Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Longevity Factor: Your Acting Career Is Not What You Think It Is

Recently I watched a film from the 80's, 'Turf Turf' starring James Spader and Robert Downey Jr. Spader was the lead. Later on Downey would get the Oscars and the franchises, but for a time, James Spader was the man. 

And I watched 'Say Anything' and 'Singles', where we see tiny parts for Jeremy Piven. He was fun, he was engaging on screen. But he wasn't Ari from 'Entourage.' It just wasn't his time yet -- twenty years would have to pass. 

If we're gonna stick with the Cameron Crowe theme, I also re-watched 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High'. So many of those actors, you say; 'where the hell are they now?' But Nicholas Cage is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. 

But wait, Nicholas Cage was in 'Fast Times..'? Yes, as an extra, just like how Paul Giamatti had one line in 'Singles'. 

Some actors peak early. Ione Skye was perfect as Diane Court. But who would have thought 'Say Anything' would be the pinnacle for her? Who knew John Cusack would go on to have such a great career? 

It's like when I'm making a film, some actors that know me get offended that I only had a role for them with two lines, whereas someone else got the lead. 

But two lines is two lines and twenty five years from now might be your time, when you wouldn't even do my movie because you're too big for me; you're an Oscar winner who commands twenty million a flick. 

But in the immediacy of right now, everyone is racing to reach the top - the top seemingly being the most lines, the biggest amount of pay. 

Paul Giamatti is a bigger actor than Campbell Scott now. But in 1992, when 'Singles' came out - Scott was the right person for the role, and Giamatti was light years from 'Sideways'.

Just like Forest Whitaker in 'Fast Times..' He was hardly memorable, but he did a good job. Thing is, you just wouldn't have given him a leading role then because he wasn't the Forest Whitaker we grew to know and love -- he was just a fairly anonymous actor learning his trade, struggling for roles. 

Actors size themselves up against each other. They get jealous that Marie is a regular on a sitcom, and that Fred got cast in new Ricky Gervais film. But when you look at the bigger picture, there's no need to get jealous in the short term - because someone else's career has nothing to do with your own.

Right now you might think you know what Felicity Jones' career is about, or Jennifer Lawrence, but they rarely work out how you think they will. There was a time when Kyra Sedgwick was in absolutely everything - but now the 90's are gone and times move on. 

And Jeremy Piven did enough tiny roles that eventually, he broke through. I mean, there are different levels of breaking through. But for years he had only two lines in movies. Then he played the best friend sidekick in movies like 'The Family Man' and 'Serendipity'.

That is already great success. 

But then 'Entourage' happened. And you think you know what his career is about and then he gets 'Mr. Selfridge.' Wow. 

What a great career! 

And what looked like struggling in the eighties wasn't struggling, it was the path. The struggling WAS the path. Struggling IS the path. 

You don't just walk into a great role. And sometimes you do, like Patrick Fugit in 'Almost Famous', but where's he now? He just has Cameos in Cameron Crowe movies. 

Right now someone is a superstar, and somebody else is nobody. But that has absolutely no bearing on where they'll be twenty years from now. 

It's a roller-coaster. Maybe it's your time right now, maybe it isn't. At the time of 'Jerry Maguire' it looked like Jay Mohr would be a major actor - but eventually the roles dried up and he stayed with stand-up comedy and, eventually, podcasting. 

The point I am making is that a career is long. James Spader has a fantastic career, filled with truly memorable roles. But it panned out differently to how it might have looked when they shot 'Turf Turf' back in 1985. 

And Robert Downey Jr had talent in that film. But did he stand out above Spader? Well no, not really. You wouldn't have known that seven years after that he'd get an Academy Award. Or that twenty-three years later he'd be Iron Man!

You don't need to guess at your career. You don't need to have it all figured out and you don't need to win an Oscar tomorrow. You just need to get better at your craft. If you're eighteen or twenty six or thirty-two, you might feel like now is the time. But maybe you're not Felicity Jones, you're not Ryan Gosling. Maybe you're Tom Wilkinson. You're Eddie Marsan. Maybe your career is landing in a different way, in a different time. 

It's a craft. And sure, there's luck involved. But if the history of film teaches us anything- it's that it takes time. 

You career is not what you think it is. The way it is now is just the way it is now, tomorrow is a whole different ballgame. 

Care to share?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


"Now I have already mentioned that there was a disturbance in my heart, a voice that spoke there and said, I want, I want, I want! It happened every afternoon, and when I tried to suppress it got even stronger. It said only one thing, I want, I want! And I would ask, 'What do you want?' But this is all it would ever tell me." 
-Henderson The Rain King

So, I really want to watch an episode of 'Seinfeld'. Specifically, I want to watch episode 22 from season 5, 'The Opposite', because it's such a classic and I'm just in the mood for it. 

And I'm also working my way through 'Frasier' again, so there's that too. 

But my brain is giving me such a hard time. On the one hand, I think watching these masterpieces of comedy is good for me as a writer, but on the other hand, my brain is telling me to branch out and watch some sci-fi or something. 

But on the other hand (this is now my third hand, which either means I am an alien or that you think I'm referring to rude body parts) who gives a shit what is good for me as a 'writer', how about just chilling out for an evening and watching what the fuck I want to watch?

But my brain doesn't work like that, not anymore. In fact, in many ways I doubt it works at all. It's just a big jumble. I want to watch a film but I want to write a film but I want to watch a sitcom but I want to go and have a great random day out in the sunshine but 3 ]pokwegop]jrw pi4q[rnwp]w4 (that is my brain spazzing out).

I don't even know what I want anymore. 

I want to write the best script I've ever written.

But how? Should I first get a killer idea? 

Or should I just write and write because many writers just write and write? 

Or should I watch a sitcom. 

Or should I watch a crime thriller.

Or should I go surfing. 

I don't know anymore. I have no clue where I am or what I'm meant to be doing. 

And you'll give me advice. Like, 'go write,' or 'go take a girl out' or 'go surfing' and I'll be all adamant that you're WRONG because it's up to ME and not YOU. So fuck you. 

But I need you. 

I need you to tell me what to do without me knowing you're telling me what to do because right now I am sinking in my own lost confusion. 

'I want I want I want' just like Henderson The Rain King. My heart screams for so many things all at once in so many corners of life, the world, my mind. I want everything all at once and I am utterly, utterly paralysed. 

Care to share?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A 'LIFE' Sentence

I re-watched the film 'LIFE' (1999, Dir. Ted Demme). And it's a film I've always loved. When you have great comedic talents like Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, all you need is a good concept for them to wrap their brains around and a director to give them a playground to work their magic in -- and that's exactly what 'Life' was.

That's what I love about Eddie Murphy, just seeing him go, seeing him riff on ideas. The guy is hilarious. And I know he's seen as one of the comedy greats, but still I think people don't realise just how exceptional he is.

And sure, people talk about how Murphy's career has nosedived, but to me, his career is HUGELY impressive. How many actors can sustain such a high level for thirty years?

Give Murphy a decent box of toys (a script, a good director and a talented cast) and he'll still produce the goods. Same for Martin Lawrence.

It just so happened that we were a little more lighthearted in the 90's. No-one would claim they're classics, but 'Life', 'Bowfinger', Nothing To Lose', these movies are endlessly re-watchable, full of hilarious moments.

But what gets me about 'Life', is that I've known this film for 14 years. In the movie, Murphy and Lawrence are serving life sentences for a crime they didn't commit. Just as we get comfortable, there's a flash-forward to '12 Years Later'. When that happens in a movie, it just seems like a cheap device, but then you realise, your life works in exactly the same way.

Your life flashes forward twelve years in a heartbeat. The characters in the movie age and so do you.

And it flashes forward again, and we see shots of characters evaporating, indicating that they've passed on. And one of those was a character called Jangle Leg, played by Bernie Mac. And it makes you realise how much you miss Bernie Mac, another unique talent who died way too young.

You look at Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence and Bernie Mac, and you see a bunch of guys having a great time, making a great movie, and they're in the prime of their lives. And I bet they didn't even know it. Most obviously, of course, they didn't know Bernie's time here with us would evaporate so soon.

Life flashes by 12 years at a time. And just as soon as you've gotten used to that fact it flashes forward another 24 years. You may think  the age you are now is the age you are now, but a blink of an eye and the decades just fall away.

In 'Life', they're imprisoned, but you and me, we're free. At least that's the idea, but how much have you changed or grown in the last 12 years? It's shocking to me how, in so many ways, I am exactly the same, making the same mistakes; holding myself back in exactly the same way as I did in 1999. We don't need big metal bars, we all have our own prisons-- our own limitations, be they psychological, environmental, financial. I look at the same dumb errors I make in relationships, in my career, the same fears and roadblocks in my life that are put up by nobody but me.

You can want any life you want but if you don't change your habits, if you don't work on your limitations, you're nowhere, stuck in a life sentence. 

And it's all over in a second. 

Care to share?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Experience is crucial

When you're younger, it's easy just to think of it as a concept, a series of ticked boxes. But experience is the most important thing you have, and you steadily build it over an extended period of time.

I have a level of confidence now in regard to writing and directing that I didn't have before -- it's the result of being on a long journey.

I always knew I was in it for the long haul, and now I'm really beginning to see its advantages.

Many of my friends are in a similar position, reaching heights professionally, creatively, financially, that are the result of building their talent and knowledge over a long period of time.

Some people go stale, some get beaten down by the toughness of the industry. But if you survive, you get to flourish, because no-one has the experience you have.

Care to share?

Thursday, 11 July 2013


"The main thing I tell young musicians is, don't lie to yourself, don't ever lie to yourself -- you know when you're not practicing, you know when you're not doing what it is you need to do. All of that stuff shows up in your playing. 

I tell my students all the time, it's okay if you don't practice, you don't have to practice, but rest assured that there's somebody your age somewhere around the planet, practicing. And if you're lucky you're going to run into them. And when you run into them, don't be angry, don't be jealous. 

All you have to do is just stay on your game, it's a daily thing, we're not asking you to try accomplish it all in one day or one week or one month, it's a lifelong process. 

The main thing is: don't lie to yourself, work hard every day, and make sure that you're always trying to just chip away at something that you're trying to develop, and keep your mind open and clear -- open to new things. Don't become set in your ways, there's no one way to do this."

Film Composer Credits Include: 'MALCOLM X', '25TH HOUR', 'WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE' and 'RED TAILS'. He has also been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning 5 times. 

Care to share?