Act Smart! Good tools for a great career

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#tbt with the absurdly nice, handsome, and tall Ed Marinaro

Way back in 2006, I took over a monthly advice column for actors from my colleague, Matt North. My goal at the time was to gain some additional writing experience, make a (very) few bucks, and offload some of the thousands of person-hours of hard-won knowledge I’d gained over the course of two 10-year careers: one as an advertising copywriter and another as a commercial actress.

As is usual with most exploits, I ended up gaining all kinds of things I wasn’t expecting, including an understanding of the similarities inherent in different modalities of communication. Which is just a fancy way of saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” Or maybe “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” And, sadly, “You can’t always get what you want.” (But if you try, sometimes you might find you get what you need.)

So yes, these are all articles about acting. But they are also about the particular, peculiar life of people who choose to express themselves for a living. Or for whom communication, the good kind, that entertains and uplifts and changes the world, is really important.

I hope you enjoy them, and even more, that maybe you’ll find them useful in a way you weren’t originally expecting. Yeah, that sounds weird, but when it happens? You’ll totally get what I’m talking about.

xxx
c

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Successful actor playing failed filmmaker in Wrong Way to Sundance

2016

Two things I’m taking into 2016 (January 2016)

A distillation of last month’s seminar for Casting Networks at the SAG Conservatory on what I took from 2015, and what I’m taking forward into 2016.

Getting ready, between the lines (February 2016)

How does a smart actor prepare for the audition? The same way she prepares for the job.

Getting yourself in the right place to be plucked up (March 2016)

A play reading reveals a lot about succeeding as an actor.

Lessons from halfway through (April 2016)

What can you learn from a one-a-day project? Here are a few things I have.

5 Steps for Finding the Work You Want as an Actor (May 2016)

Foolproof acting tips pulled from civilian masters.

Annual Summer Reading Round-Up (June 2016)

Because it just wouldn’t be summer without summer reading!

Annual Mid-Yearly Check-In (July 2016)

Make a (yearly) plan, but check it twice.

6 Small Actions, 10 Short Minutes Each (August 2016)

Because time is of the essence, and everyone loves tips!

Let Go of Perfectionism (September 2016)

It’s a sign, but not of anything that’s going to help you.

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Margo-a-go-go from Justin Tanner’s gonzo webseries, AVE 43

2015

Resolved—or at least, intended—for 2015 (January 2015)

There’s nothing like a little public accountability to motivate an artist—or any human being. In the spirit of example, I’m sharing my intentions for the following year. Wish me well and slather a little of that on yourself, while you’re at it!

Four Enduring Lessons from My Teachers (February 2015)

Just as a gratitude list sharpens awareness of the riches in life, a lessons-learned list reminds me of the long-term value of “ordinary” lessons. Best of all? Lots of those “ordinary” lessons are readily applicable to the acting life!

So Good, They Can’t Ignore You (March 2015)

The real secret to selling yourself as an actor—or selling anything at all—is to be remarkable at what you do. It’s both a lot harder and a lot simpler than it sounds.

What can you make with 100 Days? (April 2015)

Doing beats thinking about doing any day of the week. And doing it 100 days in a row? Well, that’s how magic happens!

Getting more out of acting class (May 2015)

Concrete specifics you can apply toward getting the most out of your next acting class.

Summertime, and the readin’ is easy(ish) (June 2015)

No better season for kicking back with a good book. Here are a few I can recommend.

Staying honest with the mid-year check-in (July 2015)

Back in January, I set a few intentions publicly. Now that it’s July, I’m revisiting them to see how well I’ve done, and what needs adjusting.

8 Things You Can Do in 8 minutes or Less (August 2015)

It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be done.

The magic of making a thing a day (September 2015)

Do it alone or better yet, do it together. But do it!

Never assume: the acting lessons of every day (October 2015)

The world is alive with instruction; you just have to be awake to learn it.

3 more enduring lessons I learned from my acting teachers (November 2015)

Just as my regular teachers have taught me about acting, my acting teachers have taught me about life. And, of course, acting.

Honest year-end reflection (December 2015)

Exit as you wish to be in it. Enter as you wish to continue.

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Shredding as Carol in the perennial smash hit, Bob’s Holiday Office Party

2014

How to have far more fun on stage (and off) (January 2014)

Five lessons from a return to acting.

Sitting in the suck (February 2014)

What I’ve learned to do when I blow it.

The business of show (March 2014)

Or, eight suggestions from our friends in “real” business we’d do well to adopt.

Feed your head (April 2014)

What I’m taking in regularly right now, and how to find your own reliable sources of information.

Mastermind your way to success (May 2014)

The power of the (right) group is far, far greater than that of the individuals who commit themselves to it.

Make a new plan, Stan—again and again (June 2014)

Because if you’re changing, there’s a good chance your dreams are, too.

A change warrior’s guide to the galaxy (July 2014)

Or, a few texts I’ve known and loved for turning vague, inchoate longing into concrete reality.

Saying “YES!” to the things you don’t want (August 2014)

On the other side of that gig/commitment/extension-of-self you are sure is the world’s worst idea might be a gift you’d never dreamed you might get.

Let’s make beautiful music/art/work together (September 2014)

Suffering without catharsis is nothing but wasted pain. Jim Maclaren, via Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook

7 things you can do in 7 minutes or less (October 2014)

We run columns like this every now and again. Because sometimes, it’s about jamming the small, important stuff in between the big, important stuff to keep all the stuff running smoothly. Also, because they are reliable reader favorites!

What worked—and what didn’t (November 2014)

Hindsight is 20/20, but there’s no reason you can’t apply my wins (and losses) toward your future success.

What worked this year (December 2014)

An honest look back at what worked—and what didn’t—can make the difference between a truly happy new year or a tired old retread.

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I once made a fine living talking to inanimate objects

2013

The Icarus Deception, Part 1 (January 2013)

Marketing genius and fearless leader Seth Godin wants you to change the world by owning your art. Will 2013 be the year you’re finally ready to do it?

Ten Habits of Successful Artists (The Icarus Deception, Part 2) (February 2013)

True—and truly successful—artists don’t limit themselves to the “how-to”s of their own discipline; they steal from the best of everything.

12 Ways to (Not) Guarantee a Successful Career (March 2013)

After over six years of advice about how to act smarter, I thought maybe it was time to look at it the other way around. Want to know how to make sure your acting career tanks and takes you down with it? Read on!

Breaking Through the Breakthrough Myth (April 2013)

For best results, look at success as a thing you are always building rather than a place you get to “someday.” 

Show Up “Having Had”, Redux (May 2013)

Why the simple instruction sometimes given out with a call time can be a great way to look at your career—maybe even your life!

5 Things You Can Do in 15 Minutes or Less (June 2013)

Summer is upon us: that great season of lounging, playing, and not feeling like doing your work at all! Fortunately, you can accomplish meaningful things in just a few minutes, and still have plenty of time left for sun and fun.

The Just-Right School of Acting (July 2013)

As with Goldilocks and her perfect bed, chair, and bowl of porridge, I believe there’s a happy medium that serves actors, and two extremes which can be deadly.

If I Only Had the Nerve (August 2013)

Wherein we address the phenomenally important issue of where courage comes from—and how to find it when it’s slow in coming.

Back to School (September 2013)

Train your eye to find the “why” and you’ll never lack for things to learn.

Performing an attitudinal reboot (October 2013)

Into even the most fabulous, most self-actualized of lives, a little rain must fall. Here’s what to do when it does, and the show must go on.

7 better ways to end your day (November 2013)

The day you’re waking up to has its roots in last night. With that in mind, here are a few ways to make ensure a whole raft of better tomorrows.

Clearing the way for a better new year (December 2013)

You won’t know what’s worth pursuing until you let go of what’s no longer working.

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Officer Dorothy Kramer orders lunch in the indie thriller “97 Brooks”

2012

Etiquette for the modern-day attention economy (January 2012)

In an era of increasing digital connectedness, good old-fashioned courtesy and restraint are more important than ever.

Paving your own way (February 2012)

Why what got them there won’t get you much of anywhere.

Brand new day, same old mistakes (March 2012)

In almost 30 years of hiring actors, being an actor, and/or writing for actors, I’ve seen them—okay, us—make the same five mistakes over and over again.

What would Leonardo do? (April 2012)

Whether you’re talking hobbies or heroes, have at least some outside of your profession.

Improve yourself one friend at a time (May 2012)

Everything I’ve achieved or changed has been a result of orbiting better/stronger/faster people. What can you get better at? The possibilities are endless…

Show up “having had” (June 2012)

Why neediness kills, confidence rules, and ensuring success starts way, way before you walk in the room.

10 new things you can do with a few spare minutes (July 2012)

Everyone gets a little lazy come summertime. Here’s a handful of ways you can stay tuned up while the weather is screaming “hiatus!”.

Support yourself with a solid platform (August 2012)

It’s the hot, new term in marketing…for something you’ve (hopefully) been doing all along.

Crowdfunding like a smart actor (September 2012)

Before you try to raise a dime from anyone for your film (or play, or webseries), you need to ask yourself one critical question: what’s in it for them?

Stop waiting and start doing (October 2012)

Shane Nickerson shares the story of his Hollywood trajectory from Eager Hopeful to Frustrated Actor to Successful—and Very Happy—Hyphenate. [Part 1 of 2]

Generating your own luck (November 2012)

In the conclusion of a two-part interview, Shane Nickerson shares what he’s learned from ending up on the other side of the camera, and how it can help working (and perhaps not-so-working) actors forge their own careers, as actors or, more likely, as successful hyphenates. [Part 2 of 2)

Leaving room for growth (December 2012)

Famed coach John Wooden wisely warned that “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I’m here to add another, slightly-less pithy (but no less true) caveat: overplanning is hard to get over.

* * * * *

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Cartoon me gave cartoon Danny DeVito a manicure in outer space

2011

The magic of interlocking goals (January 2011)

Part II of getting more out of the year ahead is about choosing goals that build on each other. (Read Part I here.)

Shining more brightly in the room (February 2011)

To give a better audition, create a better buffer zone around it.

How to get people to pay attention to you (March 2011)

A brief lesson in the new golden rule and how it applies to the smart actor living in today’s attention economy.

Attention, Pt. 2: Giving good info (April 2011)

People love to pay attention to people who are useful. To make yourself one of the chosen few, learn to provide excellent information at all times.

Attention, Pt. 3: Offering support (May 2011)

People care most about the people who care about them most. Being supportive turns you into one of those people.

Attention, Pt. 4: Entertain them, Entertainer! (June 2011)

Everyone loves being entertained. So why are entertainers often the worst at using that to their advantage?

Attention, Pt. 5: Specifically? You need to F-O-C-U-S (July 2011)

When it comes to attracting a scarce resource like attention, focusing, like a laser beam, if possible, is your best friend.

Attention, Pt. 6: For best results, revert to Kindergarten Rules: (August 2011)

None of it works, and neither will you, unless you’re nice.

Perfectionism vs. Striving (September 2011)

A coda to the “attention” series, wherein we describe using the credo “Always be AWESOME” as a useful guide, not a self-bludgeoning device. And offer helpful tips for doing so!

10 better ways to start your day (October 2011)

You wouldn’t show up to a job or an audition without getting your head in the right place. So why are you treating the building blocks of your career that way?

Brain-Food Portion Control (November 2011)

Whether you’re looking to keep yourself motivated, learn a new practice, or entirely rewire your brain, the simplest way to do it is one day at a time.

Getting a jump on next year (December 2011)

Few things feel better than hitting the ground running. Use a little of your holiday time wisely, and you’ll be the one ho-ho-ho-ing come January 1.

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Sporting a pith helmet for Brian Hecker’s AFI short, “Family Attraction”

2010

Start acting like a business (January 2010)

I don’t care how much of an artistic genius you are: if you’re looking to act professionally, you are also a small business. Start this year right by promising yourself you’ll behave like one.

What keeps you from finding your way (February 2010)

Beware of anyone telling you the way to success, including me. Learn how to take information from a variety of sources and make your path truly your own.

First, be able to do the job (March 2010)

What you must know about the “All Things Being Equal” Rule if you are going to succeed.

Another 10 things you can do in 30 minutes (April 2010)

Another installment in what is by far my most popular series of columns. Must be an attention-span thing.

The end starts with the beginning (May 2010)

If you want to succeed, breakfast isn’t the only thing you should consider starting your day with.

The problems you’re probably not seeing (June 2010)

All of us have blind spots. Check this list to see which ones may be getting you in trouble.

How to deal with rejection (July 2010)

Nobody wins all the time. Here’s how to lose gracefully, and learn.

It’s ALL marketing (August 2010)

You’re selling yourself even, sometimes especially, when you don’t think you are.

A few words to those who are, and are not, listening. (September 2010)

As your friend of four years, I think it’s time we had a little talk.

Take your brain to the gym (October 2010)

If all you’re reading is this column and other “actor-specific” publications, you’re already falling behind.

How to get the perfect job (November 2010)

Wherein I finally reveal what you’ve been waiting for: the secret to booking happily ever after.

5 Things to Put in Place Now for a Good 2011 (December 2010)

Cushy legacies and dumb luck aside, the future belongs to the prepared. Here’s how to be one of them.

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Tanya the Whore finds Jesus in Justin Tanner’s serial sketch for The Strip

2009

10 things you can do in 30 minutes (January 2009)

Putting a small amount of time toward your career every day can make a big difference.

10 more things you can do in 30 minutes (February 2009)

Want more? You got it! Now, go get ’em, good actor!

Making your email more about them, Part 1 (March 2009)

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with the communications you send out. Learn how to make every email work for you, not against you.

Making your email more about them, Part 2 (April 2009)

More tips, tricks and generally sound advice for using a valuable tool without coming across as one.

Lottery mentality and how it kills careers (May 2009)

How to think about your work and practice it to optimize your chances for a long and healthy career in the industry.

Mid-year reboot rules (June 2009)

It’s easy to lose steam halfway through the long year. Here are some tips for identifying “leaks” in your system, and for patching them up and getting on with it.

Kayaking, music and the truly successful actor (July 2009)

Smart marketing lessons for musicians translated into actor language, so you can start seeing how to translate all kinds of good information made for “other people” into stuff you can use the hell out of.

Put yourself out there (August 2009)

Questions (and answers…duh!) about how to choose the best projects and use the best communications tactics for putting yourself out there.

Translating standard marketing-speak into actor language (September 2009)

Hey, there actor-person! Did you know there’s a whole world of great information on how you can learn to market yourself from NON-actors, too?

Five non-acting books every actor should read (October 2009)

Should you be reading great books about acting? Yes, you should. Should you also be reading great books, period? Only if you want an edge over 99% of other actors out there.

A gatekeeper’s take on social media (November 2009)

Yeah, I spout off on using the social web. But here’s the skinny from Chaim Magnum, owner of Lemon-Lime Talent in L.A., on what to do, and NOT to do, if you want to be well thought of by them what matters.

What to do on your winter vacation (December 2009)

How to use the end of the year wisely, so that next year (and the years beyond) are even more fruitful.

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I am VERY serious. ESPECIALLY when playing a fancy Hollywood agent.

2008

Get ready to take on the new year. (January 2008)

A bevy of ideas, projects and tools to reenergize your attitude and your career.

How to ask for help—and how not to. (February 2008)

I get Emily Post(al) on your asses about the right way to solicit assistance.

Relax into acting. (March 2008)

Actual, actionable tips for creating that mind-like-water, in-the-zone state so critical to good acting.

Spring cleaning for your career. (April 2008)

When’s the last time you cleared out your career-related clutter? Some tips on how to.

Tooting your own horn effectively (Part 1). (May 2008)

I didn’t spend 10 years in the trenches of consumer advertising (and countless hours online afterwards) for nothing. Learn how to leverage branding for your acting career.

Tooting your own horn effectively (Part 2). (June 2008)

More fun & games with personal branding and self-promotion. (It ain’t always what you think!)

Tooting your own horn effectively (Part 3). (July 2008)

Wherein we embrace our inner nerd to effectively self-promote in an online fashion.

Tooting your own horn effectively (Part 4). (August 2008)

High-level online nerdery for (cheap) self-promoters who can’t get enough.

The “Y” behind DIY success (September 2008)

Are you working, or just pretending to work?

A funny thing happened on the way to the bio (October 2008)

Everyone hates writing ’em. Here’s how you make yours kick ASS.

Special-case bios (November 2008)

More insight into how to write the most compelling copy possible about yourself.

What have you done for you lately? (December 2008)

Looking backwards at 2008 to help you plot out a more fantastic 2009.

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As “Terri” (1978!), my secret power was making my torturers disco dance

2007

What to Do with That Big, Shiny New Year of Yours.(January 2007)

Some thoughts and pointers on effecting real personal growth in 2007.

How To Get An Agent…Or Not (February 2007)

The best advice you will never hear from anyone in the business

Watch Who You Watch (March 2007)

An exercise in determining fabulousness, nothingness and everything in between.

Don’t Let Pride Kill Your Career (April 2007)

The four traps to watch out for if you want to go the distance

Don’t Quit Your Day Job (May 2007)

Why that thing you hate may make you the actor you long to be

Better Acting Through Listmaking (June 2007)

An inexpensive (and fun!) way to get a handle on your life, your career and your dreams

Great Actors Don’t (Just) Study Acting (July 2007)

Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a parallel line.

How To Be Heard Over Yourself (August 2007)

Or, what exactly is “noise”, and what can you do to reduce it.

Dreams Don’t Happen, Plans Do (September 2007)

Why some people get there faster than others.

Keep the change (October 2007)

The good news is, everything changes every second. The bad news is—well, you guessed it, everything changes, every second.

3 things I wish someone had told me before I started acting (November 2007)

Learn from my mistakes, don’t repeat them!

How to Find a Great Acting Class (December 2007)

Arguably of use to non-thespians as well!

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In the Groundlings Sunday Co. I miss wigs.

2006

Client-Proof Tape – Part I of II (September 2006)

What you should know about auditioning for commercials, from someone who has eaten lunch during your tape.

Killer Callbacks – Part II of II (October 2006)

More things you should know about commercial auditioning, from that person on the other side of the deli tray.

The star in your head vs. the star you are (November 2006)

Life is more satisfying when you get down with who you really are…and potentially, a lot more lucrative.

Actor, Know Thyself (December 2006)

Five reasons NOT to be an actor—and one reason to jump all over it.

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Theater! It’s only funny until someone loses an eye.