X The Rules

There was a major failure and hullabaloo recently. A cruise-line began taking on water and its image was about to founder. And actors had need only witness the disaster unfold in order to enhance their own career longevity.

This week: Actor Marketing & Branding | Disaster or Success?

There was a major failure and hullabaloo recently. A cruise-line began taking on water and its image was about to founder. And actors had need only witness the disaster unfold in order to enhance their own career longevity.

Readers of ACTING: Make It Your Business know that I stress this industry of ours is all about “image, image and image”. What you display in your marketing materials, in auditions/performance, and off camera/stage is what lingers within the memories of those you encounter. This holds true for individuals as strongly as it does for corporations. And if you’re familiar with Celebrity Cruise lines then you know Celebrity recently X-ed themselves with the new branding ‘X The Rules’. Don’t let this happen to you.

For those not familiar with the upscale, mass market, cruise carrier each passenger of the line is to be treated as a “celebrity”. Formal nights in the MDR (Main Dinning Room for the cruise phobic) have tuxes and gowns that smatter among the smarter dressers. Celebrity Cruises for years has been one of Condé Nast’s top-rated lines (and by-the-by, Celebrity’s offerings are amazingly affordable for the starving artist).

Recently Celebrity, with its iconic ‘X’ branding, changed tactics in marketing. And when the company launched what loyal customers viewed as a misguided tag line ‘X The Rules’ many of those passengers wanted to abandon ship. On cruise chat boards and Celebrity’s Facebook page the customer feedback was tumultuous with heated rhetoric and disdain. The new ‘X The Rules’ was interpreted as ‘Fuck-the-rules-and-do-anything-you-damn-well-please-on-our-ships-as-we’re-lowering-our-standards-to-the-party barges-of-Carnival’.

Celebrity within hours of the new launch had a major image crisis that was dangerously listing their leverage in the upscale cruise market. A tilt that could potentially scuttle long standing customers’ positive image of the line. This was not Celebrity’s intent with the ‘X The Rules’ folly. As part of damage control Celebrity’s CEO, Dan Hanrahan fielded questions from consumers on a popular cruise web-forum. Corporate released a lengthy advisory statement on Celebrity’s Facebook page explaining that the new tag line ‘X The Rules’ in no means was a reflection upon a change in image for Celebrity but a herald announcing life and work have too many rules and the only way to combat such is to take a cruise on Celebrity. With marketing —  as just like the punch-line of a joke told  — if explanation of meaning is required then the message fails. And fail terribly Celebrity’s new  marketing launch has. (Update: A week after  “X The Rules” debuted, Celebrity’s CEO Dan Hanrahan announced the campaign would be scuttled.)

This happens repeatedly with actors who don’t know or understand what their own brand is. In ACTING: Make It Your Business I and colleagues (actors and agents) detail extensively the importance of knowing what is your brand. But self-awareness is not enough. Execution is equally important. How do you effectively display that ‘image’ to your professional peers and audience?

When the name Lindsay Lohan is mentioned what comes to mind? The images, nouns and adjectives of ‘lush’ and ‘spoiled starlet’ possibly sizzle the synapses of your cranium. Those flash card-like images were placed in your mind by the actress herself by how Ms. Lohan has handled her own image. When the name Tom Hanks is offered you possibly think ‘stability’, ‘good-humored’ and ‘affable’. That’s his branding.

Your brand begins from the moment you sit at your computer and keystroke your resume. You have two choices. First and preferable; follow the industry format for an actor’s resume (three columns, training at the bottom, directors listed, and crisp attention to detail). Recipients viewing your work history on paper will think of you as, ‘professional’, ‘organized’ and ‘straight-to-the-point’. The lesser option would be to do as many actors who try too hard with dumping information haphazardly upon colored paper peppered with entertainment related clip art. Recipients of the trashed text will perceive you as, ‘amateur’, ‘tries too hard’, ‘sloppy’ and/or ‘is masking deficiencies of talent’. (And please if you really need to know what is industry format for an actor’s resume turn to Chapter 4 of ACTING: Make It Your Business… and to those who are presently scowling that that was a cheap plug; no it wasn’t. I can only repeat advice in font so many times before my fingers and sanity rebel.)

How you dress, how you speak, the quality of your picture… all of this is your brand. Oh, and then comes that thing called talent. Which of course is also a key to your image; your brand. How strong is that message within your marketing? Are you pursuing roles fit for your abilities and type?  Or are you like a middle-aged, character woman who foolishly clings to the belief that she can play ingénue but because directors and casting have limited imaginations are miffed you’re not being considered for roles beyond your type. (Note to those who follow this folly: It’s not us behind the table but the audience – which often includes you – that accepts or rejects ‘brand/type’.)

If you offer, like Celebrity, a message that is confusing or in contrast to your product then you’ll fail at attracting the attention you seek. Know your brand. Keep clear the message of your image; from talent, type, offstage stage/camera interactions, to resume and picture. You’re the CEO of your business. What is the most effective image that matches your product? ‘Dem’s da rules.

And now a related note… the one and only scheduled Spring TV/Film non-musical Access to Agents is registering. Faithful readers know that many actors who participated prior in this four week seminar (which includes branding and audition technique) have gotten agents and/or work as a result of Access to Agents. My schedule permits this to be the only New York, TV/Film non-musical Access to Agents for the Spring of 2011. 10 actors only per series. Details @ http://paulrussell.net/Access_to_Agents_TVandFilm.html.

My Best,
Paul

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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How to Gain Goals & Not Piss-Off the World

What do you offer to the world instead of living by the short-sighted mantra, “What does the world have to offer me?”

“If you want an ulcer Momma, get one of your own. You can’t have mine.”

Gypsy Rose Lee
GYPSY (Act II, Sc. 5)

Everything is not about you.

We’re borne to be individualists; sometimes living a myopic existence where we are the single planet in our universe and those who encounter our world are debris and satellites pulled into orbits to circle around us. Objects to be used and/or discarded when needed. It’s a selfish behavior that is limiting. A better mindset and practice of daily action would be to not think of yourself as the center of the universe but as a “universalist”. I.e. being aware of others’ needs while existing in a space shared by many. Knowing that what you do and say, no matter how major or minor, will affect the lives of those with whom you work, engage in friendships, pass as strangers in an audition studio hallway or on the street. As a universalist what do you offer to the world instead of living by the short-sighted mantra, “What does the world have to offer me?”

Far too often when we need something, particularly in theater; a director wants the set designer to create a rolling stair case that doubles as a boat, a lighting designer wants additional instruments, a costumer wants a better budget, an A.S.M. wants a Phillips head screw driver, an actress wants a wig than makes her face appear thinner; whenever we need these things the “I” becomes foremost and we forget the “You” from whom we’re seeking a result to our need. That’s got to change. Especially in our collaborative art form. No one got anywhere or anything on their own. There is always an assist of some sort. And if you’re seeking that assist with just a “Me, me, me, want, want, want” attitude then you’re not-not-not going to get-get-get very far with your ambitions, needs and desires. Think first about what the other person needs whom is helping you. What can you offer them in exchange or more importantly; share? This isn’t bribe time. This is a time for consideration of someone else’s needs as well as yours.

If I’m directing a show and I have a vision for the design, I can’t (as I foolishly did early-on in my directing days) tell the set designer “This is how the design exactly has to be.” I’ve just cut off that person’s participation. I minimized their input and creativity. I’ve also been an ass. The better approach would be for me to say; “I keep getting this sense or feeling of such-and-such for this production. How can this challenge be solved?”

O.K. before you get ahead of me and roll your eyes, I’m not suggesting that if you need something as simple as a screw driver that you inanely approach the Technical Director or Stage Manager and sweetly coo, “I’m having difficulty inserting a Phillip’s head screw into the arch support by not having the proper tool. How can we solve this challenge?” (Slap!) No, in those simple instances of needing something instantly you ask for it in a polite manner that hopefully your mother taught you by asking “Please” and “May I”. The instances of need and consideration I’m talking about are in the collaboration process.

The best examples of what not to do and how to properly proceed is by examples of our past; both the successes and failures. And so opening my closet and rummaging through the skeletons let me give both what would be the politically incorrect and correct approaches to getting a solution to your want(s).

The Wrong Way to Get Your Way

I was directing a production of a musical that I’ve personally lost joy for because revival, high school and community theater productions have turned it into a theme-park-pastel-puke-fest. The piece has become far removed from the original source material which was written during the Great Depression. My tastes being a bit dark I wanted to bring back to musical a touch of depression-era flavor. When I first spoke with the set designer I told him exactly what I wanted. So much so that I sent him crude digital drawings that I pixeled on my computer detailing my vision for the set. Big mistake. There was coldness on the phone in response to my “suggestion”. Several weeks later, without having heard from him again, a model of the proposed set was sent to my office. It was everything I hated about the show. A cartoon. I was miffed because I had not been listened to. But was I listening to him? No. My bullheadedness prevented such sanity. The telephone exchanges that followed the model’s arrival grew short and strained. I kept pushing for what I had drawn. He continued to push the cartoon. Neither of us was listening to the other. The situation had deteriorated to such a low point that we went into rehearsals without a set plan. The set designer was flown in early for an emergency meeting so that he and I could get something done. In the end the set was a drab disaster. Had I not charged forth with strict, detailed sketches but instead given the set designer themes instead of thesis and had the set designer been open to ideas beyond his preconceptions the end results may have fared better.

The Better Alternative

Years later I was asked to direct The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Barter Theatre. I still had scars from the theme-park-puke-fest experience and was giving up on the asinine practice of uncompromising control. As I explored the various script versions of the show (there are four) I kept getting a single haunting thought in regard to design; 18th Century paintings. I knew not what this meant for the production. Not being anything remotely close to an art scholar I was soon scouring the halls of the Metropolitan Art Museum on Fifth Avenue and the Internet looking for an answer. In my first conversation with the set designer, Richard Finkelstein, an extremely brilliant man and designer, I expressed to him my general idea and that I didn’t know what it meant but to please look at some works of Fragonard I had found to be of interest– particularly his, Renaud dans les jardins d’Armide (Renaud in the Gardens of Armide). And by letting Richard’s creativity run on a notion and not a command the final design was glorious.

Whenever you desire something it’s best to consider the needs of the other person from whom you’re asking to fulfill your request. With Richard his need to be himself and create was what I offered and in exchange he returned a design that fitted my and the production’s needs.

When in a collaboration don’t make your approach with “It must be this” or “I need” but rather a “How can we?” and “What are your thoughts?” No one likes to be bullied or steam rolled over. Especially when creativity is involved. Work as a team not as individual players.

Now for those people in positions of authority (directors, department heads and managers) this does not mean that you impede yourself by having every decision you make become command-by-vote or mandate-via-polling. Hell no, then nothing will ever be accomplished. You must judiciously take into account the opinions of others. Objectively weigh the input that is in contrast with your ideas and then make the decision that you think is best for the overall production and not just for your interests. That’s collaboration.

Be bullheaded and you may find yourself in a similar situation that I found myself in on the final dress rehearsal of my Great Depression era musical. The producer’s wife, playing the leading lady, was being pushed around on stage atop a 10 foot-tall rolling staircase that had no railing for her to hold onto! The set designer was so pissed that his original design had not been considered that he had the mobile stairs built without safety rails. His reasoning? He cited “design esthetics”. It was only Lady Luck that kept the producer’s wife from falling off the stairs as she was spun in circles. Her wide, frightened eyes told the backstage story.

Access to Agents - Success StoriesOn the subject gaining goals and collaboration… I continue to help actors find work through my casting, directing and teaching. As regular readers of Answers for Actors I’ve been helping actors get agents and jobs via Access to Agents. A special, low-cost, installment plan expires 12/21. There remain only four seats in one of the series. Let me help you begin the New Year in supporting your career. details, dates, testimonials and more can be found @ http://paulrussell.net/Access_to_Agents_TVandFilm.html

My Best,
Paul

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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