The Most Important Thing

It’s no secret – we’re all itching to find the formula to success. We’re constantly scrolling through various articles touting the best tips for negotiating, proper business wardrobe, greatest resume formats, supplemental skills to acquire, and more. We’re hoping that by implementing all this research we can elicit success.

While these all play their own role in amassing success, I was recently reminded of one key element that is easily the most important.

But first, some backstory.

If you’re in the entertainment industry you know the first part of the new year is known as pilot season and is the busiest time in the television world. While shows that are already on the air gear up for the second half of their season, a whole new slew of shows emerge to film one episode. This one episode serves as a pitch package with the hope that it garners enough interest to be purchased and picked up as a series.

Emotions run high during pilot season; sleep is scarce, coffee is stocked by the barrel and practically everyone works. Some people work for the very first time and some work double time to finish out their regular shows and then hop on a pilot. It’s a beautiful and also insane time.

This was my first year as an active participant in pilot season. After a whirlwind of screen and lighting tests I was selected to be Rachelle Lefevre’s stand in for the duration of the pilot she was filming in Chicago. I auditioned in the morning with a couple other lovely redheaded ladies, and at the conclusion of the audition, just as I began to put on my coat, the 2nd Assistant Director pulled me aside to ask if I could stay for the rest of the day. And just like that, we were off.

**A quick definition for “stand in” – Production selects a person to be a stand in who resembles the principal actor as closely as possible in terms of height, weight, hair color/length and skin tone. A stand in watches the principal actor they’re in for as they rehearse a scene and memorizes their marks (blocking) ready to hold their place once rehearsal ends and the main actor steps out. As the main actor steps out, the stand in steps in so that cameras, lights and any additional technical equipment have a body to set up around. Setting up the equipment takes MUCH longer than you think it would so instead of having the principal actor stand there for 20 minutes or so, production uses stand ins. Stand ins fill their actor’s marks and also don the appropriate “color cover” – a shirt the same color as the actor’s wardrobe in the scene. Having a stand in also allows the actor to get hair/makeup touch ups, talk with the director or simply grab something to eat. Second team (the team of stand ins) will often go through a rehearsal with the crew and director to ensure everything is set up correctly, determine timing if the camera needs to move and make any blocking adjustments if needed (which the stand in then communicates to the principal actor when they return). Our team of stand ins also memorized the lines in the morning for the scenes scheduled to film that day. Most productions don’t request that second team be memorized but this production preferred it, and so every morning we’d get there early to get our sides for the day and memorize before filming started. So I guess it’s kind of similar to being an understudy in theatre but understanding you will never, ever have the chance to go on as that role.**

That first day after my morning audition was a prep day to experiment with lights, special effects and camera lenses to make the most of our time during official production days.

As I stepped out of one of the lighting set ups to let Rachelle in, the director of photography motioned me over. At first my stomach dropped, I thought I had messed up on the first day and was about to get a lecture.

He lowered his voice and asked, “Do you know why you got this job?”

I blankly stared back trying to come up with a response. Before I could construct an answer, he continued:

“Your attitude. Yes, you have the look but those other girls had the look too. But when you walked in, you smiled, you were warm, you shook my hand, you were engaged and focused. You paid attention. Your attitude – that is the most important thing.”

His explanation surprised me more than it should have. We all understand that one’s attitude has a tremendous effect on any scenario. Especially when things go wrong, as they often do, it makes a world of a difference to approach a situation with a positive and professional attitude. As you’re reading this you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, duh. Of course you need a good attitude. We all know this.” However, if we’re all honest with ourselves, when we’re reacting in the moment the first response isn’t always positive. When we’re tired and frustrated it isn’t easy to maintain a professional and optimistic manner, but it’s critical for success and must be practiced. And what’s awesome is that your attitude is a trait you can cultivate and enhance anytime and anywhere without spending a penny!

I’m working in an industry that appears to pit performers against one another in a competition of who’s the most talented, the prettiest, the most experienced, or the most connected. That emphasis is terrifying, off-putting and incites a deluge of limiting beliefs. If you only remember one message from this post let it be this: your talent or skill level does not matter if you’re unpleasant to work with. I’m not diminishing the need to train and grow one’s skill set as a performer, or in any career for that matter, but what I’m trying to communicate is a positive demeanor will help open more doors – and keep them open.

For a long time I held myself back from countless opportunities telling myself I wasn’t experienced enough, talented enough, qualified enough, and so on neglecting the power of my personality. I’m sure I’m not the only one to stunt myself in this way. If you’re holding yourself back because you feel you don’t have the right skills or experience, I hope this reminds you that your attitude carries more weight than you think. It speaks volumes and will help you get in the door as you continue to build your skill set to reach new levels of success. It truly is the most important thing.

Every Moment is a Resolution

I’m not a winter person. By any means. Never have been and never will be. But, boy do I love this time of year solely because December always holds such magic and power. Sure, it can be somewhat chaotic as we prepare for holiday gatherings and wrap up loose ends before the new year, but you have to admit, the air is charged with this intoxicating energy. Everyone’s looking toward the future and making resolutions; deciding how they want to show up in 2018. The coming new year is so shiny and pristine, completely untarnished and packaged with endless possibilities. Regardless of what happened during the past year, you’re now given a brand new, fresh year. It’s a great time to reflect, focus and center yourself before the coming year. While I love this time of year and am giddy with anticipation for what 2018 might bring, I just want to reiterate that you can have this restart sensation at any time.

We’ve all been there – we begin January feeling extra empowered and ready to make this THE year! This is the year that everything we’ve ever envisioned will happen and it will be stupendous! We all charge into the year determined to uphold every resolution! And maybe we’ll even find the cure for the common cold while we’re at it! Who knows! We’re unstoppable and ready to take on the year!

But inevitably, our superpower energy starts to wane. We might fall off the proverbial wagon. Maybe other unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances come into effect. Or the life we envision for ourselves may require more patience and perseverance than initially anticipated. Whatever the case may be, the superpower energy that launched the new year dissipates and it becomes a struggle to find more.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret: Despite the societal emphasis that this power to restart occurs only once per year, remember that within every single moment YOU have the opportunity to redirect and reset as you need or desire. Yep. YOU. You have to ability to change course or get back on course whenever you like. It’s all you, my friend.

Allow yourself to feel this invigorating charge of the coming year and let it propel you into the new year, but remember to carry this unstoppable energy through to every single minute of 2018. The seasons will change and before we know it 2018 will be well underway. Understand that not only are you able to carry this energy with you constantly, but you are able to create this “new year sensation” for yourself any time. You have everything you need within you to have the most fantastic year and can recreate the energy you have at the cusp of 2018 for yourself every moment. You simply have to recognize this ability within yourself and pledge to recommit to your new year intentions multiple times throughout the year. Heck, sometimes you’ll have to recommit multiple times throughout the day. And trust me, that is A-OK.

I like to write (obviously) and I write down everything and anything I want to bring into my life. I tend to write the most at the end and beginning of the year as I evaluate my past year and define how I want to show up in the coming year. As I wrote out my vision and resolutions for 2018 I wrote this reminder for myself:

Resolution Quote

This mantra allows me to forgive myself when I don’t feel like things are working out. This mantra gives me an energy boost when I feel my drive begin to slow. This mantra reminds me to listen to myself and determine my next best move to keep moving forward and continue creating the best life for myself.

If this helps you, feel free to borrow it. Print it out and place it somewhere you’ll see it whenever you may need the reminder. Or use this as a starting point – modify it, make it your own. Write whatever suits you to remind yourself it doesn’t need to be January 1 for you to kick start your life.

Be good to yourself & cheers to the most magical 2018!

Know Your Terms

One of my biggest goals for 2017: book a commercial. At the beginning of 2017 I had cultivated a modest number of acting/modeling credits to my name, and it seemed to me that booking a commercial would be the next big goal to work toward. I can’t tell you how long I’ve lusted over booking a commercial. Not only would it be a blast to shoot a commercial, but who knows what opportunities a commercial gig could create?

I’ve come close three times this year and watched each one of those opportunities slip by.

The first opportunity, I made it to the final round of casting but didn’t make the cut.

The second opportunity, I had a last-minute scheduling conflict.

The third and most recent opportunity, the production team and I couldn’t agree on the contract.

Allow me to elaborate on that third one.

A couple weeks ago, I responded to a casting call on Facebook (where I find many reputable casting calls actually) seeking actors for an insurance company commercial. It was a small project in the northern part of Illinois, about 100 miles away from my place near the city. Yes, there would be quite the commute involved and the rate of pay was practically pennies, but I liked the script, thought it sounded like a fun project, and I was intent on reaching this goal.

I submitted my taped auditions and the production company supporting the project emailed me back: I was booked for the commercial! Huzzah!

We emailed back and forth discussing wardrobe and scheduling options. I had yet to see a contract, but I wasn’t concerned! I was going to be in a commercial! I mentioned my achievement to a dear friend of mine, and her infinite wisdom urged me to request to see the contract ASAP and ensure the terms of usage were appropriate.

As she explained, if you’re not careful with your terms of usage on a project, a client could end up using your work forever (typically phrased as “in perpetuity” or “indefinite usage” in these contracts) and only pay you once for your work (total buyout). Furthermore, when an actor transitions from non-union to union status with an “in perpetuity” project on their resume, there’s a chance they can never do a project for a different business in the same type of industry as it is considered a conflict. So, if I were to go through with the commercial for this smaller insurance company and sign a contract allowing them to air it indefinitely, and in two years State Farm approaches me to do a commercial, there’s the possibility I wouldn’t be able to do it because my likeness was already associated with another insurance company; a competitor.  As far as my research says, most of these “indefinite use” projects are non-union, and the union has more stipulations in place to prevent this from happening. But for us little guys not at union status yet? You gotta know your facts and be careful.

With all this insight, I requested a contract from the company. They responded saying they wouldn’t draft an official contract for this project (strike 1) and sent a generic actor release form. In this release there weren’t any specific details about the commercial, no beginning air date or end date, except for “indefinite use” (strike 2). I communicated my concerns, and they responded with an addendum stating a maximum air date throughout Illinois only for 18 months, but the spot would be promoted online indefinitely (strike 3).

At this point I ran this by my agent, who knows I book a lot on my own as well as through her, heck she encourages it. It’s a very collaborative effort, which I’ve always valued and I often ask her opinion on projects I book on my own. I brought this scenario to her and her response was, “No. Just no. Absolutely not. They’re not using an agency for a reason. They’re hoping to take advantage of you. You’re worth more than what they’re offering.”

So I backed out of the gig. I was devastated to do so and felt awful about leaving this team without an actor, after I gave them my verbal commitment for the project. My decision was also continuously challenged when the production team emailed me back with a series of harshly toned and not exactly understanding messages…Although, I have to say their reaction to my concerns confirmed for me that it was not the right opportunity for me.

While this gig would have been a good milestone for me creatively, it would have been a bad business decision and could have potentially jeopardized future commercial opportunities. I’m running a business. Sure, it’s a creative and fun business, but it is still a business. It’s one that I devote myself to each and every day, building slowly each day, strengthening my foundation and growing my knowledge about the industry daily.  Could I have handled this differently? Absolutely. And thanks to this situation, I understand what to ask for moving forward during other negotiations. I also have a further understanding of the responsibility I have to myself and to my business to pursue opportunities that will propel my business forward. In addition to seeking projects that satisfy my creative desires, I must ensure that these projects also measure up in business terms. Understanding this balance between business and creativity, I acknowledge now that it is not only my duty, but my right as an entrepreneur to remove myself from a project when it doesn’t align with my terms and values. And as tough as it was, that’s exactly what I did. Well, after consulting with a few of my closest confidants who lent me their ears during this day of length negotiations, that’s exactly what I did.

Here’s the really eerie part – after I sent the final email declining the commercial spot, my agent called me with a booking for a commercial. Not a starring role, but a supporting role – complete with the proper terms of usage. Thanks, Universe.

After this experience, I am reminded to be patient – sometimes it’s not the best idea to jump for every opportunity. I am reminded to always get a second opinion when dealing with contracts, and that there isn’t anything wrong from backing away from a bad business deal. I am reminded to know my terms and stand by them, upholding them in every business interaction. I am reminded to listen to my gut and to trust that with hard work and perseverance the right opportunities will find themselves to you.