Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Teamwork makes the dream work

Been a little while since my last entry. If there are still any of you out there in the ether following along with my occasional thought dump, I appreciate your patience!

I spent this last weekend performing in LA's 2015 "48 hour Film Festival". The objective? You and any number of your craziest friends can band together and put together a seven minute long short film. You are given a genre (Ours was a detective/Cop drama, picked randomly from a hat), a line of dialog, a character's name, and a prop. All of which must be included in your film as a form of time stamp, to ensure that each team creates their film in the same allotted time...forty eight little hours. Then the craziness begins.
It is an incredible challenge for all involved. As a group, you spitball ideas from minute one. Then you have a working script by minute ninety. The next sixteen to twenty-four hours you spend shooting that sucker, finding props, locations and inspiration all along the way. It is fantastic, energizing, and beyond stressful. Pure film-making.
This was my third time with the same team. It becomes something of a homecoming/family reunion. We know our strengths and weaknesses. We pull together and get things done. This year, alas, our vision outstretched our schedule and we missed our 48 hour window.
It simply didn't matter.
For us, it served merely as a convenient excuse to get together and make some dang delicious art. Everyone, moving in lock-step, firing on all creative-cylinders. It is hard to spend a weekend more perfectly.
As an actor, it provides a beautiful challenge. You have what amount to moments to produce a compelling character. You have to get to the meat of the scene immediately. Make simple, actable choices and deliver without hesitation. For some, that speed can prove daunting. If you welcome the challenge, and are willing to operate in the moment, to give yourself over to the experience, it is an extremely liberating and artistically satisfying event. You learn new things about your art and your tools.
So get your team together and create. Create for the sheer joy of creating. You will learn amazing things about yourself and the art-form you have devoted your every waking moment to. 

Our hero awaits "action", completely unaware of the bloodbath his best suit
would soon find itself the victim of.
The real heroes of the story are the dry-cleaners.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Here's a dollar...

I was in my bedroom the other day, tidying away some clothes. Occasionally I manage to exhibit the bit of domestication my wife has tried to foster in me. In the background I start to become aware of a soft rustling from somewhere in the other room. My seven year old boy is up to something. His mom seems to be encouraging him to do whatever it is.
I go back to my business. Suddenly my son comes running into the room. He is smiling and holds his hand out to me. There is a folded one dollar bill in it.
"This is for your acting, Daddy!"
I am left a little speechless.
My boy is offering to support his Daddy in his dream. For a boy his age, a dollar represents a fortune. Anything can be bought with this. I was touched beyond measure.
That dollar sits on my mirror, reminding me that giving up will never be an option.
If I had a bit of advice to hand out from my little tale, its this:
You're only as good as your team. People love you and support can and will come from the most unexpected of places.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Revelation from "Cop #2"

Here I am, standing in a tiny dressing room at ABC Prospect Studios. I just clipped on my tie. Looking in the mirror, there is a proud member of the Port Charles Police Department staring back at me. This marks my fourth time on the General Hospital sound stages in a year.
That's when it hits me in the running lights. I don't know exactly when it happened. I barely noticed till now. But it happened all the same.
I have a career.
A fun one.
I think to myself "what a lucky idiot I am. Who else gets to do this stuff?".
I stood in that dressing room, staring at this person I had become with a goofy grin on my face. It was at this moment that I realized I was blessed.
I am a "thirty-something" six-foot tall Irish man. I just described a very well represented cross-section of the acting community. Chances are good if you know one, then you know five more. That I have enjoyed any success at all is a small miracle to me, as there are so many others who didn't get the chance.
When I started this little dream of mine back in 2006, I had no expectations of where it would take me. In a previous life, I had been a 3D Artist in computer games. I HAD a career.
I had talent for the job. What I lacked was the necessary passion.
The world of acting engaged me in ways I had never suspected possible. When I learned what acting could be, what it meant to me...
Well, there was no turning back. I was doomed.
Sure, it's easy to downplay one's accomplishments, especially as actors. We count the number of words in our script. We count the seconds of screen time we share with the "somebodies" that made it into the final edit. We do these things as though they represent some measure of our talent. Our ability.
It took me a little while to realize these things have nothing to do with a career.
In my opinion, simply being invited to play, to join in the creative process, shows that you have arrived. Someone thinks enough of your artistic contribution that they are willing to include you in their vision.
Whether you play "King Lear" or "Cop #2", you have made a valuable contribution.
Take a bow.
You earned this.
For me, I have no idea what will come next...and that is damn exciting.

My first time in make-up chair. Six-ft "Ken Doll" comes to mind. Call me "Glambo".

Monday, April 28, 2014

Off the books

I have spent many hours of my life struggling over the pages of dialog sent my way by directors, casting directors and the like. My first (and last) theater role required I learn about forty pages of dialog in about a week. It was the first time in my career I had ever been expected to memorize that amount of material.
I spent every lunch time and evening till bed trying to get it all straight in my mind.
It was like going to Gold's Gym for the first time, then being expected to dead lift twice your body weight the first time at the bar.
I pulled it off just in time for the show.
But was I truly "off book"?
What does it mean to be "off book"?
Since then, I have had a lot of time on my hands to consider this. I've read a good many scripts since making this art my life. I've had the opportunity to walk into casting rooms believing myself to be "off book" then tripping over my own tongue, struggling to get across even the simplest concepts. In those moments, my performances were, dare I say, mediocre at best. Sometimes downright embarrassing.
My intentions were pure. I wanted to show the greatest amount of deference possible to the words of the writer. It is natural for one artist to show complete respect to the art of another.
But what does it really mean to respect them?
I have only recently come to realize what those who have gone ahead of me already know:
A scriptwriter does not write a script.
They write a story.
Their art is not words.
The words are simply the most expedient tool at hand to describe an idea to an audience.
An actor's job is to tell this story through action.
You are not showing respect to a writer by how well you memorize their words.
You do so by taking those words and finding the meaning behind them.
Why is the character saying these words?
What is the writer really saying?
Among the biggest mistakes an actor makes is simply playing the words. They spent so much time committing the words to memory, but never took a moment to consider what the words meant to them. As a result, you get an actor who has made no choices before entering the room. Their performance now resides in the realm of generality.
Generality is death for an actor.
Nobody laughs in general.
Nobody cries in general.
Take, for example, an argument.
I've been married for thirteen years now. Arguments are RARELY about what is being said. They are the product of emotions, imagined slights, genuine slights, etc. They are born of frustration, anger and love.
If you don't understand this interplay or what the writer is going after in the scene, then you are just yelling.
Show your writer respect by taking the time in your preparation to understand the scene and your character's role in it.
Make strong choices and the words will take care of themselves.
That is being truly "off book".
Drop the pages, pal...nice and easy...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Every career has them.
We measure progress in our chosen path by them. They are personal but significant. At least to us, anyway.
Mine was a big one. I had made a promise to myself, about one year ago, that I would have a TV credit for a speaking tole to my name by year's end. I had no idea how I would achieve it. It didn't matter. It was gonna happen.
Postcards mailed.
Resumes and head shots stamped and sent out into the wilderness.
Connections via inter-webs made.
The silence was deafening.
Goals are a dangerous thing once uttered. They become sort of cosmic law. If you fail to achieve them, the self-loathing can be exquisite.
I had all but given up hope.
Then, through no fault of my own, it happened.
A friend of mine, a casting director, called me out of the blue. I had taken a master class under his instruction nearly two years before. As it happens, his daughter goes to the same school as my son. We bump into each other a number of times a week.
I am heavily involved in the school. A card-carrying member of the board of the school's PTA. As such, and being largely left to my own designs most days, I am on campus A LOT. If there is a school function or a fundraiser involved, chances are better than average I will be there.
As it so happens, one particular event, I was helping run the thing. Hustling to and fro, walkie-talkie at my hip, ear piece. The works. In this frenzy of activity, who should I run into?
My mentor.
He points at me and says "You're a cop."
This is not unusual coming from a man who casts people for all manner of TV role any given day.
We exchange howdies and laughs and continue with our days.
Not one week later I get a call from him asking what my union status was. He has an under-five that I would be perfect for that very Friday. In TV parlance, "Under-five" refers to any role that has five spoken lines or less.
Turns out, I would have fewer than five.
I would have one.
It was all I needed.
It was all mine.
The moral of my story? Goals are scary, but they also provide a focus for your energy. Once you put that energy out there, success can manifest in any number of exciting and unforeseen ways.
My particular milestone airs December 23rd at 2 pm on ABC's "General Hospital".
What next, cosmos?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Look at the clouds

"Look at the clouds, daddy!"
Those were the words from my six year old son this morning.
I looked.
It only then occurred to me how little I have paid attention to the life going on around me these days. It has become so easy to hunker down, bury myself in any number of pursuits and never give a thought to how much I was actually missing.
As professionals, focusing so much of our energy on the things that drive us, we take so little time to appreciate the beauty of this life we are living. I for one am quite skilled at forgetting to "smell the roses".
My son does it every morning. Literally. I take a lesson in it as I walk him to school every day. He sees something beautiful or intriguing, he stops. Nothing else exists for him in that moment. He takes the time to experience the world around him, even as I tug at his little hand, ensuring he makes it to class on time.
I wish to tell stories as an actor. That is my passion and goal in my creative life. How I tell that story is derived from my life experiences. They inform the choices I make on camera or stage. it is where my personal truth comes from.
How, as an actor, can I hope to do this if my own life is...well...boring? If your eyes are only ever on a prize, you miss so much of the enormously beautiful present.
My advice?
Stop reading this and look up. Observe the colors, smells and sounds of wherever you may be. Watch the people at their business around you.
Now, look up at the sky. Consider the billions of events that had to occur to put you where you are right this very moment. Think of how astronomically improbable it is for any of us to be here.
Yet here we are.
Knowing this, suddenly every moment has importance. Enjoy them while they last.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Joe Sullivan. A Tribute.

I will start with one of his favorite words:
which means "Full of sadness or sorrow, especially in an exaggerated or insincere way."
He used this word in probably my very first class with him. He did not offer the definition of it. That wasn't his point in uttering it. He shared this word for the pure joy of saying it. Of writing it.
Joe Sullivan made it his job at West High School in my home town of Manchester, NH to show us the power and beauty of words.
He was my creative writing teacher in my senior year. Until his class, it had never occurred to me that I may have something to say. Most of us go our entire lives and never write for the sheer joy of the creative process.
Joe did not harangue you about rules of composition. He taught you to write simply, effectively. But above all, he wanted you to tell your story. When he read the student's work aloud at the front of the class, he did so with supreme relish. In a sense, he viewed your work as a gift to him and he made sure to appreciate it and share it with everyone. That was a very powerful message to give to a student like me.
The things I learned under his guidance I have used every single day of my life. His lessons went beyond the written word.

  • Creativity. Tell your story, however you may. No matter the form, get it out into the universe.
  • Generosity of spirit. Recognize the gift that is a story. Make sure to share it with others.
  • Bravery. It takes guts to share yourself in written word. Have courage, and in so doing, encourage others.

He loved the word lugubrious, but I don't believe it fit the man. There was nothing exaggerated or insincere in the feelings he inspired in others. Sorrowful or sad? I don't know that the man was capable of frowning. His lexicon would be more accurately derived from his favorite word's antonyms:
Cheerful. Heartwarming. Lighthearted. Joyful. Encouraging.
This is my tribute, pale as it is, to an artist, educator and friend. You have left this world a better place than you found it. You enriched the lives of those who had the honor to know you. And you have empowered an entire generation with the courage to express themselves.
From my family to yours. Thanks, Joe.

Joseph C. Sullivan
Feb 14, 1944-Sept 23, 2013