Thursday, August 04, 2011

How Working In Production Has Helped Me As An Artist...

Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, CAIn my 8 years of working in television production, I have met and worked with lots of A-list talent on a variety of high-profile shows.  I don't sidle up to them, hoping to schmooze my way into their next feature film.  Some people do, but that's just not my personal style.  When I have been hired to work on a production, I wear my "production" hat, do the job that I am being paid to do, and observe the talent as they do their jobs.  In the process, I have learned some very important lessons that I carry with me when wearing my "actress" hat.  Just a few of those lessons are as follows:


In show business Production Assistants (PAs) are considered the lowest personnel on the totem pole.  Seen as go-fers and grunts, many higher-ups don't even bother to learn the names of the (usually young) women and men who hold these entry-level positions.  Since so many people are clamoring to work in the entertainment industry, PAs are often seen as interchangeable, valued mostly for their brawn, ability to follow specific instructions, possession of a reliable vehicle, and willingness to work for cheap.

Yet, PAs are indispensable to the production process.

When you arrive on set as an actor, your first interaction is likely to be with the 2nd AD (Assistant Director), and you will have very few direct interactions with PAs (unnecessary interactions with talent could lead to their being fired on the spot).  If you do have an occasion to deal with a PA, don't treat them dismissively.  They are people with career goals just like you, they work just as hard as you do, and some of them are going to be in a position to hire YOU (or not hire you) one day.

Actors: It truly does take a village to make a production fly.  Remember the Golden Rule.


I've worked on a lot of award shows.  I certainly won't name names, but I can tell you that the top talent in the business is at the top for a reason.  True professionals are very hands-on with their career, and don't let their egos steer them into a ditch.  I once watched one world-renowned superstar (household name status, y'all) rehearse during his appointed time, leave unsatisfied with his rehearsal because the next act had to use the stage, then come back in the evening after rehearsals were done and rehearse until almost 1AM (I know what time it was because I couldn't drag my tired body home until HE was done).  He was sweating like crazy, fell down a couple of times trying to do some crazy precision flip thing, but he didn't leave until he executed it perfectly several times in succession.  The next day, he gave a BRILLIANT performance.  And made it look effortless.

I've seen seasoned professionals with 30+ years of performing under their belts come to rehearsal because they know the value of their name, their craft, and their business, and want their performances to be up to their personal and professional standards.

I've also seen people who have one hot single decide that they can't come to rehearsal because they are getting their "hair & nails did" or because they are going to "freestyle" (go ahead and surprise the lighting and camera crew, why don't you? Yeah, that sounds like a GREAT idea).  When they show up for the show, they may look good on stage, but they screw up left & right, and makes the show look bad.  How long do you think their careers are going to last?  Exactly.

As an actor, you decide what your standards are, and then do what it takes to uphold them.  If you aren't going to do that, be honest, and go sit in the audience and watch the people who are willing to do the work.


"Artistry" about the work.  "Celebrity" is about marketing.  Sometimes the two cross paths, but sometimes they don't.

Being able to sit in on rehearsals has shown me a lot.  Rehearsals can show you who has the goods.  Some people have undeniable talent.  Some are marginal, but work really hard.  Some are marginal, but so charismatic that you are drawn to them.  Some have no easily visible talent, and don't seem to work all that hard, but they understand the value of branding and marketing.  When people arrive for rehearsal, they have on their "regular" clothes, sometimes no makeup and a scarf on their head, and their "Persona" (capital "p") is still at home in a box with their good wig.  They discuss things with their personal team, the production team, and get to work.


And then when it's showtime, "Persona" shows up (with an entourage) - fully informed by the artist, and ready to put on a show.

As an actor, you must never forget that acting is about the CRAFT, not the fame.


That word gets tossed around a lot, and people think it's something to which they should aspire, but it is absolutely not, and it can ruin your career.  Hollywood is pretty small, and news travels quickly.  Don't make a big fuss about things that aren't that important.  Do what you agree to do, or be prepared to have an honest discussion about it with an eye toward compromise (win/win).  Be nice.  There is nobody quite like you, but don't get a big head and think you can't be replaced with a reasonable facsimile.

You are but one inhabitant in the village that it takes to put together a production.  The production may be about you, but it's not ALL about you, and your making things more difficult than they have to be undermines the morale of the whole team, and can result in a less-than-stellar output.

Actors: Celebrity temper tantrums may make headlines, but that kind of infamy has ended many careers.  Unless you are in the opera, being a "diva" or a "prima donna" is not cool, and nobody wants to deal with it.  Save the drama for your performance or the fat lady may soon be singing for you.

Think on it!



Shout-out to Dana Kaminski, who encouraged me to share this information after an exchange that we had on Twitter.  Thanks, Dana!

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