Friday, January 31, 2014

What's a good, inexpensive camera to use for videos?

I bought a new digital camera a few months ago and have shot a couple of short videos with it so far. I'm still learning some of the manual controls, but the auto controls do a pretty good job of shooting as well.

The camera is a Canon Vixia HF R300. I did a lot of research on cameras before I bought this one because I wanted a camera under $300 that I could plug in both headphones and a mic. This was the only camera I found on which you could do that for the price I was looking to pay.

You want to have a headphone input so that you can hear the sound that you're recording, and a mic input so that you can use an external mic to record sound if you need it. So far, because what I've been shooting is fairly close up and in a quiet room, I've only used the built-in mic that comes with the camera, but it works pretty well when recording regular speaking voices.

Of course you need a few more things to go with the camera. If you shoot mostly indoors like I do, you'll need a couple of lights - but they can be regular clamp lights with reflectors that you can get at places like Home Depot. They're around $10 and work fine for a start.

Also a tripod is real handy to keep your shots from shaking. And of course you'll need some storage drives (I use Sun Disk extreme 16's).

There's always more stuff you can add, but the above will get you started making short vids and self-submission auditions.

So far I've used the camera to shoot a sketch for Funny or Die:

The Grimble World Championships

and then taped myself for a self-submission audition for an acting role on a feature film. The whole self-submit thing (where you are given sides and then record yourself auditioning) is becoming more and more popular. It allows actors, who don't live in the same city as the casting director, to audition for a role. In fact - that's what I will talk about on my next post.



Friday, January 24, 2014

A few thoughts about wearing make-up to auditions

An actor emailed me recently asking about wearing make-up to an audition. My first advice was pretty standard: women should wear a minimum of make-up and men shouldn't wear any at all.

But then I got to thinking a little more about it and realized that I occasionally wear a tiny amount of make-up to an audition. I have a small birthmark on my upper lip, which because I usually play character roles, doesn't matter. But sometimes when I get the job (after wearing no make-up to the audition) the make-up people on the set will cover my birthmark before we shoot. It all depends on how "rough" they want my face to look.

This means I do occasionally cover the birthmark for a commercial audition. If the role is for a butler or a professional (like a teacher, or doctor), the clients usually don't want an actor to look too "charactery." A birthmark, even one as small as mine, can be a distraction for the viewer, so the director or clients may not want it to show (especially in close-ups). 

For these types of commercial auditions I may cover it with a bit of make-up before the audition. (I don't wear the make-up to the set - I let the pros in the hair and make-up department take care of it.) The key here is that I use the absolute minimum necessary to cover it. The last thing a guy should want is for the make-up to show up on camera (actually, this is true for women as well - less is better).

But what if I'm going in for the part of a zombie or other "weird" type of character? No make-up! The people in charge know that their make-up person can make you look like a zombie, they just want to see if you can do the role - how you say the lines, how you move (like a zombie), etc. There are all different types of zombie looks, so if I were to wear make-up, it might be really different from what they have in mind for the character, and that would probably cause them to not hire me. (See the two different zombie pictures below - one was for a video game commercial, the other for a sports website in Australia). For both auditions I went as myself - including my birthmark. 

One last thought - I hate wearing make-up and try to avoid it whenever I can. When I'm on the set, I can usually I get away with the make-up people just giving me a light coat of powder to take the shine off my face. The zombie make-up I wore in the pictures above took hours to put on and over an hour to take off. In fact, for the one on the left, I was in the make-up trailer for four and a half hours! That's not a mask - everything on my face was put on by hand. And, man - what a relief to get it off at the end of the day!

And don't forget - if you have questions, drop me an email or write it in the comments box, and I'll get you an answer.



Friday, January 17, 2014

What I'm doing while I wait for the phone to ring.

Well, I'm still waiting to hear whether I've booked the Disney show that has me on hold. In the meantime, I'm starting post-production on a sketch that a friend and I shot a few weeks back. I bring this up because it's a good example of the DIY philosophy (Do It Yourself).

What my friend Sally and I did was to come up with a simple idea for a comedy improv sketch - a daffy reporter interviewing an artist about whom she knows nothing. That was it. 

Then we sat down in front of the computer, turned on the built-in camera, and shot a 5 minute "interview." Because I didn't use my good camera with all the bells and whistles, I only had to click "record" on the computer and we were off and running. And because it was improvised, the whole thing took about 5 minutes to do. Now there will be some editing to get it down to a running time of about 2 or 3 minutes, and we're going to add an intro at the beginning and a "credit card" at the end. That will take a few more hours. 

And when we're done - up it goes onto YouTube and Funny or Die. I may have said this before, but it's worth repeating - we can't just sit around and wait to get an agent, or an audition, or a booking. If you have a love of performing, there are simple ways (like an improv sketch) to do it and get your work out to an audience. No, you probably won't make tons of money from a sketch on YouTube, but more and more casting directors and other people who hire actors, are looking at stuff that is online to find talent.

So go forth and create! And if you do, let me know and maybe we'll link to your work on this blog.



Friday, January 10, 2014

Do you always stick to the script directions in an audition?

On the backlot

Well, the first full week into the new year has been interesting.

First, I had an audition for a show on the Disney channel. During part of my dialogue the script indicated that I shout out some of the words. But, I decided not to shout the words. I just thought I could deliver the dialogue better if I said it loud (but not shouting) and with more honest conviction (at least honest to my character). In other words, I thought it would feel more like my character, and I could do more with it, if I didn't shout. Shouting would have also effected my physical actions, and I wanted to try something different with the way the character moved.

This is one of the things we have to learn as actors, when to take a chance on something we feel is going to work for the character. And it takes time and practice to really get confident enough to commit to choices that are different from what is in the script.

When making this kind of decision, we have to be careful about our motivations. Our choices shouldn't be based on making ourselves look better. They should be about making the character and the story better.

This week I also got to attend a studio screening of the film “Gravity” in IMAX 3D at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Wow – a relentless, action film that had me on the edge of my seat for most of the movie. Afterward, the director, producer, and Sandra Bullock spoke and answered questions.

Oh, and the audition? My agent called the next day to tell me that I'm on hold for the role. Not a definite booking yet because it doesn't shoot for a month, but it's close – we'll see what happens.

Let me know if you have questions about making a change in your sides for an audition. And for more info on auditions, here's a link to my new audition guide on Amazon:
The Actor's Guide to Auditioning



Friday, January 3, 2014

What happens during television pilot season?

Happy New Year to all. I hope that the coming year brings you closer to your dreams and goals.

In a few days the official “pilot season” will begin. What does that mean? Well, first – the pilot season is not as plentiful as it used to be. Once upon a time (not so long ago), almost all new shows were cast between the months of January and April. Then if they got sold, they would start filming during the summer so that by September, the new season could begin. And although about sixty percent of new shows still do it on that schedule, the rest get made and sold all during the year – especially shows that will air on cable (HBO, AMC, FX, etc.).

But whether they do it on the established schedule or at some other time of the year, the way a show gets on the air still works about the same way in most cases.

A television producer will have a script for a new show. Maybe he wrote the script himself, or maybe he bought it (or optioned it). This producer is the guy (or gal) who is the one in charge of getting the pilot made and sold, and he's called the “Show-runner.”

The show-runner will take his script to a casting director, who he'll work closely with to cast the show. Since the actors who will become the regular cast on the show are the most important – especially the stars – they'll be cast before the supporting regulars. In fact, if the show runner can get a big name star (Like Robin Williams) to agree to do the show, his job of selling it to the network becomes so much easier. Now they just have to cast the rest of the actors, who may have to audition four to six times for various studio and network executives.

Once the pilot is made, the show-runner will show it to the network executives in the hope that they will place an “order” for a number of shows.

And how many shows will they order? Well, that depends. If it's a show like “The Crazy Ones,” starring Robin Williams, they may order a full season up front – maybe as many as 22 shows. However, most shows get an initial order of around six shows to see how they'll do in the ratings. And even that is exceptional when you consider that most pilots never get any orders! Yep – I've done two pilots (both with recognizable lead actors) and neither one sold. The other one I worked one got an order for six episodes, but the network only aired two before it cancelled the show.

Gone are the days when a network would order 39 shows (for a full season) and air all of them before making a decision as to whether the ratings were high enough to order a second season. I'm sure all of you have probably seen that happen – you start to watch some new show and all of a sudden – it's gone!

There is even more involved with getting a new show on the air, but I hope this post gives you some idea of what goes on behind the scenes of getting a new television show on the air.