While studying acting for three years in L.A. I learned a few things about the craft. When I inquired about classes at the The Actors Studio in West Hollywood I was told, “If when your feet hit the ground in the morning you don’t want to be an actor more than anything then don’t even try, because it’s too hard to make it and if you do make it— it’s still hard.”
I didn’t have the passion to be an actor, but I was in film school and wanted a first hand understanding of the acting process. I found film students rather intimidated by actors which makes some sense in that they were more comfortable with the technical aspects. On the other hand I found the actors often insecure. One of those dances in life in that the filmmakers and actors need each other.
Part of the insecurity in acting I found was it was hard to gauge when you did a good job. Even if someone did a scene in class that everyone else thought was great the actor might say, “it seemed flat to me.” I did not find acting like playing sports where you knew if you had a good game or not.
I think that has to do with subjective nature of acting. Just look how people fight over whether so and so is a talented actor or not. Acting is also quirky in that actors with limited abilities sometimes win major awards. It seems to me that the best working actors understand their limitations and work to do their best work within those limitations. Stallone may not be the greatest actor, but he was a great Rocky. (Even Paul Newman said he didn’t feel he could perform well the classics of theater.)
After one acting class at Tracey Roberts Actors Studio a teacher asked me why I seemed a little down and I said something about not feeling like I was doing a great job. And he made an off the cuff comment that has stuck with me all these years, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth doesn’t mean you can’t play baseball.”
That is just because you’re not one of the greatest at what you do doesn’t mean you can’t perform at all. Professional sports have a few outstanding players that even people outside the sport are familiar with–people like Tiger Woods. But there are a whole lot of less talented (and less known) athletes that still earn a good living doing their job.
I was reminded of this last night when I saw the movie New in Town. How could I pass up on a story about a Floridian who ends up living in the cold Midwest? I don’t think it will find a warm spot in the hearts of critics, nor will it be accused of breaking any new ground, but it does have its moments.
But here’s the key thing to learn from New in Town…it got made. And it got made with Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. in the lead roles. (And J.K. Simmons, the father in Juno, is a delight to watch.)
Free yourself from the burden of comparing your writing to Casablanca. It’s great to dream of writing the greatest movie ever made, but in practice just write the best script you can and hope it gets made. Colleges and writing workshops are full of teachers who can go on for days about what makes Citizen Kane a great movie and mock films like New in Town for being filled with cliches.
I found out New in Town was originally written by yet another Minneapolis, Minnesota native, Ken Rance. And though he’s kicked around the TV business since graduating from Howard University in 1992, this is his first produced feature film. In various interviews Rance has mentioned it took a lot of faith to realize a 16 year dream.
He shares a screenwriting credit with C. Jay Cox who was 40 when he finally had a screenplay produced. (Sweet Home Alabama starring Reese Witherspoon & Patrick Dempsey.) So just a few weeks before Rance turns 39 I doubt he’s too worried about what the critics say about his film, I bet he’s just glad that the critics are saying anything about his film. And there’s always hope that it will find an audience.
Meanwhile Rance is developing other projects. So the lesson from up Minneapolis way today is just because you’re not the Coen brothers or Diablo Cody doesn’t mean you can’t write a screenplay that gets sold and made.
copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith