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to ACTING in the Motion Picture BUSINESS

Most of the moments of sheer bliss in my life have happened while working in the movies. I remember, early in my career, standing on a plateau near St. George, Utah, on the first day of location for a Universal western called "Gunpoint." It was early on a chilly morning as I stood with the producer, Gordon Kay, watching the sun rise and the mists clear over the multi-hued splendor of the rocky valley far below. I inhaled the crisp air, mingled with the tantalizing aromas of breakfast being prepared in the chuck wagon, and whispered to myself, Wow... and I'm getting paid for this?  Mr. Kay, a veteran filmmaker, smiled and said, I know. I never get over it. We're getting paid to play Cowboys and Indians.

Many other exquisite moments fill my memory. Like standing on a venerable old sound stage before my call ... alone except for the prop man making coffee. Sensing the history and romance of the place and feeling somehow connected to it all.

Or falling, exhausted, into a chair with my name on it, feeling I had done something good and that it was preserved on film forever.

Or standing before the camera with Loretta Young, looking into her beautiful eyes with tears in my own.

Or laughing with Jack Klugman 'til tears came, because his hairpiece kept falling in front of his face during an active piece of comedy business.

Or getting applause on the set from an audience of professionals.

I could go on about that side of the coin and truly it is a shiny one. However, there is a darker side to a career in the movies. We will attempt to cover both.

As a survivor of the many yins and yangs of this career, I hope to share with you some of what I know now and didn't know then ... not only about acting for the camera but also how to act in this business. I will try to do this in a way that will cause you to absorb the information and, at the same time, enjoy the process.

You may ask why another book on acting in the movies? First, I believe there can never be too many books on such a vast and variable subject. Secondly, I humbly submit that among the many I've read, I haven't found one that I feel is completely right. Not that such a book exists, including this one. However, I hope that you will find it helpful in the personal, eclectic, un-dogmatic way that I have tried to present it.

I believe that, in most cases, producers should produce, casting directors should cast and acting should be taught and written about by actors. I have come to believe, after over forty years as an actor, that actors are the ones who truly know what an actor does and goes through.

Some books on acting have been presented to us from the lofty position of the Star. However, if a beginning or working actor were to practice some of the advice offered in those, he wouldn't last five minutes in this most competitive of businesses. for example, Michael Cain, one of my favorite actors, tells us in his book and video, that if he sees the slightest motion in his sight line during a take he will abort the take immediately. He feels that ... even if no one else sees it ... his concentration has been interrupted and it will show up on the screen. He may be right and wouldn't we all like to have that kind of power... but you have to get there first! One wonders if he allowed his concentration to be so easily interrupted before he became a star.

Other books on motion picture acting tend to be verbose and/or esoteric, complicated, and --to put it colloquially -- too damned arty smarty. Sometimes it seems that the author is deliberate confounding things so that the sanctity and mystery of his position and a guru would not be compromised. Some books are too un-realistic, simplistic and Pollyannaish in their offerings.

Often books on acting are written from a narrow, idiosyncratic point of view. The only dogma I present to you is that in the art of acting, there is no dogma. There is no single method or one uniquely valid approach. there is no acting pill and any teacher or writer who give you the impression that his is the only way is either deluded, a charlatan ... or both.

Too often students have come to me with what they thought was good background in training for acting in cinema. Unfortunately, too many times, when we started working on or recording their performances, they had to admit that they were unprepared. They didn't get what they needed from these studies. Often what they got was either wrong, misunderstood, or misinterpreted.

I have attempted to write a book that offers to my students, any actor and anyone who works in or just loves the movies, a realistic, candid, un-dogmatic, eclectic, problem solving, sometimes inspiring and fun, compilation of ideas, methods, opinions and insights encountered during forty plus years as an actor and over fifteen years as a director and coach. The thoughts, experiences and opinions of many other members of the profession are offered herein in direct quotations. Some I agree with ... some I offer as counterpoint. I hope that many of these quotes will stay with you long after you have read this book as they have with me.

At some point while studying this book you may find yourself saying, I don't need to know about that, or him, or her. I'm an actor and if it doesn't pertain to acting I don't need to know about it. NOT! I believe that an actor should strive to know at least something about everyone and everything involved in making a motion picture. If you can develop an appreciation for what others in the company are trying to accomplish and express it through your work, you will get that appreciation and cooperation back in spades.

It is my hope that if you seriously consider what is offered herein and determine, by practice, what works for you, this book will help you dodge some of the slings and arrows and pitfalls you will undoubtedly encounter on your way to a career in the movies.

I have tired to offer you, among other things, a charismatic overview of this very complicated art and business. I have endeavored to be as specific and orderly as possible without destroying, as a publisher's reviewer said, is its immediacy, spontaneity and palpable West Coast flavor, while including enough step by step, pragmatic, technical, brass tacks advice that should keep you involved throughout your career , if you really dig into it all.

Regarding all the other books, I say read as many as practical. As I said, there are many vantage points and variables involved in each aspect of this industry. I advise, that in reading any of them, you keep your mind open and receptive. Don't let any Guru's or Svengali's mold you to their purpose. Let it in and let it out ... find what works consistently for you.

In this effort there are a certain amount of anecdotes ... war stories ... and photographs that I offer, hopefully, as illustration of information and points I am presenting. Well, I must admit, some are for my baby boomer fans and my ego ... forgive me already.

So read on, enjoy, experience, work and learn. Keep on keeping on. Maybe your journey will take you not only to success and/or stardom but, at its end, you will find that you have also become a mensche.

I love film. I love watching movies and I love everything it takes to make a movie. I am fascinated by the process on every end, from the technician on set to the sound recording to the cinematographer. And I love acting, putting myself into different characters and exploring different people who can learn not only about themselves but about life.
 - Elijah Wood




2002-2007, David Macklin