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Simple steps to become a successful film-maker for less than $500

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Simple steps to become a successful film-maker for less than $500

This year has been a great adventure for me in that I have directed several short films that are receiving recognition in the form of official festival selections and an award nomination. I have never been to film school, and each of these films was shot and completed on a budget of around $500 or less, including festival submission fees.

Official Selection for A Special Kind of Love

If you have a desire to make a film, I very much encourage you to do so because it has never been easier.  Also, by doing one simple film you will gain exposure to the entire process from beginning to end. There are so many cool short film festivals out there today – some free to enter – that there has never been a more fun time to have a small inventory of shorts in your repertoire to play with. But let’s start with that crucial first film.

Pick a simple story that matters to you. Use the “rule of 1 or 2″ – think in terms of 1 or 2 characters, 1 or 2 locations, 1 or 2 situations and a simple story arc that can be shared visually in 1 or 2 minutes. Maybe 1 person wonders how it all went wrong, or 2 people meet and something hilarious happens. Maybe you decide to frame a story around that anthill you’ve been observing in the park. Keep it very simple for now  – you have many years to put together your epic feature film!

Write down a simple narrative script. Don’t sweat proper screenplay structure unless you really want to – there is time to learn that later. Focus instead on what the characters will say and do in your story. Think in terms of 1 or 2 pages (there’s that rule again). Craft your story until you can start to see it happening in a 1 to 2 minute film. Building in story elements that are easy to film (daytime, natural lighting, available locations, absence of explosions or car chases) makes your job a lot easier.

Take time to visualize. This is the best lesson your director self will ever get. Take the time to picture your film happening as you sit in the audience watching it, each second from beginning to end. I find the moments before falling asleep to be a great time to do this. Go from the opening credits through to the end. Keep refining this vision to include what the camera sees, what angles the viewer sees and other details. Don’t get hung up on this step though – nothing will happen exactly as you predict, and the result will be magical anyway.

Use your smartphone. Sure, you may want to use a more elaborate camera, but try to avoid the temptation for your first film. The more you are shooting and grabbing quick footage without over-thinking, the easier your life will be. Do the minimum. Remember, all films can be re-shot later if they are that important to humanity – the key here is to learn lots, get to your mistakes quickly, finish something and get it out there.  There are lots of great films being made with smartphones now. Just be sure to hold the camera horizontally if that’s what gives the best video quality – ask an experienced friend if you aren’t sure.

Rehearsal with actors Andrew Hill and Lauren Donnelly

Rehearse with your actors if you can.  Do most of your directing in the rehearsal. If you can’t get actors, don’t let that hold you back – do a simpler story with a voice-over narrative for your first effort. Act in it yourself and use a tripod. The main thing is to get something done, finished and out there. I’ve seen great performances with little or no rehearsal, and I’ve seen extensively-rehearsed efforts come out flat, so don’t let lack of rehearsal time stop you.

Plan and execute the shoot. Divide your script and your vision for your film into filmable chunks, fire up your camera and then go for it. If you can get what you need in one single run from beginning to end, then do it and start editing! Go back and grab close-ups if you need them, but remember this is a first film, not your magnum opus. Every additional shot should be justified by really needing it in your final vision. If you don’t need that complex shot to tell the story, save it for a later film. Don’t over-shoot, and don’t go beyond 3 takes unless there is a compelling reason. There is no “safety” in getting more and more takes, and it just ends up causing agony when you are trying to choose between takes during the edit.

Organize your footage.  Upload your video clips to Youtube from your phone and give each video segment a meaningful name so you know what is what when it comes to editing. Download the footage from Youtube onto your working computer when you get home.

Edit your film. Grab a free trial download of an editor like PowerDirector and just wade in and learn to use it by doing. Buy the software once you find one you like. There are tons of video clips on Youtube that will show you the basics of editing. Grab one of your pieces of footage, drag it into the editor, add beginning titles and ending credits, and hit save. Congratulations, you are now an editor. Now you are ready to pull in more pieces of footage, cut away unnecessary bits and do transitions from clip to clip. When you have a simple, complete cut of your film, save it in a usable format like MP4 or mov. Congrats, you are a film-maker! Now the rest of the job starts.

Submit your film to festivals. Target appropriately. Your first 1 minute film may not be right for Sundance, but it might find a welcome acceptance in a festival geared toward micro short films shot with smartphones. Signing up with FilmFreeway or similar websites like Withoutabox can be a great way to find festivals that will be right for your film. Getting your first official selection or acceptance into a festival is a major confidence builder and you will be starting to build a track record of accomplishment in film. Later on, you can explore how to sell your film or distribute your film for money online, but more likely you will treat your early work as just that – early work – and move on to learn more by doing more films. Congratulations on getting this far!

Nominated for Best Drama Micro Short

Congratulations, now go do it again!

Remember, most people who dream of making a film will not even start. Of those who start, few will finish. Of those who finish, few will get as far as submitting to a festival. If you are able to start and finish a short film, however simple, and get it into a festival, you will be on your way! If these steps I’ve outlined help by encouraging you and cutting through some of the mystery, then I am happy. I encourage you to return the favor by helping someone else in the future.

You will find that the film-making community is a very friendly, collaborative and helpful one.  Most people are more than willing to help out a newcomer and will share their hard-earned knowledge with you. The most important lesson though, is that the film that gets finished and out there is the one that matters. Do your first film fast, by yourself if needed, but get it done. Don’t self-censor your work – get it out there and submit it to festivals, you will be pleased with the results. Best of luck to you!

 

 

Live to your own script! Book preview from The Adventure of an Ingenious Life

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Book Preview: The Adventure of an Ingenious Life – Follow your creativity through doors of opportunity

I was very pleased to be asked to contribute my thoughts and ideas to this new book. I have worked on collaborative books before, and really enjoy the process of sharing creative approaches with others. This book in particular appealed to me because I see myself at a crossroads between the business thinking and writing I have done before, and the creative and artistic life that is my main focus currently and into the future.

When I co-authored Improv to Improve your Business, I was beginning to meld the worlds of business and the worlds of art together. This new book furthers this process. When I began writing my contribution, I asked myself what I would say to a group of people about what I’ve learned in life so far. Here are some ideas.

Live to your own script!

People tell me that I have had an interesting life. On the one hand it is a genuine compliment, but on the other hand, there is a subtext of “Well, good for you, you are (insert choice of: weird/creative/brave/free/unfettered etc.), but it wouldn’t work for me.” I disagree. Anyone can fulfill their own calling to be who they were meant to be, and it doesn’t require radical or risky behaviours, just a commitment to certain principles, values and habits that I truly believe in.

As I write this, I am an actor, filmmaker, public speaker, writer, coach and trainer. If I am fortunate enough to re-read this in 10 years, I am confident I will describe myself quite differently. My past has included studying art, writing fiction, sailing across oceans, doing an MBA, a disastrous stint as a banker and many other things. Here are my tips for living a creative life of your own ingenious design.

Honor the child in you

Who were you when you were young? You are still that person on many levels. That child is who you are meant to become in life. Think back to when you little and free to dream and play. What things did you like to do? What were your fantasies about life? What games did you like to play? Were you a social person or did you like to wander off by yourself and observe birds and insects? Did you run, jump or climb trees. Did you like reading? Did you like to organize the gang and go on adventures?

Who were you as a child?

Take some time, close your eyes and think about yourself when you were small. Picture that little person looking back at you in a mirror. Work at picturing all the details of small you. What are you wearing? Are you happy or sad? Fearful or bold? Playful? Shy? Think about a perfect day you could have. Map out an entire perfect day for your young self. Picture yourself living that perfect day in a much rich detail as you can. When you are done, write down the most important messages you have taken away from the exercise. Who were you?

For most of us, life began the get in the way somewhere between our young selves and our current selves. As a boy, I loved animals, nature, roaming around, getting dirty and adventures. Later, I was obsessed with photography. Despite that I lived most of my young adulthood doing things that I thought would look good on a resume, rather than the things that fuelled my passions. I would start a program in arts, but decide that economics would look better on a resume. I could have tried my hand at drama and acting, but got an MBA instead. These are all little betrayals, and they add up over time.

How have you betrayed your young self? Make a note of some of the things you wish you could be doing. You owe yourself the chance to fulfill some of the destiny that was in store for you when you were a child. In fact, that destiny will come calling for you in midlife, whether you are ready or not. It’s better to be in control of becoming the person you were meant to become than it is to have the sadness of not doing so express itself in illness, depression or damaged relationships.

Dream big, start small

Look at the list of things that inspired you as a child. Pick one thing that you wish you could have pursued. Let’s make it happen on some level! One of the things I believe causes fear in people when they contemplate their hidden dreams is that they think doing so makes their already-lived life a lie. It’s not true, because we made the best decisions in life we could at the time, with the information and self-awareness we had at the time. We don’t have to throw out all that we have lived to pursue some far-off dream. Pursuing our childhood dreams on some level, though, is far healthier than drowning ourselves in “busy-ness” to avoid thinking about them. This doesn’t have to be a sad story!

One of the things I loved reading about when I was a child were great adventures like kids sailing around the world on little boats. As I started to hit midlife, I realized that those dreams were still nagging at me. I had been channelling this need into following round-the-world solo sailing races on the web and reading book after book about sailing around the dreaded Cape Horn, the most dangerous place on earth to be sailing. People who knew me well could see the gears turning in my head, and they started to worry. I fuelled those fears by starting to talk about needing to “sail around the Horn.”

Fulfilling a childhood dream

The end result of putting it out there to myself and others was that I was in fact able to fulfill my dream of sailing around Cape Horn, as described in my first book “Haul Away!” The way it happened was that I joined a tall sailing ship that was going to attempt a 3-month voyage to round the Horn in the traditional way, and they wanted deckhand trainees to sail with them. Although it was a dangerous voyage (some 10,000 people have drowned trying round Cape Horn, called the Mount Everest of sailing) it was far less dangerous than trying to sail around on my own, or suffering with an unfulfilled dream.

By sailing around Cape Horn, I lost 3 months of income, but I spawned several new avenues for myself. I wrote my first published book, and was delighted to find that audiences really enjoyed hearing about the voyage, which made me take my speaking hobby seriously and start to make money from it. Beyond all that, I had grown tremendously as a person, made lots of new friends, and was ready for more adventures. The lesson I took way from this was that a person can’t achieve a dream if they can’t acknowledge it to themselves and to others. So take one of those childhood dreams from your list, and say it out loud to yourself. Then tell someone about it.

Go brandless!

Through the process of giving up on our childhood selves and dreams, we end up hiding more of ourselves than we should. If we become an accountant, we internalize the idea that we should “act” like an accountant. Just like any “actor,” this implies a costume, a set of behaviours and a script. The more we act out the script we have been handed, the further many of us get from our true selves, the person we were meant to be. The result is a disappointed soul and a half-hearted life.

It’s much better and healthier to be the accountant who is also an actor or the actor who pays the bills by being an accountant than it is to shoehorn yourself into a narrow, rigid life-script. This flies in the face of contemporary wisdom about careers. We always hear that we should have a “personal brand,” that we should specialize, that we must serve a specific “niche.” This is why many people find doing a resume so difficult and depressing. We are trying to take all the complexity of our interesting lives and corral it into someone else’s definition of desirability.

Later in life, I decided to honour my dream of my early 20s to study acting. I took a leave from my senior management job and went to a good acting school. I never went back to my old job! Common sense would dictate that I should have returned to my old job, perhaps apologized for my brief burst of eccentricity, and got on with living a normal, less creative life. Instead, I realized how much I enjoyed acting, and how exciting it could be to keep learning and developing that craft. I became an actor in real life, not just in fantasy life.

Going brandless means ignoring people and advice that tries to make you narrow, specialized and too focused on one thing. It may be fine if that is your natural inclination, but many creative people really struggle to compartmentalize themselves into a small well-defined box. So don’t do it! It’s your script to write and your script to follow. At the end of your life, you may ask yourself if you lived true to your values, and only you can write the script that allows you to answer “yes” to that question. So get writing!

A three- braided approach to your script

People look at my varied background and ask how I got from one role to another. They are surprised to learn that I never took a blind leap from one thing to another, and that I never turned my back on any of my previous education, training or skills. Everything was built on the foundation of what came before. I use what I call a three-braided approach to writing my own life script. Like a strong piece of rope, a life fashioned out of three interwoven strands is strong and resilient. Here’s how it works: the three strands are what you like doing, what you hate doing and where you can grow.

When you look at what you are currently doing in life or in your career, think about the aspects you really enjoy and are good at. These things form one of the strands of your three-braided script. If you really enjoy doing presentations and helping people, but the rest of your job leaves you cold, then flag presenting and helping people as things you want to bring forward with you into your next role.

Next, look at the things you really don’t like about your current role. It could be office politics, detail work, deadlines or anything else you don’t enjoy. This is not the time to pull punches or second guess yourself. If you hate something, acknowledge it. Don’t beat up on yourself or try to rationalize it away by thinking that everyone has aspects they don’t like about what they do. Just isolate the things you don’t like and flag those as things you would like to lose heading into your next role.

Finally, look at the areas where you need to grow. These could be skills and abilities you wish you had, or personal qualities you would like to develop. Unlearning a particular habit or fear, developing a specific skill, or working in challenging new areas might be examples. You now have the third strand of your three-braided script. You know what you like doing, what you don’t like doing and where you would like to grow. Now, take these three strands, put them together and twist! In twisting these three strands together, you will see how to get from where you are to your next role.

Find the right co-stars for your script

We receive a lot of negative messages in life, often from the ones who love us the most. Creativity and ingenuity are sometimes poorly understood by people, and as result, feared by them. Sometimes, those who care about us fear that we are taking needless risks with our lives, ones that will leave us unhappy in the end. Unfortunately, their desire to help often ends up at odds with our creativity. We need to protect our own creativity even if it means curtailing our exposure to certain people.

Surrounding ourselves with the right people is critical to our success at having a creative and ingenious life. Fortunately, the Internet makes it much easier to create a circle of like-minded friends around the world. There are many groups and meeting spots online, so that we don’t have to be the only oddball around anymore! It is also important for us to be able to have other creative people that we can trust with our ideas. Creative ideas are often very fragile by nature, and they can often be stopped with a poorly thought-out remark from someone who doesn’t understand our creative side.

Loving what we do

I have been lucky in recent years to have surrounded myself with people who are interested in film and acting. Though I am still friends with people from my previous business-oriented job, the people I need around me right now are those who understand what it is to bring an idea for a film through the script-writing stage and beyond into casting, production and beyond. What is really interesting to me though, is how much of my past lives and careers are blending into my current life, using the three-braided way of thinking.

As an example, the same skills I used to help build and run an innovation centre for entrepreneurs are the same skills I use now in putting together a film project: visioning, teambuilding, motivation, funding, communication, marketing and so forth. At no point in my many careers have I ever had to say “I am no longer that guy” because everything I have ever done comes in handy in some way. As a film director, I can draw on all my acting experience to work with actors. I can draw on my business experience in my newer role as a film producer. My experiences acting, directing and producing all help me write more effectively for the screen. All of my life experiences come in handy, and they will continue to do so in my future roles.

It’s your script, so write it and live it!

We waste a lot of time seeking permission and external approval for our choices in life. It is truly wasted time, because some of the most common regrets at the end of our lives are that we didn’t live in tune with our own values, didn’t take chances and didn’t believe in ourselves enough to follow our dreams. So stop doing that! Take chances and believe in yourself. Use the three-braided approach to writing your own script and keep moving in directions that maximize the things you enjoy, minimize the things you don’t enjoy and keep you growing in directions that stretch and inspire you.

I didn’t start out understanding how I moved from fun role to fun role. I was part-way through my journey when one of my college students asked me how I had known to make all the right moves to get where I was at that point. I was honest and said I didn’t have a clue, but that I always tried to do things that were fun, and when two choices presented themselves, I chose the more exotic one. This ended up being a running conversation, and I continued to think about career and life planning, and how it isn’t as logical as it sometimes looks in the rear view mirror.

By focusing on principles that will keep you happy rather than specific targets, logical moves or measurable goals, I really believe you can craft a more exciting, fun and ingenious life. In the end you answer to nobody but yourself, and with this truth comes the responsibility to keep yourself happy. So write your own script and start living it! Inspire others by sharing your adventures and your ingenious life. Above all, be yourself, be happy and don’t wait for permission. Write your script, your way and enjoy it!

Social media is… so NOT social!

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 1 Comment »

Doing real things with real people is more fun!

My Klout score has stopped rising lately, and has begun a mild correction downward. And yet I’m having more fun, doing more things with real people and accomplishing way more. I am immersing myself in scene study work with some great acting partners, and enjoying speaking to groups of real-live people. I wrote a feature length movie screenplay in 2 weeks.

So what’s up?

Well, I’d never describe myself as any kind of canary in a coal mine, but the inescapable fact is that I am bored with social media. The less time I spend engaged in social media of any kind, the happier I am. Taking a complete pass on Pinterest for example, was a sign of good health to me.

Stella Adler Studio Summer Conservatory

Rob Duncan is doing real things with real people


This isn’t the first time I have noticed this. I wrote about it here some time ago when I had returned to theater training in New York. Mind you, it’s not unusual that I would be an early exit candidate, since I was both an earlier adopter and did a doctorate on the topic of social media (the latter a guaranteed recipe to kill an interest in anything…).

So am I part of an early wave that is starting to walk away for good? Or am I taking a well-earned vacation? Time will tell. Just the same, I won’t be lining up to buy any social media stocks for the long term.

Here are a few things to consider doing as the weather improves, kind of a spring cleaning for the brain:

1. Have a cleansing social media fast. Stay off social media for a week or more at a time. Yes, it’s scary. Start with 2 hours and work up to whole days gradually, so you don’t go into sudden withdrawal.

2. Spend a week unsubscribing from updates, feeds and emails that no longer interest you. It’s amazing how many of these things still stream in, yet we don’t think to hit the instant unsubscribe button.

3. Be social, don’t just “do” social. Join genuine, real-world social events. Take a class, put on a play, join a team, see friends. If you’re really Jonesing for online connections, use things like Meetup to line up real face-to-face events.

4. Honor your solitude. Take some time to reflect. Cultivate a sense of enlightened exclusivity. Be less available.

5. Take yourself private. Stop over-sharing every little thing. If it’s a marketing tactic, trust me, it’s not working (you heard it here).

6. Keep social media as a treat – like ice cream. The odd time I pass through Facebook and LinkedIn (okay, Facebook) these days, It’s actually fun to see what people are up to.

So my challenge to us all is: step away from the screen, put the gadgets down, and go out and play. With real people!

Where is the intersection between theater and the workplace?

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Workplace drama

Workplace drama

It’s funny, there is always a lot of crossover imagery between the stage and the workplace. Objectives, heroes, drama kings and queens, getting the right people to play different roles, tragic leadership flaws, double-crosses and so forth. Now that I am taking a step away from the office environment for a bit and rekindling my acting training, I am fascinated by the parallel lessons that can be drawn between the two worlds. A few months ago, I wrote here about the useful skills that people can gain from acting training – things like hitting your marks, learning how to improvise (always say yes), and using your full body as an instrument of communication.

The insights I have been gaining over the last couple of weeks can add to and enhance these earlier lessons. Here are a few ideas that may help you bring more “drama” to your workplace:

  • The art of analysing the script: The playright provides a framework of words, characters and given circumstances. The challenge is to figure out what isn’t there – it is the job of the actors to fill in the missing pieces with meaning. Otherwise we’d just get up there and read, and the crowds would stay away! As leaders in organizations, we should also be looking at the scripts we have been handed, and really take the time to analyse them. Who wrote this script? Are there other versions or other scripts I am not seeing? What is missing from the story on the page? What do I and my team need to add in order to flesh out the full story and make it truly inspiring?
  • The art of soft focus: We are trained in movement class to start to use our peripheral vision to see who else is in the room, and to avoid banging into them. Even when the director tells us to go crazy and flail around to all four corners of the room, we remain aware of each other. So it should be with the competing interests in an organization. We should be creating cultures where the differences are expressed, respected and where soft focus is encouraged to avoid bruising.
  • The art of understanding a character’s objectives: At the most basic level, characters act out of need. The job of the actor is to consider what it is their character needs, what is in the way, and what they are going to do about it. This last piece is where the actor’s choices make the difference between a truly memorable performance and a more ordinary one. For example, your character may need more than anything to gain the love of another character, but there are lots of ways to get there (intimidation, charm, kindness, trickery, deception, collusion etc. etc.). In the workplace, look around at the characters in your midst. What is their overarching need? Are they getting it met? Are you helping or hindering? Why? The more you can understand the other actors in your midst, the better you can manage around their actions.
  • The art of going larger: The training at the Stella Adler Studio is always exhorting us to be LARGER! What this means is that instead of making acting choices that are safe and tame, make larger, more dramatic and more passionate choices. Is your character trying to “tell” (yawn…) somebody something? Or are they trying to “convince” (better…) somebody of something? Or are they trying to “scare the sh*t” (now we’re getting somewhere…) out of somebody? Similarly in organizational life, making larger choices makes for a more interesting performance!

 

When in doubt, go large

I want to hear what you think! Please feel free to weigh in here with your comments. To explore having me speak to your team or group on drama in the workplace and other related themes, please get in touch with me at rob@robduncan.com or via the contact tab on this page.

Our new book – Improv to Improve your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 4 Comments »

Now available on AMAZON!

I was thrilled to be involved in this collaborative writing project, in which co-authors Brent Brooks, Rick Crain, Leah Henderson, Jim Hogan, Vanessa Lowry, Deborah Thomas, Scott Williford, Mark Wyssbrod and I all contributed chapters. Working from the “ten commandments of improv,” each of us wove a chapter story about how the techniques of improvisation have helped each of us in our business careers, and how they can help you. The ten commandments of improv that are woven throughout the book are:

Book: Improv to Improve your Business

Book: Improv to Improve your Business

Trust.

Agree on stage.

Listen.

Don’t be funny.

Avoid questions.

Be average.

Stay in the moment.

Mistakes are good.

Make others look good.

Have fun!

It was terrific to work with such funny and talented co-authors, and I know that you will find this book as much fun to read as it was to write! Watch for Improv to Improve your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation on Amazon early in 2011. Advance media enquiries and booking speaking events on this topic can be arranged by emailing me at greatcapes@gmail.com, or following the contact tab on this page.

Can we have a single, unified, authentic online persona?

Book Review, Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 5 Comments »
One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher

One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher

In her inspiring book, One Person/Multiple Careers, Marci Alboher (a lawyer-turned-journalist/speaker/writing coach) argues that we should be unleashing, rather than hiding, the multiple career identities that many of us have. Marci’s book was the first place I heard the term “slash careers” as a description of the multiple career trajectories and multiple income streams that so many of us have. Almost everyone I know is a something/something else.

So okay, I’m going to finally do it. I am a Speaker/actor/writer/trainer/manager/consultant/sailor. How hard was that? In the world of online social networking, it seems to be exceedingly difficult. Most people I have talked to are very ardent about keeping their various “sub-personas” very compartmentalized. Facebook is for friends/family/partying (ie. never friend the boss…), LinkedIn is for corporate life, Twitter is for… hmmm – don’t have an answer for that one yet.

A friend/colleague and I kicked off this year by agreeing that this should be a year of authenticity – that we were going to move our various sub-personas into greater alignment, and care less about what our various “markets” think.

This got me thinking about social networking, and how I have most of my actor/writer/sailor connections on Facebook, whereas most of my consultant/manager/trainer connections are all on LinkedIn. My speaker/author friends are one of the few crossover communities that are on both. Could I bring all of these communities together?

Pink shirt guy

Pink shirt guy

As a first step, I unified all my profile images into one of my acting/speaking headshots – pink shirt guy. Before that, I was the Mr. scruffy actor/sailor on Facebook, buttoned-down Mr. Corporate on LinkedIn and pink shirt guy on Twitter. Though not all-encompassing, pink shirt guy probably does the best job of capturing the kinds of enthusiasm I feel for speaking to groups, acting on stage, a great day managing a team, teaching a course I am passionate about etc.

I used to also have separate Web pages (Speaker, Actor, Sailor, blah blah blah). This was beyond tedious, both to maintain, and to be forever thinking about the “message” that was appropriate to go out to separate communities/markets. So I scrubbed all that and am unifying everything here under one umbrella. It’s a work in process, but a step in the right direction – toward an authentic, 360 degree view of a whole person.

How about you? Do you have multiple personalities online, or have you been able to unify things? Are you still cautious about the self/selves you reveal to the various communities/markets you operate in, or have you decided to chuck it and present one face to the world?

I would really be interested in your thoughts, so please weigh in here with a comment or contact me directly.

To explore having me speak to your group or team about authenticity, social media, or other topics please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Is it time to start curtailing our personal social network habits?

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 1 Comment »

When was the last time you looked a flesh and blood human being in the eyes and said “I hear you?” If it has been more than a day, that is too long.

As part of the research for my doctorate, I asked people whether they were growing tired of online social networks, and were planning to reduce their levels of activity or number of networks in the future. In a sample of over 400 people I was intrigued to see that fully one-quarter agreed that they were feeling this way.

Taking a break

It’s ironic, because a few weeks later, I find that I am one of those people! This may sound strange coming from someone who chose to do a doctorate focused specifically on online social networks – and someone who spends a lot of time speaking to audiences on the topic. Let me explain.

I recently started some acting training to add to and refresh my speaking and acting skills. The schedule has been fairly demanding, and has involved learning and rehearsing scenes from some of the great plays of all time, including Shakespeare, Ibsen and others.

Not only do these plays deal with timeless themes of great human and social importance, they are also not that easy to memorize. Over the last week and a half, I set to learning my lines in the evenings.

The first night, I had the TV on (24/7 Law and Order being one of the cooler perks of NYC), and started to read. During commercials, I would leap up, round into the other room and check Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, emails etc. The next morning, It wasn’t that easy to recite “Two households both alike in dignity…In fair Verona where we lay our scene…” from memory. Something had to give.

All my Sons by Arthur Miller

The second night, I left the TV off, and things improved quite a bit. I was able to really focus and get deeper into the lines, characters and themes of the plays. Still, I couldn’t shake the social networking habit.

The third night, I left everything off, and an amazing thing happened. This incredible sense of quiet, absorption and peace came over me. I was deep in great stories about heroes, villains, quests, tragic flaws and all the other fabulous chemicals of drama. The next morning, I also had nearly nailed the prologue from Romeo and Juliet. 

Stella Adler acting class

This was all happening against the backdrop of spending intense face-to-face time working with my wonderfully talented classmates, trying to achieve something together that was stretching, shared and artistically large. 

Needless to say, I eventually broke (speaking of tragic flaws) and checked my social networks. As always, there was fun and meaningful news on Facebook, and useful dialog on LinkedIn, but really, what was all this stuff on Twitter and Buzz? Sure, some fun news from classmates and friends, but mostly stuff about software I know nothing about, etc. etc. Why was I letting that stuff get in the way of spending quality time with Falstaff, Prince Hal, Torvald and the others?

Falstaff and Prince Hal

So as of today, I have decided to let my Twitter account go dormant for a bit, and will be turning off Buzz. In my online social network world, there are now only two big dogs for the time being - Facebook and LinkedIn. I want to free up some personal disk space for real human interactions. I wonder if many of us should have a similar conversation with ourselves?

I want to hear what you think! Please feel free to weigh in here with your comments. To explore having me speak to your team or group on social networking, drama in the workplace and other related themes, please get in touch with me at rob@robduncan.com or via the contact tab on this page. Oh, and if you crave the sweet sounds of silence, please follow me on Twitter and Buzz….

An actor repairs…

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Stella Adler Studio, NYC

Stella Adler Studio, NYC

I just survived my first week at that amazing actor’s bootcamp known as the Stella Adler Summer Conservatory. It was an incredible week, with class after class of intensive training from the people who (literally in some cases) trained Brando, DeNiro, Ledger and others.

Now, I am no longer a young athletic man, but the highlight for me had to have been surviving and actually really enjoying the 2 hour dance/movement class late in the week. Sure, I sweated, and was none too inspired during the “let your glutes dance the Vivaldi across the room” exercise, but hey, I had an awesome time. And furthermore, I can now say that I have, on at least one occasion, danced while sober!

Stella Adler Studio is a great training ground for those who want to act as a profession, and for those who know they could use a little more “performance” in their day-to-day lives.

When I stumbled out into the sidewalk at the end of the first week’s classes, I felt 10 feet tall. I was standing straight, walking from my pelvis, holding my throat clear, and breathing deep. When I ordered my iced quad expresso at the Starbucks, people turned and looked as my new voice reverberated around the walls!

When I got back to my place, I had a good long soak, and reflected on the changes that had happened in me, after only a week. I felt stronger, more centred, and more assured of the fact that I am fascinated by acting and want to make it an even bigger part of my career.

We’ll see what next week brings…

What everyone can learn from actor training

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A few years ago, following up on a dream from my youth, I went to study acting in New York. I was fortunate to have been accepted into the Stella Adler Studio for a 12 week course with Maureen Megibow, and I made the most of it by taking all the additional training I could get my hands on. Famous for producing talents like Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro and Martin Sheen, the Stella Adler Studio is one of the great old New York acting schools, and I quickly realized that I had made a wise choice. In terms of technique, Adler’s version of “the method” has always struck me as being a lot more accessible than many of the other variants. With Adler technique, the focus is on “what does my character want?/what is in the way?/what will he do about it?” In short, I don’t have to relive the death of my childhood dog to play a father paralyzed by grief at the loss of his child. It’s make believe – get it?

Rob Duncan and fellow cast members in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings

Rob Duncan and fellow cast members in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings

After I returned from New York, I was able to draw on my actor training in a number of ways. The first was through acting itself. I was quite pumped up by all my New York acting experiences, and was able to get cast in both short and feature-length films, as well as a play. But perhaps more interestingly, I was able to use the training and coaching I got in a number of useful ways.

Actor training made me a better teacher, speaker and manager – and can help you. Consider these examples:

Developing stage presence: Theater training helps you understand your body as an instrument of expression. You learn how you move, which of your mannerisms and habits help you express yourself, and which are a hindrance. You also learn simple tricks like understanding where the light is in a room and how it is (or isn’t) hitting you so you can get into a position that makes you look less like a shadowy goblin!

Hitting your marks: Another trick of the trade is working with marks. When you do stage and film work, everytime you move, you are aiming to land on a particular spot. Most of the time, the mark is literally marked on the floor with a masking tape “X.” The same is true in giving a presentation or teaching a seminar. By scoping out the venue, I usually like to work out a few choice spots to stand, where the lighting is good and the audience gets a good view of the screen if I am using one. Masking tape is usually part of my gear, but I have also used pennies on the floor in a pinch. The idea isn’t to remove sponteneity, but rather to have some guidelines of where to come to a rest – this actually frees you up to be more spontaneous!

Exercising your voice: I worked with great coaches like Roger Simon and did a masterclass with Andrew Wade from the Royal Shakespeare Company who showed me how to treat my voice like a muscle and exercise it, so that you can actually relax more, and project farther at the same time. Roger has a great workout where you power up your voice in 20 progressive increments, with a view to “smashing the lightbulb across the room” with the final one. Both Roger and Andrew were great for clarity and enunciation.

Learning how to improvise: I trained in improv at the Gotham City Improv, and it is an incredibly valuable skill to have in the workplace. Improv at its best involves creating a hilarious shared story with a group of people – a story that moves fast, never misses a beat, and ends up where nobody predicted! The trick with improv is to understand that when the story comes to you for input, all you need to do is move it along a tiny little bit – you don’t have to hit a grand slam or deliver the knockout punchline everytime! Removing that anxiety from yourself lets you be a more effective and giving team player. Sometimes you just have nothing, so you simply offer up something like “…and then she jumped on the bus and…” and toss it over to another team mate. The key is to keep it moving, and then when you least expect it, you’ll say something hilarious. Will anyone who was in our class ever forget the substance known as “boil matter?”

An early film poster from my ongoing "Before he was Famous" days!

An early film poster from my ongoing "Before he was Famous" days!

There are many more lessons to be drawn from acting training, including the power of intention, making bold choices and growing a thicker skin. But no matter what you do as a profession, I highly recommend heading down to your local community center or night school and taking a class in acting or improv. It will enrich your life and career in ways you never anticipated, and you might just have fun! To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about theater in the workplace, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

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