(nobody on the crew applauds)
By: Jess Canty
Welp! We made it folks. Welcome to the waning days of 2020. Gotta admit it feels pretty good to write that. In recent years I have been cynically annoyed by the hullabaloo that comes with New Year's Eve - but I gotta admit I am ready to celebrate the closing of this chapter.
Unlike Ebenezer, I don't think any of us needs a visit from the ghosts of 2020's past or present. But I did want to take some time to talk about the conversations I've been having with the Ghost of 2021 Future.
Ghosts, I have found, tend not to necessarily be a linear logical bunch, so please accept the meandering of this post.
WE'RE IN NYC!
Ok, so not physically. But we have now added the New York Breakdowns to our account with Breakdown Services. What this means is that we can now see listings for shows which only cast out of NYC (and don't necessarily release their breakdown in other markets). If you have noted that you can work as an NYC local hire you can now expect to see tape requests from us for shows that will require you to get thee to NYC. Please read the instructions carefully, and talk openly with your manager on a case-by-case basis about whether it makes sense for you to submit a tape.
SELF-TAPES and ZOOM AUDITIONS ARE HERE TO STAY
Yep, unfortunately even after we are further along with the vaccine, I think that in many instances some casting directors will just too convenient to not have to rent office space, set up a camera, hire a reader, and hold a session. Now, I am hoping that along with missing going to Dodgers Games they miss having you in the room - but the safety of that is still a ways out.
Is it completely unfair that you now have to be a cinematographer and editor along with being an actor? Yes. Does that kind of thinking serve you? No. So... upgrade that camera. Buy that ring light that has been sitting in your amazon cart since our Self Tape Town Hall. Get a new phone. Paint your wall. The reason why we want you to have a professional set-up that is the same every time is actually so that you CAN focus more on the acting. You should be able to get set up in 5 minutes. You should know exactly where to put your phone on its tripod for a self-tape, and you should know exactly what your lighting needs to be for that Zoom callback. Figure this out NOW so that when these appointments come in you don't even have to pay attention to the technical side of your audition.
IT IS NOT A NUMBERS GAME
I feel like this phrase was invented by agents to help placate their clients who were frustrated. "It's a numbers game, it can take hundreds of auditions to book one job." And of course there are the stories of big stars auditioning in obscurity for years before they got the role that broke them out. But the problem I have with this phrase is that I think it does something psychologically that does not serve you. If "its a numbers game" and you are only on your 20th audition, but you've heard that it can take a hundred auditions to book - what is that doing to your excitement / motivation / confidence / belief that you can book this job right now?
Remember those numbers are an AVERAGE across a whole lot of actors. They are Monday-morning quarterbacking. But guess what? Some people book their 2nd audition. And some people book their 57th. And some people book their 302nd. Each audition is a unique event, and each audition could be "the one" for you. So let go of that BS about it being a numbers game and simply focus.
Beyond this, especially right now, you must change your thinking around this supposed "numbers game" because there are currently less opportunities compared to this time last year. The industry still isn't 100% on its feet - which means that ain't nobody got time to wait around for 100 auditions. What do you need to do to book THIS job TODAY?
2020 AT 88MPH
One of the things that we will likely look back on 5 -10 years from now about this year is that it actually forced us into the future. That is why it has been so very difficult. Instead of progressing steadily ahead we've had to make giant leaps forward, while the tools and technologies that we have at our disposal are still stuck in the present (hello delay on Zoom that causes someone to laugh at your joke 10 seconds later). Change is never easy, but definitely the most difficult when you are pushed into it.
What do I mean by this? I am sure Ecocast Live was something that was on the "to-do" list for the future of Breakdowns. That casting was thinking about how they could hold virtual sessions. Something that would probably have happened naturally for say, 2024, is happening now. Warner Bros. deciding to put their entire slate on HBO MAX? The theaters have been trying to hold off this eventuality since Netflix launched its streaming service. But the pandemic just forced everyone's hand. This will all begin to settle in 2021 as we get used to this new reality, and how to succeed within it.
IT IS OK TO SAY NO
This business is a funny one. You spend the beginning of your career having to say yes to EVERYTHING. You need the practice. You need to meet people. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But there comes a time when you need to start pivoting to saying No. How do you know when it is time to say no? Well you know what they say about money and problems? The same can be said of auditions. That's right - just when you think having more auditions will solve all of your problems - guess what happens when that is actually your reality.
More auditions isn't necessarily a blessing (see above re: numbers game). Especially in this environment. It is one thing to have to drive to a few offices in a week and spend 15-30 minutes in a room. It is quite another to have to find a reader, record and edit yourself and submit multiple tapes in a day or week. You may need to say "no" to some of these opportunities in order to really focus on the ones you WANT to book. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but I would rather have you do two auditions in a week, callback on one and book the other than 5 auditions that you are half-prepared for and have nothing come of them.
Are you in danger of being labeled a co-star? Yes this is a real thing - even April Webster mentioned this in her panel with Jeremy Gordon. Again this is a VERY difficult kind of "no" to have to navigate (ahem that is what your managers are here for) and it all depends on what kind of career you want to have. Because there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with being a regularly working co-star actor. But if you want to be considered for guest-stars and recurring roles then you may have to start turning down these co-star opportunities. Partially so that you don't burn yourself on every show in town, but also to re-frame your agent and casting's perspective on your abilities. Does it mean you will have less auditions - you betcha. But again see above.
Is the "rejection" getting to you? Totally understandable, you are a human. If you need to be more focused about the opportunities you are accepting so that you are feeling like you are accomplishing more - let's talk about it.
MAXIMUM EFFORT - MINIMUM ATTACHMENT
Imagine if you booked your first Broadway gig and your show was about to start previews in March of 2020. That happened to someone this year. Imagine if you were going to get to be on the Croisette at Cannes for the first time ever to premiere your movie in 2020. That happened to someone this year. This industry has always been the hardest. The most competitive. The worst to try to eek out a career in and keep it. But here's the thing. If you are in this for the long haul none of that should matter. If you haven't placed some arbitrary end-date on your career then these ups and downs are simply part of your story - not death knells. You have to learn to love your career journey for what it is. And as I heard from Denzel Washington recently "you hang around the barbershop long enough, you will eventually get your hair cut."
You must maximize every opportunity. Every connection you have. Like any entrepreneur you must pour the few resources you earn at the beginning back into your career. There is a long road to profitability.
Detach yourself from the outcome. Detach yourself from needing to accomplish X by 20, 30, 40, 50 because none of that is in your control - and you will miss having fun and enjoying your career along the way. Stan Lee was 40 when he created the Fantastic Four. Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50. Judi Dench didn't become a household name until her 60's. You can only control your effort so keep your focus there.
THERE WILL BE ANOTHER ROARING 20's
I am saying it here now so that I have something in print that says I said it. See, I never really thought about WHY the Roaring 20's happened before now. We just learned in history class that they did. But right before the Roaring 20's was the Spanish Flu. A pandemic that infected an estimated 1/3 of the earth's population at the time, killing 50 Million - 675,000 of which lived in the US. Kinda makes the Charleston make sense now doesn't it? Surviving that would certainly want to make me swing my arms and legs around all wild-like and shake my jazz hands till my wrists were tired. I think we are in for something similar in art, music, theater, film, podcasts, and television in the years to come. So now is the time to start creating! You are poised to be part of this next roaring 20's! How will you roar?
JASON BLUM AGREES WITH ME
What we are living through right now is a fight between Northern California (specifically technology and Silicon Valley) and Southern California (Hollywood) and just like when I moved here 20 years ago from Nor Cal - my money is still on Hollywood in this race.
Because for all of their coders and algorithms there is no program that can be written that can match the power of Chadwick or Viola's performances in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. There is no line of code that can unlock how Gary Oldman is able to absolutely disappear into every role he plays or why no matter how many times we see Meryl on screen we don't get tired of her. There is no artificially intelligent replacement for Tina or Amy's timing.
Which is why, once all of this streaming mess is sorted out, and everyone understands how to make money at it, we are going to see a resurgence of movies - all kinds of movies not just tent poles and low budget horror flicks - come back to theaters.
And audiences are longing to be back in the darkened space together. And new live theater companies will spring up again because people want to go out - because we understand in a way not understood in decades how very much we love it, and need it. And we're tired of Netflix telling us what to watch. And Broadway will bounce back. And comedy clubs.
Storytelling has been an essential part of the human existence since people were painting caves. Our pandemic, destructive and humbling as it has been, will not be what ends it (how egotistical of us to think it would). Storytelling has survived the bubonic plague, centuries of warfare, and the movie adaptation of Cats.
We will get through this and come out the other end more in touch with the human condition - which is the job. Hollywood will win because we have creativity on our side.
THAT'S A WRAP!
You are one of the lucky ones. Because you are an artist. You take risks every day. You are creative. You think differently. You have something to say. You have something to bring to the world. You are going to leave your mark.
Now go get some rest, re-charge (if you are in LA get outside and get some Vitamin D because it appears that it will be 70 degrees on Christmas in LA) and we will see you in 2021!