Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I am NOT a writer.

Just needed to make that perfectly clear. Occasionally, I write things down but that doesn't make me a writer. My grammar is horrendous, I rarely complete a thought and I wouldn't know pronoun from an adverb.

Most of the time I just need to log a thought or make sure that some genius idea that just flashed in my brain gets captured in a way I can take credit for later. But a writer? No.

Writers are special. My wife is a writer. She can take a concept or a story or an idea and translate it through the written word that is engaging and funny and exciting and clever and thought-provoking. She can tell a story. I can tell a story, too, but I actually have to TELL it. Can't WRITE it. If I tried, it would come out like a really long nonsensical limerick.

Here in Hollywood there are about 187,295 writers. There are probably only around 2500 actual writers. The others are just like me, but can't face the fact that they suck. Me? I can face that fact very well. There are other things I am very good at, so the fact that writing is not once of them bothers me not in the least.

Just because I cannot write myself, however, does not mean I do not recognize good writing when I see it. I do. Kind of a dick about it, too. Nothing bothers me more than when I see a movie or a read book where the writing is worse than anything I could produce. I can fume for days. Just won't let it go. "How did that get made?" "Who publishes this drek?" "What knucklehead executive green-lighted that POS?"

Blame the internet, blame education, blame Congress. I know, blame Hollywood. That's it. Maybe if the popular culture that Hollywood creates would be a little more discriminating about what it churns out, there might actually be more reason to expect good writing.

The End.*

*What did you expect?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Acting Coach Prepares

A student recently asked me why I don't "write more about acting" in this blog. I sighed. I have failed. [Hanging head in shame.] Apparently, my sessions are not hitting home. At least for this young thespian.

As if the art and craft of acting is like learning your times tables, young actors continually look to people like me for secrety secrets that will make them famous. Coded formulas that will make them "good actors." Let's just memorize some lines, the rest will just manifest itself once in front of the camera or on stage. As if there are little pills they can take that will transform them into theatrical superheroes able to leap tall verse in a single soliloquy. Agents, seeing their new found prowess will sign them, send them on the perfect audition for the next big time and -- viola -- they are living in Beverly Hills with a chihuahua and a Bentley convertible. Or at the very least, a black lab and a Lexus SUV. Sigh.

Young man, you gotta do the work. What is the work? Life. Life is the work. There. I said it. Save your money, quit your acting classes. You now have the knowledge that all great actors throughout time have known before you.

As a young actor, I too, wanted a fast track to fame. Impatient. Ambitious. Arrogant. "I was PERFECT for that role, I nailed the audition, whatdya mean I didn't get a call back?" The fact is, not everyone can do this acting thing. Not everyone has the patience or the intestinal fortitude (never used that phrase in a written sentence before!) to study acting. Study, I said. Actually, you don't really "study acting." If you did that you might more readily be considered a critic. Actors study life. By applying their observations they become actors.

Like some cosmic soap box derby, most humans coast through life. For some the road is steep with treacherous turns and uneven surfaces. For most, the journey is straight, even and flat with hedges and soft shoulders lining the way. Maybe the occasional bump or pothole. The actor's job is not just to coast on whatever his path may be, but to constantly stop and start. Survey the landscape, test the wind, smell the flowers, change cars, crash, steer into the ditch.

Even more, the actor's job is to pay attention. To everything. One of my most important mentors when a gentleman named Don Richardson. When studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Don would always assign the most ludicrous reading assignments. Articles on social anthropology, biographies of Nazi war criminals, psychology, weird shit that had nothing to do with ACTING. Or so thought a young impatient, ambitious, arrogant acting student who had yet to really pay attention in class.

While I certainly am still rather full of myself, I do know (or rather have come to know) that teaching the art and craft of acting is more than creating a stable of young people who hang on my every word. It's not about becoming a guru. It certainly isn't about the money -- at least for me. It is more than tweaking a line reading or cleaning up a goofy double gesticulation that could seriously poke someone's eye out. It's about trying to lead human beings through their lives with their eyes open. It's about helping to sift through the chatter of the insignificant and realize when it's not. It's about getting them involved in the world, in history, in culture, in art, in politics, in food, in sport,...in others.

I can't "write more about acting" any more than I can teach more about acting. I think acting coaches should be like psychiatrists. We should be in the business of putting ourselves OUT of business. We should prepare our charges for the day when they will boldly and bravely leave us. Armed with with the tools we have given them and taught them how to use.

I wonder if this will count as "writing more about acting."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Americans Have Become Lazy and Self-Righteous

Okay, well, maybe not all Americans. Maybe just me. I suspect there are many like me, but I should really just use myself and hope others will get the message.

I've been watching "Faces of America With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." on PBS. By tracing the ancestry of specific famous individuals, Gates illuminates some larger and very truths about American assimilation. He also makes me feel bad. Gates doesn't make me feel bad, but the stories do. Not bad, really, but certainly guilty. And lazy.

We all have stories in our family, some apocryphal some true, that make us realize that our ancestors we a unique bunch of humans. The adventures, the journeys, the dangers they faced are romanticized in mind and in movie. The fact of the matter, though, is that life was hard for them almost across the board. Unbearably hard by the standards of the 21st Century. The stories that Gates uncover are just a small sampling of the countless immigrant tales that we all have somewhere long ago.

When I hear about Kristi Yamaguchi's ancestors, their arduous journey to America, 12 hour days - 6 days a week of backbreaking labor in the sugar plantations of Hawaii for 12 bucks a month, interment in a concentration camp during WWII in the Arizona desert, the death of an entire young family due to disease, the resilience of the once successful patriarch of the family to go back to work in the fields of California when he was close to 70 years old...well, it makes me feel almost unworthy or their legacy. And I'm not even related!

Bigotry and racism aside, poverty and famine not-withstanding, most Americans have no idea what it truly means to "work hard." No, I mean WORK HARD. No unions to safeguard the work place, no regulations to protect the laborer, no laws to get in the way of productivity. Granted, time and progress should make conditions improve. Indeed, they have. Yet, through those filters, I sometimes think we have come to take their sacrifices for granted. Rather than learning from the lessons of history, we as a people tend to repeat them. Skin color and country of origin change, but the hardships for the people on the bottom persist.

From the Irish and Asians in my ancestors time, to the African-Americans and Mexican-Americans in my youth, to Arabs of today. If you don't share my skin color or my religion, you must be, somehow, less than me. How does that happen given the fact that we are all here because of somewhere else? How does it happen that in a country so proud of our diversity, so proud of our heritage, so proud of our accomplishments -- that we still segregate, isolate, stereotype and hate? We hate those who were just like our ancestors.

Nothing new here in this post, I know. Others have been far more eloquent about the subject. Hell, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. just made some shows about it. Maybe I need to write a letter to a Congressman or a Senator. Maybe a phone call to make sure my representatives watch PBS. Or maybe I should take the "Think Globally, Act Locally" idea to heart on a micro level. Maybe it will be enough if I try to be the person my ancestors would be proud of. Someone who will get back on the horse time and time again, broken and bloody, and not blame someone else for my getting bucked off. Someone who's not afraid to work hard, be tolerant of others, keep on open mind and an adventurous spirit.

May be harder that it sounds.