Josie Batorski: Studio Teacher

 

Josie Batorski in the studio classroom with Cozi Zuehlsdorff during the filming of "Dolphin Tale"

Josie Batorski in the studio classroom with Cozi Zuehlsdorff during the filming of “Dolphin Tale”

TTN:  Josie, is there a difference between a set tutor and a studio teacher?

JOSIE:  A studio teacher is different from a set tutor.   There are many set tutors working in Canada and in the U.S. in states other than California who are not studio teachers.   A studio teacher, is a certified teacher who holds both a California Elementary and California Secondary teaching credential, and a Studio Teacher Credential issued by the State of California Labor Commissioner.  (They have completed required training and safety workshops and take a test on the California Child Labor Laws every three years.)  Because I am a studio teacher, all of my answers to your questions will pertain to children working in the entertainment industry in California, and to children who are residents of California who work in the entertainment industry in other states or countries.

Many states in the U.S. do not have any child labor laws for minors working in the entertainment industry.  They usually have child labor laws pertaining to minors working in agriculture or meatpacking. The states that do have child labor laws for minors working in the entertainment industry where there is a great deal of filming going on are California, New York, Florida, and I’m not sure, but I think Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana may, also.

TTN:  How long have you worked as a studio teacher? 

JOSIE:   Since August of 1993, for a total of 20 yrs.

TTN:  What are your responsibilities on set?

JOSIE:  My responsibilities are 1.)  Teaching the minor working on the set their school subjects for 3 hours per day.   2.)  Collecting, verifying, and signing the California Work Permits from each minor.  3.) Enforcing all of the California Child Labor laws (also SAG minors are under these same laws) by caring for and attending to the health, safety, and morals of minors under sixteen years of age.  I take cognizance of working conditions, physical surroundings, signs of minor’s mental and physical fatigue, and the demands placed upon the minor in relation to minors’ age, agility, strength, and stamina.  I enforce when a minor has a meal break and how may hours they may work. I may refuse to allow engagement of a minor on a set or location and may remove a minor from set, if in my judgment; conditions are such as to present danger to the health, safety, or morals of the minor.  Minors often work in close proximity to explosives, pyrotechnics, blank guns, animals, dangerous moving equipment, aircraft, boats, helicopters, and we have to ensure their safety.   We work closely with the stunt coordinators on set, and supervise all stunts that minors perform.

TTN:     Have you worked on any projects that we might recognize?

JOSIE:  I have worked on hundreds of movies.  Some of the more popular are:  Operation Dumbo Drop, Domestic Disturbance, Donny Darko, Frailty, The Young Black Stallion,  Racing Stripes, The Polar Express, Hairspray,  The T.V. Set, I Could Never Be Your Woman, Must Love Dogs, Crossing Over, I Am Legend, Dolphin Tale, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Three Stooges, and most recently After Earth  (June 2013 release.)

Some television series: Malcolm in the Middle, Once &  Again, Family Affair, Gray’s Anatomy, Bernie Mac, Six Feet Under, That’s So Raven, Gilmore Girls, My Name is Earl, Big Love, Alias, Brothers & Sisters, The Office, Good Luck Charlie, Dancing With the Stars, The X-Factor, and Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice Awards.

I’ve worked on hundreds of commercials including:  American Express, Universal Studios, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Intel, Mattel, and Kit Kat Bar.

TTN:    Could you share a particularly interesting story with us, something that might have happened on set that was unusual or noteworthy?

I have so many, many interesting stories of unusual events on set.   Many of my most interesting stories are about the movies I’ve worked on involving children and animals.  In 1994, I was sent over to Thailand to work on the Disney movie, Operation Dumbo Drop, starring Danny Glover, Ray Liotta, Denis Leary, and a wonderfully talented 13 yr. old boy from Vietnam named Dinh Thien Le. Dinh had moved to Los Angeles from Vietnam and was cast in the role of a young Thai boy named Linh. He had never acted before, and this was his first role, ever!  I was excited to travel to Thailand to work with Dinh and his father to film the movie for four months in eight different, beautifully exotic locations.   The other star of the movie was Tai, the Asian elephant, who flew over to Thailand from Los Angeles with her trainer, Gary Johnson, the owner of, “Have Trunk Will Travel.”  The movie is based on a true story that occurred during the Vietnam War, when some U.S. soldiers had to deliver a sacred elephant to a tiny village in Vietnam by parachute.

On the set of Operation Dumbo Drop, Dinh and I spent time everyday during those four months of filming with Tai, who is the BEST working elephant in the business.  She is well-known, has worked on many projects, and responds to 40 commands from her trainer Gary. She even paints!   She is a real pro!  She even had a photo double elephant that stood in for her sometimes!   Tai and I had this funny ritual we did.  She would raise her trunk up to my mouth and I would blow into it and this is how she recognized people, by the smell of their breath.   Tai is highly intelligent, very gentle, walked right along side us on paths, and some days Gary even allowed her to eat pineapple pizza with us.   Dinh had some very physical scenes with Tai, and had to practice over and over how to let Tai pick him up with her agile trunk and place him on her shoulders.   With enough practice, Dinh became very good at riding Tai, to the point where he was very comfortable riding on her shoulders during one scene while she ran full speed in an open field past the camera.  Together we traveled and filmed in eight gorgeous locations in Thailand, and then had to leave Thailand to finish filming the movie in Florida.   The crew flew back to the U.S. and to Florida in one day, and Tai and her trainer Gary were “Fed Exed” to Florida on an overnight FedEx carrier.  It made the national news in U.S.A. Today!  “5,000 pound Elephant FedExed Overnight to Florida!”  We finished filming the movie in Florida, said our good-byes to Tai, and flew back home to our lives in Los Angeles.   I stayed in touch with Dinh and his father for a while, back in Los Angeles, and we gradually lost touch over the years.

I noticed Tai was starring in other movies since Operation Dumbo Drop, where I’d first met her, and longed to see her again.   In the spring of 2010, while I was working in Los Angeles on a new television series, Mr. Sunshine, I took my students outside for some fresh air and some P.E. time.  We left our school trailer in the base camp area and walked around, wandering into the animal holding area, curious to see what animals were working on set that day.  There, across the grassy area, I saw Tai!  I was overjoyed to see her again!  It had been sixteen years since I’d spent those four adventurous months filming with her in Thailand!!!! My heart leapt out of my chest and I ran towards her.  She saw me, too, and ran towards me.  As we ran up right to each other in greeting, she stopped her huge, 5000 lb. body directly in front of me, and raised her trunk up to my mouth and I blew my breath into her trunk!  My heart was singing, I was SO happy to see her and I’m sure she felt my overflowing joy bursting out of my body, as I stood in front of her.  I had so much love for her!  My belief is that she remembered me, after all these years, through the smell of my breath. They say that elephants never forget.  It was great to catch up with Gary, her trainer, and since then, I noticed that Tai has starred in the movie, “Water for Elephants,” as Rosie, with Reese Witherspoon.   We’ve both had great careers!!!

Josie and Tai in Thailand on the set of "Operation Dumbo Drop"

Josie and Tai in Thailand on the set of “Operation Dumbo Drop”

TTN:  What do you consider your greatest challenge as a studio teacher?

My greatest challenge as a studio teacher is going to work on a new project, where they haven’t given me a script for the day’s work, and I walk in cold onto the set and have to work with a very disorganized and chaotic production that doesn’t know about child labor laws.  It’s hard to unexpectedly work with directors that I don’t know or haven’t worked with previously, who are unaware of how to work with children.  I’ve been on projects where the director proceeded to put the children in scenes with very foul language, overt sexual content, or dangerous stunts, and because I was the responsible studio teacher hired for that day, I have to quickly educate the very inexperienced and distracted director, and convince him to shoot the scenes in certain ways according to the child labor laws.  These types of projects are stressful for me.  I don’t like having to enforce child labor laws on projects like these when there is little respect for minors, where the director is ignorant of the child labor laws or decides he’s going to blatantly ignore them, and where I have no support from the parents.  These kinds of projects can involve writing up violations on the production company, and then, becoming very unpopular with these directors and parents!  Our job as studio teachers is to do the right thing, not the popular thing.

It’s a difficult thing, because parents can become seduced by the Hollywood film business, and all that it entails.  Their children LOVE being on set, and it’s so much FUN having all of that attention being paid to them by so many crew members.  Not to mention that they are being paid to do it!  Being around big stars who are working with your child can be very exciting and validating for the parents.  I’ve seen some parents become mesmerized, lose their common sense, and put their children in some very irrational situations. Of course, there are also many wonderfully real and grounded parents of extraordinarily talented children, too, who have a balanced perspective on the entertainment business.

TTN:  What type of special training or certification do you need to be a studio teacher?

JOSIE:  Studio teachers are required to have both an elementary and a high school California teaching credential, because we teach children in 1st through 12th grade.  We have to be very familiar with the many California Child Labor Laws, which we take a test on every 3 yrs. for re-certification of our studio teaching credential, and which we enforce daily on our shows in all sorts of various situations, in limiting time schedules, and on different locations.  We also take required safety workshops regularly that are taken by all the departments who work in our Union; International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees (I.A.T.S.E.)

Depending on the filming schedule, we can sometimes work very long days, sometimes up to 14 hr. days, when they stagger the call times for the children.  This requires a lot of physical and mental stamina and focus.  We often work outside in extreme heat or cold weather.    I’ve worked in the extreme heat of the desert in Namibia, Africa, and in the freezing cold snow of Vancouver, Canada.  Sometimes it requires hiking into remote locations to film.  Recently I worked in heavy rain showers in very hot tropical rainforests in Costa Rica, where snakes were abundant.   I had to bring the school with me, and set up in the tropical rainforest every day.  This job requires GREAT FLEXIBILITY, because the schedule is in constant flux and everything is changing all of the time.  You have to be willing to go with the flow.   I’ve taught Algebra to my student sitting in the grass next to an elephant (his costar) outdoors on a location in a beautiful rice paddy in Thailand.  I’ve worked on sets in Third World countries.  I’ve worked on movies filming children working with trained elephants, camels, cheetahs, panthers, hissing cockroaches, crows, owls, falcons, pelicans, roosters, monkeys, dolphins, dogs, cats, snakes, tarantulas, giraffes, Arabian horses, and zebras.  It requires great patience when working with children and animals.

You have to be a diplomatic and be an adept communicator with creative people in positions of authority and power (directors & producers) in order to negotiate how scenes can be adjusted and shot to accommodate the children in them.   You have to work closely with the stunt coordinators on set, be fearless, and sometimes test out the equipment used in the child’s stunts yourself, before you allow the minors to perform it.  You have to be able to work with adult and child actors, and not be overshadowed by them. You have to be strong in integrity, and not be swayed by the power that these actors and directors wield.  You have to understand and respect creative people and their process.

TTN:  What is your greatest joy in your job?

JOSIE: First, every day is a fresh, new adventure!  It is ALWAYS interesting!

I have numerous joys in my job!

1.) I love to travel,  especially on locations on movies filmed in foreign countries, and have had the great good fortune of being involved in projects filmed in many beautiful, exotic locations in many states of the U.S., Canada, Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico,  Hungary, and Ireland.  Locations for filming are usually chosen for their special, rare beauty, and I’ve seen some incredibly beautiful locations.

2.) I love children, and I love teaching, so that is always a great joy in my job.   If we are filming on locations in Africa, for example, I love creating the curriculum for my students around the history, literature, art, music, and culture of the country we are filming in.  The teacher always learns more than the student, and I learn a great deal about these places from creating the curriculum and going on field trips to all of the museums with my students.

3.) I LOVE days at work where they bring in infants!  It’s so much fun working with the babies!!!

4.) I love the process of making movies and T.V. shows, collaborating with such fascinating, creative people, who work in this business namely as costume designers, set designers, make-up artists, animal trainers, special effects creators, art directors, actors, directors, and I’ve made many friends from all over the world while working in this business.   I’ve met wonderful parents and students that I have stayed in close contact with.  (YOU and your talented daughter Lauran being two I enjoyed working with in the past, and respect immensely.)

One of my most joyful experiences is collaborating with crew on a special project, (usually a comedy), with a highly intelligently written script, where you’ve worked with each other in the different departments long enough that there is a family atmosphere of mutual respect, and you’re playing on a team, committed to accomplishing this wonderful project.  It is a feeling of being in “the FLOW,” and it’s very absorbing and deeply fulfilling.  It’s an experience of playing, not “work.”  I have very delicious memories of projects with amazing crew members, children, and parents.  Later, when I see the finished movie, I remember everything that was going on during the filming of the scenes.  So, there is a richness to the experience of filmmaking that transcends the finished product, that you take with you when it’s completed and you go back and see at it on-screen.   I own every movie I’ve worked on!

TTN:   It certainly sounds like you love your work! What age ranges do you work with?

JOSIE:  I supervise adorable 15-day-old infants to seniors in high school.  After they are 18 yrs. old, they are working as adults and we are no longer there protecting them.

TTN:  So you work with infants; what are your responsibilities then?

JOSIE:  Infants from 15 days to 6 weeks old can work in front of a camera for a total of 20 minutes under no exposure to light greater than 100 foot-candle intensity for more than 30 seconds at a time.  They cannot work around atmospheric smoke, or around fake cigarette smoke.

At this age, the production is required also to hire a nurse who works with the studio teacher, and there is one nurse and one studio teacher for 3 or fewer babies.  Infants can only be on set for a total of 2 hrs. and only between 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m.  We also require the parents of infants under one month to bring a certificate from their pediatrician that states that the infant was carried to full term, was of normal birth rate, is at least 15 days old, is physically able to withstand the potential stress of filmmaking.  This is because we had many parents in the past bringing in premature babies to set, especially for jobs on movies where it was a “birth scene,” which involve applying simulated (fake) birth liquid, blood, etc. to the newborn.

The company has many responsibilities when working with infants on set: providing sterilized baby blankets for each infant, sterilized bassinets, diapers, and supplies in the infants’ trailers, etc.

Because the time is so short for filming in front of the camera, very often, for this age group, they will hire twins and triplets, who will take turns filming.

Babies who are 6 months to 2 yrs. old can work in front of the camera for 2 hrs. and can be on set for 4 ½ hrs. This group no longer requires a baby nurse, and  one studio teacher can supervise up to ten babies in this age group.

Minors age 2 yrs. thru 5 yrs. of age can be on set for a total of 6 ½ hrs. and 3 hrs. filming in front of the camera.  The other 3 hrs. have to be rest & relaxation time and have a 30 min. meal period.

Age 6 thru 8 yrs. of age can work for a total of 8 ½ hrs.  (3 hrs. of school time, one hr. rest & relaxation, the rest filming time, and 30 min. meal period).

Age 9 thru 15 yrs. of age can work for a total of 9 ½ hrs. (3 hrs. of school time, 5 hrs. in front of the camera, 1 hr. of rest & relaxation, 30 min. meal period).

Age 16-17 yrs. of age can work for of 10 ½ yrs. (3 hrs. of school, 1 hr. of rest & relaxation, 6 hrs. in front of the camera, and 30 mins. meal period).

TTN:    What advice would you give to parents who have children in the acting world or are considering the acting world?

My advice to parents who have children employed in the entertainment industry is to firstly, EDUCATE YOURSELF, and decide if your child desires to work as a principle actor, or as a background extra. If you want to work in commercials, then get a commercial agent.  If you want to work as a background extra, sign up with an Extras Agency.  Keep your feet on the ground, and make sure it is something your child wants to do, because they will be the ones doing it.  They may initially like the set and think it is fun, and then change their minds after they experience what it’s like filming the same scenes over and over, and doing school on the set.  Some of them are surprised when they experience how much is involved in it.  There is a definite work schedule on set, and it can be intense.  It’s not playtime.  It is working and there is a lot of rushing around sometimes, and other times there is time sitting and waiting. Some will love it and it will do amazing things for their confidence, and others will become bored and disinterested.

Look online and familiarize yourself with the child labor laws that are in place to protect your child in this industry, which vary from state to state.  The laws for minors working on films in Florida are different from the laws in Canada, which are different from the laws in California.  California is the entertainment capital of the world, and has the most laws protecting children, because of all of the things that have happened on films sets over the years, hence the creation of these laws.  Many people who have children working in the entertainment business have relocated from other states to Los Angeles because they didn’t like the way they were treated in those states and wanted them protected by the California laws.   Please be your child’s advocate.  You are their protector and safety, and have been since they were born.  If you are working in a state that does not have child labor laws for children working in the entertainment industry, be aware that there are no laws to protect your children from working long days in dangerous situations. Please be proactive and take care of your children.   Be aware of what is happening on set, and you can ALWAYS ask questions and if you don’t feel it’s safe, take your child out of the scene.  It is your right.   Crew members call in anonymously to report movies they are working on in other states outside of California where there are no studio teachers supervising the children on set while working, and they are concerned about the safety and welfare of the children working there.  If your child is a member of the Screen Actors Guild Union (SAG), they have greater protection, and are protected under the California Labor Law, because they are in a union.  Many non-union projects in other states employ minors and their priority is to finish their film on time, on budget, and they will work the minors long hours to do so.  It is up to you to decide if you want to involve your child in a project like that.

Please do not bring sick children to set.  We have had to send people home who have driven from very long distances to work on a set, with a sick child.  The medic will examine the child and send them home because it is a health risk for the 150 other crew members working on set that day.   Bring your children snacks and water, and be available for them on their breaks. Supervise your child.   Be respectful to the production company, the crew, the studio teacher (who is there for your benefit), the director, the producers, the stage where you are filming, and the property on location.  Make friends with the studio teacher, and don’t feel shy or intimidated to ask questions.  If you have questions or concerns, talk with the studio teacher, who then communicates with the assistant director who is in charge of the daily filming schedule, There is a chain of command on set, and we communicate this way.

While working on set, please follow the directions of the assistant directors, the director, and the studio teachers.  It is your job to be the advocate of your child, to bring all of the required paperwork, work permits and Coogan Bank Account information with you when you come to work.   Let your child’s regular teacher at their school know ahead of time that you will need to get all of their schoolwork from them for the days your children are missing school due to filming, and bring that schoolwork to set for them.  They shouldn’t miss or get behind in any schoolwork, because they are working on a set.  They should have all of their schoolwork with them to complete that day, and that is your responsibility as their parent.  It is my responsibility as their studio teacher to work on the schoolwork with them and help them complete it.

If your child has special needs and learning disabilities, please communicate this to your agent, the production company hiring your child, and to the studio teacher, so we can meet his/her needs.  We have had deaf children, children with MS in wheelchairs, and children with autism working on set.  Let us know ahead of time, so we can be prepared to do the best job with your child.

Studio teachers thrive when they are valued for what they do, (to be the advocate for your children) which is sometimes very hard to do.

We need to be on the same page as the parents and have their support.  We have to work with stunt coordinators and directors who may have a scene requiring a young child to perform a stunt over and over without a break, or riding a horse when the child is not strong enough or experienced enough to ride, or working in water without a life jacket when the child is freezing cold.   It is my job as the studio teacher and your job as the parent to monitor what the minors are doing.  It is your job to be within sight and sound of your child and know what your child is going to be doing in a scene that day.  Everyone on set appreciates and values when you are involved and work WITH us.  We can work together to solve problems and concerns cooperatively.

For more information about studio teachers, visit: www.studioteachers.com

(Photos courtesy of Josie Batorski)

Country Music and Ice Cream

© Rusty Elliott | Dreamstime.com

© Rusty Elliott | Dreamstime.com

Okay, I confess, I don’t care for country music. I’m ducking in my seat, even as I type this! Every once in a while I let it slip out, and suffer a barrage of questions from those around me: “What…how can you not like country music?” “Don’t you like this artist, or that artist, or how about this song, or surely you like that song” they ask. “No, not really,” I reply.

As much as I’d like to inflate my own sense of self-importance, I know my opinion really doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter any more than it matters that I prefer butter pecan ice cream to chocolate ice cream. Chocolate lovers may argue that point with me, but that doesn’t matter either. They are not going to prove to me that chocolate is the better choice, because my palate prefers butter pecan, thank you very much.

Much like ice cream choices, preference for the arts is subjective. For many of us, that fact is what makes art simultaneously obscure and seductive. It’s what I love about art; there are no boundaries, there are no rights, no wrongs, only pathways to expression. It is what separates art from concrete subjects like mathematics, with its precision and clear-cut choices.

Subjectivity is also why art lends itself awkwardly to contests, and why one artist will lose one contest but might just win the next contest with the very same artistic performance.  Because, what one judge sees as artistic genius, another may see as missing the mark, and that makes all the difference. Art is not an Olympic sport, and winners cannot be determined by measurement and instant replay. For every talented artist out there, there are those who observe their art and think they are simply awful at what they do….and that’s subjectivity in action. This is the very reason that I find arguing over which is the best genre of music, or who is the most talented actor, or the most gifted dancer, a waste of valuable time.

Honestly folks,  we all know that country music (and chocolate ice cream) will be just fine without me. I applaud it for those of you whom it speaks to, it just doesn’t speak to me. I honor and respect its existence for those of you that it works for, it just doesn’t work for me, and that’s my subjectivity speaking. And you know what? The last time I checked, the world was still spinning.

Riley Moran: Young Filmmaker

Kennedy Gonzalez, Riley Moran and Isabella Philipidis at the Gasparilla  International Film Festival Photo Credit: Sydney Burns

Kennedy Gonzalez, Riley Moran and Isabella Philipidis at the Gasparilla International Film Festival
Photo Credit: Sydney Burns

I’m not sure how most 13 year olds spend their days, but I am certain that most of them are not making movies. However, when Riley Moran was assigned a book report for her middle school project, she decided to make the most of it. Instead of writing a book report, Riley produced a film! Not only did her film serve as a substitute for a school assignment, it ended up being screened at the Gasparilla International Film Festival!  Just how did that happen? Let’s find out:

TTN:  Riley, you are in 8th grade and only 13 years old, how did you wind up making a film?

RILEY:  We started a school project assignment. Instead of a book report we made a film. It was related to Alice In Wonderland, the Lewis Carroll novel. I made the project with two other friends, Isabella Philipidis and Kennedy Gonzalez. The three of us were director/editor/executive producer, but it included 14 kids altogether. We credited anyone who helped out at all. We had a friend help make props, people worked on the crew and that sort of thing.

TTN:  What was the name of the film, and what was it about?

RILEY:  The film is titled “The Other Side of the Door.” It is about a girl who is reading Alice in Wonderland, and you can see her visualizing the novel and Alice. Alice takes the book from her, then the girl who is reading the novel goes into Wonderland.

What did you use to make the film?

RILEY: I used my camera a Nikon D5100, a MacBook and iMovie.

TTN:  Have you made films before this? 

RILEY: I have made films before, but just for fun. I wrap my friends up into doing them. This is my fourth film.

TTN:  How would you describe the process of filmmaking?

RILEY:  Very humbling, I don’t think I will ever complain on a film set, it is definitely not easy. But then, seeing the project on the big screen was incredible!

TTN:  Do you appear in the film?

RILEY:  Yes, I appear as the Queen of Hearts (giggles).

 TTN:  How did your film get entered into the film festival?

RILEY:  My friend Kennedy helped with the project. We are technically too young for the film contest, but I’ve been waiting to enter. It turns out that Kennedy’s aunt was on the board of the film festival and sort of snuck us in. She didn’t think it would go anywhere, she just thought it would be fun to say that we entered it into a contest, but we ended up making the cut! The film was entered into “family films” under the youth program, for high school ages.

TTN:  That’s fantastic! What was it like at the film festival?

RILEY:  There was a premiere of our film and we got to invite our friends and family. There was a Q and A at the end. I also got to attend workshops they have for filmmakers and attend other movie premieres, which was a lot of fun.

TTN:  What are your goals for the future?

RILEY:  I love story telling! I just love anything that tells a story so I love to write and read, and I still love acting. Anything in the business I love. If I could, I would do a project about time, anything related to time fascinates me. Of course, I would need a budget of more than zero! I want to go to film school when I am older. Either USC or FSU in Florida.

Photo Credit: Kaylyn Ferguson

Photo Credit: Kaylyn Ferguson

Click here to learn more about Riley:  www.rileymoran.com

You can contact Riley here: rileypeeps@gmail.com

 

 

The SAG Foundation LifeRaft Videos

www.sagfoundation.org

www.sagfoundation.org

What could be better than advice from the pros? Free advice from the pros! What could be better than free advice from the pros? Free professional advice that you can get at your convenience, in your own home! Now there’s a win-win! So that pretty much sums up my thoughts about the SAG LifeRaft videos. But don’t stop reading now…

The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Foundation sponsors great panel discussions on various helpful topics. You can view these in real-time as live streams as these discussions occur, but each panel topic is then archived and you can view them at your leisure. Yes, it is intended to help actors, but many topics pertain to the entertainment business and more.

The SAG foundation has aptly termed these videos “LifeRaft” because they tend to cover topics that are problematic for talent, and information that might be difficult or expensive to obtain elsewhere. These are excellent resources for information and/or inspiration when you feel yourself “sinking”…there is help!

Note that you do not have to be a member of SAG to view the live streams or the archives. If you’d like to view the live streams in real-time, you can sign up to get email alerts for the upcoming live streams and then you can participate in real-time by submitting questions to the panel via twitter or email.

Here are just a few of the topics that have been covered so far:

  • How to Self-tape auditions
  • Building Resilience
  • Building Your Team
  • IRS Audits
  • Prepping for Pilot Season
  • Vocal Health and Technique
  • Social Media Career Panel
  • How to “Crowdfund” Your Passion Project
  • An Evening with Television Casting Directors
  • Thriving In Hollywood
  • The Art of Perseverance

If you find any of these topics intriguing, you will be pleased to note that there are many more and the list keeps growing. So be sure to grab your notebook and  scroll through the topics and find one that interests you. The SAG Foundation LifeRaft Videos are an excellent resource, don’t miss out! Just click the link below to get started…

Check out all the videos here: The LifeRaft Video Gallery

 

How To Get Started In Acting

 

© Dmytro Konstantynov | Dreamstime.com

© Dmytro Konstantynov | Dreamstime.com

I often hear people ask: “how do I get started in acting?”  For some reason, the acting world and culture seems incomprehensible to people who are on the outside of it.  We watch actors on television and in films and we have a difficult time understanding how they got there. Their entire world appears elusive. So, how do you get started in acting? Well, take a good look around you right now.

The simple answer is to start where you are. What does that mean? It means to find all the acting opportunities you can in your community, at your school, church, synagogue, etc. It also means that you should be seeking out community theater projects, and acting lessons and/or clinics on a regular basis.

Get all the local experience that you can along the way. Learn as much as you can, and find out if this is something you enjoy and can grow from.  Contact your local recreation department and ask about opportunities. Another source would be your local performing arts hall. Many of these venues offer classes and clinics for students of acting.

If you are in school, contact your drama instructor. If you can’t fit drama classes into your schedule, the instructor should be able to inform you of opportunities outside of school to help you get involved in acting. You should be able to find plenty of opportunities to perform on stage, in many various settings to get a feel for what it is like to be an actor.

If you have done all of this and you are still asking how to get started in acting, then you might be asking a different question. When and how to find representation and get started professionally is another topic to be covered soon!

The “Ahh” Moment

© Mark Fairey | Dreamstime.com

© Mark Fairey | Dreamstime.com

If you’ve gotten this far in reading a blog about talent, chances are that you have experienced some sort of “ahh” moment. What exactly do I mean by this? Oh, you know, that moment when you were so touched by a work of art or a performance that you knew you had encountered something very special. It moved you in some way that you hadn’t been moved before. You were awakened somehow and you felt as if you had discovered some sort of secret. See, you DO know what I’m talking about!

I think that most of us remember this moment, for some of us it comes earlier than for others, and some of us have many of these moments during our lifetime. My first “ahh” moment came when I was just three years old. I remember walking down a road holding the hand of my mother who was taking me to the city parade. I really don’t think I had any idea what a parade was, but I  do remember standing there for a long time and watching interesting things go by. I was amused, and it was all great fun, but then my “ahh” moment happened.

After watching cars and clowns and various marchers go by, I remember hearing the most amazing thing. Coming closer to us was a marching band, and it was to my young ears, a glorious thing in every way. I remember feeling the vibrations of the music under my feet as it thundered toward me, and the beat of the drum reverberating throughout my small body. Knowing what I know now it probably wasn’t even a very good marching band, but that didn’t matter. As the band drew nearer I knew I was experiencing something that was transporting me in some way. It was powerful, and not just in volume. The colors of the sounds surrounded and enveloped me in a way nothing else had ever done. How could so many people make such a magnificent combination of sounds and rhythms and it all make such sense and travel from them to me, even through me?!

Thus began my intrigue and romance with the world of music. I still remember the awe of that moment, my first aesthetic experience, and I always will.  From that point on, musicians were, to me, the creators of magic, and were unparalleled by movie stars or celebrity types. That moment was the very beginning of a long journey that led me to where I am today. I am very fortunate to say that since this time I have had other “ahh” moments with music and within the other arts as well, sometimes as a spectator and other times as a participant.

Take a moment to share one of your “ahh” moments in the comment section below. That moment that an artistic creation made a very real impact in your life. What was it like? Did it change you?

A Note To Parents

 

© Missjelena | Dreamstime.com

© Missjelena | Dreamstime.com

I feel compelled today to say a word to parents. Parents who have talented children who are out in the world rehearsing, dancing, filming, performing, as these things don’t take place in a vacuum.  Most of the parents I have known do not need this reminder, however, I have seen some that do.

I recall an event from years ago. My daughter, who began acting at the age of eight, had booked a commercial, her very first booking. We left very early in the morning to reach the location where we would be filming for the day, which was a local elementary school.  After meeting two other moms and their children who were also filming the commercial, someone in production asked us to stay put in the room and wait for further instructions.  I chatted with the other parents while we waited, and realized that they were fairly new at this too.

About ten minutes into our “wait,” we heard a loud nearby explosion and the school fire alarm began to ring. I was a little unsettled by this, and began to look around. None of us could see anything wrong, but we could see the children from the school filing out in lines, quickly making their way away from the building, and, clearly there had been some sort of explosion.

As the seconds ticked by I was becoming very uncomfortable with the situation and I decided that we too should evacuate, as the fire alarm was still sounding. To my surprise, the other parents decided they should not leave the room, because they were told to stay there and it appeared that they feared doing something “wrong.”

I  took my daughter and made my way outside of the building and across the street, and,  as it turned out, everyone including the entire filming crew had already evacuated the building.  The other parents never came from the building with their children.  At least no harm was done, it was an old fashion boiler that had overheated and the fire department had it quickly under control. However, it did cause me to wonder why parents would not trust their own parental instincts.  Was it because they were afraid of jeopardizing their child’s first job in the industry? Who knows.

Parents,  use common sense when it comes to your child’s safety and be aware of age appropriate supervision. Whether your child is taking lessons from a dance instructor or is on set filming for a job, your child should not be in harm’s way or in any situation you do not feel is in your child’s best interest. In any situation at a school, camp or in the industry, there should be safeguards in place, however, safeguards are not fail-proof. Ultimately your child’s well-being is your responsibility.

 

 

 

 

Nadia Azzi: Classical Pianist

 

Photo Credit:  Island Photography

Photo Credit: Island Photography

 

Some people take their entire lives to find their true passion. Then there are those who seem placed on this planet knowing exactly what they were meant to do. Enter Nadia Azzi, whom at  the tender age of 14 has accomplished so much in very little time with her talents on the piano. She debuted at age 11 in Carnegie Hall and she took first place in the New Music National Young Artist Competition in 2011 where she won both Overall and Art New Music awards. She has been the recipient of many awards both here and abroad for her talent as a classical pianist, and was recently a featured artist on NPR’s Popular Radio show From The Top. As is true with most young talents, Nadia is an extremely bright girl who is also successful academically. Nadia is currently living in New York City, studying at the prestigious Professional Performing Arts School and in the pre-college division of Juilliard. She recently took some time to answer a few questions about what her life is like as a young musician. After reading the interview be sure not to miss her attached video performances.

TTN: Nadia, why dont you start out by telling us what a typical day is like for you?
NADIA:  I leave my apartment at 8:25 am to arrive at the Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS) located in Times Square by 8:59 am, except Tuesdays when I have to arrive by 8:15 am for my chemistry lab work. The school bus picks me and other Juilliard students up at 1:18 pm and takes us to The Juilliard School in Lincoln Center by 1:35 pm. I normally have lunch with my friends at Juilliard around the area until 2:15 pm. I spend sometimes hours just to find a practice room, but spend a few minutes only on some days. I then practice the piano until 8:30 pm or so depending on the amount of homework I have for the day. If there is not much homework, I can stay practicing at Juilliard until 11:00 pm. My Juilliard classes start at 10:00 am and end at 6:00 pm on Saturdays. I take chorus, private lessons, chamber music rehearsals, ear training, music theory, studio class during these hours. I also perform at Juilliard either during these hours on Saturdays or after 6:00 pm.
TTN:  I’ve read that you practice some 15 hours and more per week, how do you fit that into your schedule?
NADIA:  I now normally practice 4-5 hours a day for piano, maybe 25-30 hours a week. I practice longer during the days leading to a performance or competition. Because I attend a joint program between Juilliard and Professional Performing Arts School, at least 2 periods worth of practice hours are built into my daily curriculum. All students at PPAS spend their afternoon for their majors. That’s why all Juilliard students get transported to practice rooms in the afternoon. This arrangement makes it easier for me to spend more time to practice. I am however new to this kind of special treatment. I always attended a traditional school for my academic needs and took music privately. There were days I couldn’t touch the piano at all because there were so much homework to do. I got transferred to this joint program at the end of October of 2012.
TTN:  You’ve been called a prodigy, what do you think about that?
NADIA:  I personally don’t see myself as a prodigy. My parents always stress that talent alone is not a substitute for hard work. They praised me for my ability to focus and practice for an extended period of time or my ability to enjoy both positive and negative results generated from competitions or performances. Since I started the Juilliard pre-college division, I am blessed to be around so many other students who have different types of amazing abilities. At PPAS, I share my daily school life with gifted dancers, actors, and singers.  My definition of being talented is one’s ability to work hard on the field that they are passionate about. I am told that some people spend a lifetime trying to discover and define their real passion, from that perspective I feel blessed and lucky to have found my real passion at a very early age.
TTN:  Tell us something about your most memorable musical performance or event.
It’s difficult to pick one event. My very first memorable musical performance was when I performed at the Carnegie Hall when I was 11. I vividly remember the great acoustics of the hall. The sounds travel so beautifully in the hall that I didn’t have to work hard on the piano. Having come from FL to NYC to perform at one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world for the first time, my parents were worried that I would get nervous. I didn’t at all. I felt so alive instead. I also felt performing is something I would like to do for the rest of my life, and if that’s not possible, I somehow felt music will always with me one way or another. Another event I can’t permanently forget is my exclusive appearance on WFMT98.7 Chicago’s International Radio Program. It was an hour-long and totally a live show. There wasn’t a live audience in the radio studio where I had to perform. I was for the very first time nervous. I was worried about making a mistake that could be heard through radio broadcast. It was also horrifying not to have a live audience! I knew I had to be as perfect as possible because I was only given one chance to do it. I don’t remember how I did it, but the show was successful. This event was very memorable because this opportunity gave me an experience to excel in my own personal expectation. The other very important performance was my debut in the Newport Music Festival last summer at age 13. I was very honored to be invited at such a young age to be included in the Festival’s artist roster with well-established professionals in classical music.
TTN:  With your busy schedule, how are you handling school?
NADIA:  As explained above, I am settled in this joint program, and excited to excel both in academics and music. Even if PPAS gives us freedom to work around our musical performances or competition needs, it gives us opportunities in excelling academically as well. PPAS offers AP courses in school, and also accepts advanced online and college courses. I plan to take advanced language courses and pre-calculus/Calculus courses online starting next year. For Juilliard courses, I would like to add composition and improvisation courses starting next school year. The great thing about Juilliard pre-college courses is that you can pick and choose many various classes that fit your interests. I wish there were more than 24 hours a day, so I could add more classes!
TTN:  Do you play any other instruments?
NADIA:  I also play the violin. I however practice the violin only for an hour every other day. I didn’t start it until age 10, which is kind of late for a competitive instrument. My best friends played the violin and I wanted to play it as well. Surprisingly, it came to me much easier than the piano during the initial stage of learning the instrument, maybe because I already had years of music theory, ear training, and reading more difficult music on the piano repertoire. For me, violin helps my piano playing. Piano is a percussion instrument, and I get sometimes frustrated that I can’t grow the sound after playing a note on a key. Because I do that on the violin, I try to connect notes on the piano in a way that it sounded as if it was connected and with a crescendo. This effort always helps me on lyrical pieces and not to make it sound choppy. I plan to audition for a chamber group in NY this year on violin as well, so I can continue playing this 2nd instrument.
TTN:  Do you have other musicians in your family?
NADIA:  My father was never exposed to music growing up. My mother took piano lessons when she was young. She however didn’t stick to the piano when she got into high school. She became very passionate about playing the drums in a rock band. I was told she took her drum sticks to subways and buses during her commute to her high school every day in order to practice in her mind and during every breathing moment. When her band was about to tour nationally in Japan, her parents opposed it, being an only girl in the band, and forced her to quit.
TTN:  How did you first become interested in playing the piano?
NADIA:  To be honest I don’t remember how and when! Sometimes I feel like if I was born with that passion!
TTN:  Ive watched some of your very beautiful lengthy classical performances, how do you memorize that much music?
NADIA:  I really don’t know for sure. Memorizing music has always come easy to me. I really never made an effort trying to remember.  I believe I do have photographic memory ability. When I perform from memory, I play as if I have a music score in front of me. I remember each note’s location on the book exactly how they appear.  When I play the memorized piece on a different edition, I get thrown off a little because some editions have notes in different locations on the pages. Then, the contents do not match with my photographically stored record.  But, the more the advanced repertoire I play, the more difficult it has become to memorize. I then would have to analyze the composition more in detail. I think about the structures of the piece and how the keys are transposed.  In December when I appeared on the NPR’s show From the Top, an alumni cellist gave me a tip on how to memorize quickly.  He said to memorize music backwards.  I have tried it, and it actually works!
TTN:  What would you like to contribute to the music world?
NADIA:  I would like to help bring back the lost interest in classical music to today’s mainstream audiences. I want my work to help the newer generations so they can understand and appreciate many different genres of music, without excluding the great work of classical composers that is often forgotten nowadays.
TTN:  I understand you do community outreach programs; can you talk a bit about those opportunities?
NADIA:  Yes, I always performed for churches, schools, and assisted living places locally in my home state of Florida since I was 5 or 6. I just LOVE to perform for the elders. I know I make them very happy when I perform for them. I heard some of these elders do not have their family visiting them all the time. Since many of these seniors on wheelchairs can’t go to other live performances at concert halls easily, I felt coming to their places to play for them made a huge difference in their lives. I also perform for charity concerts especially for the Japanese Tsunami victims. Additionally, when I was invited to perform with the Northwest Indiana Symphony last week, I was asked to give two Outreach Programs at local K-8 schools. The reactions I received from these young students were something I will treasure forever. At such a young age, I know they can do anything they want and they can become anything they wish to be, so sharing my music passion with these students gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. I did not go there to only promote music, but I asked them to believe in themselves and pursue their own passion. If you feel something that is in your heart; I urged them to just go for it.
TTN:  What is it like living in NYC and studying at the pre-college division of Juilliard?
NADIA:  Everything is in walking distance in NYC, so it gives me great freedom and independence. Everything is close, and it’s perfect for students like me who want to advance in music. I however love my home, my friends in Florida, and the life I had in Florida. I love Florida’s weather and cleanliness. NYC is very crowded and some streets are smelly. But having attended the pre-college division of Juilliard gave me an assurance that this is the place I need to be at least for now. I am surrounded by many students who have the same goal and passion as me, and we can share so many things together. I love my chamber music partners who are totally committed for weekly rehearsals and performances. Anything I want to study is offered at Juilliard. I LOVE it!
TTN:  You were recently a featured artist on NPRs From the Top, what was that experience like?
NADIA:  It was such an amazing experience to be featured on this popular show! Mr. O’Riley is a wonderful host as well as a great musician. But, the show itself is completely well-run. The staff is very experienced and helpful. The best part of this show however is the Art Leadership program. They educate us to be a leader and promote the performing arts, which helped me to be a great Outreach Program presenter.
TTN:  What kinds of things do you do with your friends when you are not  focusing on your music?
NADIA:  At Juilliard, a bunch of us gather in a practice room and watch Asian dramas on a laptop or computer. Or, some of us have fun sight-reading together, improvising, etc. We also go out to restaurants together. There are so many great restaurants to eat in NYC! All of us live in either small apartments, or different parts of NY, so we don’t go to anyone’s house – very different from how it is in Florida.
TTN:  Do your friends understand that you need to devote as much time as you do to your music? Are the supportive, or are they musicians as well?
NADIA:  Many of my friends at PPAS/Juilliard devote lots of time or pretty much their whole life for music. Some practice much longer than I do. Of course, everyone understands this because the piano is a very competitive instrument. I actually feel like I need to spend more time to practice from seeing how much time my friends devote to their own practicing. I am really grateful for that. But before being accepted at Juilliard, many of my old friends didn’t understand why I had to spend so much time home practicing. I however was very blessed with many great friends who went to school with me at the Center for the Gifted Studies in Dunedin Highland Middle School. Many of my friends had other passions, so most of them never criticized me on my needs of practicing for a long time. I never hang out with my friends unless certain hours of practicing are done, so all of them start scheduling get-togethers with me later in the afternoon or in the evening, knowing I will be done with my practice.
TTN:  What are your hobbies outside of music?
NADIA:  I don’t know if you call it a hobby, but I like to spend time social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter so I can catch up with my friends that aren’t in NYC. I am very interested in learning more about web-designing. I enjoy swimming and want to start hip-hop dancing. I also enjoy photography.
TTN:  Is there anything you would like to impart to young musicians who are just starting out?
NADIA:  I strongly recommend them to enjoy the process of learning. Don’t look for the results all the time. Please compare how you were doing in the past with how you are doing now, not how others were and are doing, and remember that the only person you are competing with is yourself. Music is very subjective, so please don’t look for an approval. While a proper instruction is crucial especially at the early learning stages, it’s more important to have something of your own. It is always a lot easier to be yourself than trying to be like someone you are not sure who they are!

 

Watch Nadia perform Schumann Sonata No.2 in G Minor
Click to view Nadia Azzi’s Website

 

Mistakes Are Your Friends!

© Skypixel | Dreamstime.com

© Skypixel | Dreamstime.com

If you aren’t making mistakes you probably aren’t doing anything at all. Nobody’s perfect, and a perfect performance or rehearsal so rarely, if ever, occurs that it’s not even something I wish to discuss. However, mistakes do love to rear their heads, so they can’t be ignored. In fact, I’d even like to go so far as to suggest that mistakes are your friends! Why, you ask? Because they have so much to offer! Here are just a few of those things:

  • Mistakes are a great teacher. They teach you where you need improvement. Certainly perfection doesn’t offer that! I once had a teacher who suggested that if someone were to observe your practice, they should come away believing you weren’t very good at all.  Her theory being that you should spend the majority of time rehearsing the things that you couldn’t do well, and any outside observer wouldn’t find that appealing. An interesting theory.
  • Mistakes are essential to performance. This is because you need to practice making mistakes!   That doesn’t mean you need to incorporate mistakes into your performance, but when they do occur, allow them in the gestalt of your practice and give them a peaceful existence. Learn to carry on and make peace in your performance with your mistakes.  Believe that mistakes are not your enemies. You will make mistakes in public performances, on stage, in the audition room, etc.  If you become comfortable with that fact, you will learn to incorporate them into an excellent performance, and that is, in the end, all that matters.
  • Mistakes can function as portals of creativity. Sometimes when you make a mistake, you may find that it offers another direction that you hadn’t considered before, one that you might even consider better than the direction you were taking initially. Surprise! Some great inventions in our world were born of “mistakes,” why not new creative avenues?
  • Mistakes are indicators If you are making mistakes as you practice that usually means you are pushing yourself to the next level, bravo! Keep pushing!  Make BIG mistakes! Go for it!

If you are a performer who dreads making mistakes give yourself permission to stop. It can be paralyzing. Learn to make friends with your mistakes today. Go ahead and give them a big bear hug. Carry on with those mistakes and embrace what they have to offer!

What is your advice on handling mistakes? Leave a comment below!

(Special thanks to Dr. Bruce LeBaron for his inspiration for this post!)

 

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Warrior

Lionsgate, Universal Pictures  http://www.impawards.com/2006/peaceful_warrior.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peaceful_warrior.jpg

Lionsgate, Universal Pictures
http://www.impawards.com/2006/peaceful_warrior.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peaceful_warrior.jpg

Here’s an inspirational film you might have missed;  Peaceful Warrior (2006) directed by Victor Salva and starring Scott Mechlowicz, Nick Nolte and Amy Smart. The film is based on the book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman.  Peaceful Warrior begins as a movie inspired by the real events in the life of a gymnast. I say “begins” because although it is inspired by real events, it quickly takes a turn toward the more esoteric aspects of inspiration and motivation.

The main character in Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman, is a rather egotistical but extremely goal oriented gymnast at UC Berkeley. He experiences a devastating accident, and, of course, the subsequent soul-searching about its effect on his career as a gymnast. He then meets a very unlikely mentor, at a most unexpected place, who teaches him about his approach to his goals and about life in general. The result of this encounter borders on the mystical, so if that sort of thing speaks to you, then I think you will enjoy this film.

If you are looking for a nuts and bolts self-help movie this is NOT it.  In fact, I came upon some reviews that skewered the movie for being exactly what it is meant to be. So, what can you expect from Peaceful Warrior? You get a feel good inspirational tale about coming back from despair, redefining your life and your approach to your goals. I am tempted to insert my favorite quote from the movie here, however, I feel it will give away the very thing I hope that you take away from watching it! Suffice it to say that most of us get way too caught up in the end product of whatever we are doing. Okay, enough said about that.

Check out Peaceful Warrior when you are looking for something inspirational to watch, even if you find yourself an artist, not a gymnast.  I quickly found it on Netflix, so you shouldn’t have trouble locating it. If you have even more time you might want to delve into the book “The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior” I am going to add it to my list of things to read.

Have you seen Peaceful Warrior? What did you think?

Watch the Official Trailer for Peaceful Warrior :