Friday, February 27, 2015

Question: "I always wanted to be an actor ..."

Hi and welcome to my acting questions blog.

This week I got an email from Ali, 16, who lives in Denmark and writes:

"I always wanted to be an actor since I was like 12-13. I'm now 16 and want to start at like 18 or something. So my question is do you know where to start?"

Hi Ali. First, I might ask you a question - why do you want to wait 2 years to get started? There are things you can do now to get started. But if circumstances are such that you need to wait, then now is a good time to start doing research. I Googled acting schools in Denmark and found several that you might want to check out. 

You could also get together with a few friends and do play readings. Even professional actors do play readings here in Los Angeles - it opens you up to new plays, it gives you a chance to work on different types of characters, and it's a fun way to get together with other actors.

Also, I have a couple of posts on this blog about getting started in acting and I've put the links below. You might want to read these for ideas on how you can start an acting career. Most of the things I write about can be used no matter where you live, or what age you are.

Thanks for your question and the best of luck in your career, Ali.

Acting Questions Blog: Starting out as an actor

Acting Questions Blog: How do I get started on a career in acting?

And if you want to know about auditioning, may I humbly recommend my ebook, "The Actor's Guide To Auditioning."

The Actors Guide to Auditioning



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Do you need a publicist?

This subject comes up often when actors start getting some roles - either in film or television. Here's my experience with the one publicist I had.

A few years ago I was in a futuristic vampire film - "Priest" - and the film was going to be opening in theaters in a few weeks. So, I decided to take advantage of that and hire a publicist on a "trial" bases for two months and see if it was worth the expense. He was the publicist for a friend of mine who was a writer. He was very excited about using my role in Priest to get me some gigs at sci-fi conventions where I could make some extra money by telling stories about the shoot and signing copies of posters and stuff.

But he really didn't come through with all the things he said he would do. For example, he wanted some publicity shots of my character, from the film. He asked me to call the production office and have them send me copies of any publicity shots that I was in. 

Here's the problem with that: If an actor - who's not a star - calls the production office, he's probably not going to get anything from them. Why? Well, it's extra work for them, and since I wasn't one of the stars of the film, they would most likely drag their feet getting me shots. But, if an actor's publicist calls, that carries a lot more weight as far as getting the shots. It's like an actor submitting himself for a role, verses having an agent submit you for the role. Your chances of getting an audition are much better if your agent submits you - it just makes you look more legitimate to casting directors.

It was like this with other stuff as well - he wanted me to be doing the work that I was paying him to do. So, after two months of him not coming through with anything, I dropped him.

Would I hire another one in the future? Maybe. A publicist is good to have if you're doing a major role in a big film, or have just been hired to be a regular on a TV show. But, since they can cost you anywhere between $400.00 a month to several thousand per month, you need to not only have the money to spend, you need to have something substantial in the way of a role in order for the publicist to really do anything for you.

And what do they do for you? Get you interviews in entertainment mags (hard copies or online), get blurbs in the media about what you're up to in your real life - like going to charity events or doing unusual physical stuff like skydiving or earning your black belt in martial arts - that kind of thing. They might get you on TMZ by calling the production offices and telling them you're going to be at a certain trendy restaurant on a certain day and time.

So, the short answer for most of us regular working actors is - no, it's not worth the expense of hiring a publicist. But if you decide to try it, do what I did - don't make a long-term commitment until you see what they can do for you.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

What kind of training did I have?

I sometimes get asked this question. At first I didn't think it would be a good subject for this blog because we all have different teachers and methods that work for us. What may get my creative juices flowing might not work for someone else, but here's a brief outline of my training:

I took theatre arts in college and did a few plays in Northern California. I then got interested in improv and joined a troupe that performed at all kinds of different venues. And I wasn't very good because I didn't have any real training - although I had lots of fun with the troupe.

I moved to Los Angeles, and knowing that I needed to get some real training, I auditioned for The Groundlings theatre company - and didn't get in.

So, I started taking classes with a woman named Dee Marcus at the old Off The Wall theatre. There I got to do improv scenes with Robin Williams, Andy Goldberg, Paul Wilson, and a host of other really talented people. Although I had my moments, overall I was a novice, but I started learning from some good improvisors.

I also took regular scene study acting classes at another theatre, while continuing to do some plays.

After a year, I auditioned again for the The Groundlings theatre company, and got in. There I studied with some great teachers, like Tom Maxwell, Gary Austin, Tracy Newman, etc., as well as had a chance to work with fantastically talented people - some of whom would end up on shows like SNL. I learned a great deal about improv, sketch work, and building characters.

Then I decided that I wanted to learn about directing, so I went to film school and started doing more directing and tech work, both in theatre and film.

After a whole bunch of years behind the camera, I decided to seriously go back to acting. I took improv at several different schools, and got into acting classes that used the Meisner technique. The combination of improv and Meisner was what worked for me. I also took some advanced comedy classes with the wonderful Richard Kline (of Three's Company fame).

I had one more step to take to really feel confident in my work. And I got that step by way of advice from a really unexpected source. I was doing some regular scene work at a small theatre and a substitute teacher was there one night. She was really young - like just out of college - and I was a middle-aged actor who was starting to make a living from acting. I had a bad attitude about her - what could she teach me? Well, as creative people, we always need to listen and be open. Sometimes what we hear doesn't help us, and sometimes it can really kick our butts onto the next level.

And that's what happened one night after I did a scene for this young teacher. She said one thing to me that changed the way I approached acting, and it moved me into a much more personal level of acting. 

Sorry - I won't tell you what she said for two reasons: (1), because I would need to write a whole blog about it (maybe a future blog), and (2) because it was really aimed at me personally, and not a general note. But that is why we need good teachers - ones that can zero in on what we need as individuals - not just treat us all the same, as if we all had the same issues that are holding us back from doing our best work.

I still take occasional classes - especially if there's a long gap between jobs. Most of us will get rusty if we don't keep exercising those acting muscles.

So, there you have a somewhat brief background on my training. It's been a long road, and I'm still learning, but if you're passionate about acting, there's always something new to explore that will help you grow and deepen your craft.



Friday, February 6, 2015

Could I get hurt doing this?

I was talking to a friend of mine, S.B., who is a good actress. She just wrapped filming on a project and had an experience that I've also had (and I'm sure many other actors have had as well.

While filming, you are asked to do something on camera and you're not sure whether it qualifies as a stunt. My friend was pushed aside as another actor shoved his way through a crowd. The actor who did the shoving did it really hard, knocking my friend into the side of a building. And this scene was shot several times, so she came home with a few bruises. On several films I've had to fall down sideways (out of frame) onto a pad.

We all know that if you take a dive off the top of a building, or drive a car really fast in a chase scene, that these are stunts which are almost always performed by a trained stunt person.

But the question is - are my falls, which are really only a few feet, and my friend getting shoved into the side of a building, stunts?

When I've had to take those short falls, I've never asked for a stunt double. I also didn't ask for stunt pay to do those things. I knew I wouldn't get hurt, and that they were safe and simple to do. Now, if the director decided that he wanted me to hang over the side of a tall bridge, I would say "No." I don't like heights and if I had been told ahead of time (like before I signed the contract to play the part), that I would have to hang off the bridge, I would have told my agent that they would need to get a stunt person to do that - or find another actor.

When we're on a set we often get caught up in the thrill of filming and are ready to do anything. However, not thinking carefully about what we are being asked to do is how actors get hurt on the set. Some directors get an idea on the set, and because they are inexperienced, or devious, will ask you to do something dangerous. (A really devious director may wait until your last shot to ask you to do the dangerous thing.)

I once had a director ask me to run barefoot through a dirt lot that had a bunch of broken bottles and rusty sharp metal pieces in it. I said no way. The director got really pushy. Again I said no, making it very clear that I was not going to do it barefoot. When he realized I meant it, he got the wardrobe people to bring me some old tennis shoes. And the shot worked great and he even thanked me afterward, admitting that he got a little carried away with the idea.

As much fun as making a film or video can be, we really do have to watch out for ourselves. Don't take foolish chances just because you don't want to seem like you're a wimp, or that you're being "difficult." Remember, if you get hurt, you might not be able to finish your part.

We should work with joy, not fear.