and encouragement. Being supportive doesn’t mean solving problems for people. It means hearing them out and helping to empower them to move forward with their dreams. Allow someone to talk to you. Don’t judge them. Be understanding. Listen to them. Keep an open mind. Typically it’s important that you don’t give them advice, but that you let them know you understand where they are coming from and you agree with their strategies. This is particularly important if you haven’t had success in helping people attain their dreams. If you have, maybe you are a special case, but I’d be very judicious over dispensing any type of advice. Truly being supportive means listening, caring, and understanding. It means putting away any distraction and focusing in on someone else (that’s right! Cell phones, away!).

Undivided attention is a great means of support. Caring is the key ingredient. Care that they find happiness. Understand their struggles. Don’t try to “fix” them. Just let them speak. The best way to be supportive is for us to shut up (I had to learn this the hard way) and let them communicate. We simply need to focus, listen, care, and understand. If they ask us a question, like the “concise” blog above (you get a 2fer today), be brief. Ask them questions. Help them to brainstorm their own answers (not trying to move them in any way).

This is truly being supportive. Advanced level supporters will even make sacrifices for the person they are supporting. You may need to cancel a date for a true friend (that would cancel a date for you). You may need to pick someone up and change your movie plans. You may need to rearrange your life a bit for a true friend. Notice the word friend. You should do this for someone you truly care about (not only people you want to bed). I do believe any sacrifices you make, they should also be willing to make for you. There will be times when you also need support. Hopefully a healthy balance is in place.

How do we identify who is a line of support and who isn’t? Keep in mind: these only apply if you are willing to and/ or have been supportive of them.

Here are some easy ways to detect support:

1. Are they asking you when you are going to “get a real job?” If so – BUZZER SOUND! No support here.
2. Are they excited when you mention you have an audition? Are they wishing you good luck (without a sarcasm attached to it)? If so – Ding Ding! We have support!
3. Are they yawning when you speak or rolling their eyes? Are their arms crossed? Do they seem closed off? If so – it’s most likely someone that isn’t supportive. They could be going through their own things, but if they were truly supportive, they should allow you your moment (when necessary).
4. How long does it take them to return a message? Determine the balance. If they take too long, it’s possible you’ll need to find support from someone that has time for you.
5. Do they actually pick up when you call? If so – Ding! Ding!
6. Does their phone only ring once and then go through to voicemail regularly? If so – BUZZER!
7. Do they ask you how you are doing or only talk about themselves? If they ask you about you and actually listen and care: Ding! Ding!
8. If they are constantly trying to solve your problems and push solutions on you – this is a tricky situation. They may be supportive and not realize this isn’t a tactful way to go about it. If this is happening and the advice is coming from a source that isn’t reliable – handle it and mention you aren’t asking for advice, just understanding. They may or may not be a supportive source of help.
9. How do you feel after speaking with them? Do you feel better? If so – Ding! Ding! Feel worse, depressed, heavier? Buzzer!!
10. Are they trying to have sex with you? If so – everything above is thrown out the window. Remember, true supporters give support without asking for anything back.

Keep the supporters. Drop the rest. Protect your dream. Support others. Give more than take.

Onward and UP.

Oops. Learn, Forgive, Move On.

By Allen Levin

If your intention is in the right place, that’s your main concern. You are an actor. You are not trying to do anything that would mess you up, right? So, if you get a parking ticket at an audition. Oops. Ok. You are human. Pay it immediately and try not to get another for a while. If you didn’t realize late fees would hit you on a bill and they have: Oops. Ok. Learn from it. Don’t repeat the problem.

No matter what, keep a good attitude. Attitude is everything. You’ll forget that when you are hit by the $251 late fee (that I just noticed moments ago) for a late tax return that you thought wouldn’t matter because you are getting a refund anyway. Oops. Ok. I’ll learn from this. My day won’t be ruined in any way. As a matter of fact, that $251 just bought me a nice blog where we can all learn (or relearn) this lesson.

You may get into a fender bender. Once again learn from it. There is always a silver lining. If you are the actor that is great at finding the silver lining, people will realize that. You will be hired more. I think of many of my actors that are always smiling. These are the actors with great attitudes that get it. One of the first that comes to mind is Steve Moulton. His attitude is so good, he could teach a class! I’d be his first student! Ironically, he was my first student at Lifebook! I hope my constant focus on attitude has something to do with his stellar attitude, but he was that way when I met him.

Attitude can be taught! No matter what, always fall back on your great attitude. As for my $251 fee, I’ll never pay it again. I’ll never wait this long on my tax returns again. I waited because I thought I could with no penalty. My intention wasn’t to cost me $251. My intention was to teach acting. I did plenty of that. I didn’t want to focus on paperwork. Understood, but it’s necessary. Next tax return you can bet it all, mine will be in before April 15th. Actually, I’ll be mine is in by about March 5th. I will not be paying these late fees and I’m happy to have learned the lesson.

What if you drop the ball on an audition? That’s ok. Learn from it. Forgive yourselves. Move on. Why do we forgive ourselves? It surly makes moving on possible! If you have made the same mistake 5 times, forgive yourselves and try not to make it again. I have many people in our reading challenge that have missed days. I’m most impressed by those, not like me, that never miss, I’m impressed by those that miss a lot, but then they get right back in and try again! That’s what life is about. Get in and try. Don’t compare yourselves to anyone other than yourselves. You missed a day? Ok. Let’s start over. Forgive. Move on. Try again. Kick some a$$.

Oops can come in all forms. What about a bad relationship? I’ve been in those! I forgave myself. I learned so much. I won. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize how perfect Emily was for me if I hadn’t messed this thing up every way from Sunday. Each time my girlfriend was a better person (despite obvious deal-breakers that got less obvious). Each time I learned. Each time I forgave myself for the drama storm I’d brought into my life. Each time I refined what I was looking for…. until Emily. Amazing. Beautiful. My favorite person on Earth. All those oopses brought me right where I was meant to be. If I hadn’t forgiven myself, learned great lessons and moved on, I wouldn’t have found my soul-mate.

Oopses are great! Oopses are our real training. I’m not afraid of oops. I’ll look for them. I’ll learn from them. I’ll forgive myself. I love me as I know my heart. I don’t mean to mess up, but mess ups arrive and from them I learn. Let’s do this. Let’s smile at people because we don’t carry around the negative perspective from any oops. We learn. They make the day brighter and they help us up the mountain.

On that note, read other people’s intentions as well. Their oops can also be an opportunity for you to learn. This is especially true if their oops affected you in a negative way. In this case. Oops. Learn with them. Forgive them. Move on.

Sometimes the lesson we learn is that the oopser that negatively impacted our life, shouldn’t be an active part of our life anymore. Refine those you allow in your lives. The ones that are there should deserve to be there. You can forgive someone and still move on with out them. This is a necessary skill.

Onward and UP!

A New Angle

By Allen Levin

As an artist we must evolve. Growth and personal change is necessary for any true artistic journey. The art we create in 5 years will be considerably different than art we create today. A great way to evolve is to look for new angles by which to perceive the events in your life.

I was going to replace a light bulb moments ago. I forgot to turn the socket off and I went over to it to twist it off and put in a new bulb. I hardly twisted it and it turned on. Wow! There’s a fun new angle. Rather than assume it’s broken. Test it. Who knew? (OK. Yes. You knew.) The point is I’m excited to relearn an old lesson. The new angle is maybe it doesn’t need to be replaced. Maybe a tweak is all it needs.

Shortly thereafter I was thinking about this article (based on a difficult night I had last night – I shifted my thinking this morning and the new angle brightened my day) and I wanted to do 35 push-ups using a special push-up bar. I thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever done 35. I’ve done 30. I wonder if I can do 35 in one set.” So I also thought maybe I should think of it from a new angle.

We can use the following sentence

The old me would have ________. The new me will ____________.

In this case, “The old me would have counted from one to 35. The new me will count sets of 5. I believe I can do 7 sets of 5 without stopping. I worry that if I count 1 to 35 I won’t make it. Sure enough, the new angle worked. I did 35 uninterrupted push-ups on the bar with ease. I simply changed the way I counted (and looked at) 35 push ups.

Real change along with real growth can be very exciting. Having improved your perspective about things and the positive new lifestyle that will promote can also be a source of excitement.

I really like saying to myself “The old me would have gotten angry. The new me will let go of the desire for anger (The new me understands that anger doesn’t change or improve the situation, so I’ll think this out without attaching any emotional significance).

Or

“The old me would have let this ruin his day. The new me will still have a great day (despite the fact that my cat urinated on and just ruined my “the BigOne by Lovesac” monster sized bean bag chair that my actors adore).

Here’s a big one for me:

“The old me would have been angry that Mr. X says he’s better than me. The new me is fine with that. What he thinks or says doesn’t affect me. If it makes Mr X’s life better to tell people he’s better than me, great. That’s not something with which I need to concern myself.

For me this last one is a big one and it happened naturally. I just stopped caring what people said (or even thought) in relation to being competitive with me. I used to care greatly. I used to confront people. I used to challenge people. I’d say at least the first 20 years of my life. Perhaps 25. I’ve learned that my life is better not competing with anyone but my own personal goals. “How dare he say or think that!” For me that concept is a negative. I have examples of this even recently where it felt very personal. I’ve had former students attempt to get my current students to quit the class. I’m sure it still hurts a little, but I’ve come a long way. If people are going to try to tear something down, I can rebuild. I don’t need to defend myself. I don’t even need to acknowledge it in any form. I am excited that the new me is above that. Squabblers can squabble. I’m ready to create.

Where in your life would improvement bring you more happiness. Begin your road to change right in the moment that something is happening. Before you respond, begin the thought “The old me would have _________. The new me will ___________.

Actors that can’t change, that are stuck, will be stuck without the bookings. Growth is a journey we all need to be on. As we grow, people pick up on the energy. “That woman is going places!” “That man has a bright future!” It’s part of the energy that people are attracted to very strongly. It will help you get your next contract which will in turn help you to continue to grow.

On and on we go! Onward and UP to our own personal growth and to the new you.

Walking Ghosts

By Allen Levin

Each morning I take Toby for a walk. I see people that are nice people. They are also walking. I see them in the distance and I can’t tell if they are coming toward me or away from me. Half of them are walking other dogs. Many of them are simply walking. I look at each, enjoying that the average age is vastly beyond mine (I’ve come to realize that having old neighbors means a quiet and mainly safe neighborhood). They walk with a certain finality. Largely their journeys are over.

A few of them talk to me. I’d rather not talk, I just want to walk the pup and get back home. Sometimes I can’t resist stopping and letting Toby sniff another dog’s undercarriage. He seems to download the info as the other dog does the same to him. I think it’s good for him and it allows me to say hello to the passersby. I enjoy reading the people I pass. I wonder if they are happy with their journeys. I wonder if they lived their dreams. I wonder if they believe in reincarnation (if they didn’t live their dreams this time, do they believe they’ll have another shot at it)?

It seems to me most people, regardless of age, are walking ghosts. They never really lived. They didn’t pursue what they wanted. They pursued what was easy. They pursued what was expected of them. They work, sleep, pay bills. They absolutely don’t seem happy. They find some other in a similar lot in life and bump uglies. They disappear into the digital void or in their heads. They aren’t present. They aren’t grateful. They aren’t really living. They are the walking dead. They are walking ghosts long before they are deceased.

Do you know any walking ghosts? I know many. They are dead and they don’t know it. A few walking ghosts make dramatic shifts in their realities and all the sudden they are alive! They stumbled upon an actual life. Most just drift through “life” not really living. It’s so very sad! How can they live? They can live the life they are passionate about. Their life can mean something! They can grow, change, evolve. Learning is a great way to live! Exploring. Improvement is the key to youth.

Look around at your old neighborhood. Look around at the shopping center. Look around at people. Get over to Venice Beach. I’d say 80% of people are already walking ghosts. What would it take to wake people up? I don’t know, but most of the artists I know are alive! Art is passionate, gritty, risky, and infused with life! What is your art? What do you mean? Who are you? Are you alive? If you are among the living, what is your fight? Artists are fighters. Artists love and give. Artists sacrifice. What have you sacrificed?

Have you “bled” on stage? Have you left bits of your soul in your work? Have you truly exposed your truth and the truth around you? When I think of the best stand up comics, they are artists. Have you explored stand up yet? Comics will take pain and convert it into laughs. That’s living! The ones that impress me are the funniest people that are sober.

Let’s also take a look at addicts. These people may be alive, but they are ruining their art. They are cutting short their journeys. They are disrespecting their bodies. Once again, this is another side of being a walking ghost. Look at their meth-faces. You can tell. Look at their skin. Look at their teeth. Once again, they lose themselves in their addictions and that’s not really living.

Living for an artist isn’t hiding from the pain. It’s living in the center of the pain. It’s feeling all of it and growing past it. It’s learning from pain. It’s creating from pain. It’s the television pilot about Jessica, that broke open your career. Jessica, the same woman who you needed so badly you couldn’t breathe without her, yet your reality is that she’s gay. You can’t have her. She’s confused, yet she’s gay. Your heart is broken and it’s your own “Chasing Amy.” You write. You create. People end up with jobs and food and money because of your art. Your pain has contributed to life. Seem specific enough?

You don’t regret any of it. You love, you hurt, you learn. You create. Live again in your art. Become the opposite of a walking ghost – become immortal. Your art can continue to inspire long after you are dead. Live here. Create here. Be the inspiration you seek and you will feel what it means to truly live. Let’s not get lost in the crowd of nobody. Let’s be the somebody we can be. Let’s live while we are alive.

Onward and UP.

9/11

By Allen Levin

Today is the 17th anniversary of a terrible day in American history. I remember exactly where I was. I remember the feelings. I remember how LA changed that day and how we all changed moving forward. I’m interested in your 9/11 stories. Comment them below. Where were you and what was your life like before and right after?

I was asleep in my 2 bedroom with no central air Burbank apartment. My roommate Gabriel Diggs (Taye’s Brother and the wonderful Marcia’s son) came knocking on my door in the very early morning hours. Gabe never did this, so I knew it was strange, but waking up to it was irritating. My gut response was, “Whatever this is, can’t it wait? Stephanie is here and you woke us both!” Stephanie, my first “real” girlfriend had spent the night. We woke up to a set of knocks. We ignored them. The knocks happened again and the door cracked open. Gabriel’s voice was soft but serious:

“I think you should turn on the news. The Pentagon has been attacked.” We turned on the news and by that time a plane had just hit the first tower. We watched in horror as that day began unfolding. The news covered it as the second plane hit. Unreal! Is this real life or a Michael Bay film? I wish it had been some sort of publicity stunt, but it was real. Americans were dying. We’d been attacked on our own soil.

As an actor I was connecting fairly strongly and didn’t want to cancel my meetings for the day. I was being taken to the Friars Club to meet Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle, by a “casting director” / producer – who would, in the next few days become my #metoo story. At this time I didn’t realize what a piece of shit the CD was, so I went along on the meeting.

I remember that there was sadness that was palpable everywhere. People were crying anywhere you saw them, but where you saw very few people was on the streets. Parking was plentiful where ever you wanted to go. There was essentially no traffic. Open freeways and open parking. Not the happy benefit you’d think it would be as the reasons were awful. I was 24. I didn’t fully understand how bad the attacks were. I remember thinking that the people crying everywhere were over-reacting, but something in me did get past myself enough to know this is terrible. I still had no idea how many people were dying.

The Friars Club was empty. This was my first time inside. I remember how nice it was. I remember the big screen CRT TV’s that they had on, all were showing footage of the attack. Plans hitting buildings. Everyone in shock and weeping. I can’t remember what I ordered. I can’t remember what we spoke of (It was probably the pilot lead I’d booked through the CD, that ultimately I walked away from due to his unwanted groping of me and his threat that he wouldn’t “let” me work on the two projects I’d booked unless he could blow me). Milton didn’t show. Most everyone that day didn’t show. RIP Milton Berle. RIP to the fallen. RIP to the fallen heroes.

I remember the gloom that went on for at least a month. We were in shock. I remember the days after the attack, looking up in the sky and seeing no planes. The planes were grounded by the FAA national operations manager Ben Sliney. Welcome to the job, Ben. It was his first day on the job. I remember how bad the day was, and I remember how many people came together. I remember feeling like a community needing to help each other through this. I remember stories of heroes and I remember stories of tradgedy.

Two stories that stand out in my mind. There was a man that was due at the World Trade Center building that was hit. His work called and told him he needed to get on a flight and come back. This is the reason he wasn’t in the second building when it was attacked. They then told him to get back to the WTC. He was on his way back to the WTC when he saw the second plane (the plane he was supposed to be on) hit the building he was supposed to be in. I sure hope he’s done some great things with his life post 9/11. He was saved.

I remember one other man who was trapped on the 88th floor on the elevator. He was yelling for help and pounding on the doors. Many people passed him up without assisting. He kept yelling and ultimately he was helped out of the doors. He ran down 88 floors in the chaos. He made it 15 feet from the front door, and the building collapsed on top of him. It was his time. He fought for every second and he so nearly escaped. RIP.

This is the single day that I can remember in my life time, so many times wishing we could go back in time and change this. I wish that people had responded to the warnings of suspicious types taking flying lessons (and not caring about learning to land). I feel we could have prevented this tragedy but in all things we can learn. I learned a lot over the days and years that followed.

The thing I learned the most: Our careers are not more important than people’s lives. I, at age 24, had a single minded focus on my career. I had trouble (as Maddy has eloquently put it) seeing past my own nose. I was upset that I didn’t get to meet Milton Berle. I was upset that life was interrupted for this. I had to face my own selfishness and needed to change. I’m proud of who I’ve become. I’m not proud of who I was, although I understand my drive. I was in the thick of trying to prove to myself that I am worthy of living the life I dream. I had yet to do anything particularly real for my career and I was aggressive. I just wish I had cried that day. I didn’t. I didn’t get it.

The tears came much later as I was able to get past myself and really understand the terrible day that I was disappointed that Milton missed our meeting. I can feel my eyes welling up now, as I finally get it. So much pain. So much shock. I still can’t believe it. 17 years have past. So much at the airports have changed. I remember before 9/11 going all the way to the gate to say goodbye to friends and watching them board the plane and fly off. Those days are over. Can’t even bring a filled water bottle past security these days. Life is different. This really happened.

Each year I think it’s a good practice to remember this day. Let’s remember the dead. Let’s do all we can as a country to avoid allowing the many countries that would like to attack us, that pleasure. People are threatened by our lives where we can pursue any destiny we want. They can’t. Sadly, that makes them hate us. Since we have this privilege that many don’t, let’s use it. Let’s live the lives we can. Let’s enjoy the freedom that we still have.

Many families mourn great losses from this day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend Tanya. She was a stewardess, meant to be on one of the planes that went down. She traded shifts with her roommate, who is now dead, RIP. Tanya went completely crazy. She simply can’t deal with the fact that she was supposed to be on that plane and her roommate died because she wanted to play hooky from work.

Our hearts go out to everyone that experiences pain on this terrible anniversary. Our hearts go out to all the people that have gotten sick having lived with the dust from the attacks. Our hearts go out to the firefighters that were saving people as part of the building collapsed. Our hearts go out to our country. Our hearts go out.

Let’s take a moment to remember 9/11. What are your stories?

Cracking Your Code

By Allen Levin

Isn’t it funny? We have our own codes. Most of us never crack them, and therefor we don’t book the quality of acting roles we deserve. We think we know what makes us tick. We show the audience ideas of who we think we are, but we are unwilling to face the truth. We can’t find the real code so we act from a locked position. We need the code to unlock, let loose, and create our truth. How do we crack our own code?

With some of us, we’ll simply be able to operate truthfully. “Some” is approximately 1% of us. With those lucky few, they just can act. Immediately we can see their commitment to the truth. These are the lucky ones. Most of us, need to train and learn how to unlearn all of our blocks and earn the code that we seek. This article isn’t for the 1%, although, you may gain something from reading this as well. This is for the rest of us. I fall in the 99% as do…. well 99% of us.

How do we find our code? It’s going to take patience and you’ll need help. You are going to need the right community of artists that aren’t trying to screw you (literally, figuratively, financially, spiritually, etc) and truly want what’s best for you as an artist. Most places aren’t this. Lifebook is a place you can trust. There are a couple others in LA, but truly maybe 2 other places. Shout out to the good coaches. You know who you are. Land at one of these places and get involved. Create. Rehearse. Bring the best of you each time you hit that stage and be open to change.

Being open to change is a must for any actor. Last week I had to put on of my actors on a “tough love” program. I have a couple at Lifebook right now on this program that are kicking ass. I assume when I put someone on this program they will quit. This actor quit immediately. He said, “Stop trying to change me!” I admit I was absolutely trying to change him. In his current position no one will work with him. People don’t want to do scenes with him. He certainly can’t get a professional booking. His attitude is terrible. Why would he want to study with me if I wasn’t going to modify his behavior so that people could stand to be around him enough to hire him? Can’t win them all. Happily I’ll stand by my winning ratio. Honestly, it always hurts when someone quits (and does so unhappily). I wish I could have cracked his code in a way that he would have been receptive.

Be open to change. Be flexible. Allow for growth.

These are some of the keys that will lead you to one of the digits of your code. If you aren’t a people person. If you can’t find love for people, people won’t love you. You will not be awarded roles.

Love people. Take an interest in others. Listen. Learn.

Don’t be a diva. This isn’t about you showing off. It’s about you being a part of a community. When you show off you are actually taking. You are taking attention. You are taking the spotlight. You upstage your partners. This might have worked in PoDunk MO, but it won’t work in LA. You should be interested rather than “interesting.” You should love people. Rather than tell them all about you, listen to them. Get interested in them. That will give you far greater success than trying to force-feed them information about you (spoiler, they are very busy people – and they don’t care that you were the best Pole Vaulter in Michigan…. ok, bad example, that’s actually really interesting. They don’t care that you ……. insert nearly anything). You should care that they are an avid hiker, or that they support a rescue organization. You get information. Don’t feel the need to give it. Silence is mystery and power. Get them speaking. Pay attention. When you see them again, enjoy revisiting the information you took in when you were allowing them to speak. “How is that horse you were trying to break? Tucker was his name, right?”

Give. Participate. Help.

Create a community of your own. You need an artistic family within your creative family. Can you host a play reading or a screening of a movie? Can you host an improv night (no critiquing, just playing)? How about creating a play or a web-series? What about a TV pilot? How about a short film? Can you get people together and create a real family where you love and care about each other and you don’t take from each other? No borrowing. No lending. No sex. No drugs. Just caring. Listening. Crying together. Understanding. Creating. Can you do this? Can you take your eyes off of what you’d like to take, and rather give? Can you give someone a ride to LAX (or better yet, pick them up from LAX — not during your class-time, though!)? Can you do these things with zero hope for being paid back in any way? Get yourselves to a place where you give with no expectation of reciept.

Ironically, these are the moments that will help you crack your own code (when your eyes aren’t on the code). As you become a real part of our community, people will want to offer you opportunities. Part of cracking your code is getting yourselves into positions to use that code where people are receptive to your gifts.

Use your own life.

Most actors want to hide from the truth of what they’ve experienced. Been in jail? Play a jailbird. Professional athlete in life? Play that on stage. You are a cop? Play cop roles. Let’s break in with our own lives. It’s the easiest path in. Use your life. I hope you’ve never been raped. If you have been, play a rape victim. Expose the truth. Who better to do it than someone who knows? Use your lives. Don’t hide from anything. The exception to this rule is that a few of you really can’t go there. If you can’t, don’t, for now. Perhaps later you can get there. Be open to it as it comes. Don’t force yourselves into things that will have you quit, or worse, hurt yourselves. If you can crack that door open, use it. Nothing is more important than art. Nothing.

Patience. Persistence. Tenacity.

This is going to take at least 8 years of struggle. Are you strong enough? I know you are. Can you change the topic when your family is being un-supportive? You can. “Are you losing weight? You look great! Sorry to interrupt, but I had to say something. Wow!” This tends to work! Don’t let people shit on your dream. Protect it. Understand that you won’t always struggle. Know your worth. Know that real dues (particularly rehearsals) need to be paid before we get paid. Stay calm. Stay focused. March up the mountain.

Celebration.

As you make it part way up. Enjoy the new view! Don’t rest there too long, but celebrate. Do something for yourselves you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Stamp your passport. You are at the next level, love. Be proud of yourselves and excited to get even further along! Have that piece of cake. You earned it! Foodgasm. Yum. Now onwward and further UP.

Rehearsal. Commitment.

If you’ve committed to your dream, your code will be more readily available. If you are wishy-washy about this thing, it will evade you. You won’t really give your all. You won’t let go the pretense and showyness. You’ll be stuck “schmacting” instead of acting. Rehearsals with people you trust will get you where you need to go. Schedule one right now. It’s a beautiful day to move forward with your dream.

Consistency.

Create a routine. Stick to it. Log your hours. Keep score and celebrate at 100. 1000. 10,000!! At 10,000 hours – you are a master. You will already have created a real body of work. This is you. This is your life. It doesn’t matter who else agrees. You only need one person to believe in you and that’s you. Read, write, rehearse. Do these things every day. You will most definitely unlock the code for mastering money, commercial acting (this code is by far the easiest and pays well), acting on television, acting in film, acting on stage. You’ll learn how to use yourselves well. You’ll spot the best conflicts and moments and you won’t push anything. You’ll open up and allow them in. You’ll be affected.

You will have your code. You will harvest this dream.

Why would we want another life? Let’s succeed at what we love, rather than possibly fail at what we can’t stand (or nearly as bad, spend a life succeeding at something we don’t love).

Work consistently with those you trust. Together we can find our codes.

Let’s crack our own code. Let’s take the work.

Don’t Pack Up and Move

By Allen Levin

I moved here from Indiana in January of 2000. Since then (nearly 19 years) I have moved only 3 times. I moved from Canoga Park (lived there for 9 months) to Burbank (8.25 years) to Panorama City (4.5 years and first real estate purchase and sale) to Sherwood Forest (so far over 5 years). My guess is we will live here at least another 8 to 10 years. I’m not going to get another mortgage but if we save up enough, we’d like to live in Agoura Hills.

So, I’ve moved 3 times in 19 years. How many times have you moved since you got here? Zero in on a safe place and stay there. All of the places I lived were reasonably safe. Even Panorama City. Yes, we heard gun shots once a month, but we kept our heads down. We didn’t take late night walks. We protected ourselves and we made money on that investment. My goal when I lived there was to live there for 4 to 5 years max. I moved out exactly in the middle at 4.5 years. I decided to sell that condo so that I could put more down on the house and avoid “PMI” which saved me a couple hundred dollars a month. I should have paid the PMI! (Private Mortgage Insurance is owed if you put down less than 20% on a real estate purchase and it’s money that’s completely wasted). I wish I had kept the condo as an investment as since we’ve sold it – it has doubled in value from $200,000 to $400,000 and we’d have made money on the rental. Live and learn.

If you are able to find a reasonably safe place and buy it, do it! Rent out rooms like I did. I ended up marrying a roommate! Financially it’s a great choice to own out here. If you need advice, I’m happy to help. Get out of the rental game if you can. If you can’t, build a house family you trust. Big is fine. Everyone chipping in on the rent. If you can find a good situation with zero or little personal drama (save it for the stage, gang!) where people are paying only $400 or $500 a month – fantastic! Just make sure it’s a bright and warm place in a nice area (even if 8 of you are sharing a 2 bedroom). It’s only temporary.

Only move when you must! If you are spending time and resources moving, using up deposits, energy, etc, it will cost you in energy that should be entirely spent on your career. I know many GREAT actors who have moved as much as 8 times in 2 years. Ridiculous! They think it’s exciting and adventurous. Guess what they haven’t done? Booked a professional acting job. Hmmm… I wonder why? Maybe it’s all the time packing and unpacking boxes. Maybe it’s all the truck rentals, and back injuries. Maybe it’s all the time re-orienting themselves to new neighborhoods.

I understand that moving seems fun and it seems like an improvement in most cases. Only move if you have to do so. Earn improvement within your chosen profession. The actors I know that are killing it stay put, book a bunch, and ultimately go out and get a house they can afford to buy. They have no mortgage! That’s truly awesome! If you are going to have a mortgage, be sure you have a minimum of 12 months mortgage payment in the bank that you don’t need to touch, unless you absolutely must to pay that mortgage. Buying a house is fantastic. Losing it to foreclosure will ruin you financially, ruin your credit, and cost you great opportunities. I remember when I got Lifebook’s first theatre, we were chosen over another who got their first because they had a foreclosure on their record and the landlord refused to rent to them. What a HUGE opportunity that acting coach lost. He is no longer in LA.

Part of being a great money manager, which all actors must do, is creating a situation where the money you are spending on living comes back to you. If you are renting, you won’t get it back. If you are getting a mortgage, be sure you can afford it without the help of renters. Renters should save you money that you could have afforded to spend. ***Don’t get a reverse arm mortgage or anything sneaky or hard to explain. You are only interested in a traditional 30 year fixed mortgage. Don’t trust the banker! If they are trying to sell you on anything, it’s wrong. This should be something you know you can do, or don’t do it. Keep renting until you are sure.

Remember, if at all possible: don’t move. Stay put. Book another film. Create a web-series. Work on your one-actor play. Don’t move! If your situation is toxic, go ahead and get out of there, but learn from your mistakes and don’t get into that situation with another group of people. I’ve been where many of you are, I’ve had to rent (for over my first 9 years living here). I’ve had to rely on roommates, and gotten into some roommate drama I wish I could have avoided, but it all served a purpose. I’ll bet my 9 years is close to an average of sorts. After I’d paid my dues I was able to get my first loan. I knew I could afford the $1200 a month mortgage on my own. The place came with two other rooms. I didn’t pay the mortgage, my roommates did. I got a master bedroom that had cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, a private master bath, a partial view, and all I needed to do was pay about $450 in utilities and HOA a month! My roommates in the other two bedrooms paid the mortgage. What a great deal!

Just so you know I’d started aggressively looking for the right deal 3.5 years earlier. I didn’t strike until I knew I could. I was patient. I became an expert on what I could afford and what was a great opportunity. I found the right place (and I wish I hadn’t sold it!). Study what’s possible for you. Get an amazing deal. Sell it for profit (I made 25% profit on the purchase) and upgrade when you can. Stop moving. If you can’t buy, rent, but don’t move. Settle in. LIVE there. WORK there. Rise up and earn the move. Don’t just keep moving…. or that’s all you will do in LA. You are someone that moves. I’d like you to be a legitimate working actor. You can be. Let’s be smart about all this.

Our friends are going to move…. and that’s on them. Let’s stay put and build this thing! Onward and UP.

N.Y. vs L.A.

By Allen Levin

If you want a career in film and television there truly isn’t a contest. You need to be in LA. If you want a career in modeling or theatre go to NY. Can you do some modeling and theatre in LA? Yes. Can you do some film and TV in NY? Sure. If you are serious and want the best career possible, stick to LA for film and TV and NY for theatre and modeling.

When you ask someone on team NY (anyone that’s lived in NY for a few or more years or was born there) if you should live in LA or NY, they will always say NY as a gut response. They will say “New York just has this energy. People there are honest. LA is too laid back.” I’ve heard this so many times from so many New Yorkers. Are they lying? No. But is there as much film and TV opportunities in NY? Not even close. It’s little league VS the pros.

I think it’s awesome that people from NY share this team spirit. I wish we had that here in LA. It’s unimportant however. What is important for those of you angling for film and TV is that the best agents, managers, producers, directors, casting directors, and every single slot necessary for film and TV is in LA. There are tax incentives that keep these producers coming back again and again, but the reason the mecca will never leave here: the weather. You can shoot movies here all year round! You don’t have to worry about risking your investment due to major rain storms (almost never happen in LA), snow storms or billzards (never in LA), or much unpredictability when it comes to weather. The weather is usually: sunny.

I find it charming how many people on “Team NY” live in LA. If you ask them they will stand up for NY. Everyone should move to NY. NY is the only true American place. There is nothing better! Will they be moving back to NY? No. They want to work in film and television. They will badmouth LA (many of them) and it makes them feel closer to their chosen team. They will wear clothes demonstrating how much they love NY (and hats). I love that they love their home. I’m going to tell you, I love LA. I’m excited that we have 2 football teams now. I’m hoping the Clippers and Lakers kick some ass. I think we could all use a dose of home spirit! Let’s take a page from the NY’ers. But we can’t move. We also shouldn’t express to people how much we hate it here. If we do that we are a flight risk. We will not be hired for leads as we can’t be relied upon (we might up and move).

So, in order to work more, you love LA. You aren’t leaving LA. If I were you, LA wouldn’t be my favorite place (don’t be a forgettable acting drone). Your favorite place can be anywhere else that you love, but let people know you aren’t leaving LA. You’ll be here for the long haul. You’ve got work to do towards your dream. You want to play in the big leagues. That’s what this place is. If the bulk of film and TV ever moves to another city (Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, etc) that’s where I’ll move. That won’t happen however. I’ve been here 2 decades and we always have the most. Lately we’ve had even more than we usually have. So, drop an anchor and learn to love it here.

We may never have the home spirit of NY, but let’s have some home spirit. Let’s love the Ocean! Have you been to Malibu? What about the Venice canals? Let’s love Griffith Park! Let’s love Disney Hall. Let’s love MGM and the WB. How about SONY in Culver City? There are so many things in LA to love. We’ve got Disneyland, Universal Studios, Hollywood’s walk of fame (where one day you’ll have your own star!). We’ve got so much here to love. Love it. Drop anchor. Don’t let NY people talk you into leaving (while they stay here and book your roles!).

Onward and UP.

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