Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Name is Mark... and I'm an Actor

When I first started acting, I felt like I did when I first got sober, I was ashamed and embarrassed to say that I was an ac... act... actor. Like the Fonz in Happy Days trying to say he was wr... wr... WRONG. God forbid someone would ask me what I'd been in or why I wasn't on TV like the other guy that looks just like me. Several years in acting class did not fix it. Doing plays, short films, even a scene in Ocean's 11 opposite Brad Pitt didn't fix it either. I still could not help but feel uncomfortable about saying I was an actor. What I've come to see now is, I'd been focusing on what I thought it meant to be an actor. I thought, to be able to say you're an actor, you had to be a "Successful Actor" -- meaning someone who made a living from their acting. My mentor, Milton Katselas, didn't bother with the psychology of the whole  thing when I wanted to quit acting and just direct. He said to me, "You haven't given the acting thing a hundred percent. What you're not confronting in your acting will block you as a director. Do twenty scenes for me, I'll pick them out, and then you decide if you're done with acting." (You can read more on this in a previous blog, TO ACT... OR TO DIRECT... THAT WAS THE QUESTION)   He knew that I couldn't think my way into confidence as an actor, I had to actually push past my shit and build the confidence.

I started out in the film business behind the camera. I've done everything professionally, except make-up, hair and wardrobe, but feel I could probably do pretty good in a pinch. What I ended up doing the most, was art department and props. When I first started acting, I would take six months off work and do acting classes, plays and short films. Then I'd run out of money and jump on a movie doing props for six months. That was hard to keep the momentum going and wasn't helping me to own the 'Actor' title. Because, at the time, I believed, to be able to say that I was an actor, I had to be, well, acting, full time, and not doing anything else. When I finally found the Beverly Hills Playhouse and started working with Milton, it was hard to justify taking off for six months to do props on a movie. Fortunately, a lot of the art directors and prop masters I had been working for, transitioned from movies into commercials. Commercials are sweet gigs, they're not as big a time commitment, from six months down to a week to two weeks. And as I look back at it, it was totally doable to do both BUT... I was still thinking, that to be an actor, I just needed to act and be willing to NOT do props anymore.

Somewhere around 2005, I stopped doing props on commercials or movies and tv and was going to just make money as an actor. I'd supplement my income with headshot photography and graphic design. Things that I could control schedule-wise. Key word here is 'supplement' which means I'd be making money as an actor. Well I didn't at first, or even second or later for that matter. Which is why I ended up doing The Bannen Way. But before I did Bannen, I was doing those freakin' scenes in class for Milton. He did a small workshop with some of the advance class students, I think there were a dozen from the two classes. He took people that had been in class for a long time, veterans, veterans who'd done good work, made progress, but still had not broken out or broken through. I was one of those students. On the first class he sat at the end of the stage and said that if he wanted to, he could go around the room and just point to a student and tell them what their issue was. And then he proceeded to do it to a couple people. Then he started to ask us what we thought was holding us back. He got to me and I just blurted out that I didn't feel like I was an actor. That I still didn't have the confidence. I'm sure there were tears that followed, it was a very intense day. He said that doing props, or being a stage manager for him, allowed me to hide, to be the 'second banana' he called it. He told me that I was a leading man, that I needed to own that. I thought "No shit, Sherlock... but what do I do?" Every scene I did for him, he demanded that I speak up, don't back down from my choices, to trust myself and encouraged me to be the fool. It was so fucking uncomfortable, but the REWARD was so worth it. I can now look someone in the eyes and say that I am in fact, an ACTOR.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I was trying to describe to him that my 'discomfort' level, when I'm doing something towards my dream, goal or vision, is so much higher than when I'm not doing them, and instead, thinking small, living in fear and scarcity. I've always had the misconception that if I was doing what it was that I wanted to do in my life, like acting, writing or directing, that it would come easy and feel great all the time. But the irony is, it's the opposite. Since I'm a guy, who by my nature wants to AVOID any kind of discomfort or pain in my life (ie: addict) I'd rather not do things that make me feel uncomfortable. So what happens when I'm not following my dream or earning the necessary money I need to have a roof over my head and food on the table is, I am really uncomfortable. I'm so used to it, that now, that level of 'discomfort' is on, I'd say, a level 2, on a scale from 1 to 10. Most people that have more traditional careers and who aren't freelance like me, would, for sure, be at a level 10. But I'm used to it, and I can just chalk it up to the 'fate of my life' and feel sorry for myself. Where as, if I'm actually putting myself out there creatively, my discomfort is at a level 15. I'm more uncomfortable getting a call for an audition, working on the audition, auditioning, getting the callback, booking the job and then finally shooting the scenes. I'm more uncomfortable because I'm facing head-on, my own shit, my old tapes that have been keeping track of every effort I've made towards my dreams and clocked every single failure, negative comment or imperfect thing I've ever done, and tells me that I'm wasting my time and they're all going to find out that I'm a fraud. I read that every time Sean Penn finishes a movie he thinks it'll be his last one. That we'll finally figure out he doesn't know what he's doing. Sean Freakin' Penn... WTF???

So one day at a time, I try to be as uncomfortable as possible. I think this is where my true potential lies. I'm not talking about being a 'tortured artist' for tortured artist sake. I'm talking about pushing past my crap and creating great art and entertainment and being able to sleep at night by knowing I left it all on the table. That's the goal today, instead making success an academy award winning film or even my face on a billboard (how could I not link that?). Today I shoot for being successful if I'm doing something towards my vision, a call, an email, my diet, or creating another project... even if it's uncomfortable. That's what I strive to do.

My name's Mark... and I'm a grateful ACTOR.

I'm always curious to know how people conquer their fears and succeed. Let me know what you do.

I've forgot to mention that eight months ago I started doing props on commercials again with my very talented art director and good friend Loren Lyons. We have a blast working together and I'm giving it a hundred percent when I'm there (most of the time...). The major shift for me was the willingness to earn income doing something other than my 'dream job' and trust that if I kept moving towards my goals, little by little, they'd actually come to be. The result has been amazing. Opportunities went away and others appeared. In the last eight months, I've booked six acting gigs (two national commercials), three directing gigs. taught three web series workshops, spoke on twelve panels, been nominated for two Rockie Awards, had a project optioned and have had more auditions for lead roles in pilots than I've ever had. So there you go... my best thinking was to not work so I could be available for auditions and meetings - then I was broke and stuck. It's amazing, a little faith and small doable goals have made my life much more fulfilled.


  1. Hey Mark, it's @owenharper from Twitter. For a long time I felt the same way about being an artist. I thought that to be an artist you had to be able to draw flawlessly or to paint or all of the other aspects that are actually considered "Fine Art". It wasn't until I finally got into college that I slowly... Very slowly began to realize, hey, I'm an artist. I'm a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Web Designer, and at least nominally an Illustrator although the latter isn't my forte.

    How do I conquer my fears? It's not something that's easy for me to talk about even with how open I am with things that happen to me. My fear right now is never finding a job that I can be proud in. Sure, doing art and crafting things is great but I haven't quite figured out how to make a business out of it. I've had plenty of freelance web design experience (10 years and I'm still in school) but I haven't figured out how much to charge for it.

    In another moment of brutal honesty, I'm still afraid of how much I am costing my parents with still being dependent on them due to Asperger's Syndrome. I haven't broken away from that. I am thankful for their support and have no idea where I'd be without them.

    I still don't feel like a success although I've had a great many opportunities.

    I think these are things that everyone deals with. No matter their job security or insecurity. I think the trick is to persevere. If it is a true fear, I'm not sure if it will ever be conquered fully. We just continue to have hope for the future.

    Now that I've rambled on incoherently for a while... I'm just going to click "Post Comment" now.

  2. Thank you for sharing that. It's great that you have the support of your family. My family is so great. I'm truly blessed. Maybe you can do a little research to check out sites that you like and find out who designed and what they charge. I try to narrow it down to a few doable steps towards a goal otherwise I'm paralyzed by fear and doubt looking at this big scary situation. Keep the faith!

  3. <3 you! You are most definitely a leading man.

    I had to move out on my own at 17 with no family or anyone to really help me. So I missed that part of life where you get to figure out what you want to do and how to do it. So I had to survive first, and then figure out what to do with myself later.

    I know what I want now, but figuring out how to get there is the challenge for me. I'm just grateful I don't look my age yet. ;P

  4. I will also note... While everyone has their insecurities, I also think for me part of what gives me something to power through my fear was meeting an actor who I really admire and he turned a massive negative in my life into a huge positive without even realizing it. It's the small things like these that can help anyone through a fear.

  5. That's awesome. Life is amazing that way.

  6. Great post Mark - thanks for sharing. I felt the same way about being a writer (both screenplays and music). I kept what I was doing to myself and then wondered why I wasn't getting anywhere. My big turning point was walking into an open mic and playing my own material in front of a crowd of 50 people or so. I was so nervous, but was determined to get through it. After the set, the crowd cheered and several folks came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the music. Getting through that night was a huge boost and if I could get through that I could do anything. I soon started playing more shows and sending out scripts (winning a writing contest shortly after) and my confidence continued to grow. When I start to have doubts - I think back to that night and know I can get through it. Also found that as I meet more and more people exploring the same dream - they feel the same way and its great to know you're not alone.

    You're definitely an actor (and a very good one too) and I'm definitely a writer.

  7. Mark,
    I've worked with you; you're an amazing talent. Your words of encouragement have pushed me to be a better "creative"; your ability has humbled me, and made me question what I've brought to the table.
    That said; I've succumbed to my fear... and it actually worked! Sometimes, you have to stop pushing against it, and ride that wave. Ones best work comes from the fear of the unknown.
    I'm blown away by even the comments on this post and I pray that more individuals get the opportunity to read this. You are inspiring, just as a human being, let alone the efforts you are putting into your art.
    In response to your query, I permanently feel like a fraud putting my art out there, but, I realize that so did Mozart, Michelangelo, and Mark Gantt; I trust I am in good company...
    I go with god when asked to be a conduit for the universe's vision and trust that, even though I'm inadequate, I have been chosen to present it's message for a reason.
    Trust that you are a valuable asset to this world and you are needed to present your personal viewpoint; go with or without fear. Both will end with positive results...
    Vio con Dios

  8. Completely humbled by that Mark. Thank you. Wow. Charlie, I love hearing your journey. Congrats!

  9. From the heart and so real man, great post Mark! I'd work with you any day.

  10. LOVE this so much Mark.
    Your paragraph on "discomfort" is a conversation I've been having with so many people lately including Bonnie Gillespie... talking about it and The War of Art: http://bit.ly/njOciF

    That book taught me many things including the reality that we need the discomfort because we are artists, that it's a part of growing and stretching ourselves, but dang does it hurt. I definitely go through a "fight or flight" feeling A LOT of the time.

    I was just telling Bonnie on Monday that someone (I think my career coach Barbara Deutsch, but don't quote me on that...) told this story about a person passing by Pavarotti's dressing room before a performance. He was standing in front of the mirror, sweating uncontrollably. He looked in the mirror and said "Little Me. Big Me is TAKING OVER!" He then wiped the sweat off of his face and proceeded to the stage.

    What do I do to help "conquer the fear and succeed?" Affirmations.

    I've been a coaching student of Jack Plotnick's (http://www.jackplotnick.com) for a couple of years now and it has changed so much for me. I know that the voice in my head telling me I can't do it is the ego side of me (the vulture) wanting me to fail. I'm learning how to shut her up and let her squawk alone in the corner with the help of these: http://bit.ly/peerOZ

    I've also done a bunch of workshops and found the coaches and tools that are a good fit for me including Barbara Deutsch: http://bdapproach.com/

    I constantly go back to the reality that I am an artist and facing our fears head comes with the territory daily, and I do my best to be grateful for the adrenaline. Without it I know I'm not growing and changing and challenging myself. With it, I know that if I can work through the paralyzing feeling of fear and jump off of the cliff, my wings will inevitably begin to flap and before I face plant on the ground, I WILL fly even if it feels like I'm falling.

    Thank you for this post and for always sharing your journey. You are such an inspiration.
    xoxo helenna

  11. Love the comments and everyone's experience with this. Thank you!

  12. A "starving artist" is just that....starving. Kinda hate that term actually. I love your post. I love pushing through the uncomfortable to the other side. I did just that a couple of years ago when I got into another side of my business, felt EXTREMELY uncomfortable stepping outside my comfort zone....and it paid off. In spades.

    Really vulnerable - and powerful - post Mark. So glad I know you!

  13. Thank you Marci. Really appreciate everyone's support. A lot of people related to this and the funny thing was I almost didn't post... interesting.