Putting the Artist First

Can we have an industry in which the artists come first? This is a question pressing against the left side of my rib cage. The conditions of our industry often seem anti-artist. Yet, I must encourage artists to create in spite of this because to create is to exceed oneself and one’s environment. So I cannot just have this pressure against the left side of my rib cage- I am obliged to move passed it and demand an answer. Can we have an industry in which the artists come first?

There is the fear that no one is listening and, therefore, there is no one to answer the question. Do not take my aphorism as one of a victim, but as one of a fighter determining his/her strategy. The role our industry is playing is one of commercialism- the mighty dollar first. So some of us have compromised our passion for art to fit into this sluggish reality of the big bucks busters. Make 520 million dollars in the first week of a movie, and they say that’s art! Yet, I must encourage you to fight for art and to put your artist first in an industry that has placed mad profit as their primary concern. So, do not make your only solution dissolution or compromise. Be aware and passionately assert your art amidst the shoot-‘em-ups, technological violence and innocuously loud humor. Those that have the guts break through enough to be seen and find the luck to establish their own perfect time and space.

All of this is being stated in generalities, but I am certain that will takes courage, and the courage to believe in one’s desired principle is worth the trouble of willing its realization. I know that I am talking to many artists who exemplify great passion for the art and have the desire to bring it into the world population. All of you are poetic, conscious, innovative, powerful, and with all the qualities to begin an artistic revolution. Yes, even with the state of the industry and the world today, I do believe in the creative artist. You are out there, eager, hungry, and deeply passionate. You are still dreaming, believing, hoping, and struggling to bring truth to your art. No matter where I go around the world, I see your eyes light up full of love, gratitude, and inspiration for the art form you love. It is for you that this pressure against the left side of my rib cage is released with the hope that I am able to instill in all of us the motivation and guidance to bring us an artist-first industry with a healthy environment to create.

Always in the Art, Susan Batson

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Likeability

I haven’t written in a while, but on this Thursday for Susan Batson Studio’s Industry Night, I met Joe Thompson, a commercial agent with Abrams Artists Agency.  A revelation occurred for me — he was looking for likeability.  Likeability in the 8 x 10 photo, likeability in the “hello,” likeability in the monologue, and likeability in the one-on-one exchange after the work.  It occurred to me that likeability was never something that I sought.  Talent is always the only thing I regard.  For me, talent has intelligence, sexuality, generosity, and endless creativity.  Is Sean Penn likeable?  To talk about Sean Penn in terms of likeableness seems a bit perverse, because Sean Penn evokes superlatives like great and arresting.  Likeable, absolutely not for Sean Penn.  But, that was what Joe Thompson of Abrams was looking for from the actors at the Susan Batson Studio Industry Night – truly not something taught at the studio.  Yes, if the character you are playing is likeable, then you must be likeable.  It is NEVER taught to find the character’s likeability.  The work at our studio struggles to explore the need, the public persona, the tragic flaw…  in other words the humanity of the character.  But, when Joe kept expressing the need for likeability – I tried to make peace with what he felt was needed to get a commercial agent and/or to get a commercial.  And I started to add up some of the other things he was stressing along with the likeability such as:

  1. Make sure that your hair does not hide even a small fraction of your face.
  2. When in a close-up, be aware of your frame – be alive – but still.  Keep your focus on to whom you are talking to.
  3. NEVER allow your gestures to cover your face.
  4. You must be connected but emotions should not dictate your work.

It was a relief to hear him speak about the actor being connected and him needing to connect to the actor and his work.  So, likeability didn’t exclude the actor who connected; in fact, Joe would offer tissues and sympathy to those who went deep.  For me, this was comforting but a bit frustrating – what exactly did this guy want?  He wanted connection but he wanted this damn likeability?!

If the artist thinks about likeability then the artist is people pleasing…  right?  But, I kept on thinking that somewhere in the recesses of my artist’s soul that there was something to this likeability-thing.  Is that what Pop means?  Is that finally what Star Quality is?  No!  Star Quality is the radiance that shines from a talent with a huge generosity of spirit, boldness, intelligence, sexuality, charisma and creativity.  I’m not talking about a Paris Hilton type celebrity – I’m talking about a Daniel Day Lewis and after seeing Oprah in The Butler, I’m talking about Oprah (not because I worked with her but because she IS Star Quality).  I don’t know if Daniel Day Lewis is likeable and for sure I wouldn’t use that term for Oprah – I find them both formidable.

Actors, what do we do about this likeability – conundrum?  I was acting in a film of my son’s, the great director, Carl Ford – the character was clearly insane, rageful and lost – his only direction was for me to smile at a specific point.  When I saw the film that smile saved my performance.  It didn’t make the character likeable, but it definitely humanized her.  So after all of this torture, does it come down to Michael Jackson’s favorite song “Smile” written by Charlie Chaplin.  Now take a moment to consider Chaplin and Jackson – would you term them likeable?  No!  Perhaps each geniuses in their own right. One loved, and one wrote lyrics such as: “Smile though your heart is aching…  You’ll find that life is still worthwhile – if you just smile.”

So I have concluded that every actor must find their inner joy of acting and the inner joy of their characters.  Again, using Daniel Day Lewis – – didn’t he love telling President Abraham Lincoln’s anecdotal stories?  Even though every other character abhorred them, President Lincoln/Daniel Day Lewis chuckled with a big smile and kept on telling his stories.

Likeability is a result, but joy is a truth that can shine if you allow yourself to be touched by it.

 

Always in the Art,

Susan Batson

Practical Advice for Actors From Marius Bargielski of Metropolis Artists

Again I have had a rather informative evening with Marius Bargielski from Metropolis Artists. Marius Bargielski stressed what “The Starters” must do to get a career off the ground. I have been known to quote two unlikely sources: Cameron Diaz, who said she did something for her actress every business day starting at 10 AM; and Richie Sambora, who said just make sure you show up- That’s all, show up. The following are all suggestions from Marius Bargielski:

  1. Immediately following substantial confirmation of attaining a job, put it on your resume.
  2. Build a website and make sure it has multiple pictures of you on it. No matter how meager your work is, put it on the website. DO NOT string a bunch of scenes together, use short clips in thumbnails, then all your work will be viewed, even if only seconds. Time is essential, no piece of work should be over three minutes, the auditioner will probably spend only seconds viewing it.
  3. Make sure that the work you have attained is also on IMDB.
    NOTE!  In today’s world, technology is your means to gaining professional status. Having any proof of your work allows ‘The Starter’ to be seen!! The days of agents going to a showcase is obsolete, today they go to the computer- Google and click on websites, wander around cyber space for information. It is important to develop technological skills from running a camera to building and updating a website.
  4. Human contact is still in vogue and it is called Networking. This is mandatory as establishing territory in cyberspace. Marius Bargielski suggests that you go to directors and writers conferences… Not necessarily as an actor, but as a “Starter” writer or director. Donate your time to various organizations that support the arts, and perhaps rub elbows with the elite of the industry. Don’t be afraid to use your attractiveness- no you are not prostituting- you are a “Starter” who is building a career, getting to know as many people as possible in the business and learning to show-up! Be cautious, but social media can also be helpful if used with discretion.
  5. ACTORS ACCESS IS AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR “THE STARTER!!” You can submit yourself for jobs that will help you to build a resume.
  6. For “The Starter” with very little on your resume, the section where you can list your skills is very important. Having a particular skill, and no credits could possibly be the very thing that gets you an audition or the job. Do not treat this section frivolously. Spend time selecting your skills, which are distinctive and usable for theatrical purposes. Don’t list commercials, write: List upon Request.
  7. “The Starters” have another avenue to meet people: it is to watch television, determining the television show you are right for, then noting, who is the casting agent, for that show and contracting them. It may seem an exercise in futility,  but you may get lucky. This is at least one thing you can do at 10 AM on a business day!
    NOTE! Marius Bargielski said he would come back to do a business workshop for all the talented people at the Susan Batson Studio.

It is very clear to me that I must do these industry nights. My concern has always been for the art/craft of acting, never for the business. I cannot encourage you enough to recognize that you are in Show Business! Without neglecting the craft, we at The Susan Batson Studio are more and more challenging ourselves to bring to the BUSINESS great artists! I am sure it can be done!

Liz Lewis Casting is coming to our Industry Night. I can’t wait… What a wealth of knowledge we will gain! Show up… Just show up!

Always in the Art, Susan Batson

P.S Marius Bargielski strongly suggested to skip getting the 0-1 Visa and take a risk and apply for a Green Card.