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


  1. I like this. I always feel similarly about my music. There's always this debate because the joy goes in and out but it's something I feel I was meant to do... meanwhile my writing career has always been successful.

    I quit improv at UCB when I was doing so well... I quit music over and over when I have every resource anyone could want... human desire is a strange thing. Fear of success/failure... For the time being, I'm committed to writing three new songs without judgment.

    "It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it. " - Anais Nin

  2. Thanks for sharing, Mark. This is inspiring. I've been in a bit of a funk myself the past few days. But when I experience something that inspires me like this, it definitely helps. I just have to keep going, keep respecting and honoring our craft.

    There's so much I need right now being new to LA -- I really need a strong artist and production community. I have it in bits, but I don't feel on solid ground yet. Hope to see you around...

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this Mark. <3 Your posts are always so thought provoking and speak to what many actors and other people in this industry feel. Many many thanks. xoxo

  4. Tom Konkle here Mark.

    Man. You went through EXACTLY what I have been through. Your article really got me because I heard my own thoughts and words exactly. I just decided to take the leap back into directing and thought well I'm never gonna get where I wanted to go in my 20's acting its too late and yet here I am still making a living at it. But I really do "think like a filmmaker" the SAME way you described it. We are birds of a feather my friend.

  5. Wonderful. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you.

  6. Love This.

    The people that come into our lives and push us harder then we want to be pushed our true angels along our path.

    Beautiful photo too.xo

  7. Wow Mark! This is absolutely an amazing post! It brought tears to my eyes. You are so amazingly lucky to have met Milton and to have actually taken his advice. It is so true what they that a breakdown actually leads to a breakthrough.