Where Do Movies Come From?


~ J.D.Coburn

* * * * *

“Did you know me and Alan Ladd was exactly da same height?” He said with flat

It was golden hour, which, in the movie business, lasts only about 13 minutes. It was nearly time for her close-up.

Silhouetted by the gold and red light of the L.A. sunset, her face was radiant and he thought she looked beautiful.

She smiled a secret smile and without taking her gaze from the horizon, replied, “Well Billie can do it three times in the morning and you can’t even do it at all!”

Turning, sh looked straight into his eyes, grabbed him below the belt line, did something very friendly, and asked “Or can you?” Biting her lower lip, she released her hold with the hesitance of unfinished business.

He watched her walk into the sunset for her close-up and thought, “She’s a lot friendlier than I thought she’d be.”

“He’s a lot shorter than I thought he’d be,” she mused as she toyed with the decision to look back, or not.

If she looked back and he wasn’t still looking at her then she just did something possibly stupid to her career. If he was looking then this was kismet. The way they exchanged esoteric dialog from an obscure Robert Blake movie was a rare and special moment.

She turned and looked.

He was looking.

They both smiled real smiles and went back to work.

Soon the sun was gone and with it the free light needed to make a movie.

“We shouldn’t have shot the orgy in the middle of the day, that’s all. We wasted a ton of sunlight doing interior shots,” whined the Director to his assistant, “I fought the producer claw and feather but he said the Production Designer had some idea, and Oh Gawd, here he comes … don’t say anything.” and he stretched his arm straight out to tap his cigarette. His assistant retreated to the trailer.

The Production Designer walked toward the Director with a quick step that suggested urgency. Stopping and speaking abruptly, he cautioned, ”I know what you’re going to say, that we wasted daylight shooting the orgy in the middle of the day. But by not keeping the extras around all day we wrapped them early and sent them all home.”

Frustrated, waiting for some response, the Production Designer delivered his closing argument, “We had to shoot then, we had the extras! You can’t have an orgy without extras.”

That seemed to make sense to the Director or maybe it was the Production Designer’s cologne or the way that one eye only closed half-way when he blinked but the Director was genuinely quieted.

“Unless you’re an orgy of one.” the Production Director probed, “You’re not an orgy of one, are you, Mr. Director?” A come hither look, a seductive smile, and the Director dropped his guard.

Completely on the defensive, and blushing all the while, the Director timidly suggested a repast that night after he wrapped the set. The Production Designer then turned. But he turned in such a way as to bump into the shoulder of the Director, at which time he pinched the first two fingers of the Directors hand with the first two fingers and thumb of his own and a primordial urge made both men’s nervous systems light up.

“That’s it!” the Director shouted authoritatively.

When the director says, “that’s it,” it means to put away the toys and go home until tomorrow when you have to get up at 4:00 AM, to meet the limo at 5:00 AM, to be on set by 6:00 AM. Sex had to be squeezed in, so to speak, between being at work for 16 hours, being awake for 20, and needing to settle down and sleep for at least one hour out of the remaining 4.

An early break means an early dinner, the first in weeks. The crew was already talking about going out. Well, some of the crew were talking. The key grip on the shoot was doing her best, “this is me NOT looking” look, all around the location. Her eyes penetrating each area, going from craft services over to make up, then to the costumes truck, trying to find the light green top she’d seen earlier in the day, the one the script girl was wearing.

Meanwhile, the script girl easily faked a trip and was able to stumble directly into the key grip taking her completely by surprise and making her at once alarmed and disarmed.

In the brief melee’ the script girl managed a touch. A touch that was more of a fragrance than a touch. Only two people in the world would have known of it, so discrete was her touch. And the touch was perfect, just the right spot, just the right treasure of intensity to conquer a working woman in 1/40th of a second.

Without her ‘cool’ to protect her, the key grip reached up to the back of her head and pulled her cap off in a forward motion, then held the cap with both hands while mostly staring at the ground where she honest-to-god kicked at invisible dirt clods with the toe of her work boots.

“I have to do continuity, so I’m at the production board for about an hour, by which time,” said the script girl, “I’m going to want to eat you!” The key grip grinned at the faux pas and a shocked script girl stumbled, “I mean I’ll be so hungry I could eat you,” Terrified, she tried to recover, “I mean, I’ll be hungry … to eat … with you.” She paused, looking for any sign of approval, then queried impishly, ”I’m buying?”

A laugh. The kind of laugh that’s both a kiss and a ‘yes’ seemed to satisfy the script girl who began walking backward toward the production board saying, “I’ll look for you in an hour!”

Watching this delightful pixie dance backward into the dusky shadows, the key grip kind of knew that she’d be easy to find in an hour.

And that, boys and girls, is where movies come from.

ActingLA.blog – The Reality of Doing

Written and Narrated by Joseph Dean Coburn



“People say they can’t make bread or biscuits, or anything really, but you just have to learn the feel,” Maggard says. “That comes by doing.”

To Act is to do, to take action, to respond, to react.  Literally, therefore, one is made to act, in any given moment, by some external influence.  Acting is not something you do but rather something you are made to do.  Acting is something that happens to you, not something you make happen.

Sanford Meisner, possibly the best teacher of acting who the U.S. has produced, defined acting this way, “Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”.  Mr. Meisner invented that definition to aid beginning students’ understanding, to help them wrap their heads around his approach to training for the actor.  Later, he would refine his definition as, “The reality of doing”.

When you really do something, even though your circumstances are imaginary, you behave real.  When you fake doing something, your behavior is unmistakably fake.

One cannot fake sincerity.  Neither can you indicate, pose, nor represent: anger, sorrow, disgust, or elation.  The actor cannot model emotion the way one models clothing, dressing the human experience to the moment the way one selects wardrobe for an event.  Polite society asks that we routinely pretend, but theater and film demand that we behave more truthfully than polite society permits.

Each of us employs a lifetime of experience at pretending.  Life teaches us to do that and how to do that.  No one is fooled by our pretending; this is especially true in theater and critical on film.  The camera acts like a microscope on the human experience.  It is impossible to fake emotion when your close-up is 40 feet high and 90 feet across.

Living truthfully in the imaginary circumstances of theater and film requires new training.  There are no transferable skills from life to the stage or screen.  You practice the fundamentals until you “learn the feel”, as Maggard says.

You start by introducing yourself to the other actor.  Call it “Getting Connected”.  If acting is the stuff that takes place between the lines of the script the scene takes place between the actors.  The first time you see that connection between two students you are struck with two things, the ease with which learning takes place and the level of humanity that is engaged, right from the start.  Humanity is just another word for the talent of the actor.

This level of organic understanding is possible because one’s humanity is there from birth.  We don’t have to relive some memory to get into contact with ourselves or anyone else.  It’s starts simply by really listening to one’s working partner.  Students immediately begin to take things personally and react instinctively and emotionally when they really do a thing, in this case, listening.

We begin with the end in mind, then every measure, every class, every exercise is designed to build and support that end.  The end is to turn your acting into a real thing happening.

Formal training for the actor should bring the actor and the audience to the same conclusion, that the events depicted were really happening.  Not predictable but sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat unpredictable.

The ability to permit one’s own instinctive responses, behavior and emotions, in an imaginary circumstance, is uniquely human. Acting is an expression of humanity; it investigates human constructs, philosophy, art, language. Acting is integrated with the natural processes of physics and chemistry and certainly in social relations.

Engage your humanity, engage your talent. The talent of the actor is his or her humanity. Your willingness to be touched, effected, moved, inspired, or emotionalized by something, some behavior or emotion, that is taking place outside of you, that is your humanity. It is from your humanity and your empathy, that you will get all your instinctual responsiveness.

Instinctual responsiveness is the single most highly regarded quality of great actors.

When the audience sees a real reaction on screen or stage it is galvanizing. From that moment forward the audience is connected to the story and the actor.

In order to train as an artist of any description, and an actor in particular, one must begin with the end in mind. To do that one must define great acting, since it is great acting toward which we aspire.

In an interview with Connie Chung in the 1970’s Marlon Brando was asked to define the difference between the great actor and the good actor. Brando’s answer was, “For the great actor, it’s really happening to them.”

In a print interview in the 1980’s, Robert Duvall was asked to define the difference between good and great acting. Duvall’s answer was that for the great actor it’s a real experience.

In the 1990’s, Charlie Rose asked Rod Steiger what the difference was between good acting and great acting. Steiger’s response was that for the great actor the experience is a real one.

When you really do something it makes you behave real.  It starts with training, building your entire approach on the principle that Art Expresses Human Experience.  Living out the circumstances of the scene so completely that audience and actor, script and screen are integrated and become galvanized.

That’s the Reality of Doing.


ActingLA.blog – The Acting Audition

Written and Narrated by Joseph Dean Coburn



Like musicians and dancers, there are two things actors do consistently throughout their lives: practice and look for work.

Acting auditions are your “Shot” in the vernacular. The audition is where you prove you belong in the game. You prove that you’re “Ready” by: 1. Proving you can act (and I’m not talking about that crap you did in high school or college) and 2. You’re “right” for the part. That means you have the look and personality that will support the role for which you are auditioning.

The reasons the stunts you pulled in school won’t work are two-fold; your teachers never worked professionally, or at all, and what you learned in school will not have brought you to the state of being “commercial”.

Commercial, is an industry term that means “you meet the audience’s expectations of a professional.” The term is applied to direction, lighting, makeup, costuming, art direction, acting, editing and every other element in a professional production.

So, how does one approach a lifetime of auditioning? First, read every book on acting and great actors you can find.  Boy, is there a lot of crap there. Lee Strasberg said he trained Brando. He did not. Stella Adler was Brando’s teacher but you have to read three Brando biographies to figure out the truth.

Next, get serious about your training. This is show business. That means that you have to be able to function like a professional. College teaches acting in a way that will have you functioning like an amateur. And BOY is the difference obvious! I can live without seeing one more smug puppy whining, “I have my degree,” as if that mattered.

Oh, and for the people who refuse to train – claiming that they are “naturals,” – here’s a little piece of advice: Just stay home. The idea that you may be a “natural” for any role and that this is enough to get you working in Hollywood is just plain unrealistic. If you want to compete and win against the strongest competitors in the most competitive industry on earth, then you’d better prepare yourself accordingly.

The acting audition should be handled just like any other acting assignment. The bottom line is that if you can act, and you’re right for the part, you might get the job. If you can NOT act, you will NOT get the job and you will have damaged your reputation in the acting audition.

Too many actors exhaust themselves trying to read the mind of the casting director, tormenting themselves over what for which the casting director may or may not be looking, then wrenching themselves around in an attempt to turn themselves into someone else. Like any other job interview, people hire people they know and like.

You will be called into an acting audition based on your headshot and resumé or based on a recommendation from someone who knows and likes you (in many cases someone from your acting class who knows your work). In these cases, you’re already “right” for the part in the eyes of the casting director.

In the acting audition, the casting director will have an opportunity to look at you, listen to you, and see what you would do IF you got the part. Even if you don’t get the callback, the casting director may very well keep your headshot and resume if you prove you’re “READY”. Because of the acting audition, he or she will have had the opportunity to get to know you and maybe even to like you and if they can’t get you this job, they’ll remember you when something comes up for which you are immediately “Right”.

When you are Ready or Right (two more industry terms) it means that you have prepared seriously to work and therefore you meet the audience’s expectations of a professional. They knew you were right when you walked on camera it was obvious to everyone in the room that you were a perfect fit for the role they were casting.

It’s a movie. They’re spending a lot of money to make it and they will take the time to get someone who is perfect for the expense. They don’t want to stretch so if casting you would be a stretch they will go for “perfect fit” every time.

The acting audition is not about you or your career. The acting audition is about filling a role in a collaborative commercial art form. If you are right for the role, you get the part, even if you don’t get hired you will have taken one more positive step in creating your reputation.

Oh, one additional note. If you’re just starting out and have a list of roles you refuse to take, or have been known to say things like, “I’m not doing TV, or theater, or internet,” – it’s time to change your attitude.   While I’m at it, don’t act stupid.  One of my students always wore sunglasses on stage and carried a Buzz Lightyear doll with him because, according to him: “They’re part of my image.” Yeah, well if that’s your strategy, stay home but definitely do not put my name on your resume’.

One more word, EGO — no known benefit, no known cure — ’nuff said.

To the professional, the acting audition is just another opportunity to act. Like any artist, you go in, show that you can act and to what extent, and make clear to everyone that you know how to do your job. If you were interviewing to be a welder, and you had not gone to welding school and you didn’t know how to weld, the interview would not go well. If you’ve taken the required training and you know your job, the acting audition should be easy.

The number of casting directors with whom I have spoken over the years easily reaches into the dozens. I’ve asked them all the same questions and without exception, I have gotten the same answers.

The first question I asked was “What is the absolute minimum you expect of a professional actor?”

The answer was the same across the board and I mean they used the exact same verbiage. “I expect to see people show up on time and prepared,” they said.

“On time,” means a few minutes early. One minute late is LATE and there goes your reputation. If you show up late for the job interview then it’s obvious you don’t care enough to show up on time for the job. Enjoy unemployment. By the way, there are no known benefits to unemployment.

“Prepared” means that you’ve done some serious work in preparation for the audition – work that reflects your ability to do the job professionally.

“I want to see Strong choices,” is the next most common observation from C.D.’s.

A strong choice is one that makes you feel an emotion. A weak choice is one that makes you think.

A strong choice means that you know how you feel in the circumstances, or with this relationship, or that theme, or the point of the scene. It would certainly be in your favor to know how to read a script so that even in a few lines you can be truthful emotionally in the given imaginary circumstances.

After only a single day of watching acting auditions in L.A., it would blow your mind to see how many people – who claim to be professional actors – just read the lines out loud when it’s their turn.

The next most common answers from Casting Directors is that between 75% and 95% of the people they audition have no business being in the business. That’s a quote and those numbers are real.

If you’ve read my this essay correctly and you take your auditions seriously then you will be among the top 25 to 5% right from the start.

The acting audition is where casting directors do the weeding.

Videotaped auditions have been a huge benefit in casting. After all, the camera picks up everything. If an actor is forcing, faking, or indicating, the camera captures it in excruciating detail. Likewise if the actor is honest, instinctive and emotionally responsive, the camera is like a microscope.  In the audition itself, it may look like there’s nothing going on, but when reviewed on camera, it’s much easier to see the emotional content in a scene.

Without the truthful emotional content it’s just talking heads saying words when it’s their turn.

To begin with, get it through your heads that Casting Directors only call people in who ‘look the part.’ If they need someone with a big nose, or someone who looks smarmy, or angry, or demure, they’ll know that you fit the generality by studying your headshot. You  can help tell the story when you “look the part”. You have no control over your look. In your auditions, prove you can act. That’s your job. That’s something you can do.

Next, they’ll want to see if you have the right personality for the role they’re casting. To do that, they’ll have to call you in and meet you. If you come in late, look like you’ve just thrown yourself together, don’t know for what role you’re reading, or indicate in any way that you might embarrass the casting director (who, at some point, will have to bring you in to meet the director), you just blew it.

Oh, here’s the next thing I have heard most often from Casting Directors in Hollywood, “(S)He forgot the script (sides)!” How can you show up without the thing that is central to your presence in the acting audition? You get to go home for being stupid and there is no consolation prize for that.

It is expected of the professional that you know your lines.

Remember, casting directors have their reputations to protect and to build, and payroll obligations to meet. Show up on time. “Do not waste my time,” is another response I’ve heard. Do some work in preparation for the audition BEFORE you get there. If you don’t know how to do that, then go get some training.

Use the acting audition to build your reputation. Show up on time, do some work in preparation for the audition. Don’t try to do what you think the CD wants to see, show them how you would do it if you got the job.

If you take the time to treat the acting audition seriously, you will be taken seriously.

There are two “types” that are easily weeded out from the acting audition process. For the sake of argument, I’ll call them “Desperate-Needies” and “Shock-Clowns.”

The Desperate-Needies “need” the job “desperately”.  They come in obsequiously or near tears, and will do absolutely anything to get the job.

The Shock-Clowns do the most outrageous things imaginable, or put themselves together in outrageous ways, in order to stand out. If they were applying for any other job on earth, they’d be escorted out the door and all the way to the parking lot.

The make-up, wardrobe and antics of the Shock-Clowns get them talked about but not in the way they would like.

The Desperate-Needies, on the other hand, have only one hope – to be cast in the role of someone desperate and needy.

Go to a hundred auditions so you can learn how to conduct yourself in an audition. There’s no better way. Smart, serious people starting out in the acting industry take the time to finish the following sentence, “I want to be known for …” And they finish that sentence with, “being on time and prepared” and “knowing my job clear through.” Then they take the necessary steps to make those things happen.

My advice to you: Know your job clear through, prepare for your audition, and show up on time. That’s everything you need to know about the acting audition. The rest is commentary.