Friday, December 7, 2018

Am I owed more money?


Dear actors,

This is a long post, but an important one. As actors, we have to be aware of what we’re owed for our acting work. Too often we think that because we have a union contract, we’re going to get everything that’s owed to us. But although mistakes happen, most of the pay shortages are honest mistakes, not a producer trying to cheat us.


The three examples that follow all happened to me while I was working under SAG-AFTRA contracts. If you’re working on a non-union project, you’re kind of on your own, but you might be able to use some of what follows as a guideline to negotiate for more money.



I was on a HBO show, working as a day player. I worked on a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. However, they didn’t get one of my scenes shot that week, so they asked me to come back the following week and work on Wednesday (I ended up also working that Thursday, as well). So, how many days of pay did they owe me? Five? When I got my paycheck that’s what they paid me for, based on the paperwork the assistant director turned in to the payroll company. And many actors, especially if they’re new to union work, would be very happy with the check.



But ... they owed me for two more days. They owed me for Monday and Tuesday of the second week (even though I didn’t work those days). Why? There’s a union rule that if you work (as a day player) and the gap in-between your work days is less than 6-10 days (depending on the type of project), you have to be paid for the days off (not counting weekends). That’s so that a production can’t string you along working one day this week, then a couple of days the following week, then another day a week later, etc. That kind of schedule can foul up other projects that you might be able to work on. Would the union have caught the error? Maybe, but maybe not.



I called the payroll company, who then contacted the production company and got it straightened out within a day. They apologized and I got the check for the two additional days a couple days later.



Another example: I was working on a major film and as we were shooting, the director got this idea. He wanted me to be jerked off camera at a particular moment in the scene. So the stunt guy came over and put a harness on me, under my coat, with a leash that he would use to pull me out of frame.



Of course, we actors want to be good sports and do whatever the director wants. And, it was an easy stunt – no danger – but it was a STUNT! That means stunt pay. I jokingly said as the harness was attached – “So, I guess I'm doing stunt work, huh?” The director got it and turned to his assistant saying, “Make sure Michael gets stunt pay for this.” Everything was friendly – no hassles – but if I hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t have gotten what was fair for the work I was doing.



One last example: I was called in for some post-production work, for what I was told would be ADR (Additional Dialogue Replacement). That pays a half day’s salary (what I got per day on the shoot). But they had me do some new scenes – with dialogue only. And that pays a full day’s salary because it’s a new scene – doesn’t matter that it’s only dialogue.



Finally, be aware that if you’re doing background work, there are a number of “pay bumps” you’re due for working under certain conditions, like if you have to work in a scene where they’re using smoke. Even though it’s fake smoke, you should get a little extra pay for that. There are some other bumps as well – just ask one of the other extras; they know all that stuff. And no – principal actors don’t get the same bumps as background actors get.



This was along post, but I like knowing that we actors get what is fair for our work. If you finish shooting, and then realize that you should have spoken up about something that might be extra money, first call SAG-AFTRA to verify it, then call either your agent, or wait for the check to see if they paid you the extra, and if not – call the payroll company.



And be nice – they’re only going off the paperwork that production sent to them. Payroll companies are usually very good at taking care to get you your full pay.



Cheers,




Michael

The Actor's Guide To Auditioning


Friday, November 30, 2018

You have an agent, but no auditions. What’s up?




What are some steps you can take if you have an agent but aren’t getting out for auditions? Maybe you have a bad, lazy agent and it’s time to get another one. But ... before you take that drastic step, let’s explore a few other reasons for a lack of auditions and what you can do about it.



Your headshots. Do you like them? Did you spend a lot of money on them? Unfortunately, those things count for very little. (See my post on “What makes a strong headshot?")

Your headshots need to fit in with what your agent is submitting you for. A friend of mine is an example of headshots that might not work for her. Her shots are technically beautiful. She is beautiful in them – in fact she looks like a model. But there’s two problems with her using those shots.



First, she had her hair and makeup professionally done for the shoot. This is not something she will want to duplicate for every audition. And second, the shots don’t really match her demo reel. In her dramatic clip, she plays a girl next door type – very down to earth. A second clip also shows her without makeup – pretty, but not at all glamorous. And these are the kinds of roles she wants to get, but she’s not getting called in on them, because her pictures don’t match the type of roles she wants to be submitted for.



Note: Because she’s in Los Angeles, even if she wanted to pursue glamorous or model-type roles, the competition is fierce. There’s just so many beautiful people for casting directors to choose from, which means she still might not get called in often. (There’s a way to deal with that that I’ll address in a future post.)



Anyway, it might be time to talk to your agent and see what they’re submitting you for, and how each of you sees you and the potential roles you want. If you don’t see eye-to-eye on the roles, that’s a bad sign.



Something else that may be the problem. What are you doing to help your agent get you in the door of casting directors? Your promotional work doesn’t stop when you get an agent. Are you doing plays, short films, stand-up, sketches (for YouTube or Funny or Die), improv shows, etc.? Find the performing areas that help you get more experience and exposure.



You also need contact your agent for a meeting (a meeting that takes place, if at all possible, in person or on the phone – not by text or email).

Note: My agent likes to hear from their actors (but only every once in while, like every few months). I notice my auditions go up after I say hello by phone or in person. If I have an audition nearby their office I might let them know this and ask if it's okay to drop by after the audition.



When you do talk - instead of asking them why you’re not getting called in for auditions, ask them what you can do to help them get you more auditions. Getting angry or upset at your agent won’t help your cause. But by asking them what you can do, you avoid accusing them of not doing their job. And you make it sound like it’s the two of you working together – which is what you want from your relationship.



When you do talk to them, your agent may have two answers for you about why you aren’t getting auditions. 1) They are submitting you a lot, but the casters aren’t calling you in. Or 2) The agent isn’t seeing many roles that fit you. Ask what he thinks you can do to change that.



If they are submitting you a lot – it may be your headshots. Talk to your agent about those. You want to make sure your headshots fit the roles you're being submitted for, so, you need to ask them about that. Do they need other types of headshots, like ones that are more commercial? Or do you need more credits? Time to get yourself more short film roles. Join Actors Access and sign up to receive notices for short films or low-paying feature films that your agent may not be submitting you for. 

Finally, if nothing else works, it may be time to talk to another agent. When you contact them, you don't have to say who your current agent is, just that you're looking for new representation. And don't bad-mouth your agent - just say that it's not a good fit, then ask them what they see you auditioning for, and if they could get you in for those roles.

Cheers,






Saturday, November 17, 2018

More about ADR, Dubbing, Looping, and Voice Over

Hello dear readers,

Last week I wrote about my ADR recording session. Since then I've been asked to define what those terms (ADR, looping, voice-over, and dubbing) really mean. Sometimes we use these words to mean things they don't cover. In fact, I've seen a few show-biz websites that have slightly incorrect definitions for these terms.

So, let's take a look at how they are defined by SAG-AFTRA.

All of the terms involve the use of an actor's voice. Sometimes one actor at a time, and sometimes (as we'll see with looping) more than one actor at a time.



ADR stands for Automatic Dialogue Replacement. The original dialogue may need to be replaced if there was any kind of problem with the recording of the actor's voice on the set - such as a passing airplane, wind, crickets, etc., or the actor's voice was too low. Yes, the person recording the sound can raise the level, but that raises all the other background noises as well.

At the post-production facility, the actor will watch the scene that needs ADR and will have to match his lip movements exactly. That means the actor has to do the dialogue at the same pace as they did it on the set. If the scene involves another actor, the one doing the recording will hear the other actor's lines in their headphones.

Voice over is used for narration or in animated films. In an animated film, the character's lip movements will often be drawn after the actor does his lines - this makes it much easier on actors because they don't have to match lip movements on the animated characters.

Looping is used for things like background voices. For example, if a crowd of background actors need to be shouting, as a group, "Go team!" or "Grab that guy!" then a few actors will be brought in to the post-sound studio to record that "wild dialogue."

Dubbing is used mainly for creating dialogue in a different language than the film was originally recorded. So, if a film was shot in Italy and the actors spoke Italian, and now the producers want to release it in the United States in English, they'd dub it. Actors consider this the most difficult of the voice jobs, because you have to act a role that you haven't performed before. You have to capture the mood and emotion of the original actor, as well as the pacing. Dubbing used to be done a lot more than it is today. Thirty or forty years ago very few English speakers were used to reading subtitles on films. Nowadays audiences that go to see foreign films usually expect to see the film with the actors speaking the original language, with subtitles in English (or whatever language of the viewing country is).


There's one more type of recording that falls into the category of "pick up" scenes, and it's part of what I did in my last recording session. I recorded an entirely new scene - one that I hadn't shot on the set. It was a phone call. The other actor - the one who made the call - was shot on film, calling me, during the original shoot. But I wasn't recorded on the set. In the post-sound studio, I watched, and heard, the other actor speak, then I did my lines in between theirs, so it sounded like a natural phone call.

So, how come this isn't simply called "voice-over" since you only hear my voice - you never see me? It's called a new scene, because it's a brand new scene. It doesn't matter that it's only my voice - it's still a brand new scene for me. It falls under the general category of "pick up" scenes, where a new scene is done after the main production of a film or TV show has wrapped.

Hope that gives you an idea of the difference between these voice categories as they are defined by SAG-AFTRA.

As always, drop me a line if you have a question. And thanks for reading.

Cheers,


Michael




Friday, September 21, 2018

Let's talk about ADR, Looping, and Dubbing.

Hello!

Today I'm going to talk about ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement), also sometimes incorrectly referred to as looping or dubbing. 

For a film or TV show, ADR is often done because the original dialogue wasn't clear or there's some sound that we could hear in the background. For example, if the shoot is on location, there may be a bird, or a distant plane, or the wind in the trees -- it could be anything that interferes with a clear, crisp dialogue soundtrack. It could even be the fact that the actor was mumbling too much.

The reason I'm using ADR as a subject today is because I have an ADR session in a few days. It's for a TV show that I worked on 10 months ago!

I'm not allowed to reveal which show - but it's on Netflix, and it's on this screen shot:




I've got to get into the same character with the same emotions as I had on the set when I was working with the other actors. Except this time I'll be alone on a sound stage with just the sound crew and the director. They'll play the scene on a big screen and I'll have to match my original lines to the movement of my lips on the screen.

So, besides the technical requirements of matching the dialogue, how does the actor reconnect with their character from months ago? Well, for me it means pulling out my sides (dialogue) from the shoot -- which is why we should always save our scripts or sides after the shoot is done (and have a place where we put them so that we can find them if needed).

I'll study the scene(s) again and picture the scene as we shot it. I'll remember how I responded to the other actor(s) and hear their lines as well as my own. And if possible, I'll try to have the same body language as I had when I did the original scene.

One last thing - unless directed to change your reading by the director, you'll want to do the role (and the emotion) the same way you did it on the set. Don't come in with a whole new (better?) way of doing the dialogue. For all my ADR sessions so far, the director has not changed my way of doing the dialogue -- they've always wanted it the same way as I originally did it.

PS - See my next post for more on my recording session.

As always, if you have any questions about ADR work, or anything else, drop me an email.

Cheers,

Michael








Thursday, September 14, 2017

Well, it's been a while since my last post. Aside from a few auditions, and a nice role in the feature film, "Desolate," the acting side has been slow. There are usually slow periods in every actor's life and we need to find ways to be creative during those times.

I'm leading the funeral procession, as Pastor Mackentire, in "Desolate."

One of the main things I do is write: short stories, songs, sketches, and now a sci-fi fantasy novel. It's all about keeping the creative energy flowing. We are living in a time where we can shoot a short film or sketch on our phones and post it online. Or use a little bit better equipment and maybe make an ultra-low budget feature film.

Another project I'm working on is a podcast. Found a young woman who's going to be my co-host and we're going to do a funny podcast about life and love and all that crazy stuff. Will it be a hit? We'll see. I did a vlog with someone a few years ago and, to be honest, it wasn't great. But that's okay. I had fun, I learned a lot about doing that kind of project, and it fed my need to create. Not everything we do will be brilliant and loved by millions, but we learn and grow by taking chances and just doing something!

If you've got a project you've done that's online - let me know. I'll take a look, subscribe, or even promote it here.

I'll try and get back here more often, but in the meantime, if you haven't checked out the archives, there's plenty of good stuff in there in response to questions I've been asked.

 Cheers, 


Michael

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What's new & a great free film script site.

Hello all,

Been busy on some projects, so I haven't posted for a while. Was on the new Jane Lynch show, Angel From Hell (4th episode). And it got cancelled after the 6th show. Last time I shot scenes for a new show, it got cancelled before my episode aired, so I guess this time was better ...

Except - that means no residuals. If you're on a network show that runs for a while (as a co-star or guest star), you can expect to pick up another couple of thousand dollars in residuals when the show re-runs. If it gets cancelled, the pay checks end for everyone - star and extra alike.

Sold a short story I wrote, but since that has nothing to do with this site other than maybe what I've talked about in other posts - which is to get into something that goes along with acting - like writing - so you can create your own stuff and not always wait for the phone to ring with a call from your agent.

Anyway, for those of you who follow this blog, here's a nice link. It goes to a site with over a hundred, mostly new, film scripts. And it's free! Check it out for some scenes you can do in class, or as a great course in how to write a script that sells.

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/free-script-downloads/


Cheers,


Michael

Thursday, October 1, 2015

You want me to do what!!? When does a physical action become a stunt?

A couple of years ago I booked a nice role on a fairly big feature film. After we had shot for about six hours on the first night, and done most of my dialogue, the director walked up to me and introduced me to the stunt co-coordinator. Why was I meeting the stunt guy I wondered. I had not been notified about doing any stunts when I auditioned for the role, nor had my agent been told about any when he negotiated the contract.

This happens a lot - especially on films. The director or writer gets an idea to add a small stunt for your character during the shoot. Not a big, dangerous stunt like driving a car through a ring of fire, or jumping off a four-story building onto an air bag. I'm talking about things like jumping into a cold lake, running a sprint, or doing a somersault.

We actors hate to look like a wimp on a set. With the crew standing around, it's difficult to say "No" to the director. Especially when he or she applies pressure - "You can do this." "It'll look great!" "Come on - be team member, we won't let anything happen to you."

First, even the simplest of stunts should be done under the watchful eye of a stunt coordinator. He's the one who can tell if something could go wrong (unless of course he's really new to the job).

Too many inexperienced directors, especially on low-budget films, have no idea what the difference is between a big, obviously dangerous stunt, and one that seems mild, but on which you could get hurt performing. In fact, because professional stunt performers are hired to do the big stunts, it's usually on the small ones that we actors get hurt. Cuts, sprains, pinched nerves, muscle tears, lung damage (from smoke and dust), etc. are some of the things that can cause short or long-term health problems.

So, how should an actor handle it when he or she is asked, while shooting, to do something physical that isn't in the original script?

First, you need to have a clear understanding of what they want you to do. Sometimes they'll start small, and then ask you to do it faster, longer, higher, etc. If you agree to do it, but it starts becoming too much for you - say "That's it, no more."

Next, you need to have an honest idea of what you're physically in shape to do.

Lastly, you have to have the confidence to stand up for yourself. On many films and TV shows, you will be the only one to do that. I've seen actors get hurt - actually bleeding - and the director says "You okay for one more take?"

Last thought - be extra careful if the director springs this new stunt or physical action on you on the last day of shooting. If he thinks you might get hurt and not be able to work for a while, he may do this physical action at the end of your scenes, so that if you do get hurt, it won't interfere with the film's schedule. Does that sound like the director is a real a**hole? Yeah, but not necessarily intentionally - often he just wants to get whatever ideas he thinks are "cool" onto the film or video.

NOTE: This same issue comes up with nudity. It gets thrown at you on the set. Ultimately, we have to protect ourselves. That means reading our contracts, getting enough sleep, water, food, etc., and saying "No" when something doesn't feel right.

And what about the stunt I was asked to do on that film a few years ago? After talking it over with the stunt coordinator, I felt I could do it with no problems. However, I declined the stunt coordinator's help, so that I would be in control of the stunt - how hard I fell - instead of having him jerk me to the ground using a leash. It worked great, and I didn't get hurt. (But I still was not happy that it was sprung on me at the last minute.)

Cheers,

Michael