THE LAST OF THE GREAT ONES
By Montgomery Fisher Jr.
I had heard many things about Ivan Markota, the legendary "coach to the stars". I had never had any formal acting training and, as a writer/producer, I wanted to know acting from the inside, so I started taking classes at Markota's Van Mar Academy of Motion Picture and Television Acting. After 6 months of taking several other introductory classes, I was admitted into Ivan's class.
I have never seen a teacher who commands so much attention and respect from students. His eyes scan the class, landing on a selected student, seemingly in random order. His comments are alternately praising, or compassionate, or sarcastic, irreverent or funny. Always provoking and brutally honest, Ivan pours all of his immense energy into preparing his students for the one of the hardest roads a person can travel; to make it as a star actor in Hollywood.
Ivan studied acting at 22 different schools and workshops with some of the greatest acting coaches of the 20th century. However after teaching for 40 years and inventing new methods, Ivan Markota is the last in a long line of pioneering acting coaches who have brought innovative techniques and perspectives to the teaching arts. He joins Stanislavski, Lee Strasburg, Sandy Meisner, Stella Adler, Jeff Corey, Sonia Moore, Estelle Harman, Harold Clurman, Robert Lewis and Lawrence Parks as pioneers who each recreated in their own way a tradition of uncompromising demands on the actor to express truth and integrity in their art. Being with Ivan Markota, I am aware that I am with the last of the great ones.
How is the Van Mar Academy different from all the other acting schools in Hollywood?
I have 1107 series out of my school, all documented, on a computer, and with resumes from the actors. That's significant, okay? My school is dedicated to teaching them all aspects of motion picture and TV acting, plus how to go out and get a career going. I don't want to teach actors, I want to teach potential stars, which I've been doing now for forty years. There are certain things they have to learn, how to get the job is one of them. They have to know their scene work, on camera. They have to know improv. They have to know comedy. They have to know everything; how to work with the director. So we have all those classes at Van Mar.
Back in 1984 I had 365 students, second largest school in the world; and then I had a problem. I had associates in the school who stole half of my students; more than half of my students when I got ill one time for about four or five weeks; I had to stay home. I had to build up again. We still have 80. I'm used to having 120 students, with 120 students I make a good living.
So, I'm doing everything in my power to get people to know the school and be interested, and one of the ways I do that is I give a scholarship; not to con people into coming into my school, but to give them four weeks of actual participation, two classes per week. They learn as much here as in two years someplace else, for free. Then if they want to join I knock off ten dollars for the start, and if they live a long distance I knock off ten dollars for gas. They've had a chance to watch the school and watch me in action and my associates, and if they don't like us they don't have to stay, there's no contract to sign.
How long does it take for a person to learn all aspects of acting?
That depends. Rick Sauner was with me for 17 years; and then I kicked his butt out of here finally and he went out and got his career going and he was making good money for the next couple of years, and then he died of a heart attack. And the one I had here the quickest, I had one girl here four months; she went downtown to read for a play, she got it, while she was in the play 2 weeks, an agent came in, took her to a reading, she got four movies in a row, and $65,000 they paid her for the first movie. Bessie Slade was her name. And she left to do her movies, and I've never seen her since. So it's up to the individual.
How has Hollywood changed in the many years that you've been here?
Not as many scams, but still a lot, as far as getting them to take pictures with so and so. And the development of pictures, they get a kickback, and managerial fees and whatever. Not as bad as it used to be, but it's still a lot here in Hollywood in certain areas. Okay? Back in the old days it was all over the place. Okay? But it seemed like nobody cared because you'd get in, and you'd tell them to screw off, and that would be the end of the problem. Okay? I was president of the Acting Coaches and Teachers Association and I tried to kick all the scams out, to no avail. Even the teachers that were scamming I tried to kick out, to no avail. So I said "Fuck it" and I gave it up. Alright? I mean I went to the bunko squad. I went downtown to the Board of Equalization. I went to SAG, I went to AFTRA, they couldn't do anything, really. Alright? So you have to learn to bend. Okay? To put your face in the wind, and go stand there, Okay? or go away from it - bend, bend, bend.
Is it harder now for an actor to make it?
Absolutely yes! In 1997 I had 42 people on the air in series, and I have the paperwork to prove it. In 2000 I had 39 people in series on the air in regular roles. I have only five now. And it's not because I have done anything different, it's because everyone has learned my specific technique. Nobody could read like us in this town for twenty years, and now they're picking up on it and they're doing well; but now we got a new secret weapon coming up.
You've got to understand that with 1107 series, that's 1107 times they went for a pre-read and got a callback. That's a lot. Okay? Now I'm not counting all the people that starred and co-starred and worked on movies without being in series. Series is my thing, alright?
Jay Bernstein gave me his, I don't know if you want it power. He gave me his position. He said I was the guru of marketing actors in Hollywood, and that I did exactly what he did to make as many stars as he made. Okay? So my only problem I have with my teaching is I groom people; and sometimes people don't like to be told they're too skinny, they're too heavy, or comb your hair, or wash your face. Okay? Dress up a little bit. They object to that sometimes, is the only problem I have.
Outside of that I have no problem with anything. I have Adrian Carr as my scene teacher, on camera, very famous director from Australia. I have Steve Cardwell, who has over 100 credits, who's a wonderful person here. I have Tony Bondi, who's a producer, who has 300 acting credits and 11 series, who was a graduate of my school.
So we have a great organization here. And there's no bull here. We have fun, but when it's time to work, we work. And again, like I tell everybody when they first come to me, "There's the door. If you don't like what I say or do, leave, it's okay." I never try to keep anybody here. The only problem I have, of course, like all schools do, is collecting my tuition, which I take by the week because it's pretty hard for people to pay money ahead of time, like three months ahead; it's almost impossible.
You're a very religious man. What are some of the principles that guide you in your life?
I'm a Catholic, and I'm very religious, that's right. I don't go out with married women. I don't cheat. I don't lie to hurt somebody, I may bull a little bit. I don't steal. I give people in desperation, money or scholarship, or help.
So those are the virtues, and I pray every day, and I've had 19 miracles happen to me, out of the ordinary miracles, okay? Three deaths, ten of money, and the rest just things happening. And every prayer I've asked for, got on my knees, in my bedroom, has been answered, because I wasn't always a good Christian, or a good Catholic. This only happened about 12 years ago, and I had no place to go and I said, "God if you're there, help me". Fifteen minutes later he helped me; I got a $10,000 check when I was $7,000 in the hole. One of the other ones, I built the St. Genesius theater. I spent $150,000 of my money, my savings, I had no money to borrow. I needed $10,000 to finish the front. I went home and after that day of working we didn't have money for the front of the building. I got on my knees, I said, "Lord, I don't know what to do, I need ten grand." Monday morning I opened up my mail, and there was a letter from Prudential giving me a check for $10,000.
That's the kind of miracles I get.
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