Monthly Archives: July 2015

This question was posed on Twitter last week: Do you think you are a better writer because you started out as an actor?

Hmmm. Well, I have spent many more years as an actor (or trying to be an actor) than I ever have writing. In fact, I’m headed out next week to be an actor again after my first audition for a film in over two years actually netted me the part and caused me clear the cobwebs and dust off my SAG card.

It’s not a big part by anyone’s definition, but a funny little part in what I think could be a very funny film. I made the camera operator laugh in the audition and I believe that helped because his laugh had to be heard in the background. Couldn’t have hurt.

And it’s a nice situation for me. No other responsibilities except learn my lines, hit my marks, and make it real. I know my limitations and this part doesn’t get near them, so I’m just gonna have some fun.

But switching back to actor mode, and believe me it is a switch, got me thinking about the question. How much has my acting experience helped me as a writer?

I'll tell you. A whole lot. Maybe more than a whole lot.

Has it helped me write better dialogue? You bet. You still have to maintain the character you’re trying to write, it just makes it easier putting the right words together in the right order if you look at it from an actor’s (who is still playing your character) standpoint.

No actor wants wooden dialogue. No actor wants dialogue that no human would say. Yet I see it all the time in spec scripts. Dialogue so unreal it’s like space aliens wrote it. I’ve auditioned in the past for independent films or TV where I got the sides, (actor’s audition lines in script form as scenes or parts of scenes), and I've cringed at having to say what was on the page. Sometimes you just can’t. There’s no way to make it come out right because of the way it’s written. How then, you ask, did such bad dialogue get as far as an audition? Beats the hell out of me. Tell me you haven’t seen films or TV with dialogue like this. You just don’t want to be the one who writes it.

Actors LOVE great words. It makes them happy. When I was on the set of the film Jeff Willis and I wrote, “The Right Girl”, it made my year when all three leads told me, unprompted, that they loved the dialogue in completely separate conversations. They didn’t have to do that. They could have just ignored me, but they didn’t. The female lead hugged me out of the blue when we met and thanked me for such a great script. (See what you missed Jeff?) And one of the male leads remembered when we worked together as actors on a TV series episode. That was cool, considering I had a flea sized part compared to his. But it was an acting, then a writing connection. We talked about my transition to writer and he had a lot of questions because he's trying to do it too.

Acting experience has also helped me with constructing character in my scripts. Knowing how to define my characters better on the page. Giving characters more of what I think a good actor might look for in the writing to help them understand who they are. I don’t change story for what an actor might like, I just think it helps me build more life into my characters an actor can relate to.

I’ve always thought that writers should take acting and improv classes anyway. I’ve encouraged my writing friends to do it on more than one occasion. There are community classes everywhere. In LA you can’t walk (sorry, it’s LA, I mean drive) by a strip mall without seeing someplace that has acting classes.

I’ve also encouraged writers to get their butts on a film set as an extra sometime. Extras are the lowest of the low on the film production food chain. The guy that waters the plants on the set is higher. You should do it anyway. You’re on a set. You’re watching how films get made. You watch the people in the director’s chairs looking at the monitors and you can see yourself there someday. I did that. I started as an extra on films and worked my ass off to network, to get an agent, to get auditions, to improve my craft as an actor, basically the same route I eventually took as a writer. But I learned what making a film really entailed. I learned what goes on. How sets work. How films get shot. How BIG ASS 100 million dollar films get shot.

And when as a writer I’ve gotten to sit in director’s chairs at the monitors for films I’ve written, it’s a feeling you cannot describe. It’s a place I dreamed about... It’s... Stop it Bob... get back on track.

I’ve worked with actors who devoted their craft to learning everything they could about their characters to get them right. To do them justice. Watched and learned from them as they searched out even the littlest thing in the script to help them with backstory to bring a little more reality to their character. I've put those things into action myself as an actor. You don’t think this helped me writing scripts? Think again.

Every writer is always looking for an edge. That one thing more that can take them to another level. I think going to some acting classes and taking them seriously is one of those things. And you may well stink. Lots of people do. Acting, or acting well, is a very hard thing to do. Acting in front of a camera with all those people standing around waiting for lunch is even harder. But I don’t know a writer who wouldn’t grow from the experience. Gain insight. It’s all part of investing in your career.

And who knows, maybe someday you’ll beat me out for a part or we’ll be acting on the same project. Stay away from the breakfast burritos at craft service though... not a good idea.


Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Fear. Fear you’ll never make it. Fear, if you’ve had success and then get a lull, that you’ll never ever work again. Fear that the script you’re halfway through sucks like crazy. Fear that the script you’re halfway through and LOVE is already being made someplace. Fear that you’ve been pigeonholed in your career and now all anyone wants from you is a narrow scope of one genre. Fear of rejection. Fear your manager isn’t brave enough to tell you that NOBODY wants to see you and that you should take that job at Home Depot.

Loathing. Loathing the empty page that’s been sitting in front of you for three days. Loathing social media because it’s a time suck you can never get back, but you just can’t stay away because you might miss something good. Loathing that your moods about all these things will affect the people you love and care about. Loathing looking in the mirror for fear of seeing a fraud.

How do I know all of this? Because I’ve experienced all of them. Sometimes all at once. It’s not fun. And even though I know when this happens, and it will happen to you or already has, that the only person it hurts is me, I still fall into it.

Welcome to the world of creative arts. It’s not just screenwriting that this affects. My story isn’t different than anyone else that has the need and desire to create.

Film and TV is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. From the time I was about ten years old, I knew it. I obsessed about it. I wanted to be an actor and I set about doing something about it. I worked at it. I didn’t wait for it to happen. I was proactive. It wasn’t until I found some success at it, I realized I wasn’t destined to make at living at it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in a bunch of films and TV shows and just got cast in a pretty good film this week. (My first acting job in a couple of years.) But it's not my strength.

Don't misunderstand, I’m really comfortable on a set and in front of cameras. I mean, I enjoy the hell out of it. And in a small range of characters I’m not too bad, but I’m never going to be a world beater as an actor. It was a sad, but liberating thing to realize. It got me looking in other directions.

It was then I found out I got more joy from writing. And even more fortunate that I seemed to be somewhat good at it. Much better than I was as an actor.

I still have the same desire I had when I was ten years old. All I want to do is make movies or TV. Every time I step onto a set as an actor or a writer it’s magic. I shed a tear of happiness in private on every set I’ve ever been on. It’s a dream come true every time. I am so grateful for everyone who’s helped me on my way, too. But I’m also very aware I’m always one lonely step away from that ledge.

When you want to do something creative for a living, it’s like walking a tightrope without a net. You’re out there alone with nothing to catch you.

You are on your own until you establish yourself one way or another. Even then, the only person you can count on in the long run professionally is you.

Therefore, fearing and loathing can become your daily companions. And it’s up to you to fight the hell out of them. And you do it by putting your head down and plowing through it. If a blank page is taunting you, write. It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. You can’t let that damn blank page beat you. You do that to every fear. Knock it on its ass.

And I’m the biggest criminal. I was in the grips of the great fear I’d never work again in this business when I got the acting job. Couple of days later a producer sent me the galley of a novel that’s coming out late this year for my take on the adaptation. (GREAT novel, by the way, so far.) And a director called to say the film based on a script I wrote 17 years ago (you read that right) is still on track for shooting early next year. My manager set a meeting with a big production company that’s very interested in a limited series I did with another writer. The light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train. All the effort and time I wasted on fear and self-loathing was just that. WASTED TIME. And I knew it at the time and still I let it color my life.

Thus, I hit myself in the head and say, “Idiot.”

You can’t get anything constructive done when you’re paralyzed with this kind of fear and loathing. You can’t. But boy do you get to make excuses. Tons of them. All of them lame.

You are going to experience this. You do experience this. You’re experiencing this now. Well then... Wake up! Stop it! I know it’s easy for me to say now, but damn it, I need to write this because I need this advice myself. I need to listen to it and put it into action.

You need to tell fear to get screwed. You don’t have time for it. I’ve written before about how you need to be fearless to do this screenwriting thing, but it’s more than that. You need to dispel self doubt. You need to believe. In yourself. In what you do.

Doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work. The hours and hours of all kinds of research and all kinds of reading and writing and rewriting. The hours and hours of work to get it out there. The hours and hours of work marketing yourself and what you do.

You can choose though whether it’s painful or a joy. You can choose how you react to the setbacks and rejection. And there will be plenty of both. You can choose to let it paralyze you or you can use it as a motivator. As a learning curve. To use it to make your scripts better. Because it can be all that if you choose it.

Now if I can only be smart enough to take my own advice.


Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz