(Note: Team J chief Bjorn Munson has had the opportunity to read a new book by a local author.  We’re including it here as it might be of interest to regular Stonehenge attendees, so don’t expect book reviews to become a regular feature.)

I’m not sure what this bodes for the local theater and film community, but I’ve now read two new books in as many months from established members of the community. Both are very informative for their respective audiences.

The first, Jon Gann’s Behind the Screens: Programmers Reveal How Festivals Really Work, was discussed — along with many topics related to film festivals — in episode 19 of the Tohubohu Producer Podcast. If you’re a filmmaker who plans to submit your work to film festivals (which means just about any filmmaker wanting to find an audience): listen to Jon Gann on the podcast for free… and then go ahead and read a copy of the book anyway. Your future films will benefit.

The second is: To Be or Wanna Be: The Top Ten Differences Between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist. The book comes from veteran actor and acting coach Sean Pratt. Many people who already know about his website and series of seminars about “The Business of the Biz” will find the style of the book familiar (and for those uninitiated, yes, he does refer to the film and theater industry as “The Biz”).

But I digress. The book itself continues in the same vein of practical advice borne of personal experience that’s evident on Sean Pratt’s website. He lays out 10 key differences in mindset between the successfully working actor and the actor continually failing to find success. This isn’t simply “work smarter, not harder.” It goes into an actor’s attitude and specific tactics: in other words touching on both the “how” and the “why” to make your career gain ground.

As with many non-fiction tomes aimed at self-improvement, this isn’t quite a handbook nor a manifesto. It’s aimed at actors, especially actors who are just beginning their career, feel stalled in their career, or both. Not only does it come in at a svelte 130 pages (really a few less), it’s a remarkably fast read — and it’s clearly designed for any one of its chapters to be reread as a standalone refresher.

In fact, its structure reminded me of many of the “[Topic] for Dummies” books in the way this book used each chapter to introduce a concept, cite an example, and then provide examples on how to promote good habits. However, the light tone and repetitive structure should not be misconstrued as making this book superficial. Indeed, as I indicated above, I think this structure helps in making the book a fast read and an easy one to return to were someone feeling they needed an acting career “tune-up.”

One aspect of the book which I did not expect was how autobiographical it was: each of the differences is explained, followed by an episode from Sean Pratt’s own career that illustrates the concept being discussed. If you don’t like authors inserting themselves into their topics, then you don’t know actors or this genre of non-fiction book. While not all of his anecdotes work equally well, none were distracting — and they all served to remind readers that Sean Pratt is not simply advocating these tactics, he has tested them.

So is this book for every actor? Maybe not. As I indicated above, it should be very useful for actors beginning their career and those who feel stalled. That’s plenty of people.

I should also add that every actor who attends Stonehenge should read up on Difference # 8: about personal branding. I’m serious. Please read it: especially all of you just out of college or otherwise starting out in “the Biz.” Those of you who follow that advice will get many more callbacks. (Those who don’t are the ones who make me cry silently inside every Stonehenge as they launch into a horribly inappropriate monologue).

Difference # 9 about being the CEO of your own acting enterprise may seem cliche to some, but really is useful to bear in mind.

If I needed to be persnickety in my overall appraisal of the book, I would say that I would have liked to see more artistry in the graphical design, perhaps utilizing some symbols or other artifice to reinforce the repetition in the chapter structure — even a sidebar to break up the design. Nevertheless, the layout itself is solid and workmanlike, avoiding many pitfalls that plague small press titles.

My personal preference would also be for more in-depth chapters, but that isn’t necessarily the purpose of this book and I suppose a slim instructional book such as this might be in line with another sentiment of screen and stage: leave the audience wanting more.


To Be or Wanna Be: The Top Ten Differences Between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist can be found, as the link suggests, at Amazon.com.