“The Expanse” Will Make You Feel Lost In Space

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Netflix’s new show, The Expanse, is extraordinary, visually stunning, and has a gritty, realistic look which makes the show quite unique and creative when compared to other sci-fi shows.

There’s a lot going on right off the bat, with colonies across the solar system, a futuristic Earth, a militant Mars, and plenty of water shortage on some smaller worlds. I would say there’s a lot going for the show.

This being said, there are also a few things which the show isn’t so great at doing. Below are some thing it does well and some things where it misses the mark. All points considered, you’ll feel lost in space watching this show.

Now whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

The Worlds Are Incredible

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The production quality is the shows number one quality, hands down. The worlds and ships they show glisten with details and have almost a Blade Runner vibe especially on the Asteroid colonies.

The show also hits well on the realities of space and what could go wrong. One example, is the water shortage on the asteroid belt. There’s moments where shipments of ice are delayed and the people on the belt suffer because of it. It goes even farther to point out that if a second shipment is delayed then people will die.

It was refreshing to see so much thought put into the mechanics of world outside of earth, and see the messy reality, and complications which could arise. The visual aspects of the worlds and the realism they present are both excellent.

Seeing all these real intricate worlds allows you to get lost in them, a feeling which was a pleasant surprise.

Wait, Who Are These People?

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After watching The Expanse, I noticed the one thing I didn’t quite like: the character development. Probably the weakest aspect of the film. While the production design is quite superb, the characters fall short, especially in the beginning.

I thought about why this was. The characters are interesting enough, they live in incredible worlds, and the plot is good, so what gives. Well, here’s the deal. While the characters may be interesting, it’s hard to know because they rush the character development.

It feels like we are supposed to know who these people are as soon as we see the first shot. It almost seems like the beginning of the show is the middle of a show. Now, there is development of the characters, a little.

But for the most part, all the introductions are rushed and end up leaving you feeling  little connection with the people you are watching. I think to myself, “A spaceship explodes and people might die! Oh no! Wait, who are these people?”

If they want the events to hold any weight, they need to let us get to know the characters, and then put them into dangerous life-threatening situations, or we won’t care.

If you feel stranded and not quite sure how to feel then don’t worry, it’s an effect of rushed character intros.

Feeling Lost Could Be Either Good or Bad

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Both the best qualities of the show and the worst qualities of the show will make you feel lost. But which feeling sticks with you? Does the production design and visuals carry you through the hard-to-know characters, or do you feel not knowing the characters takes you out of the show?

Either way, it’s an inspiration to anyone who wants to make a science-fiction show.

Gavin Hood – Practical Advice and Inspiration from Eye In The Sky Director

Gavin Hood is climbing the ranks in the film industry, having directed some popular movies with tenacious morale.

I first noticed him after watching Eye in the Sky, which is about the disputes of modern warfare. I was thoroughly impressed. I don’t remember the last time I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of an entire movie. When I realized he’s a fellow South-African, I was intrigued even more – I have to admit I’m a bit biased…

The more I found out about him, the more reasons I found to acknowledge him and his work.

Gavin Hood is the kind of filmmaker who is in the business for the right reasons.

He is driven to create current and applicable content which is entertaining at the same time. When asked why he chose to direct Eye in the Sky, he commented: “It’s completely current and it’s about what’s really happening in modern warfare and it has elements of black comedy and farce that are grounded in real life.”

His choice to cast Helen Mirren (the role was intended for a male lead) as Colonel Katherine Powell was very strategic. He didn’t want to box the movie in as a war movie for guys.

He recounts saying, “I want it to be a movie about war but that it’s a conversation starter for men and women about a subject matter that I think is very topical.”

He’s also a filmmaker who works extremely hard to get where he is right now. When asked to give advice to aspiring filmmakers, he shared, “Unfortunately, […] there’s this notion that you can become famous and rich very quickly. It’s a curse I think. […]

The way you make it is by getting good at making films.

There’s no shortcut; just study the craft and practise and hopefully you’ll eventually connect with an audience. And if you don’t connect with an audience, you won’t have a career in this business.”

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It took a while for him to gain international recognition. Even though he wanted to be an actor, he followed his father’s advice and “took his big mouth and studied law” though he only practiced it for 4 months. He was already 30 when he actually started studying screenwriting, cinematography and directing.

Although he knew he was always going to go into film, he doesn’t regret having studied law, instead he recalls, “it trained me in terms of thinking and story and conflict and moral and ethical questions.”

He continually emphasizes the importance of making films in order to connect with your audience. He himself is drawn to stories compelling him to think. “I personally, with my background of being a lawyer and growing up in the turbulent times of the 80’s in South-Africa, I tend to be drawn to […] stories that somehow challenge me in a moral or ethical way.

“Don’t tell me what to think, but present me with something morally or ethically challenging.”

He started small by making short films; The Storekeeper was one I remember seeing in Middle School. It left a big impression on me, not only because of the dilemma it presents, but because it was so close to home. It was a South-African story which could be understood universally.

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This is another thing I appreciate about him; he bloomed where he was planted. He started where he was and then expanded, instead of limiting himself to the small South-African film industry.

Tsotsi was his breakthrough film which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 – a film I highly recommend by the way…

It was again, an authentic story, but one exploring universal humanity.  

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“I really believe that we focus so much on differences and not enough on similarities. Most people, on a very basic level, have surprisingly similar needs. The need for companionship, dignity, love. And when these basic needs are not met, you find individuals developing a very distorted sense of the world.”

By now, he has other popular movies under his belt like Ender’s Game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Rendition.

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I celebrate people like Gavin Hood and believe there are many more like him out there who we simply need to discover.

Fellow filmmakers and actors, let us strive and work hard to tell stories worth telling. Stories that challenge people in their thinking to fight passivity.

Gavin Hood, I thank you for being an inspiration and persisting with a tenacious and creative spirit – all the best to you for your future projects!

Written by Annette Lange.

Anatomy of the Best Loglines

Knowing where to start in the creative process of writing can be daunting for a first time filmmaker. I know it was for me. I’ve tried building a story around every possible thing imaginable, and I found Blake Snyder’s longline method from his infamous book, Save the Cat, to be the most effective.

His argument centers around starting your writing process by creating something called a logline (your entire movie summarized in a sentence). He would say, if you can’t do this in a compelling way from the start, then you don’t have a story worth telling.

Many of you more seasoned writers may find this approach “formulaic,” however for writers starting out, this is a great place to begin.  

Ingredients for the best logline:

  • One Character
  • One Goal
  • One Source of Conflict with a dash of Irony

In short what you will be creating is the following equation:

Your hero is going for their goal, but something ironic happens to stop them.

If you cannot put your story within this simple formula, then perhaps your story is too complicated, OR missing a crucial element.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Disgraced pilot, E. Ripley is left with PTSD after her encounter with the xenomorph and tries to rebuild a life for herself. However, when a human colony is overrun with xenomorphs, Ripley may be their only hope.

From the film Aliens

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Element 1: Establish Your Hero

The first step is to insert your main character into your logline. This isn’t a place to go into great detail on their backstory; all that’s needed are one or two descriptive words. Sometimes the scenario they find themselves in is sufficient enough information.

As Blake Snyder says, you want to paint a clear enough picture in the minds of those who will hear your logline. They need to be able to see where your story is going. This includes who your character is.

In my example, I defined Ellen Ripley as a disgraced pilot with PTSD. We know she’s an underdog, and it will be easy for the audience to get behind her.

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Element 2: Establish Your Hero’s Goal

The next step is to show what the character is trying to accomplish before they are confronted by the story’s major conflict.

In Vertigo, Scottie is investigating Madeline for her husband (his goal) before he begins to fall in love with her (the conflict).

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle wants more than what her small town has to offer (goal) before she is held prisoner in an enchanted castle (the conflict).

Sometimes the goal can be something more passive, or simply keeping the status quo. For example, in Toy Story, Woody isn’t actively trying to do something new, but is enjoying the “status quo” of being the toy on top.

Don’t just tell us WHO your character is, but where we find them at the start of the story.

For Ellen Ripley, I have her trying to rebuild a life for herself.

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Element 3: Conflict with a Dash of Irony

Lastly, we introduce our story’s major source of conflict into the logline.

This is where people tend to struggle the most, either because they realize they have no real source of conflict throughout their story. Even if they do it’s lacking the crucial element of irony which gives a story it’s hook, edge, or bite.

Conflict is truly what starts your story and what moves it forward. Without this element, there is no story.

In my example from Aliens, the conflict comes from the xenomorphs overtaking a colony, forcing the corporation to turn to Ripley for help.

It’s conflict, because it’s both stopping her from starting a new life, while giving her an opportunity to gain her old life back.

Irony?

Before I explain how irony comes to play in this equation, let me explain what irony IS. There are two forms of irony: situational and irony of fate. Situational irony is when events defy expectations, while irony of fate is when it seems the gods, fate, the universe, etc are toying with humanity for their own amusement.

Situational irony would be getting robbed by a police officer (an amoral act practiced by someone who is sent out to stop such behavior). Jesus being crucified by the very people he was to save is another great example of situational irony. Both examples play on your expectations and subvert them.

Irony of fate is when something occurs with lasting consequence beyond a specific situation. A former athlete who is now paralyzed is an example of irony of fate. Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest composers lost his hearing. He can no longer hear the beautiful music he puts out into the world. Irony of fate.

Irony is all about subverting our expectations in an effort to hook us.

The irony in Aliens is drawn mostly from the situation Ripley finds herself in; she was seen as a pariah and a liability by the company at the start of the film, and becomes the very person who could save them.

That’s irony.

There’s no right way to go through the writing process, but by beginning with a logline my writing has grown simpler and stronger. I hope it helps you on your own writing journey. For more great film advice, check out Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat.

Written by Brenden Bell.

 

Top 10 Movies Every Actor Should Watch and Why

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Who hasn’t deeply been touched by beautiful cinematography, amazing performances by actors and successful adaptations of extremely creative and ingenious screenwriting?

Films speak to everyone on a deep, personal level. They reveal, celebrate and criticize humanity and are therefore a powerful tool.

If you’re an actor, you’re probably driven by the same desire to tell stories worth telling. I’ve compiled a list of movies that will challenge, inspire and help you in your endeavour to become a better actor.

1. Sophie’s Choice

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There are so many reasons to watch this film, if you haven’t already. Pay close attention to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s performances. Their characters are so multifaceted, complicated and emotional, and both are able to portray them convincingly. Streep nailed not only the Polish accent when speaking English but also when she spoke German.

2. Wall-e

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This movie is an excellent reminder of the importance of story. The immense impact this film has on the audience is incredible. The actor is not the most important part – the story is. And it can be told without words. Films should be made to create a connection with the audience. The actors are merely servants of the director who carries the vision.

3. The Descendants

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In this film, director Alexander Payne chose to leave the camera on the cast longer than what would be a good point to yell ‘cut’. It’s fascinating to see how the actors explore this opportunity. You often hear the saying ‘the magic happens outside of our comfort zone’ and this is a perfect example.

4. Drinking Buddies

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Drinking Buddies is an example of successful mumblecore. What this means is, the performances are natural and more realistic because there are guidelines instead of scripted dialogue. Watching this will inspire you to really listen and react to your scene partner and see what happens. Don’t be scared of improvisation, it’s a breeding ground for magic to happen.

5. La Vie En Rose

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Marion Cotillard’s performance blew me away when I saw this film. No wonder it garnered her an Oscar. Her commitment and dedication to portraying Edith Piaf is inspirational. It’s a perfect example of Ugly Acting. She does not look flattering in her performance, she masters the degression of age and sickness and makes very bold character choices. I’m a strong proponent for watching foreign films as well, and to start with La Vie en Rose is an excellent choice.

6. Bronson

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Confidence is a key lesson that improved my acting, and Tom Hardy’s confidence in this movie is incredible. He seems to have completely forgotten the camera. His performance is raw and unforgiving. Also, Bronson is just one bizarre human being, and to understand his psyche and wrestle with the character development must have been a challenge.

7. Sunset Boulevard

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This is a classic black comedy and, even though it is an oldie, it still shows the ‘behind the scenes’ of Hollywood/Stardom quite plainly. It shows the extent and consequence of Norma Desmond’s love for fame, herself and greed. Stardom is fleeting, the fruit of pride is disgusting. Mommy Dearest explores this topic as well. It is definitely a topic every actor needs to grapple with for their personal life.

8. Singin’ in the Rain

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Whether you are fan of musicals or not, you must have seen this movie at least once. Film is first and foremost entertainment and should appeal to your audience. Gene Kelly is a wonderful example for his standard of excellence. Only dreaming for a breakthrough in acting will just continue to be a dream if you don’t work on your craft.

9. Amadeus

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Amadeus discusses many topics worth mentioning. But what struck me while watching the movie was observing how both Mozart and Salieri failed to steward their talents well and as a result, both their lives end tragically. Instead of composing for the love of music and others, Salieri chose to let comparison and jealousy get the best of him. And Mozart indulges so much in the futile pleasures of life, it results in a disgraceful death.

10. Kramer vs Kramer

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What’s fascinating about this movie is, it refuses to take sides. Humans are intricate, complicated beings. Their personalities and decisions change. There isn’t always a black and white, right or wrong. The focus is not on the child who suffers from his parents’ divorce, but on the ‘grown-ups’ who cry out for just as much attention and identity as the child does.

Read Roger Ebert’s review for a further exploration of the film.

Bear in mind

This is a very limited list and not ranked in any way from best to worst or vice versa.

My advice to you – watch ‘em all. But be strategic with your choice of movies. Watch good ones, watch bad ones, popular movies and unpopular ones, independent and foreign ones – but watch them all with a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness and take away from them what you can and apply to your own craft.

How to Promote Your Acting Career for Success

BY CHARIS JOY JACKSON

Actors need to get creative and build a community around their career. In other words, they need to promote themselves to become more successful.

This is not success in the manner of earning the bigger bucks, or becoming famous. Those can be byproducts of your success, BUT they should never be the reason to promote your acting career.

The success you’ll find in promoting your career come more in the community you build. The more you relate to your fan base and fellow dreamers, the more likely they’ll want to watch you in a film.

Here’s a couple tips to get you started on the path to success.

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CREATE A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM

Create your own Facebook page, start an instagram account, jump on Twitter, and build your own website. This can be a huge help to boost your career.

I’ve heard rumors of some agencies who won’t even look at you as a potential client unless you have a certain amount of followers on Instagram and Facebook. While I can’t confirm or deny this, I can understand the principle behind why an agency would do this.

If they can find someone who’s already showing themselves to be a bit of an “X-factor” then they are more likely to want to work with you. In some ways it means less work for them too, but it can also show them you mean business and acting isn’t just a hobby, but your life.

I would recommend you start with building your own Facebook page, but don’t do this unless you know you’re ready for the hard work of pursuing your dream. Acting is fun, but it is a lot of hard work and takes incredible tenacity to stick to it in the long haul.

If this sounds like you, then you should create a Facebook page. Invite everyone on your friends list if you can. The more personal the invite, the better. Send it to them in a message versus just clicking the invite button.

Then start your own Twitter and Instagram accounts. Follow other budding actors you know and hopefully they’ll return the favor. Follow casting companies like Backstage to get updates on potential auditions and jobs.

Having your own website can be helpful too. With platforms like Weebly, who do most of the hard work for you, it’s really easy to build your own site. If it’s done well, then it will aid your professional appearance, making it more likely for agencies and films to hire you.

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BE CONSISTENT WITH THE CONTENT YOU SHARE

An important key with your social media platform is to be consistent with what you produce. Set aside some time to figure out what you can realistically produce in a week, then create a schedule for yourself.

Research when each site’s high traffic times are and schedule posts for those times. Take advantage of the almighty hashtags on Twitter and Instagram especially. Ask questions, take pictures of the projects you’re a part of and be real with people.

The more real you are with your growing fan base, the more fans you’ll acquire.

For example, look at Robert Downey Jr. If anyone had the excuse to not promote themselves, it would be him, but if you’re like me and follow him on facebook, you know he’s always active with his fans and more than that, he’s real with them.

Zachary Levi is another actor I’ve noticed who is incredibly active with his fans. Almost daily, he’s responding to fans on Twitter, being real, sometimes even cheeky, but he’s still taking the time to see them as individuals versus a whole.

This is something I wish more actors would do as they build platforms to promote their careers.

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“Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.”

(author unknown)

I know it can be a bit scary to think about promoting yourself. Maybe you’re afraid it’ll look a bit pompous or narcissistic. Think of it more as you inviting them on the adventure, make them feel like they’re part of your inside team. Build a community of dreamers and creatives.

Barkhad Abdi – How to get awards without training

BY ANNETTE LANGE

In order to win the Bafta Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and get a part in popular movies, one must simply do the following:

 

  • Come from a difficult background in Somalia and flee to Yemen to escape sudden civil unrest and war
  • Win a Green Card Lottery and move to Minnesota at the age of 14
  • Learn English from TV shows and rap music
  • Become a limo driver, DJ and sell phones to make ends meet
  • Respond to a casting call for Captain Phillips and give the best performance out of 700 fellow auditioners to get the role of a Somali pirate
  • Co-star alongside Tom Hanks and give an excellent performance
  • Improvise iconic lines to add to the believability of the scene

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This, in a nutshell, is the story of Barkhad Abdi who made his major debut in Captain Phillips, without any acting training or experience prior to his role as ‘Abduwali Muse’. And, besides winning the Bafta Award, he got nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award as well.

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I love stories like his. People like Abdi are very refreshing. They haven’t been sheltered from the world, they had other things to worry about than staying in the loop with the latest trends. And when success comes to them as a surprise, it is an even more joyous achievement.

 

When asked about his response to co-starring with Tom Hanks, he recalled thinking, “I can’t believe I’m in a scene with the Forrest Gump guy.”

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I first noticed Abdi in Eye in the Sky and I was extremely fascinated by his performance. When I realized he hadn’t been trained professionally, I was even more impressed.

 

The little training he had in preparation for Captain Phillips happened in the month prior to filming. Abdi had to learn to swim, handle guns and operate a ship. He only met Tom Hanks on the first day of shooting, so I bet his nerves helped him to create such a convincing character.

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There was a lot of doubt whether he would actually be able to make a career out of it, or if it was just a one-time golden opportunity.

 

His salary for his first performance was only increased very little from the mandated Screen Actors Guild (SAG) minimum of $60,000 for a feature film. Even after his success, he was struggling financially.

 

He couldn’t even go back to work in his brother’s phone shop because everyone wanted to see him instead of buying phones. He seemed as if he was back to square one after reaching fame.

Perhaps his experience of reaching fame but finding it harder than expected could be compared to his experience of coming to the States:

 

“When I was leaving Yemen to come to America, things were tough. My dad had just been laid off, and it was a challenge. When I lived in Yemen, I thought America was a perfect place. Everything was bigger and better. I dreamed big. The American dream, you know? You have to work hard for your dream to come true.”
And he is working hard. I’m sure many directors have an eye on him after his performance in Eye in the Sky. And fortunately, his future looks promising as well. He has more acting projects lined up such as Hawaii 50, The Place that hits the Sun and the Sequel to Blade Runner. May the list go on and on!

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I am excited to see more of his acting. May he never loose that tenacious and creative spirit and continue to inspire fellow actors as he continues in his journey!

You don’t want life to be easy – trust me!

BY ANNETTE LANGE

If actors didn’t struggle, they wouldn’t be able to represent the human race. I came across an interview by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation with Matt Damon in which he recounted his early endeavours with Ben Affleck to pursue an acting career.

After having no place to stay, “Ben showed up […] and that was when we were really running out of money. He was on our couch and […] he didn’t fit […] and all this shit was in our living room […], so we got really serious about writing. And that was the place where we sold the script [of Good Will Hunting].”

This was also the script that then won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Their sticky situation was a blessing in disguise for them and ultimately for us who watch Good Will Hunting and get an opportunity to understand characters like Will and Sean.

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All aspiring actors and creatives risk poverty and uncertainty when they choose to pursue acting/art/writing professionally. When successful actors are interviewed, it’s almost a guarantee they’ll be asked about odd jobs they had in the past to make ends meet.

I love to hear those stories. First of all, they’re hilarious. Second of all, it takes them off the pedestal I automatically put them on. Experiences I can identify with bridge the gap fame creates between celebrities and myself. It gives me hope. A hope to create something I never deemed possible.

A career in the film industry is hard – no doubt about it. It’s unpredictable, financially insecure and you will face rejection, criticism or concern from your family and friends. It’s highly possible you’ll have to defend your choice again and again and continually choose not to give up – the battle in the mind seems unending.

But, that being said, I am so glad this is the case… in theory more than practice…

However, times of desperation build our character. They force us to endure and to cling onto hope – if we choose to do so. Desperation causes us to wrestle with questions we want to avoid asking…

Are my current aspirations worth pursuing?

Why am I here?

What is the purpose?

What really matters?

Why am I who I am?

What is worth fighting for?

What do I want to see happen?

Where do I want to make a difference?

What can I offer to make that difference?

Boy, am I glad pursuing art is hard…

Art reaches hearts like nothing else can. It rises above being mere entertainment because it comes from a place of struggle. Not always financial struggle, but emotional, creative and/or philosophical  struggle.  When art comes from this vulnerable place – we can all identify with it to some extent or another.

Struggle makes you re-evaluate your choices. It brings the best – and the worst – out in you.

Desperation can be the biggest source of creativity – if you choose to channel it right.

In his pursuit to become an actor, Sylvester Stallone got to the point where he had to sell his dog to get by. That was also the time during which he wrote the script for Rocky. This in turn, garnered three Academy Awards… and he got his dog back.

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Jim Carrey discovered his gift for comedy during his teenage years when his family lived out of their van for several months because his father lost his job. Because of his boldness and commitment, we are able to enjoy his comedic and dramatic stories he tells.

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Charlie Chaplin grew up with an alcoholic father. His mother was mentally unstable and he spent most of his childhood in orphanages, yet that did not seem to hinder him from becoming the iconic actor he became. All his wealth “didn’t seem to derail his artistic drive” either.

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Dustin Hoffman “lived below the American poverty line until [he] was 31.”

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Halle Berry was a struggling actress in the beginning and found herself jumping from homeless shelter to homeless shelter.

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Morgan Freeman never fails to give absolutely believable and profound performances. But bear in mind, it took him 50 years of perseverance before getting ‘success’ in his career, if you count fame and awards as success.

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Obviously, these are success stories of actors we all know. They have a platform to share their experiences. But I always wonder how many success stories there are that we just don’t know of because the end result wasn’t fame, or an Academy Award.

Now, I do not wish poverty, depression or misfortune on anyone, but I do want to encourage those that are struggling to view this as an opportunity to rise above your circumstances and to channel your desperation towards creativity. Don’t dwell in desperation, but use the growth that comes from it to reach others.

Oftentimes comfort is the biggest threat to creativity.

Comfort and wealth isn’t bad. But don’t see it as the ultimate fulfillment of your life, enjoy it when you can, but don’t let it be a blockage to your creativity.

Failure, mistakes and struggles are so valuable – yet we’re so scared of them.

Desperation is a blessing in disguise – if you let it be a blessing. For all else, it keeps you down-to-earth, allows you to be human, allows you to learn from mistakes. It can be the most helpful springboard to reach and exhort others through your unique experiences and creativity, or you can let it define you and be a curse.

Channel desperation right. Choose to treat it as an opportunity. Celebrate the highs and lows of life – your own and those of others.

Viola Davis put it better during her Academy Acceptance Speech:

“I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

Don’t give up fellow Actors, Creatives and Dreamers!