Thursday, January 29, 2015

"...what are my chances of getting an 'upgrade' to principal?"

Cassie M. asks "If I do extra work, what are my chances of getting an 'upgrade' to principal?"

Great question, Cassie. Unfortunately, the answer is not so great. And I'm saying this as someone who got into SAG (before it was SAG-AFTRA) that way!

Before I joined the union, I was cast as an extra in a feature film. The producer and director were still trying to fill one last principal role, and so they took a look at the interview tapes that the background casting director had made of us. The director liked my "look" and brought me in to read for the principal role and I got it. But, that was a very big stroke of luck!

It just doesn't happen very often. Let's take a look at the different mediums.

Feature Films: The roles are cast before the film starts and the director has a "shooting script" with all the parts. That will rarely change because it means that they are going to add a role that is not in the script to begin with. Rarely, but sometimes, a director will get the idea on the set that he wants a non-speaking actor to say a line. Example - a friend of mine was doing a bit part (background with a specific bit of action). He was working in a lunch wagon and was supposed to simply hand the star a sandwich that the star had ordered. However, the director decided it would be more natural for my friend to say "You want anything else with that?" after he handed her the sandwich. Boom! Instant upgrade and SAG eligible. (Ironically, the scene was cut from the final edit, but my friend still got his upgrade and SAG card.)

Television Shows: Upgrades pretty much never happen. TV shows are on a very tight schedule, and there is rarely, if ever, a deviation from the shooting script. Because time is so tight, the director will usually stick very closely with the script and not make changes. Possible exceptions might be on a sketch-type show, or if an actor has been a long-time extra on a show and is finally given a line.

Commercials: This is usually the best place to get an upgrade. Although still rare, it does happen more often than on films and TV. This is because you don't actually have to say a line in order to be upgraded. All that has to happen is that once on the set, the director decides, because of your "look," he wants you in the foreground where you are recognized.

A tip - if this happens on a commercial, ask the second AD about getting the upgraded contract right after the shoot, while you're still on the set. Yes, you could still get downgraded or cut from the commercial, but it's always better to get the new contract right then instead of waiting to see if you are still a principal when the commercial airs (because it might not even air where you can see it). It's often a big hassle to get the upgraded contract after the commercial airs. Besides, even if you are cut in the final edit, you're still owed principal pay for the shoot.

Web Shows: This can be another place to get an upgrade, but the show must be working under a SAG-AFTRA agreement to begin with. Some web shows are very tightly scripted and some are very loose and improvisational. The latter type will increase your odds of an upgrade.

Final word of advice - never, ever, say something (even one word) without being told to do so by the director. In order to qualify as an upgrade, you must be directed to say that line (or word, whatever). Shouting out a word or two while you're in a big crowd of extras will not get you an upgrade and could even get you kicked off the set. 



Friday, January 23, 2015

First union audition?

Katlin O. writes: "I'm going out on my first union audition. It's for a commercial. Are there any tips you can give me about what to do before the audition so I look more professional?"

Hi Katlin - congrats on your audition! I've done a lot of commercial auditions and I've found these tips to be helpful:

If you haven't gotten any copy (dialogue) before the audition and you're not sure if you'll have lines to say, arrive 20 or 30 minutes early. More and more these days, they will only have the dialogue available at the audition.

When you get there (early), grab a copy of the dialogue, but don't sign in yet. Just find a quiet spot and work on it. Then a few minutes before your call time, go sign in.

Some sign-in sheets still ask for your social security number - do not write it in. If you book the job, they will get your SS# when you sign the contract. You don't need to write you SAG-AFTRA number in either - I always leave that blank. Fill out the rest, including your name, agent, etc. NOTE: If you run into overtime at an audition (over an hour) and you want to claim it, be sure and put your SAG-AFTRA number on the sheet and sign out.

Don't spend a lot of time talking to other actors. Getting caught in the middle of a conversation when your name is called means that you're not going to be prepared and in the right state of mind. Remember, auditions are business time, not social time.

And forget about talking on your cell phone. I was at an audition last week and the woman going in ahead of me was on her phone talking to someone when the casting director came out and called her name to come in and read. The actor had to say goodbye, end the call, and put her phone away in a special pocket in her purse. All the while keeping the CD waiting. This made the actor look unprepared and rude. Not a great way to start an audition!

Most casting offices won't ask for a headshot and résumé, but always have one you can give them if they do ask for one. Most of that stuff is sent electronically from your agent.

Also, be aware that the session director will often call in a group of actors to explain what they want the actors to do in the audition. Don't miss that! It's also a good time to ask questions if you have them.

For me, the main thing I work on before an audition is focusing and getting into the zone. The audition should be the most important thing going on in your life at that moment. 

And don't forget - you can also do some preparing on the way to the audition by vocalizing and doing some visualization exercises. (Although maybe not visualizations if you're driving!)

Hope this helps - and break a leg!



Friday, January 16, 2015

New agent, but not getting out on auditions?

Justin B. asked the question "I've got a new agent, but I haven't been out for auditions in six months. Should I start looking for another agent?"

Hey, Justine - thanks for reading my blog. Before you can really make a smart decision about dropping your agent, you'll need to figure out the answers to some questions.

Here, in no particular order are things you have to consider:

Is the reason you aren't getting auditions because of your headshots?

Is it because your agent isn't doing a good job of submitting you? And if he isn't, is it because he's lazy, or doesn't really believe in you? Does he have other clients in your category who have better credits, so they are the ones he's submitting? Or is he submitting you for parts that are not right for you - based on your headshots and credits (or age, ethnicity, etc.)

If you have very few (or no) professional credits, your agent's going to have a hard time getting you in for guest star or major supporting film roles. So is he submitting you for co-star roles that will build up your résumé so that you can eventually be considered for the bigger roles?

As you can see, unless you get answers to some or all of these questions, you run the risk of getting into the same situation if you go to another agency.

If it's been a few months - six at most - and you haven't had an audition through your agent, it's time to schedule a meeting, either on the phone or better yet in person. If they swear they've been submitting you, then discuss the possibility that it's your headshots or credits that are the problem.

As for TV roles, realize that breaking into television is probably the hardest area in which to get a start. That's because they work fairly fast and don't have time to take a chance on someone with very little credits (especially if they have no TV credits). It's a kind of catch 22 - you need TV experience to get TV roles, but you can't get experience unless you have a decent résumé.

The thing is, you can do something about those kinds of problems. Like, get new headshots, or doing student films, videos, online sketches, plays, etc. to build up those credits (and get more experience).

As for whether your agent is actually submitting you, that's harder to figure out. If you're in a theatre company, or around a group of actors in your category, you should ask them if they're getting auditions. This will give you an idea of whether the business is just slow, or your agent is not working very hard for you.

I've been getting a lot of theatrical (TV and film) auditions, but very few commercial ones, so I asked some actor friends who do a lot of commercials (and who are my type), if they were getting out and they said that it's been very slow for them as well. So, that tells me it''s not my agent's fault - it's just slow for character actors my age in commercials.

Just don't let a lot of time go by without talking to your agent. That doesn't mean call them every month, but if I had six months of no auditions, I would be on the phone with my agent asking what was going on.

Hope this helps - let me know how things go if you talk to your agent.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

What do the terms day player, co-star, guest star, recurring, regular recurring, and recurring regular mean?

Let's start with the ones that are clearest in terms of their use among professionals in television.

Day player and co-star are the same in terms of the work that is done. The only difference is that one term (day player) is contractual, and the term co-star is a credit.

If you are hired on a TV show to speak a few lines (usually between 1 and 10), and perform in 1 or 2 scenes, your contract will be a day player contract, meaning you are paid by the day - usually the SAG-AFTRA scale, plus ten. Day players with several scenes in different locations, or over a number of days, will sometimes be given a weekly contract.

A guest star is usually on a weekly contract (they are paid a weekly salary) and their credit is at the "top of the show," meaning it's at the beginning of the show as opposed to a co-star which is at the end of the show. As you might guess, a guest star has a bigger role that is an integral part of the story line.

A recurring role can be a co-star or guest star who appears in more than one episode as the same character.

Regular recurring, and recurring regular are a little less well-defined, but here's my take on the terms.

Regular recurring is a co-star who shows up on a somewhat regular basis. They may be in episode 2, then in episodes 5, 9, and 13. (In a 13 episode cable series.) Often this actor is not "on contract," meaning they are not critical to the story and if not available they could be written out of that episode.

A recurring regular is a character who is more central to the on-going story. For example, he may be the owner of a soda shop where the characters hang out and there are scenes at the shop every 2 or 3 episodes. Maybe he gives a few words of advice to the other characters. This actor may be given a contract because the producers want to be sure that he is available whenever they need him.

Hope many of these roles are in your near future.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

Actor resolutions for the new year

Happy New Year! 

While I'm not big fan of making a bunch of resolutions, sometimes it does help to list a few goals. Of course we could do this at anytime. We can make a list of things in March that we want to accomplish in April. But since it's traditional to do the list thing at the beginning of a new year, let's take a look at some things that might go on our "actor" list.

Getting into a good class is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. There are so many benefits to doing this - learning and growing as an actor of course, but also making friends and contacts, as well the chance to explore other areas of show biz like writing, directing, and producing.

I've been away from a good improv group for awhile, so I think I'm going to look around for a new one to join so I can keep those vital skills sharp.

And new headshots! If you don't have them, it's time to research photographers, find one you like, and get some shots. Mine are a few years old, so I may get some new ones this year. (PS - if you're in Los Angeles and need a photographer, I know a good guy to go to - he's both talented and actor friendly - email me for contact info. And no, I don't get a kickback for recommending him!)

And even though there many other things that could go on our list, I'll add one more important one - Acting! Let's all strive to do more work this year. Doesn't matter if it's in a feature, a short student film, or a play at a small theatre. Maybe sing or do standup comedy at an open mic, or make our own YouTube video sketch.

We're all endowed with the ability to be creative, so let's embrace the new year and show the world why we call ourselves "performers."