Thursday, August 28, 2014

What should I bring to a set?

This question came to mind because I'll be working on a location set in a few days.

Many actors figure that as long as they have a fully-charged smart phone they really don't need anything else. That's not a bad idea, but having been on a lot of sets, there are a few other things I like to have.

I should mention here that I'm mostly talking about working in a principal role. For background work, besides bringing whatever wardrobe you'll need, a smart phone or possibly a tablet, are about the only things you will be able to have with you on the set - and remember, you will often have to leave anything bigger than a phone behind when you are actually shooting.

Principals are able to bring more because we usually have our own little room in a trailer (called a "Honey-wagon"), and can leave our stuff in there when we are shooting. The room will often contain a DVD player and I'll usually throw one or two DVDs in my bag to watch. This is because I've been on too many sets where my scene shoots 6 hours after my call time. This is especially true with "day player' roles where you are only doing one scene out of the whole day - so, you can end up spending a lot of time hanging out in your trailer, waiting.

I'll also bring a book. Either on a tablet or a hard copy. And of course plenty of good music. One of the tricks to getting your energy up quickly after sitting on your butt for a few hours, is to be able to throw on an upbeat song or two when the 2nd A.D. tells you that you'll be on the set in ten minutes.

And although there's usually plenty of munchies at the craft services table, if there's something you like to snack on that's a little different (sunflower seeds, dried fruit, etc.), you might want to bring that with you. I've seen more than a few craft services tables with a few pieces of fruit and a huge amount of candy and cookies. So, if sugar isn't your thing, bring your own snack.

And that's about it. It's all about keeping busy in a low-key way. Because it's exciting to be on the set, newer actors will often spend a lot of time wandering around, unable to sit and relax for long periods. But that can really burn you out on a long shoot, so the trick is to be able to relax your body, but keep your mind somewhat simulated.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some tips for learning lines

Whether you're getting ready to audition, or you've booked the job - a film, play, commercial, webseries, etc. - and have a bunch of lines to memorize, you can experience anxiety over not having your lines totally memorized.

So, let's look at a few things we can do to get comfortable with our dialogue.

First and most important - know what you're saying and why! This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised at how many actors go into an audition without being clear about what their lines mean. Sometimes this happens because you are getting out-of-context "sides" a fairly short time before going in to audition. And you can't really have a long discussion with the casting director about what the lines mean. When a CD asks if you have any questions, they mean do you have ONE question that you really couldn't figure out on your own. And that's the key to knowing what you are saying - if it isn't clear, make something up! You can't spend three days memorizing your lines without having any idea of what you're saying and then go into the audition room and find out then. Most of the time the CD wants to see what you bring to the role - what you came up with. Then, if it's not on track, they'll give you an adjustment.

Anyway, back to those tips for memorizing lines. Never spend all your time sitting in a chair or standing in front of a mirror, or in any one position. Why? Because the minute you start to move around and/or handle props it will throw you off. When you're at home, after you have the lines a little bit down, start to do stuff while you say the lines: wash dishes, make the bed, check your Twitter feed, whatever - just do stuff.

Do research if there is a word or phrase that you are unfamiliar with. If you don't, you can be sure that you will stumble over that word in the audition (or performance).

Picture your environment - set the location in your mind - where this scene takes place. See the stuff around you and pretend you are interacting with it.

When rehearsing, speak the lines with all kinds of different emotions. Even if you are supposed to be sad in the scene, try it once laughing and once angry. Not only will this help you to get the lines firmly in your brain, but you may also find that there is something you can use from those other readings!

Speak the lines in gibberish - this will help set the emotional tone of the dialogue without words.

In fact, if there is a word that is difficult to say, try saying it a few times in gibberish, then say the word the correct way. At least for me, I find this often helps.

Run your dialogue once or twice just before going to sleep. And then first thing when you wake up.

And last, take breaks. Don't run your lines all day every day. Not only will this not help, but the dialogue will begin to feel stale and your emotions fake. Leave room for some spontaneity, even if it means you might blow a word or two. No one is interested in hearing the dialogue perfectly said by a machine.

This are the tips I use myself that I have learned over the years - hope they help.

And here's a shameless plug for my ebook with contains more of this kind of advice:

An Actor's Guide to Auditioning



Friday, August 15, 2014

What are your walls?

We all have certain walls that get in the way and block us from growing as performers. Maybe we're afraid of letting our angry side out. Or maybe we're shy about appearing to be weak, or we don't want people to think that we're really stupid, or a cry-baby, etc.

The more honestly we act and the closer we are to our own dark side, the more some people will think that that is the way we really are. So we will often hold back – we don't want people to think we're really like that, right? But then we aren't doing our job as actors.

Would you rather people thought you were a bad actor, or that they thought maybe you really are a racist or a slut, or a weak, sniveling coward?

I dealt with this issue when I was starting out. I thought of myself as really cool. You know – I rode a motorcycle, had long hair, and keep it all together. In class, I always held back on my emotions. Then I was doing a scene and my teacher said to do it again and really open up and connect with the other actor. I did and it worked. After class I asked her why her direction helped me so much. She said, “You were waiting for someone to say it was okay to be emotional.” That advice was the best I ever got from a teacher.

Sometime later I got a great part in a play, but the part was of a somewhat dumb, super silly, goofball. So, I had a choice – turn the part down; do the part, but play it cool and not do a good job; or throw myself into it and go for it – which is what I did. And yes, there were people who didn't know me and thought that character was me. They expected that when they met me after the show that I would “entertain” them with my silliness. And they were disappointed when they realized I wasn't my character. But so what? I got great reviews, and more importantly, finally broke though that wall. Now I have fun whenever I get to do a role that is outside my comfort zone.

It does take work. And awareness of our walls. But if we work through them, the payoff can open us up to all kinds of wonderful opportunities.

Late news flash!!! My agent called while I was writing this post and I booked a role on the new Westworld pilot for HBO. Love getting paid to play – even if the character is not always “cool.”



Thursday, August 7, 2014

What do casting directors look for?

This is probably the number one question that film, TV and commercial actors ask (or at least wonder about). And although I've touched on it before, it's worth visiting it again.

Bottom line: The CD wants you to bring honesty to the role. How do we best do this? By bringing as much of ourselves as we can to the role. Doesn't matter if it's a comedy or a drama. The more of ourselves we bring, the less we have to "act."

But hey, we're actors - aren't we suppose to act? Well, yes and no. Unless we're playing ourselves, we're always going to be doing some acting, but pretending is never as strong as real, sincere emotion that comes from our heart. When you see someone act who really moves you, don't you feel like that actor must really feel that way about whatever it is they are reacting to?

Haven't you seen an actor doing a scene where he is supposed to be angry (or sad or scared, or another strong emotion) and you just don't buy it? Even if the acting isn't bad, you just feel like it's not "real"? And how about when you almost feel that the actor is really angry (or sad, etc.)?

That's usually because he (or she) is tapping into the angry part of themselves. They find that part of them that holds the "angry" emotions, and they let it out.

We all have those different emotions in us: anger, lust, sadness, fear, silliness, etc. The best actors find those emotions and allow the rest of us to see them. That's what holds back a lot of actors, because most of us have been raised to not show emotions - especially the undesirable ones like lust or anger. But in order to really make others feel what we're feeling, we must be willing to tap into those real parts of ourselves and show them to others.

That brings us to the "acting" stuff. Acting is really about using a real emotion (not acting) in a situation were you wouldn't feel that way (acting). For example, maybe you can really feel anger at people who hurt animals, but the scene calls for you to feel anger at your sister. You make the anger real, and act the part that it's toward your sister.

And this is one of the main things that casting directors (and directors) look for at an audition (and in a performance).

Ask me about other things a CD looks for - I'll be glad to help any way I can.



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Wearing two hats this week

I'm late posting because this week has seen me on both sides of the camera. I'm still casting for my talk show, so I'm wearing a casting director hat, and I had an audition for a popular TV show with one of my favorite casting directors.

Whenever I have to cast something I'm creating, I get a whole new appreciation to the CD's job. Besides talking to some great actors, I also get the flakes (they either never show up for the audition, or call at the last minute to cancel or reschedule). And many of these attach the most enthusiastic notes to their submissions: "This is perfect me!" "I really would like to do this show!!!", etc.

I know this is just a little internet show, with no pay for now, but you knew that when you submitted. And I've talked to major CDs and they get the same stuff - actors showing up late, or not showing up at all, or showing up unprepared.

Or, what really drives most CDs crazy - when the actor shows up to audition, and they look really different from their headshot. Like they call in a woman with long, blonde hair and she shows up with short, brown hair, and says "I decided to change my look, but I haven't had time to get new headshots." Or the guy with a beard shows up and he's shaved it "Oh, I can grow it back in a few weeks." Yeah, well the show shoots in four days. Or, he thinks that he's such a great actor that they will hire him and have the hair and makeup department put a beard on him. Unless you're a star, the answer is "No," they won't do that because it costs more money, it's a time-consuming hassle, and they can't be sure of how it will look until it's done and you're on the set. And there are usually a bunch of other actors - with beards - who can do the role as well.

I know I sound all grumpy on this post, and like I said, some of the actors I've heard from are great, but I lose patience quickly when it comes to actors who think this business is all a game and that you don't have to act like a professional. Yes, acting should be fun and creative, but it's also a business - people are spending time and money to put you on camera, even if it is only for a little internet talk show.

And me? Well, I'll confess - I have shown up for auditions late a few times, but that's usually only if there's a window of time. And once or twice I've not been as prepared as I would have liked. But I try to remember times like this when I'm wearing the CD's hat, and do my best to be professional when a CD has been good enough to call me in and take their time to audition me.