I’ve been asked by creatives over the years how they should prepare for their big break, whenever it may come. My answer is always simple. Practice your craft. After sharing, young hopefuls typically drop their shoulders, pout, and walk away feeling dejected. Why? Because they want an easy answer that doesn’t require weekly work.
When I was in grade school, I set a cup-and-ball pencil on my dresser and pretended it was a microphone. I placed a turntable next to it with a stack of records (called vinyl today). During the next two hours I practiced being a radio DJ. I talked about all kinds of things, then would transition my comments to introduce the next song and faded up the music.
I don’t know if it gave me the right skills, but it did make me comfortable in front of a microphone. By high school, I had my own radio show that was broadcast on an FM signal to a five-town area. I took requests and developed a small fan base. While taking mass communication classes at university, I produced several radio talk shows and an award-winning radio drama complete with music and sound effects.
It was never my intention to be a radio personality. But I did want to be ready for my big break in a different area, so I’d be able to do well in interviews.
There were side benefits to learning the skills. When my family was young, WGN Radio had an audio competition. Families could create and enter their own radio drama based on the new Disney Fantasmic show. The top winning families would not only have their show play on WGN Radio, but they would receive an all-expenses paid Disneyland trip to watch the premiere of Fantasmic. My family loved that vacation.
Since those days of practicing, I’ve looked back and considered how many of my skills have been increased and polished. People who see me use multiple skills across a breadth of experiences often ask, “How many skills do you have?” Again, my answer is simple—as many as I practice.
I’ve hosted three podcasts with a couple hundred episodes over the past few years and have been interviewed on television, radio and other podcasts. The skills I use were developed over time starting back in grade school. Even then I knew that one day I’d have to speak into a microphone as if it were second nature.
Over the past months, several people have talked about doing live streaming shows with me. I typically give them a shot if their ideas sound good, practical, and inspiring. Unfortunately, most people have great ideas, but they never practice for the day. Not even for a half hour at a time over the seven days leading up to the pilot.
When their opportunity comes, they aren’t able to show even a hint of preparation. The show is scrapped and they are left behind as I move forward to the next possibility.
I’ve never been able to figure out why so many people during the making of a pilot feel awkward when they hear their recorded voice. Everyone can harness their phone to record and playback daily practice sessions until they become accustom to the sound of their voice. The sessions don’t have to be anything more than reading a book out loud followed by listening to it.
When a person’s shot finally comes, those who practice can embrace the opportunity with a smile as they give their full effort to the project. Don’t be left behind. Take time this week to prepare for whatever hope you are expecting.
2021 by CJ Powers
A very insightful and true post. This is a story that bears repeating over and over. It provides an important answer to the question “How do I prepare for my future?”
My story is very similar. Here’s why. I’ve been a professional filmmaker for 48 years but I started making movies at approximately 14. Working with my younger siblings and neighborhood friends on weekends mainly, I would craft silly short stories that could be filmed on one roll of double 8mm film or “Regular 8” (1 roll = 25ft….send it through the camera once, open the side door, put the roll from the bottom take up spindle to the the top feed spindle, thread it through ‘the gate’ and shoot the second 25 feet. Hence, double 8) The lab processed it, slit it in half, joined the two 25ft segments into one 50 foot segment. Voilå…Now I had just under 4 minutes of film shot at 18 frames per second.
I invested in a ‘viewer/editor’ – a device with a ‘scope’ viewer, a light switch, two rewinds with crank handles…and I was set to cull my 4 minutes of film or more into an edited story. It was very difficult to crank the handles at exactly the right speed to make the action on the viewer screen seem natural, but after much practice I was able to achieve a result that worked, much like the cameramen from the silent film era who had to ‘hand-crank’ the capturing cameras of those years since there was no electric driven motors in cameras then. They became ‘practiced’ enough to make the motion seem mostly natural on-screen.
My process began when I was 14 and so at 19 I entered film school with 5 years experience under my belt. In the past 48 years I’ve experienced many changes in technology, [the tools of the trade so-to-speak], and I can say with confidence that the fundamentals remain the same.
What makes for a good film? A well written story, impeccable execution (composition, lighting, editing) and effective distribution. Learn how this all fits together and you can speak into a microphone too. (OR stand behind a camera).
Start as young as you possibly can and practice, practice, practice…..Even after 48 years I’m still practicing much like a doctor ‘practices’ medicine. The concept is the same, the result should not disappoint and is applicable to just about any profession or trade.