Israel and Hollywood

It’s been a while, and I’m back, sharing a bit about Israel, its artists, and their emergence onto the world stage. I could’ve shared much more, but a bit at a time is best, right? Stay tuned…  Meanwhile, click on the image to watch the interview.

Israeli actors breaking into Hollywood

Discussing Israeli artists and Hollywood on ILTV

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A Word as a Weapon of Mass Production

There’s this word I use which helps get me out of bed in the morning.  It gets me out of my office at the end of the (traditional) workday and helps me face the work that awaits me at home.  It makes me do my taxes.

Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed that I say, “OK,” before facing reality. Lying in bed in the early morning, waking up and wishing I could stay in bed a little longer, ruminating about the day’s tasks, I say, “ok,” and then I get up. It’s a simple word. It’s a shame, actually, that it’s such a common word. As someone who works with words for a living, I have a rich tableau to reference, and “ok” is my go-to word? How dull!

Perhaps saying ok somehow has the power to propel me into action mode. I don’t know when it happened, when ok became so powerful. I also don’t know how long it’ll last. And it wasn’t the result of seeing The Fault in Our Stars, which uses the word in a meaningful way.

What word helps you deal with challenges? Early this summer, I served as on-set dialect coach for the pilot episode of DIG, the new series from NBC Universal/USA, and in collaboration with Keshet International. The set was in Jerusalem, and it was an international production. Cast and crew included members from Hollywood, Israel, Ireland, and France. The producer from Los Angeles faced the behemoth task of putting it all together in a remote location- a holy city and cradle of several religions. Add to that the element of filming in Jerusalem’s Old City at the beginning of heavy tourist season and constructing the set – an archaeological dig, built within an actual ancient cave. (with no cell reception!)  If this producer didn’t need a “power word” to get him up in the morning and facing the day’s challenges, then I don’t know who does. Despite the challenges, the pilot was coming along, with plans of continued filming of the rest of season one on location in the holy land.

And then during a brief scheduled hiatus, the region was suddenly in the midst of a military conflict, replete with rocket attacks, sirens, bomb shelters and the whole shebang. It was drama to rival the best film and television, but real, not reel. Our break was extended by a week, and then another week, and then the call came that the production was to be moved elsewhere, understandably.  All the arrangements made so far in advance for the production now had to be changed. New sets! New locations! New crew! It was the mother lode of overwhelmingness, and I’m sure our producer needed a big “ok” to face this new reality. I’m unsure however, if his word was “ok.” Perhaps he used something else. Maybe his word had four letters. I didn’t want to bother him by asking.

The show premiers in March and has already received an order for additional episodes. I’m sure the finished product will be fantastic, much more than just ok.  We all face daunting tasks. We all face the music at some point. Unexpected changes are part of life. For now, “ok” does it for me. What word does it for you? Let me know, because I might need to borrow it.

Kindness and Words

Sometimes, I feel like I fall behind. There is so much to follow. But when I do find something inspiring, I share it, even if it’s not new.

Ellen Degeneres recently tweeted about meeting actor Josh Radnor and shared a link to a piece he wrote in the Los Angeles Times Magazine back in 2008. It was such a joy to read and an even greater joy to share.  If you haven’t read it, you can now. Here.

The piece speaks of kindness, by and for everyone but specifically in the entertainment industry. I couldn’t agree with it more and continue to practice kindness at every opportunity, even though I’m not a celebrity. What also “spoke” to me was a reference to the way we communicate, of course. 🙂

Radnor writes, “our thoughts and words are powerful far beyond what we suspect,” which I’ve believed for some time. It’s nice, though, to know that others concur. Do you?

Presenting in 3D

3D is the big draw. Or maybe not, according to certain sources, but hopefully you can understand its draw.   So many childrens’ movies today are in 3D.  We want to feel like we can touch the movie, like we can just about take part in it. We see the need for interaction on the internet.  Marketing no longer comes solely from the company.  Today, the end user or consumer is one of the most important components in marketing.  Web 2.0 brings the user into the story to contribute content. We don’t want to be told the story- we want to be in it or in fact be the story.  But you already know that.

Now think of presentations. They, too, must be three dimensional.  As speakers, we need to be able to step out of our own dimension and into the audience. We need to touch our audience, to bring them into the experience.  This calls for a breakdown of barriers, which may come in the form of a lecturn or sometimes a dry speech.  Rather, we need to connect through an infectious smile or a hand gesture that helps illustrate the point.  A memorable story or example can help drive the point home.

Take a figurative and literal step closer to your audience and bring the presentation from its status as a necessary evil to an opportunity to share, enlighten, and connect with other people.   Take a breath.  Be human.  Highlight what we all have in common. Be loud enough to be heard, if you believe that what you have to say matters.  Be relevant to your audience with words and language they can not only understand but identify with and repeat, thus taking your message further.

Be the 3D blockbuster you have the potential to be.

Laying it on Too Thick

I received an email from a client in Los Angeles. “Judi, I have an audition for a Russian character for a television pilot. Do you have tips for a Russian accent?”  Always eager to help and loving my work, I delved into it, taking her lines from the audition sides and transliterating them with a heavy Russian accent. I sent her my Russian sounding version and told her we could practice together over Skype.  And then I reconsidered. I told her that if the audition notes didn’t specifically call for a heavy Russian accent, I didn’t think she should follow the notes I put together for her. Being able to do an authentic sounding accent can be wonderful, but it shouldn’t interfere with the overall performance.

I’m the first to admit that I am majorly impressed by actors who can master an accent that is not their own. Meryl Streep is a true accent powerhouse. You can hear her Polish accent in Sophie’s Choice and one of her English accents in The Iron Lady, roles for which she won Academy Awards. Matthew Rhys also comes to mind. He currently portrays a Russian KGB agent in the U.S. in the 80’s on FX’s The Americans, and he sounds completely American.  He also sounded completely American in ABC’s Brothers and Sisters. It’s always a surprise when people hear him in an interview, when he speaks with his native Welsh accent. If you’re a good actor, though, don’t compromise your performance by trying to include an accent that draws too much attention away from the role itself.  Have you ever watched a performance of someone trying too hard with an accent that just didn’t sound right? I know I have.

As a speech and dialect coach, I’m the last one who should be telling actors not to work on accents, I know. I do think actors should work on accents, absolutely. I do think, however, that it needs to sound as though it’s natural and not forced. Otherwise it’s a distraction. I also know that opportunities often arise quickly and without lots of notice. So how do you train long term to sound natural for an opportunity that may only present itself suddenly, if at all? Obviously, you can’t.  What you can do, however, is the following:

You can work with a speech coach on overall pronunciation skills and mastering of general speech sounds from various regions and languages. This will lay the groundwork for when you need to quickly adjust to a new accent. You will acquire the skills of “learning how to learn” the new accent.

You can also work with a speech coach on polishing your standard American English accent as a base for then tweaking it for regional dialects as needed. This is especially useful for non-native English speakers, but it can be just as helpful for native English speakers, too.

How do you find the right speech coach? I think that it depends on chemistry, and the connection you need to work well with someone, as you would with a personal trainer at the gym. It has to feel right, and it’s a personal preference. Each coach has their own style and approach, and you need to find one that works well for you. When you’re ready, give it a shot, and keep trying until you find what’s right for you.

Fifty Shades of Great

Yes, I did it. I made reference to the hugely successful trilogy written by E. L. James currently conquering the world.  But it’s not really what I’m addressing.  I’m addressing the superlative in English.  By now we know that there are many ways to say things.  I emphasize this to students, as I dissuade them from panicking when they forget a word.  I often reference the “basket of words,” we have in English to describe things. It’s a pretty rich language in that respect. Difficult? Yes. Replete with exceptions? Yes. But also rich.

 One student of mine would often use the word amazing when describing any number of things, ranging from a song or piece of music to how she feels when she has a novel idea.  Together we worked on alternatives to amazing. There’s nothing wrong with using that word, but I just wanted her to have some variety in expressing herself.  Non native English speakers often feel as if when they speak in English, they lose part of their personality, their style,  or their tone, and what’s left may be understandable English, but a part of them is missing from the communication.  Another example was when she acquired the word vast, which has a much richer and descriptive connotation than big, when describing the volume of something very far reaching.

 We’re not aiming here to transform these people into highfalutin, over sophisticated speakers who sound affected.  Actually, over-stuffing your speech with over-the-top vocabulary can work to your detriment.  Psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer, in his study “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long words Needlessly,” indicates that clear, simple, and straightforward language is often the best.  So why am I promoting the use of words beyond amazing and big? It’s not to make you sound smarter.  Although, I know that many non native English speakers complain that they feel like they sound dumb when speaking in English, while in their native language they feel like they sound intelligent.  My purpose here is to help people to be more descriptive.

 When I helped prepare with an actress for interviews and press conferences in English about a Hebrew film in which she plays the lead role, I wanted her to be able to explain what makes the film so great.  Incidentally, what we decided upon was not to express how great the film was, but that it was groundbreaking.  This was a much clearer indication of the fact that the film was the first of its kind in Israel.  It was distinctly different from the films preceding it.  I don’t consider groundbreaking all that fancy of a word.  I do consider it descriptive.  So why all this word play and analysis? I see it as all being connected to better communication.  Being clearer helps us to more effectively transmit our message and connect to people, even across vast distances.

 I’m not the only one who thinks about variety.  Paul Simon does, too, in his famous 1975 hit, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. There are so many ways to say things. Enjoy them.

 This is also true for native English speakers. How often do you use the word amazing? Is it indeed what you mean?  And then there’s great, which is also fine to use.  I have nothing against these words. However, exploring the possibilities of how to best to express yourself gives you so many more options.  When we describe something, there’s always that gray area. It’s up to us to provide the vivid description and bring some color into it.