There is no single greater resource in the modern age than the ability to focus. Multitasking is a lie. We do not thrive on multiple systems running at once; therefore, we should not be striving to create a mind that does the same thing.
Creativity depends on emptiness. Man cannot create in chaos. Go ahead and tell yourself your mess is essential to your process, or that creatives are statistically more likely to work in unorganized patterns. Keep downloading more and more files into your databases.
In his book "Super Rich," Russel Simmons talks about the concept of Junk Mail. If your inbox didn't have a good junk mail filter, you couldn't even get to your essential tasks. The good information would be lost amidst the bullshit.
Now compound email with Social Media, news updates, menial work tasks, trivial websites, and any other stress we throw on top of our minds each day. Every alert is a distraction. Every time we check our inbox, we are breaking our flow.
How often do we browse the internet with a million tabs open and a hundred programs running in the background?
We must learn to find stillness. Inspiration comes through peace. Woody Allen would take hour-long showers while he daydreamed screenplays. Schopenhauer took walks you could set your clock by. Solitude is a creative's best friend.
Enter super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote:
"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
Memory is a finite resource. Concentration is a finite resource. Willpower is a finite resource. Every time we take in something new, every time we switch tasks, we absolve a bit of our resources. Creativity thrives on deep work. Creatives do not create without empty space.
When we consistently shift tasks and add points of data to our brain, what are we actually doing? By continually checking email, texting, checking Twitter, posting to Facebook, checking Instagram, listening to podcasts, or whatever the dopamine drip may be, we lower our IQ by 15 points.
There is a time and a place for consuming information. How else does a writer know what they like to write but by reading? How does a filmmaker know what to shoot but by watching movies? The secret is that the brain oscillates.
We need moments of deep rest if we want deep concentration, and when we are off, we need to be off. This is true in sports as well. The athletes who make the most strength gains in their training are the ones who treated their recovery as seriously as they treated their training.
Think about it, when we were kids, what did our parents say to us? Could we stay up all night and watch TV, maybe hoping to catch Cinemax after midnight? Could we play video games and neglect all our homework or dinner? No. And yet, now as adults, we don't set any restrictions on the constant flow of information we allow on our phones and computers.
We fall into the trap of, "But, it's the news! I have to stay up to date," or, "I'm learning! If I want to get smarter, I have to keep learning."
Remember, the people designing these websites do not have your best interest in mind. Video games, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, virtually every form of social media in existence, is designed to keep you coming back for more. Social media is the cigarette of this generation.
Every time you look at your phone, go to a website or buy something that data is stored. There are thousands, if not millions of designers behind that screen, you are looking at, and they are all focused on keeping you on the page for longer and longer.
The antidote for this is learning to be okay with stillness. Just as there is poetry between the lines of a play, there is beauty in the silent moments of life.
It seems counterintuitive, but as creatives we must learn to be comfortable with quiet. We must learn to enjoy moments of peace. The human body can only handle so much stress.
Just as we need ample rest, if we wish to grow our muscles, our minds need ample time to decompress. Otherwise, we tap out and fry our ability to concentrate.
Don't be afraid to take a breath. Don't be afraid to take two breaths. Inspiration loves to strike when we least expect it when we are relaxed. Gustave Flaubert, the author of "Madame Bovary," wrote, "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."
One day we sync with our technology and becoming living superheroes. The deductive power of Sherlock Holmes will pale in comparison to our ability to play a video game, have sex, write a play, record a YouTube Video, and solve all our friends' political issues at the same time. But until that Dr. Manhattan moment arrives, we must work with the hardware we have, and the best thing we can do for it, right now, is to give it a goddamn break.
Acting hasn’t changed, but being an actor has. Gone are the days of mailing your headshot and resume out to a casting director and waiting to be called in. Reels are now resumes, and your presence on social media can supersede your ability to perform.
It’s the wild west out there, and if you want to succeed in a business that has such a low level of genuine success, then you have to learn a new set of skills.
Now, the actor is essentially an entrepreneur, handling brand, image, sales, content, marketing, and every aspect of their company, and if you are not developing the skills of a Harvard Business graduate then unless you are bringing unrivaled hotness, which is not in short supply, or unparalleled comedic timing then you will be left behind.
There are two choices. If you want to make a career of this craft, then you have to develop these skills or be left behind. Yes, you can just focus on “the art” and make your way from one small job to the next, but if you long for any sort of lasting success, then there is a new package of skills you need.
Display What You Know
Our eyes have been hijacked. Every artist is competing with every other influencer with a phone. The local theatre company is in direct marketing competition with Key and Peele, an Instagram model, and a travel blogger who has never left the country.
It used to be that the rehearsal room stayed hidden, that actors didn’t talk about the process of finding characters. Today, people want to see the life. Today, people want to be a part of the process.
We are always on our phones and computers. We are consistently looking for content well beyond entertainment. People want to read blogs that help them understand a topic, they want to watch videos that enhance their grasp of a field.
Being an actor is no longer just about putting a performance upon the stage or waiting for hair and makeup to get you ready for the sound stage. The career has exploded out of the theatre and into the world.
Now, I am not saying that every actor needs to be an influencer, but you need to understand how the current climate works. Think about it this way. What does it take to be a successful stand-up comedian? First and foremost, you have to understand the craft. There is a rhythm, a language, an art to developing comedy. Night after night, you have to put in the work in front of an audience, and day after day, you have to spend your time crafting jokes. Furthermore, if you want to be a relevant comedian after you master those skills, people have to know you exist. Luckily today, you can share your routine on YouTube, start a podcast, or simply stay alive on Instagram and with funny videos.
If a comedian is doing all this on top of their work in front of a mic, you better believe you, as an actor, better be putting in the work.
So, on top of acting classes, reading scripts, books, and plays as well as studying cinematography, story structure, and a million other things you should be working on because you love the craft, here are the skills you need to be developing today:
Maintain Your Sanity
This business will eat at your soul. You dedicate years to learning how to perform Shakespeare better only to be passable at it, and some kid on Youtube with a million followers gets a movie a deal. So what? Life isn’t fair.
What you need more than sarcasm and tough love is a tool kit for managing these waters.
Standing out amongst the resumes.
Create content. Make movies with your friends, read audiobooks for SoundCloud, shoot social media videos, be a presence. The headshot and resume are vital, yes, but just as powerful and perhaps more so is having visible content for the world to see.
When we decide where we are going to eat, do we just pick a random restaurant and hop in an Uber? No. We look it up. We check their website, look at Yelp reviews, and compare it with other places.
When looking to hire someone for a movie or for a commercial, we want to see what they are sharing with the world. What kind of person are they, what are they presenting to the world?
Websites, YouTube channels, blogs, Instagram accounts, Twitter feeds, all of these things matter.
Reels are the new headshots. Film is so accessible today, and photos contain so much manipulation. The amount of times agents have brought someone in based on their headshot only to have a completely different person show up is astounding. You can’t hide on video. Therefore, make sure your content is available, and that it is what you want to share with the world.
What is your personal brand?
Whether we like it or not, we must understand what our brand is. No one wants to be typecast, but that is the nature of the business.
Would you trust Foldgers steaks or Jack Daniels yogurt? People are more complex than products, but in this business, we must understand what we thrive. And if we are a pro at this, then we must understand how to market and share that content.
You Are the Business
Every artist must think like a CEO. If you believe the role you want is going to be handed to you, you are wrong. Display what you know online, refine the specific brand you are projecting, and connect with the people in your industry.
The days of a black and white headshot and an 8x11 paper resume getting you in the room are fading fast if they are not already gone.
In this business:
Stop dreaming of the days, you can hire a team of people to craft this image. Stop waiting to be the actor you want to be. Start creating that company the same way you create a character.
All of these things I am practicing and trying to get better at. I waited to start working on these things. Despite being a writer, I wrote in private for the last decade. Sure, a few of my articles and essays made it onto other sites, and I wrote a play or two, but I did not spend any time building my brand, and I am starting from square one.
Yet, that’s the point. We all have to start from square one. I am practicing what I preach.
I love writing screenplays and studying the story. I love rehearsing and learning. I love being an actor. I love driving to set, living in new places for a few months while working on Shakespeare, or doing a quick shoot in NYC. I love the work.
But there is more to being a professional.
There are so many things we don’t talk about in actor training. We get so caught up in the “How” and the “Why” that we feel to talk about the what. I recently gave some lectures to a group of students at a University about acting professionally, and what amazed me was not what they asked, but what they didn’t ask.
Many of them were already assuming success, a typical pitfall of all young actors. They were more concerned with how to get agents and how to avoid being typecast than where to find jobs, what to look for in contracts, how not to get scammed, and how to learn all the hard lessons we learn on our own.
Today’s blog is super simple and super short. What are three practical things you need right now? Are they going to take you from an unknown diamond in the rough to singing “Imagine” with celebrities? No. Are they useful? Yes.
1. A Blue Oxford Shirt
Do it. But it is now. Buy it on Amazon, or Poshmark, or from Ralph Lauren, it doesn’t matter. I have worn the same blue oxford shirt in so many shoots it is insane. Number one, it looks good dressed up or down. Two, it’s considered the all-American shirt, so it works in numerous scenarios. Three, you can wear it for anything in life, and it works.
Also, it’s a tax write off, so don’t sweat buying it. For some reason, actors feel ashamed to claim things on their taxes. Get over this. You need to itemize your expenses. You are a business. Treat yourself like it. Watching movies is research. Books are investments. You are responsible for your own R&D. But a damn blue oxford.
2. A Tripod
Even before quarantine, self-tapes were the way the industry was moving. Why waste people’s times, forcing them to take off work, only to have them come to a casting office for you to realize, “They don’t look like tier headshots.” Ninety percent of my auditions were self-tapes before the virus. While in-person auditions will return, you can bet there will be much more limited time in spaces, especially in cities like New York and L.A.
So stop building a book tower to balance your phone on while you record sides taped to your wall. You can still tape the sides to your wall, but by God, invest in a damn tripod.
3. A suit that isn’t black
First of all, I love suits. I would wear a suit every day, and probably will at some point. But also, lawyers wear suits. Businessmen wear suits. Villains wear suits. James Bond wears a suit, and so does Bruce Wayne. The point is, at some point, you will be asked to audition for a character who would wear a suit. Likewise, you will be cast in a commercial, industrial, or indie film that will need you to wear a suit. Rather than scramble and head to the Goodwill to find something that doesn’t fit, pick something right now that fits you and make sure it is tailored.
Second, make sure the suit is not black. CEO’s do not wear solid black suits. They are for funerals and service staff. Now, as you have decided to be an actor you will probably need a black suit to serve tables or tend bar, but not for film.
Lastly, there are Opening Nights, Galas, business meetings, job interviews, date night, and a million other things you need a suit for. Buy one that fits and wear it with confidence.
One day there will be a whole wardrobe team at your beck and call. In the meantime, you need to build a respectable closet that you can use for short films and commercials. One day you will have your own studio to record in. Until then, you need to make sure you can self-record quickly at home. One day you will have your own personal man on Savile Row. Don’t waste your money on that mismatched polyester job from the department store for the time being.
There are tons of hidden costs to being an actor, but the good news is that it is becoming easier than ever. There are more jobs and more opportunities than ever before. It is easier to get started and work than it was ten years ago. Instagram and Youtube let you share your work immediately, not that it needs to be, but you can share it; however, if you have the three things listed above, then you will have three practical tools to help you in your jobs.
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.