Interviews

Published on January 23rd, 2020 | by Hype Editorial

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Zak Barnett Studios Launches Membership Program for Rising Hollywood Talent

As we embark on this new decade, Hollywood will continue to have the draw for aspiring talent from across the nation to come work and follow their dreams.  With countless acting schools and coaches in Los Angeles, it can seem overwhelming where to start. One studio we’re hyped about is Zak Barnett Studios. They are giving students the chance to have access to top industry professionals including showrunners, producers, casting directors and more through their membership program and panels.

The ZBS 2020  Membership kicked off with an exclusive party and panel featuring talent including:  Dailyn Rodriguez (WGA Winner, EP & Showrunner: Queen of the South); Stacey Osei-Kuffour (Emmy Nominated Co-Writer: Pen-15); Korin Williams (Emmy Nominated, Co-EP: Roots); Micah Schraft (Co-EP, Mrs. America and Jane the Virgin); Christian James Durso (Executive Producer/Creator: The Stranded); and Molly Margraf (Executive Producer/Creator: Dead Girls Detective Agency.)

We had the chance to sit down with Zak Barnett and discuss his vision for the studio and his advice for talent.

Q: Los Angeles is the mecca for actors. What sets Zak Barnett studios apart?

ZB: The ZBS curriculum focuses foremost on the art, craft and profession of acting, while integrating deep personal developmental work drawing on the themes of activism and spirituality.  We look at acting more as a martial art–a self study and application that is done in service to one’s personal well being, as well as to the healing of the audience and society at large.  This results in actors that are extremely connected themselves, know who they are, and how they want to influence the world. This kind of work breeds charisma, and a heightened presence, or as we say in Hollywood, “star quality”.

There are eleven teachers currently at the studio that come from very diverse backgrounds.  Many acting studios are structured with one master teacher and then a series of “mini-me’s”.  I was very clear in starting the studio that if this is my life’s purpose, which I believe it is, I want to be surrounded by the absolute best teachers I could find.   All of us have at least twenty years of experience studying the craft of acting—many of us, including myself, have over twenty years teaching it. That said, the thing that unites us is the organizing principle of the studio, “The more connected you are to yourself, the more connected you are to any character”.  There is a defined curriculum, with each class meeting an industry need, as well as a more artistic and personal development need.

I had a teacher once say, “If you know three things, you will see three things in a script.  If you know a million, you will see a million, because essentially you are seeing yourself.” Our goal is to expand the student’s awareness in their life, so the characters they create are as complex, rich and layered as they are.

I think many acting studios may keep some of these elements as their goal, but none I’ve encountered give you the path to getting there.  For instance, an actor may hear, “Just be yourself”. Problem is, telling someone to “be themselves” is like telling someone to “Just let go” when they’re stressed out.  There is a “how” to learning to “just be yourself” and our curriculum, structures that out.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges for actors to break into the industry today?

ZB: I’d say the biggest obstacle is an actors lack of willingness to take advantage of the opportunities they do have. Of course, the competition is ridiculous—and it always has been, but the platforms have increased—both in terms of the amount of projects being produced and the actors’ ability to easily create their own content—thus defining their own opportunities. Actors are often used to being directed.  If they’re willing to take their careers into their own hands, opportunities abound.

Q: How has social media changed the game for up and coming actors?

ZB: There are definitely projects that will choose actors by the size of their following, but I think that trend is waning. For a while there, it felt like if you didn’t have a following, you were out of the mix—but I’m hearing that less and less from casting directors these days. The danger is that social media can really feed an actors insecurities. People generally present the best, and often over-glamorized, versions of their lives.  Actors need to be mindful of their social media consumption and make sure they are feeding themselves with media that reinforces their worth, not diminishes it.

Q: Can you share any actors you’ve coached who are working on series?  Or any other success stories?

ZB: Last year alone we had 78 students working as series regulars. Some of our coaching clients have won both Oscars and Emmys. I can’t mention some of the most well known actors, but I will say some recent breakouts include longtime student Danielle Macdonald (Unbelievable, Birdbox, Dumplin), Madelaine Petsch (Riverdale), Storm Reid (Wrinkle in Time, Euphoria, When They See Us), Austin Abrams (Euphoria, Less Than Zero, Brad’s Status), and Rosa Salazar (Undone, Alita: Battle Angel, Maze Runner)—all of which are making huge strides in their careers right now.  I also work with production companies and networks—sometimes coaching the lead in the show, other times working with the directors to get the most out of their actors (which I do privately with directors as well). Most recently, I was brought on by the production company to prepare the lead in Kenny Ortega’s new show, “Julie and the Phantoms”, set to premiere on Netflix.

Q: What are the common mistakes actors make when trying to establish themselves in Hollywood?

ZB: Thinking that it will happen quickly.  The old Hollywood adage, “It’s a marathon, not a race” comes to mind.  Truth is, it’s a marathon where the finish line keeps extending. If you hang in there, your career will most often fall into place—almost always in a way you hadn’t expected.But if you’re like 99.9 percent of actors, that unexpected path towards success will be long after the first or hundredth time you strongly consider giving up.  It’s staying power, humility, and your ability to connect with people authentically that leads to success. Your talent alone is not enough. People need to want to help you, because you’re the real deal and in it for the long haul.

Q: Your focus is on “the whole self” what does that mean for the actor?

ZB: It means a few things: Actors have to use every part of who they are—their minds, bodies, voices, emotional and spiritual lives, imaginations, language and ability to connect to other human beings.  Collectively, all of these elements conspire to create a world–a world that exists for one moment in time, and never will again. This takes tremendous self-awareness and skill, and a knowledge of how all of these interweaving aspects affect one another.  For instance, if I start raising my voice when speaking with you, my emotions will rise as if I’m in an argument, my body will respond and my imagination will seek to support all of this with a story that defines my point of view or “character.”  A “Whole Self” approach also means that your personal development is linked with the development of your craft—and this is achieved is by asking the right questions.  One of our philosophies at the studio is “An artist is defined by the questions they ask themselves”. These questions live under the larger themes of activism, spirituality and entertainment.  While I don’t have the answers for anyone in regards to these questions, I know the process of asking them helps the actor define their singular truth—and that singular truth is what makes them magnetic, and full of purpose.

Q: What tools do today’s actors need going into a new decade that perhaps actors didn’t have to think about previously?

ZB: Well certainly the skills and guts to create their own work.  I’d also say, there is a cultural responsibility in being an actor and artist in the world. This world is filled with so much information—information that defines our identities, value-systems, self-worth—what we think about ourselves and others. Actors need to understand the power they wield in helping people shape their stories, and our collective destiny.

Q: As a coach, how do you approach your role in an actor’s career?

I see myself alternately as a creative friend, mentor and partner, depending on what is needed.  I sometimes need to usher people beyond their emotional blocks, or direct them into a new way of seeing.  My work is always guided by the principles of specificity and risk. I follow their instincts, and let mine come in to steer us in whichever direction best serves the material.  I am always mindful that it is the creative bond we share that it is ultimately guiding us. If I focus our attention on that shared creative source, the performance always turns out the way it’s supposed to.

Q: Tell us about the new membership program and what it offers students.

ZB: I should start by saying that we will continue to offer classes, private coaching etc. in the à la carte way we always have.  Membership is simply a more economical way for committed actors to develop over a longer period of time.  Membership has been something we’ve wanted to do from the very beginning.  As “A Whole Self Conservatory for the Working Actor”, we bring together many of the services and training an actor needs to be successful, with the practices that help an actor stay sane, grounded and connected to what makes them most unique and magnetic.
We offer two distinctive versions: one designed for actors that live in or around L.A., called the “L.A. Membership”, and one designed for actors that live outside of L.A., called the “Jetsetter Membership”. Our “L.A. Membership” emphasizes weekly class as the primary component, accented with audition coaching, role prep, intensives, community events and mentorship.  Our “Jetsetter Membership” is designed for actors that live outside of LA, that are either trying to transition into the LA Market, or have no intention of leaving where they are, but want quality, ongoing training.  It’s primary component is Skype coaching, and it’s accented with our weeklong intensives, mentorship, classes and community/industry events when the student is in town.

We believe our membership programs are the answer to several ongoing struggles actors find themselves in:

1.  It’s difficult for working actors to commit to a long term course of study, because of the unpredictability of bookings.  We have created the memberships to have maximum flexibility for an actor’s busy life.

2.  Aspiring and professional actors living outside of L.A. don’t have access to the quality of training they actually need to be competitive in the L.A. market.  With our emphasis on individually tailored coaching and classes through SKype, as well as weeklong intensives thoughout the year, we bring LA training to the rest of the world.

3.  L.A. can be a lonely place–add the extreme ups and downs of being an actor to the mix, and for many actors, it can just be too heavy of a burden to shoulder alone.  In an industry that is so rife with ups and downs, knowing that you have a creative community where you can hang your hat, and will at the same time, challenge you to reach your greatest creative potential, is invaluable.

At ZBS, you’re investing in yourself and in a community that supports your talent as well as your wellbeing.  As Kermit the Frog always says, “Life (and art–I’m adding that part) is better shared.”

For more info, visit https://zakbarnett.com/


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