Community//

Nick Maccarone: “Get rid of distractions”

One useful lesson I learned by writing a feature length screenplay is to not wait for an opportunity to fall in your lap. Hard work, integrity, and the ability to work well with others are unfortunately not enough to succeed. There is an element of luck and timing involved in everything we do. But I […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

One useful lesson I learned by writing a feature length screenplay is to not wait for an opportunity to fall in your lap. Hard work, integrity, and the ability to work well with others are unfortunately not enough to succeed. There is an element of luck and timing involved in everything we do. But I think you can increase your odds of success if you create your own opportunities. The acting industry in particularly is such a crowded space that in order to really stand out you need to become a three-dimensional storyteller. The more you can broaden a few useful skill sets, the better chance you have of getting your story told. I would also say it’s incredibly important to define success on your own terms. In an industry that promotes the idea it’s movie star or bust, it’s very easy to get caught up in what success should look like. But if you don’t take the time to really ask yourself what you want, you may not even realize your values, goals, and aspirations are not aligned with what the industry or society says it should be. I think that’s a very important distinction to make. Make sure your ladder isn’t leaning against the wrong wall.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Maccarone

Nick Maccarone is an actor, writer, and college professor. He trained at Columbia University’s School of the Arts where he received his MFA in theater. His passion for public service has taken him to orphanages and schools in Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, Nepal, Haiti, and South Africa.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/98bf88b4ff93e8e42cc16b91a3d82cb4


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I became a writer out of creative desperation. Like most actors, I struggled to find opportunities in New York and Los Angeles. The few roles available to me were often one-dimensional or filled with stereotypes. It finally dawned on me that I was not going to get the chance to play a role with an arc or any nuance unless I wrote it.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

To offer a little context, my mother is from South Korea and my father is Italian-American, originally from Brooklyn. I once performed a scene with a character from New York and decided to use a subtle Brooklyn accent. After the scene, the casting director told me “When I listen to the scene, it sounds great. But when I see you, it doesn’t fit.” He was implying that someone who looked like me couldn’t have a New York accent. That was when I realized how inflexible the system was and that if I wanted to tell important stories I needed to find a way to circumnavigate a broken and intolerant industry.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

My biggest challenge was I had no idea what I was doing. I’d spent my entire career reading the words other people had written. As a screenwriter, I was essentially starting from scratch. The advantage I had was over the course of my actor training and career I’d read hundreds of plays, pilots, and scripts. As a result, I had some sense of story structure. Also, I’ve always been an avid film-goer and started to pay closer attention when I went to see movies. I recognized patterns in stories I admired.

Still, acting and writing are very different mediums which demand distinct skill sets. I approached writing screenplays the same way I did acting. I worked incredibly hard to soak up as much as I could about the craft. I took online courses, read books, listened to interviews, and wrote a lot of really bad material. I worked on my current screenplay, Sonny Boy, off and on for five years. It started as a web series, but wasn’t very good. One of the reasons is I was too close to the events unfolding in my life to have any real perspective.

Gradually the web series turned into a screenplay that needed a lot of work. Fortunately, I had friends say, “Keep at it. This has legs.” My objective was then to just keep hammering away, and in essence, reverse engineer the process of writing. In other words, I concentrated on doing one thing a day to make the script less bad. Overtime, my confidence grew and I started to feel like the script was evolving into something worth sharing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if it was a mistake, but it was embarrassing. I think it’s incredibly important to share your work with people you trust will give honest and constructive feedback. In the beginning, I shared the script with people who didn’t fit that criteria. Watching them try to offer feedback on a screenplay in really rough shape was entertaining, and at times, painful. But what I learned from the experience is to not take the criticism personally. People’s critique of something you’ve created is generally not an attack on your character or competence, but rather an attempt to help you make something you care about better.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am in the process of writing a young adult novel about a boy from Korea who moves to the United States and can’t seem to find his place in his new country. The story is filled with adventures and interesting characters he meets after running away in an attempt to return to Seoul.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Sonny Boy is a semi-autobiographical film about my life. In the spring of 2016, I discovered my aunt, who is more like a second mother, was diagnosed with cancer. I decided to return to my hometown of Oakland, California after pursuing an acting career in New York for nearly a decade. My transition to Bay Area life was challenging. I struggled to find work, a routine, and a place to live. Still, the greatest obstacle was the loss of an identity I spent much of my life cultivating. Without a stage, or story to tell, I had no sense of direction.

I worked to find other creative outlets, anything to help me cope with the sobering realization the first half of my life had not gone as planned. I also needed a thoughtful way to deal with the uncertainty of my future and aunt’s health. Strangely, it took coming home for me to realize the most compelling story I could tell was my own.

I wrote every day for years. Eventually, I had pieces of a story that mirrored my own, which both frightened and excited me. But it was through the writing process that I discovered I had a voice worth sharing. The lead character Sonny Caso is a realization of my deepest insecurities, doubts, fears, frailties, and flaws. Similarly, Sonny struggles to find his footing in a place that no longer makes any sense.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

One useful lesson I learned by writing a feature length screenplay is to not wait for an opportunity to fall in your lap. Hard work, integrity, and the ability to work well with others are unfortunately not enough to succeed. There is an element of luck and timing involved in everything we do. But I think you can increase your odds of success if you create your own opportunities. The acting industry in particularly is such a crowded space that in order to really stand out you need to become a three-dimensional storyteller. The more you can broaden a few useful skill sets, the better chance you have of getting your story told. I would also say it’s incredibly important to define success on your own terms. In an industry that promotes the idea it’s movie star or bust, it’s very easy to get caught up in what success should look like. But if you don’t take the time to really ask yourself what you want, you may not even realize your values, goals, and aspirations are not aligned with what the industry or society says it should be. I think that’s a very important distinction to make. Make sure your ladder isn’t leaning against the wrong wall.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

I am by no means a great screenwriter, but I can share 5 things that helped me write a feature length screenplay.

Learn as much as you can. Forget what you think you know about the craft you are trying to master and approach each day as a beginner. I read dozens and dozens of screenplays and tried to understand why some elements of a story were more effective than others. The objective wasn’t to imitate but to integrate the spirit of good work into my own.

Be consistent. Write every day, even when you don’t feel like it — especially when you don’t feel like it. Behavior must precede mood. If you wait until you “feel” like writing, you’ll likely never do it. I tried to be so consistent with my writing that if I missed a session my day felt off. That’s how deeply ingrained the habit had become. Some days will be better than others in terms of creative output, but sitting at your desk and putting in the effort is a win.

Play the long-game. Understand that anything worth creating takes time. If you tell yourself from the beginning what you’re doing will take consistency, focus, and patience you’re more likely to keep your poise when you come up against obstacles.

Get rid of distractions. In a world dominated by touchscreens and declining attentions spans, we have to go to war with distraction. This means setting up environments where you have the best chance of succeeding. I recently heard writer Joyce Carol Oates say the biggest impediment to creating meaningful work isn’t lack of talent, but distraction. I set-up non-negotiable time blocks where I am completely unavailable to the outside world. Writing is hard enough without distractions, but creating good work with them is nearly impossible.

Find a reliable sound board. Seek feedback from people whose opinion you value and respect. Try to give as little context as possible so you don’t influence their judgement. You ultimately want to find someone who is brutally honest, but constructive and thoughtful in the feedback they give. I asked several people to read my script when first starting out and the feedback was often difficult to listen to, but it was never personal and always fair. In time, I put my ego aside and incorporated their notes. Gradually, I created a much stronger script.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Consistency. The best way to improve as a writer is very simple but difficult to do over a sustained period of time. Read a lot. Write a lot. And be consistent. Momentum begets momentum. Over the course of several years, my writing has gradually evolved. I’m able to spot weaknesses I wouldn’t have seen just a few years before. I still have a very long way to go, but I have a much better sense of structure, flow, and what I want the reader to take away from the piece.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I try to read books from a wide variety of domains. As a drama student, I only read plays, which exposed me to many wonderful storytellers, but I was somewhat one-dimensional in my thinking. It was when I began reading about policy, entrepreneurship, psychology, history, the sciences, leadership, and great fiction that I broadened my world view. I also began to clearly see how ideas cross-pollinate and influence each another.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Here are six lessons that really helped me:

Be a lifelong learner

For years, I read nothing but plays and scripts. I was a one-dimensional person. In time, I realized the importance of diversifying my knowledge. I read about history, philosophy, psychology, science, finance, and leadership. The more I learned, the more I felt compelled to live a richer life. Acting alone no longer defined me and I refused to equate my self-worth with an IMDB page.

Travel

There’s nothing like visiting a foreign country, but I didn’t need my passport to stroll through Prospect Park or spend an afternoon wandering around the botanic gardens. Each place, near or far, offered me a chance to challenge the assumptions I held. But the greatest lesson was the importance of following my curiosity and protecting my inner tourist.

Serve others

Whether you’re serving food at a homeless shelter or tutoring at an after-school program, society works best when we all help each other out a little bit. It was while volunteering that I discovered there would always be someone who has it tougher and that helping people help themselves gives integrity to your ambition. Most importantly, helping challenged communities offered me perspective. Suddenly, not getting a callback for “Law & Order” wasn’t the end of the world. Ultimately, you will have a much better life if you help someone else have a better life.

Define success on your own terms

The real superstars in my life were friends with full-time jobs who still found time to sing, write, act, or play. I marveled at how they’d babysit, teach, or wait tables just so they could pursue something they loved. I learned true success is becoming great at something you love to do, and attainment of your goal is not the point but rather who you become in its pursuit. I started to recognize the accomplishments I had overlooked and realized I was already living the dream.

Create

The “perfect part,” was never going to land in my lap — I needed to create it. With action came an awakening to my potential. With the remarkable technology available at my fingertips, I had no excuse to not get started. Today, all you need is a smartphone and an idea. I could get my voice out into the world and it wasn’t about the number of hits or followers I received, but the satisfaction I gained from starting and finishing something important to me.

Allow for change

What you want at 20 will be different than what you want at 40. It doesn’t mean you’ve quit a dream; it just means you’ve evolved and what you value most in life has changed. It finally dawned on me that all those years in voice, movement, and acting class had little to do with acting. Instead, we were being taught to take risks, speak our minds, be lifelong learners, and do something kind for someone else. If we were fortunate, we might become great actors along the way. The point was to be open to where life might take us.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website is: https://www.nickmaccarone.com/

I’m also write consistently on Medium.com: https://medium.com/@n_maccarone

Finally, I’ve delivered a few TEDxTalks. One in particular may resonate with artists. It’s called Six Ways Actors and Artists Can Empower Themselves:

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Boost career success
Community//

Boost your Career Success in 3 Easy Steps

by Sarah Archer
Community//

Jessica Williamson: “Understand your personality”

by Ben Ari
Community//

Prue Blennerhassett of ‘Women Of Impact’: “Support your prospect through any objections”

by Tyler Gallagher
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.