Focus on Focus: A Simple Approach on How to Become Anal

If you were to sleep that way, by the time morning rolled around total paralysis would have set in.

Of course I had the fun advantage of watching her, and listening as she feverishly prepared to read the two-line commercial script. Armed with her trusty marking pen (ink is a no, no at best) she sat there, scribbling notes, upon notes, upon notes for almost every word on that poor little piece of paper. Katherine Hepburn did less marking on her script for the African Queen. Hitchcock would have had her placed in a strait jacket. It was her first visit to Kalmenson & Kalmenson, and as is our rule, all first timers receive a little extra special attention. When the actors are on the young side, as she was, a more than average active anticipation grips them with some unexpected flop sweat. Translation, they’re worried about making a good impression.

Under normal circumstances at our Burbank studios, I rarely find myself involved with the actors as they study their scripts. I might bop in to the reception area to see who’s arrived, and to make sure all have signed in and are aware of the correct role they will be playing. But on this day I found myself enthralled by this gal’s total naiveté. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a given for actors to study their scripts. In this case, however, her studying was an actual entertainment. As a matter of fact, my interest in what she was up to was caused by two of the actors who had given up their own script preparations, in lieu of the verbal, and visual entertainment this lady’s hilarious ruminations was providing. Under lined; over lined, dashes, commas, ellipsis, parenthesis, quotes, brackets, and a multitude of notes in the margins on both sides of the paper. She was a whirling “sitting” Dervish.

Not before or since had I experienced such a concerted display of deceitful study habits. Everything she thought was the correct thing to do was in essence a true dis-abler. While the intent of her unbelievable focus was indeed righteous, the end result produced a read, which honored the writer’s exact punctuation, but eliminated any chance of producing the conversational realism the advertising creative had in mind. She had figured out exactly how to read the words according to the way the sentences had been punctuated. The more she studied, the more disoriented she became.

Self Inflicted Wounds

People who love to gag will always appreciate our helpful efforts.
If you’re looking for a great way to gag, try a good time gag burger.

Inspiring, to say the least.
Presented by the Heimlich Method.
Turn your gag into a real “laffer”.

“What do they mean by that?”

A few minutes went by and it was her time to enter the recording booth to be auditioned. I called her by name and requested she follow me towards the booth. She didn’t move. I made the request again. This time she responded with her request for a few more minutes of study time. I mean this gal looked crazed. I began to feel my emotions turning from amusement to concern. Young people with bulging eyes have a way of disconcerting everyone around them. The other actors in the reception area rolled their eyes in disbelief. She had been working on her script for a full twenty minutes. Each time I came out to get her, she relinquished her time to the next actor in waiting. And as she studied she became visibly more and more physically disturbed. By the time our lady finally agreed to enter the recording area it was because there was not another actor in sight.

(In rapid-fire order)

SHE: Where do I stand? What will I do next? Nothing on the script you gave me tells me what to do next. I like to study what is expected of me. You know I am a professional actress.

ME: Good to know.

There was an array of things going through my mind that I could readily have instructed her to attempt to do at that moment; being a gentleman made any further expression of what she could do, outside the realm of my normalcy. I’d like to report, at that precise moment, I was under the impression she was sent there as a put on. In my mind I knew it was an impossibility for anyone to be as anal-retentive as she was displaying. But she had to be real, anxiety moisture had formed on her upper lip, this was going to be an adventure.


When I point to you, slate your name and start.

“I prefer to have you slate for me; in that way it better serves to precipitate my character development.”

Young lady, will you please do as I ask? Slate your name.

“I’d be far more responsive if you spoke to me in a more civil manner and tone; like referring to me by my given name.”

I did abide by her wishes, done only after I killed my microphone, and completed calling her a variety of heavy-duty expletives. We proceeded with this joyous encounter. She began reading through the script without waiting for my direction. Her performance was an over blown emotional mess. In addition, every other phrase had a mispronounced word or two, or an incorrect understanding of the punctuations and grammatical meaning of the script itself. Keep in mind she had a grand total of two lines to read; not exactly a heavy duty test of a persons mental acuity.

“I’d like to go out and study the script some more”, she requested.

When I told her it would be impossibility, and I had already given her more time than anyone else on this call she became indignant.

“How do you expect me to focus, when I’m not being shown professional courtesy?”

“Thank you for coming in, I said.”

Without a word she turned and left the booth. As I was reentering the booth with the next actor she barged her way back in, grabbed her hieroglyphically altered script ruminations and left while saying:

“I don’t share my notes with anyone.”

“Not to worry”, I responded. “There will never be a chance of that happening to you around here in the foreseeable future. Congratulations on your ability to focus.”

Her face had the questioning look of, was that a cut? Was he being serious or merely once again showing disrespect for my talents? I did think about her for a few fleeting moments after her revealing audition. Can you imagine the degree of familial ingredients it took in order to so corrupt this seventeen year old females well being? In one single afternoon she succeeded in doing irreparable damage to her career. Her colleagues in the waiting room judged her as being freaky. Freakyness is taken seriously when the concern is what the outcome might be. In other words, hire a freaky person, and assume the outcome will be freaky. If you’re casting an ensemble, your prayers go out, asking for guidance in order not to hire a freaky actor. Some would say, that in itself is impossibility. Think about her overall desire for extreme focus. Almost all of us in the artistically creative world attempt to train ourselves to be single minded. By this I mean specifically “tuned in”, on each and every project, regardless of monetary importance. Almost any method for achieving focusing skills would be better than the seventeen year old gal described earlier on in this narrative. What she accomplished was outweighed by the determent of her method. The finest, and most accredited actors, the world over have a marvelous talent for indiscriminately accepting assistance from the colleagues around them.

The What’s Missing?

What our young lady missed while developing her abilities to focus was the development of her own place as a human being. Just examine the simplicity of truth casting, and the answer reveals itself without a great deal of explanation.

He is a nice guy, raised in a nice family, lives in a nice neighborhood, has nice relatives, and nice friends. He decides upon graduating from a nice high school, after suffering a fall from his motorcycle, in which he got a goodly hit in the head, that he was going to become a nice actor. He found some new and very nice friends at the nice acting school in a new neighborhood.

Every day they all studied together, and in the evenings worked out on a wide variety of scenes. After their workouts ended they all joined in at the local coffee house, and continued their in-depth theatrical conversations, often into the wee hours of the morning. Their focus was a constant, and dedicated study of their chosen craft. Money and fame for each of them was as distant as the stars they yearned to emulate. Time was not of the essence in governing their pursuits.

It was on one of these evenings he bounded into the classroom brimming with excitement, and needing to share the word. He had booked a voice over commercial, and the pending success was over powering. I doubt if anything in this life can match the robust charge going through a person when they experience their first, first. Everybody was all ears, waiting for his details about the gig.

“Well, it was all about this nice kid waiter in a restaurant who comes to the aid of a woman who is choking on a piece of meat that went down the wrong way. I don’t know why, but they cast me as the nice kid waiter’s voice, as he talks about what he did to help this gagging lady. They called it a Public Service Announcement for the Heimlich Method. I really didn’t even know what I was talking about, but the gagging lady reminded me of my Mother. It was really weird. The director told me to speak as if I was talking to my Mother. Lucky I was there. “

“What do you mean, lucky you were there,” someone asked.

He had been interning at Gold Star Recording Studios, located at Santa Monica and Vine Street, where the voice over was being recorded. When the producer received word their actor would be a no show, for whatever the reason, the owner of the studio; Stan Ross recommended his young intern to read the part. Stan had given his stamp of approval; he’s studying to be an actor, and he is a genuinely nice young man, Stan allowed.

Our young guy, whom everyone liked, jumped in and did his thing without reservation. He listened to what the director asked him to do and he attempted to do it. Certainly luck had played a part in his success. But, what if it had been the young lady I described earlier on? She wouldn’t have had a chance. To begin with she wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes working in the professional surroundings of the Gold Star Studio. If she had questioned the director of the Heimlich spot similarly to the way she had questioned me prior to the audition, she would have become privy to the most complete and unabridged dictionary of profanity known to man. And the last thing she would have heard would have been instructions from Stan’s partner, as a directive ordering her never to enter the premises again.

Note: The gig was responsible for getting our guy into the Screen Actors Guild. I’m sure he will recognize the story when he reads my journal. As for our young lady who didn’t care for the way I spoke to her; she’s never been heard of again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *