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Progress

Allen Levin

Anthony Robbins said, “If you want to know the secret to happiness, I can give it to you in one word: progress. Progress equals happiness.”

I love this. I agree fully. I believe the reason I’ve attained the happiness from my dreams and beyond is that in 2005 I realized my dream by launching our acting studio and it was a journey that involves yearly progress. I’ve seen our studio get stronger each year. Every year it has a higher caliber of artist. Each year our artists are able to accomplish more together inside and outside of class. It’s been a constant journey of progress. It’s made me truly happy.

Having an acting career is a parallel. You may have a few years where you don’t improve as much as you like, but that is controllable. How much progress you personally make is up to you. There are two important ways of progressing as an actor. We progress in our professional life and we progress in our personal life. Both are long term journeys that don’t have a finish line. Let’s take a look at the one you might not have expected first: the personal life.

Progressing in the personal life involves being selective over whom you allow in your bed, in your bedroom, in your house, on your telephone (for a conversation), and in your life in any capacity. Raise the standards of the type you’ll allow. Do not allow everyone. It’s wonderful and naive to believe that everyone means well. It’s simply not true. There are far too many takers. Those that are supporters of your dream stand a chance. Anyone that isn’t, if they won’t change (and some people will) need to be cut.

Each year your personal lives need to become more and more conducive to your career. This means as we go along the journey if we have a trip planned with people next year that we have to cancel due to a professional acting booking they are flexible and understand more than the people that you’d deal with this year. As we move towards the future, each category of support needs to progress. Ultimately any partner that you have in an intimate relationship needs to be fully supportive of your art. This means they shouldn’t have a problem with you playing someone else’s wife or husband. They shouldn’t have a problem with you stage kissing in rehearsals or in a play or movie. If they do…. it’s time to move on.

Your personal lives also should include a warm and happy place to live. This is also a journey of progress. Some of you live with roommates that make your lives difficult. You feel you must stick with them because you can’t afford your apartment without them. I understand that. Be making steps so that you can get away (move onward and Upward) asap. Each week. Each month. Each year you are improving your personal life. Be patient with yourselves. This isn’t a quick fix. It takes time. List the categories in your life you’d like to improve (keep this list hidden from anyone that might take offense). Over time you’ll notice that each category really does improve. It starts with the desire to improve (the intent) and it continues with the actions we take to improve (the physical movement) it. Each year make progress (even if it’s a baby step every week) and you will get there.

As for my personal life, I’ve been saying for 13 years that my life is the opposite of the movie “Office Space” (which I love). Every day you see me it’s likely the best day of my life. This has been a powerful journey both making changes inward and making changes outward. Each year I find more ways of giving. That is such a wonderful gift. It wasn’t until January 1st 2017 that I started writing. It was a New Year’s resolution. I kept it. I’m so glad I did. I truly hope this writing helps people. I’m not charging for it. I just would like to give. That’s a part of this process. Get yourselves to where you aren’t focusing on what you can take to be happy. Focus on what you can give.

As for your professional lives also know that it’s going to take time. This isn’t a race. This is simply a journey of constant progress. I see some of my friends that I used to do scenes with 20 years ago. They are starring in the really big shows! I just saw another one as a Series Regular on “Mad Men.” Good for her! She kept going. She got better and better. She’s now what she dreamed. It took time. Patience. Focus. Tenacity. Now I see she’s starring in a movie with Danny Trejo set to come out in 2019 (and that has connected us on IMDB as I did one with him about 15 years ago) at a point you’ll all have a movie with Trejo. He works a lot! It’s a right of passage for any actor. All of you go book a movie with Danny. Super nice guy.

In any case if you are in rehearsals daily, along with reading and writing, this thing is going to happen. Your progress will be more evident at times and at times it may seem to slow. Keeping yourselves challenged on an artistic level is your job. Find roles you love. Find roles that scare you. Play roles that offer variety. Can you play low functioning autistic? Deaf? Blind? Can you play a killer? Can you play someone falling head over heels in love? Rehearse. Progress.

This is a long and wonderful journey and the rewards can’t be described here. I’m so excited for you to get past your own blocks and see what’s on the other side. You can do it. You can survive. You can rehearse. You can challenge yourselves and see constant progress. Give it time. Come join us! It’s in the work each class. We are ON tonight at 7:30 pm at Two Roads Theatre in Studio City. If you are in LA you owe it to yourselves to take in a class at Lifebook. Sending you all love and wishes for speedy progress no matter where you study.

Onward and UP.

 

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New Special Skills

Allen Levin

Much like your acting resume, year after year, your special skills section should be growing. Always list your best skills first. Expand outward. More and more your special skills section should get better (there is a balance in all things, don’t have more than 5 single spaced full lines, ultimately. Continue to refine and replace with new and more cast-able skills). Acquire skills that will get you booking specific roles. If you look like an athlete and you’d like to work as an actor, get involved in some sports. It’s ok if you are a beginner. Being a beginner in something new is fantastic for any artist. We’ll speak more on that in a minute. You are meant to expand your capabilities. Let’s begin with your casting and expand outward.

Do you look like a lawyer? Take a law course. Observe some court cases. Interview a couple lawyers (take them out to lunch) that may be family friends. You can list in your special skills “jurisprudence” which means the theory or the practice of the law. Those casting lawyers may appreciate that word. You just might be brought in for more lawyer roles. What about those of you that look like cops? Get in on a ride along. Take a class. Interview a cop or two (take them out to lunch). In your special skills list “policing.” Do you look like a cowboy? Better learn how to ride a horse. Horseback skills can be listed on your resume along with these others. What about those of you that look like swimmers? Get in the pool! List “competitive swimmer” or even “long distance swimmer.” Simply “swimmer” can even get you some auditions.

OK. So we see where this is going. Now, once you have the special skills Hollywood wants from you, let’s begin to expand outward. Try new activities and learn from scratch:

Being a beginner is so very good for your brain. Challenges are fantastic for actors.

Have you yet to learn the guitar? Let’s begin! Take a lesson. Learn a few basic frets. What about singing? Take a vocal class. How about pottery? What about painting? Have you ever wanted to play the drums? Begin learning ping pong or tennis! Allow yourselves to become “addicted” to these new activities. Really get involved. Learn about equipment. Read about the best in the country and in the world. Try out the technique.

***Don’t overwhelm yourselves by doing too many new activities at a time. Remember that none of this replaces the need to rehearse. Acting remains the number one priority. While you are acting, pick a new activity (one that you could play in a moment’s notice should Robert Redford offer you the role). One new undertaking every 6 months is plenty as long as you get proficient enough to be able to convince a casting person that you do this as a part of your life.

If you have very few special skills on your resume this is particularly important for you. Let’s expand. Let’s get more calls (particularly for national commercials) to audition. Testing yourselves as a beginner and reminding yourselves that you can learn and acquire new skills will keep your old skills sharp. It will keep you from growing complacent or worse yet bored. For some of you, expanding your special skills list may save your artistic life. It may actually keep you excited and keep you from quitting. Quitting is death for an artist.

Let’s expand our special skills. Let’s boldly try something new, no matter our age.

Another great benefit to becoming used to being a beginner, letting go of any pride, and starting something brand new: If you are cast in a film to partake in a discipline that you don’t, you won’t hesitate to learn the new skill. You’ll know that you can learn new skills quickly because you’ve improved on the skill of building a new skill from scratch.

Go ahead. Pick something new. Begin today. Let’s add to our special skills list.

Onward and UP.

 

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Scream

Allen Levin

My problem with many actors who don’t train with me is that they don’t feel that they are acting until they are screaming. When they begin screaming they continue for far too long. They get to the top of their range and stay there. Guess what? I know now your limits. I also am unimpressed. Most people don’t scream forever. They might lose it in a moment and scream a sentence or word. People in the world may scream entire paragraphs but they don’t have an audience. They don’t need the rule “The more you feel the more you reveal.” They are just communicating. We are tackling more than just this communication. We are trying to reveal the entire truth. So much for relying on what people do to defend our work.

Be judicious with the amount of time you spend at the top. Very judicious. If you get to the top and come back down, trying to control yourselves you may very well thrill the audience. If you get to the top and stay there, you’ll lose us. If you start at the top you have no where left to go. Keep that in mind. Try not to get angry. Find the humor. Fight the urge to fight…. but then go. When you go, go for it. Let go. Now try not to fight once again. “Subtexturaly” apologize by putting a hand up and turning your head away, ashamed of your outburst. Once again, you are unpredictable. You are riveting. We are in! Don’t attempt to get us in by becoming interesting. You simply remain interested in all that’s going on. We won’t be able to blink for fear of missing a brilliant moment.

I have a technique I teach called the “purge.” One of my excellent actors (truly brilliant for how new she is to all of this), Jennifer, is doing a shoot (today I believe) where she’s playing a sexual violence victim. I gave her direction to purge on a word in a non-obvious line. I told her to take all her anger, demons, stored up aggression and release into one word. Everyone will yell a line like “This is YOUR FAULT!” (all caps are where the actor yells, if not the entire line). That’s too obvious. I like to throw away that line (deliver it with a quiet truth, effortlessly) and yell on the next line “I’m sorry we don’t see this the same WAY!” No one else is going to yell the word “way.” They are all going to yell the first line and throw away the second. I’m going to throw away the first. Yell the word “WAY” in the second line and purge there.

I had another actor ask the question, “Why purge at a place that doesn’t make sense?” I answered her, “If it didn’t make sense, you didn’t do your job as an actor.” I can get mad at any point. We humans tend to get mad and use intonation on lines that are less obvious but create more subtext. On an artistic level I don’t allow writers to create the emotions I choose. I’m excited about going my own way. I want my interpretation to stand out from the others. I demonstrate the courage to bring my own sensibilities and creativity into my work. If a director directs me otherwise I’m like water. I can fit any container. I’ll happily take any direction and go another way (even if they are directing me in “on the money” acting, which is unfortunate). “On the money” simply means it’s obvious. It’s lacks any sort of originality or subtext. It’s yelling “FUCK YOU!”

I love yelling lines like “I’m SORRY!” or “I am CALM!!” Purging in an opposite is a great way to create subtext. If you have a line “I am calm.” Why play that as the truth? Remember that we determine what the truth is and we put it into our work. I adore the line “I’m not drunk.” Guess who will play that scene drunk? You got it! I may purge into laughter. Keep in mind that you can purge (completely release) in more forms than just yelling. This article focuses on screaming, however, you can purge into other colors as well.

Keep in mind, even if you are on the money, don’t yell too much. Purge on a phrase or better yet one word. I like to watch as the room jumps when I purge. I watch in my peripheral and I never break character. My goal is to get people (even the casting director) to jump or at least have their heart skip a beat. I like to bring in colors they forgot might be brought in. After my purge I fight my own reaction and usually create a subtext apology like a finger up while I “try” to contain my emotions. My purge happens fast! You won’t miss it. I’ve also built up power in my vocals. It would be fun to get a decibal reading. I’m certain it’s high.

Enjoy the process of purging in non-obvious places. They will become booking moments. People won’t forget you. Even if you don’t book this project you’ll be called in again and possibly direct booked in other roles. If someone didn’t like your choice and told you so, don’t worry. That happens. Do not let others scare you away from your art. Go boldly in your own direction. Stand out.

Scream. Not too much. Purge and come back down.

Aside: In life, why ever scream? Save all of it for when someone is calling “Action!”

Onward and UP.

 

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Your Casting

Allen Levin

Do you know the parts you are right to play? Do you really know? Not the standard “I can play anything!” Not everyone is right for “Mary” in “Something About Mary.” So who are you? Let’s get specific and honest about what you can bring to the table. Take a good hard look in the mirror. Chances are good that if in life you aren’t a lady’s man you won’t play one in film or television. You’ll likely be cast as someone that is awkward around ladies but wishes to be better.

I just saw the movie “The Hate You Give.” Awesome film. Every reader of this blog has just been assigned to see this film in a theater. Get to it. This is the type of artistic communication we need to make so that real change might happen in the world. Don’t leave the responsibilities of creating a better world to the politicians. They won’t be involved. They are actors of an entirely different sort. They act as though they’ll be involved, but largely they will not (every once in a while we could get lucky in this department, but let’s not leave that to chance). It’s up to true artists to create change. We need to stand up and tell the truth. Let’s shine a “Spotlight” (if you haven’t seen that movie get to it) on what needs to be changing today.

What would my part be in the movie “The Hate You Give?” I’d be a white cop. Would I get to play the young cop who fired his gun? Sadly, no. I’m too old to play a rookie and I’m not old enough to play a seasoned veteran. I’d simply be a white cop. Would I get to speak? You are damn right. I’d never consider anything less. Maybe I’d get to yell at the protesters through the megaphone “You have 3 seconds to disperse!” Who would I be in any movie I see? I should always be asking myself that very question.

If I got the part of someone that the world looks at as evil, should I see them as evil? Absolutely not. Evil people don’t see themselves that way. If I was cast as Hitler I’d play a man who loved (white) children and was adoring to animals. I’d find his heart and his reasons. I’d convince myself that the world needed to be cleansed of the Jews. I wouldn’t look at it as evil. If I was cast as the young cop who killed Khalil, I’d make choices the way he did. I don’t believe the actor playing that role thinks of himself (as that character) as a racist. He played that part very well. I know actors that would turn that role down for fear of the audience thinking that they are truly a racist. That’s a poor decision as an artist. A true artist would take the role and truly find the character.

If you don’t know what roles you play come up to me (or someone that does what I do for a living really well) and simply ask. If you don’t have access to an honest acting coach (and there are very few) you need to really look inward. Take away all emotional feelings and ask yourselves who you’d be in a movie. Remember that only one woman gets to play Mary. Is that woman you? Remember that only one man get to play James Braddock. Can you bring him to the table? Do you truly have Jimmy in you? Russel Crowe did. Do you? Really? With most of you, the answer is no. For me, the answer is no. Despite the fact that I adore that film I am honest with myself. I’d never be able to be cast in that role. That doesn’t bother me. There are plenty of roles for me.

There are plenty of roles for you. Get honest. Get lean with your submissions. Submit your picture only to parts that you are truly right to play. Rehearse the parts that are right for you. When you are called to prove it, do so. Be ready.

Now go see “The Hate You Give” and let’s begin changing some truly bad things.

Onward and UP.

Early Bird

By Allen Levin

When I was growing up my father was constantly late. It drove me insane. I remember multiple times waiting for him to pick me up where for over 3 hours I’d watch each car hoping it was him. He’s still late. He doesn’t understand that being on time is important. Until recently I’ve also had to rush to get to places on time. I’ve had anxiety in traffic. I’ve allowed myself to leave later than I meant. I’ve even taken risks while driving to “make good time.

This year all of that changed. I haven’t been late this whole year! January 1st I committed to myself that I’ll attempt to arrive 30 minutes early for work every single time I teach. It’s October 12th. I have yet to be “late.” I’ve been late for my 30 minutes early. That’s the point. Those 30 minutes give me additional time in case the unexpected (like a traffic stop) happens. I’ve have yet to be late to teach as my 30 minutes gives me more than enough of a buffer so that I’m not late to work.

Today I arrived at 10:17 am to teach a 10:30 class. That’s as close as I’ve been to being late all year. I felt excited. I got caught up in a conversation before leaving. I left about 10 minutes later than I meant to leave. Traffic was bad. Still I was on time! This is the first time I can remember being excited about my new policy. A year of not being anxious and stressing to get places on time. I’m converting as of now! I’m committing to this policy long term.

Why (particularly on the way to auditions) would we want to give ourselves unnecessary stress that could prevent us from booking the job? So many of our peers arrive that way. Let’s set ourselves apart by being relaxed. Being early is an amazing change of pace. I feel younger…. and lately I’ve had some pretty surprising comments from people that think I’m in my 20’s! I’m in my 40’s. I believe I’m appearing younger because I’m so much more relaxed.

Give this a try: For the next week attempt to be everywhere you need to be 30 minutes early. This is out of your car and ready to go 30 minutes before the meeting. You can take a walk. Grab a snack. Use the time however you like, but be there and ready to go. Have secured parking (if you drove) and be out of your car 30 minutes before your time. See if you can do this for a week. If you are less than 30 minutes early, you’ll see how good it feels to still be early. You aren’t late. The only person who will know you are later than you meant to be is you! How awesome is that? See if you like the results. I predict you will.

Being on time absolutely matters. Being accountable to your commitment matters. We are creating acting careers that are built on first impressions. Your first impression absolutely must be that of an artist who arrives on time. You can be counted on to be where you say you’ll be (when you say you’ll be there).

Most people you meet (particularly industry pros) will remember how you made them feel. If you are late they won’t feel positively towards you. If you are early or on time (Don’t go in too early. Be early so that you can walk in right on time or 5 mins early at the most. You don’t want to be an added responsibility that they don’t have time to deal with, before your meeting) they won’t remember you with a negative feeling, at least in terms of your being prompt. Promptness isn’t something we mention often, but it’s worth a full blog entry. Get it into your head: always be on time. Be early so that you are sure you can be on time.

LA Traffic still doesn’t get in my way. I feel happy when I’m in it! Imagine that! I’m not saying “Fuck you, cars!! Get the hell out of my way!” I’m just finding a radio station I like and I’m enjoying the sunshine. I know I won’t be late. If you live farther away, perhaps attempt to be places 45 minutes or an hour early. This one controllable factor will ultimately help you get more work. You’ll be closer with your friends and work relationships. Don’t keep people waiting.

Other people will be late. Forgive them. Bring a book. Bring a “smart” phone (book is way better). Bring something to occupy your mind so that you aren’t upset when they arrive. You are never late. You can be understanding when others haven’t adapted your new strategy. People will call you and direct book you when they lose an actor because they know they can count on you. Build a reputation on being a marine when it comes time to be anywhere. I’m excited about my new identity. I don’t show up late (anymore).

Ever.

Onward and UP.

 

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Hope: Part ii

By Allen Levin

Yesterday’s fading the gap was a bright spot in a tough day! The stock market crashed shortly after my victory and dropped over 800 points! The 3rd worst single day in it’s history. On paper I lost $6000. The great news was that the $7.05 I earned, pulling off a technique I’d been working on, gave me hope! Perfect day to gain hope and thank you to that $7.05!

OK — onward to today’s blog!

“Letting Go”

It seems I may have to rehome the kitten that arrived out of nowhere and stole our hearts. Jimmy Tato is doing some litterbox avoidance when he happens to be on the other side of our property. We have to face that he may be vastly better off in a smaller apartment where he can be aware of his litterbox. My wife and I love him very much but don’t want litter boxes all over our house. We entertain a lot. It’s a deal breaker. We never expected him. We didn’t want another pet. We were surprised and happy to love another.

As an actor, the love I feel for Jimmy Tato (and the new addiction) equals the pain I feel at the thought of no longer having him, living here as a family member. After I write this article I’ll take him to the vet to see if he is old enough and ready to be neutered (Sadly, one ball hasn’t descended which makes this really difficult. Please have gone down. Go down, ball!!). If so, this could help with his craziness and maybe he’d stop making our lives disgusting in the half of the house where he has no box. The advice we’ve been given is to lock him in a room with a litter box for a month. I know how much he calls to be let out (he has a high pitched and adorable call) when we lock him in part of the house let alone a single room. That won’t work. I’ll be looking (and most open) to other creative solutions as I’d like to keep him. At the same time I’ll be open to the right loving home. I’m surrendering to whatever is best for him.

As actors we must study pain. We must study pleasure. We must study all points in between and make sense of why we feel the sensations we experience. We need to be able to bring up these feelings on demand, so if we are studying our lives, this becomes much easier to do. I think actors are much better equipped to deal with pain. We utilize the pain. We learn from the pain. So, even in the depth of the pain, it’s not as bad. We see our silver lining. Let go. Allow your feelings. Learn from them.

My heart hurts this moment. I’ve been through a lot the past few weeks. First with Loopie’s issues and now Jimmy Tato. I know that pain (I didn’t purposely bring upon myself) is valuable. I still need all my acting preserves at a moment’s notice. My students can challenge me to an improv and I’m judged by all in the room with no prior planning. This is also great for me. This forces me to remain what I teach. I need to be in touch with my feelings. I need to be able to communicate the truth without the desire of a response from my audience. I need to let go of whatever teaching game plan I have and get on stage and live up to the work.

I have found that acting and life are both a process of releasing. We must surrender. We must let go. This helps me in nearly every aspect of my life. I don’t need to be in control of anything (certainly not the scene I’m acting in). I simply need to trust in myself. If something goes wrong, I can work it out. I can adapt to any situation. If I have to give up Jimmy Tato, I may get another kitten. I may just spoil my other cats, dog, and horse. I may write another blog. I might even create a filmed project. There is plenty I can do with whatever emotion I’m experiencing. Thank goodness for art!

Letting go is a process that can take years if not decades to fully embrace. When you go into an audition, can you let go of the desire for validation? Can you release the need to book the role or get a callback? Can you surrender and just allow a great experience? The sooner you can truly do this, the more jobs you’ll find that you book. Once you book a job, can you let go of anything your ego wants to attach? Can you continue to move forward as an artist without becoming “above” your friends and classmates? Can you keep your focus and resist the desire to lash out at anyone (Keeping score is just something I’ve heard about. I never do it, myself. Really! I wouldn’t!! These are the jokes.) in particular. No need to yell “I told you so!” Surrender.

What if something is stolen from you? What about your car? Can you let go? Can you surrender to that? Can you still smile at people and move forward with your career? Absolutely. Everything is a lesson. We get to choose our reactions. You can have the best booking of your career an hour after your car was stolen. Let go. If life felt you didn’t need that car perhaps you were being protected from something bad that would have happened. Life is always the best writer. Everything happens for a reason. Let go. Release. Surrender. Feel. Learn.

If I have to give up Jimmy Tato, I’ll hug him. I’ll pass him to another. I’ll cry. I’ll learn. I’ll find space in my heart to love the animals I still have. I’ll find space for future furry members of my family. If it works out and a magical solution to this problem presents itself, I’ll hug him. I’ll cry. I’ll learn. I’ll find space in my heart to love the animals I have. I’ll find space for future furry members of my family. I’m letting go. I don’t need this to go any way. I have no need to control this or any situation in my life. Let’s let go.

Magic happens when we let go. Onward and UP.

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Hope

By Allen Levin

You can have hope. Hope, potential, excitement, vision, and action are all a part of this magical journey. Have hope. Don’t play hope. When you are in an interview, relax. Don’t communicate how badly you want the signing or the part. Play it that you expect an offer (but there isn’t any negativity associated with it) and are happy about that. Don’t say, “I’ll do anything for this part!” Rather say, “I love this role, it’s so well written.” Don’t say, “Thank you so much for your time (subtext: “I’m not worthy of your time or this role”).” Say, “This was great!”

We need hope. We don’t necessarily need to hide all of it, but we utilize NLP (neuro linguistic programming) and we allow people to reach for us, rather than withdrawal when we reach too aggressively. We understand, much like dating, if we make ourselves too available (appearing desperate) it’s unlikely we’ll be selected. If someone says, “Are you free to shoot November 3rd to the 7th?” I’d rather you said, “I’ll check my calendar and get back to you. Do you prefer a call or an email?” Rather than saying “Yes! I’m completely free!”

As we climb this mountain we need to keep our hope (even while keeping it largely to ourselves) alive. We should see our potential and see the growth in the work. We hope to take big leaps forward in our own possibilities. This is fantastic! I remember nights where I couldn’t sleep. Hope was keeping me awake. This is being alive!

This morning I “faded the gap” for the first time on the stock market. I made a total of $7.05 in just under an hour. Is that awesome??! Actually it is. I’m learning this technique called fading the gap. I’ve been studying it for the past month and today was the first time I tried it. I tried it with only 3 shares. I found a good gap. The stock “FAST” was opening at $52.65 which didn’t make sense to me as it closed yesteday at $55.65. I decided to buy it at the open and sell it at $55. I didn’t think the gap would close all the way but I did think (largely due to a good article that came out) that it would jump immediately. The stock got all the way to $55.01 before falling down, now trading below where it opened! What a rush! My hunch was right. I had already put in a sell order at $55.00. I was flushed with excitement because my hope is that I can continue to utilize this strategy and over time it will add to my income. The $7.05 isn’t anything other than hope. It’s practice. It’s proof that this is possible. Now I have hope!

Aside: “Fading the gap” means betting against a gap in the stock market. If a stock opens higher or lower than it closed the previous trading day, that creates a gap. Some people like to bet with the gap. I’m learning to bet against it. Any given commodity any given day is unpredictable. The hope is that we can learn from market reactions and predict some of it. In that regard it’s a little like acting. We are betting on people’s reactions. If an article from an influencer comes out saying the stock is a bargain, many times people buy it and it goes up. If there is a scandal within a company many times the stock goes down.

***From much of what I’ve read, stay away from this type of activity as it’s gambling. If you have some time to train, invest in it (it takes buying hotkeys, three screens, and other equipment), and take it seriously, feel free to join me. At the moment I’m studying which is also very necessary. Most of my time is spent not buying, but observing and simulating. It’s a business. Acting is a business as well. Notice some parallels?

It’s the hope that has so much magic in it. If you ever lose your hope, go back to the things that inspire you. You should create an inspiration list of books, songs, movies, and even photographs. Get inspired. Fire up your hope. Now, hold that hope dear to your heart. Let it motivate you. Don’t communicate much or any of it to people that may hire you.

Onward and UP.

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Volunteer

By Allen Levin

If you aren’t booking the good sets yet do not be an extra. You are far better off volunteering to be a PA (production assistant). You’ll likely be assigned grunt work, but you’ll learn. You’ll get to be near the action. You’ll meet people. Volunteering because you love this industry can be a very wise use of your time. Hard work is good for all of us. If you don’t think there will be hard work involved in the acting trade you’ll have another thought coming! It’s not just a stroll down Easy Street.

Work, particularly work that you are unfamiliar with will expand your own capabilities. PA work is work you’ll need to get done yourselves on your sets many times. It also might be work that you delegate to others. It’s absolutely best if you know how to do as much as possible, so that when someone skips out on your shoot, you can be their back up. The buck will always stop with you. Don’t worry about “reputation” if you don’t yet have a reputation. Go be a volunteer PA. Carry boxes. Help with whatever they need. Deliver coffee. Who cares? Meet people. If you have the day off, you might as well have a day on.

The more people you meet (in the right light…. not as an extra!) in the industry, the more chances you’ll be thought of when the right role comes up. You’ll be shocked how certain roles come to you. It’ll seem absurd! Make the right impression. Help people. Remember: It’s not what you can get but what you can give that will set you apart. So give generously what you can give. Protect yourselves from being exploited, however.

Do not allow producers to put you in danger (they will if you give them the chance). Always stand up for your own safety. If someone is asking you to do something that could have you end up getting physically hurt, it’s important that you pass that project on to someone that knows how to do it. If no one knows, walk away. Do not allow yourselves to be hurt. Safety should always be on our minds.
(Aside: as an actor never do a stunt that someone can’t show you it being done fully first). Giving generously is important, but we must keep our brains turned on. People die on sets. It’s terribly sad but true. Do not be one.

Learn all you can. Don’t get in people’s way, but when there is downtime, talk to people. Learn about them personally. Become a friend. Get people talking. When you see them in the future ask them about details you’ve learned about them. “How is Samantha doing? And the kids? How are they?” People will warm up to you quickly when it shows that you care about them. Don’t worry about speaking. Listen. Get them talking. This is how to truly make friends.

When you are on set you are there to make some connections and learn about how productions are run from the other side of the camera. You can also (as much as possible) watch and learn from the acting that is going (hopefully the acting and the directing are decent, but you can learn from the bad as well). Volunteering to do jobs other people don’t have time to do can be heroic to a small production. The very small productions typically have their actors doing PA work. You might even end up with a line or two because they are so thankful. They need all the help they can get.

Look for opportunities to give. Look for opportunities to volunteer. Look for opportunities to meet and connect with people that are moving up. It’s a great way to move up as well. When you are in these situations be selective over whom you allow your ear. Too many complainers will be there. Get away from these folks. Do not let the jaded poison your ears. You are looking for people that are loving their lives. Learn from people that are living their dreams. You are looking for positive happy people. Don’t get lost in the “set drama.” See the movie “Living In Oblivion.”

Whenever your friends are asking for volunteers, be the first one with your hand raised high. Get in there and help. Do not ask for anything. Let them ask you if you’d like to be in the project. If they don’t, be happy to help. Just know the more you give, it comes back around. Be a helper. That will set you apart immediately. Most actors aren’t concerned with anyone but themselves. That’s not a happy life. That doesn’t lead to creative satisfaction and happiness. That’s a lonely superficial path to be avoided.

Be the person who smiles first, arrives early, and leaves late. Be the volunteer that people can’t believe exists and they don’t know how they could have accomplished their shoot without you. Your hard work will pay off in many ways that we haven’t covered today. Don’t fear hard work. Learn to embrace it. Let’s work smartly. Let’s meet people that are positive and moving up. Let’s move up with them. “Work begets work.” Actors who are already busy, book the good jobs. Go get busy.

I’m looking forward to you apologizing to a producer you were going to help, “I’m so sorry I can’t be on your set today. I’ll make it up to you. I just booked a network national commercial and I need to be on another set acting today. I’ll be free tomorrow and I’ll see you then. Bright and early!”

That is that voice of an actor that is going places. Use your time wisely. Create and build a life with good people. Give generously. Be helpful. Take part in this industry. Learn and gain valuable experience on set (not as an extra).

Onward and UP.

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Family

By Allen Levin

Every actor has a different family background as does every character we play. Study family. Study whatever family you have (or had). Family is something that can get you feeling. Feeling is necessary for an actor. I’ve never advised someone, “Cast that actor who feels nothing.” Family can uplift you into a feeling of warmth and love. Family can bring you all the way down. Family can help you succeed or drive you to failure. The important thing, no matter which way your family is taking you, is that you utilize the truth of your feelings in your work.

Don’t have family? No problem. Create a house family. Once again, you’ll feel things. Things may go wrong or they may go right. Either case is good for your acting career. Depend on people and have people depend on you. Communicate with them. Compromise where you can. Stand up where you need. It’s difficult (or impossible) for a true artist to lose.

Today I was reading about the chaotic life of Tennessee Williams. Absolutely he was an artist. He (apparently) sought out relationships that could at times be very violent. He was both terrified and entertained. He wanted adventure and everything he could get out of life. This is not a promotion for going out and taking in the wrong relationship. This is just to say that if a relationship you currently have isn’t taking you in a positive direction: Write. Act. Play. Use it. Many times the absolute best writing comes from family.

Out of moral obligation, Jewish guilt, plenty of parental guilt, or all of the above I reached out to my middle sister to see if there was some middle ground. She (and my other sister) are both takers. She’s less guilty, but still someone I’d lock out of my life forever if she wasn’t blood related. Just dipping a toe in the water I feel so many things! I feel anger, betrayal, disappointment, sadness, and plenty of humor. A big part of me was hoping (as was my wife) that some compatibility may be there. I gave it a try. I sent a letter. She wrote back and now we’ve written a few times.

I’m the one who needed to step away and I can see I still need to be away. Once again I feel sad. I wish things were different. I wish I didn’t think poorly of her. I wish our past hadn’t articulated itself the way it did. The writer in me is FIRED up. I had to do this blog today. I could easily crack out a script or two today (and would do so if I was still acting). There is so much great content! Where do we look? Family.

It’s difficult to do a blog on family without mentioning the family we choose. You must have a family you choose. If your family is the family you choose, consider yourselves very lucky indeed. I do choose my wife and my parents. Of my living family, that’s all (Aside: I really like her family). Apart from them, I have the family I choose. I choose you. I adore teaching. I adore interacting with artists that are open to change and growth. Who do you choose?

Do you have a good house family? You truly need to land on a great house family. You have to have a home where you can recharge. If you don’t – write all you can. Write out the details in the conflicts…. and get out of there! Find some positive and supportive people that get you. ***Do not live with negative people. That will cost you far too much. Learn from your families. Write. Use it. Put up a one actor show. Remember the terrible conflict, but do not be currently in that conflict. This may take some quick thinking and some major moves, but get out of that situation. Now.

Many of us pick the wrong “partner.” Co-dependent people are in big trouble. Take a look at your relationship. Do a pros and cons list if you must. Determine if there is anything worth the trouble? Redefine who gets to be in your life. I’m highly selective of who gets to be in my personal life. I have very few chosen friends. I’m also selective of who gets to be in my professional life. I only teach students I believe in. It’s a privilege to train under me. I have people in the double digits who would come running if I called them today. That’s the best! When you can choose who you work with and who you can leave to be on a separate path you are in good shape! Guess what: You can. You always should.

Who needs to be in your rear view mirror? Let’s live healthy lives. Let’s enjoy playing roles and reliving our unhealthy former situations.

Onward and UP.

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Working With People

By Allen Levin

I believe it was Kazan (I’m reading his book now, but I haven’t come across this quote yet) who said “90% of success is working well with people.” How well do you work with others? Can you be a part of an ensemble cast where the goal is for an entire team to do well, rather than just you? We will come across so many people on this journey. Are we able to deal with their quirks and get the job done? Will we take things personally and say the things that get us fired? Let’s have a look at working well with people.
People can be liars. People can be altruistic. People can be manipulators. People can give of themselves to an extent we don’t understand. People can be trusted. People can’t be trusted. People can be put together in a team that works and accomplishes its goals. People need a great leader that can facilitate this process.

Having an acting career, creating a body of work, will take a team. Can you work well on your team? Great practice is being involved in many teams. Always do your best to be flexible where you can and work well with others. Even if you don’t take their advice, go to some trouble for them to know you heard them, considered their feelings, and understand their point. Working well with people takes effort.

There have been many great financial successes that rather than working well with people, they were simply dictators. To me this isn’t true success. This isn’t just about money. If it was we’d all ditch the acting game and get into CA real estate! This is about collaboration between artists. It’s a miracle and it’s magical, but at times it isn’t easy. So, this isn’t about getting people to submit to your will. This is about getting a group together and getting a project done. This is about keeping relationships even after the project is done and continuing to move forward (a monumental task at times).

Sadly, sometimes friendships will be lost. Some bridges don’t connect. We do our best to compromise where we can (not necessarily our artistic vision if the project belongs to us) and create a machine that produces its product. We are ready for the “cost of doing business” which is to say sometimes there will be misunderstandings. Ex: “How dare you cast her and not me! I thought we were friends!” This one will come up plenty. Be ready. Tell your friend in response: If we are personal friends, why does our friendship rely on a professional consideration?” That probably won’t work, but it’s worth a try.

Be a great listener. One way to work well with others is listen 4 times more than you speak. Let people talk to you. Show them the truth: you do care about them. If you care about people and you listen well, half the battle is won. You’ll appreciate this when you’ve been in the battle. It’s a battle. It’s winnable, but it can be quite a strategic affair to get certain professionals to behave that way together while maintaining your sanity. Silly things may very well push you over the edge. Plenty of silliness will happen. Someone doesn’t want to work with someone else because they called them fat, or because they dated their brother 6 years ago, or because because because. It’s all nonsense. Act like you understand. Act like you care. Speak thoughtfully. Always keep your professional integrity.

***Think before you react. This is counter to how you should act in a scene. In a scene, react, then think. As a professional think. Be quiet. Walk away. Consider. Now respond with a response that doesn’t add to the drama or problems on set. Take pride in your level of professionalism. I have a story about working with a particular famous casting director who I’ll never work with again. I’m proud of how I behaved under poor circumstances. I can hold my head high. *It’s easy to be a professional until it’s hard. When it’s hard that’s when we determine who is the true professional. Enjoy the test. Enjoy the challenge. Take a breath. Pause. Consider. Come back to it if you feel an emotional response (many times you will).

I take the position that Christian Bale’s rant on set was proof that even the top pro’s can suffer an amateur moment. He lost his cool. He lost a degree of respect from me (and some other key people), but I understand his position. He simply should have taken a breath and stepped back. I know this is easier said than done, particularly when he was ready to work. This behavior shouldn’t be a part of your journey.

Enjoy the challenges as they come up. I have and will continue to do so. I do my best not to be reactive even though my emotions, my heart, my mind, the core of my being, is quite reactive. I’m so proud of my community. Today and tomorrow at 4 pm – come to our free show “Partners In Crime.” Be early as it’ll sell out. 4348 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City. Take a look at what a group that works well together can accomplish.

Work on working well with others. Improving that skill will take you very far indeed.

Onward and UP.

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