Friday, September 26, 2014

Heat, dust and horse shit

I was standing in the middle of a hot, dusty, dirt street. All around me crew members were going about their jobs setting up the next shot. My shot. My scene. And I took in every second, as they adjusted the huge lights, set up three cameras to shoot the scene, got horses into place, informed the background actors where they would be standing or walking, etc. An AD said that I could go sit in a chair off to the side while they did all this setting up, but I wanted to drink in every moment of watching this fantasy come to life. Especially since I had spent a good deal of the day in my trailer, waiting.

I wish I could share pictures, but as on many sets, taking pictures is forbidden (except by the publicity people). And I understand - they want to keep an air of mystery about the project until it's released in theaters or shown on TV.

Now that my time working on Westworld is finished, I'm back to working on my own projects and auditioning. I know I've talked about this before, but it's so important to keep being creative in between our paid acting jobs.

Of course I'm hoping there will be a few more acting jobs before the end of the year. I just had an audition for "Parks and Recreation," but didn't get it. That's a part of our business - dealing with rejection - doing our best and then not getting the role is definitely not the fun part of this business, but it's something we all must deal with.

After two weeks of being a "working actor," it's a drag to go back to looking for work. One of the many things I love about this business is that when I'm working I forget about almost everything else in my life - laundry, bills, bad dates, and all the mundane errands that we usually have to do. We even get our meals on the set - especially if we're working 12-14 hours a day on a big-budget project.

It's that all-consuming aspect to acting that allows us to get deeply into the role. And the role doesn't have to be some deep, dark, intense character - we can even be consumed by funny characters. Of course not every character or role is going to fill us with passion. But as I noted in the first paragraph, sometimes just being a part of a great production is enough to fill us with good vibes.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's my motivation?

Well, my acting on the HBO show "Westworld" is done. And even though it was hot and dusty, and there was a lot of "down-time," I will miss the other actors I met, as well as the crew. And speaking of the crew members - it can be of real benefit for us actors to get to know the names of the crew members and treat them nice. When there's a problem, or something you need - like a bottle of water when you're on set, or someone to do a last minute check of your wardrobe, the A.D.s, and wardrobe and makeup people will be there for you.

Depending on the size of the crew, and how much time you are spending on the set, it's not always possible to get to know everyone - even the key crew members - like the D.P., the first A.D., the script supervisor, or even the director! These people are usually very busy and rarely have time to hang out and chat like we actors can often do.

In fact one of the biggest surprises an actor gets their first couple of times on a professional set is how little contact we might have with the director. I learned why the first time I was on a big film set and then a commercial set.

I, of course, asked the director - what do you want me to do? And by that I meant, my character - what kind of emotion and reactions, etc. And the director said, "Do what you did at the audition. It was great - that's why we hired you." It blew me away that the director didn't want to discuss the role and "get into" the essence of the emotional arc, and all that actor-type stuff.

What about the stars? Well, they usually meet with the director before they are hired and that is when they have a discussion about the story and the role. Maybe. Unless you are doing something you are known for, like physical comedy. Then the director is mostly going to trust you to do what you already know how to do, and he will mostly be concerned with the action stuff.

This doesn't mean he or she is a bad director - it's just that most films, many TV shows, and even some commercials, are very complex and there are so many details the director needs to focus on, he just doesn't have the time to discuss every scene with every actor. 

Note: The director on my last project came over, introduced himself and shook my hand. Nice guy - but very busy.

And what about where to move for the camera? That's mostly the job of the first A.D., who has already discussed this with the director, and knows what the director wants. "The first" (as he's called) is usually the one to call "standby," (which means get ready everyone), "background," (this means the background actors should start moving), and "action!" (Which means the principal actors start doing their thing.) Then at the end, the director will say "cut" to the first, who then yells, "Cut!"

In fact, the set I was just on was so big and complex, with so many actors (both background and principal), that the first A.D. had to use a microphone attached to a bullhorn, in order for everyone to hear him call the cues.

So, what does all this mean to us actors? It means that although we may occasionally be on a set where we get to discuss the details of our role with the director, most of the time we need to be prepared to bring what we did in the audition to the set. And that often means making our own choices about things like motivation and character arcs.

There's an old Hollywood joke that goes:
Actor (to the director): What's my motivation?
Director: Your paycheck. 



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Westworld shoot & monologues

I was still working on Westworld this past week and finally did my main scene late Thursday night. So, I'm now officially wrapped on the show. It has a great cast, headed by Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris.

I've also found my co-host for the YouTube talk show I'm going to create! It's been a busy, but creative week, which is always good thing – not to mention that it means I can pay off a few bills.

A reader sent me the question of the week – Where do I find good monologues? Well, there are a lot of books that contain just monologues from plays (look at the Samuel French online catalog – there's a link on my blog page), or for movie monologues checkout this link to Colin's movie monologue page – it's free to use!

Colin's Movie Monologue Page

But, if you really want to be creative and stand out from the crowd, try writing your own monologue. I know that if you don't see yourself as a writer, you probably think you can't do it, but you probably can. Think about this:

What kind of character would show you off the best? Your talents, your personality, and your passion?

What kind of event would make you happy? Or sad? Or angry?

What would your character say to another person about that event?

Try recording yourself talking to another (imaginary) person about something that you feel strongly about.

Okay, after you've tried those things, maybe you don't feel it's worked – you're not happy or confident with what you created. Now what? If you're in a theatre company (and if you're not, why aren't you?), I bet there's some people in there that are also writers. Talk to them. When I was in a company, I wrote several monologues for people who asked me. It was good for my writing, and one of the monologues I created for an actor I ended up using in a play I wrote.

Not only will you get a unique monologue, but you might possibly make a good contact for the future.

The main point of creating your own monologue, or getting someone to write it for you, is that it's yours. When you're in front of a casting director, it's something they haven't heard a thousand times before, and you will have something that fits you and your talent.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Working on a television pilot

I've been working long days this week acting on the Westworld pilot for HBO, so that's why this post is going up on Saturday instead of the usual Thursday. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were 13 hour days, starting at 6-7 in the morning. 

Of course it's nice that's there's very little traffic at that hour, but if I'm not shooting, I'm not an early morning person. So - lots of coffee!

I can't give out details yet on the shoot as they are keeping things like story-lines and plot points secret. And this is something for this week's post. The show I'm now working on is one of those that a lot of people want to know about. I've told a few friends, but I'm not posting anything on the internet yet - and here's why:

More and more, you'll find that you have to sign confidentiality agreements (often called nondisclosure agreements)  along with the regular contract, especially on films or new shows, (or even the occasional commercial) with a unique plot or surprise ending. And we can understand this. Writers, producers, directors, and actors work hard to keep an audience in suspense with twists and turns in a plot or story-line, and how fair is it to have all that effort given away because its been posted all over the internet for weeks (or months) before the show airs or the movie opens in theaters.

And you really need to keep those confidentiality agreements - if you're caught posting plots or even worse - pictures of the production that you shot on your phone - you may not be fired from that project, but the producers will make notes and you won't work for them again. And they'll probably tell the casting director who you auditioned for and they probably won't audition you again. And - they may tell your agent, who won't be happy because it hurts his reputation to have actors who break confidentiality agreements.

So, can you tell your best friend, or spouse? The answer is - do you trust them enough that they won't post the details to their blog or whatever? Remember, they're not the ones who will get in trouble - you are.

There's a time when the producers will love it that you're talking about the show or film (as long as you're not bad-mouthing it or giving away embarrassing secrets about your fellow actors). And in the meantime, you can say that you're working on the film or show. 

Not sure what else you can safely talk about? When you sign your contract, ask the 2nd A.D. what's okay. He or she will probably say something like: "It's okay to say that you're working on 'Title of film' and maybe even what your role is - if its revelation doesn't give away a plot point (like mine does on this project, which is why I'm not disclosing what my role is at this time). 

I'm going to do some checking next week when I go in to do some more work, and see what else I can safely disclose. I would have done that this week, but when I have to get up at 5 a.m., I'm lucky to remember where I parked my car.