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You Can Do This

Allen Levin

Actors hear all the time how difficult our business is from people that aren’t in the business. They think they know something. They heard from someone once that this business is political and therefor unfair. They tell you they know it’s all a bunch of rejection. They say only 2% of actors ever truly “make it.” These uninformed voices, sadly, scare away some darn good actors. Don’t listen. Remind yourselves that you can do this. Remind yourselves that you have something unique and special. You do.

Thousands of actors every year pursue this business professionally and quite successfully. They don’t have your heart. They don’t have your drive. They don’t have the sensibilities you bring to the table because they haven’t lived your life. You have a place here. We need you. You simply need to get past all the BS (lots of it) both in your own brain and within the painfully uninformed. If ever one person did this successfully, I already know it’s possible and I can do it too. This is happening all over the world by people not as talented as you. Look at Casey Affleck!

I saw “The Old Man And The Gun” this weekend. It’s a perfectly good movie despite the fact that Casey Affleck has a major role in it. He is an honest actor. He’d be one of the better beginning level actors at Lifebook. Orientation. He can’t go anywhere. He won THE BEST ACTOR Academy Award last year for a flat performance! Take this as inspiration! He never should have been nominated. He can’t carry Denzel’s jock strap. Yes, here he is, with the best actor honors. Unreal. Let that motivate you. You can emote (he can’t). You can arch (he can’t). You can do more than pout / be moody. He’s not the worst I’ve seen…. but he’s certainly not the best. Take great pleasure knowing you can go beyond Casey (I have no idea how to spell his name, and don’t care to know, I guessed).

OK, I’ll admit, I’m offended that he took the award away from Denzel, and also from Gosling. Both of those guys acting circles around the mini Affleck. So, if I come off harsh, that’s why. Real actors were up for that award. I’m sure he’s a perfectly passable mediocre wife-beating actor. Oops. OK. Enough on the jackass. Let’s move on with the point that anything he can do, you can do. His true talent? Being Ben’s younger brother. Any connections he made through family lines you can make with good old fashioned persistence, tenacity, and hard work. You can make every single connection.

You can do this! You were born to do this, so do this you will. Don’t worry about professional bookings for the first few years. Worry about getting some much needed experience. Do a stage play. Do some showcases. ***If you aren’t producing these things don’t pay to be in them. These should always be free (or just your share of expenses, like the programs and refreshments if it’s put on by a group of actors). Get seen. Get signed. Stay you. Stay down to Earth. Stay approachable and super positive / optimistic. I love that phrase “know that you know.” It’s ok to know this thing is yours. It doesn’t come with a boastful energy. It’s simply the truth.

On the days where you question if you can truly do this: schedule a rehearsal for a scene you adore. On the days you feel confident you can do this: schedule a rehearsal for a scene you adore. Do more scenes you love! Communicating your passion will keep you going. You don’t need to be an alien, a tree, a lamp, a rock, or anything other than a person. Get out of BS acting communities that make you do a bunch of needless exercises or utilize way too much jargon or name dropping. Get into scenes. Run lines. Be challenged by big-hearted and talented partners. You need to rehearsal every day. As long as you are acting, you’ll improve. Along with improvement comes happiness and creative satisfaction. Improve your way all the way up to the top. Why? Because:

You can do this.

Onward and UP.

 

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Pick Up The Check

Allen Levin

When we were in private Hebrew school our teachers used to teach us about charity. They would say “when you give tzedakah (charity) it will come back to you ten-fold.” I remember thinking “10 times what we spend? That’s an amazing ROI!” Ok. Maybe that’s not exactly the terms in my 5 year old head, but come to think of it – that might be accurate. Thanks Dad. Anyway, I learned at an early age if we give we receive. Initially I wanted to give just to receive. That’s probably typical of a young American male who dreams of being rich. Years past and I forgot this quote. It actually gave me a chill just now when it hit me. This is the first I’ve thought of this in decades.

Fast forward to today, most of the time I go out to eat, socially, I pay for everyone. I love surprising (although it may not be quite as much of a surprise anymore) my family by sneaking my credit card to the server at the very beginning of a meal and telling him not to tell anyone, but I’m handling the check. I even did this for a large extended family group in Chicago on my last visit home this summer. I didn’t start out this way. I remember being grateful for the food, but being on the receiving end of my parents, grandparents, and other people’s generosity. I was happy to fill my belly. I shared laughs and pleasant moments and that wasn’t wrong.

As I got older I realized that pitching in, even when it tightened my belt (credit card) was a meaningful thing to do. I started off simply offering (and ultimately demanding) that I pay for my own food. I didn’t want others to feel responsibility for taking care of me. I wanted financial independence. I felt that it was time for me to pay my own way. This is a good starting point, but it’s not giving much back, it’s simply no longer taking. A very important step. Find this step immediately. At least stop taking.

After that I started treating people at places where I knew I could handle the bill. I can’t recall ever treating to McDonald’s because I refuse to eat there (total crap) unless there isn’t anything else around for a country mile. I may have done a couple pick ups at Taco Bell (my favorite of the terrible fast food). I remember living in Burbank where I found places that had good food, sit down restaurants, good service and ambiance but didn’t break my wallet. I treated my friends (small groups, usually just one or two people). Ultimately I began earning more and treating more people. Now I feel so much better than I used to when I was on the receiving end. There is something so delightful about giving. It’s particularly gratifying when the people to which you give don’t expect it. Give to givers. Giving to entitled takers is so last year.

If you find that particular people are all about taking, focus your giving power elsewhere and fast. Those takers have their sights set on you. They want to determine when they can take and just how much. One way they identify themselves is they will say things like (quoting my sister) “ooh. I love your new Ipad. When you are done with it I’ll take it.” I don’t recall my response, however she lays claim to things that aren’t hers as often as she can. I have nothing left for her. Sad.

As artists many of our fellow actors could use a hot meal. Many of our actors could use a treated movie ticket. Take care of each other. Here is an add thing that is very true: the more you give (particularly when it’s difficult, when it’s a true sacrifice), the more you’ll get back. We don’t give to receive, but just know that you’ll be able to pay the debt. Giving (not getting taken, remember what I said above about who doesn’t get to be on the receiving end from you) has a magical quality of empowering the giver. You’ll accomplish plenty. Don’t pull a “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” Not just yet. One day the time for that type of exciting generosity may come for you. But let’s start with, “You get an impossible burger! You get an impossible burger!”

Take care of each other. This industry is only as cruel as you allow it to be. We aren’t victims. We don’t need to complain that “the city of angels” isn’t a truthful slogan. It is. We are the angels. We need to help each other. We need to stand up for each other. We can call our hungry friend and say, “Hey man. I’m about to grab a bite to eat. Can I pick you up? The food is on me today. We are celebrating!” You have plenty to celebrate. You are in Los Angeles. You get to pursue your dream. Amazing!! Most people only talk about it. You are DOING something about it. Get out your credit card. Set a budget of $30 (or $20, or $40) and treat a truly good hungry person to lunch today. If you like make a meal at home and have over some friends. This is a beautiful way to give.

If you don’t see what this article has to do with an acting journey feel free to inquire in person. If we discuss it over lunch we can fight over the bill.

Onward and UP.

 

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You Are The Dragon

Allen Levin

Right now I’m learning a new discipline. Many of you are new to acting. I have begun the journey into day trading. I can see the parallels in day trading and acting. Let’s begin with how I have begun and how this relates to your journey in acting and to all of our journeys into new activities.

I became interested in day trading a while back. I even watched a couple videos on Youtube. I figured there would come a time when I’d really study it. I’d get involved. I had a sense that this is something I could do and something I’d enjoy. Time passed. I didn’t ever get up to see the market open (that’s 6:30 am here! Really it’s 6 am to scan the market first, or better yet 4 am if you’ll be involved in any pre-market trading). That’s early! I like to get up at 7:30 or 8 if I sleep in.

I had a couple conversations with friends. I mentioned my interest and even my intention to get going. I didn’t do anything. I remember occasionally pulling up a video and watching 1/3 of it. I read no articles. I read no news stories. I read zero books. Seemed interesting, but much of the jargon was over my head. I still figured at a point I’d get into it.

A couple weeks ago, at Costco, my wife expressed interest as well (awesome! A study buddy!). So I decided to dive in. Commitment time. If I was going to do this I needed to put money in. The free training that is available didn’t commit me to anything so nothing was happening. I decided to be up at the market open the next morning. I’d buy I’d buy Apple. That is a solid company. I’d buy AAPL (Apple’s ticker symbol) for $100,000. That would commit me. Then I’d HAVE to learn.

If you truly want to be the actor that you are capable of being, it’s time to commit. Know that this is yours. Tell people you are an actor. Hold yourselves accountable to getting results. What do you need to do to commit? One great way is to commit financially. If you have a great acting class, prepay no less than 3 months (unless you absolutely can’t). If you can prepay a year, do it. I had decided that if I was going to learn to day trade I needed to commit financially and then I’d finally take it seriously. $100,000 to me: dead serious.

Since I invested in Apple a week and a half ago the stock market has had 3 crashes. One was the third worst in its history! On that day alone I lost (on paper) $6000! This has made me incredibly serious. Now even just to end up with my original $100,000 I have to study. I have to learn. I HAVE to make this work!

What can you do so that it’s no longer a choice? What can you do so that you HAVE to make acting work? Find out how you can truly commit yourselves. No backing out. Get all the way in (or if not, get all the way out). Let’s do this all the way.

So: I’m $100,000 committed to becoming a day trader. The day I decided to commit, Apple’s stock was falling. I didn’t know this rule (page one of the first great book I’ve read): Don’t buy a stock when it’s falling! LOL. I simply needed to commit to the process and I dove in. I’ve watched the stock go down (only one day did I finish the day over $100,000 – My account had about $100,600 in it. The rest of the time I’ve been multiple thousands down. Am I glad I invested? Absolutely. The commitment was worth a few grand. I simply wouldn’t be taking this seriously if I hadn’t put my hard earned money in. Can I earn it back? You bet I can. I will.

Ever since I invested I’ve taken my commitment to learn to be a day trader as seriously as anything I’ve undertaken. I’ve studied every day as if I’m back in school. I’m currently reading 3 different books: “How To Make Money In Stocks,” along with “How to Day Trade” and “Selecting Stocks.” I’m reading news stories on companies daily as I pick my next winning stock. I am taking down entire day trading videos and reading online articles like they are popcorn. I’m using a stock simulator and buying and selling (for practice) stocks for free. I’m averaging 3 hours of study every day. I have been up at or before the market open every day. I’m IN. I’m 11 for 11 picking excellent winning stocks. I even sold half of my AAPL for PYPL (Paypal) Friday morning at 4 am (pre-market) and crushed it as the market had a mediocre day, but Paypal was a huge winner.

See: https://www.barrons.com/…/dow-gains-65-points-but-it-was-st…

If you need to sign and post a contract on your wall that says, “I pledge to be an actor for the rest of my life. I will study each day. I will monitor my progress and refine my strategies as I climb the ladder to my creative satisfaction and happiness” then do it. My guess is this paper won’t be worth the ink. If this works for you, fantastic! Do it. Ordinarily we need to commit our money into something before we really do it. I wouldn’t get involved in trading until I felt I had to do it. $100,000 is very very real to me.

I believe the financial commitment of joining SAG – AFTRA ($3,000) is beautiful and necessary. See: https://www.sagaftra.org/membership-benefi…/membership-costs . Do it as fast as you can. No excuses. Prepay (even if you need to use a credit card) for 3 months or more of an excellent acting class at Lifebook. Did you catch that? Haha. Yes. Go for it! Once you feel the weight of financial obligations (you have to make the money you spent of value to you) you will rehearse more, you will truly dive in head first.

As I continue my new journey I’m happy to share the experiences with you. ***I am not suggesting you guys get into day trading.*** I’ve enjoyed a self imposed “school day” each day. I’ve learned so much, I now not only understand the jargon, I enjoy the videos and they make sense to me. I’ve done small real and simulated day trades and I have done well (doing well is managing your risk, accepting inevitable losses and being on the green side more than on the red). My “training” accounts are up over 5 percent PER TRADE on average. In only a couple days, that’s darn good. I’m aggressive. I’m a lion. (See: Career Concept: “I’m a visionary executioner Lion from concept to completion.” This concept is becoming a day trader). I enjoy the prospect of catching and passing other more experienced day traders on my way to becoming a success. I’m fucking HUNGRY. I’m unafraid to learn something new. I’m unafraid to commit all the way. I’m pushing all in. I’m inspired!

HERE.

I.

COME.

What about you? Are you in? Are you coming? You are the dragon. I can see that about you. I can feel your heat! The dragon fears nothing and charges forward breathing fire. The dragon isn’t afraid to fly!

Welcome, Dragon. I am watching you with great interest. I am fully aware of your power.

Are you?

Onward and UP.

 

Healthy Skeptic

Allen Levin

Everyone has an angle. They simply do. Luckily a few (a very few) truly want to give. Most people 99.99% in LA do not have this angle. If you are at Lifebook the ratio is better, however you still have to screen everyone. Don’t let people take you. They are already on the case! Keep an eye on people for years. I want to be held up to this same test! You never know what I truly want, do you? The same goes for everyone with which you come into contact.

If being a successful actor means getting to act in projects that you love around people that you love, quitting the biz would absolutely mean failure. If you quit you no longer get to do the above. You’ll need to define success entirely and specifically to you, however the above remains true. We must avoid quitting at all costs. We keep marching up the hill and soon we get to help others get to the top as well as our own arrival. Even the people you help…. keep an eye on them!

I’m betting this article today sounds overly negative. The converse is true. I want you to protect yourselves and protect your dreams so that you last. I just saw pictures of a talented actor on Facebook. She studied at Lifebook. She ignored my wishes not to date others in class (I always tell people this is a huge mistake…. don’t do it! But some people like to pay me and not take my advice). The relationship didn’t last. Her beau stayed in class. She quit. Then he also quit (typical) as he missed her and tied the memory of her in with our studio. This is typically the result of dating someone in class… but I digress. The sad part here is I just saw a picture of her, living in another state, far from here. She’s given up acting all together. What the hell is she going to do?

In her pictures she appears to be happy, but if you look just a little closer, you can see that in every smile, there is a hole… she’s already dead and she’s not even 30. It’s so sad when for any reason at all you give up on your dreams. How is life still worth a damn? You aren’t pursuing your destiny. Also, if your dream evolves or you realize acting isn’t your dream RUN away! RUN to whatever truly makes you happy. Don’t, however, cop out. Don’t quit after convincing yourselves that it isn’t your dream just because you aren’t patient enough to see this thing through. And, in her case, the person she should have looked at with strong skepticism was the boy-man she dated in class. He killed her artistic life. He took from her what he wanted. Hey. Who cares? He’s still acting. He still lives his dream. Isn’t that ok? NOPE. I’m not ok with either scenario.

Both of these actors knew what would happen, and like true addicts, they did this anyway. She’s so sad now. She misses all of this. She won’t confess that. On Twitter she simply pretends she’s super happy in her new life as a “regular civilian.” I wish she’d have seen it coming. I wish during their scenes in class she realized…. hey, why are we hanging out after rehearsals? Didn’t we get together for our acting careers? Be a healthy skeptic.

I adore and love all of the students I allow to come into class, but I have to look at them with skepticism. Who will be a contributor to the community? Who will take too much? Will I have to remove them from class or are they open to change. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t open to change, even when they PAY you for it. I’ve had students come up and beg me to lend them money. Can’t do it, gang! Neither a lender nor a borrower be. I’ve had students ask if they can sleep in the theatre. I wish I could allow it, but if a fire ripped through and you were there, I’d never be able to live with that. I don’t like it when someone puts me in the position of saying, “No. You can’t stay here.” Don’t let it be you, and keep an eye on everyone.

Agents and managers, many times these people appear to be beautiful giving souls. Do I really need to write on? Industry people more than anyone (the bigger they are, the more we must look) need to be watched. Don’t let them fuck you (in any way!). They will still try, oh yes. Even in the #metoo era. Don’t stay out with them after midnight. Seems obvious. Too many of you think your careers will benefit if you take them up on their invite to hang out at Adam Sandler’s house. Spoiler: It sounds amazing…. it’s a trap. Seen it. Actor wouldn’t listen to me. Actor hung up on me on the phone when I told them to leave. Actor quit acting after abuse ensued. Adam Sandler wasn’t the abuser. The industry “pro” that invited her fucked her…. and good…. and right out of the arts.

So, let’s utilize a healthy skepticism. Even first day beginners, you should know, people will try to fuck you. I use the word fuck as a part of a sobering wake up call. There are good people here…. sadly most of us aren’t. Watch us all like a hawk.

Onward and UP.

 

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Focus On What You Have

Allen Levin

Our primary goal within acting is to create a life that is creatively satisfied and happy. That’s the focus. Yes it would be great to sign with that agent. Yes it would be wonderful to land that film contract. Neither of these things in the grander scheme of things can keep you from your actual purpose or goal. If you don’t get the agent, your position hasn’t changed. If you don’t get the film, your position, your goals remain the same. Rather than focus on what didn’t come through (which we now know is irrelevant to your goals) focus on the things you have. Gratitude is going to get you to the land of happiness. Also, it will help you attract additional happiness.

Do you live in the greatest city in the world for film and television? Yes! Los Angeles is by far the best. We live in the film and television mecca. Awesome! Nowhere are there more film and television projects. Sorry New York. You simply don’t measure up. You can keep the model industry! Theatre is yours (and I’m a little envious) and you can keep that too. Film and television is our dream. We need to be here. I’m so very grateful to be here. If you aren’t in LA, make arrangements. Get here. This is the land of opportunities for all that can back up their dreams by action.

How about health? Are you able to see? Yes? That’s amazing! If not, you can still be an actor. If so, focus on how wonderful that is! Sight! Later today I’ll go see a movie with my wife (love my AMC A List!) and we’ll see and hear (OMG! How cool is sound??!) beautifully shot scenes and enjoy a narrative by some of the world’s best. We get to do this on a THURSDAY? While most other people have to be at their day job? Unreal. So @#$@# cool! I can’t believe this “pinch-me” life! I love every minute of it!

What about the delicious food in front of us? How lucky are we when so many people all over the world (sadly, including right here) are going hungry? Taking a moment and remembering how fortunate you are before you eat is a great idea. All this gratitude will convince of you of the truth: you are happy! You don’t need anyone else to help you find the happiness that is already yours! It’s there! Once you live within this happiness so many others will want to take part…. you’ll book a part! You’ll get to be on the film sets and in the good offices. All this gratitude will affect your energy. People can’t get enough of a truly great energy.

Are you able to get around town? Yes! Even if you need to take a bus or Uber, you can get places in 30 minutes that used to take an entire day. Have you ever taken a flight? What a miracle that is! How lucky are we? Take a good look. I don’t care how bad your day feels, focus on what’s right. So the agent didn’t come through? That’s ok. Look at this AMAZING ocean! Some people never see the ocean in their entire lives. Some places do not allow people to cross the border. We can just go! It’s gorgeous. It’s therapy. Breathe in that ocean air. Feel the beautiful sun on your face. Enjoy the breeze.

How about find old friends? How easy is that with social media? What about make new friends? Can we do that? Absolutely! Meeting someone can happen with a mouse click or out on a hike at Runyan Canyon. Go to a Meetup and meet people that have the same interests as you do. There are so many ways to enjoy a new friendship where a couple decades ago it wasn’t this easy. Be grateful for all the many ways to not only meet people but learn from them. Read articles by the best in the world (and you don’t need to subscribe to a magazine or a newspaper (what a waste of paper!) and learn something new.

I’m not writing this from a position of an ivory-towerist. This blog is for me too! I’m writing this on a day where my stocks have crashed again in addition to twice last week and I feel amazing! I could focus on how I wish two weeks ago I hadn’t invested the bulk of my expendable income and had instead picked up a book on stocks and read page 1. Rather than that I just got back from a walk in the sun with my beautiful wife (I’m so very lucky indeed) and our 10 year old puppy, Toby. The day is off to a great start as I’m so grateful for all with which I’m blessed every day.

A reminder never hurts that happiness is a choice. Where would we like to focus? Let’s choose happiness. That’s my choice today and everyday no matter what is in the wind.

Onward and UP.

 

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Attitudes and Assholes

Allen Levin

All of us have in us the capability to have a great attitude. Many of us choose not to be good. The good news is that we are all assholes and we are all angels. We can express all of ourselves in our work. Outside our work, let the asshole in you remain completely dormant. Wait… taken out of context…. that’s not what I…..

So, here we are and things aren’t going well. We have a choice. Asshole or angel? Is the circumstance happening between “Action!” and “Cut!” if so, go for the conflict. Allow yourselves to indulge your assholic nature. Is it happening in your really real everyday life? Angel time. Let others get crazy. You remain a professional. Isn’t it funny? The time to be a professional isn’t when you are engaging in acting (your chosen profession) it’s when you are not acting. Other people can road rage. You are an artist. Save it for the stage!

I can’t spend enough time on the benefits of having a good attitude. Even some people I know who fake it well have damn decent acting careers! I know the truth (they are not good people, dishonest, etc) and that doesn’t matter for their career, as long as they “act” like good people in life. You ARE a good person. You won’t have to “act.” This is a huge advantage! Remain patient with everyone. Don’t say a bad word about anyone. In your life, your attitude will determine who will hire you as a professional. No where is this more prevalent than in the biz!

If I drill this into your heads enough, perhaps you’ll remember, “Oh yeah! I need to have a great attitude particularly when it’s difficult to do so.” You’ll be left waiting in a hot and uncomfortable space for 2 hours. When the AD (or PA even) comes and apologizes to you be supremely forgiving and gracious. That’s when it matters. Do not get them fired, even though you can with a phone call. Just tell them, “No problem. This happens. Let’s get make up over here. We need some resets.”

The truth is we are all part asshole. Every one of us. We need it accessible and reactive when we are on stage acting. We need to quiet that same reactivity *(my word! If you want to use it it’ll cost a quarter each time) when we are in life. We train ourselves to open doors and be very sensitive in the moment. This will come up plenty in life. We don’t entitle ourselves to communicate what our artistic choice would have been in life. You think it will feel good to get those words off your chest and onto the wrong doer. You are mistaken. You won’t be hired again.

When things are going right, and rarely they will, having a good attitude isn’t a challenge. It’s simply not impressive. Oh. You had a well-oiled-machine of a set and you kept a great attitude during a concise well executed day. Wow! Note the sarcasm. Oh. You had a difficult day. Things went wrong. You hurried up and waited. You didn’t shoot for 11 hours. On set props malfunctioned. The director and the AD were arguing and clearly hated each other. You kept a great attitude. Now we are talking!

Challenge yourselves to keep a great attitude no matter what. You’ll be direct hired by people you don’t personally like (but you like the jobs!) because they think you like them. You were the only person not to tell them off. Good on you! Take the direct bookings. Continue to allow everyone to think you like them. Stay away from the negative people, but don’t let them know you think they are negative. Stay away from the “he-said, she-said” people. Stay away from those that have bad attitudes. Don’t be lumped in with them. Don’t allow anyone to know when you don’t like them personally. That’s none of their business.

People like to read blogs on acting techniques. They like the nuts and bolts (see “Purge” from a couple days ago) because they can see clearly how this will relate to getting a booking. NOTHING is more important than your attitude. I’ve seen people with bad attitudes at auditions. This floors me! Do they not realize that’s the most IMPORTANT part of the audition? It’s an attitude challenge. Sometimes you’ll be pushed back on your call time to see how you deal with it. Don’t complain. Don’t criticize anyone. Stay calm. Stay a breath of fresh air to be around.

If you do need to say to someone with integrity, “I’m sorry. If now isn’t a good time for me to audition I’m happy to come back another day,” because they are chatting with each other while you are performing, keep a great energy. Do not have the subtext “didn’t you know I’ve prepared this for the last 48 hours, come through 3 hours of traffic after taking a day off of work I can’t afford, and now I’ve got great choices but you sons-of-bitches won’t even LOOK at me??!” Nope. You keep a great attitude. Perhaps you’ll come back another day. More likely they will apologize and pay attention. They also may dismiss you. If they do that, keep a great attitude. You never know. It’s possible one of the people chatting is blowing off steam. They just found out their wife lost the baby and they came out as a distraction. Life is too difficult. Yes, it sucks that they ruined your audition, but you can’t imagine how hard it is to be them. In other words we never know why douche-bag over there is being douchey.

Keep a great attitude. Yes we can all be assholes. Never in life. Stage is our therapy. Your great attitude will set you apart. You’ll get triple (more really) the professional bookings. Attitude pays great dividends. Being an asshole will cost you everything.

Onward and UP.

 

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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.

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