By: Jess Canty
We spend a lot of time here talking about WHAT the profession of being an artist entails and we spend a lot of time talking about HOW to be a successful artist. But why are you an artist?
If you haven't seen Simon Sinek's very famous Ted Talk about Why give it a watch before you keep reading.
You may be confused as to why I am bringing this talk up now. Are you a leader? Are you building a company? Do you need people to follow you? You're just an actor, right?
As we have said 1,000 times before - if you are an actor, and you want to make a living at this job, supporting yourself fully from your acting - or directing, writing, cinematography - you are running a business. You are not "just an actor" or "just a director" - you are an entrepreneur constantly hustling for that next job.
So let's talk about how Simon's thoughts apply to an artistic career.
The first thing that struck me is that his discussion about the inside-out approach - the why before the how and what - seems to me to be pretty closely correlated to auditioning.
Casting directors are a unique bunch. Think about how many actors they see in a day, week or month - especially the big offices that are casting multiple shows and movies.
Simon talks about the "why" being from a place in the brain where there is no capacity for language. That sounds A LOT to me like choosing the right actor for the role. If there are 10 people at callbacks and they're all great, what is it that pushes the person over the edge who books the part vs. the other 9? I think it is the why.
It is that casting BELIEVES that this person can do the role. They BELIEVE the performance. They BELIEVE that this person can sustain this role on set for a day, a week, a month or years. They BELIEVE this person will deliver. They BELIEVE you as the character.
If you are a director trying to get a gig it is because the producer BELIEVES your vision. Directing is ALLLLL about the why. Why did Guillermo del Toro win an Oscar for the Shape of Water? Because he has believed for his entire career in telling stories about monsters. He believes that monsters are interesting, entertaining. He had his early adopters, his early market majority (Pan's Labrynth, Hellboy) his late market majority (Pacific Rim) and finally he had the market on the modern monster movie - and he won his Oscar.
You as the artist have to make them believe you. If you're an actor, they must first and foremost believe your performance. And the way to do that is to understand the why. And I think it is important for you to understand not only why the character is doing what they are doing, why they are saying what they are saying?
I think a lot of you have been taught to break down sides tackling the what and the how. What is happening in the scene? How is the character interacting with the others? How am I going to memorize all of this in a day before the audition. What is the character saying? How are they saying it?
But the next time you get a set of sides - try Simon's approach. Tackle the why FIRST. Why is this character doing what they are doing and saying what they are saying? Why? What, can I tell from the page, about what they BELIVE. What is this character's why? In this scene and in the script? Why are they mean? Why are they crying? Why are they happy? Why are they flirting with that character?
More importantly I think you need to answer for yourself the Why. Why are you an artist? Why? Why have you chosen this profession?
Just like Pierpont Langly - if you're here for the riches and the fame, you probably aren't going to make it very far.
If you don't know the answer to that question, not the what (fame and fortune) and not the how, I bet you that casting can "feel" it too.
If you don't know why you are doing this - how do you expect casting buy you? If you don't know why you are doing this, then how will they believe your performance?
In the latter half of this talk he talks about the tipping point between the early adopters of a business and the market majority. This also applies to your artistic career.
Where are you in relation to this curve in your career right now? Who are your early adopters? Is it an agent that sees something in you? A friend that is a director that puts you into their film? Is it a casting director that invites you back time and time again because they just "get" you?
"If you want mass-market success... you cannot achieve it until you achieve this tipping point, between 15% and 18% market penetration" Think about that in terms of casting. Beyond this, the "early majority, will not try something until someone else has tried it first." Sound familiar? You can't book a guest star until you book a guest star?
So again, who are your early adopters of you? Of your art? Who are those offices that just "get" you? Who has booked you on a co-star or maybe two? How can you leverage them and their belief in you to get more market share? And the market for right now is casting, directors, producers. Not the general public - that comes later.
Trying to get that first guest star? Perhaps that early adopter office is a better place to turn than trying to convince an office you've never been in for to take that chance on you if they've never met you. How can you get these early adopters of your art to help you achieve your tipping point? Wherever you are in your career there is some point you will need to tip to next.
Who will book you in your first job? Who will book you in your first SAG job? Who will book you in your first lead? Who will book you in your first TV co-star? Your first Network co-star? Your first network guest-star? Your first network recurring? Your first series regular? Once you are at this level, you can add the general public to who you have to get on your side, believing in your particular why. SO... you better know it.
Imagine achieving all of this success and not knowing why you are here? Why you want to do this? You would sound pretty insane in an interview with People magazine.
The answer to all of this early adoption, all of these tipping points in your career, is that you need to know the WHY. You need to make sure then people understand the WHY. That they believe the why because you believe it.
Why are you an artist? Why acting and not directing?
Why Cinematography and not set design?
Why editing and not screenwriting?
Why are you doing what you are doing?
Why should we follow you?
What do you believe and how does that relate to your why?