Sunday, October 30, 2011

Let's Get Specific

Just finished a photo shoot this weekend for new theatrical headshots with a new photographer.  When it comes to getting headshots,  I'm like a kid in candy store or girl inside Sephora.  If I don't set limits, I would spend my entire paycheck getting shot after shot.  Your headshot is your primary marketing tool to get you in the room to audition for every role, and that marketing tool needs to be specific.  The shot that gets me in for a toothpaste commercial is going to make the casting director's eyes glaze over if she's looking for a tough, smart-ass attorney. 

I love getting really specific with each character I go after.  Meaning which types do I look like and what unique personality traits do I bring to that type that might set me apart from the hundreds-- or thousands-- of other actresses of a similar type that will be submitting for the same role.  I then get a shot to match it so I am prepared when that type pops up in the breakdowns. 

This new photographer (whom I LOVE, by the way) told me she couldn't believe my range.  Exactly, that's why I do it.  You can't show range with one photograph, if you try it ends up just looking generic and vague.  Get specific in each shot, so each submission is tailored to that role.  Then as an added bonus, when you put them in a gallery on your website, people are blown away by your range.

I've been doing this for the last couple shoots I've done and have built a nice little collection of shots.  Not an obscene amount, less than ten, but a collection nonetheless.  If it gets to be as large as my shoe collection... then you can start worrying and schedule an intervention.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dear People I Will Not Be Working With in Six Months

To my agents:

I don't like you.  You have a terrible reputation and I'm actually pretty hesitant to even be associated with you.  The only reason why I accepted your offer was because I figured you would be good for at least a few auditions during the months I'm hustling after someone more legitimate and worth my time.  And don't think for a minute that I'm fool enough to think you're all inspired to work hard for me because you were blown away by my talent and professionalism.  You don't even see the potential I have because your approach to agenting is the same as a spaghetti factory.  To you, I'm just another noodle of many in the plateful you've thrown at the wall, hoping one sticks.  You don't even take the time to actually evaluate the people sitting across the desk from you.  I was actually surprised when you noticed and commented on the "nice confidence about [me]."

But what's even more annoying than all that?  I emailed you, like we agreed, to notify you that I had taken care of all the little administrative tasks that needed to happen to get our "team" up and running: submission accounts linked up, various new headshots uploaded, etc.  In my email, I asked you to just give me a quick confirmation that you were all set on your end, you have everything you need from me, and we were moving forward.  Then I didn't hear from you for a few days.  So I emailed again, "Hi, please just send me a quick confirmation so I know we're on the same page."  Then when I still hadn't heard from you a week later, I left a voicemail.  That was on Tuesday.

Don't make me be a crazy actor, having to contact you repeatedly for something that should have been a non-issue.  Have the fucking decency to take two seconds and shoot me a "We're good, thanks," email as a common courtesy because that's how the real world of business operates.

Do not ignore me.  I do not pay you 10% for radio silence.  I would rather be on my own again than be treated like I'm invisible, particularly in light of the fact that I'm the one who writes your paycheck.  Get it together.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

There's a Reason I'm Not a Window Washer

It's a funny thing we do, getting paid to sit in front of a camera and talk.

It's pretty universally accepted that the number one fear among adults is public speaking.  The average person loathes standing in front of a roomful of people and have the entire crowd become silent, turn to him, and wait for him to speak.  It instills panic and paralysis in the bodies of a majority of people.  Ask them to tell a story and mouths dry up, palms sweat, lumps begin to form deep within throats.  Put a camera in that person's face?  Forget it.

Yet today, I auditioned for a national commercial.  I happily stood on my little X and enthusiastically delivered my testimonial-style copy that will hopefully someday be broadcast to millions of viewers from Eastport, Maine to Kekaha, Hawaii. 
And I LOVED every minute of it. 

My parents used to always have me come out and tell jokes or stories to the room whenever they had company.  And I was always that little kid who somehow managed to get my face in every picture that was taken within a one-mile radius from wherever I stood at any given moment.  I guess I'm still that little kid.  The only difference is that now people are paying me to do it.

I'm slightly nervous around heights, spiders aren't my favorite creatures, and I'm deathly afraid of retrieving a spoon that's fallen into the garbage disposal for fear that it will spontaneously turn on...  But getting up to speak in front of a few million people or a camera 6 inches from my nose?  Yeah, that I can do.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crazy Elevator Girl

Just like most of you, readers, I still have a side job to pay the bills while I build my acting career. Soon I'll be able to leave this jobby-job behind, but right now, it's my safety net.  It keeps me in class, with up-to-date headshots, with a reliable car, with a comfortable foundation so I don't have spend an ounce of my precious energy on worrying if I will have this month's rent or if I can really afford to take my best friend out to dinner on her birthday.

Because I've been there too. I've seen the days when I looked at my bank account balance and saw a big fat zero and knew it had to stay that way because it was Tuesday and I wasn't getting paid till Friday.  It's really tough to keep your head up and walk into an audition like you don't need it on those days.  As much as it's possible, feeling stable and secure financially is more important than many people in this industry admit.  You've all heard it, persistence and tenacity over the long-haul is how people succeed here.  Stay at it, be smart, be present and work like a dog, You will make it.  Having a good side job is a part of eliminating the "struggling" from your title as actress.

And that's what I remind myself every morning when I drive to my nine-to-five job.  That's right folks, I work full-time in corporate America.  It may not be the right choice for everyone, but it has made all the difference to me.  I've spent a lot of time as a waitress, but I had an opportunity to take a job that was a little more intellectually stimulating, and being hired for something other than my looks or ability to carry a cocktail was a welcome change.  I wavered, recalling all the cautionary tales of "golden handcuffs."  I was not willing to abandon my acting for a steady paycheck.  While discussing my offer with the decision-makers, I plainly stated that I would only accept if I would be guaranteed the flexibility to adjust my schedule on short notice to attend auditions during the day or to take a day or two off as needed for a shoot.  Because they had known my work ethic and reliability, they agreed.  Hell, they're even fans! Ridiculously supportive.  When I finished my new demo reel recently, we all crowded into one person's office to watch it as a group.  Did I mention I'm one incredibly lucky girl?!!

Anyway, today I had an audition for a pilot I've been trying to get in on for a month.  (Remember, I mentioned my friend works at a production company and I was hustling her to put my headshot in front of the right people? It worked.)  So I took an extended lunch break at my jobby-job, changed my outfit in my car in the parking garage to zip across town and read for this part.

It is my personal opinion that the more people who see you on the way to your audition and think you're crazy, the better your audition will go.  Allow me to explain... Now because my side job is in corporate America, most of the people I work with don't really interact with actors too much, especially in the workplace.  There are no casting offices in our building and actors don't roam the halls.  These business people don't really know about things like why actors are always talking to themselves when they walk through a lobby or across a studio lot.  I was running the scene to myself in the empty elevator on the way to my car, stretching out my face, getting warmed up.  I was playing with a moment in which I'm shocked at the other character's behavior just as the elevator doors open.  Yeah.  Some dude in a suit and briefcase was standing there as the doors opened and there I am, alone in the elevator, looking like I'd just seen Superman stroll by in a pink leotard.

My first instinct was to explain, but then I just realized I'd sound like those crazy people who adamantly deny that they're crazy -- psychotic.  I just chuckled at the awkward silence on the way to the next floor and knew good audition karma was coming my way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

From Sea to Shining Sea

So my comments today are a little off-topic, but may actually appeal to a broader audience of readers than just the few hundred thousand of us who are actors.


Now, I'm a career-oriented girl and have little interest in serious romance at the moment.  Mostly because I'm incredibly independent and there are few men who genuinely interest me, but when they do, relationships are distracting, and lord knows I've already wasted too much valuable time in my life on boys (some worth it, some not so much).  But... I am young and single in Los Angeles, the world is my oyster, and boy do I love seafood.

Speaking of... I went deep sea fishing yesterday.  It was a generally fun adventure and a nice change of pace from the grimy concrete jungle that is Los Angeles.  But I left the boat after nine hours of fishing utterly disappointed.  You see, I have been talking for two weeks about how I was going to waltz out on that boat and catch me a marlin.  As the boat left the dock at 6 am, one of the other fishermen alerted me of a serious flaw in my plan... There are no marlins in the Pacific Ocean.  If I wanted to catch one of these beautiful and elusive fish, I was not going to do it off the coast of Southern California.  (Now before you judge my ignorance, I grew up in a state that is about as far from any ocean as you can get and have little experience with the specifics of population patterns in oceanic life.)

So I settled for catch-and-release of a few mackerels, which were kind of fun to reel in, but ultimately unsatisfying because I really wanted to take home a marlin at the end of the day.  Which is a perfect allegory for my dating life.

Now, I've had some serious relationships, but have been living happily single now for about a year and a half and wouldn't have it any other way.  I have the blessing of never really having a shortage of dinner offers and usually the luxury of calling the shots.  Generally, they're all pretty much mackerels so I throw them back after a few dates because I'm really not looking for anything more substantial than that.

But we all have that one, don't we?  That one fish that we talk about catching before we're even on the boat.  The one who, even though you're holding the fishing pole, you wonder if you're actually the one in control.  That marlin who would be mounted on your wall above the fireplace if you could just land the damn thing.

Mine was in town this weekend, because he, true to his breed, calls another ocean home.  He used to live here, but after we went on just two dates last year, he called me with the bittersweet news that a promotion was going to take him back to New York permanently.  Since then, we've exchanged a few "this made me think of you" text messages and shared a handful of electrifying nights when work brings him to LA for a couple days.  Then we just forget about each other and move on with our separate lives, until we meet again some months down the road.  Though we never once talked about it, the country between us stamped out any hope of potential, so why not just have the fun and not worry about the messy stuff.

But I realized something this time: Even though these things don't have strings, they have rules.  And I broke the rules.  I committed the cardinal sin against the I'm-too-focused-on-my-career-to-have-time-for-a-relationship-woman's holy grail.  It was perfect in it's simplicity and passion, but then I had to go and fall for the man.  He's a marlin, and I want to catch him and keep him to myself.  I want to have him for more than one night every few months, despite the fact that I really don't want to give that kind of time to anyone right now.  I realized that when it comes to this guy, I'd be willing break my own rules and actually somehow find a way to make space for him in my life.  I realized this weekend that the damn marlin hooked me instead of the other way around.

Still... he's a marlin, and they don't swim in the Pacific Ocean.  And I'm a California Flying Fish, and those don't swim the Atlantic.  We live on opposite seaboards and I certainly won't make a transcontinental space in my life for anyone, even if he came right out and asked me to.  And what's more, I don't know that he would ask me to.  In fact, part of me is unsure if he would even ask me to make space for him if he lived down the street. Which used to be fine with me because it didn't matter.  There wasn't a future; we just enjoyed each others' company.  And I was perfectly content with those rules... before I went and broke 'em.

So I leave this weekend feeling a bit unsatisfied.  And as much as, at this point in my life, I really only have time to play catch-and-release with a few mackerels anyway, I'll admit... just this once... I still want to catch a marlin someday.

Wow, that was a lot of metaphors.

Friday, October 21, 2011

RT #FF @soandso bity.url #wtf?

Am I the only person in the world who looks at Twitter feeds and thinks it looks like cryptic gibberish??  And yes, I'm under 30 years old.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ahh, This is Why I Do This...

It's amazing how much of a difference the passion makes in a project.  So much of the time, at this level, it feels like most projects are just part of "paying the dues."  Really?  Your film is about a girl's transition from one race to another?  You want me to play a robot??  The love interest of a "higher-functioning zombie" in a post-apocalyptic world???  Really?
Hey, we're all trying to do something interesting to break into this business... but sometimes I read the breakdowns, and I just laugh.  You seriously want me to accept $100 (if I'm lucky) or deferred pay (if I'm starved for a few minutes in front of a camera) to run around in a teddy and act as if I'm the uber-sexy madame of a brothel of nymphomaniac drug addicts in the old west?!?!  WTF??  Because THAT is a crummy, low no-budget scene I would definitely want on my reel. (I swear on my future success that I was called in to audition for that... I got the script and quickly passed.)
I'll be honest... sometimes I dread going to those auditions.  The ones for projects that are just weird stories I'm not into with characters who, even if filmed perfectly, will not help me market myself to the bigger levels of the business.  And let's be honest... they are never filmed perfectly.  Often not even acceptably.
But sometimes, roles come along that are actually amazing and it's intoxicating to get to play them.  It sends shock waves of excitement and enthusiasm through your body.  I was just telling a non-industry friend how excited I am to produce this play and the crazy memorization of 60 pages of script... but that I'm already up to page 27 because it's just that much fun to play with.  He couldn't understand "How [I] do it."  During our first table read, my co-star and I discussed the play while running through it twice, and before we knew it... five hours had gone by.  While at my side job, I'm just counting the minutes until I can leave and pick up that script again and race to rehearsals.  I'm making mental notes of all the people I need to study and places I need to go to research to build my character.   All while daydreaming about when the curtain will finally rise...
And I guarantee that any agent/manager/casting director who's looking for new talent would much rather see that kind of passion in a stage production than limp-fish acting in a low-budget, poorly-written robot film clip in your reel.  So get out there and make something you're passionate about! 
(And then get those people to come see it... which is the next step.  But I'm not there yet... I have 34 more pages of script to lock down plus blocking and renting out a theater space.  One step at a time, Anony, one step at a time.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anonymous Producer

We may need Michael Buffer to jump in and start this one off. 

“Fighting out of the blue corner, the world-leaders in entertainment, the industry heavy-weights that have brought us national treasures like “Nobody puts baby in a corner,” “Say hello to my little friend,” and “Yadda Yadda yadda,” …FILM and TELEVISION actors! 

“Up against the red corner… with a pedigree that includes William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, the long revered, more prestigious and ‘legit’ I-do-it-for-the-art-of-it players, …THEATER actors!”

You can already feel the tension mounting in the room.

It’s a rivalry that spawns endless heated debates in coffee shops all around Hollywood.  In fact, it has pitted New York and Los Angeles against each other more so than if the Yankees played the Dodgers in the world series.  Every year.

Well sorry, sports fans, but I can’t make an argument either way because now I’m both!  Though I’m actively pursuing a film career, I am officially now producing my own play!!  It’s a little something I’ve wanted to put on for about ten years (yeah, since before I decided to do this as a profession), but had almost forgotten about it until last week. 

I was digging around, looking for a scene to work on with an acting buddy of mine (we get together each week and play with scenes just for the fun of it).  Then there it was on my bookshelf, this dusty little script with a character I’ve been dying to play since my days in high school drama class.  And it just so happens, that acting buddy would be perfect for the other character.  I gave him the script and he emailed me back at two in the morning that night, “This is amazing.  It’s crazy, but let’s do it!!” 

So now I have a passion project.  :)  And that passion seriously feeds a hungry soul. 

But don’t get me wrong folks… we’ve already brainstormed ideas for how we’re going to take this project from being just about the passion and turn it into a vehicle that can help both of us build our businesses.  Because that’s what it’s all about: finding ways to harness the passion, hang on tight and ride it for all it’s worth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Patience Isn't The Only Virtue

Inevitably, there are moments in this life as an actor when you just have to wait.  There’s no way around it.  It’s part of the game.

Right now, I’m waiting for news after a callback with a potential new commercial agent I would love to have.

I’m also waiting to hear back on a film audition I had on Monday, in which I had to pantomime a tennis serve.  Also a front and back stroke.  Without a racket.  (All while wondering if the short tennis style skirt I wore with my polo was revealing more to the casting director than I had intended.  I did not expect them to put me up on a little stage… hmm.)

Then there’s waiting to film the new media series I just booked, but they’ve decided to recast one of the other characters.

All that in addition to the waiting for a number of my other efforts to pay off… an industry connection getting me in to read for a new pilot at her production house, casting director workshops, mailings, etc…

But, I refuse to fall in the sinkhole so many actors settle into… as Dr. Seuss describes it, The Waiting Place.  Waiting for the phone to ring, a big break or someone to say, “Yes.”  If I feel myself sliding in that direction, I always remember this story:

Two young brothers are walking together to the bus stop.  As they arrive, they see the bus just pulling away and leaving them.  One brother immediately starts after the bus, and the other kneels down and prays.  The running brother yells, “What are you doing?!”

“I’m praying for another bus.”

“No!! You gotta RUN and pray!!”

Patience and prayer/visualization/hoping (whatever you believe in) has it’s place and certainly helps.  But kids, you wanna make it in this business?  You gotta run while you pray!!  Keep moving and pushing forward, even when you’re just waiting.

So tonight, instead of sitting at home waiting for a phone to ring, wondering when I’ll get that first big break… I’m putting together introductory cover letters and submissions to twelve new casting directors on my target list, and outlining what else I can accomplish on my own this week.  I’m wanna sprint while I pray!!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Audition and Forget

Yesterday I got an email from the producers on an indy feature I auditioned for months ago.  An apology for not contacting me sooner, but that they had been busy with pre-production and script revisions.   They really enjoyed my audition and would like me to read for them again and discuss the role.
Classic support for the audition-and-forget advice.  My agent called me once, half confused, "Um, we totally forgot about this commercial, but you booked it!"  That was six months after the audition.  I've also had a message with an offer from a producer waiting for me in my voicemail when I arrived home after leaving the callback.  (Then of course, there are countless projects I never heard from again).  Audition-and-forget saves you from the nasty little habit of self doubt.
There really is no place for self doubt.  Yes, you have to objectively be able to evaluate your skill level and know what your strengths and weaknesses are, that’s important.  But once you’ve been through decent training and know you’ve reached a certain level of professionalism, it is absolutely necessary to cut out self-doubt.  Eliminate it, it’s useless.
I remember the audition for this film and thinking I blew it.  After a week or two passed and no word, I had written it off.  Kinda like the first read for a new big-time commercial agent a couple weeks ago.  I left feeling like I vomited commercial garbage into the camera.  I was so upset, thinking I’d wasted all the effort it took to get into that room, I felt sick for the rest of the afternoon (and let’s be honest, that weekend).  Then the next week, I got a callback.
Be on time, be prepared, be grounded, be camera ready.  That’s our job.  Walk into that room feeling solid on those four areas and do your best work in the moment and walk away.  Don’t let that silly little voice inside your head judge you.  Maybe it wasn’t a strong performance, fine.  Evaluate what kept you from bringing your best self into the room (usually one “be” from the big four) and focus on not allowing that same thing to interfere in the future.
It’s even more important when you feel you’ve knocked it out of the park and don’t get a callback or booking.  That’s when it’s easy to start to wonder if you’re really as good as you thought you were.  But resist the temptation towards the doubt.  You are that good, it just wasn’t your role!  My hair stylist says, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, it’s not your shoe!”
You may feel you could have done better, or that it was the best read of your life... and not get a callback.  Or... someone might email you months later and tell you the shoe is just your size.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Anonymous CEO

One thing I try to always remind myself is to keep a keen ear for great advice from non-industry sources.  Sure, there is a wealth of information to be soaked up around other working actors, casting directors, acting coaches, agents, etc.  It must also be said that there is a lot of bad information too, so buyers beware.  When I first moved to Los Angeles someone told me, "Carefully read parking signs and carefully evaluate advice.  You'll receive just as much bad advice as you'll receive parking tickets." 

I could finance a trip to Hawaii on the checks I've written to the California DMV.

Anyway, too many actors limit themselves to searching for answers and fresh ideas within the entertainment industry.  Truly genius business people allow themselves to be inspired from beyond their own market bubble to create innovative strategies to soar past the competition. 

A good friend of mine is a very successful investment banker... a far cry from a sound stage.  While discussing the upcoming Oscars last year, I couldn't recall all the films nominated for best picture as I hadn't paid particular attention.  He sharply pointed out that I was attempting to build a business and it was my job as CEO of my company to know the industry inside and out. 

He said, "You think I don't know who the top ten producers are in my field and what they made last year?"

Although I don't necessarily think knowing the Oscar noms is the single most effective use of brain space, my friend was right in concept.  I should know what shows are on TV and whether they are SAG or AFTRA and enough of the premise to know if they would likely need my type.  I should know who's casting them and when they're on hiatus.  I should know who casts primarily films, and of those, who casts lower budget films who would be more interested in fresh (i.e. less experienced) talent.  I should be working just as diligently as a young Bill Gates or Phil Knight to get my brand out there.  You and I wouldn't have an iPod, iPhone  iEverything if Steve Jobs hadn't hustled like a madman.

And that's just what I did.  Once I took responsibility as CEO of my little company, I started to research the industry and determined exactly where and how I fit in the picture.  By incorporating that knowledge into my strategies, I've achieved more in the last six months than I did in the first three years I spent in LA. 

Knowledge certainly is power.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's all uphill... but oh, what a view!

It’s no secret that the life of the actor is a difficult one.  I may be biased, but I believe the pursuit of it as a profession may be the most challenging career path to choose.  Don’t get me wrong; I know the paths to becoming a doctor or lawyer or nuclear physicist are all long and arduous as well, but it’s not the same.  Many careers can take years of education, hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, studying until eyes are blurry for mind-crunching tests every week… but if that’s all it took to relatively guarantee a career as an actor, we would have a lot more success stories.  But actors don’t have the clear, if trying, path laid out as other professions do.  There is no life line to grit your teeth and cling to through the storm that is building a career.  Every actor must find and forge his/her own trail through the woods, and often in the face of more adversity than most people realize.
Being an actor means working two jobs to pay for rent and class and headshots and postcards and [insert next necessary expense here]… and still somehow finding the time to audition and film and go to the class and mail the postcards… all while knowing you could be making three times as much at some entry level position in corporate America if you didn’t have this weird obsession with getting in front of a camera.
Being an actor means going on hundreds of auditions and swelling with pride at a 30% booking rate.  30%!!  A doctor who had only a 30% success rate in surgery would not be practicing medicine for very long.  (Not only that, but I can’t imagine a hospital telling a doctor that he must interview for every surgery, but to do so, he must already have credits for performing a surgery… but he can’t get the credits of performing a surgery without interviewing for them…) 
Being an actor means cringing when you admit you’re an actor because you know the next question is, “What have you been in?” followed by the inevitable eye roll when your credits don’t include major blockbusters as you swallow the temptation to scream, “I’m just starting!  Give me a freaking minute!”
But we all know this crazy challenge going in, and to be honest, there’s something sexy and exciting about playing to beat the odds.  Knowing the deck is stacked against you, it only makes you smile a bigger smile because you’re holding cards you haven’t played yet.  I love it when people tell me, “Actress?  Yikes, that’s a tough profession, so competitive.  Not very many people actually make it.”
I just smile and say, “Oh yeah?  Watch me.”