I have a “Capital One” credit card commercial playing right now. I play a military general who saves the world by blowing up a meteor. I also play my own mother in the spot. The reason I’m bringing this up is because of the valuable lessons I learned again about practice, working out, and being prepared to be able to perform on that professional level.

Commercial shoots are very much a decision by committee anymore. The committee consists of the clients (anywhere from 3 to 5 people), the advertising agency (maybe 3 or more people), and the producer and director. For this shoot I was on camera for 12 hours straight with very few breaks. As the principal character I had ten or twelve lines. As to what the actual lines are that they want shot, and how they want them done, all of these people have and express their opinions to the director, who in turn tells me, the actor. Of course the director has his vision. So you end up doing a lot of different versions of the lines an enormous amount of times–over and over again for 12 hours. And if you want your performance to be successful, you need to keep your energy and commitment up and remain highly enthused throughout.

My purpose in relating this experience is to express my gratitude for the training and practice of working as an actor in some film-related medium weekly. If you seriously desire to improve your art and craft there is little substitute for learning from your own experience. At the Neighborhood Playhouse, Sanford Meisner always told us we had to work as actors to become any better. Thanks goes to his advice for having the physical and mental stamina to do the seriously demanding work of a film actor.

I believe film acting is best learned by doing the work of performing in front of a camera, having your work recorded so it can be reviewed. This allows the actor the tool of being able to see what works best. Once the actor reaches a level of being able to look at their own image without the judgment of how they look physically, he or she can actually look at the work. It is very obvious that expressing the truth of the moment from your experience of the moment is the best. I believe we learn best from our own experience. As a teacher, I can lecture and talk for hours about theory, but to know what all that means to you, it has to be put into practice. It must be personally experienced.

I use this as a teaching method in choosing material for each individual client. It affords me the means to guide them into experience where they aren’t allowing themselves to go–or not going fully enough to stretch their emotional range. By choosing material that encourages the actor to take risks outside of their perception of their capabilities, to go deeper into an emotion, to challenge their beliefs, to give them the opportunity to explore and experience outside of the norm in a safe environment. This promotes lasting growth by learning first hand from one’s own experiences.

I encourage you to work at your art and the craft of that art by doing. When you aren’t working in a paid gig, go find a student film or video project to be in. Do a play or get into a good acting class. But work at it and you will be prepared to succeed.

Peter Looney: Professional Film Acting Teacher and Coach in Los Angeles for 28yrs. www.filmactingteacher.com – Acting Classes and Workshops in LA

Professional Actor: SAG; AFTRA; AEA. For 40yrs.

Catch Peter Looney in new Capital One commercial as a military general, and his own mother. Now seen on television and in movie theaters.