FOR THE HELL OF IT
NOV. 25, 2017
BY JOHNNY HELLER
I freely admit that I have been remiss in penning this blog. On the other hand, I’ve been really busy in my life long quest to become an overnight success so that will serve as my excuse.
“Ebenezer! What’s new?”
“You know those audiobooks that people are listening to?
“Well I just did one.”
“What? How? Where?”
“I found an old book on the subway and I recorded it onto my iPhone. I put the file on line and now I guess I’m a professional actor! Cool right?”
“I guess. What are you gonna do next?”
“Well, I did a book so now I’m gonna coach!”
“Audiobook narration. I did it so now I’ll teach it.”
“Are people gonna sign up to learn from you? I mean you only did the one book.”
“Eh. Actors. They don’t check stuff out. Just tell em they sound good and look good and take the money! That’s my plan!”
I’d like to chat about coaching in this blog. It’s a subject I have brought up before, but I sense a need to revisit it.
Let’s look at coaching from a few perspectives so that there will be no misunderstanding what I mean. (On your part –on my part, I already know exactly what I mean!)
- Your Perspective:
If you want to do a thing and there is someone around who is successful or has been successful at that thing over a period of time and has a track record and a reputation as a success at the thing and is willing to teach you about the thing so that you too can be successful or have a chance of success at the thing – that person is a coach.
If there is a person about who has tried the thing with some or limited success a few times and knows more than you about the thing, that is a friend with an informed opinion, but it is not a coach. If that person says they are a coach due to their long history of having done the thing in question 10 times or so and charges money for sharing their limited knowledge, they are not being professional, and I would question their “coach” credentials and their “friend” credentials while I am at it.
- Coach’s Perspective
You have done a thing and done it well. You have earned a reputation for doing that thing and doing it well. You can explain the thing and show someone how to do the thing better than they are currently doing the thing. You deserve to charge a reasonable fee to share your experience and to teach others the craft of the thing you are good at.
- Weasel’s Perspective
You’ve done a thing a few times and really want to be in with whoever you perceive to be the “in” crowd. You would rather be in that “in” crowd, however, without having to do the actual hard work they did to get there. You narrated some stuff, didn’t totally suck and now you want to teach the little you know to people who don’t know that you don’t know. You charge a fee and make stuff up and you are hurting the industry and everything and everyone you touch.
There are many excellent acting coaches specializing in every VO genre and its incumbent on the actor seeking coaching to do some research before hiring the coach. I cannot tell you how many times students have come to me for coaching without knowing a thing about me. (I can’t tell you not because it’s a secret but because it’s happened so many times I’ve lost count!) Who does that? Who pays a guy they never even heard of to teach them something that they only assume he knows?
Highly respected and freakishly tall audiobook coach Sean Allen Pratt says this:
“Students should do their due diligence when looking for coach. What’s his/her reputation? How long have they been in the business? How long have they been a coach? And just as important, what KIND of coaching do they do?”
LA based audiobook coach, dialect expert and wonderful Manhattan cocktail maker, PJ “3 Dog” Ochlan adds:
“Regardless of whether their primary discipline is within or without the craft they’re teaching, great teachers have a couple of things in common: 1. They’ve developed substantial experience; 2. Great teachers are great teachers. Teaching effectively is an art unto itself.”
The takeaway? Do your research on the coach you are considering working with.
Try to understand that what your coach did to achieve success is not necessarily what you can or should do. We all have our own roads to walk. Your coach can offer direction and guidance, but the walk belongs to you.
While seen by many as a peevish lout, Jeffrey Kafer is quite successful and amazingly generous with his always excellent advice. You should definitely consider a business consultation with him once you have some business to consult about. Kafer offers this:
“Stop trying to emulate what others have done, because each person’s path to success or failure is completely different. You can get all the guidance in the world, but you still need to find your own way to either of those outcomes.”
Another thing the actor needs to consider is what kind of coach are you looking for? Do you want a theoretical coach – what Sean calls a “tactical” coach – or a practical coach – what Sean calls a “strategic” coach. Here’s the difference: The theoretical coach is more director oriented – more focused on the performance and the acting. The Strategic coach is more involved with providing facts and information regarding the business and techniques of audiobook narration. He/she is also more concerned with technique and a firm knowledge base. In short – the former is all about the acting; the latter is like a college professor who may even assign homework. I think the best coaches are some combination of the two and I can’t see how any good coach wouldn’t include something from both disciplines.
One of the things I pride myself on is being able to relate to my students on their level – to quickly determine what they need to understand and the most efficient way to communicate that effectively. However, I can’t reach an actor who doesn’t know who they are.
I had a guy come to a session with me at Edge Studio. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to look at commercial VO or Audiobook narration. I asked him about his acting background and he hemmed a hawed. He said “I don’t wanna do any acting. I just wanna say stuff. I mean, actors have to be all about ‘feelings and stuff’ – I don’t like that.”
I explained that “feelings and stuff” were necessary in voice over work because voice over acting actually is acting. He was not too enthused. I suggested that he consider overcoming his inhibitions with some basic acting classes.
He thought about it for some time and finally said: “Acting classes? Really? …umm, whaddya think? Is that a good place to meet chicks?”
I, of course, replied: “Yes. Absolutely. That’s why actors sacrifice so much and live in horrible places and take bad jobs – not for the love of the art, not because of their need to create and to perform – but to meet chicks. Stanislavsky was very clear about this. You should read his chapter in The Actor Prepares titled – “Hitting on Hot Acting Students” – very instructive for the young actor. In fact, the acting community is really just a giant dating service.”
Obviously, total dipsticks like this guy are not the norm. Thank God. (I am withholding his name here not to protect him but because I tend to forget the names of complete douchebags I meet so I have room in my head for the many good people I meet.)
But here’s a clueless guy with no understanding of the craft, no respect for the professionals working in it and he’s a dick to boot. Not a winning resume. This guy did not need an acting coach, he needed better parents or an ever-present life coach on his shoulder saying – “Nope. No. Uh-uh. Don’t say that stupid thing you are about to say – you clueless asshat.”
The actor must understand his strengths. The voice actor must understand what they really sound like and – this is important so don’t ignore it — you need to know how your voice is perceived by others. IF you think you want to play only strong male leads in adventure books but your voice sounds very much like Minnie Mouse with her tail in a bear trap, you need to rethink your goals.
Coaching is important and frequently makes a gigantic difference in your career, but you must investigate the coach and ensure that:
- they should be coaching and
- that they are the right coach for you.
And please – don’t expect a working coach to dispense all their gems over a cup of coffee. They are professionals and while there is nothing unusual about a coach being willing to chat with you a bit, their time and their knowledge is what they are marketing and it isn’t fair to expect them to dispense it gratis. The entire VO community is wonderful and warm and mentoring but no coach in any field ever does that and they are never asked to.
One last warning from the estimable PJ Ochlan:
“Beware of bad coaching- particularly in the world of creative arts. The trust you place in a coach can translate into trusting and adopting the advice they dispense, and bad habits can be hard to break.”
SHOUT OUT TO TORONTO!
Steven Jay Cohen and I recently went to Toronto to teach an audiobook workshop and the acting community there, led by Braden Wright, was just wonderful. We are anxious to go back to Toronto and Sean Pratt, Steven, Jo Anna Perrin and I are considering visiting Dawn Harvey for a Calgary workshop.
Thanks to Braden and to Edge Studio for making Toronto such a success.
In continuing my international coaching (who’d a thunk it?), I am off to London Dec 1-4 to work with Sean Pratt at an audiobook master workshop sponsored by Rachael Naylor and The VO Network. I am so excited and will share the story on my return.
AND NOW — IN THE NEWS!
NOTE: IN PERUSING NEWS ITEMS, FTHOI STAFF FOUND AN INORDINATE NUMBER OF PENIS STORIES. MAYBE IT’S SEASONAL… ANYWAY, FAR TOO MANY TO INCLUDE IN ONE BLOG WITHOUT MAKING THAT BE THE POINT OF THE BLOG – SO – YOU GET ONE PENIS STORY. ONE. THE REST FTHOI SHALL PARCEL OUT OVER THE NEXT FEW BLOGS.
WASHINGTON, USA…NAVY PILOTS GROUNDED AFTER DRAWING AIR PENIS
Navy officers piloting an F/A-18 Growler in the skies over the Washington/Canada border showed off their artistic talents by drawing a gigantic erect penis using their condensed air trail.
Naval command grounded the officers and apologized for their sophomoric behavior.
“We hold our officers to a higher standard,” said an unnamed Lt. Commander. “This was, perhaps, the worst drawn sky penis I’ve ever seen. I mean c’mon! No one’s penis looks like that.”
The pilots will spend their suspension time studying human anatomy and sketching. “We’re the Navy. We need to be able to draw dicks at least as well as the Marines. I just wish they would’ve stuck to boobs,” the Lt. Commander continued. “Those are easy. But no. They wanted to get creative. Can you imagine these guys trying to air paint a Modigliani? A Matisse? We are never going to be considered the most artistic branch of the military if we can’t produce better work.”
PHILADELPHIA, USA…A 76-year-old man who died of heart complications got his death wish and was buried with 2 Philly Cheesesteaks, ensuring he will not go hungry into the next world. Rabid Philadelphia sports fan and cheesesteak eater, Dominic Lussi was buried with two Philly Cheesesteaks from Pats in Philadelphia.
Theologians and the AMA have yet to comment officially on the need for food after death but we at FTHOI were able to get some comments for the record:
“I’ve always been pretty sure that in heaven – the afterlife – you know, that you would be able to get a sandwich if you want,” said Father Sean O’Reilly of Philadelphia’s Our Lady of Really Long Arguments church. “Maybe a steak. Because it’s not like you’re gonna die from cholesterol- right? I mean, you’re already pretty much dead. In fact, how hungry are you gonna get?”
Dr. Vincent “Fat Vinny” Goombatz added: “I think 2 cheesesteaks is too many. Also, I’m pretty sure that if the body rots, and the…whaddyacallit…spirit goes to some other place, the steak sandwich is likely not going to go too. I mean, they shoulda just ate the sandwiches because they are just gonna rot in that box. That’s science. The cheese part will live forever but the rest of it? I mean you dig that up in 30, 40 years, that is not gonna be a sandwich you are gonna want to eat. The cheese you could eat. I don’t think there is any food product in that. It’s some sort of industrial spread. God knows what’s in it. Not cheese though.”
The deceased did ask that there be no onions on his sandwiches. “Oh yeah, that makes sense,” said Fr. O’Reilly. “Onions can give you gas and since we believe there is life after death, you don’t wanna start that new life in a box with a bad case of gas. I mean -eeeeeew.”