Diane Christiansen Kids & Teens

Actors Must Always Be True to Your Impulses

By Diane Christiansen

When we were kids, we acted on our impulses all the time. We wanted what we wanted and we wanted it NOW! Anyone or anything that got in the way had better be ready for a temper tantrum. But the grown-ups didn’t like that at all. They told us we had to behave ourselves, to sit down, don’t touch, be quiet, just wait, and a litany of other clipped commands. And so we were socialized (or brainwashed) to control our impulses. We were made to think that maturity under the guise of ‘being a big girl or boy’ was the prize. But what the adults didn’t tell us was that impulse control also came at a cost. Controlling our impulses meant becoming further removed from our emotions, our intuition, our gut, and the core part of our humanity that connects us to every other human in the world. So far removed, that as adults we must re-learn to listen to our intuition, to go with our gut, and to follow our instincts. This re-education is necessary because our basic inclination to act on impulse has been suppressed by early childhood socialization. Suppressed, but not extinguished. That’s the good news. Fortunately, the diligent actor can re-connect with her or his impulses, thereby tapping into the human condition. The actor’s courage to act on impulse is our gain because through that action we are reminded of what it means to feel, rather than stifle heart-wrenching sadness, crippling fear, boundless joy, and the full gamut of human emotion. It’s ironic that being authentic to our own wants, urges, desires–our impulses is considered a courageous undertaking, at least for us adults. We grown-ups are supposed to be objective, rational, and responsible. We have to manage impressions and gauge the needs of others after all. Showing emotion? Acting on impulse? Why, that’s taboo! Unless of course, you’re an actor.

As actors, we have license to throw caution to the wind, to wear our hearts on our sleeves, to act on impulse, and basically, to go there. There is where the other adults cannot or will not go, at least not on purpose. And who can blame them? It’s scary to be true to our impulses because doing so requires us to be vulnerable to others’ judgment. But we actors know the secret. We know that when we are truly vulnerable to our impulses is when we connect most strongly to those that might otherwise seek to judge us. Instead, we disarm them with our vulnerability and with our courage to expose ourselves to their judgment, because we know that in seeing our true wants, urges, desires–our impulses on display, they will relate to a similar truth in themselves. Though we are 7 billion unique personalities in a vast multicultural world, our impulses connect us all so that we are never isolated from one another. The actor is the lens through which our infinite connections may be brought clearly into focus. So actors, be impulsive!

Minda Burr - Writing

Writing in the “ZONE”- Part I

by: Minda Burr

Writing is such a great opportunity for you to express your “one-of-a-kind” self uniquely, so it’s important to know how you can best access your own personal “creative genius”. So, we are first going to take a look at our big, beautiful brains and how they help us (and hinder us) creatively.

The LEFT SIDE of our brain is dominated by our Conscious Mind – where our logic and reason comes from, as well as our ability to analyze. It stores a lot of valuable data and information that we can draw from. It’s also where our critical mind resides as well as our censor. The RIGHT SIDE of our brain is where our CREATIVITY is ignited and our delicious imaginations are stirred. It’s where our feelings and intuition stem from. The right side is also where we have access to the subconscious mind as well as the “collective UN-conscious.” The great news about that is that we have access to information that is not limited to our own individual experiences, but to the “all” of humanity”. And if we venture far enough away from our conscious mind, we can dive into the creative ZONE where there is no time, there is no space, there are no worries, there are no judgments, there is only the BLISS of the creative “experience.”

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT —Your first draft of anything should be where you give the right side of your brain FULL reign! Where you don’t try to control anything and you let it rip! You allow your imagination, intuition, your heart and soul and your own personal “creative genius” to have some FUN. Your first draft is where you allow them to take you on a ride that will DELIGHT and surprise you. The last thing on your mind should be about “doing it correctly” in the first draft. Perfectionism KILLS creativity… Imagine Vincent Van Gogh if he had tried to paint “correctly” — we would be without his “one-of-a-kind” masterpieces. Talk about a brilliant authentic expression!

For example, allow these characters you are choosing to explore to have some interaction and dialogue with each other without you trying to control it. You will be surprised at some of the brilliant dialogue that comes out of their mouths! Especially since you didn’t say it; they did. As a matter of fact, if you give your characters enough reign, they will start to inform your story. They will tell you what they want to say, where they want to go and what they want to do… Amazing things you wouldn’t have thought of consciously.

If you allow your imagination to SOAR in the first draft, it will make your rewrites much easier and more fun because you are now invested emotionally and you have some brilliant gems you can PLAY with. Then, in the rewrites, you can apply more structure and technique, but remain open for the “ah ha” moments. Soon things will start to make sense that might not have before. For example, did you know that M. Night Shyamalan (who wrote and directed The Sixth Sense) didn’t even know that the Bruce Willis character was dead until the 4th or 5th draft? That one element made the movie ten times more impactful… Perhaps it’s time to TRUST yourself and surrender to the creative “Zone”. We’ll talk more about how you can do that next time… (to be continued in part II).

Diane Christiansen Kids & Teens

Actors Must Balance Training & Showcasing

By Master Teacher ~ Diane Christiansen

The career of acting is a tightrope. In order to stay on your toes you have to strike a good balance between cultivating your technique through training and unveiling the fruits of your labor through showcasing. Maintaining this balance means continually pushing beyond your comfort zone. Because acting can be such a masochistic profession, the temptation to get into a comfortable routine is strong. After all, it’s scary to try a new technique when you’ve found a method that works. It’s also scary to audition for the role of a lifetime when rejection is so common in this business. In short, it’s scary to take risks, especially with your career. But you’re an actor aren’t you? Yeah you are! And acting isn’t for the fearful. You’ve got to get on that tightrope and do back flips like there’s no tomorrow! So balance is essential in order to avoid falling flat on your face. Now that we’ve beaten that metaphor into the ground, let’s examine what the unbalanced actor might look like in real life. On the one hand, there is the “seasoned” actor. Perhaps he attended a prestigious drama school, on scholarship, no less. After years in a demanding training program grooming him for greatness and divesting him of his blood, sweat, tears, and likely his pride, he may feel that he has already learned everything he needs to know. The answers he seeks are already locked inside him and he needs only to apply the knowledge he has gained from his prior training to whatever the role at hand. He is self-contained and self-led. Therefore, if he is lost, it is only an indication that he must dig deeper within himself. On the other hand, there is the “novice” actor. Perhaps she decided to pursue acting later in life. After a bland career in the professional world, she yearned to finally follow her passion, her dream deferred. So she began taking acting studio classes at every opportunity in a frantic effort to catch up. Because of her late start, she has continually felt as though she’s behind her counterparts and consequently she’s never felt quite ready to take off the training wheels. She cannot go to an audition without being “coached.” Or worse, she cannot go to an audition at all out of a perpetual fear of not being ready. Believe it or not, both of these actor types are crucially unbalanced. They are both in a rut because neither of them is pushing themselves beyond what is comfortable. But success and complacency do not go together. Actors must balance training and showcasing because doing so keeps us active, continually growing and striving. Training is how we grow in our craft to become better actors, no matter how seasoned we are. Showcasing is how we strive to seize new career opportunities, create valuable relationships with Casting and maybe even happen upon unexpected accolades for our work. One without the other leaves the actor incomplete, lop-sided, off kilter, and off his/her game. In an industry as competitive as this one, we cannot afford to miss opportunities whether due to lack of preparation in training or lack of confidence in showcasing. And so, the actor must maintain balance. To resume our earlier metaphor, we must fearlessly navigate the tightrope that is our acting career, and allow our preparation to meet the opportunity that results in our success.

Suzanne Lyons Careers

NETWORKING… NETWORKING… NETWORKING…

by: Suzanne Lyons

Early on in my producing career here in Los Angeles I would be at a party or event and all too often people would approach me and say, “Suzanne, I hear you’re a film producer. I’m an actor, here’s my headshot.” Or, “Hi, my friend told me you’re a producer. I’m a director, here’s my reel.” Or, “Here’s my screenplay,” “Here’s my composer CD,” etc…

It drove me crazy! In every other business in the world we create relationships (or should!) first. Don’t just jump right into action, “Please read my script.” Create a relationship, talk about the possibility of working together, the opportunity and the benefits that could be provided and then, and only then, make a request (take the action.)

Like location is to a real estate agent, the same holds true in the entertainment industry. Instead of “location, location, location”….. it’s “networking, networking, networking.” You want to create authentic relationships with people. In a six week long workshop I led years ago the homework was to have a party each week and at the party (and during the entire six weeks) you were not allowed to talk about your career. So often when we’re meeting people for the first time or we’re in a group of people, we get nervous or scared and we feel comfortable only talking about our jobs and careers.

The idea of not being allowed to talk about your career for six weeks really helped people break that habit. It forced people to talk about something other than their career! So, if you loved hiking, you invited your friends to go hiking and you asked them to bring along the casting director friend of theirs, because you’d done your homework and you knew that she loved hiking as well. Or you knew that director you wanted to meet loved gourmet cooking as much as you did, so you asked a friend of yours who knew him to invite him to your gourmet cooking party. Your friends felt comfortable inviting their friends because they knew you weren’t going to talk about anything other than hiking or gourmet cooking.

During that workshop if someone asked you what you did, you told them. But the whole idea was to get people sharing about the things in life that they loved, the things they were excited and passionate about. Not just their career. It was a lot of fun and what surprised me more than anything was that during that six week seminar the participants got more jobs than in any of the Flash Forward Institute seminars combined! People got back in touch with who they were and all the other wonderful aspects of life that they loved.

Diane Christiansen Kids & Teens

How to Clarify Your Acting Niche

By Diane Christiansen

Finding your “niche” or your “brand” or your “type” seems to be daunting for most actors, including kids and teens. Yet it really can be a fun process. Possibly the reason for any difficulty is because actors have this idea that they can play anything. However, Agents and Managers have to market you, to them you are a commodity. Our intention is to make it easy for them to do.

Here is a great exercise that we do in our classes to help you know how to market yourself before you showcase your work and/or interview with Agents and Managers.

You can do this with any group of 5 or 6 people. Try this; have 5 or 6 people watch you walk into the room, the more objective they are, the better. Ask each one of them to tell you what kind of role you look like you can play. Each of us carries ourselves a certain way, and each of us give off a certain “vibe”. They are going to say things like “The Jock, the Nerd, the Cheerleader, the boy next door, the Prom Queen, the smarty girl, the Best friend, the leading lady, the Social Worker, the Cop, the Detective, the Urban Professional, a Gang member, the Politician, the Doctor, the Lawyer, the blue collar worker, and on and on. Once you’ve collected those five or six ideas, you should be on track with your obvious “Type.”

At that point, you can package yourself that way to Reps and if they are seeking that type, bingo! You’ve hit the mark. I know you don’t want to be type cast, but that’s how careers get jump-started. You have to get your foot in the door. Once you’ve been the Nerd fifteen times, you can expand your range and convince your Reps to try a new look or photo. But in the meantime, go for what you are, it’s the perfect way to start your career!

Carolyne Barry Commercials

Why You Won’t Book the Commercial

Even when you did a great audition

I am sure you have wanted to know why or why not you do not book Commercials when you feel you have done a great audition (and even when those running the session have let you know you did a great audition). You might get an avail or are put on “Hold” but then you don’t book the job. It can be very frustrating. Often there is no definitive reason so I believe it would be helpful for you to understand some of the business and subjective factors being considered that often have little to do with you, your talent or your audition.

Consideration that could determine why you will or won’t be cast:

Other Way To Go: When the commercial CD gets the breakdown and selects the actors for their session, many get creative and add actors who are “another way to go” for the role. And often, some of these actors could change the direction of the casting.

Role is cut or changed: When watching the casting, the director and/or advertising executives might determine that a part is not working and then could cut it out, replace it with another role or choose to go with a different type of actor.

Matching: When casting a spot with multiple actors, the matching or pairings need to look like they could be couples, friends, workers or a family. And yet in a group of friends, office employees, neighbors, etc., it is preferred those cast be of different ethnicities, physical types or hair color – because many commercials need to appeal to various groups of people.

Identifiable and Aspirational: Commercials need to appeal to target markets. The actors cast in the spot must be people that those the spot is designed for will find aspirational or will identify with. And thus is a major factor in the casting. This is why casting specs are pretty specific as to age, gender, ethnicity and physical types. Then, because these considerations are often subjective, each group of people doing the casting and various target markets could create diverse factors that would make different actors identifiable and/or aspirational for various products.

Chemistry: When matching couples, families, friends, workers, etc., they need to work well together and have a chemistry that creates the feeling that they belong together. And it is something that is there or it is not and it too is subjective.

Compromise: Those doing the casting are not always in agreement on who they like in a role. In that case, so that no one looks bad, they may choose another actor (who might not be as good or as right). It happens.

Personal Preference: Directors and advertising execs are human and have preferences. Sometimes actors might remind one of someone they like or don’t like or another actor that may be too recognizable. Casting preferences can work for an actor or against them.

Knowing these factors should help you understand that when you believe you have done a great audition why you may not book the job. I know it is frustrating and seems unfair but realize that these same factors that might work against you for one job might work in your favor for others. And in order for you not to take it personal and to protect your confidence, I suggest that you remember this, “You didn’t lose the commercial, someone else booked it” – this time.

Diane Christiansen Kids & Teens

Prepare to Succeed – Build Your Professional Team and Support System

By Diane Christiansen

Success = Preparation + Opportunity

I learned this equation as a kid, and it is still the most valuable math lesson I have ever been taught. Success is not a fluke. It is the result of countless hours spent in preparation for the opportunity of a lifetime. We must prepare for success in order to seize it. A big part of preparing to succeed is putting in place the people and the infrastructure to keep your enterprise afloat. Even before your career is fully off the ground, you need to assemble the team that is best-suited to take you to the top. Some people make the mistake of waiting for opportunity to arrive before seeking out support. Surely you’ve heard the horror stories of successful individuals who somehow lost it all and later discovered the people they called friends were taking them for everything they had. Support is easy to obtain after the fact, that is, after you have attained success. Just ask MC Hammer. But the people you want to have on your team are those who truly believe in you, so much so that they are willing to accompany you on your journey to greatness, starting at the ground floor. In essence, they are investing in your future. They give their time and energy to help you fulfill your potential, and only when you succeed with their support will they get a return on their investment.

So let’s talk about who you need to your team.

  • * Devil’s Advocate – The much-needed opposite of a “Yes Man,” this is the person who you can always count on to give it to you straight. Since straight-talk can hurt feelings, this person needs to be someone you trust implicitly and who has weathered a few storms with you. When everyone else is telling you to go right, your devil’s advocate will help you consider the possibility of going left. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but at least it will be an informed one.
  • * Cheerleader – Whether you didn’t land the role you wanted or you don’t like your new headshots, this is the person who will always help you find the silver lining in a bad situation. Your cheerleader is not there to enable delusion, but rather to help you maintain perspective. Especially in this industry, you’re going to need a reality check to keep you grounded in what matters and to avoid losing yourself in what casting thinks of you.
  • * An Agent – Obviously, right? But not just any agent will do. You and your agent need to be on the same page about the direction of your career. If you see yourself as an ingénue and your agent is submitting you for villains, then there’s a mismatch. Of course, one school of thought might encourage you to take whatever you can get. But how committed will you be to landing roles you don’t see yourself playing? Remember that you and your agent are in a partnership. Therefore, it’s best to find an agent that understands your niche and can find you the roles that allow you to shine.
  • * Mentor – You need to have a person on your team who has walked the path you’re traveling and can alert you to potential pitfalls ahead. A good mentor will be a sounding board for the ideas you have about your career, never telling you what to do, but serving as a fountain of knowledge and experience to help you make the best decision for you. Whether by directly advising you with tips to improve your odds of success, or indirectly by connecting you to others in the industry with a good referral, your mentor can be an invaluable resource.
  • * Hollywood Outsider – We’ve all heard of those folks who “go Hollywood,” and it never seems to be a good a thing. Having someone in your circle who could care less about who’s who in Hollywood will remind you that there is life outside of acting. So whenever you need to get away for a minute, your Hollywood Outsider can give you the balance you need to refill your tank from the depletion of Hollywood.