ON COACHING 10/12/16
By Johnny Heller
“Hey I just got hired to do my first audiobook!”
“That’s wonderful. Congratulations! …where are you going?”
“I’m off to teach an audiobook class!”
Aaaaaaah! It reminds me of the old joke musicians like to tell. A guy goes to a teacher to learn bass guitar. He has one lesson and he’s not bad. He calls his teacher to schedule more lessons. His teacher says – “how about Friday?”
“No I can’t take a bass lesson Friday,” says the student.
“I have a gig.”
It happens. It really does. As I’ve said before, because the perception exists that audiobook narration is simply being able to read English out loud, people believe that anyone can do it. Let me tell you – “anyone” cannot do it. Let’s say you are blessed with a lovely singing voice. Does that mean you should be an audiobook narrator? What if you’re a really good dancer? Does that mean you should do audiobooks? What if you are an expert lathe operator or a highly sought after chalk board installer? Does that mean you have what it takes to narrate a book? Nope.
But if you want to sing better, if you want to dance better if you want to lathe better (I don’t know if “lathe” is an action verb but it is now!) what do you do?
I’ll help you out – you get some training. You spend time with someone who can teach you and you get better and then you can give concerts and become a pitchman for a perfume company. If you want to take your natural talent to the next level – to a place where people will hire you for your skills, you train. You study. You work at it.
Really? But this is just reading a book.
If it’s just reading a book to you – it that’s what you think, then stop it. Stop it now. You are diminishing the art and diminishing the role of the actor. Why not say: “Anyone can paint like Van Gogh. It’s just putting paint on a canvass after all.” You can’t say that. You wouldn’t say that. It would mean that no one would take anything else you said seriously. It would mean that you wouldn’t be invited to the Van Gogh exhibit at the Met. People would buy those tee shirts with the arrow on it that say “I’m with Stupid” and they would all stand next to you. Even people who didn’t know you would pick up on your idiotic outlook and go buy the tee shirt and stand near you. And everyone would look at you and shake their heads and they’d be thinking: “What an idiot.” But you wouldn’t pick up on it because you’re an idiot.
So don’t say that.
I think every actor needs to be acting or working on the craft all the time. I think almost every experience can be a learning experience for the actor. But just being alive and observant – while far preferable to being dead and obtuse – isn’t the same as taking a class or attending a performance or participating in a workshop.
So. It’s clear that I believe that working with a coach is a good thing. Let me see if I can clear up a few issues that you may have. First, I do believe that you can be very good without any coaching at all. That happy group of naturally skilled actors – blessed with talent – is not a large group and I would argue that even the most naturally talented and gifted performers still learn new things almost daily. It’s a part of that gift.
Second, I think that there is no excuse not to take advantage of the excellent advice frequently offered gratis on Face Book and other social media sites that cater to the voice over industry and the voice over actor. For the most part the FB groups are filled with experienced actors and coaches who willingly share information and support. It’s quite astonishing to see really.
Third, there is always something to learn even when you are already successful or know everything.
Fourth, be wary of who you allow to coach you. Let’s delve into number four a bit more. (ooh! Accidental Rhyming!)
Many people come to Edge Studio to work with me or they contact Edge to skype with me. I always ask them if they have taken the time to find out about me. If they haven’t, I question them about that. Why would you spend money to study with someone if you don’t know if they know anything about the subject you’re studying?
I am seeing a great many audiobook classes and workshops being offered and the “coaches” don’t have much more experience than the students. That’s ridiculous. I am not saying that a group of inexperienced actors shouldn’t get together and discuss their process and maybe learn from each other. I would suggest finding a coach for the group though. And the coach needs to be a director, producer or actor with a record of success in the field and body of work that makes them experienced enough to coach others. If I’ve done 5 books and you’ve done 10, instead of you coaching me, why don’t we both go find a coach who’s done 200?
And I already hear the next issue – yes a teacher can only gain experience teaching by actually teaching. There is no question that it’s a Catch 22. So, if you are successful and if you have a good body of work, maybe you can teach. Do you want to? Is your desire to coach based on the all the big money you can make by coaching or is it based on an earnest desire to share what you know to help and mentor others and to keep the performers bar high? I am not saying that only coaches motivated by noble thoughts can coach nor am I saying that such nobility loses something when it costs the students money. I am saying that coaching is a calling and it can be rewarding and taxing and it is not for everyone.
Actors – you really need to be working or working to work all the time. Coaches – you really need to have a calling to coach. It isn’t easy money and it isn’t fair to newer actors to “coach” them if you can’t.
I can only coach what I know. I’ve been a working actor for a very long time and I’m successful in commercial VO and audiobooks. So guess what I teach? Commercial VO and Audiobooks. I do not teach opera or movement. I do not teach tech stuff as I can spell DAW but I can’t remember what it is. I don’t teach how to post up or run a zone defense because I’m not in the NBA and I don’t teach nuclear physics because I get confused watching the Big Bang Theory.
I don’t want to list coaches I think are wonderful because I will accidentally leave out some names and because my opinion is just that. I will say that many fine coaches can be found on FaceBook and you can determine if you like them based on their commentary. Paul Ruben, my dear friend (and an excellent coach) said on FB that the “voice can’t act” …meaning that the voice is merely a tool an actor can use to tell the story. I like that and a comment like that would make me want to investigate studying with Paul. That’s what I mean.
I will happily plug a few upcoming workshops that I think you might want to attend. Since it’s my blog I will start with my workshops. The Johnny Heller 4th Annual Splendiferous Workshop will be in NYC on May 30th and I think the workshop has become a favorite in the industry because there are 10 coaches and 150 plus attendees and a full day of sharing and it’s a damn fine time. This year I have already rented Baruch College with theater seating for 200. I haven’t scheduled everything but I can tell you that Paul Ruben, Scott Brick and Pat Fraley have already committed to joining me.
I think you must attend APAC on May 31st. The Audio Producers Association works extremely hard to put together a convention that both producers and actors can enjoy and benefit from and workshops/conventions like these are wonderful ways to escape the solitary nature of our work.
I am starting a new 4-week audiobook workshop through Edge Studio in NYC. We will meet Nov. 2,3, 16,17.
I think VO Atlanta in March is a great VO conference and a great chance to learn from excellent coaches. Gerald Griffith runs an excellent weekend conference. Really first rate.
You can probably guess which coaches I recommend as I frequently drop their names in this column. I’d love to list the folks I am happy to suggest but, again, I’m really afraid of forgetting someone and that would suck. You can PM me if you want my advice.
And now the uncomfortable part. The part about money. I get lots of calls and emails saying “Hey! I wanna get into audiobooks. When do you have time to meet me for an hour two and tell me all about it? I’ll buy you a coffee.” Or – “I did these demos. Will you listen to them and tell me what you think?”
I am fairly certain that you wouldn’t call Tod Goldberg out of the blue and say “Tod! You write books. I wrote some plots on this bar napkin… it’s as good as your stuff. What do you think? And how come Tod is missing a D?”
You wouldn’t call Lin-Manuel Miranda and say “Lin! I wanna learn how to rap. Lemme buy you a coffee and you can tell me how to do it.”
You wouldn’t call Warren Buffett and ask him if he could come over and tell you how to make a million dollars – hell- You wouldn’t do that to Jimmy Buffett!
If you think an hour or two of my time and that sharing the knowledge I have gained in a 600-book career is only worth a cup of coffee, then I don’t think you respect me very much or, perhaps, that you think very highly of coffee. As to your demos? Frequently I have zero idea who these people are and they just send me their demos? Why? Why is my time – why is a coach’s time – considered so insignificant? Is it because we are “only actors”? And we’re only talking about an hour meeting or a 15-minute demo?
Actors need to understand that coaches get paid to coach. If you have $15 you can spend and Sean Allen Pratt charges $150, then you can’t coach with Mr. Pratt. It’s that simple. For a long time, I felt bad about charging people for my coaching – I really wanted to help them because I got taken advantage of when I was just starting out and I hate to have that happen to actors. So instead I got taken advantage of in reverse! I found myself giving my time and my energy and my experience to those who had no real respect for it. That doesn’t happen anymore. Nor should it.
So. Get some coaching. Know about your coach. Gain what you can and learn what you came to learn. If it doesn’t work out – pick a different coach. Getting a coach, attending a convention, taking a workshop – they all cost money but they can be the difference in your career.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
Wondering what’s on TV? Don’t bother! Here at For the Hell of It, we are here to help you out when you can’t find the remote with highlights of Prime Time Network Offerings.
TV GUIDE HIGHLIGHTS LISTINGS (PARTIAL)
SUNDAY: All day – NFL – 2 TEAMS of giant humans meet and smack into each other to benefit gamblers across the nation. Some players will make political statements misunderstanding the nature of their popularity. Winner – commercial sponsors like Budweiser and bookies.
SUNDAY NIGHT: CBS – 60 MINUTES – Interesting news show for your parents to watch.
NBC – THE EPSTEINS- Jewish dysfunctional family says wise ass stuff
ABC – THE CLARKS – Black dysfunctional family says wise ass stuff
FOX – THE SIMPSONS, BOBS BURGERS, FAMILY GUY – Cartoon dysfunctional families say wise ass stuff
PBS – WANKERS OF DONNYBROOK END – Costume drama about a rich stuffy family that seem less repulsive over time as they bravely hide their bigotry by petting the servants’ dogs and donating old clothing and wounded orphans to the wounded orphans fund.
MONDAY – ABC – DANCING WITH THE B LIST – Has beens and never weres dance while we wait for wardrobe malfunctions.
CBS – KEVIN CAN WAIT – The exact same show as the King of Queens featuring a much heavier Kevin not waiting.
2 GIRLS WITH NO MONEY WHO ALWAYS SEEM TO BE JUST FINE – Show about 2 girls trying not to be broke that is still somehow on the air even though it is just awful in every way.
FOX – CREEPY DARK AND QUIRKY – crime shows featuring lots of violence and goth costumes. Primetime is no longer for kids. In fact, kids should probably never watch TV again.
NBC – SINGING and IMMEDIATE JUDGEMENT – music stars put talented singers through an uncomfortable process where hopefuls have their dreams crushed or validated for our amusement.
PBS – A repeat of the Wankers program preceded and followed by a “MAKING OF THE WANKERS” program that costs nothing to produce and fills 2 hours of programming
TUESDAY – ABC – HORRIBLE DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY COMEDY BLOCK – Various ethnic and socio-economic families feature repartee between horrible children and horrible parents in intolerably embarrassing social situations that no one ever really experiences because none of us are that stupid.
CBS – NAVAL INTELLIGENCE MYSTERY BLOCK – Navy police save the nation repeatedly. Interestingly not a single suspect or witness never says: “what the hell is NCIS and why should I care?”
NBC – CHICAGO SOMETHING OR OTHER – Some gritty real life looks at fake people pretending to do real stuff.
FOX – SCREAMING B MOVIE MORONS – Are you serious? This made it back on air? Stupid from the start and continued stupidity about vapid morons that almost everyone wants to see killed.
PBS -SHOES – A look at the exciting life of famous 13th century cobblers.
WEDNESDAY – ABC – DESIGNATED SUTHERLAND – Kiefer Sutherland is heroic and does he-man stuff while he and his Dad do all the commercial voice overs during the program.
CBS – SURVIVING? – a group of horrible people living in some disgusting place competing for the right to claim the title of Backstabbing Bastard Who We Will Forget About Immediately.
CRIMINAL MINDS/SERIAL KILLING 101 – Long running show for some reason where we all learn how to kill a lot of people in hideous ways. A great family show reminiscent of some of Walt Disney’s early work.
FOX – PAGING DANNY GLOVER – Remakes of movies that were only watchable because of Mel Gibson who has fallen out of favor due to being just like Donald Trump.
NBC – LAW AND ORDER SUV- People commit crimes in large cars.
PBS – JEWS IN PANTS – An engrossing history of Brooklyn tailors in the 1960s featuring Abe Vigoda and Judd Hirsch as the Mandelbaum brothers – inventors of the pleat.
THURSDAY – ABC – THE UNWATCHABLE BLOCK – Shows that indicate that network has just given up. Except for Empire – that’s kinda gritty.
CBS – MORE FOOTBALL – Saving money on actors, directors and writers by showing two teams you likely wouldn’t watch if they were on on Sunday.
FOX – WOMAN ON THE DIAMOND – A young girl can play baseball…ruining all the locker room talk that apparently would ordinarily be going on.
NBC – BLACKLIST – Finally – a watchable program with James Spader doing great work.
PBS – THE HISTORY OF THE MONKEY WRENCH – Before the monkey wrench, so much work had to be done by actual monkeys. You’d be surprised.
FRIDAY – ABC – SHARK FIGHT – Annoying rich people try dash the hopes of entrepreneurs or buy their ideas at a discount.
CBS – MACGRUBER – Worst remake since the animated musical “DEERHUNTER – THE MUSICAL!” Bad acting, stupid plots and bad guys with horrible aim combine to deliver the worst new show of the year. It will likely last 10 years.
FOX – THE EXORCIST. Really. A TV show from a movie that scared Capt. America and G. Gordon Liddy. In Primetime. When kids are up. I can’t believe the pitch meeting. “Hey kids! C’mon! The Exorcist is on!” Later – “Okay. That was fun watching the devil rip the head off that little kid wasn’t it? Well time for bed! Sweet dreams!”
NBC – GRIMM – I like this show. Therefore, it’s been cancelled.
PBS – OLD INEXPENSIVE BRITISH COMEDY NIGHT – The worst of British comedy but the least expensive shows PBS could buy from the BBC, which also threw in a fine documentary on the making of anvils.
SATURDAY – ABC – SAM AND DAVE – Sam accuses Dave of stealing his Axe cologne. Dave kills Sam with a blender. The gang tries to laugh it off but Sam’s family still seems irked. (I made this up. There’s nothing on ABC Saturday night.)
CBS – CRIME SHOWS – Inexpensive documentary programs to produce which fit in nicely with the network belief that no one watches TV on Saturday.
FOX – REPEATS of shows we refused to watch during the week.
NBC- SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE REPEATS/SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE – Repeats of past shows, thematically linked repeats of past shows, highlights of past show hosts and, if you’re still awake – the new show.
PBS – GARAGES OF CONGRESSMEN – A fascinating look at the garages of the home of Members of Congress – featuring work benches, Sears tools, Coleman Lamps and more than a few literal skeletons.
ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX – the View and the View rip-offs where different ladies that have no apparent expertise, talent or knowledge irritate us with their opinions on things we don’t really care about anyway.
JUDGE SHOWS – Every network features retired judges dealing with morons who actually don’t mind the nation hearing about how truly small and dimwitted they are.