At WMM, we're all about exploring different creative paths and embracing our inner multi-hyphenate. And let me tell you, David Beatty is the ultimate example of that ethos. He's an award winning filmmaker, actor, director, producer, writer, cinematographer, teacher and also the creator of our post-production workshop, What's Next, which turned into our Rough Cut Lab and has hosted many of our Performance Labs over the years. If that list wasn't exhausting enough he recently added published author to his resume with the book, An Actor's Process. What initially started as a collection of anecdotes for himself, has morphed into a practical guide and quick source of inspiration for artists at every stage of their process. So, even if you don't typically fancy yourself an actor, take a page from David's book (literally) and try some of this advice on for size.
WMM: After many years of wearing so many hats within the industry (writer/actor/director/cinematographer/filmmaker) what prompted you to take the leap of writing an acting book (especially in a space with so many legends/masters)?
David Beatty: My first love has always been acting. I started my training in college which was immediately followed by performing plays in regional theater companies all over the United States. However, when I moved to Los Angeles, my interest in film, TV and new media began to play much more of a central role in what I wanted to create. How I learned to wear many hats was born out of a necessity to feed my addiction to acting. I'm certain that if not for my desire to perform, I would never have learned to write scripts, edit film or produce my own projects.
Similarly, the idea for writing a book also came out of necessity. After nearly 30 years of performing, I needed some way to organize the best of what I had learned. Initially, the book was intended only for myself. I wanted a collection of inspiring antidotes for difficult challenges that might come up in performance. I also wanted to be able to pick up a book, flip to any random page and find a nugget of wisdom. I wanted each chapter to be short, sweet and to the point, giving specific, doable, actions so I could apply them to any character I am working on. In short, I simply wanted practical tips to use in rehearsal and performance, so I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read.
WMM: Who are some of the great teachers in the industry/business?
David: There are so many great teachers working today. However, because every actor is different and respond to different stimuli, it's important for each actor to find the teacher that works best for them. That means you have to put in quality time to audit what's available. It's an important process and can lead you to discover your artistic soul mates, so don't take it lightly.
It's also something that you can't take too seriously. Sometimes you just need to get back into a class because you need the exercise. I suggest looking for a class that scares you a little. I don't mean the energy of the class or the personality of the teacher, but rather, the work that is happening in the room. If you see students making hot choices, working with great text and challenging themselves to get to the next level of their craft, it might be a great place for you! Also, a no brainer, but look for a supportive, non-threatening environment with a teacher who gives practical, clear advice and builds confidence in students.
Here is a random bit of advice: See if students hang out after class. It's not a deal breaker, but depending on what you are looking for, the relationships of the students reflect the environment where art is created. See if you can find a class that cultivates collaboration. In other words, try to find out if the students like hanging out with each other. It's not for everyone, but working with fellow students can be a great source of creativity. I found this to be exceptionally true when I studied with Mark McPherson at STUDIO 24/SEVEN. I met many wonderful collaborators, friends and colleagues and created so many projects directly from from those relationships and our work together in class.
WMM: What do you think it takes to be a great actor?
David: I think some people get caught up in the idea they need to be naturally talented to be a great actor. Personally, I don’t believe that’s true. I think there are actors who are naturally talented and it might come easy to them the same way a musician might easily take to playing a guitar. However, I believe a talented actor is someone who spends a long period of time learning and developing their craft. Every great actor knows, regardless of their natural talent, that you still must do the work to understand the tools needed to create characters. It’s not magic, it’s craft. Which is to say I believe talent exists in the world, however, there is nothing supernatural about it. It’s not pixie dust sprinkled over only a select few, but rather committed artists, who put in their time, doing the work that makes them talented.
Knowing this you can focus on the things that are in your control. Your voice, speech, mind & body, ability to analyze a scene correctly, memorization, concentration and common sense. By developing your craft and honing your skills you will more fully understand your work, grow into an artist and discover that you too have something to say about the art of acting.
WMM: Why do you call your book "An Actor's Process"?
David: At the center of every actor is a creative "process". This is everything surrounding the work you create. It’s the classes you take, day job, support groups, daily practice, personal philosophies, research, scheduling, work patterns, exercise, communication, health and much more. Your creative process is made up of everything that supports or inhibits the doable actions you need to take in order to be an effective and productive actor and artist.
Furthermore, being a creative artist includes the need to manage and understand your creative goals in relation to the day to day necessities of life. It’s about knowing how to achieve creative goals while maintaining a healthy, balanced and well rounded life.
Most major goals take time and are not easily achievable, therefore having a grasp on your own personal creative process is ideal for delivering on your dreams.
One of my favorite quotes to help remind me of the direct correlation between ‘process' and ‘work’ comes from Chris Wink of Blue Man Group: “We create the process, and the process creates the work.” Because great work is the outcome of a healthy process.
So the term 'process' for me is at the very center of creating art. Because for me, I'm not really creating art. In fact, I'm just creating a process.. and that process creates the art.
WMM: Do you have a favorite chapter in your book?
David: They are all my favorite! However, if I had to choose one right now, I would say it's "YOUR GROWTH AS AN ARTIST IS NOT SEPARATE FROM YOUR GROWTH AS A HUMAN BEING". Which also happens to be the longest title of any chapter in the book!
In this chapter I talk about how to study acting is to study life. This means to enlarge your knowledge of the world, be curious and understand the people who live differently than yourself and empathize with the plight of others.
In other words, when you study acting you are learning what it means to be a human being. Sharpen your observations of situations in life and develop your imagination and sensitivity because those are the things which you store up to feed you in whatever you do in your work.
Same is true of all the arts, but acting in particular is specific to learning how people communicate to one another during times of crisis. Because playwrights, throughout the years, have tackled questions that deal with the human condition, you can’t help but be a student of their discoveries.
Actors work in a profession that can teach them empathy, understanding, love and reverence. I’m not suggesting that it’s automatic and an absolute bi-product of the art, but it is there if you want it.
WMM: How can actors continue to develop their craft outside of formal training or performance opportunities?
Well the first thing that comes to mind is WE MAKE MOVIES. There are so many training videos, articles, weekly workshops and more available right now for anybody who wants it. As somebody who has learned how to do so much from other people, I cant help but recommend the resources at We Make Movies enough. Their websites alone (SmartphoneStudio.tv + wemakemovies.org) has hours of training that can turn anybody into a professional practically overnight. In addition, I have created dozens of projects through the relationships I have built through this unique film collective and will continue to foster those creative collaborative relationships in the future.
WMM: You are too kind. Any last words?
David: Sure. If you are interested in learning more or purchasing my book, check out the Amazon Page here.