Notes to an Actor from the Other Side (of the Camera)


There’s always room for improvement, but after twenty- going on thirty- years as a professional actor, let’s say I have a certain level of expertise at the craft. My journey through the looking glass to the other side of the camera, however, has added value to my knowledge and work as an actor that I can only describe as priceless- and it has little or nothing to do with craft. Having now completed my fourth project as either a director, writer, or producer (and with several more lined up), I’d love to share five important lessons I’ve learned from the other side...

With my co-writer Bolude Watson, at a photoshoot for our upcoming feature "Carmen & Bolude"


  • It’s not me, it’s you. Can I tell you a story? When my son was four-ish, we would jump in the shower together and I would sometimes wear a shower cap (bear with me on this) - for which he would let loose a stream of criticism: “That hat looks awful. You should take it off. It’s really the worst thing I’ve ever seen”, and so on, non-stop. He’s eight now, and as I was putting on my shower cap today I reminded him how he used to go off at me about how bad it looked. He shocked me by saying: “You know why I said that? Because I used to have this nightmare about cannibals trying to eat me and one of them had a head that looked like that cap.” Do you catch my drift? Nine times out of ten, not getting cast in a role has nothing to do with your talent. It has to do whether you remind them of their ex/parent/boss/abuser/nightmare and whether they think we can live with/work with that. It has to do with whether your height, size, look, chemistry matches up with the other actor they have to cast. I has to do with whether the cast reflects the diversity of the community and/or audience. It has to do with random dumb luck like whether they’ve eaten lunch when they see you. And, you may hate this, but it’s the honest truth: it has to do with who you know. When I’m producing, I will cast an actor I know who is talented, reliable and I can work with over a talented stranger any day of the week. It just costs too much to take a chance and be wrong. The solution? Reach out to and get to know the people you want to work with before the opportunity comes up. When you don’t get a part, send a thank you and tell them you want to work with them on their next project. Work with them in other capacities or in smaller roles on smaller projects, so when a big one comes up, they know they can trust you and you won’t be the cannibal in their nightmare.
  • This is someone else’s baby. I get it: you take your work seriously, you had to move heaven and earth to make space for this shoot, and you’re getting paid peanuts (if that). When you’re an actor on a project, you’re there giving your all for approximately 3 days - 3 months, and that’s a lot. But it may change your perspective to know that when you’re the director, writer or producer of a project, you’re there giving your all to one project for years (sometimes decades). Even when everyone’s agreed to work for love instead of money, it is expensive to make a film (festival submission fees alone amount to thousands of dollars, added to camera and sound equipment, hard drives, food, water, props, location, transport, and the inevitable post production costs)- and someone else is footing that bill. It’s helpful to remember you’ve been given the honor of looking after someone’s baby (and I don’t use this metaphor lightly), and that no-one wants the project, and therefore you as an actor, to succeed more than the people who created it and paid for it. 

  • With my co-writer/co-producer, Leanne Mangan, at the Australian Premiere of our film "Remote Access". Watch the trailer.

  • Team Players are Slashies. When I’m an actor, I tend to think being a ‘team player’ is getting along with everyone at any cost. When I was on the production side, however, I noticed my best team players were those who were willing to go the extra mile in terms of supporting the production. I didn’t need ‘yes’ (wo)men, I need intelligent, creative ideas and opinions. I needed trust and reliability. And I needed slashies: people who could do more than one job. If you have another behind-the-scenes skill, and can offer it, do so. There are a very few who have made themselves so indispensable to me on previous projects, that I made a note in my head to ask them to be part of every project I ever work on. At the very least, be a self-promoter! Even at the highest, most famous levels, promotion is part of the job, and yet I’m surprised over and over how many actors don’t seem to get how important it is to show up to screenings and other promotional events for a project. Or how important it is to share the project on social media or by word of mouth. Getting a leg above the noise is vital to the survival of all media projects today, and I promise you, filmmakers notice those who do, and those who don’t.
  • ‘Work Hard. Play Hard. Rest Hard’ will make it harder. I sometimes feel surrounded by overwhelmed colleagues who are on the brink of breakdown, and I’m the only one left to care for them all. All this ‘hardness’ seems counterproductive to creativity, joy and great work. So I suggest you reject the advice to ‘work harder than everyone else.’ I suggest you not run yourself into the ground or risk your long-term health trying to prove yourself. Harmonizing a career as an actor with all that life demands is difficult, so I suggest you work on the harmony and the long-game instead. Don’t say yes to everything - only to what you most want/enjoy, and then, just do your best. That is enough. Get sufficient sleep, nutrient dense food, exercise, and re-fueling, or you will not be able to do your best (or still be around when your dream project knocks). Give your all to one project instead of doing three at the minimum. Acknowledge occupational mental health hazards that may affect you, such as engaging in traumatic content, its potential emotional toll, and reach out for professional help if you need it. Be the example you want to see. If everyone around you is falling to shit, do what you wish they were doing. There can be a culture of bullying, disrespect and unreasonable expectations on some sets or with some colleagues, but I find that if you behave with integrity - like eventually finds like. Behaving with integrity sometimes means speaking up when it’s hard or confronting, and you may lose a powerful bad guy, but it makes space for the good guys to find you. As Maya Angelou says, if you know better, do better. And better will find you. (I added that last part.) 

  • My first film as writer/producer/director "Unspoiled by Feminism"
  • Production Hearts Technical Actors. There’s a saying among filmmakers: ‘There’s the film you write, the film you shoot and the film you edit.’ This is true, and therefore the most important, and final film, is the one made in the editing room. So here’s what I learned from watching myself and other actors in the editing room. 1) This may seem obvious, but the eyes are everything. The takes with the most subtle changes in the eyes are the ones that get used. Practise with a camera and learn where your most effective eyelines are, and the power of your acting will jump light years. 2) After your eyes, your voice is your next most important tool. I didn’t really get it until I was in the editing room, but now I am a believer: an actor’s vocal performance effects emotion more strongly than their visual performance. 3) You need more than one great take. There are completely unrelated reasons we may not be able to use a great take: the boom came into frame, there was a distracting noise in the background, etc. And though it is heartbreaking for all, we can’t use it. So tech up your skills and be able to make magic happen more than once. 4) Be precise and consistent in your blocking, and we will love you in the editing room. When you do different movements each take, you may think you’re giving options, but you remove the option of cutting two different takes together. 5) When you think you messed up, keep going - some of the best (and most real seeming) takes are when you think you messed up - if you don’t ruin it by stopping.

I'd love to hear anything you've learned from adventures to the other side! Please let me know in your comments below. Peace Out <3




Embracing the Actor's Uncertain Life

I've been very deep in thought about 'uncertainty' because it's something I always find myself in...and I believe all our lives are in a place of uncertainty all the time yet we put ourselves in routine - is this to distract ourselves from the truth? We all feel safe in certainty don't we? I know I do. What's an acting career full of? Yep. You guessed it. Uncertainty.


I've found myself in countless encounters lately with fellow actors who just want to work out what the formula is to get more auditions, book jobs, know what the acting class is that will transform them in a millisecond so they become an overnight success... and if there is no answer they get frustrated, upset, down - you name it.

I fully empathise with this. These questions do rise up in me also at times also. However, there just can't be any formula, acting isn't an equation - I've had the pleasure of working in casting previously and I can tell you that there isn't really a formula to that either - in fact casting moves so fast a formula couldn't keep up with it!

Now I know what you're thinking "But Scott dude, if there isn't a formula how the hell am I going to know what to do in order to work in this business?!" - again, I ask myself this at times too...so lets jump back into the casting element as an example of the non-formulaic uncertainty:

A Casting Director, let's call her Jane, gets invited to read a script for a feature film and then have a meeting with the director and producer. Jane takes some ideas of actors to the meeting who she feels would be good for two of the lead roles, (this is basically how a Casting Director auditions to be attached to a project just like an actor auditions for a role). Jane has no idea if the taste of her ideas and vision will inspire the directors and producers - she may have looked back over the teams work i.e. projects they've worked on before to get an idea about them as well as put her own spin on things but just like anything else in life this is almost a shot in the dark...


I mean does Jane know exactly how this meeting is going to go? Does she know she will bag this job and be attached to this amazing shiny project? Will she and the filmmaking team work again after this? Will the discussion be smooth sailing? Will everyone be very friendly and open or will it be very business like, not as well connected and straight shooting? Will she get another interview again? Will she ever work again? None of these things are certain at all - all Jane has is what she's practiced for years and years (casting) but nothing other than that and herself - the rest are an array of variables that are out of her control. Uncertainty. 

What is certain for Jane?

The Experience and Time She Has Spent With Her Talent (and continuation of that)- Hopefully Faith and Self-Belief also.



It cannot be said more simply than that. I'm not saying disregard any amazing acting business courses that can give you tools just like an acting class can (shout out to some I've mentioned before Bonnie Gillespie, Actor Salon, Anthony Meindl Actor Workshop, John Rosenfeld Studios etc.) but what I am saying is that it is uncertain that a class will have all the answers for you, an acting business course, an acting guru, your mom - whatever and whoever it is - it will always ooze uncertainty - and the challenge is to get comfortable with that and trust we are doing all we can for ourselves, pushing ourselves in a very loving and nurturing way. Also, TIME, all this stuff takes time and more practice in your art, in the business and on self is the way forward for years.

I have a couple of rules I follow when it comes to delving into a new course or class that is going to cost me time, energy and money, feel free to apply them if it helps.
  1. I must be coming from a place of curiosity with the content not validation - I've found if I'm coming from a place of validation then I'm showing up for the wrong reasons. Self improvement is a must - a pat on the back isn't
  2. Discomfort must be showing up - the kind of discomfort you feel from when you are entering a new space of self development you've never really shown up in before or returning one that is mega dusty and rusty!
  3. Good People Only - sometimes it's hard to gauge this one but it's pretty darn important. The community of a space just needs to be supportive full stop, no trolls or debbie downers - just people who can relate to one another with little or hopefully no judgement.
  4. Must have fun! - I mean this ones a given ;)
Oh, also, break the rules. No seriously, break them if you want to. Hell, isn't there a saying Rules Are Made To Be Broken...you might be curious about what it would be like to break the rules and do it your way. You may feel discomfort from breaking the rules. Perhaps breaking the rules will help you find some really Good People in life. It may actually be Fun to break the rules!


Do what feels good and scares the crap out of you at the same time. I'll promise to do the same ;)

Till Next Time!

Scott Michael Wagstaff

Change

Feeling stuck?

I get it. You don't see where your next part is coming from. You have not had an audition or a call back or a job in months. It's hard to stay motivated. And sometimes I do this thing where I search for something 'new', like I'm now going to find the quote or the advise or the new skill that will change how I feel. 

But the truth stays the truth. There is no such thing as an overnight success. I think staying ready to jump up anytime your agent calls, to stay with right mindset, to keep working even when you don't see the payoff - that is the hardest part. 

I've recently let a lot of personal drama distract me from my career. Break ups and many, many nights of too many glasses of wine. Time goes by quickly.

So this is what I've been doing to find my balance again, may it inspire someone in need:

Meditation. 

I know, if you're not already doing it then you've tried it but it didn't do much for you. In that meditation is a great teacher - the benefits are proven but take time and dedication to be felt. It is the most effect way to find peace of mind. Get the app "Headspace" and do it.

Order.

I've decorated my space in my mid 20s and haven't changed it in years, so many parts of my apartment are cluttered and I feel that in order to feel calm and collected on the inside I need the outside to match that. My eyes need peaceful surroundings. 

Learning something.

I've realised that the three values I want to currently cultivate the most are "Focus", " Discipline" and "Patience" and they are all needed to learn playing the piano. I suck at it. I envy everyone who has been forced by their parents to learn it or was eager enough as a child, because it is so hard. But I can see how I'm getting better and I just realised if I simply not give up, I will play the piano. So I made a contract with myself to not give up for the next three years. Pick a skill and find a lovely teacher. Don't rely on being an autodidact - accountability is needed. 

Exercise.

They keep saying "find exercise that you enjoy". That is of course true. I'm for example a passionate runner but it doesn't actually form my body the way I'd like to. So now, I do do those little youtube videos. I try to not think too much about whether I want to do it or not - my gut instinct just wanting to watch another Netflix show is not always the best indicator of what is good for  me so I need to create new ways for my instinct to react.

Therapy.

I know that can get expensive, but same as meditation it just helps. I've done a few different kinds: classic talking, body-mind, singing- therapy and life coaching. Each session has helped me. Try out a few things and see what works best for you. I've never met a single human being who wouldn't benefit from therapy.

Reading.

Pick real literature. I'm just about to finish Anna Karenina. There is a reason why those stories make up our collective narratives and reading them, understanding them will help you. Plus nothing looks sexier than sitting in a cafĂ© and reading Tolstoy. 

Change.

Change something. Your hair, your body, your agent, your boyfriend, your apartment. Sometimes it is just that.


So yes, I'm not yet not fully balanced and some days I still feel confused but I know no day can be lost, if I've spent my time writing, meditating, exercising, reading and practising the piano.

That is all I can control - myself. 

The Most Important Question to Ask!


What's The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself as an Actor?



 


Why do you want to be an actor?


 Sure there are plenty of important questions to ask ourselves as artists and from a business perspective we need to know who we know, who we want to know, who knows us, our goals and our plans to get there, but can you answer any of that without the WHY.

 
You and I need to know what makes us special and what makes our personal brand unique so casting directors will know to immediately call us in for the right role and so agents know how to pitch us.  In order to do so, we need to know why we want to be actors!  I know you might be thinking but as long as I know what roles I want to play, why, do I need to know why I want to be an actor.


Well, What’s going to keep you going when you feel like quitting, when your agent does not call, when you are not getting auditions, when you don’t get that role you really wanted and you are eating RAMEN noodles and eggs to save money and praying for your next booking.



 

You need your WHY!


Why?


Everybody should ask themselves “Why?” If you can’t definitively, passionately answer why you want to become an actor, then it may not be for you.

Acting is a challenging career choice and you need to be truly in love with the pursuit. If you can’t confidently tell yourself you’re doing it because you want to and have to, then it’s probably not worth the pain.

Passion’s a powerful motivator but even passion needs a check-in from time to time to make sure it’s still going strong.



 


Drop me a line below and let me know your why...



Dhallywood - the next Bollywood?

by Guest Blogger Zayed Rizwan


With a population of 164 million, it is perhaps not surprising that Bangladesh has an enormous number of content consumers, and of course, content creators to fill that need. The Bangladeshi Film Industry, known as ‘Dhallywood’, has been a significant player in the international film market since the early 1970s, with globally acclaimed directors such as Fateh Lohani, Zahir Raihan, Khan Ataur Rahman, Amitabh Reza, and Mostafa Sarwar Faruqi leading the way to world class Bangla Language movies.
Dhallywood (Named after Dhaka and Hollywood) hit its stride in the 80s and 90s, with big hits like Beder Meye Josna, Shami Kano Ashami, and Qayamat Theke Qayamat. All the hit movies at that time were social drama or romantic genres. In late 90s however, business declined due to the death of superstars Salman Shah and Sohel Rahman, and as a result, the Bangladeshi Mafia took over the industry. The government pulled out of all kinds of financial incentives, which almost crippled the industry. But Dhallywood recovered slightly with the popularity of the actor Manna, who became a superstar, but then died of a heart attack suddenly in 2008, to the public’s shock. His legacy was sustained by Shakib Khan, who starred in back to back superhits from 2011 to 2016, including King Khan, Hero, Shikari, Love Marriage, Full And Final, and Amar Praner Priya


It was the release of Aynabaaji in 2016, however, that changed the dimension of Dhallywood.
A crime thriller produced by Gousul Alam under the banner ‘Content Matters Production’, proved that Dhallywood is not only about sophomoric love stories, but also about quality film-making. The debut film of director Amitabh Reza Chowdhury, the film starred Chanchal Chowdhury, Masuma Rahman Nabila and Partha Barua. Rafi Hossain of The Daily Star described it as "an instant blockbuster hit". It did a record 91 shows in 10 days - the highest number for any Bangladeshi film - and with an occupancy record of 98.89%, it collected BDT 20.3 million (USD 240,000) in its first eight weeks. Aynabaji received positive reviews from the critics as well as the audience. Zahid Akbar from The Daily Star said "The film provides the viewers with an empathic view to its characters, which is coupled with brilliant storytelling making the audience wanting more." He praised the film for its story, cast, Chanchal Chowdhury's performance, and "impeccable" cinematography, but criticized the film for being too long. The film won six awards at the Bangladeshi National Film awards, was screened at MarchĂ© du Film at 69th annual Cannes Film Festival, where it scored well, and had a limited release in theaters in the United States, France, Canada and Australia. 


Other filmmakers soon followed Aynabaaji’s lead, and Dhaka
Attack was massively hyped and attracted the attention of the corporate companies who saw a business advantage in marketing and began investing in Dhallywood. The film critics are predicting a massive upturn in the industry with the forthcoming movies Mission Extreme, Mrittupuri - Kill Zone, Rickshaw Girl, Saturday Afternoon, and Password. Dhallywood has always welcomed co-productions and has successfully co-produced films with India, Iran, Germany, Australia and England (including Agnee 2, Nabab, Saturday Afternoon, Mrittupuri - Kill Zone, Din the Day). As more corporate companies get involved in Dhallywood, the industry is expected to soon reach the heights of Bollywood.


There are 3 major film festivals in Dhallywood: 1) Dhaka International Film Festival (www.dhakafilmfestival.org); 2) Independent and Shorts Festival (isiff-bd.org); and 3) The Children’s Film Festival (https://filmfreeway.com/ICFFBangladesh). The prominent streaming services where Dhallywood movies can be watched are Bongobd (www.bongobd.com) and Bioscopelive (www.bioscopelive.com).



About the author: Zayed Rizwan is a Bangladeshi director who moved to Australia in 2003 to study Film and TV, as there was no proper media education facility available in Bangladesh at that time. After Graduating from Griffith University, Zayed completed his internship with Warner Bros Studios and started working as a freelance director in Music Videos and TVCs. Soon he started to work as an Assistant Director in various TV shows and in 2016 directed his first feature film Mrittupuri - Kill Zone featuring prominent Bangladeshi actors Arifin Shuvoo and Taskin Rahman. In 2018 he directed the successful webseries Aghat -Call for Jihad for an Indian web platform.