Friday, February 28, 2014

Should I learn improvisation?

The short answer to this question is YES! Absolutely. In fact it is one of the few things in this business that I can give an unconditional answer to. You need improv!

Sometimes when I say this, an actor will ask me, “If I'm just going to be performing from a (film, stage, or television) script, why do I need to learn to improvise?”

So here are some of the reasons why every actor should get plenty of improv training.

You will often be asked to do some improvisation at an audition, even if you are using a script. For example, when I auditioned for a Harrison Ford film, I did the dialogue from the script and when the scene was supposed to end, the casting director keep it going by asking my character another question. Had I not been used to doing improv this might have thrown me, but I just answered his question and we kept going like that for several minutes.

Almost every commercial audition will involve something that is not in the script, even if it's just the action. Also, there are some auditions that only use “interview” questions – meaning the casting person will simply ask you a question or two. In fact, you will almost never know everything you are going to be doing at any audition until you get into the room.

Having improv skills gives you the confidence to know you can handle something new in an audition. Like they want you to improvise catching a mouse, or sneaking through a dark house, even though that was not in the script you got.

On the set, the director may want to try something new at the last minute. I've had directors shoot the scene as written and then say, “Let's do it again and try improvising the dialogue this time. You won't believe how often improv is used on a film or television set. And the director will expect you to be able to handle that. (Which means not only being able to do it, but to do it well.)

A good improv class will help you set the scene at an audition. It will teach you to visualize your environment.

Improv will aid you in learning to be “in the moment.” Because there is no script, you must really listen to the other person and react honestly to what they say.

So there are a few of the reasons to get into an improv class and stay there for awhile. I know some people are a little afraid of doing improv, but once you get a little comfortable doing it, it's a lot of fun. And you will learn to develop some interesting characters that you may be able to use at auditions and for sketch shows. (In fact, doing improv scenes is a great way to develop material for sketches.)

I've trained, and/or performed with many improv companies over the years, including The Groundlings and Dee Marcus at Off The Wall. I've done improv sketches with Robin Williams, and George Lopez, as well as various members of SNL. I even co-founded a couple of improv troupes. I continue to do improv every chance I get in order to keep my actor tools sharp and ready to go.

If you have any other questions – about improv or anything else - leave a comment or drop me an email.



Friday, February 21, 2014

What am I doing to keep from going nuts???

I'm waiting again this week for a call from my agent about my last audition. He called the other day to say that I was on avail for a nice role on a network show. But in truth I'd go nuts if I just sat and waited for the call.

So, what am I doing? One of the things I do to take my mind off waiting for a call is to work on my own projects – something, that I have more control over. I've talked about this before, but it's worth mentioning again:

Although we actors have control when we are auditioning, after we leave the casting office, it's out of our hands. We'd like to think that the best actor gets the role – regardless of things like our height, weight, hair color, and many other factors that are out of our hands - but for co-star, and guest star roles, and especially with commercials, these other factors can play a big part in the final casting.

So, doing our own projects and other creative activities, is a way of taking control of our creative life. We shouldn't put everything in the hands of others!

I finally finished my latest screenplay a couple of months ago and I'm now getting it ready to submit to a major contest. After that, it's back to finishing up the post production on my latest sketch, which I'll post on Funny or Die and maybe YouTube.

Of course I also uploaded my guide to auditioning on Amazon recently (the link is over there on the right side of this page) – and let's not forget my plans to take over the world! Lots of work to be done there.

The point is, there are things we can do to not only fill the time with our own creativity, but that will also help advance our careers. Casting directors (or their assistants) do check out stuff that is posted online on sites like the ones I mentioned above (if you like to perform comedy, you might want to seriously think about getting some sketches up on Funny or Die).

What do you do that's creative besides acting? Writing, directing, juggling?

Let me know and we'll discuss ways of using it to advance your acting career.



Friday, February 14, 2014

Getting ready to audition

I've got an audition tomorrow at CBS, so I thought I'd write about a few things I'm doing to get ready. 

As usual, my agent sent a copy of the sides in PDF format. There are several pages, but what I do is type them into my word processing program so I can condense them down to a page or two. I don't need all of everybody else's lines. The only ones I keep are the ones that effect my lines, or are cue lines for me.

After re-typing them in 12 pt font, I go through and make my lines 14 pt. After printing the sides out, I will also underline the lines in red ink. With the bigger font size and the red ink, my lines really pop if I need to quickly glance at the sides during the audition.

After I do that, I look at the given circumstances: the who, what, where, when, why and how. Where does the scene take place? How does that affect the character? I answer all of those questions and establish the character's motivation - what does he want, and how badly does he want it? Why does he want it? What happens if he doesn't get it? Answering these questions help us to "raise the stakes." The more important something is for the character, the more interesting his actions will be.

Now I work on memorizing the lines. And I don't just sit in a chair and do it - we need to move around and do other things while we're memorizing. This not only helps us memorize, it saves our butt if the casting director decides to have us do some action at the audition, because getting directions to move can throw us off if we have only been sitting in a chair memorizing. (The exception might be if your character is going to be sitting in a chair the whole time at an audition, but you never know if the CD will decide to try something different. You want to be ready for anything at an audition!)

If I have a chance, maybe I'll take a couple of pics of the studio lot tomorrow and post them next week.



Friday, February 7, 2014

Making your own video for an audition

Last week I posted about the basic equipment that is needed in order to tape yourself for an audition. So I thought that this week I would explore some of the ins and outs of the actual taping.

Let's assume your agent or manager has submitted you for a role, or you've submitted yourself for a project using one of the casting sites like Casting Networks or Actors Access (the links to those two are under "Show Biz" links on the right side of my post, but there are others like Backstage, etc.).

Now you get a call or email notifying you that the casting director wants you to send them a video of you auditioning.

There are several ways you can accomplish this. First, and most expensive, you can have a company that shoots auditions, and scenes for demo reels, shoot your audition. The problem is that requests for self-taped auditions are becoming more common, and the costs of having a service shoot your audition can start to really add up.

The quickest and least expensive is to DIY (do it yourself). A friend of mine just got a part in a film by using her smart phone to shoot her audition and send it to the casting director.

Here is a screenshot from an audition I self-taped a few months ago using my new camera:

I used two clamp lights w/reflectors - one main one (100 watts) is on the right, and the other (60 watts) is on the left. (The image is reversed, so the lights were on the opposite sides during the actual shooting.) This gives some depth to the video so that it doesn't just look "flat." What didn't come out in this screenshot is that you can see a little of the background in the video. This is good as it adds more depth and interest to the scene. (Just make sure your background fits the scene at least a little, so that it isn't distracting.)

I had a friend read the other character's lines while I recorded them. That way he didn't have to hang around and keep doing his lines over and over. (The person helping you shouldn't be seen in the video - it's your audition!)

When I got a take that I liked, I put the sound into Garageband so that I could adjust the levels. During the shoot I put the camera on top of a stack of books on my desk and used that for a tripod - you don't need to shoot the audition like a million-dollar film!

If your audition is a monologue, you can get away with recording it on a smart phone and hitting send (like my friend did).

As more and more projects (especially low-budget ones) ask for self-taped auditions, a problem is going to occur. We are going to run out of friends who are willing to drop what they are doing and come over to spend a couple of hours helping you to record your audition. My suggestion is to make a deal with several friends that you will trade off helping each other.

Tip: If you learn to use a sound editing program like Garageband or Audacity, you can have your friend record his lines on his phone or computer and send them to you. That way, they don't have to come over to where you are!

Another Tip: This is an audition - you don't need to build a great background and have the perfect costume. However, the sound should be loud and clear and we should be able to see you (especially your face).

I have more tips for shooting your own audition, so drop me a note if you want me to write another post with more technical details in it, or you have a specific question.