Thursday, May 27, 2010

The D Word

Why do some people get things done, but others don’t? I think it comes down to the D word: discipline.

Some people are content to get by at their day jobs and spend their spare time with families, friends and hobbies. Maybe to them, the best weekend is one spent watching sports and tossing back a few brewskies. Others are willing to work weekends because they’re driven to climb the corporate ladder or reach for their dreams, whether it’s going back to get that master’s degree or writing and trying to sell a novel(s). Even if their pursuit means long hours and foregoing social events. Even if it means no guarantees, takes years and the odds are stacked against them.

Still others say over and over that they want to do X (even if it’s just cleaning out the garage), but add “some day” and do nothing because some day never comes. It’s always today. Or they take baby steps, but get easily frustrated when they don’t see immediate results (or, as with cleaning the garage, things get messier before they get better) and give up. They can’t see the big picture.

Not surprisingly, some definitions of discipline include self-control:  not giving in to every impulse for immediate gratification.

Most days I am disciplined...I complete the daily goals I set, which often include a certain number of proactive efforts or pages to write.  Other days, it's hard not to succumb to the lure of a beautiful day, a leisurely lunch with a friend or catching up with TiVo.  Because, of course, I have really good reasons:  We don't have that many great weather days in Chicago. I haven't seen Y friend in a long time and she's busy.  If I don't watch the finale of Z reality TV show now, I won't be able to go online without finding out who won.  That's when self-discipline and self-control need to kick in.  When I have to convince myself that getting at least some work done is more important in the long run than slacking off today. “Contrary to common belief, self-discipline is not a severe and limited behavior or a restrictive lifestyle. It is a very useful inner power, which enables one to persevere and not give up, in spite of failure and setbacks. It grants its possessor self control, and the ability to resist temptations and distractions that tend to stand in the way of attaining aims and goals. In fact, it is one of the most important pillars of real and stable success.”

Some motivational quotes from the same site, here.

Developing self-discipline: “Learning life mastery and personal discipline will only come about when you set precise goals that you wish to achieve. Self-discipline goals are somewhat different than success-oriented goals, in that self-discipline goals are defined by personal improvement. Once you identify areas of your life that you wish to gain total control over, you have now defined specific areas of improvement.”

Discipline.  One day at a time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

PC Crash

Last week my PC crashed...froze at the Windows XP splash screen. Yikes.

Like many Gainfully Unemployed, I rely on my computer every day. I send audition MP3s to agents, jobs to clients, query letters and submissions. I do Internet research on facts and grammar rules when editing, agents and editors when submitting...the list goes on and on. So I, not very technically inclined, had to decide what to do, and fast. (One benefit of gainful employment: an employer who offers tech support and/or a replacement computer.)

Fortunately I'd backed up most of my data (if you haven't, do it now! I use an external hard drive, and probably will add online backup, also.), and I have a laptop and wireless Internet, so I was able to stay on top of email. But the laptop doesn't have all the software I need, plus it's not getting work done has taken a lot longer. And figuring out how to get quality sound for my auditions has been a challenge.

Not to mention time/money/frustration I expended troubleshooting, deciding what to do about fixing it and updating my laptop with new drivers, etc. I'm not quite sure how I figured all that out, especially when I realized I'd downloaded an XP driver for my Bluetooth mouse though my laptop has Vista...

I ended up taking my hard drive to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. Fortunately all of my data was salvagable. They wanted to run a $69.99 diagnostic that would take 3-5 days. They called on the 17th to say my PC had acquired 271 pieces of malware (I'd thought my antivirus software/firewall would prevent that, but obviously not.) and so my OS was corrupted. They could fix it for another $130, and would need until the 19th or the 21st. Better to cave and buy a new PC (or a Mac, as many friends advise)...or go with the fix? I chose the fix.

It's not ready yet, which means 10 days so far without my PC. Seems like much, much longer. Maybe this cloud has a silver lining...when I do get it back it might run faster than before.

From students to freelancers to telecommuters, many of us simply can't their jobs done these days without daily computer access. There's no way I know of to prevent future crashes and the frustration that goes along with them...but adequate preparation via backup and easily accessible alternate technology helps a lot.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Three Little Words

By three little words, I don't mean "I love you" and why those words can be so hard to say or feel.  I mean the fact that three little words can make a huge difference in the amount of money and respect an actor earns.

Yesterday I auditioned for a speaking role in a major motion picture.  The character says--you guessed it--three words.  She speaks to the lead character, then he moves on.  A very short scene.  But should I get it, I'm pretty sure I'd earn the Screen Actor's Guild day player rate, which according to their site is currently $782.  And I'd be eligible to join SAG, earn residuals, etc.

The saying goes, "There are no small parts, only small actors."  If you ascribe to this theory, then every role is important, including those who speak a few lines and extras.  First, extras create essential atmosphere: Imagine the hero walking down Michigan Avenue...with no crowd.  You'd immediately assume there'd been an apocolypse, or that it was very early on a Sunday morning.  The scene wouldn't feel  or look right without a bunch of appropriately dressed and appropriately milling about tourists, shoppers and businesspeople. 

Second, extras can screw up a shot.  Walking patterns, sometimes very complex, are established during rehearsals.  Extras are expected to do the same thing for every take...partly so everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and partly for continuity and to match up shots.  You are expected to reset yourself and any props for each take.  I recently did an office packing scene for a Fox pilot...and every time we had to take out all the papers and files we'd put into boxes (with the director calling out, "pack faster") so we could pack them again.  Without all of our packing and unpacking, the scene wouldn't work.  If an extra is supposed to cross in front of a moving camera or pass by a star but is a few steps late or early, he might run into a cord-carrying grip, the camera or the star, necessitating another take.  And on a movie set, time is money. 

If you're seated next to a star, say, in a corporate meeting or at a wedding, you might also end up with more screen time than the person playing that three-word speaking role.  Yet non-union extras in Chicago are currently paid $65/8 hrs, then time and a half not counting lunch, or sometimes $100 for 12 hours.  I hear a small increase may be in the offing.  But recently I've also come across major projects that expect extras to work for free.

Extras in LA and NY can earn their SAG cards by working 3 SAG projects.  Not in Chicago.  If I have a line, I can put it on my resume.  Extra work does not count and in fact can be looked down on...even if the director directs you personally.  I'd think that watching major stars and directors in action, which to me is like taking a master class, would at least show agents you're learning your craft, that you've spent time on movie sets and so presumably are familiar with how to behave.  You understand the jargon.  I've been mere feet from directors including Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann and stars including Johnny Depp.  I've been directed by Ron Howard and Sam Raimi, for example. 

So...I'm not quite sure why an actor gets respect and a lot more money for saying three little words to a star, but not for being one of a few extras near a star.  Thoughts?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Give Yourself a Break

While working in corporate America, I was fortunate to have a job that was pretty much 9 to 5. Sometimes I’d take home the stress of waiting for clients to sign their contracts, think I should have followed up with one more contact or scheduled one more meeting. But mostly I was able to leave work in the office and enjoy my evenings and weekends. Vacation days were even better--ah, the joy of getting paid not to work.

But for the Gainfully Unemployed, for the freelancer, there’s always more work to do. So it’s hard to decide when to take a break, when to relax...if you even can. Authors/writers can always produce another page, enter another contest, send out another query. Performers/freelancers/those starting businesses can always do one more thing to market themselves and their services. When you have an actual deadline-- lines to learn for an audition or performance, an agent/editor waiting for timely revisions-- letting go of the pressure to keep plugging away can be difficult. Especially if you don’t have a lot of paying projects coming up.  The drive to do as much as you possibly can to further your success can be relentless.

Setting goals helps: If I cross X items off my list and do Y number of proactive things today, then I can reward myself with Z. I like to exceed goals, not just meet them. And how do you know your goals are ambitious enough in the first place, that you’re not letting yourself off easy? Often there’s a nagging voice in my head urging me to do X + 1 or Y +2. It says, “If you’re not in it, you can’t win it.” And, “Just put one more iron in that fire.” The voice does not say, “You’ve worked hard deserve some time off.”

On the other hand, I know that everyone needs to refill the well, have some down time, hang out with family and friends. I also believe that the creative subconscious works best when we’re not thinking or focusing the project at hand...perhaps why people say they get good ideas in the shower. Why many (including me) keep a pen and paper in every jot down an inspiration, preserve that “aha!” moment before it floats out of our minds.

When do you take a break? And when you do, can you truly enjoy it?