Monday, August 25, 2014

The Production Assistant

I'm no veteran, but I'm definitely at the stage where I know my way around a film set, how to work with the camera and the endless "back to one" nature of shooting a movie. (In case you're early in your career, "Back to one" is what the 1st Assistant Director will yell at the end of a take when he needs everyone to return to their first mark in order to reset and run the scene again.)

I have worked on bigger, fancier projects and stood across from household names.  Not a lot, but enough that I am (finally) at a level where little films like this feel more routine and less "oh my god, I can't believe I'm here." Buh-lieve-you-me, I still have many of those OMG moments ahead on bigger budget jobs, but on a small film in a remote location like this one, I admit I'm less awe-inspired.  Though when you're way out here, there are a lot of first-timers.  Glossy-eyed newbs who are so excited to be working on the biggest thing that's come their way thus far in their young careers.  We had a truckload of first-time PAs who were jazzed to see how this movie-making business really works.

And they were great.  Excited and ridiculously hard-working.  (Trust me... there is no one who has a shittier job than a grunt Production Assistant on a micro-budget film set in the middle of Nowhere, USA.)  But they showed up to work every day and gladly made fifty trips lugging cases of water to set, holding an umbrella over the Director's head instead of their own and standing in the brutal sun and rain to keep any random on-lookers from wandering into our shot.  These guys deserve more than college credit.  They deserve a goddamn medal of honor!

One day when a couple PAs had finished their stint and were getting ready to pack up and head out, we thanked them profusely for their incredible dedication.  They turned to me and another cast member and said, 

"We were just so excited to be here.  We both want to go into film-making and it was an amazing experience to be here and see real actors work."

It was so small, but it mattered so much to me.  Sometimes in the crazy madness that is Los Angeles, I forget how far I've actually come.  It's easy to start to feel like you've done nothing when the industry treats you like a gigantic nobody most of the time.  But out here, in a sweet moment with a PA on his first movie, I was gently reminded that I have come a long way and should be very proud of it.

Let's keep going.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cloud Nine

Making movies is pure heaven.  It's me at my absolute happiest.

Even when it's a silly film with a micro budget.  Even when it pours rain on an exterior shot and you just keep shooting because you have neither the daylight nor the budget to stop the cameras.  Even when a pimple (naturally) decides to sprout the day before you book a movie and you feel like a diva constantly asking makeup if it's covered.  Even when the location is so remote, you have to scramble up a trail in order to get to set, and scramble back down in order to use the ladies room, escorted by a production assistant of course. (Seriously. There is nothing more pointless than being assigned a PA to walk you to the bathroom, but producers are always scared the "talent" is going to wander off and get lost.)

But it really is pure heaven.  It's the group effort to create.  It's the electricity of stepping into a costume and bringing an imaginary person to life. It's the cast/crew family that is born by living together on location and working long hours through heat and rain and sunshine. It's eating breakfast together in the lodge dining room while looking over the day's sides and shooting schedule.  It's playing practical jokes on the camera girl or the director donning a funny hat while riding a bicycle around set.  It's singing happy birthday to a cast member, sharing cake and clinking cold beers at the end of a long day.  It's laughing together over the day's best moments on set as this group of former strangers hang all over each other on blankets outside and stare up at the stars.

It's magic.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Hard Goodbye

I have to make this quick, but I couldn't just not say anything. What a sad, sad loss for the world today. What a brutal wound that has been left in the place of a genius most (if not all) of us cherished. I realize everyone will eventually lose their lease on this Earth, but it is oh so much more heartbreaking when it's intentional and self-inflicted. 

We've always known Robin was flawed. (Dammit we all are.) But for whatever reason, he's had particularly dark demons to battle. But it just seems so incredibly tragic that a man who brought laughter and happiness to an entire world, found himself unable to feel it in return. He must not have known how deeply he and his work has meant to so many people. I only hope that he has been able to find peace, wherever his energy exists now. 

As I sit here in my hotel room ready to switch out the light, it is not lost on me that I am shooting a comedy tomorrow. The genre who's history would be incomplete without the inclusion of Mr. Williams. At first it pained me to think of shooting with such an abrupt vacancy among the gurus, as if it were indecent to fumble my way through an art form with its king so noticeably and tragically absent. 

But instead, I choose to pour my heart and soul into this character in honor of a great artist who's work will stay with me -- and countless others -- for the rest of our lives. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Saturday Morning Call

August is for movie making!!

I just got the greatest phone call.  The kind we live for in this hustle.  The real in-the-trenches, how shit actually happens kind of call.  

One of the films I came close on last month, remember the one where I nearly got the role, but then the distributors rejected the cast?  The producer just called me, incredibly stressed and left the sweetest message:

"I'm so sorry this is last minute. "

"We had some problems with another actress for a different role."

"We need to replace her and with someone, frankly, more talented."

"We shoot in three days."

"Is there any way you can help us out?!"

It was the greatest feeling in the world, not only because I actually prefer this role and not only because it was an offer for the second movie I'll be shooting this month, (and also not because this film already has distribution) but because this phone call was from a producer who needed my help.  Not me begging to be hired on someone anyone's project (which it feels like most of the time).  He was over the moon grateful that by saying yes, I solved a (big) problem for him. 

THIS is how careers are built.  By working hard to meet people, stay on their radar and be ready for the right phone call at the right time.  Because the phone WILL ring eventually.

So I better start packing my bags and memorizing lines... I've got ten days of shooting this month!  And (surprise), I leave this weekend!!

...Like I always say, never a dull moment around here...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We Love You, But....


Unless you have what is called a high "TVQ", I guess you don't matter in this stupid town.  And of course, it's impossible to build it because no one will give you a shot unless you already have it. Sometimes I wonder if talent even counts for anything anymore. I can't tell you how many times I've heard this phrase in the last year: "We love you, but we just have to go with a bigger name."

First, it's the countless auditions I can't even get into because I need more recognizable credits in order to be granted access to the casting office.

Then it's things like this movie where the Executive Producer wanted me and put fierce pressure on the first time Director.  But of course, the role went to some UTA repped chica who was perceived as more recognizable.  (But really, you wouldn't even know her name.) (To add insult to injury, after the movie was wrapped, that same EP and other people I knew from the shoot openly admitted I would have been better in the role.)

Then it's another feature I basically booked this month... "The whole office just loves you" and "you're so talented."   Then the producer emailed me last week apologizing profusely because their distributors had rejected the entire cast they selected.  He was equally as frustrated at having to start the casting process again from scratch and was nice enough to take the time write:
Then today I saw that a very good friend of mine of five years is (finally) directing his first feature!!  Yay!  Supporting his work through grad school and helping on a few little shorts here and there (plus the fact that once upon a time we dated for a hot second)* is finally going to pay off!!!  I immediately texted him and sent a link to my new reel...
Awesome right??  Well, just hold on a second. This came next...
Of course they want someone with more TVQ.  Everyone does.  But my question is... HOW CAN A TALENTED, DEDICATED, (APPARENTLY) NOT BAD LOOKING GIRL GET SOME TVQ AROUND HERE??

Anyone?  Anyone??


*For the record: I would NEVER sleep with someone for a role, and neither should you, that's totally beneath you.  I'm just saying, if I'm still good friends with an ex, I will absolutely make that phone call.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Want A Golden Egg

Funny story. 

Remember how I told you I've been working hard researching shows, updating my LIST? Well I sure am paying for it today. Normally I'm really conscious of my posture, but I let myself hunch over the computer yesterday. Woke up this morning with a little tinge in my back, thought, "Meh, nothing a little yoga can't work out."

Well, somewhere in my sun salutations, I made it worse. Now I'm stuck on the couch. A bump in a log with back pain. 

I was still on the couch when my CSA box arrived tonight. Don't know what CSA is? It's community supported agriculture. Basically, it's funding a farm and sharing the harvest with all the other members. You really should check it out... it's sustainable, generally more humane and we get this fun newsletter from our farmers where they tell us how planting is going and how we should use all those heirloom tomatoes that arrived this week.

Healthy eating is incredibly important to me. (And I'll say it. It's important for the career too.) I'm a huge supporter of eating locally grown, in-season and organic food that travels from farm to table in as little a time as possible.  I realize we're pretty spoiled here in California, but it's one of the best places to be a locavore.  My roommate and I split a box with a variety of fresh produce delivered to our doorstep every week. It's uuumazing. It feels a little pretentious, but it's actually incredibly affordable and soooooo good for you. And for the farmers. And for the chickens.

Begawk!? Did I say chickens? Yes I did. I'm a vegetarian, but I do eat eggs. In fact, my roomie and I go through them faster than any hen should be forced to maintain. We're pretty big on organic and cage-free too. But we all know (or should) that "cage-free" is marketing spin for, "out of a the wire thing, but crammed three deep on a small wharehouse floor but it's okay go ahead and buy us anyway!!!!!"

So we broke down and added a dozen "pasture-raised" eggs to this week's box.

For eight fucking dollars.


Let me repeat that... Eight dollars for one dozen eggs. Mel's Diner probably sells two eggs sunnyside up for a dollar-fifty and still turns a profit, labor costs included.  Eight dollars, oof that's painful. That better be a fucking tasty scramble if the hens got to frolic around the orchard while I'm stuck here on the couch with a jacked-up back after too many hours hustling this crazy career that makes laying an egg seem like child's play. I'm a starving actor, after all!! Ughhh life is so hard... why can't I just be successful enough that I don't even flinch at dropping eight bucks on "fancy" eggs?!?!!! (Even though it's less about being fancy than it's the right thing to do for the chickens. THINK OF THE CHICKENS!!!)

Then I remember: every week a box of beautiful organic produce magically appears on my doorstep in my fancy zip code with my flat screen tv and a water filter on my shower and I remind myself to shut the hell up because I have it pretty good.

And so should the chickens. Let them have their orchard-napping and dust-bathing (which sounds totally counter-productive if you ask me, but you know... to each his own.) Thank you happy hens, for providing a happy breakfast for this grateful artist.  I am forever in your debt.

(But seriously.  Eight dollars??!!)

Monday, August 4, 2014

THE LIST (my episodic season bible)

Welcome back to episodic season!!  Most of the offices are coming back from summer hiatus and television production is picking up.  When television production picks up, so does the need for actors!! (Funny how that works, huh?) 

 I've just spent the last, oohhhh... seven hours updating my LIST.  What "LIST", you ask?  The one that is my bible when courting hunting the ever elusive CD who should be calling me into his/her office.  I've been looking up the status of all the shows I have my eye on, keeping track of what's been renewed for another season and what got the boot.  This is also the time of year the brand-spanking new pilots sink or swim, so I'm researching what's been ordered to series and what each show is about, reading the scripts when necessary.  (I kind of also play a little game with myself to see if I can guess which shows will be canceled first.  Oh god, I'm such a nerd.)

Why do all this?  Because there are hundreds of casting directors in this town and it's impossible to keep up with them all.  I neither have the time, the money nor the emotional stamina to go for everyone all at once.  Instead, I select a smaller, more manageable amount based on a few criteria.  (I like giving you criteria lists, apparently.)  These are:
  • They are casting a TV show that is likely to bring in a lot of guest stars and co stars from episode to episode.
  • These new roles are likely to be my type. (Do determine this, I have to do a little Sherlock work:  Where is the show set?  What's it's premise?  Will they only need hunchback men who speak Pig-Latin?  Then hustling that show is probably not an efficient use of my time.)
  • Bonus points if the casting director casts a bunch of different shows... I may or may not be right for every one of them, but sheer volume adds to their LIST value.
  • The show needs to be cast primarily out of Los Angeles.  There are some shows I love and would like to hustle, but they're pretty much cast out of New York or Atlanta. These shows are an uphill battle on all levels if you're forced to put your out-of-town self-tapes up against in-the-room local hires.
  • I often watch upfront promos in order to get a feel for the new shows that haven't aired yet.  To be included on my LIST, a show should have the right tone and style for me and my strengths.  This is more ambiguous criteria and somewhat of a gut feeling.  Also, sometimes I just deny a show the privilege of being on my LIST if it just sounds stupid.  (Hey, there are hundreds of shows currently in production.  I make cuts however I can.)
I also look at my current list from the last quarter and decide which CDs stay and which seem to be a waste of my time.  If I'm getting no movement from that office over a long period of time and I'm losing interest in chasing them... NEXT!  (It's kind of like dating.  If I've called your sweet ass multiple times and you've never even winked back at me... I'm on to the next one, baby!!)

So anyway, I got my "more manageable" list... 53 CDs, 30 offices.  I have been working on this tirelessly for a couple days, but now I'm finished!!  It's a lot of work upfront, but it saves me tons of time and money (and sanity) throughout the year. Now I'm ready to hit this episodic season like a chubby kid doing a belly flop at the local pool...

Imma make a biiiiiig splash!!