Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To Act... Or To Direct... That was the question

I've mentioned this in a couple different interviews but wanted to expand on it a bit in a new unit of time. I think it was mid 2005, I sat down with my mentor and teacher, Milton Katselas to discuss my decision to QUIT acting. I was very frustrated. I wasn't enjoying acting, the business mostly, but it affected my desire to improve my craft in class. So I was going to tell Milton that I wanted to quit acting and pursue directing. I sat across from him in his incredible house and pleaded my case, "I don't enjoy acting anymore. I love directing. I realize when I assist you Milton, I'm watching you as a director, seeing how you discover what the scene's about, work with the actors and tell a story. When I watch a movie, I'm thinking as a director, as a filmmaker, not as an actor studying their choices. I am a director!" I sat back in my chair, I felt good about what I just spewed.  Sitting next to me, was Art Cohan, the Senior Stage Manager of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, Milton's right hand and one of my best friends. I looked over to him for reassurance as Milton began writing on his notepad in broad strokes. He wrote the words ACTOR and DIRECTOR and drew a line between them.  He turned the pad to me and said, "You have to make a decision today, ACTOR or DIRECTOR... you can only do one... which?"
The Original Sheet from Milton
Without hesitation I pointed to DIRECTOR... "did he not just hear my case just now??"  I was thinking. He turned the pad around and circled ACTOR and DIRECTOR and at the bottom wrote the word "BOTH". He turned it around one more time and showed it to me. He said, "YOU... can do BOTH. But you have to give a hundred percent to the acting or you'll never succeed as a director. You have to confront what's blocking you in your acting or it will block you as a director.  You need the skills as an actor, you need to kill that and then you'll be able to do both... with success." Then he asked what scenes I was working on and he devised a game plan for me with lists of scenes to do, movies to watch, actors and directors to look at and study.  He tore the page out of his notebook and handed it to me.  I walked out completely pissed. I DID NOT WANT TO GIVE ACTING 100%... I just wanted to get on with my life and direct.

That week as I took this all in, I had what my friend Bailey Williams calls the "COME TO JESUS MOMENT".  I was so tired of acting or better the REJECTION of acting and I lost the passion for it. Milton always would say that "Production is the basis of Morale."  I really wanted to leave the school and take a break... aka... QUIT acting.

But my good friend Art Cohan called and checked in. He said; "Gantty, just do what he suggests and if at the end of it, you still hate acting, you've at least done everything you could." So I did just that... begrudgingly at first.

Fortunately for me, right after our meeting, Milton started a special class that consisted of veteran actors from the advance classes... and he did it for FREE. He wanted to help this group of twenty or so actors to get past that "thing" that was blocking them.

On the first day, he sat at the end of the stage and said he was tempted to point to each student and tell them what it was that was stopping them. He did it to three in a row... BAMM!  He nailed them. Then he turned to a few others and asked them what they thought it was. He looked at me. "Mr. Gantt... what about you? What's your stop?" I think I stammered something about lacking confidence in my acting, that I feel like I'm not good enough. I'm sure I was crying at the end of whatever else I was saying.  He just nodded his head and said something about me being a mensch, a hard worker and a "Nice Guy" and how it'd be great if I'd stop apologizing all the time and know that I was enough.

That Thursday morning class went on for I think four months. I worked my ass off in that class and in the night class and the Saturday Master Class that I was in at the same time. I did every scene for Milton. I pushed... HE pushed me past my comfort zone. I worked hard, took more risks and saw huge growth over the next year and a half that we worked together. It was in March of 2007 when I began working on The Bannen Way with Jesse Warren. I was starting to believe. I drank the Kool-Aid. I started to believe what Milton always saw in me, that I was a Leading Man who could trust that "I know what I know."

At the end of September, 2008, Jesse and I completed the first two Pilot episodes of The Bannen Way. I made a DVD and got the trailer and episodes to Milton. A couple days later in the Master Class, he turned around in his chair and said he'd seen the pilot and thought it was great. He joked it could use faster editing techniques but said that the acting and characters were great. He said he really liked it. After class I was walking to my car when Milton pulled up (which was completely unlike him, once he left, he left) and he said, "Did you get what I said in there? It's great!  You're great in it! You're acting is really good and you've done a great job." I don't think I did hear it, the first time. But at 1:20pm, on a corner in Beverly Hills, leaning inside his window... I got it.

Milton passed away three weeks later. In between that conversation and him passing, he did a book signing for his amazing Acting Class book at the Skylight Bookstore. I was asked to shoot photos to document the event, as he walked in I took a photo of him smelling a white rose that the brilliant actress and long time BHP Student, Beth Grant had given to him.

Milton Katselas on 10.18.2008
Milton, you wouldn't let me slide, you held me accountable and for that, I am eternally grateful to you.

In the last two months I did BOTH... I ACTED and DIRECTED. And if I hadn't given the acting a hundred percent, I could not have been able to work with such talented actors as Eddie McClintock (Warehouse 13), Jaime Murray (Dexter) and Shannen Doherty (90210/Charmed).

Maestro... I love you my friend, thank you.

Cool article with Tony Goldwyn on acting and directing

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fear Sucks - Until You Go Through It!

I know I need to do something when it scares the shit out of me. Wait... that's total bullshit. I only know that once I'm in it. In the beginning it usually starts with a thought like, "Hey, I want to do a workshop to help people get started on their own web series.' That thought is usually followed quickly by my wonderful critic who says, "why would anyone come to your workshop? there are so many panels and workshops already, why start another one? you're a piece of shit and don't know what you're talking about..." Those thoughts freaking suck. They paralyze me and make me want to curl up in bed and not do anything.

This last couple months have been filled with several of these moments, shaving to a mustache on  THE TEMP LIFE:

Or deciding to do my Web Series Workshop in New York City on 10.10.10:

Or preparing my latest directing gig of the a new branded series by Creator/Executive Producer, Wilson ClevelandSusan Miller wrote my episode and was incredibly lucky to be able to cast Eddie McClintock (Warehouse 13) and Jaime Murray (Dexter) in it. I was staring at a blank Excel doc for two days in fear, as I tried to think of my shot list. Until I just started to do it. Visualizing it in my head and then drawing, looking at photos etc.

So I found myself full of anxiety. Look it's not like I don't ever have it, but I've recently felt it a lot. My normal and PREFERRED mode is to be comfortable and safe, so being uncomfortable fucking sucks. At the end of it all, when I apply myself, push past the fear and just begin the task at hand I can accomplish anything. There's the "One Day at a Time" saying which really for most people is one moment, one minute, one second at a time. Being in the moment and not in the future is one of the hardest things for me to do.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

If You Build It, He Will Come

I guess it's usually misquoted, people usually say, "If you build it, they will come." But in Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner's character hears "If you build it, HE will come." I guess, in a way, it actually works the way it was said originally. I'm realizing that I am a BRAND, a BUSINESS. I'm no longer just an actor with a 'B' job. I think as artists, it's hard to think of us as a business and well, to even think with a business mind. I just overheard a make-up artist on set say she'd never worked in an office. She said that the joke with her fellow Emory classmates is they're not good at math. "That's why I date Jewish men so they can figure out the tip." But what I heard was, that she's an artist, she doesn't do the 'business thing' it's not her strength. I also saw a tweet from Felicia Day today, mentioning digging up W-9's and getting credit reports and that the business stuff takes longer than the creative at times. I'm rambling a bit, there's a lot of stuff rolling around in my head lately.

One of my teachers, Richard Lawson talks about the misconception of an actor and as a character. He'd take two tapes (before digitally recording critiques at The Beverly Hills Playhouse) and hold them up. He'd say, "This is you as the actor, this is you as the character. They look identical, but they are different. You have to learn to let that character go. You created it, put it out there and now it's done." I took that literally and said, well my 'acting career' is that over there, disconnected from me, Mark, the person. They say that you aren't your career or your bank account etc. But I think it is a part of us. Richard is great at branding himself, he's now teaching workshops to empower actors to create their own projects and build their reels. I took the first two pilot courses and really dug it. It's grown and changed over the years.

So 'If you build it, they will come' - or 'he will come'... You have to build your brand. I think that there are people that are genius at it and others that would rather jump off a bridge than do it. I heard that when Robert De Niro was starting out, he'd go to meetings and do like three or four parts to show them what he could do. He hustled. He's a self-proclaimed private man who isn't the outgoing charismatic star like Clooney. He did it his way, he did what he was good at. I think Ashton Kutcher is brilliant at it. He has been very fortunate, apparently landing "That 70's Show" on one of his first auditions. But... he has worked his ass off since then. He's created his own shows, shows that HE likes and wants to make. He has jumped into the web world, the film world, politics. He's active, he was one of the first A-Listers on Twitter and still is. He knows how to brand himself. Felecia Day... I don't need to go into how brilliant she is at branding herself, we all know that, but it's worth mentioning. I respect her so much, she's creating projects for herself, engaging with her audience and fans and does it with such class and charm. Bravo!

A producer I was working with about four years ago had seen my website, at the time the front page had six images with text over them: actor, director, producer, photographer, designer and like contact. He said, "the problem with your site is that I don't want to know the guy I'm casting can shoot my kids Christmas photos for a hundred bucks." I changed my site within a month. Why? Who was this guy? A big time producer? No. He was just a guy with a point of view. It made sense. This business likes to 'see' people as being good at one thing. It makes it easier to hire. A director won't be threatened if he's an actor who's only an actor. Another friend mentioned just having a site for the actor, so for three years during our developing, shooting, editing and promoting Bannen, I had a shitty one page site up. "The cobbler's kids have no shoes" theory in place. As a multi-hyphenate I've struggled with what to do next, what project, what skill. It's freaking annoying. It's paralyzing too, cause I'm a perfectionist and want to do whatever I'm doing perfect and great. So for years I made lists of things I WANTED to do. And every year I'd look at it and be disappointed that I hadn't achieved my goals.

Starting and completing Bannen has been probably the single biggest and most influential goal I have accomplished that's for sure. So much time and energy went into it. I (not alone) pushed through so many personal and professional blocks along the way. I've seen things about myself that I'm not proud of (fear, anxiety, worry, resentment and... yeah fear again) and a whole bunch of things that I have gotten better at. One of which is being able to stand up and say, "I did this" and not apologize. To put myself out there and not try to hide behind it or to put myself down for all the things I didn't accomplish or do 'perfectly.' I've learned that I have something to give back, my experience and the tidbits of information that I have gleaned from this enormous undertaking.

So what is my BRAND... Screw it, I'm a multi-hyphenate. I'm a guy who enjoys doing a whole lot of creative things and when focused and committed, I can accomplish anything. I just need to trust that I'm enough and that I know what I know (as Milton Katselas would repeat and repeat).

And today, I know that I am very grateful for an amazing, talented and supportive girlfriend, great friends, family and collaborators who believe in me when I don't.

I guess when I say "If you build it, HE will come," I mean that the MAN I've always wanted to be shows up. I'm grateful to be truly, LIVING THE DREAM.

Former Sony Executive Michael Stradford suggested the title for the Bannen Behind The Scenes piece on me,"THE MAN." So there you have it, when Stradford says it... so it is.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So how's that CAREER going...

I've been pondering this question lately... I sorta have to, it's in the title of my workshop... Create Your CAREER.  Someone asked me the 'how is it going' question the other day. He wasn't talking about my girlfriend and I, or how I was feeling at the moment, no, he meant 'IT'... the ole' six letter word that most actors avoid talking about when they go home for the holidays. He wanted to know how it was going lately. "Did I see a difference in the auditions or 'offers' since The Bannen Way." I said I had, that the auditions went from nothing to a lot and ninety percent of them for the leads in pilots and quite a few offers on a few smaller projects. He was pleased but pointed out, that even though I did one of the more higher profile projects on the web, with studio backing etc, that it's "...still a struggle for you huh?" I left feeling a little down, like if Zeke (my right hand man in Bannen) cock punched me after I had a great day. Luckily (or unluckily) I had a good forty-five minute drive back on the 10 Freeway to go over my 'CAREER' in my head... and over... and over....

This is what I came up with: my career is just where it is. It's a lot better than it was three and a half years ago when the highlight in my life was fighting for space to rehearse at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Yet not entirely where I want it to be. I have a feeling that there will always be some divine dissatisfaction to keep me moving forward. Then I was reminded of this, from my mentor Milton Katselas' book DREAMS INTO ACTION:

"Hear are a couple of beauties from the 1904 Webster's:
CAREER: Originally the course on which a race is run. A road, a racing course. In falconry, the flight of a hawk, about 120 yards.
Now, we also know a career is the occupation you choose and your life's work, but there are these other definitions, which can open up a deeper understanding of the word and hence a greater involvement in that whole sphere of life. Career is a life's work, a profession, an occupation, but also...
CAREER: To cause to rush freely and swiftly. Charge, flight, achievement, passage. A career was originally the ground for a race, especially for knights charged in tournament or battle. The way or route over which one passes. 
Here's another angle:
CAREER OF A HORSE: A short gallop or run at full or great speed. Via, a road for cars.
And finally:
When a ship is decked out in all her canvas, every sail swelled, and careering gaily over the curling waves, how gallant, how lofty she appears.
Isn't that wonderful? Now, how many of our journey are life a decked-out ship, careering over the curling swells? And how many are like a rock plummeting to the bottom of the deep, dark sea? Glub, Glub, Glub. That's the rock sinking to the bottom. There's no "careering over the waves" when the journey becomes such a serious and significant matter. Life becomes tight, heavy knotted, inflexible--a rock with no flight possible."

 Milton Katselas

So the great thing about life is, after studying with Milton for more than ten years before he passed in October of 2008, this passage from the book hits me, five minutes from home. Hits me like my bladder does when it senses the close proximity to my bathroom - and I'm reminded - my CAREER is more than a billboard on Sunset (or Sony Lot) or a cool job with my favorite director, it's those things but it's also my ATTITUDE towards the work I am doing and the work I have ahead of me. 

I am so grateful to so many people in my life and a higher power I rarely understand and acknowledge, but it's in these moments, when shit is about to get real interesting... really fast... that I better be enjoying this journey and letting go of mine and everybody's expectations and have a little fun.

I'm curious how you get yourself out of bed, shake it off and move into the light...