Isa Totah

Director, acting coach, screenwriter & actor.

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How to Get More Done in Less Time

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Everyone has 24 hours in a day.

Why do some people get so much done in those 24 hours, and others never have enough time?

It’s not as though the successful artist has been endowed with an extra 10 or 20 hours each day. Yet Artist A will often get ten times more done in the same 24 hours as Artist B, and still have extra time left over to attend that event you invited him to. Artist B will tell you, “I’d love to, but I have no time.”

What is going on here?

Artist A is organized and is using his time wisely. Artist B is, likely, a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants type, spending most of his time on putting out fires and busy-work.

Everyone is busy. All the time. No matter what, time manages to fill itself with something, even if it’s surfing the web. The question is, what specific things are getting done? And how efficiently are they getting done?

So, the key is organization.

You

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Behold the Critic

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The world is full of critics. They are the so-called experts that can tell you all the things wrong with an artistic creation, such as a film. They can even tell you if it’s the writing, acting, editing or directing that ruined the film. They are quite knowledgable and have great vocabularies.

But there is one problem: they cannot create the very work they criticize. They cannot make a movie, write a novel or paint a painting. Some have tried, and failed miserably.

An expert is someone who can do something very well. A critic is not an expert at anything except criticism.

Sometimes, actors can be critics as well. They love to criticize other actors and performances. They especially love to criticize Oscar winners and movie stars. But they don’t stop there. They also criticize their fellow actors and friends — usually behind their back but sometimes to their face. They

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It’s about People, People

Why do I make movies? Why do I act, write, eat, breathe?

Is it about swimming pools and majestic palm trees on my front lawn?

Is it about fame? Autographs? Being chased by Paparazzi? Starlets? Being seen at the Ivy with Charlize Theron?

Why do I live? Why do I love?

Is it all about me? It’s a me, me, me world, after all.

Is it all about gadgets? I just got my new Apple Watch.

Is it about technological advances? Artificial intelligence? Robots? Space travel? New frontiers? Star Trek?

Is it about love? Love makes the world go ‘round, right? All you need is love.

Or is it about people? A little about me, and a lot about other people? My girl, my sister, my nephew, my friends, all of the people in the world I will never meet? Helping others? Inspiring others? Making people smile, laugh, cry, even learn a little about life? If I cry on a movie screen, maybe

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A Day in the Life

8:00 A.M. The alarm pounds my hung-over temples. I reach by the nightstand and slam my fist in the general direction of the snooze button. Eight more minutes.

Yesterday was the worst day of my life. I had a massive audition and the douche-bag casting director barely looked me in the eye. I had nothing to work with — nothing. It’s as if she decided I was wrong for the part the second I walked into the room. It was over before it began. And rather than let that fuel me, I let it get to me. Went up on my lines, three times, mumbled my way through the audition, then had the stupidity to ask if I could do it again. “That won’t be necessary,” she snarled, and the next thing I remember, I was walking through the waiting area, past all of the other actors. One looked at me with an evil twinkle in his eye, “You didn’t get it, huh? Better luck next time.” “Fuck you,” I beamed back at

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The Joy of Quitting

Quitting has a bad name.

Being a successful actor can be a challenge. However, quitting in the pursuit of a dream is frowned upon by most people. On this planet, a quitter is pond scum. Only winners are cool.

So, if you’re thinking of quitting or have just quit, here are a few things you can say to yourself to make you feel better about your decision:

  1. I never wanted to be an actor in the first place.
  2. The movie business is all about who you know.
  3. Hollywood is full of backstabbing a-holes!
  4. The family plumbing business isn’t as bad as I thought.
  5. Working 9 to 5 is nice!
  6. No more auditions! (Just job interviews).
  7. Acting is too hard.
  8. I love acting, it’s the business of acting that I hate.
  9. At least I have money now. (Even if there’s no time to spend it).
  10. Free rent living with my parents again!
  11. I really had no talent.
  12. Success has nothing to do with talent!
  13. Who wants a dumb Oscar

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The Secret to Success

People love ideas.  I do too.  The mistake many people make in the pursuit of success is thinking that the idea, alone, is enough.  It never is.

You must put the idea into motion — into action.  You must work hard to be successful.  Ideas are the easy part. It’s the work to realize the idea that trips people up.  

Don’t get me wrong, ideas are very important.  Everything starts with an idea. But the key word is “starts.”  You now have to get to work to make the idea come to life.

Work can be difficult at times.  You will often have to overcome unexpected obstacles, even walk on coals and climb Mount Everest to make a dream come true.  Successful people are up for the challenge.  Those who fail quit before the finish line.  That’s the only difference.

I often have people come up to me and tell me that they have a great idea for a screenplay.  And they generously offer to share it

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Look

Actors need to learn to look — look at people, look at things. Actors portray characters going through the various bumps and bruises of life. The way to understand characters, or people, is to look at them. Truly look, and see what you see.

By the way, this would benefit anyone in any occupation, not just actors.

Well, you might say, “I look all the time.” Do you? Or are you generally too distracted to genuinely look? Are you too dependent on others to look for you? Are you thinking about something else when you “look?” Are you really seeing what’s in front of you, or some vague idea instead? Are you looking though the fog of random thoughts and the day’s problems?

If you’re not fully in the moment, you cannot look. If your mind is on how much the audience likes or dislikes you, you are not looking.

You have to be here to look.

An old acting teacher of mine used to turn to

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Up the Down Escalator

In many ways, living life is like walking up a down escalator. The momentum of the escalator is pulling you downwards, while you are trying to climb up to the top. If you go about it casually, you will still go backwards. With a little more effort, you will go nowhere. It takes concentrated focus and energy to overcome the downward momentum of the escalator and actually get anywhere.

This can also be said of a career — any career, but especially that of an artist. There will be bumps along the road for sure. It’s how you react to the bad days that makes the difference between a winner and a loser.

Good days are easy. They’re good. You wake up feeling energized and ready to conquer the world. So, there’s not much to say here other than take advantage of those days to the max.

It’s the bad days that trip us up. Those days, the down escalator feels like someone hit the high

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What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

The cliché is, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Some clichés are grounded in truth. This one is ass-backwards. The only things that can hurt you are those things you know nothing about. The enemy of life is ignorance, not knowledge.

Knowledge is power, is certainty. If you know all aspects of your career, genuinely know them, you will run along smoothly. If you know the machinery of your job, then the machinery can’t bite you. If you know the mechanisms of life, then you will run life — life won’t run you.

Seeking knowledge and truth is supreme.

An actor should know all there is to know about his craft. And since an actor is performing different characters and expressing a multitude of life experiences, he must be an avid student of life.

Don’t accept the clichés or what “everyone” knows to be true. Observe for yourself and make your own decisions. Watch life. Sit

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Showing Up

One of my most successful actions over the years is to simply show up. This has worked in a variety of fields and occupations, including acting and directing.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

When my teacher, Milton Katselas, directed a play or a scene, I was the first to find out about it and the first to show up at the “closed” rehearsals. He’d look at me with a glint in his eye and ask how I found out about it. I’d shrug. He’d tell me the rehearsals were closed and I’d leave, then show up again the next rehearsal. He’d smile and shrug, and let me come in and watch. I’d volunteer to help with sound or lights or whatever he needed. Over the years, I got invaluable lessons in directing by watching him work on over two dozen productions.

Ultimately, my showing up led Milton to cast me as the lead in two of his plays. Both were rare experiences I will never

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