Unable to blog this week because my writing chair was occupied. Check back next Monday.
Why do actors need to be physically fit? Is it because our industry perpetuates ridiculous and exclusive ideas of what it means to be attractive? Well, yes... but that's not the only reason.
It's true that most of the content we produce/consume pushes a certain body image, and that it can create unhealthy pressure to look a certain way. It's also true that representation for actors who don't conform to that standard is improving, and opening up public perceptions of beauty. There's a long way to go in that regard, but I like to believe we're making steady progress. However, I also think it's important for people in our industry to keep their bodies in good condition, no matter what kind of body they have.
When people ask questions like "why do actors need to be physically fit?", I sometimes think they have a warped idea of what "physically fit" actually means. Let's settle something right now: you can be fit no matter what size you are or how many pounds you weigh. It's time to take the focus off of appearances and put it onto more meaningful criteria. I don't believe the most important reason for actors to stay fit is so they can sell some image that was cooked up by middle-aged network execs in a boardroom.
So... Why Do Actors Need to be Physically Fit if It's Not Just about Selling a Look?
I believe actors should work out and stay healthy because our work can be incredibly demanding. Think about it: even stars on hit shows are working 16-hour days on set. You might have fight choreography to practice, musical numbers to run, and scenery to chew, all in the space of a single day—and that's assuming that you don't also do your own stunts. Theatre actors put in the same number of hours, but they don't even get to take breaks between takes. Those of you who work regularly will know what I mean. It's rewarding, but it can become a real test of your endurance.
Actors' Workout Routines that Go Beyond External Benefits
With all that said, you'll want to make sure your body is always ready to handle the rigors of the work. Below are some actors' workout routines that I like to use because they keep me healthy and alert. Of course, some of these might also tone my arms or sculpt my abs a bit—but that's just a bonus.
Keanu Reeves: Full-Body Coordination
What do movies like John Wick, The Matrix, Point Break, and Speed all have in common? Well, yeah... Keanu, obviously... but there's also something else. These movies are full of kinetic action sequences that require deft, fluid movements. That's why Reeves focuses his workouts on increasing mobility, preventing injury, stabilizing joints and developing power. The quality he's going for is called proprioception: the body's natural ability to keep track of where its parts are and what they are doing at any given moment. Check out the full workout here.
Uma Thurman: Endurance and Heart-Health
You don't make it through a sequence like this one without having some serious stamina, so it should be no surprise that Kill Bill star Uma Thurman is a dedicated runner. However, you don't need to match her pace to reap the benefits of jogging. Just keep your heart rate in the Training Zone (between 50 and 80 percent of its maximum rate) for 150 minutes a week. You'll soon find that you begin to have more energy and that you can run for longer distances without stopping to catch your breath. Plus, you'll probably live longer, which gives you more time to book those big roles. How great is that?
Ben Affleck: Raw Strength
I know, right? Not Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel? Instead of choosing those actors' workout routines, am I really picking the guy from Jersey Girl? You'd better believe it. Affleck is also the guy from Batman Vs. Superman, The Town, Daredevil, and countless other movies where he's had to get buff. Whether all of those movies were good is a subject for someone else's (more judgmental) blog, but the fact is: Affleck has always been able to put on muscle in a way that builds strength in addition to making him look shredded. You can check out the routine he used to prep for Batman Vs. Superman here.
Jennifer Aniston: General Health and Peace of Mind
The demands of acting aren't just physical. Our work can also be a mental and emotional roller coaster, which means knowing how to de-stress is vital. Jennifer Aniston is one of many successful actors who practice yoga for such purposes. According to a review of comparison studies at the US National Library of Medicine, yoga provides a broad range of health benefits and is more effective than other exercises when it comes to practically everything except physical fitness. Which is to say: it probably won't make you ripped, but it could improve your lung capacity and it will almost certainly help you relax.
Choose Your Movie Workouts for the Right Reasons
Are the movie workouts you're doing meant to make you feel healthy and prepare for the challenges of a role, or are you just trying to look like someone else? Remember: being a good actor is about being the best version of yourself. It's not about conforming to some arbitrary aesthetic. There's nothing wrong with borrowing from the pros, but make sure you're choosing routines that help empower you and enhance your abilities. If you have any questions or want to let me know how these routines are working out for you, leave a comment or contact me directly through the links below:
Film and TV auditions can make actors nervous because the stakes seem incredibly high. The potential rewards are great, so people put themselves under insane amounts of pressure to succeed. Unfortunately, that pressure almost always prevents them from doing their best work. Instead of psyching yourself out, remember this: if you have an upcoming audition for a film or TV project, you're already succeeding. Some projects receive thousands of submissions from interested actors, but most only end up bringing in 10-20 people to read for each role. If the casting director wants to see your work, you're already ahead of the game. You can afford to relax a little—and relaxation is critical when you want to nail an on-camera audition.
Let's be clear: when I talk about how to nail an on-camera audition, I don't mean that I'm going to tell you how to get the part. You can't control that, and the harder you try the more you'll hurt your chances. It's one of the many paradoxes of acting. What you can control is the way you prepare for your audition, and the attitude you bring into the room. You have no way of knowing exactly what the director will want, but you can make sure that you're showing them the very best you have to offer. Doing your best work makes them more likely to remember you in the future, even if you aren't right for this particular role. Moreover, if you do happen to be the type they're looking for, it ensures that you won't be passed over because of an audition that could have been better.
Below are a few simple steps I take whenever I want to do my best work in an on-camera audition. Some of them come from my time at The New School for Drama, one of the top 5 acting schools in the US (and the place where I earned my MFA). Others are personal strategies that I've developed over the years, and which have facilitated some of my best audition experiences to date. I won't pretend that I get every part I'm called in for, and I won't pretend that this advice will work for everybody. However, I firmly believe that it has helped me become a more consistent, compelling, and natural actor—and I hope that it can help you do the same.
How to Act on Camera Without Getting In Your Own Way:
1. Read the Sides Carefully
There's an incredible amount of information contained in your sides, so you need to make sure you're absorbing as much as possible. Don't just look at the lines—and especially don't just look at your own! Be sure to read all of the action in addition to the dialogue, including that which takes place before and after your scene. The more context you have, the more you'll understand about the world your character inhabits and the forces that drive them. That information will help your choices in the room remain motivated.
As a rule, I also make sure to memorize my sides before every audition. Learning how to act on camera confidently and naturally is all about getting rid of the things that stand between you and your best work. Most of those things are psychological, but pages are definitely physical, and you don't want them obscuring your beautiful face during a taped session. The exception would be a case where the pressure to memorize your material prevents or distracts you from turning in a good performance. Try to know the lines cold, but as Michael Kostroff at Backstage says: "An audition isn’t meant to be a test of memorization skills. Casting people are far more interested in what you’re doing with a role."
2. Resist the Urge to Plan All Your Choices
I can't stress this one enough. It's so tempting to look at each line of your sides and decide exactly what you're going to do with it. Maybe you already know just how you're going to react when Character A says that your dog has been stolen, or you've practiced the specific way you'll grimace when telling Character B to return Rover so that nobody gets hurt. Here's the thing, though: pre-conceived choices don't make for natural performances. More often, they just make your work look forced.
That's not to say you shouldn't experiment with different choices when you're preparing the material, but you can't afford to feel shackled to them. If you want to make exciting choices on the day of your audition, you have to make them right there in the room. Don't try to repeat a choice you made while you were running lines in your kitchen the previous day. Stay open to all the promise and danger of the moment. Since you've already read the sides carefully, you can afford to trust your impulses.
3. Keep Your Focus in the Waiting Room
We've all been there: the foyer with 10 other hopeful actors who look almost exactly like us, all waiting to read for the same role. It can be a tense situation, but it doesn't have to be. Will you be tempted to size up your "competition"? Absolutely. Does that mean you should spend those precious few minutes before your audition judging the outfit of the person next to you? Absolutely not.
You have to remember that the other actors reading for the role aren't really your competition. Everybody interprets the material differently, so your goal isn't to do it better than the next person. Your goal is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of your interpretation, which means you can't afford to distract yourself. I don't analyze the other people waiting because it takes me away from the needs of my character. I also don't make small talk, look at my phone, or think about exactly what I'm going to do during my two minutes in the room. I try to stay relaxed, and not think about what's going to happen next. After all, my character doesn't know either. Both of us (character and actor) are in situations where we need to stay in the moment.
4. Let "Mistakes" Help You
A lot of actors are completely thrown off when something unexpected happens during an audition. That's because they've planned out exactly how they want their scene to go, which means anything outside of that plan becomes a problem. They normally spend the rest of the audition trying to get "back on track", instead of acknowledging the incident and making it part of the scene. It immediately shows that they aren't listening.
Don't think of an unforeseen event as a mistake—think of it as a surprise. A surprise shouldn't derail you; it should make your work more vital and exciting. If you've resisted the urge to plan all your choices ahead of time, you'll be on your toes and ready to respond naturally to any unexpected event. Actors who let themselves be surprised in this way often make choices that surprise everyone else in the room. Their auditions are generally stronger than anything they could have planned in advance.
Bonus: Self Tape Audition Tips
Occasionally, my agent Lisa at King Talent Management will ask me to submit a self-tape for an upcoming project. In many ways, making a self-tape is easier than going to an audition. You won't have a waiting room full of other people to distract you, and you'll be able to do the scene as many times as you want. However, there are some unique pitfalls that actors can fall into when making self-tapes, so here are a few quick self-tape audition tips:
1. Make it Look Professional
Just because you're shooting the tape in your bedroom, that doesn't mean it should look that way. Make sure you shoot against a neutral backdrop without blemishes or other distracting features, and that you take steps to eliminate background noise. Close the windows, and ask your roommates to be quiet for a few minutes. Then set up a tight medium shot that captures you from the chest up, and make sure that you stay inside the frame all times during the scene.
2. Avoid Directing Yourself
Self-tapes allow you to do the scene as many times as it takes for you to be totally satisfied. If you're anything like me though, that can result in a lot of anxiety. Sometimes that anxiety can distract from your priorities. Try not to ignore the essence of your work as an actor because of things that would normally be a director's responsibility. For example, don't be so intent on capturing a specific angle or wrestling a wayward hair into place that you forget your objective and the circumstances of the scene entirely. Presentation matters, but it exists to highlight good acting. It's not a substitute for it.
There is no guaranteed universal method that will teach you how to act on camera flawlessly and book every audition. Acting isn't about perfection. It's about discovery—and discovery is usually a messy process. It helps to go in with as much information as possible, but you also have to be willing to let go of your ideas and embrace the moment. Hopefully, the steps listed above will help you reach a state where you can make those discoveries easily and unselfconsciously. Consider those strategies, remember my self-tape audition tips, and see if they help you nail your next on-camera audition. If you have questions about anything here or want to tell me how your last audition went, leave a comment or contact me directly using the links below.
So, you've decided that you want to make an indie film in Vancouver and you're looking for a way to find actors. You don't want to put just anybody in front of the camera, though. After all, you want this movie to establish you as a real filmmaker. You need professional actors who will bring vitality and authenticity to your production. The question is: how do you find them? Fortunately, I can offer some guidance. Keep reading to see my tips on how to find great actors for indie films in Vancouver.
What do I Know About How to Find Great Actors?
My name is Graham Miles, and I'm a Vancouver actor with a Master's degree from The New School for Drama—one of the top 5 acting and performing schools in the United States. As a result, I've been involved with my fair share of independent film productions. Some of those projects have been wonderful, while others have been decidedly less so. I won't name names out of professional courtesy, but suffice it to say: these experiences have made me very careful about who I choose to work with now. The same is true for most experienced actors.
That might sound a little snobby to you. After all, it's a competitive industry. Shouldn't actors jump to take any job they're offered? The answer to that question is actually "yes", but only to a certain point. It's true that actors without much on-set experience or formal training should take every possible opportunity to put themselves in front of a camera. You can learn a lot that way, even (and especially) from mistakes. However, actors that have already developed real skills and experience have to spend time more judiciously. We made our biggest mistakes in school so that we wouldn't make them on your set—and we want to work with directors and producers who show just as much professionalism.
These 6 Strategies Will Help You Cast Great Actors in Vancouver Right Now
There are a few simple things you can do to make sure that some of the best actors in Vancouver right now will hear about your project and take it seriously. The first three points on this list are about setting the conditions that skilled actors will look for when choosing new projects. The last three are about putting yourself out there so that you can cast and hire incredible actors for your independent film.
How to Make Your Project Ready for Great Actors
- Make Your Material Castable
Great actors love great parts. If you want to work with the most interesting actors in Vancouver right now, you need to make sure your material is equally interesting to them. You'll also need to make sure that it has roles for the kinds of actors you want. Many of the trained actors within your reach will be in their late 20s or early 30s—old enough to have training, but not so established that they're working on bigger projects. Make sure you write dynamic, consistent, and clearly motivated roles for them.
- Have an Experienced Crew Ready:
New directors often look for professional actors but aren't as careful about choosing the rest of their team. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Your film crew is responsible for making sure your project actually happens. Make sure that you have an experienced production manager to round up the necessary personnel so that you can stay organized and ahead of schedule. Actors may avoid projects they doubt will ever be finished, but if you stay on top of things they'll be eager to work with you. An experienced crew helps you accomplish this.
- Secure Your Financing:
Budget problems can delay any production, so you want to avoid them at all costs. The best way to do this is to make sure your film is fully financed before you start. Crowdfunding is one smart way to look for the money you need. You can also apply for a grant through the Canada Council for the Arts. Of course, it should go without saying that you must make room in your budget to pay your actors, even if the production is non-union. Don't expect them to work for the experience alone—if they're talented, they already have experience.
How to Cast Actors for a Film Once the Project is Ready
- Post in the Right Places:
Once your project is ready for high-quality actors, you have to make sure they know it exists. When deciding how to find actors for indie films, you'll probably want to post online. The trick is to post your breakdown on websites that will increase its legitimacy instead of making you look like an amateur. Avoid Craigslist at all costs. Instead, use sites like Actors Access and Casting Workbook. For location-specific websites, try the Vancouver Actor's Guide auditions section.
- Reach Out to Vancouver Acting Agents Respectfully:
Some filmmakers are worried about reaching out to Vancouver acting agents, especially if their projects are non-union. However, you shouldn't let this scare you. Agents will more than likely consider your project as long as it pays the actors enough for them to earn a reasonable commission. My agent is Lisa King at King Talent Management, and she submits me for all kinds of smaller films. Just make sure that you are courteous and clear when you contact any agency. Vancouver acting agents and their assistants are extremely busy representing their clients, and their time is valuable.
- Encourage, Don't Intimidate at Auditions:
Let's assume that you've done everything else on this list, and you're finally ready to start auditioning some of the talented actors who want to do your indie film in Vancouver. You've done a lot of work to make it to this point, so you want to make sure you're going to see these actors at their best. Make it easy for them by running your auditions smoothly and setting the right tone in the room. Even the best actors can shut down when they feel judged or ignored, but if you're friendly and open they'll often make choices that delight you. Ideally, your biggest problem should be choosing your cast from all the talented actors who auditioned!
And finally, you know that list you've been making—the one with the ideal cast for your project? Throw that list away. You probably can't afford A-list celebrities, and you shouldn't settle for their imitators. Remember: great actors aren't talented because they make predictable choices. They're talented because they make choices that are true to themselves. The best actors will never do exactly what you expect, but if you give them a chance they may very well bring something truly original to the work. The results could make your film stand out enough to succeed with film festivals—and maybe even with distributors.
You don't have to struggle with how to find great actors for indie films in Vancouver. Just follow my advice on making your project ready for professionals, and on how to cast actors for a film when the time is right. Have questions or want to point out something I missed? Feel free to leave comments below this article, or contact me directly if you want to learn more.