Friday, March 28, 2014

Can I get agency representation if I'm non-union?

Will an agency that represents union actors take a non-union actor on as a client? The answer is, “sometimes.”

Let's first take a look at the agencies who probably won't represent you. These are mostly going to be the major agencies (no surprise there) like CAA, WME, UTA, and ICM. These agencies have a high overhead (expensive offices, many agents, assistants, etc.) and need to rep people who are going to hit the ground running as far as booking roles. Not only do they mostly take on union actors, but union actors with strong résumés.

CAA Building - Los Angeles

Are there any exceptions to this? Maybe. There are exceptions to every “rule” in show business, but they're very rare when it comes to the big guys. The exceptions for a major agency to take you on with no union affiliation and a soft résumé is if you are making a big splash in new media (like you have a few hundred thousand subscribers on your YouTube or Funny Or Die channels). This is especially true if your videos contain something that can translate into a mainstream performance (like sketch comedy, your own music, stand-up comedy, or hosting your own vlog). The other exception is if you have a lead role in a very hot new indie film that's getting a lot of attention.

Now let's take a look at agencies where you stand a better chance of getting representation. If you're non-union, but have a decent résumé, you'll want to submit to the boutique agencies. These are the small and mid-sized agencies.

Note: Don't call them and ask if they accept submissions from non-union actors. Most agencies don't like phone calls from actors they don't represent, and even if they do talk to you, they will probably tell you that they don't take on non-union actors. But here's the secret – many of them do!

So, why do they say they don't rep non-union? Two reasons – first, they don't want even more submissions then they already get every week, and second, because some agencies think that representing non-union actors lakes them look less professional. So, just send in your headshot and résumé like everyone else and see if they call you in.

And here's the reason why they do take on a few non-union actors – there are some fairly high-paying non-union gigs out there. Especially for commercials (and occasional print work). And although I no longer do non-union jobs, here are two examples I know about from my own experience:

An industrial film for a theme park, that was shooting in Florida. First-class plane tickets, nice hotel, all meals, and $5,000 dollars for 3 days work).

The second one was a commercial for an electronics company in Japan. First class air, a hotel in Tokyo for 5 days, meals, and $10,000!

So, you can see why smaller agencies would want to have a few good non-union actors in their files that they can submit for those kinds of jobs.

Let me know if I can answer a question for you. I know it can be confusing sometimes (believe me – I was totally confused about the business before I got a bunch of experience).



Friday, March 21, 2014

Why is using our imagination so important?

We all possess an imagination. The difficulty many of us have is that we stopped using it early in life. Just like a muscle, imagination must be exercised and used if it is to grow and be of benefit to us by ultimately serving our creativity.

Many of us have been brought up to believe that only “reality” is worth our time and effort - that fantasy and imagination are not for “grown-ups.” However, if we want to be a skillful actor, we must learn to play. Or rather, relearn to play. This is often in conflict with how we supposed to be as adults - responsible, mature, stable, dependable - not the kind of person who “wastes their time” indulging their imagination.

But using our imagination does not mean we become irresponsible or immature. What it does mean is that we add a powerful creative dimension to our work.

As actors we must learn to be a child again, not an undisciplined child, but a child who is free to use his imagination to be part of another world. As such, we must recapture our ability to play.

Do you remember how as a child you could scare yourself? Maybe you would creep down a hallway and pretend there was a monster in the bedroom. And as you got closer to the bedroom, you could feel the fear - your heart would race, your palms would get sweaty, and your mouth would become dry. 

If, at that moment, someone had asked you whether there really was a monster in the bedroom, you would have said “no,” but while you played the game, you played as if the monster existed.

The ability to play allows us to accept, and even embrace, a cardboard box as a world full of possibilities, limited only by our willingness to imagine.

“The more free the actor plays, the greater the enjoyment the audience derives.”
- David Mamet



Friday, March 14, 2014

Should I try to get on a reality show?

The answer to this question depends on what kind of career you want. If you’re interested in becoming an actor, I would advise not going on a reality show. Even if you are a trained actor, the fact that you did a reality show will stay with you - and have a negative effect - for a long time on your goal to have a legitimate acting career. We can argue that it shouldn’t be that way, that we should always be judged on our abilities as an actor, but perception is a big factor in the world of show business. And the perception is that serious actors don’t do reality shows. With the exception of pornography, it is probably the most difficult area of the business to live down after you've done it.

However, if you don’t feel you have what it takes to be an actor, or you don’t have the interest in becoming one, then you might give reality shows a go. People who have gone on to other positions in front of the camera, which involve few traditional acting skills, include Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Survivor, The View) and Bob Guiney (The Bachelor, Host: ABC Soaps - the Summer Fling segments). If you come out of the experience with a likable personality, you could end up hosting some kind of show.

One other thing to bear in mind is that some reality show performers are members of SAG-AFTRA (working under an AFTRA contract), and the segments are mostly scripted and edited. They are not really “reality.” 

And once you have signed the contract, the producers can edit the footage any way they want. They can turn you into a bigoted idiot or a raving maniac if they feel the show will get higher ratings, and there is nothing you can do about it. Not only will the stigma of doing a reality show follow you, but what others perceive as your personality will also stay in the minds of producers and casting people for a long time.

All of us actors must sometimes make difficult choices, especially when we're trying to pay the bills. If you get the opportunity to audition for a reality show, just give it some real thought before you jump at the chance to be on one.



Friday, March 7, 2014

The importance of making the camera your close friend

I ran into a friend today at Trader Joe's and we got to talking about how to get comfortable in front of a camera. She is used to performing on stage and felt a bit intimidated by acting on camera. The advice I gave her was this - get used to it. No, I wasn't being sarcastic. I really did mean that we have to get used to having a camera near us - sometimes a mere few inches from our face. There have been a couple of times when the camera was so close to me that if i moved a few inches I could bang my head on it.

What I told her was that she needed to practice - with her own camera (even an smart phone will work for this) - and get comfortable with the intimacy that comes from working with a camera. Because a camera is a very intimate thing. If the camera is close (or if it's shooting a close-up on your face), it will pick up on your slightest eye movement, or the smallest curve of your mouth - up or down. And this will give us (the audience) a world of information about your character and what they are thinking and feeling.

You must be comfortable with that - as if you're talking (or reacting) to a close friend. Someone you want to share your deepest secrets with. You need to welcome that intimacy and know that you don't have to do very much in the way of "acting" for it to pick up on your innermost thoughts.

This is great if your thoughts are the character's thoughts. But if you're trying to fool the camera (your best friend), it will know it and reveal your deception. This is what is often the scariest part of working in close-up. Through your eyes the camera will know if you are faking it, or if what you are expressing is genuine. But this is also the most exciting part - the ability to reveal your inner self with very little "acting." For this reason I love to work "close" with the camera - as long as I am really feeling (or at least expressing) what the character is supposed to be feeling.

And this takes practice. That's why I suggested that my friend shoot herself over and over. Learning to feel that comfort and to open up to the camera as you would to a very close friend. You can practice doing asides to the camera (like they do on some TV shows) and also talking slightly off to the left or right side of the camera - like you would do in most films and TV shows.

Another technique you can develop is the ability to "sweep" your eyes past the camera without focusing on it. Try it - look to one side of the camera and then move you eyes to the other side as if you were following a car down the street. Or, as if you were talking to two friends, one on each side of the camera - first speaking to one, then the other. As I talked about in an earlier post, you can learn to focus your eyes at a further or shorter distance, so that it will really look like you are following a car that is further away than the camera.

So, if you haven't had a lot of time in front of a camera - get one and practice. And make sure you look at all the footage. Maybe even work with a friend and evaluate each other's footage. No judgements - just honest feedback about each other's strengths and weaknesses.

And be sure and write me with any questions you have about this or any other show biz subject.

CBS - Studio City

Looks like I'm back at CBS auditioning again (for a different caster). I seem to be going over there a lot lately - which is fine with me as it's close to where I live.