December 17, 2009
A love letter to writing.
I read Colleen Wainwright's post about Sundays. And I realized I owed my blog a few things. Year-end round-up posts (always some of my favorite to write), more posts in general (this has become a home for 12 of 12 and little else, it seems), and a love letter to my writing ritual.
Why the latter?
Because with all the talk I've done about feeling the feelings this year, I realize I've spent the better part of a decade writing something every freakin' week for actors, and haven't really written about what that feels like.
Colleen's post, plus something that happened several times in Sydney, tells me it's time to put this into words.
I love writing for actors. Almost every week for ten years, I've shown up at a blank Word doc on a Mac laptop (first an unnamed tangerine clamshell iBook; then the Chicklet, a silver G4 PowerBook; then Zed, a white G4 iBook Pro; now Sid, a black 2.16GHz MacBook) and asked myself, "How do I start this?" and the answer takes shape in words click-clacked out at 83WPM or so in response. It's like a ouija board. I just put my fingers out there, and it comes.
First there was "Casting Qs" a biweekly, then weekly (this happened very quickly, as the column was a popular one) column Rob Kendt (then editor-in-chief, later associate publisher) of Back Stage West asked me to create. It was 1999. I was an actor. I was doing in-house temp work at BSW and came in once or twice every week or so, to cover a desk when someone was out sick or on leave. I was given some assignments here and there, mostly transcription work from other reporters with stacks of tapes to get through. And then one day Rob asked me to write "Casting Ouch," a 200-word blurb about a casting notice that ran previously in BSW that turned out to be skeevy, when actors showed up for the audition.
Within ten minutes, I emailed him the blurb, based on the bullet-point list of facts I'd been given, and suddenly he was standing over me at my cubicle-for-the-day, an eyebrow raised. "Who are you?" he asked.
"What do you mean? I'm Bonnie Gillespie," I flirtatiously answered.
"No," he clarified, holding a print-out of the words I had emailed to him, "What's your background? How did you do this?"
I said, "Oh! I have a masters degree in journalism."
He quickly escorted me to his office and offered me a job. I declined. He offered a different job. I declined. (Dammit, I was an actor and no flexible survival job was going to turn into a real job with benefits and a regular paycheck. No thank you!)
The third offering was an actor-slash-writer's dream come true.
"How about a freelance column? You interview casting directors. Ten cents a word. Basically, a hundred bucks a pop. Is that flexible enough for you?"
I'm thinking to myself, "So I get to go into the offices of casting people who won't invite me in when I want to show up with a headshot and resumé, but because I show up with a notepad and a microcassette recorder, they'll give me access? And I'll get them talking about themselves for an hour or so, write it all up, turn it in, and you'll print it in a publication read by tens of thousands of actors per week? And you'll pay me?"
"Do I own the rights to my work?" I asked.
And a deal was made.
Over 250 casting directors interviewed in three years. Some of my best friendships in this industry started over coffee or lunch or cocktails with a casting director willing to have this chick from Back Stage West ask some questions, to demystify the process for actors everywhere. A life-changing turn on a path that would lead me to become a casting director (or as Colleen said last night, "A writer who works in casting." I like that), leaving acting behind, yet causing me to write about it every freakin' week.
Three books for actors: Casting Qs, which is of course a collection of the first hundred or so interviews I did for Back Stage West; Acting Qs, which is a collection of interviews with working actors, conceived and co-written by rockstar actor-writer Blake Robbins; and "my baby," Self-Management for Actors, which is in its third top-selling edition, and pretty much what I'm known for creating, based on those interviews and the map I drew out for my then-boyfriend Keith Johnson, as I advised him on how to navigate a professional acting career without hitting the many potholes so many actors seem to land in, as they go.
And now I'm coming up on six years of weekly columns with Showfax at a place they named "The Actors Voice." (I lost the fight over the apostrophe.)
While I was in Sydney recently, I did day-long casting workshops with some of the top casting directors on the planet. People with decades more experience than I have, and certainly with films under their casting belts that have grossed more money than anything I've ever cast would ever aspire to bring in. Let's face it, I specialize in micro-budget indies. And I have no complaints. I love the niche I've built for myself in casting, and I'm very good at what I do: Working with amazing scripts, brought to me by rockstar teams, and going after actors who aren't in it for the money. That's a perfect business model for Cricket Feet Casting, and as we come up on seven years of my life in casting, it's working really well.
But I knew, as I was doing these workshops with these awesome casting directors, that theirs were filling up due to their IMDb pages. The films they are known for casting are the reason actors want to be in front of them; they want to be seen by someone who has cast such high-profile stuff. Because they'll continue to cast high-profile stuff. Because they could be the person who helps facilitate a big break.
Not me. My IMDb impresses no one at first glance. It's only after clicking around and realizing what I've been able to do at micro-budget levels with first-time directors, often, that you begin to understand there's something cool going on. To even get a script in front of some of the legends I have cast speaks to the years of relationship-building and the amount of trust agents and managers put in my word, when I tell them that reading the script will not be a waste of their time. My picker is good. My word is even better.
So, when my workshops were low in the numbers, I wasn't surprised.
And then something happened in the very first workshop of the eight I was hired to conduct for the Australian Institute for Performing Arts. An actor who had driven in from across the country (sorry, continent) to be there said, "I got into acting because I knew I could do it, having read your columns and your book." She excitedly bought the third edition to replace her well-worn copy of the first edition and asked me to autograph it. She asked someone else in the class to take a photo of us together, while I signed the book.
I was in awe.
And then it happened again, in another workshop. And again, in another. And then I had brunch with a manager who told me she structured her business model "LA-style" based on what she learned about self-management from reading my book, and that's allowed her to tier-jump significantly faster than anyone predicted she would (and a Sydney-based casting director friend of mine verified that was absolutely true of this manager and her rise through the ranks).
That's when it hit me. I'm never going to be the kind of casting director that actors rush out to get face time with based on the "hit" I just cast. It's not about the opportunities that I can provide anyone, that they care to meet with me, in general. It's that they know they're going to learn something. It's that I've shown through my words to them, for decades, that there is a way to keep your sanity while in this show business pursuit. And they value that.
So, this is a love letter to the opportunity Rob Kendt gave me in 1999 and the one Bob Brody and Gary Marsh gave me in 2004: To write, weekly, for tens of thousands of actors, worldwide.
I am so completely humbled and blessed and honored to have the venue at which we all meet up and get to work.
As I mentioned to Colleen last night, I was very late to self-identify as a writer. I don't know why, but I was hesitant to claim it, even though writing generated (and continues to generate) the greatest chunk of my income each year. I guess I saw writing as high art, and I saw what I was doing as just journaling in public. Sharing my shit with anyone who cared to read it. Opining.
But dammit, if the 112 Twitter "lists" I'm on have taught me something, it's this: Y'all tell me I'm a writer. (Sure, a few of those lists call me a casting director--and one even calls me an agent, which I'm not--and a few more call me "fun to read" or "funny" or "smart," but it's the bulk of them that call me a writer. So, I claim it. I started claiming it a few years ago. Now I really do.)
Keith and I had dinner last week during which our conversation turned to "my next book." And we're debating a couple pretty awesome options, while wondering when there will be time to work on any books during production on the series; launch of the web distribution channel; touring to teach actors in other cities, states, and countries; and casting and producing several films in 2010. And we want to buy our house. And Keith wants to knock me up. And there's just so much going on.
But that I know there is a "next book" (or rather, several more) is pretty dang cool.
I love the blank page and the promise it provides.
I love filling that page, week after week.
And I love that you fine folks love the order in which I sometimes arrange words. That's pretty dang awesome. And I'm feeling that.
I remember fighting with my mom, as she would say (when I was a pre-teen, writing some script or short story or poem or song or whatever), "My daughter, the writer." I would fire back, "MUH-THUR! I AM AN ACT-TRESS!" and stomp a foot and leave the room.
Okay, Momma. You--as always--were right. And thank you for having nurtured that in me. It's a gift and I treasure it. You taught me the beauty of the analogy, and I never seem to run out of 'em.
Let's hope not, anyway.
Posted by bonnie at December 17, 2009 1:45 PM
Welcome back. (As if you ever left. Or could. HA.)
Also, were your mom and my gramps hanging out, trading notes? Damn.
Posted by: Colleen Wainwright at December 17, 2009 2:02 PM
Yes, you ARE a writer, and a dang good one at that, too!! And we thank you for the words you write.
Posted by: kathi at December 17, 2009 2:03 PM
Love it. Love you. Love everything you do.
"Don't stop believing. Hold onto that feeling." -Journey
Posted by: Terri J. Freedman at December 17, 2009 2:44 PM
Awesome, Bonnie! I love reading what you are writing!
Posted by: Scott Ganyo at December 17, 2009 5:25 PM
every time you mention mamma and the obvious love and connection you two shared, it gets me.
great article. this is great work you are doing. proud to know you.
Posted by: Splendanuts at December 17, 2009 6:06 PM
You write with such a tone of pure honesty Bon. Readers fall in love with you. I know that I did because you're not afraid in the least to share your humanity with us. To know the Bon is to love the Bon. ♥ . ♥ . ♥ . ♥ . ♥ . ♥ . ♥ .
Posted by: Pamela Jansen at December 17, 2009 7:05 PM
so refreshing. thanks so much for sharing.
Posted by: Shea at December 17, 2009 7:12 PM
That was pretty dang kick ass. You are not only an awesome person, but a rock-star in general. And I always wanna rush to get in front of Bonnie G. Thankful that you continue and want to share your love and knowledge. Woo freggin' Hoo!
Posted by: Tamika RS at December 17, 2009 11:09 PM
Bon..finally just happen to come to this read. I am in awe..its so rich.. I can visualize you typing this. You have such a Gift. This is one of the most beautiful talent of writing I have ever read... this was your soul and element on paper! You rock it! What a privilege to read this.
Posted by: sonya wilson at December 18, 2009 12:02 AM
Bonnie! And your words and your writing are an extension of your love and care for actors and what we do. Forever Grateful, Amro
Posted by: Amro at December 18, 2009 8:55 AM
Bonnie, you are a woman of MANY gifts and the greatest gift of all is your ability to share them so selflessly, efficiently, beautifully. Thank you for this.
Posted by: Allie Smith at December 18, 2009 11:30 AM
Awww....got tears in my eyes now too.
You continually inspire me to let go of the fear, to believe in myself more, and to open my eyes to what others see in me.
(haha, "Keith wants to knock me up", hahaha!)
Posted by: Leah at December 18, 2009 8:57 PM
Your column is the first that I have followed religiously and I feel blessed to have done so. Thank you.
Posted by: Samantha Lopez at December 19, 2009 1:47 AM
Where do I begin?
Thank you. Thank you, fine folks.
I mean... wow. Thanks.
That the order in which I place words sometimes makes you happy, makes you think, makes you inspired to create, well, that's the biggest gift back to ME ever. :) So, thank you for sharing that you like what I do. I'd do it even if no one ever looked. ;) I think that's the sign of being right where you're s'posed to be.
Love you good people! THANK YOU for the comments. Truly.
Posted by: bon at December 19, 2009 5:03 PM