“wax on wax off” (Lessons learned in the entertainment industry…on accident)

Chapter 1
by Carl Charroux

In case you can’t tell, Carl’s day job is as an actor. Some guys have all the luck, right?

In the 1984 movie The Karate Kid”, Pat Morita was supposed to be teaching Ralph. Macchio karate, but all summer the karate master had the kid doing chores- painting stuff, waxing the car, etc. These tasks were secretly teaching the “Kid” karate moves, and when his lessons actually began, he found them relatively easy.

I’m going to share some of my “wax on wax off” moments I’ve had over the years with you in a series of articles.

Remember, there is NO one way to achieve your goals in this business, I don’t pretend to know how to get it done. I’m just sharing some of my experiences that hopefully you can relate to.

My goal as an actor was to be the next George Clooney. Like every other actor, I knew I had the “chops”, but I just needed someone to give me a shot and see how good I was.

I decided to shoot my own short film. What did I need to do?

  • Write it
  • Cast it
  • Direct it
  • Shoot it
  • Edit it
  • Distribute it

Step 1 – write the script. Since I was an actor and had read tons of screenplays, I was very confident about this. This process did not take me long and I was very happy with my script.

Next step was to cast it. I created character descriptions and posted them on a casting website. I also contacted friends who I thought were strong actors that would be great to work with.

A couple of friends volunteered to be readers and film the auditions and we were ready to go.

As a writer, remember when I said I was happy with my script? Well, the audition process was one of the most gratifying and devastating experiences I’ve had as an artist.

Hearing your words read out loud and acted for the first time is an amazing experience. There were times when I was so excited and proud it brought a tear to my eyes.

But then there were the other tears (not really). But I was not happy about things I was hearing and felt my stomach knotting up each time an actor read on of my bad scenes or lines.

So, after the auditions I reviewed the tapes over and over and here are a couple of my major findings.

The first lesson I learned was the redundancy in my writing. I didn’t repeat words, it was ideas and emotion that were being duplicated and triplicated.

And it wasn’t in my writing as much as I wrote my script without including or thinking about what power an actor can have on the script.

An actor’s facial expressions, body language, and any other factors they bring to the scene can change the scene incredibly.

I was using three lines to say something, when I needed one because of the additional nuances the actor brought to the scene.

I didn’t need entire exchanges to get the point across in the scene that I was going for because the combination of the prior lines and the actors made it clear what I was trying to accomplish.

It was frightening. I started to think I was born too late in life. I would have been an amazing writer…for radio. I wrote too many words, and made my characters repeat themselves so many times, you might have thought I was afraid the audience didn’t’ hear them the first time.

This all came down to confidence in my work. I felt like I needed to hammer anyone who read the script over the head with it to make sure they got it.

Watching the tapes, I realized how the actors made me a much better writer, if just trusted them, trusted myself and the trusted the audience.

For early drafts of my script, I now have 3-5 actors read the same scene. Each actor can bring something new or different to the scene that can be so helpful and save you a lot of time and in my case (probably only in my head) embarrassment.

The next thing I noticed was the actors were sort of dangling at the end of the scene. I know, such a technical term to describe their state, but something was off.

While watching the audition tape with one of my actor friends, he made a comment about the auditioner’s lack of strong choice he made in the scene. I agreed. What could be a strong choice I asked myself, and then it hit me.

I wrote scenes with an objective to support the story, but I ignored the actors. I was not concerned with clear objectives and strong obstacles for them to support the scene.

These are the staples for all actors when reading a scene. The objective can be physical, emotional or any state you want it to be. So can the obstacle. It can be a scene partner, themselves, etc. And these conflicts are the wax on wax off moments that get the actors to perform tasks that add up to make the scene and the story work.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed and learned from the mistakes I’ve made. Next time I’ll share some directing and editing stories that have helped me as a writer.