“Create your own content” seems to be the battle cry of every acting teacher, mentor and casting director I’ve encountered since moving to Los Angeles. It makes me wonder: What did they say before it was so easy to make your own material? “Um, just be really good?” At any rate, there’s no denying that, as actors and writers, we live in a time of incredible opportunity where we have the ability to showcase ourselves on a multitude of platforms at very little cost.
“Okay, no more excuses. I want to create my own content too! But what do I write??”
You’ve probably heard that the easiest thing to do is to “write what you know” (in fact, just doing that is challenging enough; I have no idea how people write about anything else…). But how do you pull from experiences in your own life to create excellent material to showcase yourself in the best light?
Below are the steps I went through as I was creating my YouTube show “Does This Baby Make Me Look Fat?”. Though I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, my show would not have turned out the way I wanted it to had I not gone through each of these steps while creating it.
Five Things to Do When Using Your Life as Source Material:
- Identify your objective for the project – Do you just want material for your reel? Do you want to sell your web series as a TV show? Do you have an idea for a short film that could win festivals? Figure out what you want from this experience and choose a platform that helps you most easily achieve that. Because not every idea fits the format of a web series, nor does everyone desire to mount a Kickstarter campaign. Identifying your resources will help you decide this as well. You might have a few weeks or months to devote to a short film but the idea of an ongoing show on YouTube does not fit your schedule.
- Follow your casting – If you are drawing on your own life as material, you are naturally going to stick closely to your casting. Follow this instinct! This is one project you have complete control over so write to your strengths as an actor. Make sure that at the very least you get great footage that showcases you doing “your thing.” For example, I’ve always been cast as a “mom.” So I decided to write something that showcased me as a mom (or at least attempting to become one). However my take on “mom” is very specific to me: opinionated, raunchy, and a little spoiled. That is the role I play best so I want people to see just that (again and again and again).
- Let the idea marinate – After I decided I wanted to showcase myself as “my version of a sitcom mom” with a weekly YouTube show, I had NO IDEA what to do next. I’m not a mom yet and I knew pretending to play one wasn’t going to be genuine (again, you have to write about what you know). So I pretty much just sat with the idea for a long time. Almost too long… But as I really sat with it, ideas began to bubble up. I’d write down things I thought were funny and I got clearer on what I thought the show should look like. It wasn’t until my husband and I actually started trying to have a baby that the idea hit me like a ton of bricks. “Oh! This is what I should be writing about!” So it became a show about my (mis)adventures of trying to get pregnant.
- Start before you are ready – I hate this advice. Why would I even consider starting a project that can’t immediately be up to my (ahem) impeccable standards?? That said, I’ve been consistently amazed by the immediate growth and knowledge that occurs just after starting a project. Great ideas will start to come to you that you’d never get if you weren’t already in the process of doing. And you might need to backtrack and redo a few things with your newfound knowledge, but you won’t feel bad about repeating steps when you are pleased with the outcome.
- Don’t be afraid to heighten the reality – When taking ideas from your own life it’s very easy to get stuck in the one-track thinking of “but this is how it happened so I MUST write it exactly that way.” But you have to remember that telling a great story is your most important goal. And to do that you might need to embellish a little (this is a must with comedy). Remember, you didn’t set out to write an autobiography. Allow the ideas you bring to the table to morph into something else if that’s what they want to do. Nobody cares. Isn’t that what Hollywood is known for anyway?
I hope these tips are useful as you take on the challenge of using your own life as a great source material. If you get nothing else from this: Don’t be afraid to try or to fail. The
confidence you’ll get from creating your own content will be well worth the hard work.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: Write everything down immediately! The best ideas come when you least expect it and the one thing you can count on every time is that you won’t remember it later!