Friday, December 27, 2013

You're good, but do they remember you?

I'm going to make this last post of the year about clothes. This may sound like a superficial subject to end the year with, but it can really make the difference in the way we are seen, and how we develop a clear and precise image of who we are (at least to our public).

Last month I saw three shows. One was a series of sketch comedies, another one an improv show, and the last one was a stand-up show. Out of a total of 29 performers in the three shows, the vast majority of them were wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and t-shirts while on stage. Okay - so what?

Years ago, when I was in an improv workshop with Robin Williams (before he got famous), one of the things that set him apart - along with his quick mind - was that he dressed to express his playfulness. While the rest of us wore the usual jeans, t-shirts and regular tennis shoes, on any given night Robin might show up in red tennis shoes, yellow socks, bright blue pants, a vibrantly stripped shirt, and paisley suspenders. This not only made him stand out, but more importantly, it gave the audience a key to his persona, and made him memorable, before he had even opened his mouth.

When everyone is dressed the same, what feels to the performers like individual casualness, ends up coming across as a uniform, striping the uniqueness from themselves and the characters they're portraying. Yes, I know the audience is supposed to suspend reality, but watching someone playing the President of the United States, or a collage dean, while wearing dirty tennis shoes and torn jeans makes us work awfully hard at it. If you know you’re going to be playing these types of roles in a sketch show, why not at least wear some dressy pants and a nice shirt and jacket? And you can make them your own - they could be any color or style to suit your personality.

Show us who you are - capture your persona. Every now and then at a stand-up comedy show, I’ll see a male performer wearing a suit and tie, or a female wearing an interesting dress, and right away they get my attention. Of course they have to deliver the goods, but if they do, they’re going to be remembered more clearly, and for longer, than if they were wearing the same old jeans and t-shirt.

Imagine this: A couple of weeks after a group of friends see a sketch, improv, or stand-up comedy show, one of the friends says, “Hey do you remember that guy in the show who was so funny? You know – the guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt?” And his friends are trying to figure out which one he's talking about. “You mean the guy with the long brown hair?” “No, you know, the guy with the …. He was talking about cats or something …?” So they're all trying to figure out which guy he's talking about, right? Now imagine the friend saying, “Hey, you remember the funny guy wearing the red bow tie?” Now, everybody remembers just who he is talking about! And – if they see that guy in another show a few months later, and he's wearing his red bow tie – they are going to be anticipating that he's going to be funny, before he even says his first line!

So, ask yourself, do you want to be remembered by the people in the audience? Audiences that may include casting directors, producers, and/or writers? You might think that all you have to do is be a good performer - and that's a big part of it, of course - but there are so many people, and videos, and shows that are competing for our attention, that we really do have to stand out a bit. Of course what you wear, like what Robin Williams wore, should be a part of you or at least part of your stage persona, not just something you throw on in order to be noticed.

And how do you find the right clothes to fit your persona? Experiment. Are you a wacky type? A serious, angry type? A droll, low-key type? As you experiment with clothes, you may even find that they help bring out certain traits in you – traits that will be remembered long after the audience has left the building.

Happy New Year!



Friday, December 20, 2013

Things are slowing down for a while - what do we do in the meantime?

Well, the holidays are upon us and most things show business-wise are going to slow way down until after the first of the year. In fact, since New Years Day is on a Wednesday, our business (auditions, workshops, classes, etc.) probably won't get into full gear until the week of Jan. 6th. So the question is – what to do in the next couple of weeks? Below are some possibilities for us in show business. Some of the answers are great for those who are away from family as well. Maybe you're in New York or Los Angeles and your family is back in the mid-west … or perhaps you're in London, doing a holiday show at a theatre and your folks are in Scotland.

Wherever we are and whatever our situation, it's easy to feel a bit down if we haven't accomplished everything we wanted in 2013. But, like the advice I give about learning from an audition mistake, take a look at what you didn't do, why you didn't do it, and resolve to take charge of your career in 2014.

As for the rest of this year:

Read. Yes, read – a few plays, a bio, that novel you've wanted to read. Get away from reading the trades for a couple of weeks – life isn't all business.

Be creative: Make some homemade New Years cards for a friend or two (yes, you can do it on a computer, but it's better if you get your hands into it). Imagine a friend or relative's surprise at getting something like that!

If your library has a DVD section, borrow a few great old films and watch them. You can do an internet search for the best films of the last century. There are some incredible performances in films like The Days of Wine and Roses and Tender Mercies. If comedy is your taste, check out Young Frankenstein or Some Like It Hot. In fact, if you're into doing comedy, you might want to check out the old masters, like W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy – there's a lot to learn from their comedic timing that still works today.

Or maybe a weekend of noir films – almost anything with Humphrey Bogart. How about some films about show biz like The Player or Waiting for Guffman? The idea is to get away from the biggest and latest films at your local theater and find the wonderful gems from the past. After all, if you perform in a film, don't you want people watching and enjoying it many years from now?

All of these suggestions will help us inspire our creativity and give us a boost going into the new year. I've got my reading material and films lined up (okay, I am going to watch a few new films that my union sends me, but I'm also going to dive into my film library and re-watch some great classics).

One last thing I'm going to be doing (after a good dose of inspiration) is to be thinking about a project that I want to do next year and how I'm going to put it together. We can't just wait around for someone to give us opportunities, we need to make some of those for ourselves. So, think about a sketch you and a few friends could shoot and put up on Funny or Die or YouTube, or a play you could put on, or a song you could record.

Now is the time for us to review the last year and recharge our batteries for the year to come. Listen to your heart and then express what's there through your creativity.



Friday, December 13, 2013

A few random ramblings about acting and other stuff.

Instead of answering a question this week, I thought I would write some random thoughts about what I've been up to lately. 

The holidays are almost upon us and things are slowing down in the industry here in Los Angeles. After the first of the year, we begin pilot season.

I had two auditions recently for network sitcoms, and both parts ended up being written out of the scripts before shooting began. This happens when a script is over-written (it's too long to fit into the 24 minute time slot), or when the writers come up with what they feel is a better scene - usually a new scene that stars one of the regular characters. 

On the other hand, the new feature film I'm in, Little Boy, is getting closer to a release date. It was a great privilege to be able to do scenes with the wonderful actor Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins, The Full Monty). We shot much of the film at the Baja Studios (where they shot Titanic) in Rosarito Beach. Sometimes when I wrapped early enough, I got to have dinner on the balcony and watch the sunset - here's a shot from my hotel room:

The whole shoot was a great experience, and hopefully I'll be able to post some pictures from the production. (I have to get permission from the producers first, because sometimes they don't want behind-the-scenes shots to be posted that they haven't approved.)

Also, I'd like to thank Adult Swim for editing and posting my scenes from Eagleheart to YouTube. I did the show last year, but I just recently discovered that the clips were on YouTube. If you're interested in checking them out (I play a mysterious baker), click the links below: 

And finally, my guide to auditioning is getting very close to being published on Amazon as an ebook (Kindle). Formatting the book for Kindle has been a crazy learning curve, but it's almost done! I'll put a notice here and on my website when it's up.

Thanks for reading - see you next week.



Friday, December 6, 2013

What does a manager do?

A skillful manager manages your career by helping you achieve the kind of work you want to do and the kind of career you want to have. If your desire is to be on a sitcom, he might recommend that you take a three-camera class, as well as improv and stand-up comedy classes. He may even assist you in finding the best ones to take. Then, when you are ready, he could help you get booked into the right comedy clubs where industry people (casters, writers, producers, etc.), come to see new talent that could possibly be developed into a show, write for a new show, etc.

If you want to do films, your manager will look at scripts and pick ones that are right for you. He may then set up general interviews with casting directors and others – including directors and producers - who are involved with developing film projects. He may also help you look for low-budget films by beginning filmmakers where you will be able to gain experience and make contacts.

He should help you find good classes for the type of acting you want to do. He should consult with you on your headshots, résumés, hairstyle, clothes, etc., or he might send you to meet with a style consultant about these things. Just make sure you are comfortable with any "new look" that the manager recommends. You will not do well in the acting profession if you don't feel comfortable about how you look, especially if you feel like you are not being true to yourself.

In return for all this, a manager will usually receive a fifteen percent commission. This is in addition to the ten percent commission you pay to your agent, if you have one.

Those who want to make their own career decisions and plot their own course will usually forgo the services of a manager. Other actors, after finding a manager who believes in what they are trying to accomplish, will not see the need for an agent. However, this second choice brings up a tricky situation:

Managers are not supposed to get actors work or negotiate their contracts; it is an agent’s job to do this. Agents are licensed by the state, and the laws governing them provide an actor with certain protections that are not there with a manager, especially in the area of finances. Because anyone can call himself a “manager,” the actor needs to do his research about any manager he is thinking of signing with - and carefully read any contract that the manager asks him to sign. I would recommend either not having a contract at all, or else signing a limited time contract (say, six months) to see how the relationship goes.

Why so much caution? Here’s an example of what could go wrong: Your manager introduces you to a producer. Nothing happens and for whatever reason(s) a year later you end the relationship with your manager. Now, two years later, long after you have left your manager, the producer casts you in something, like a nice hit sitcom. And one day you get a call from your former manager asking for his fifteen percent - of all the salary you have made and will make from that sitcom. Does he really have a case? Maybe. After all, he did arrange your original introduction to the producer, which led to your getting cast in the show. This has happened on more than one occasion, and the actor has usually had to settle on some dollar amount with the manager.

Some stars only have a manager, so how do these stars negotiate contracts? They have a lawyer - usually one versed in entertainment law - do the contract negotiations for them.

If you are thinking about signing with a manager, bear this in mind: In order for them to really help you, you need to know what your career goals are, and where you want to be in, say, five years. You'll have a more productive relationship with your manager if you know what you what, rather than hoping that he can figure out what you should be doing as an actor.

An agent will often go for whatever jobs pay the most money, but a manager should be more interested in getting you the kind of work that will help you achieve your goals, even if it doesn't pay a lot of money in the beginning. What this means is, if you also have an agent, he and your manager must work together for your benefit. It won't help your career or your state of mind if they are pulling you in two different directions.

Finally, if you are just starting out and really want to work - commercials, film, TV, stage, etc., then you're better off going with an agent at the start of your career. However, if you think you'd like to contact some managers, check my link "TMA Managers" for a list of legitimate managers.