Sunday, June 23, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Ditz -- Part 1

I sit down to my blog today wondering what misadventure I shall share with you?!  Of late, I feel like I'm just keeping a running log of events -- or a lack thereof -- rather than the advice and comedy element I so enjoy sharing.  I did go to a workshop this week to stay on the radar of a CD who is one of the few who genuinely care about giving less credit-laden talent a shot.  (Side note: Hope you don't mind, I'm going to abbreviate casting director from now on.  I'm too goddamn lazy to write it out one more time.)  And while it went very well, including compliments from the CD on my choice of scene and my "very natural and believable" execution, it was really just another day at the grind.  Just another stoke to the fire that will hopefully, ...I mean please-dear-god, ...I mean eventually burn this city down.  No further elaboration necessary.

Instead, I realize I haven't told you one of the most important lessons I have learned from my work recently.  I have spent a lot of time analyzing myself, my look, my talent, my "quality", my whatever.  Some may even say over-analyzing.  Anony guilty of spending to much time in her head?? What?  No way.  

In case you are a new reader... that is definition number one for sarcasm.

Anyway, I have taken very honest looks at myself and narrowed down my most accessible character types, and I go after them with great zeal.  One of the things I had "decided" was that though I can get called in for them quite easily based on my appearance, once I step into the room, I am too articulate and psuedo-educated to pull off a bimbo-type.  Add to that the fact that I don't really want to play the ditz, I had become completely content with letting those types of roles just slip on by without a second look from me.  Oh, but how life -- and career -- provide little lessons whether you want them or not.

On my last movie, I submitted for the witty friend slash smart-ass supporting lead.  A great role with pages of wonderful sarcasm throughout.  In addition to preparing sides for her, the producers also asked me to give a read for another supporting character... the ditzy, silly, is-she-really-doing-that comedic relief.  Soooooo not the role I wanted, nor thought was right for me.  But I obliged and put both down on tape.  I even joked with my friend who read with me, "Watch.  I'm going to book the dumb one."  Intuition perhaps?

Naturally, with the tremendous sense of humor in the universe, I did.  A mere few hours after the casting team received my submission, they were calling me with an enthusiastic offer.  Admittedly my first thought was, "Aww... I didn't get the witty friend?"  But of course, I am not in a position to be passing on legitimate film roles, so I immediately accepted the offer with much gratitude. 

As I shared the good booking news, I could hear my own judgment in my voice when talking to friends and family about the upcoming role.  I noticed my eyes rolled as I referred to my character as "the bimbo".  I had a few weeks to prepare before I was to be flown up to set, so I allowed myself the first week to speak candidly about the film and my role in it, keeping me-the-actress and me-the-character separate.  Then I knew I had to cut myself off and learn to love my new "self"... the ditz.  It was my job to find a way to let all that judgment go.  If I carried even the slightest hint of judgment or reservation from commitment into my performance, it would most certainly read in the final film.  That's what amateurs do, not professionals.  And certainly not stars.  I want to be the type of actress who can turn even the smallest of roles into a performance of a lifetime.

As I began the final two-week stretch before my first call time, I sat staring at the script.  How the heck am I going to rationalize some of this?  How do I pull off these gag-worthy jokes and the stereotypical airhead behavior?  There were a couple moments while reading the script when I rolled my eyes and yelled to my roommate, "You've GOT to be kidding me.  I mean, really?!"  How the heck am I supposed to make that funny and not just stupid and annoying?! 

I am a great actor, but I can only do so much, I thought.  I had two weeks to turn a cliche into a fully-realized, complex human being.  If I failed, literally every scene with my character would fall flat.  Shit.  

What did I do?  

Stay tuned for part two to find out!  This is like one of those annoying cliff hanger endings.  Yeah, exactly like that.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Morning Coffee and a Dose of Reality

I had a tough conversation today.  

I grabbed coffee this morning with a very good friend of mine, let's call him Zeke.  (Not his actual name or anything even remotely like it.  Only he would get the reference... but he has absolutely no idea that I moonlight as an anonymous blogger.)  Anyway, this morning he revealed that he was in that place.  That scary place into which us actors must never let ourselves slip.  That terrifying place where we question if this life is what we truly want, if the roller coaster is worth the ride and if we can hang on any longer.  I gulped down my coffee totally stunned, not knowing what to say.

Okay, let me give you a little background:  This friend of mine started quite young and has now been in this business for two decades and accumulated a resume I would kill to have.  Seriously...  Who do I need to torture around here to have his credits?  He has been a series regular on two different shows for three years each, landed uncountable guest stars on the most recognizable prime-time titles in television and roles in a dozen movies.  Every once in a while he is recognized and stopped for a photograph and receives the occasional "Dreaming of meeting @Zeke someday" tweet from some random person in the Twitterverse.  But this morning he looked at me over his coffee and said he didn't know if he could do it any longer.  

You see, even with all of those credits he is still out there hustling after this insane grind.  I almost didn't know what to say to this incredibly talented and successful actor sitting across from me.  What kind of wisdom could I possibly have to share with someone who has fifteen years and twenty times the experience I have?  How do you give a pep talk to someone who is on professional tier you would literally give a kidney to join?

So I swallowed my cuppa joe and offered the only thing I had to give -- the hope and enthusiasm of a young ambitious actor who's hungry to climb to the top.  Over a long and deep conversation I told him many of the things I tell all of you here:  We have to believe that we are good enough, truly deserve success and above all know deep in our bones that it is possible.  That it is entirely up to us to make it for ourselves, and no matter how hopeless it seems, there is always another inch we can claw our way through.  That it's a complete waste of energy to compare your career to that of anyone else and to just trust that the path you are on is the exact path you were meant to walk.  That if you must, reevaluate to decide if a full-time career as an actor is what will truly make you happy and give yourself permission let go if it is not.  But do not walk away because the climb is too difficult or the progress seems too slow.  That is giving up for the wrong reason and letting this business win.  Don't let the hustle and this city convince your subconscience that you no longer have a dream...  Because you do.  You always will. People like you and me don't stick around this long if it wasn't tattooed on our souls.

Hopefully Zeke will find his motivation and passion again.  He is so incredibly talented, it's terrifying to see the great stumble like that.  But perhaps being strong for him in this moment will help him pull through.  Maybe he can even return the favor someday for me when I'm on the verge of buying a one-way ticket away from Hollywood Boulevard.  

We parted ways this morning feeling better, though both keenly aware of the long road ahead.  I darted off to film a commercial and he to put a guest star audition on tape for a new show filming in Canada.  It's not about feeling 100% strong every day.  It's about pushing forward even on the days you fear you have nothing left.  

I have a feeling he's not done yet.  And neither am I.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An Anonymous Confession

We've been doing this thing together for about a year and a half now.  This thing where I write and you read.  I started on a whim back in 2011 and now some 200 posts later, we're still here together.  We sure have come a long way since then, haven't we?  We've been through stretches when I couldn't get a decent agent.  When I couldn't get a decent audition and others when I could get both, but then I couldn't book a goddamn thing.  When I had callback after callback and came up short every time. We've also been through the last few months of crazy, exhilarating, wonderfully consistent work.  This time when most of my humble living has come from being a working actor.  We have a long way to go still, you and I, but things are moving along.  Slowly, but they're definitely moving.

So I thank you.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here through it all and listening to me when I cry about how hard it is.  For waiting for me to come back when I've disappeared into the void and not written for weeks.  For sharing in the great moments when I jump up and down and scream into the phone at my agent with the excitement of booking big credits. For politely listening when I vent about something totally unrelated to the business.  Thank you for being here through all of that.

Now we are moving into the next era of our relationship and the telling of my story.  I am no longer working in total obscurity.  I am working on projects that you will know and see. Someday, you will even know the real me.  You will see me out there on your TV screens.  (In fact, undoubtedly some of you already have.)  But here you know me as Anony, and it has to stay that way.  I always want to be 100% honest with you about everything on this crazy train ride, and to do that, I have to preserve my anonymity.  Without it, I would have to be politically correct and gracious and act as if everything were always perfect.  But it's not.  Sometimes it's unbelievably amazing, but sometimes it's tough and bewildering and frustrating and fucking ridiculous. 

And you deserve to know about that too.  Not just the bullshit PR fabricated sound-bite about how "I'm so blessed to be here and how it was a lot of work, but I always knew the work would paid off."  Sometimes I don't!  Sometimes I'm royally freaked-out that all this will be for nothing.  That I will eventually either (1) throw my hands up in the air, move back home and hate myself for the rest of my life for being a quitter and always wonder what would have happened if I had just hung on for another year... or (2) just fade into obscurity and wake up sixty years old in a shitty little apartment in Hollywood still without health insurance and praying to god that my next restaurant paycheck will cover rent and maybe a bottle of wine to crawl into. 

Now deep in my bones I don't truly believe either of those unhappy endings will come to pass, but I want to keep writing to you through the entire process so you know what the journey is really like, because there are days when that actually does cross my mind.  I want to share the juicy nuggets about creepy producers and lame auditions and glorious moments inside the frame.  Perhaps even after I'm long gone, this will still be here for future generations of dreamers like us to read and learn from.  But now that we are no longer talking about me portraying Hot Chick in Bar #5 in Joe Schmoe's undergrad thesis film, I have to make a confession to you:

Naturally, you know I have to omit real names, places, project titles, details that you could use to figure out exactly who I am.  It's no longer the random, never-going-to-see-the-light-of-day student film shot in the back of some kid's apartment.  It's big time stuff that you will know about.  Going forward, when I say something happened last week... it may actually be a month ago, or yesterday.  I can't exactly say I guest-starred as a detective on a network procedural last night.  Don't lie, you'd go straight to IMDB and look that shit up and my invisibility cloak would be lifted forever.  So just know that I may smidge dates here and there, perhaps a couple insignificant details will be adjusted if it's too obvious.  Like... "I auditioned for a show with dinosaurs," but it was actually robots.  I don't know.  I haven't done that yet, but perhaps it could happen.  There will likely not be too many shows with dinosaurs airing at one time and whatever I'm trying to tell you will not be about the big beasts, probably just at the absurdity of pretending they're in the casting office with me.  Robots would be absurd too. 

Anyway, I just wanted to be honest with you about it.  Know that it's all true, every last bit of it, but just with minor adjustments to names/locations/irrelevant details to keep giving me the ability to write it all down for you... my real fans.  The fans who were fans before the world knew my name.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

It Goes On

I wish I had better news for you, but alas, I did not book the role from last week's audition.  

It was a bit of a funny train ride.  I received the audition and my first thought was, "I look young, but certainly not that young..."  I immediately emailed my agent to express my reluctance, the age was probably a bit out of my reach.  We discussed and he thought that even though it was a stretch, I could do it.  Also if nothing else, it would be an opportunity to meet a casting director who had not seen my work before.  I told my agent, "If you believe it, I'll believe it and sell it in the room," so we agreed to keep the audition.  I immediately turned to my roommate and said, "No eff-ing way I'm going to look that young."  

Then I took a deep breath and did my job.  Under no circumstances can I ever walk into any casting room with even the slightest disbelief that I am the girl in the script.  I spent the next few hours working on the 13 pages of material and convincing myself that I was, in fact, that young.  That I could pass for such a baby... and I did my job well, because the next day I sat read for that role truly and deeply, 100% believing that I could pull it off.  So much so, that I was really disappointed that I didn't even get a callback.  It was a great read and a character that was very similar to who I was (at that age) and even still am (at my current age).  I was certain I had a real shot at it. 

As the days passed without any word and I started to let go of the fantasy of having a three episode arc on a fun little sit-com, I chuckled to myself.  (Well let's be honest, I chuckled after the disappointment ran it's course.)  I don't think I ever really had a shot at pulling off 17... those days have come and gone for me.  I'll never know for certain if that was the real reason why I didn't book, but I am sure it was part of it.  I laugh because I had gone from being totally convinced that the role was completely out of my range, to being convinced that it actually wasn't, then back again.  I'm proud of the work I did to let go and truly believe, because that is a huge part of what this job is all about.

So though I'm quite disappointed I didn't get the job, I know there will be more opportunities (however far away they seem) and eventually I will book.  It may be agonizingly slow at times, this career will continue to climb.  In moments like these -- and any other difficult times both personally and professionally -- I remember the very wise words of Robert Frost:

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It Goes On."

And so it does...  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Trying to Not Play the Waiting Game (Unsuccessfully)

Right now is about that time when I realize that all day I've just been pretending that I'm detached from the booking... as the work day starts to come to a close, I admit to myself (and you) that I really wanted the role.  My agent says no word yet... I'm thinking it's looking like a no...

Waah.  :(

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Anony Takes Another Step Up The Hill

So, today was a good day. 

I went in for my first guest star today.  Have we talked about guest stars vs. co-stars, etc.?  Ah yes, we have

This initial part of the climb that is scaling the peak of a professional career as an actor is fighting your way in doors.  There are so many hopefuls in this city trying to do this, agents and casting directors are absolutely flooded with potential clients and casts.  There are so many of us here that legit agents and casting directors just don't have time or money to spend on developing someone from the beginning of their career.  Why spend three years developing a fresh-off-the-plane newbie -- who will likely burn out and go home anyway -- when you can spend all that time working with someone who is already at least a little established with a few credits?  Why take that gamble and waste all that energy? You don't.  You wait for the cream to separate itself, rise to the top and start there.  

That means the first obstacle is setting yourself apart from the 30,000 other actors of your same age range and type.  Basically on your own, without help.  The criteria for setting yourself apart?  Landing legitimate projects at the guest star level.  Only then will you really start to be visible to the movers and shakers in this town.  For the last two years despite my marketable look and talent, I've been dismissed by agents and casting directors hundreds of times because I just don't have any guest star credits yet.  Until today, I wasn't even able to read for one, so logically I haven't been able to land one.  

Finally, I have an agent who ignored the raised noses of the bigger and badder agents at the office and signed me anyway.  He's proving to be worth his weight in gold for getting me seen for this character today.  Not only is it a guest star, it's a recurring guest star with a two or three episode arc. That's typically pretty hard for someone with my lack of credits to jump in on.  It was also a little extra intimidating because it was my first multi-camera comedy audition.  Multi-cam is the industry term for what you normally think of as sit-coms, and is one of the most challenging formats.  It's fast, incredibly technical and very hard to do. 

But it went well.  Really well.  I may not get it, my agent and I were worried I might be just a smidge too old, but the casting director was really happy with my read.  I got a few laughs out of her and she said I had a wonderful feel for comedy... I can live with that.  Even if I don't book it, I feel confident that she would bring me in again for another guest star.  That's what I strive for every time.  It is never ever ever about the one job.  

So now we just wait... er... I mean move on to the next thing.  These are the moments when it's so much easier to say it than do it.  No matter how well I think I did, or how right I am for the part, I can't dwell on the hoping that I get it.  

Doesn't matter.  With or without this particular role, I'm scaling this mountain either way.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Let's Just Think About This For a Second

It's a bit trippy seeing the viewing counts for the TV episode I shot a couple months ago.  I was even specifically mentioned on fan message boards and comments sections around the internet.  Lil' old me who's sitting in my pjs at my dining room table right now writing to you.  There are now literally millions of people out there who have seen my face...

It is one part terrifying and nine parts exhilarating.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Get An Education

I love books.  I have many of them.  I particularly love books on film.  There are many I would recommend for any actor, I may even share more of them down the road.  But one I really enjoy in particular, mostly because I'm a nerd, but also because it's hugely helpful if you're going to be on a legitimate film set is Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde by camera operating veteran Dave KnoxNo, I wasn't paid to plug this book.  I happened to find it one day as I was wandering through Samuel French Bookstore -- also known as the ultimate source for absolutely anything printed on the entertainment industry.  Also also known as a black hole that I am known to disappear into for hours, only to return with an armload of bound literature on anything and everything Hollywood.  If you want to work on big-time sets with experienced crews, there is some lingo you'll need to know.  So when the DP looks at you and says, "We're going to shoot this dirty," you'll know what the heck he's talking about... and not worry that you accidentally signed on to the wrong kind of movie.  (It's an OTS, or over-the-shoulder, close up where the shot is partially obscured by your scene partner).  Other terms/phrases you will definitely need to know (and were actually said to me while shooting my last movie):  
  • Eyeline (as in, "Where's my eyeline for this shot?") -- The spot, which may or may not be an actual face, to which you're looking at while you're performing.  Sometimes it's a piece of pink tape next to the camera lens.  Okay... now flirt with the pink tape...
  • Pancake/Apple box  ("Anony, can you please hop up on that apple box?") -- Wooden boxes of varying sizes used to do anything from raise a piece of set furniture, or give a somewhat short Anony a boost so you can see her behind the counter.
  • Back to one ("Okay everyone, we're going again.  Back to one.") -- After a take or rehearsal, the 1st AD shouts this out to direct everyone back to the first position of the scene to begin another take.
  • Last looks ("Can we get last looks on Anony, please.") -- Everything is set and we're ready to roll, but we need to fly hair and makeup in for one... well... last look for touchups before we shoot this sucker.  
  • Cheat ("Anony, can you please cheat a half step to camera right.") -- Looooots of cheating happens on set.  You "cheat left", "cheat closer", "cheat your eyeline up."  Essentially, it's moving your body/eyeline/prop/whatever slightly so it fits in the frame and appears to match the other shot, though it doesn't actually in the real room.  If only the audience knew all the cheating that goes on in Hollywood...
There's so much more, and I'm a total sucker for all the cool set lingo (even the stuff I don't really need to know).  Pick up a copy of the book and thank me in your Oscar speech.