What is the difference between most actors and a street professional? We don’t usually get paid for acts of passions

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The Angel – Bot Photo by Kevin R. Phipps

We do a really weird thing in our culture. There have been studies done and observations made by far more insightful and intelligent beings than myself that we as an American culture specifically, intentionally deprive ourselves of healthy pleasure or correspond them typically to sin or that which is forbidden and undeserving.

I use sex for examples quite a bit I’ve noticed, Aries are naturally sexual beings, but I also think it is applicable because at our carnal nature, we are created to be sexual beings. But look at how we handle our young when they start to discover their own bodies and feelings of pleasure. Most parents discourage their children from masturbation or verbally communicate messages to them that associate the behaviors with shame or something that is socially unacceptable. This is highly contradictory because these feelings of pleasure are completely natural and organically generated, but we are taught to stifle, suppress and not explore these sexual urges. This in turn often creates so many issues ranging from unhealthy fetishes, fear of sex, taboos, etc. There are so many alternative ways to handle the situation in showing our children to celebrate the wonderful gifts and joy our body provides us, while doing it in a safe and appropriate way.

This belief system is carried over into so many other realms of our practiced standards. For example, if you love something, you daren’t ask money in return for doing what it is that you love because that would be blasphemous. It would no longer be a labor of love, but a shallow attempt to make a buck off of something you should be willing to do freely and openly while asking nothing in return. Money itself is associated to evil or belonging to the ways of the world. We look at pastors who make profits and other wealthy individuals often as being selfish, shallow and self-consumed or at the very least, not following a genuine path.

I started to question why we automatically associate those negative classifications to folks with a big bank roll and a lot of it is quite simply, I feel, that most experience these feelings out of envy. But I dove in just a bit deeper…. Don’t I usually…

I have just as much freedom, just as much opportunity, just as much skill set and drive to make the same amount of money as any A-lister, athlete, politician or high-paid professional out there, so why am I blaming them or having bitterness toward them for accomplishing what I have not? Why does it feel like it is somehow their fault that I am lacking while they are just smothered in wealth?  Quite frankly, because the idea of making money doing what I love seems outlandish to me, if not nearly impossible. Acting is unpredictable, the jobs are sporadic, the payment is often low when first starting out and the odds are stacked against me for making this a full-time career unless I opt for the whole breast -implants and hope I run into the right person at a LA club on a late night kind of route.

If you believe that Neale Donald Walcsch actually did have a divine encounter with God or if you even just look at billionaires or millionaires who were self-made you will see that the same trend is evident – You have to make the choice to just do what you love and not worry about the money. As Nike says, “Just do it.” When you do what your love, follow the true purpose of your soul and trust that you are doing everything in your power to fulfill that purpose, the money will come. Often this requires you to take a great risk because you literally may be starting off with nothing and that feels so opposite from what we have been conditioned to do. I can’t help but think about computers that were originally built in someone’s garage and now are one of the top companies in the world that people can’t imagine living their lives with out or animation and newspapers that started as modest printing presses with one or two people busting their asses to do everything for 20 people to read it that are now international publications and household brands. What made them think they could do it?

Whenever you embark on anything we are taught to be prepared, be educated, be in a good financial situation – all good advice, but when you let those things, those material, conditional things become hindrances to you instead of enablers, that is when it is better to step out into the void and make something out of the nothing because like greats like Charlie Chaplin know, you might as well give all you’ve got because when you’ve got nothing, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I had a professor from Whales talk about various artistic revolutions and liberation movements take place across Europe during the avant garde period, and that was the one common thread. These brilliant, bold men and women had their rights, liberties, homes, money, everything stripped from them a lot of times so they had nothing left to do but create. This is our purpose after all, to create and remember who we really are. It is when we deny that of ourselves, that there is suffering.

Even in the Bible there is a famous story where one man asks God what he needs to do to get into heaven and God tells him to let go of all his worldly possessions and come follow him and it says the man was very sad and went away because he had a great many things. I don’t think this was meant to say that rich people are less deserving to get into heaven or less capable, but I do think it means that when you align yourself to the path of making money and not align yourself with the path of your heart or passion, you will always be chasing the next dollar sign instead of filling your soul’s bank with satisfaction.

I mean think about if you didn’t have a job or maybe even a car or a place to live for a time being. Think of how hard you would work to be the best actor you could be, yes because you need that roof over your head and a next meal, but also because it is your livlihood, it is your only way, your only source to getting both what fills your soul and your pockets. You’d spend every waking moment working on your craft, finding opportunities, developing your skill instead of standing behind a podium asking “How many in your party today?” It requires a lot of letting go.

As the film “Life of Pi” says, all life is a journey of letting go.

I was praying about that the other night along with a few other things in my life and I so strongly felt God say “Melissa, you are so afraid to let go because you don’t know what will happen in that void, what will exist in that distance and in that space away from what you hold in your controlled grasp, but don’t you understand that I am the space between? I am in the void.”

This sort of feeds into two opposing universal truths that work symbiotically together in our benefit.

1.) The universe takes care of you without you even having to try. Yes, I’ve read Voltaire’s Candid and know that their are some unfortunate souls out there that do no wrong and still can’t seem to catch a break and randomly get struck by lighting or some other horrible freak occurrence, but for the most part in my experience, I have found that it is in those times that I don’t try, that I surrender my will to the ways of the creator that he has this funny little plan devised to make it all work. I don’t feel and I don’t recognize it in the moment, sometimes it’s not until years later that I reflect back and think how funny it is the way life works out while other times the gratification is more instant. None the less, there seems to always be this underlying road map, unawares to me, that no matter how hard I try to tug my mental wheel this way or that, their is this spiritual compass keeping me right on course. During those times of nothingness and emptiness and despair, God is in that space, filling it with abundance yet for me discover.

2.) Where there is a will, there is a way. When I said surrender earlier I did not in any way mean give up. Surrender to the human language is such a weak term, but we are built to surrender our limited understanding and scope to the great visions and powers of the universe. By surrender, I simply mean that I allow myself to follow that little inner voice no matter how irrational, unpredictable or unreasonable the situation may seem. The whole world may be advising me to do something different or move in another direction, but every time I deny that little voice, I just get blown a little off coarse and it takes me more time to return to my divine path, but every time I honor that voice, something incredible usually happens. The more I pour myself into surrendering to that cause, the greater the reward. This takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-realization and a lot of faith.

So how does one go from living a normal life to living one fulfilled?

I don’t know, I was hoping you would tell me… Ha! It just takes a little bit of conviction and making some choices.

In the local Arizona market it is almost unheard of for an actor to have a contract, but this is something I highly suggest especially if you are not represented and under the protection of an agent or a union. This is also is an effective way to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness when negotiating terms for future projects. When you are approached by someone to do a film I always ask to see a full copy of the script with willingness to sign a non-disclosure agreement of course, and if I am not familiar with the party or have not worked with them previously and I am still interested in working on the film after seeing the script I simply say, I have sent you my contract with my terms please let me know if you have any questions. Usually this includes a flat rate for payment, that a copy and/or footage must be provided and other basics.

If they are not able to fulfill those terms or request perhaps a lower rate to hire or something like that, that is totally fine, but at that point then it is my choice to accept it or not based on varying factors, but at least they are made aware immediately that I am a professional, that I expect them to treat me as, and that I expect that to act as professionals as well and follow-up accordingly. I think it is simple shifts in regular practices like these that can more quickly evolve the Arizona industry from a hobbyist state to a more professional environment. A least it would be perceived that way, and oh is there power in perception.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of some of the casting pages on Facebook for Arizona because it is irritating to me. Young filmmakers, first-time directors, people in a pinch, etc make a post on A SOCIAL WEBSITE looking for actors or crew and suddenly they’re publicly slammed with questions like “Is this paid?” or they get hit by nazi page monitors asking for specific details in order to just keep the post active. This may sound contradictory to moving toward making things run more like a business, but my personal belief is simple. Facebook is not a business nor is it a business page, nor is it a place to conduct business – it is a social platform to get the word out. This is not a paid casting service and those participating should not be expected or required to act as such when be handled by internal members of the community.

Good Faith Casting, for example just switched to a system where they are no longer sending out email notifications but asking their base to follow them on twitter or Facebook to continue to receive information. Why does this work – because they are a trusted, established source that deals directly with the clients, has full access to that information and already has the flow and rhythm of what is required to make the page run like a well-oiled machine. She has someone who runs the page for her, similar to running any other website, not some rando with a God-complex calling shots or laying down he law on fellow peers. Come on, handle the business in private through direct email correspondence with appropriate contacts. I realize that the general public might be wondering some of the same questions, but the truth is, the director may be willing to pay so and so a small amount of compensation to get him/her on board because their work is solid and may increase value of the performance but maybe he isn’t so willing to offer compensation to the other dozen people who respond to the post. Ever think of that?

We do have Durant.com, in addition to GFC as well other professional services where certain information and criteria are and should be required, but other than that, I say let there be freedom! Seriously, it all just looks silly.

The other component is that it is hard to break the cycle of working for free when you’ve done X number of projects without pay. In fact, I don’t know if I’m airing a dirty little secret or if this is a well-known fact already, but most production companies here locally have a list of people to contact because they know they will be able to hire them for free. This is not a good thing. To me that’s like saying why would I go pay for a good quality cup of coffee when I can sneak into the hotel lobby across the street and steal a cup for free? Definitely a sure-fire way to get your reputation burned. Don’t you know you are worth more than that! You are not only giving these people your time, but you are giving them your most prized-possession – your heart and your craft. Only you can do what YOU CAN DO. You are a rare and precious commodity, don’t let anyone sell you short on that. You would never not pay a heart surgeon or a plumber for providing one of their services, would you? Acting is yours, own it.

A lot of actors have a fear about not working regularly if they start refusing free work because let’s be candid, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of paid film work out here. They also worry that they will not be perceived in a good or favorable light, but I have this point to express, using judgement call and devising a business plan to make your passion profitable is not ungrateful or rude, it is smart.

Use your discretion and be selective on which projects you are willing to do for free – will it enhance your demo reel, will it put you in contact with someone you have been wanting to work with, will it provide you with the chance to develop a character role that you had been wanting to sink your teeth into, will it provide you good exposure? If there is a benefit to it, then by all means do a free project here and there, but don’t make that your standard going rate. You know what they say, you get what you pay for.

That is one of the core issues about our local industry, there is no way to sustain a long term career here as an actor. Months can pass in between projects or auditions you are interested in taking and often times even when roles do become available so many people jump at the chance to do the work because they are desperate to get their fix, that often they allow themselves to work with people of questionable moral, ethical and professional standing and get taken advantage of because they are just so hungry for it. Once it ends, it ends and more months pass by until another opportunity presents itself and you are left with nothing to show for it, not a paycheck, not a completed film, not anything except usually a youtube link and if you’re lucky an IMDB credit which at some point you may debate removing from your profile because of it’s questionable nature, but for now, it’s an old notch on the belt. How’s it feel to sell yourself so cheap? I can answer that because I’m guilty of doing it countless times, it feels lousy.

I was talking to a local director who said that what became extremely obvious and evident to him when directing a set with both LA talent and local AZ talent on board – was that it wasn’t necessarily that the LA actors were more gifted or better than local actors, but they were immensely more easily direct-able. Why? Because they do it every day, they work every day or audition every day or take classes and train every day.

He suggested, oddly enough within the same week of meeting a background actor on the set of Grief that had the same idea, that instead of charging people obscene prices to join an acting class or receive training from mentors, that we form a group and practice working together on monologues, scripts, improv, etc. While I do think this to be a wise idea, especially in theory, I do think that you will need some level of expertise or at least honesty involved in order for that level of rehearsing to be effective. If we are lacking that all-knowing figure then it will be like FB goes real-life in falsely claiming that everyone is so wonderful when they aren’t really so wonderful. And then will come the questions, well who are you to tell me I’m not wonderful? I just filmed with you last week and I though you stunk up the joint.

I can see the egos flaring even now. It has to be more of a consortium. There were times when artists, actors, writers, musicians would all live in the same quarters sharing meals and lives together in close proximity. It was like a collective consortium of creativity. It would have to be like this – all ego removed, all art, all good energy, all constructive. Are we capable of such a thing? I would like to think so and I’m interested in trying to coordinate such a thing if anyone else is game.

Perhaps this would all be good concept for a class – The Business of Being an Actor.. We could find someone who is willing to share tips and expertise in how to handle things from a business perspective to ensure that we are doing everything we can to reach our financial goals, reach our potential as professional actors and not settle for anything less. It could start with basics of resumes and networking to what services to pay for and what to forgo, to how to draft a contract, and explore why here in AZ we don’t have managers or PR Reps and do we need them?

The one thing that I do know is that as an actor, I will no longer be lurking in the shadows, hanging out on street corners and giving myself away for a payoff that never comes. I can think about each and every person I have shared a stage or set with and look you dead in the eye and tell you the same thing, you have value. You have worth. You are a gift. I can’t take responsiblity for anyone else or their future nor can I force any other individual to change how they conduct themselves or their business, but I can be the change that I want to see.

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