I anguished over the title of my new articles for 2021. I dare say, I even had a few words exchanged with my higher ups regarding the title.
When you think about it, are titles really important in this business? You betcha, they matter. But we call them credits instead of titles. There are titles in Hollywood, e.g. Executive of Film Development, Show Runner, A-List Talent. Hyphenates are also popular; Writer/Director, Actor/Model, Actor/Director. Or in my case; Actor/Writer/Director. My justification for all of my titles comes from a work ethic I have always adhered to, “If I have professionally accomplished and have been paid or had work produced, then I can, with good conscious, use that title. I have been a working actor since 1989 and been a member of SAG-AFTRA since 1990 (check). I was hired as a director for a feature film that was completed, released and won awards (check). And finally, my short stories were adapted, along with original short subject screenplays, produced, and distributed (check).
So, what is the bloody point to titles in this business? Well, since March of 2020 and into the new year, the entire film business has been halted, changed, and adversely affected for any years to come. Titles may no longer hold the same weight as they used to have, but the new kid on the block is, and probably has always been, content. How does an actor act if the only options are theatre plays on Zoom? Writers can still write and rewrite, and rewrite. Directors can finish films that have been shot, but not edited. As for filming new content, I for one have found it to be very difficult to film anything because of the lock downs and the added cost of hiring a Covid safety worker and the costs of testing and sequestering cast and crew in hotels. Actors can only work, if they are hired. That’s not to say that there aren’t things we all can do to further our craft while we wait for the film business to go back to the way it used to be.
Now , I do have some friends and colleagues that have been fortunate enough to work during the pandemic . Back in April of last year, I was even hired for a film, but just last week, SAG-AFTRA and its sister unions have recommended that all film and television production shut down during this last wave of the pandemic. So, knowing the harsh reality of the effects of the pandemic, what is an actor, writer, and director to do? As it turns out, quite a bit.
As I mentioned earlier, writing is sometimes a duty for me rather than a labor of inspired creativity. Now is the time for me to finish that rewrite that I keep talking about and seem to never have time to properly sit down and work on it. It is also the time for me to get those seemingly brilliant ideas, characters, scenes, and even jokes, out of my head and unto paper
What about directing? Well, I have three projects that as a writer/director I have had “in the can” for several years as it were. In one case, it has been five years since I said I would finish this project, but the delays (excuses) went from weeks to months, to years. I have another project this about to hit its second year of not being completed. I hired an editor to finish it for me and that did not turn out well. I had a colleague and friend take a whack at it with mixed results. It is my turn. And finally, I have an incomplete project that has enough footage that I could cut in order to see how, or how not to proceed.
Acting seems to be the lonely orphan of the artistic siblings. I could ring up my fellow thespians and ask them (beg them) to work on a scene with me and then we could perform it to each other on Zoom. Not the same, you may say. You would be correct. So, what can a tripe hyphenate do in this time of global upheaval?
The answer for me has been the very device that is meant to inform me, entertain, me and lately, infuriate me; the television. As an actor, I can rewatch films and performances that made me want to get into the business in the first place and inspire me all over. I can finally see those classic films that everyone talks about and says they are must sees for someone in my profession. I can watch new works and new actors to get a pulse of what is in the horizon for me as a potential worker in these new shows and movies.
As a director I can watch the same selection of films and study the techniques, good and bad, that can help me widen my palette as a visual artist and expose me to storytelling from countries and filmmakers around the world.
And as a writer, I watched a lot of Master Class. I gifted this service to myself for the holidays and it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Why just the other day, I had breakfast with Aaron Sorkin and listened to him talk about “Intention and Obstacles.” Margaret Atwood entertained me during my recovery of Covid-19 with stories about her inspiration for her characters and stories in her many award-winning novels. I also, just for fun, eavesdropped on Martin Scorsese talk about his challenges with his vast library of work. I guess my point it, that as an artist, you have so many amazing resources to stay connected to your art during these challenging times, that you can still thrive and let yourself fuel your creativity by spending time with the masters. These can come in the form of books, YouTube videos, your watchlist on Netflix, or as I have found, Master Class.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lunch date with Steve Martin and later in the day, Helen Mirren will join me for high tea. Stay safe, be creative, and use your time wisely.
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