September 25, 2017

A story from Young Sheldon you won't read anywhere else

Back in March, my daughter was asked to work as a background actor on a show called Young Sheldon. She loves being on set, and I love craft services, so we went together on another daddy/daughter adventure.

I didn't know Jon Favreau was directing this pilot. Nor did I know Jim Parsons would be on set. The former is as professional as they come, but he showed a tender side in working with kids. After lunch, he flipped through a Spot-It deck with a couple of the child actors. Cool.

And Jim Parsons said hello while I was watching my daughter in a scene. He was kind and so unassuming. He showed respect to all.

But the story I want to share is about an adult background actor named Chris. I didn't learn his name until midway through the day. I barely talked to him the first several hours as my daughter went through wardrobe, hair and makeup, and then shuttled to set in Burbank.

Chris kept to himself. I would catch glimpses of him standing off on his own staring into the distance. He didn't seem standoffish or rude -- just disinterested in the ten or twelve other background actors, the handful of parents accompanying their littles, and the various crew that waltzed in and out of the trailers and tents that make up a television shoot.

I don't remember how or when the conversations with Chris started, but I do remember just a touch of uneasiness as he seamed more interested in talking with my 12-year-old than with me. He wasn't saying anything remotely disarming, but in today's world, a father's guard is always up. But the more Chris talked with the kids and, as he grew more comfortable, the adults, the more I learned what an amazing man I was talking to.

In his mid-40s now, Chris joined the army in his 30s. He was the oldest member of his squad in basic training. He took artillery shrapnel in his head and other parts of his body and witnessed friends die in war. He readily acknowledged that his mind wasn't functioning correctly anymore.

What could I do other than thank him profusely for doing something I could never do? I've been having more and more conversations with veterans lately, it seams, and it amazes me just how removed I am from the horrors these brave men and women have endured. And they all underplay what they've been through.

Chris didn't dwell on his own story. He shared only what was pried out of him by his newfound Young Sheldon friends. What he did was look me in the eye, many times, and tell me he believes in me. I'd shared enough of my story with him that he should have told me what a foolish dreamer I was. Instead, he encouraged me. Sincerely.

So why does Chris's opinion matter? Is this a case where the audience hears what it wants to hear and applauds loudly just because it is appeased? After all, we tend to repeat the opinions with which we agree and dismiss the ones with which we don't.

Well, the point of this writing is not what Chris said to me, but what I witnessed later in the day.

After shooting a scene, Chris found his way to a somewhat-isolated chair in holding, which on this particular day, was the backyard of the Burbank house which serves as the exterior of Sheldon's Texas home. Chris sat down, put his head in his hands, and cried.

I put my hand on his shoulder, "You alright, man?"

He nodded and looked at me, unable to speak clearly.

"It's good. These are good tears," he struggled to get out.

I smiled back at him through a tear as he added, "God is good."

After a few moments, Chris went on to tell me that being on a TV show was one of his bucket list items and that this was the one and only background gig he would likely ever do. Post-war, his life is forever compromised, but on this day, at this very moment when I continued to hold my hand on his shoulder, I watched in admiration as a grown man cried tears of gratitude.

"Don't stop believing," was one of the last things he said to me before he was released.

We didn't exchange phone numbers or connect on Facebook or Instagram. I rarely do that with folks I meet one day on set. But I wish I had connected with Chris beyond that day. Frankly, I could use his encouragement again.

For those that watch the pilot episode of Young Sheldon premiering tonight (September 25) on CBS, watch for the man mowing his lawn across the street from Sheldon's house. That's Chris. He's a war hero who had a dream of being on a TV show. Like my bike-riding daughter, he'll likely be blurry if he's seen at all, but you and I know he's there. And we know how much it meant for him to be Sheldon's neighbor mowing his lawn in his overalls.

March 2, 2017

So you're telling me there's a chance...

"Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than helping nurture talent to do the best they can in the audition process." - Casting Director, Lisa London, from her book, From Start to Stardom

Last week I auditioned for a television show and the casting director took a phone call in the middle of my audition. Seriously.

Needless to say, I figured my chances of booking the role were pretty slim. And yet... like Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey), I always hold out optimism no matter how stacked the odds seem against me.

That's the attitude anybody going into this crazy business has to have. I've written about odds and statistics many times. The older I get, the more stacked against me the odds become.

But I know there's still a chance. And that's what keeps me going. Whether it's one in a hundred, one in a million, or, to borrow my 4-year-old's expression, one in infinity and beyond, I know there's still a chance.

Casting Directors like Lisa London also keep me going. In a town where obstacles can appear insurmountable, Lisa reminds me that many are fighting to help us achieve our dreams.

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With a long list of casting credits that includes Roseanne, Hannah Montana, Adam Sandler's Sandy Wexler, and a handful of projects currently in pre-production, Ms. London certainly has the experience to validate the advice she gives in her amazing book, From Start to Stardom: The Casting Director's Guide for Aspiring Actors.

At my advanced age - and with nearly 20 years of professional acting experience - I shouldn't still be labelled aspiring, but until I'm fully supporting my family on paychecks from acting jobs, that's exactly what I am. And, really, no matter what stage one is at in a career, one should always aspire to learn and become better equipped for further success.

For those just getting started as actors, I can't recommend From Start to Stardom enough. This is, honestly, the best beginner's guide to the acting business I've ever read... and I've read a ton of books on the subject. This is a must-read for aspiring actors of any age and parents of aspiring actors.

Lisa's approach is so uplifting and positive that it's easy to get lost in the glamour of becoming a star in Hollywood. When she writes about casting Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana, Miley's first professional acting gig, it's easy to get lost in the dream and put oneself in the shoes of Billy Ray's daughter. But Lisa also reminds us just how miraculous it is to be "the one" for any role in any project.

Lisa London, CSA
What Lisa does so well in From Start to Stardom is break down the steps necessary for finding success. She provides sample resumes, offers headshot advice, explains how to get discovered, and uncovers the best ways to land an agent and/or manager. Then she tackles the next stages of a career by offering audition tips and explaining what goes on behind the casting director's door. The book even includes legal information for minors working in show business as well as a ton of resources for everything from the Screen Actors Guild to websites that list auditions to Los Angeles studio locations. The teacher in me is giddy with the comprehensiveness of Lisa London's book!

Again, this is a must-own book for beginning actors, but any actor, regardless of their career level, will benefit from these 166 pages. One paragraph in particular was just what I needed to read, and it came at it exactly the right time. With permission, I've included the paragraph here:

"Another killer of opportunities and creator of bad attitudes is self-invalidation. What is self-invalidation? It is making less of yourself, putting yourself down, focusing on your faults, thinking you are no good and that you will never meet your goals. This is something that will kill you as an actor or an artist. Sometimes, these ideas that you are no good, these negative thoughts, are things that you have heard from others. For example, you have a relative or friend who thinks you will never make it as an actor. You can't let your family's difficulties or lack of success become your problem. You must keep your dreams separate and not give up based on someone else's failures." (p. 107)

Man. I love these words. I need these words. Can you feel me? Leave a comment and let me know how these words make you feel.

Now, the flip-side to all of this is the harsh reality that more actors fail in this business than succeed. Look at me. While many would love to be in dozens of commercials, star in a bunch of independent features, have leading roles on cable shows, or an appearance on the number one television drama in the world, my bar is set at a level that I haven't even come close to reaching. At what point does common sense walk in and slap me across the face and convince me the bar is unattainable?

With apologies to some, the answer is, never.

This is my gift. I didn't ask for it, but here it is. I'm constantly asking God to be specific in how He wants me to use this gift. So far, I have to assume I've been on the right track. Only time will tell if my expectations align with His, but the path, I feel, has been the correct one for me; for my immediate family; for those with whom God wants me to interact.

Like most actors, I'm currently somewhere between start and stardom, and while I don't know if I'll ever reach the stardom end, I know if I'm persistent, I will be successful. That's what this business comes down to -- persistence. Dreams need not expire.

For those who desire a career in the movie business, specifically as an actor, get Lisa London's From Start to Stardom. Focus more on the start than the stardom and see what happens. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

I'm telling you there's a chance.

Visit to buy the book and learn more about the acting business!