The Right To Act

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This blog is about all things acting related and how to navigate the industry.

 

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The Value of Sacrifice, by Paul Kampf
January 18, 2016, originally posted August 21, 2014
– Also published on August 21, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

When I first moved to Hollywood numerous people told me that endurance and sacrifice were the keys to building a career. Through the years I’ve been in Los Angeles, I’ve personally experienced this reality, and speak of it to others as one’s willingness to sacrifice.

Sacrifice is very personal, of course, and just making the move to Los Angeles or New York is one of the biggest you’ll ever make. As time passes it’s understandable why people lose focus on their goals. Just surviving at a low to moderate lifestyle is an accomplishment in and of itself.

One of the best ways to refocus your intent is to do a simple exercise:
Make a list of the friends and family members that have been negatively impacted by your career choices. Include the personal relationships that are no longer in your life. Include the job(s) you need to have to pay your rent, the lifestyle that you live, the property you own (or lack thereof), your credit score, and the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning.

Add all of these up and then subtract it from the joy you receiving when you act. Not the joy you get from getting paid, that will ebb and flow over time. But the actual joy you get from your craft. Are you in the positive? If not, what are you going to do about it?

As a teacher of acting, I’ve worked with hundreds of actors in class or through private coaching, so I’ve been able to observe repeated patterns. I don’t believe that talent is something that can be taught. It is innate to each individual. But craft is measurable and fueled by the sacrifices an actor makes along the way. For example, an actor’s preparedness for class, timely arrival, excuses for not attending, all provide a very accurate snapshot of that actor’s growth in a six month period and his or her level of true determination. It is at this point that I start to see the dedicated actors impose their will on an industry that months before seemed impossible to penetrate.

Whether you have financial support, emotional support, both, or neither, there will be a time when you start experiencing real sacrifice in pursuit of your goals. This is the time when I see an actor’s work expand or plateau. I wish it wasn’t the case, of course, but personal sacrifices provide the drive and work ethic to engage an actor’s true focus.

The insightful actor notices his craft growing through sacrifice because every moment in the work becomes vital. Equally important, some actors who’ve gone through an aggressive sacrifice realize the price is too much and consciously make a career change. Either way, this creates a clearer path for personal peace.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of emotional and financial stability, the best thing you can do is sit down and honestly list on paper what you’ve sacrificed to pursue your dream, as I suggested above. The length of the list isn’t as important as re-encountering the sacrifices that you’ve made to get where you are today. Notice the drive you feel as you recount what was given up on your path to your passion.

If you do this, I can’t promise that your career will take a radical turn tomorrow, but I can assure you that you’ll find a drive, discipline and focus going forward equal to your list of sacrifices.


 

Time on Task is Your Best Film School by Paul Kampf

April 13, 2015

The best advice that I would give to every filmmaker starting out, is the advice I wish I had prior to making my first feature film: complete a film. Any length. Any budget. Just make a film beginning to end. Get as much ‘time on task’ as possible. That advice is so simple, but within it lies the key to your future success.

I came from the theater as an actor, then a playwright, and eventually as a director. For fifteen years, I developed and found a way to produce world-premiere theater. The greatest lesson in that facet of my life was to accept any limitations as stimulations for finding unique solutions. Every obstacle was teaching me the essential foundation of what is necessary to take something from idea to final product. Through thousands of hours of time on task, I learned to produce theater from idea to opening night.

I jumped into filmmaking by directing the feature film version of a play of mine. I shot it on 35mm, with a sizable crew, budget, and production team. All things sounded great to me as I look back, but I hadn’t accumulated the time on task in the film world that would have given me more control of my vision. There were blind spots everywhere. I knew how to bring the best out of the actor, but without experience with a DP or any of the crucial filmmaking team, fear and trust were battling me all the way through the process.

It was the long journey in post-production that shined an essential light on how a film is actually made. That is where you see which shots weren’t necessary, where you discover how money was wasted and where it was underspent, and why some accidents during the shoot can actually provide golden moments in the film. Equally important, you learn what is really necessary in the frame that might not necessarily be explicit on the page. In other words, it isn’t until you’ve completed your first project from beginning to end that you really start to grasp what you’re doing as a filmmaker.

I made my next film with talented but less experienced actors from my training program and a new crew that was hungry for a total team approach. The film was shot in three days for a fraction of my first film’s budget. But the whole experience was a breath of fresh air because I had a stronger grasp of how to solve problems in the shoot – because I knew far more about what would be needed in the post process. When time was slipping away on an already short shoot, I understood what was absolutely necessary.

Let me say that I’m fairly sure that if I was offered a million dollars to shoot my second project, I would have taken it. But I’m grateful that budget wasn’t thrown my way because it forced me to find ways to make a project with what I had available to me. Capital can sometimes cause you more problems if you aren’t aware of how to use it in support of a vision. Lack of money is no longer a barrier to bringing a strong, character driven story to life. If you have a smartphone, an inexpensive audio recording device, and Imovie, you have a film studio. It might not seem glamorous, but a small, completed project gives you a wider foundation from which to grow your craft than all of the expensive filmmaking toys. When you sit down to write a script after completing one project, you’ll be creating with more economy and a deeper understanding of what is necessary in the shoot.

Equally important, you’ll gain a real knowledge of who you are as a filmmaker. Are you visually driven? Do you focus on characters? Can you move the story without words? You won’t answer all the questions of filmmaking, but you’ll start to get a better sense of your aesthetic and what is important to you in storytelling. As you expand your knowledge of all aspects of the process, you’ll start to identify others who share your vision. They may have strengths in your weakest areas. Now you can build a team that will take on many projects and grow together.

After my second film, I moved on to two larger features highlighting the talents of over sixty actors. I knew that budgets prohibited special effects and car chases, but I recognized that my approach is propelled from story and character. Having taught each of the actors I cast, I was able to construct scripts and develop characters that came to life with their unique talents. Although we shot twenty pages a day, we were in sync in front of and behind the camera. I was still learning and yearning to explore more styles and stories.

As you shoot projects of any size or budget, you can create a momentum around you that entices and inspires. There is nothing more attractive in this industry than people who start a project and always bring it to full completion. Sometimes you’ll create something you believe in that very few people see. Other times you’ll present a film that has flaws in your eyes, but gets a wider distribution. You might win awards or fight hard to get recognition.

Regardless, you are creating projects and guiding them to completion. You will be putting yourself in the rare percentage of people in this industry who actually complete a project. Keep going. Ignore limitations. Eventually the time on task you spend growing your craft will open doors that you don’t even know are in front of you.

Paul is a filmmaker who integrates his actor training program into film production. For further information visit PaulKampfStudios.com.


Backstory: Start Finding Playable Choices by Paul Kampf
October 31, 2014
– Also published on October 31, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

Those two simple words often create high levels of stress when we begin the process of building a character’s life. There are so many ways we can try and flesh out the three-dimensional life of a character, based on the clues of the script.

Of course there is the character’s socio-economic background, religious beliefs, education, parental unit, placement within siblings, and on and on. Then when you look at the script’s time period, you’ve got to examine all the seminal world events at that time, those that could influence the character and those that could not. This is a tremendous amount of work that can and should be done.

Yet, the hardest part of this process for most actors is finding the most effective and playable choices that have value to your character in the current circumstances of the script. This is the paralyzing juncture that forces many actors away from their organic instincts and into their head. Although you might have done diligent back-story preparation, you honestly feel more like a dramaturge than a living character

Then what do I do with all that work?

Every script is a heightened, myopic piece of a character’s life; therefore you must immediately start identifying your character’s patterns of behavior, action and reaction to the current circumstances and relationships within the script’s parameters. You must focus on the events that have direct value to your character’s life now. Then, you must find playable choices that have an emotional value in the present. Notice that I didn’t say ‘make playable choices.’ Making choices is the direct connection to our brain’s desire to control a moment, finding choices is what comes from improvising past events until you feel a connection to something specific in the back-story.

We often fall into the trap of a therapist’s approach to understand why our character is the way he or she is now. However, our job as the actor isn’t to cure our character, it is to find specific, unique choices that bring to life our character’s actions, emotions and thoughts in the current circumstances through the process of doing. You then can actively build a powerful emotional bridge from yourself to the character.

Too frequently I’ve seen actors put countless hours into creating extensive back-stories, leading that actor to justify, in persuasive detail, why his character does or feels a certain way in every moment in a script. But that same actor brings very little life truth to the moments of playing that role. It is as if the back-story work was used to find safe emotional choices, rather than finding uncomfortable, real choices that heighten the stakes of the present circumstances.

Do we throw away back-story?

No. Never. But we must, with surgical precision, learn to identify the bridges from ourselves to the character; through the specifics of a back-story we’ve found. Equally importantly, the actor must only hold onto the back-story events that have a visceral impact on the actor playing the role.

As you go through all the events, people and circumstances of your character’s past, get used to grabbing the specifics that you feel and let go of the events that you think will help. Unless the event, augmented by your imagination, has real emotional value now, you will play the idea of an emotion, which is the byproduct of safe choices. It is safe to say that ‘safe’ choices lead to a good read of the character, but little opportunity for your version to be dynamic and unforgettable.


Your Fork in the Road by Paul Kampf

October 9, 2014
– Also published on October 8, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

Every actor pursuing a professional career comes to that daunting fork in the road: ‘Do I continue pursuing the career or do I give it up?’ For many, that fork seems to be around every corner.

The answer to the question feels like it should be connected to making a certain amount of money. However, for nearly 95% of all SAG/AFTRA/EQUITY actors, that certain
amount of money isn’t enough to live exclusively on acting work. When you also take into consideration all the talented non-union actors trying to secure work to achieve union status, pursuing an acting career can be quite a discouraging prospect.

Assuming that you’re not one of the top 5%, you’ve got to love the process to make up for the struggle of the lifestyle. The best thing that you can do is to rely on the joy that
comes from exploring the depth of your talent. This is the bridge that will carry you over the many, many difficult times.

Yet, as a teacher of acting, I often see talented actors lose site of their personal growth and the joy that comes from the art itself. In as short a time as a couple of months, I’ve
watched actor’s work slip backwards. A few months more and it’s clear that, for whatever reasons, the work doesn’t garner the same focus as it once did.

That actor isn’t as sharp, prepared or willing to take risks. The disappointment of not getting work errodes the tools one needs when opportunity presents itself. Therefore
every acting opportunity will be denied that actor’s best efforts. No actor can be free, alive and available in his work when he thinks it ‘counts’ and prepare halfway when he
thinks it doesn’t count. It must always count.

My advice is to give yourself a window of time (three months for example) to decide which path you’re going to take. This window of time isn’t to book X amount of work, or make Y amount of money. This window of time is to do, to your fullest capacity, everything you can to improve your depth, courage and craft as an actor.

During this time, make a personal commitment to work on every scene, every character, and every audition with all of the effort you have in you. Choose to perceive every chance to act as a gift and every scene and partner as an opportunity to learn.

Refuse the impulse to apologize or rationalize your work to anyone. Promise to find the personal risk in the work and jump towards it. Require yourself to identify the actors that
inspire you, and break down why. Most importantly, pledge to be fully committed to your work, and disconnected to the end result.

This might possibly be the hardest period of your acting career, but I assure you after this period of time, you’ll never question which road to take the next time that fork
comes upon you.


How to Forge Your Own Creative Path by Paul Kampf
September 26, 2014
– Also published on September 25, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

As the economy continues to impact every industry, it’s clear that the film and television industry is going through tremendous changes that directly impact what it now means to be an actor.

The old adage that hard work, talent and luck are the keys to an actor’s success needs to be amended with the addition of ‘creating his own opportunities.’ As the number of roles available continues to decline, those in the hiring process (producers, directors and casting directors) are all under pressure to take fewer chances on unknown talent. Moreover, even if they’d like to do so, distribution requires a recognizable face over the best actor for the role.

There was a time when an actor with a few credits could get in on co-star television casting sessions without a tremendous amount of push. Now co-star roles are being filled with guest star-credited actors, and guest stars are being filled with what were formerly series regulars or leads. Independent film follows the same pattern of people working below their past credits or financial quotes.

So, how does an actor try to get opportunities in such a climate?
Create your own opportunities — opportunities that you believe in!
Now this seems obvious, and it’s a concept that everyone talks about. However, I’m suggesting that you should be creating opportunities to express your talent, but without the sole focus on someone seeing your work and plucking you into larger system.

Just think about the number of small film projects that you’ve been involved with that weren’t focused on the actual end result of the project as a whole. Weren’t you praying for just one good minute of tape for your acting reel? It’s not much different than getting into a play where everyone on stage is there solely to get an agent’s attention.

Big breaks, like the lottery, can and do happen, yet the actor who finds the passion for the specific work will undoubtedly grow as an artist and find the depth of why he’s chosen this profession in the first place. By working from a place of passion for a project, you’ll undoubtedly find like-minded individuals who share your creative lens. You’ll then find ways to do more projects – some larger, some smaller, but every project will inspire you to grow your talent.

You’ll be bringing a higher level of commitment to your craft through the discoveries you make about yourself along the way. You might be plucked out of your world and placed into a big opportunity, but regardless, you’ll learn more about yourself as an actor, artist, and human being by reaching for what you than waiting for someone to reach for you.


 

The Key to an Actor’s Success? Failure by Paul Kampf
September 12, 2014
– Also published on September 12, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

You will hit tremendous pitfalls in your work as an actor. It’s an inevitable reality in the evolution of your craft. However, only you can take the big risks to leap further than you think you can to find what positive may come from falling short.

We do not often test our talent – really test our talent – on a daily basis because the result might not lead to miraculous breakthroughs or a schedule full of auditions. Yet, every actor who wants to really build his craft must embrace risk more than his ability to memorize text, network, or take the perfect headshot.

The “10,000 hours” time-frame to master any craft has been well addressed in books like The Tipping Point and The Talent Code. They show us that greatness doesn’t come from divine intervention, but that it’s cultivated from our conscious effort to reach towards greatness in one’s chosen field of study.

You’ve chosen acting. You need to put in those hours.

During those seemingly unending hours, you must take steps to move your talent from conscious to unconscious by reaching for a goal just outside of your current skill set – everyday. This exponentially accelerates the mastering of your craft through inevitable FAILURE.

Failure ignites your whole learning system on a visceral level. When you try anything just outside your comfort zone, you’re required to leap from what feels safe to what you feel will hurt. When you take this jump over and over again, you’ll start increasing the risk you’re willing to take because the failures begin to hurt less and the successes feel even better. In this process, conscious actions start becoming instinctual talents.

Now you start to understand that every great success is built on a foundation of failures. Fear then becomes a necessary ally in your daily practice. It not only builds your craft, but it starts to define you as an artist and person.

Therefore, set a goal to leap large and accept failure at least once a day. When you do this, you’ll be inspired by the path you’re building for your career and your life.


 

The Value of Sacrifice, by Paul Kampf
August 21, 2014
– Also published on August 21, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

When I first moved to Hollywood numerous people told me that endurance and sacrifice were the keys to building a career. Through the years I’ve been in Los Angeles, I’ve personally experienced this reality, and speak of it to others as one’s willingness to sacrifice.

Sacrifice is very personal, of course, and just making the move to Los Angeles or New York is one of the biggest you’ll ever make. As time passes it’s understandable why people lose focus on their goals. Just surviving at a low to moderate lifestyle is an accomplishment in and of itself.

One of the best ways to refocus your intent is to do a simple exercise:
Make a list of the friends and family members that have been negatively impacted by your career choices. Include the personal relationships that are no longer in your life. Include the job(s) you need to have to pay your rent, the lifestyle that you live, the property you own (or lack thereof), your credit score, and the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning.

Add all of these up and then subtract it from the joy you receiving when you act. Not the joy you get from getting paid, that will ebb and flow over time. But the actual joy you get from your craft. Are you in the positive? If not, what are you going to do about it?

As a teacher of acting, I’ve worked with hundreds of actors in class or through private coaching, so I’ve been able to observe repeated patterns. I don’t believe that talent is something that can be taught. It is innate to each individual. But craft is measurable and fueled by the sacrifices an actor makes along the way. For example, an actor’s preparedness for class, timely arrival, excuses for not attending, all provide a very accurate snapshot of that actor’s growth in a six month period and his or her level of true determination. It is at this point that I start to see the dedicated actors impose their will on an industry that months before seemed impossible to penetrate.

Whether you have financial support, emotional support, both, or neither, there will be a time when you start experiencing real sacrifice in pursuit of your goals. This is the time when I see an actor’s work expand or plateau. I wish it wasn’t the case, of course, but personal sacrifices provide the drive and work ethic to engage an actor’s true focus.

The insightful actor notices his craft growing through sacrifice because every moment in the work becomes vital. Equally important, some actors who’ve gone through an aggressive sacrifice realize the price is too much and consciously make a career change. Either way, this creates a clearer path for personal peace.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of emotional and financial stability, the best thing you can do is sit down and honestly list on paper what you’ve sacrificed to pursue your dream, as I suggested above. The length of the list isn’t as important as re-encountering the sacrifices that you’ve made to get where you are today. Notice the drive you feel as you recount what was given up on your path to your passion.

If you do this, I can’t promise that your career will take a radical turn tomorrow, but I can assure you that you’ll find a drive, discipline and focus going forward equal to your list of sacrifices.


Empowering The Actor, by Paul Kampf
July 30, 2014
– Also published on July 30, 2014 in the DailyActor.com.

The entertainment industry is constantly evolving because of huge advances in
technology and ever multiplying distribution channels. However, the actor is still
the day-to-day fuel for the engine of Hollywood.

Not only do agents and managers need actors to provide them a livelihood, but
also acting teachers profit from an exchange of technique for payment. There
are photographers, image consultants, publicists and life coaches. Let’s not
forget the exploding number of one-night casting director workshops that require
payment to attend that have become another actor expense.

Without the actor the industry would crumble, and yet most actors feel irrelevant
on a day-to-day basis. I believe that doesn’t have to be an actor’s reality. There
are daily actions that you can take to gain a different perspective on your place in
the industry.

First and foremost, you’ve got to know, really know, that you have something
unique and dynamic to offer to anyone who can profit from your work. Too
often actors spend disproportionate amounts of time trying to get in front of
people without the confidence of craft to garner attention. You must grow your
craft through the right, effective training that is at least equal to your financial
investment. If you’re not growing every single month from your training process,
it’s time to move on.

Secondly, once you have an undeniable ability to bring real truth to your work,
a confidence builds inside you that propel you to get in front of people who can
profit from your talent. If you truly know that your artistry possesses real value,
you will have no hesitation to put your talent in front of anyone.

Of course it’s hard to get meetings with agents, managers, directors, and casting
directors. They are inundated with actor requests, but when you believe in your
product, you are empowered to confidently push to be seen. Your confidence
shows in the way you make contact, the words you choose, and the assuredness
inside of you when sitting in the meeting.

Equally important, rejection doesn’t feel as personal because it’s only a difference
of opinion and not your need for validation. You presented a product you
believe in to someone who didn’t see its current value. That’s the business of the
business. But having control of your craft and confidence in your value protects
the artist in you.

Most importantly, when you feel full confidence in yourself and your craft, I
strongly encourage you to focus the majority of your time into doing by putting
your talent into practice. For some actors that might mean performing in
storefront theater as much as possible, for others it means being a one-person
band of film production. Regardless, you have to DO something because you are
an actor.

You will be empowered to find like-minded artists to collaborate or develop a
means of production, no matter the budget or other limitations. Gather around
you other talented individuals and DO something that you believe in. Although
you’ll be tempted to think of who you’ll show it to when it’s done, try and push
aside those thoughts and fall in love with your work and the process.

The reality of taking something from initial idea, through production, all the way
to completion will offer more empowerment, self-realization, and renewed focus
than almost anything someone else can give to you.

I’ve seen this first hand as a filmmaker/teacher who has put together multiple
films highlighting the talents of nearly one hundred actors. Although projects
have garnered awards, the real satisfaction is witnessing talented, dedicated
actors find a renewal in themselves before the cameras even roll.

When you take the risks required to follow your creative passions, you will be
empowered to see yourself with the appropriate value. Then the industry will
notice you as someone who does and not someone who needs. That is the type of actor that everyone hopes to cast or represent.

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