As we continue our “Advice from the Experts” series, we are joined with special guest, Clay Banks, owner of Clay Banks Studio, Intl. (CBSI) and Clay Banks Productions. Coach Banks, the title his peers and actors refer to him by, began his path as a Fortune 500 business and life empowerment coach and successfully navigated a fifteen-plus year career as an actor.
He then founded Clay Banks Productions and Clay Banks Studio International where he found his passion for coaching actors, not only to strengthen their skills, but also to learn how to manage the business of acting. Coach Banks is a recurring Master Coach at the SAG/AFTRA Headquarters and with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hollywood. He is also a regular contributor to the Backstage publication.
We asked Coach Banks our Series questions and were met with a humorous and playful but serious tone. He coaches actors as athletes, expecting his performers to show up ready to learn, grow and achieve their own set milestones.
Here is the insightful conversation we had with Coach Banks:
Coach Banks, what is one golden piece of advice you have for an actor starting out today?
Learn how to act. [laughing] Learn how to act. Hard stop. Next question. No really, learn how to act. The biggest insult to the profession is not knowing how to act.
How can an Actor best create a “unique character”?
They have to discover the character within themselves first. Then observe people as objectively as possible. Lots of people, all different types of people, and understand the basic archetype of character.
What are the most important elements on an actors’ resume to you?
The most important elements are that the resume is structured according to industry standards, so the actor doesn’t look like so oddball or green. And also, the category is ‘Special’ Skills, that is, if the skills are listed, it means you can crush it. And nobody cares about badminton and whether or not you have a driver’s license.
While we might be devastated that badminton would not necessarily be considered a “Special Skill”, this point is so important. Special Skills are a set of skills that are uniquely you. What sets you apart from the thousands of other actors working today? Do you have a solid grasp of multiple languages, are you a licensed sky diver, are you an accomplished celloist? These are the items to list in your Special Skills set. Another hint for you: if you notice that your list of Special Skills is lacking, do not stress. Consider it an excuse for you to learn how to play and perfect some of those ‘wish list’ ideas!
Coach Banks, as you know, there are so many wonderful actors out there working today. Who are some of your favorite performers?
There are so many great performers. I think some of the top performers today are Tilden Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchette, Gary Oldman, Margot Robbie… yeah, a lot of great work out there.
What are some of the essential Self-Taping practices you work on with your actors?
First and foremost, it’s not a self-tape, it’s a performance. Don’t look at it as a self-tape. It’s a performance, and all the elements of effective performances needs to be in place. Most articles I see are about lighting [and] audio. You can get that all right, but If your acting sucks, it sucks. You’ve got to get the performance right, because that is key! If your acting is great, it will be great for self-taping – it should all come together.
Another important key element that Coach Banks talks about it is the action of taking each audition as a chance to give a memorable performance, regardless of the size of the role. As a part of his coaching in his on-camera acting classes, Coach Banks hones on the concept that your job as an actor is to make fans, not just book the role. Making fans of the Casting Directors is part of the work. And the way to improve your likeability is to give a great performance.
Can you elaborate on the importance of getting the audition locked in?
I get actors that come to me when they get serious projects, which is great, but why are you not [coming] here for the under 5 and co-stars? I have a guy who comes to me for one-liners and his booking rate is excellent. I’m going to work with you so that you get a performance on that self-tape. I’m going to help make you better. Every self tape I handle like a microcosm of a film. Coaching, performance, speed of memorization . . . that is what makes the difference.
Coach Banks can be found at Coach Banks Studio International (CBSI), located in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles, CA. Go to his website for more information: www.claybanksstudio.com. Banks offers ongoing classes throughout the week, private coaching sessions and even a complimentary sample session if you are interested in seeing if his coaching style fits for you.