Thursday, July 24, 2014

Casting my talk show - finally!

I'm putting on a different hat this week - director/producer. I'm in the thick of casting a co-host for my upcoming YouTube talk show. This is something I've wanted to do for a few years, but the right format just wasn't coming to me. But! I think I have the right idea now - at least one worth doing some shows and seeing what happens.

And that's the best we can do when we're creating our own projects. We do need to think about them for while and work them out, but at some point we need to jump in and go for it. What's the worst that will happen? Nobody will watch? - okay, so then you try something else.

The one thing that successful people have in common is persistence - not giving up. That doesn't mean to keep doing the same thing over and over if it's not working - it means tweaking and changing it, and if it still doesn't work, trying something else. But keep at it - we often learn more from our failures than from our successes.

As actors, we will go through periods of satisfying work and periods of no work. Often we will have frustrating times, but we need to believe in what we are doing, and keep finding the joy in the journey. Oh, and have fun!



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Should you do a role you aren't comfortable doing?

Well, I had an audition this week for a part I'm not sure I'll take if they offer it. That seems weird to be thinking about that. I've always taken the parts that were offered – most of them were pretty good, and the ones that weren't great, at least weren't bad. But this one is not something I really want to do – and that's saying a lot since I've played some really strange and weird characters.

This makes me think about actors who are offered parts that they don't want to do. The most common ones – at least for young females – involve nudity. Others may include: your character taking drugs, or you might be a vegetarian and have to eat meat as part of the role (like in a fast food commercial), or you could be playing a really sleazy sexual predator (like a child molester).

Should you tell your agent up front if you know you won't do certain roles? This can be a difficult decision, because your agent doesn't want to lose money – especially if it's something like a commercial that might bring in a lot of bucks, or a role in a film that he believes will help your career take off, but yes – if you know of definite roles you won't take – tell your agent! There's no point in auditioning for them if you won't do them. Of course, your agent may tell you to go ahead and audition for the nude role and if they want you, he'll try to negotiate that they use a body double for the nude scenes.

But first, you need to have a talk with yourself and figure out what you really won't do. However, keep the list short – one or two things are probably not going to upset your agent too much. But three things or more are going to be a problem. Even if you don't have an agent, there are just so many stories, whether they are for TV or film, that involve “heavy” subjects – especially in low-budget films. Why? – because they're trying to get noticed, and the more “on the edge” they are, the more they may get people's attention. 

Also, just like in acting class, you should be willing to get at least a little bit out of your comfort zone - acting isn't about always playing it safe.

What if you're really nice, and don't want to do any swearing, or nudity, or “heavy” stuff? And don't want to even have to audition for those kinds of roles? Well – I see two choices for you – learn to sing and dance really well, and head for New York to do light musical comedies. Or work up a very clean (but funny) stand-up act and aim for getting on a sitcom.

You really have to take a good look at what you are comfortable with, and draw the line. Never let people (agents, producers, directors) talk you into doing something you are uncomfortable doing. Remember, if it's on film or video, it's going to be around for a very long time! And if it's really disgusting, it may end up on YouTube, or a site like that, and be sent to all your friends, and relatives, etc.

So, back to that role I auditioned for a few days ago - what if they offer me the part that I'm not crazy about? To be honest, it may come down to money (yes, sometimes that's what it comes down to – we do have to make a living!). But, they're going to have to pay me more than they probably want to – which means they may simply go with someone else that they can get cheaper. Of course, since I haven't been offered the role yet, this is just me thinking about what I'll do if they do offer it to me. Working it out so I know where I will draw the line if and when my agent calls.

Have you ever had to make these kinds of decisions? Drop me a email and let me know how you handled it.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Creating a quick video sketch

I don't just give advice on here, I also take my own advice (well, most of the time anyway).

I just uploaded another short video sketch to Funny or Die.  And getting it done was fairly easy (okay, it took forever to get the right cat picture, but that's because I'm a little anal about certain stuff).

Anyway, shooting the sketch was quick and fun. Sketches don't have to have all kinds of props, and sets, and whatever. Here's what we did. My friend Sally wanted to do a scene where she played an interviewer. I said, okay, how about I play a surly photographer who you're interviewing - and we just try improvising the whole thing, for like 2 or 3 minutes.

So, Sally came over and we sat down in front of my computer. (Yep, didn't even use my good camera, just the built-in iSight on my Mac.) I did spend a little time getting the lighting to look decent, but that was it.

Then I hit record, and we just start improvising. Got it in one take - but it would have been okay if we needed to do a bunch of takes. The thing is - we've done a bunch of improvs together in the past, so we trusted each other, and knew how we worked together. This is the value of experience and why it's a good idea to work on your improv skills - you never know when you'll be able to put them to good use.

When we were done, I spent a few days doing a little bit of editing - like trimming some stuff where I went off on a rant that didn't really work in the scene - and added a couple of credit cards and some opening and closing music from the Garageband library. And that was it! Is it perfect? No. But it's done and up and we've been getting a lot of positive feedback on it.

The point is - don't wait for a part - create a part. I'm going to be doing some more of these. In fact, I'm looking for a female in her 30s (give or take), who is good at improv, and is interested in doing a weekly online show about current events along with talking about the general craziness of life. So, if you fit that description, live in the Los Angeles area, and are interested - drop me an email and we'll talk.

I'd like to shoot a couple of shows and see how it goes. If it works, we'll talk about a longer commitment to the show.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why I like small agencies

Last week we talked about why it's difficult to get signed with a major agency, and some of the cons if you do get signed.

So, this week I'd like to discuss what's good about signing with a small agency. These are usually referred to as "boutique" agencies. They are most likely owned and operated by one or two people. Often the owner will run the theatrical department (covering films and television shows), and the other agent will cover commercials. 

One of the benefits of being with a boutique agency is that they don't have as many clients (actors) as a large agency and will often have a more personal relationship with their actors. Although, they still don't want their actors calling every week and asking why they haven't been sent out.

As I mentioned last week, another advantage to a small agency is they will often give the actor a longer trial period. If you sign with a major agency, and they get you out to auditions, you will be expected to book work. And book fairly soon after getting signed.

The problem is that if the major agency sends you out a lot in the first couple of months and you don't book, they start losing interest in you, which means they don't send you out as much, which means you have less chance of booking. This becomes a vicious circle - the less you get sent out, the less chance you will book. Then after around six months, they will drop you. It costs a lot for a major agency to stay in business, and they need actors (and other performers) who can bring in the money.

With a small agency (unless it's one of a few in Los Angeles who handle a small number of high-profile actors), you will usually get a year to prove yourself. And let's be honest - if you're with an agency that gets you out on auditions, and you don't book anything decent in a year, you probably need to go back to class and do some theatre.

But there are always going to be times in an actor's life when he or she just can't seem to get booked. And it's nice to know that your agent probably isn't going to drop you during those periods (especially if you've been there awhile and have booked some decent jobs in the past).

Another thing I like about being at a boutique agency is that I can get ahold of my agent when I need to. He either talks to me when I call or - if he's busy at that moment - he calls me back.

In this age of so much business being done over the internet (including most submissions and some casting), it's nice to have a more personal relationship with your agency/agent.

One last thing - there are a few crappy small agencies out there. If you're with an agency for six months and you're not getting sent out, it's time to ask for a meeting to figure out what the problem is - like maybe your headshots aren't working for you. If your agent won't meet with you and work out the problem, then it's time to look for another agent.

And, hey folks - get out there and make some stuff happen! Shoot a sketch and post it on Funny or Die, do some standup comedy, write an song and sing it. Having an agent is great, but in the end, you're the best person to depend on.