FOR THE HELL OF IT
STOP THE JUDGEMENTS – PLUS: AFTER APAC
By Johnny Heller
“WHY NOT ME?”
“AI IS COMING FOR MY JOB!”
These are the things I’ve been hearing/seeing on social media and in my coaching sessions with actors. People in this community love this community. They are also getting sick of this community.
How is that possible, you ask? How can one be in a community that nurtures and sustains them and still have negative opinions about that community? Remember those years from birth ‘til –well, very likely ‘til right now? Well – remember those parents? Those brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts? Remember how deeply you loved and probably still love them? And also, remember how much you hate and resent pretty much all of them from time to time?
There you have it. We call this phenomenon of simultaneously loving and hating a select group of people: “being human.” Because we are, by nature, an absolutely horrible species with few redeeming qualities; our lives are an anachronistic dichotomy – we are host to thousands of diametrically opposed thoughts and desires. We love and hate the same things. We do incredibly wonderful selfless things that redeem our entire universe and then we do something amazingly selfish and stupid – on the same day. We buy a homeless person a meal and then we take our partner to dinner at Taco Bell and balk because a chalupa supreme is 4 bucks. We discuss the importance of diversity in casting, but we cancel Netflix because there are too many Korean movies. Admit it. You didn’t watch Everything Everywhere All at Once, but you’ve seen John Wick 3 five times.
This is who we are.
So having established that we are not all that, let’s investigate why that should bother us.
Are you concerned, depressed, in a funk because you aren’t working as much as you’d like? – or is it because someone else is? Answer that and you will have a better idea how to deal with it.
(I should be frank at this point. I am not a licensed doctor or a trained psychiatrist. I’ve never even seen Grey’s Anatomy. But I did see a few minutes of Dr. Pimple Popper, and I saw a shrink for a while so I think I’m pretty much the expert you should be taking advice from.)
When you read a Facebook post from a colleague sharing the news that they are booked until the next ice age you need to think about their post before you react to it. Here are the steps you want to take:
I. Is this bullshit?
- If yes, then reconsider your relationship with the colleague. Or be a good person and try to see why they would post such a heinous George Santos sized lie. Are they going through something? Is it a cry for help? Do you care? (The questions continue forever so I can’t list them all – you’re the depressed one – you figure it out.)
- If no, then either celebrate their good fortune and realize – and here’s the good you – that it’s a well-deserved reward for their hard work and obvious talent. OR you can decide it’s just dumb luck and it’s not fair and it should’ve happened to you and not to them. And then you will see the problem.
You have no control whatever over the career of someone else. You have no control over what they post, what they say, or what they do. Is it a dick move to crow about being booked forever when you know your colleagues aren’t? Kind of. But aren’t you allowed to share your good fortune? Aren’t you almost obligated to shout from the roof tops that you are doing what you love and getting paid for it and you have some long-term projects?
Sure. And we should all take pride in supporting that. However, I have said many times and I will say it until Zura Johnson embroiders it on a doily for me: “If you tell everyone you are booked forever, you won’t get offered other jobs.”
Don’t let the post that other people are working get to you. You aren’t them. They aren’t you. Keep at it. Keep raising the bar of the work you do.
One of the important things so many of us forget is that this is a business. You are a business, and you are your product. If the product isn’t selling you need to consider three things:
- The product is not ready for the market. You are jumping into the deep end while still wearing floaties. (I’m not a pool guy but I assume this is like putting ketchup on a hot dog. It’s just wrong. Don’t do that.) If you haven’t studied or done much more than join FB groups and hit the like button, you may not be ready to compete with professionals. If you don’t think you’re a professional, then you definitely aren’t ready to compete with professionals.
- The product is ready for the market, but the ad campaign isn’t ready. Ever watch a commercial and really enjoy it but when it’s over, you have no idea what you’re supposed to buy? Your message has to be clear: I am wonderful, and I am ready to bring your story to audio. Does your message say that? It needs to. Are your demos good? Do they demonstrate your current skill level? If your demos were good 3 years ago when you first started, they don’t do you justice today. And if they do, why did you waste 3 years doing the dog paddle? (Another pool reference! I need a vacation I bet.)
- You are treating this like a hobby. Let me be clear – again. Audiobook narration is an acting job. You don’t have to go get an MFA from Yale, but you better get a grip on the fact that engaging storytelling is an on-going process for an actor. Be one.
As for FOMO, you’re not necessarily missing out. How about this? -They’re missing out on what you’re doing.
Here’s an example: My dear friends Joel Froomkin and Rich Najuch are planning an audiobook cruise in 2024. It will have coaches like Sean Pratt and Ana Clements and my pals Bill and Joya Lord will be there and Adam Barr and so many other wonderful people. It sounds swell and I would love to have joined.
But here’s how I get over that FOMO: This sea-going cruise is on a ship. In the ocean. Way out there. Where you can’t see land or swim to the pier. It’s not a boat. Not a nice little craft with an outboard that zips around here and there and pulls skiers. It’s a ship. It goes on the open seas where you can’t see land from the stern or the bow or whatever the other parts of the damn thing are called; and there’s food and booze 24/7 – which would be great if you weren’t blowing chunks off the aft deck – wherever the hell that is on a boat – and you know there are sharks in the water and probably pirates waiting to chop you into shark chum.
Is any of this actually likely? No. Not really. And I wish that I wasn’t such a giant chicken of the sea, but I am. So, I will wish my friends and colleagues a wonderful time, but I will be okay just hearing about their adventures when they return – and in the meantime– I will have my own adventures. That’s the thing, if you aren’t where it’s at, make wherever you are where it’s at for you.
FOMO is a real thing, and we can’t pretend watching the cat zuke hairballs will be as much fun as they’re having but we need to start understanding that who we are and what we do is just fine. If you can go on this cruise, go! Jesse Bickford-Coghill will be there. Jocqueline Protho will be casting a book while on board – it’s going to be great. But not all of us can go. And that’s okay.
Some people wish they had joined us in New England. We can’t all do everything and it’s time to admit that it’s okay.
Stop being so freaking hard on yourselves. We’ve chosen a tough life and a tough profession. Don’t let anyone mess you up – especially not yourself!
We need to stop questioning everything we do all the time.
We wonder why there are so many objectionable/weird things we do, or other people do, but most of what we do makes sense, at least to us! That’s why we do them. Of course, we all do strange things. It’s part of who we are. But we only question our behavior as it relates to our “bigger picture”
And we never bother to question the little things we do every day that are really bigtime weird – like why do we get into a car with a total stranger, jump in the back seat and act like the driver isn’t even there? We talk on the phone, we adjust our crotchal area (it’s a medical term), eat stuff, talk to ourselves… Sometimes we share personal things with the driver – like the guy is our Priest and we don’t even know him! Let’s be honest -there is nowhere on earth where people chat more openly than in a car with a stranger. We go through the trouble of getting double encryption stuff on all our accounts to keep our sensitive information quiet, but we tell Stan or Cindy or Raphael all about our scheme to blackmail our boss by taking salacious pictures of him doing questionable things with a barrister or even a banister, or we tell him about the time we tried to pillow-kill our racist great Uncle after a particularly grueling Thanksgiving dinner or we share a story with the unknown driver about our successful heroin sales Ponzi pyramid scheme and how badly we feel because we haven’t even asked our best friend Bob to be one of our distributors – BOB! We didn’t let bob get in on the ground floor of our heroin empire. What kind of person are we?
And this, we tell our Uber guy.
…and we wonder why we have so many retakes…
Chin up. Stop doing yourself harm – that’s what friends and family are for.
The hoopla has ended. The business cards – dogeared and beer-stained – are safely tucked into the sock drawer where they will be discovered 5 years from now and you can go: “Hmm. I wonder who this guy is?”
You’ve returned your dress or your tux or stowed them away for the next time you might need them – or never, whichever comes first.
You smile – reminiscing over the friends you saw and the new ones you made, the fine food you ate, the shows you went to, the people you meant to see but never did; you frown – thinking about the covid you caught and wonder if, on reflection, it was a good call to hang out with 7000 of your unmasked colleagues… Or maybe you caught it in the airport or in the cab from the airport… Yeah! That was probably it – it certainly had nothing to do with any decisions you made…couldn’t be. But still, you got the vaccine and the boosters, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, and you did have fun.
And you wonder…now what?
- Make sure you send a thank you note to the publishers and casting directors you met. Just let them know you appreciate them taking the time to say hello. Even though that’s part of their job, it’s always nice to get a thank you note. You don’t have to add anything about how you want to work for them – they know that. Just say thanks. Remind them of who you are but don’t push for a gig.
- Reach out to the friends you made and share notes. See who they met that you didn’t and see if there is a way you can help each other in your marketing.
- Take stock of what you learned. If you didn’t learn anything – you didn’t APAC right. Don’t try to act on everything you learned at once. Sort through your notes and develop an action plan. And by that, I mean write down an actual plan and then act on it.
- Don’t exaggerate your expectations. If you had a good chat with a publisher and sent a nice letter to them and they don’t respond immediately, it’s okay. Don’t panic. Remember that you are one of 50, 000 narrators the publisher met, and they might not respond right away – or ever. That’s not on you. Give them time and just keep doing something for your career every day (you can take the weekend off!) – but do one good thing for your career each day.
The most important thing to take away from these events is the great time you had with your fellow audiobook colleagues. These, for the most part, are good people and you, for the most part, are one of them. If you are worried about getting more work, consider what you’re doing and compare it to what you want to be doing. What needs to be changed? What can be changed? And if you make changes in your action plan, how long before the changes should you see different results. The answers will be different for each one of us.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else – you are unique. Of course, we are all unique which makes us all pretty much the same, but the point is that you aren’t me and I’m not you. And don’t for a minute think that I don’t spend time reaching out to publishers or that I don’t have to audition. I do. So do you.
And a final blog note – on AI. It is here. It is a danger to the human creative process, and it is a danger to the audiobook narrator. It is particularly dangerous to the audiobook narrator who doesn’t take the craft seriously – who relies on a nice voice v a real character. Again – this is an acting job, and you need to improve your performance, so AI isn’t your equal or, worse – much worse, your better.
Be smart. Don’t sign away your voice in perpetuity on any job. Don’t allow AI provisions in any contract or deal. Only work SAGAFTRA contracts to protect your rights.
If things aren’t going your way, change your way. Look at what you are doing or not doing and adjust. Don’t assume any of this is someone else’s job.
It’s all on you and that’s as it should be.
SHAMELESS PROMO TIME!
Come join Sean, me and Jo Anna in Fredericksburg VA June 3 & 4 for an Audiobook Fiction and NonFiction Workshop in a real Brewery! The Adventure Brewing Narrator Workshop is ready for you to register. All the details are on my site -click the workshop tab or click this link: https://johnnyheller.com/product/adventure-audiobook-workshop-federicksburg-va-june-34-2023/
For Joel and Rich’s Audiobooks at Sea workshop, click here: https://www.audiobooksatsea.com/
And coming up: The Business of Audiobooks Workshop hosted by Scott Brick and Johnny Heller will be in LA the weekend of Sept 9th. Details to follow.
The New England Audiobook Workshop will be Oct 16-19th. Details to follow.
I was today years old when I was enlightened with a new medical term of art, courtesy of the saintly Johnny Heller.
I shall immediately replace the totally non-woke and time worn phrase that describes both pants and gothic cathedral architecture, “groin”, with its newfound rival: “Crotchal area”.
We’re not worthy.. .
Strangely, I posted this quote today which I ithink is quite apropos of your first part of this blog.
“It is insane to be in competition with others. Work out a method where you are able to support your friends, your peers, and those with whom you live, while at the same time working very hard to mind your own business and tend to the most important task you have: To improve yourself and use yourself in the best way to earn your place on land. The world will always try to make you think about how you’re doing against the others, but ignore this. You need to do–and have to do–the work you were put here to do.”
Arthur Miller/Interview with James Grissom. I couldn’t agree more with this, or with you Johnny.