Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else
– George Halas
….still an actor
Greetings! And welcome to my Monday evening post, fuelled by the realisation that we are now almost at the end of June. For the duration of this post, I will be portrayed by the fabulous Titus Andromedon, a fellow struggling actor who accurately represents where I am in life at the moment.
Life as an actor can be a pretty big roller-coaster – one week you’re drowning in auditions, dashing from place to place and feeling like the whole world wants a piece of you and your big break is mere moments away, and the next you’re watching the dust bunnies roll through your voicemail as you wait for that call from your agent that never seems to arrive.
And with the unique combination of unfailing confidence and endless self-doubt that only artists seemed to have mastered, the quiet periods can be hard.
If you’re the sort of person that still has bills to pay between gigs (ie. probably everyone- if this isn’t you, please let me know how you’re doing it), the lull probably also means that you’re working twice as much at your day job, which can be draining. Sometimes you get home after a full day, look at your optimistic ‘to-do’ list of self tapes, acting classes and unpaid work, and then accidentally end up four hours deep in YouTube documentaries on the minutiae of life as a Mennonite (or is that just me?)
I mean, you’re past the age of 23, so it’s probably too late to make a serious go of it anyway. Maybe you should just spend the rest of the evening with some Korean fried chicken and the course prospectus of a grown-up degree in something practical. You’re fine with this change of path. Totally fine.
But then you hear that Kathy Bates didn’t score her breakout role until the age of 43. And that usher from the cinema down the road just had a feature role in Alien: Covenant!
Maybe you’re not a dried-up, shrivelled old hag after all! And while I might be past my prime Home & Away high-schooler age, I guess there’s still hope that I can replace Dame Judy in the Bond franchise.
So what do you call an unemployed actor? Maybe foolish, maybe unrealistic. But also driven, dedicated, and above all things – still an actor.
As I write this post, I’m tucked into a corner off set as we film a pilot for a fun little web series I was asked to be a part of. I’m over-caffeinated (because that’s what sets are good for), and I thought it might be fun to shine a light on the side of the industry that I think can be sometimes overlooked. (Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the financial ravings later on in the week.)
Any actor will (or should) hand on heart admit that what we do is nothing compared to the work the crew put in. This team were here before I arrived this morning (at an hour that I firmly believe shouldn’t exist), and they’ll definitely be here striking the set long after I leave. They work through my breaks to set for the next scene, and leave lunch early to do the same. Long after I’ve wrapped there will be people colour correcting, editing, re-editing, soundmixing- painstakingly working to make sure that my performance is the best it can possibly be. Actors get the glory, but it’s the team behind the camera who really create the art.
As a theatre kid at heart, one of the first things I noticed on set is the crazy amount of down time for actors. As I type this I’m ‘on five’ again because our crew is busy resetting for a different angle on this scene. Every shot needs to be set up individually, and the larger the shoot, the longer it can take. There are cameras and lighting rigs to wrangle, sightlines to consider, boom positions to be negotiated – way more than you would ever think from watching a twenty second commercial spot on TV.
Once the crew are good to go, I’m called in to shoot that one particular scene from that one particular angle. As soon as they’ve got the coverage they need, it’s time for the crew to reset and back to waiting around for me. (Seriously, so much waiting around!)
Every part of filming has a person responsible for monitoring that aspect (and I mean literally every part, it’s crazy).
It’s bad manners -and sometimes unsafe- to encroach on any of those jobs, so all I have to worry about as a performer is being there when they need me, keeping out of the way if they don’t, and making sure to be ready to bring the goods when it’s time to shoot. It may sound weird, but it’s kind of a wonderful feeling.
More than anything else, on a film set the ‘talent’ are just one piece of a very organized puzzle. The next time you’re sitting through five minutes of names to get to the Marvel post-credit scene, spare a thought! Every one of those names is a person who sweated through bad weather, long days, sleep deprivation, and probably weeks or months away from their family and friends to create alongside the Hollywood stars. And you can bet they don’t get the sweet-as goody bags.
Working SO hard guys
We live in a world that places value on Yes. Yes to staying late at work, Yes to the third girls night out in a month, Yes to that upsize.
Yes means that you’re a team player, a go-getter, someone who’s seizing every opportunity that life throws your way. But do you also sometimes feel trapped by the big Y-E-S?
(Gratuitous Hiddles GIF because we’re getting deep)
As I’ve detailed before, when I’m not able to make ends meet with acting gigs, I cover my bills with a variety of casual jobs. These all dove-tail nicely and usually mean that I’m able to earn more than I need to to keep afloat. And I mean way more. It’s completely normal to get a ‘By the way, are you free on…’ every time I’m in an office. My knee-jerk reaction is always to say yes, because who’s going to turn down extra money? If I don’t practice my No muscle, there are times when I can look at my diary and realise that I’ve worked 50-60 hours in a week. My workplaces are probably grateful to have an extra set of hands available and I know that my bank account always sure appreciates the extra boost, but how is any of that helping me move towards what I actually want in life? Looked at objectively, my Yes is serving everyone but me.
The self-sacrificing Yes can disguise itself in a number of ways.
Online sales are my weaknesssss- I’m the person that will open a dozen tabs and add hundreds of dollars of items to my cart before coming to my senses and leaving everything behind. So where has my Yes to their emailed invitation gotten me? I’ve probably wasted a few hours of work time and decided that I need to completely overhaul my wardrobe, browsing the sale was really only the good little capitalist in me trying to burn my hard earned money on some low-cost, sweatshop clothing. Is that really what I’m working for?
The real irony is, the more I’ve been working in a day-job, the harder it is for me to resist the chance to throw my money away. I’ll find myself engaging in hard-core research for products I don’t even need, because deep down I’m trying to justify the overwork. I’m working so hard so I deserve to spend money on the things I want – or the things they tell me I want. And then what do I have to do to replace the money I spent?
Bingo. I say yes to overtime again.
Sometimes not using your Yes won’t make sense to the rest of the world.
This whole blog post started in my head last night when I went to grab a burger on the run for dinner. At the end of my order, I was offered sauce for an extra 50c and obviously said yes because aoli is life.
And then I got ‘and what drink would you like?’
The options on offer were canned soft drink (which I’m avoiding because I’m trying to deny that it’s time for a visit to the dentist) or bottled water (see here and here for the back story on that one).
‘None, thank you’.
‘Are you sure? It’s free with the sauce.’
‘I’m good, but thanks’
‘Not even a water?’
‘No thank you.’
I had to turn down a free drink four times before she would accept my answer.
Because who doesn’t say yes to free? Crazy people, that’s who!
Saying Yes would sure have ended the conversation sooner. But then where would I have been? Technically I would have been up the cost of a water, but why do I need it? I had a bottle in my bag, and if I had taken the plastic bottle it would have lurked on my conscience all night.
No matter how badly the lovely woman wanted me to follow the purchase path (probably making her till order easier) and take the ferdydurking free water, withholding my Yes was what was better for me. (Okay, technically it was more of a series of very polite No’s, but you get the point. I’ll write on the power of a good No another day.)
Treasure your Yes-es as if you had a finite amount to give- because you do! How many times can you say Yes to everyone before you suffer a complete breakdown?
Save them for the things that will bring you joy. Say Yes to that movie with friends, that extra-nice bottle of wine, or that short film that you really don’t have time to do but the script is just so.damned.good (guilty). Save your Yes-es for the things that will feed your soul, because at the end of the day, you’re the only one who has to live in the life you’re creating.
PSA: This post is written from the perspective of a compulsive Yes-er. If you think that mayyybe you’re a compulsive No-er, you go and sprinkle those Yes-es like stardust, you beautiful little nay-sayer!