Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dessert First

You don't have a minute. You don't even really have a few seconds. Whatever work you're doing likely only has a moment of the-person-watching-it's attention before they stop paying attention, stop watching, stop listening. Maybe they change the channel, maybe they click their mouse on something else, or maybe they start thinking what will they tell their assistant to order them for lunch, or look at their notes from a different actor's audition earlier in the day. (And while it has been said that actors have won roles with their walk from the wings to center stage [I believe I read that somewhere in Joanna Merlin and Harold Prince's book Auditioning], confidence and the projection of it is probably best in another post. I am talking here about our performances themselves.)

Sure if the audience is in a theatre, watching a play or a movie, then they've probably signed up, committed, to seeing the whole thing, but even then:

Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing

(Sir Ralph Richardson quoted in New York Herald Tribune, May 19, 1946).

What are we to do then as actors? Well if you have any say over a script or an edit, when you can put the good stuff, the one part you'd want someone to see if they only saw one part, at the beginning. And don't save the part you love, the deeper part, the clearer work or whatever it is that excites you for some amorphous time near the climax of the story. You don't always have to make the climax happen, that's more the writer's task.

Instead, perhaps start knowing that is coming. I'm not saving over act. I'm also not delving into a discussion of if the actor's job includes foreshadowing the story throughout act 1 in all cases (which may make for a good post just on that at some point). I am saying don't save the good stuff for a later that may never come. If the audience leaves, or stops watching, your good work may as well have been rehearsal.

Don't assume you get 5 minutes for the YouTube sketch to get to its punchline/good part; an estimated 500 hours of new video is uploaded every minute to YouTube and will show up right next to your work. Don't guess people will watch past the first 4 minutes of the 20 episode Netflix series you're working on; win over the viewer fast or the viewer will choose something else like either what Netflix is spending $6 billion (with a 'b') this year to make themselves or spending additional money to license from other places and putting a mouse click away from your work.

Narratively you cannot, a likely should not, try to put the climax at the top if it doesn't fit. Yet even in Chekhov's Three Sisters, a play partly about stagnation, he opens with the line it's a year ago that Father died, May fifth, on your birthday, Irina. We know and can have feelings about much of what is going on: the speaker is one of the sisters, another one of her sisters is Irina and its her birthday which is a complicated anniversary since its shared with their dad's death. It took more words to type than Olga uses and it likely still engages an audience interested in experiencing a family drama, just as it has for over 115 years on stage and on screen. This script lets an audience immediately get family drama, the treat they want if they are interested in a family story. The performer speaking that line ideally will be speaking already as Olga, not waiting to warm up into it even if the audience already agreed to sit through the whole show; the performer serves dessert first.

Rob Long articulated this idea of Dessert First over 5 years ago and his words still ring true:

The audience won't wait. They're hungry now...when you're trying to get people to do something, or to pay attention to something, or to just sit still for a moment, don't serve them appetizers first. Serve them dessert; dessert first, fun stuff first, sweet stuff up front. Start passing out the treats the moment it starts. Ask yourself, if you're a writer [or an actor], "at the top of the show, the top of the scene, is the audience getting dessert first?" Because if they're not, someone, serving it up a thumb push away

(from Martini Shot: Dessert First on KCRW, November 9, 2011).

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

David in the Secret Tunnel Into the White House

I shot a video of the Secret Tunnel Into the White House with Amy Walker as a sequel to my Secret Cave Into Disneyland:

And #STIWH screened this month in Hollywood at The Scramble:

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Filter Bubbles Change Outcomes (or Facebook EdgeRank Is Flawed)

disclaimer: It's 2:45 in the morning. Insomnia has me thinking wildly, and this may not be good logic, or reasoning, but here goes (caveat lector).

Facebook, and other systems (like Google's search results) insulate and cut us off from people who think differently than we do. This is bad, for many reasons. It polarizes us and leads to bad outcomes for everyone. This filter bubble problem was pointed out at least 5 years ago, and this problem continues and increases today.

To believe that Facebook did not accidentally affect the election with hoax stories may be to misunderstand math, or to forget that small things are still things. Not understanding math is something Mark Zuckerberg cannot believably claim. Hoax stories shared on Facebook probably impacted the election results. An impact can be small, but also be real, and maybe even decidedly so.

EdgeRank is the part of Facebook that chooses what you are shown in your Facebook newsfeed. If EdgeRank decides not to show a post to you in the newsfeed, you have to manually go to someone's page or profile to see the posts; posts won't show up on the newsfeed for you unless EdgeRank puts them there. On average only about 16% of your friends or fans will be shown a post (unless you pay to promote it).

Some at Facebook claim that EdgeRank didn't have any impact on the election. But small things can make a big difference.

On Saturday night, Mr. Zuckerberg posted a lengthy status update to his Facebook page with some of his thoughts on the election.
Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other

(from Facebook, in Cross Hairs After Election, Is Said to Question Its Influence).

Small does not mean unimportant. It could even be that such a number, the type of number Zuckerberg is dismissing, could change major world events.

Under 1% is a very small amount. 0.52% is a more specific small amount. Somewhere under 1% of stories on Facebook, according to Zuckerberg, are hoaxes. 0.52% is, According to AP, the difference between the number of votes Hillary Clinton got and Donald Trump got (as of November 13, 2016, AP has Donald Trump getting 60,350,241 votes and Hillary Clinton getting 60,981,118).

I am not calling Mark Zuckerberg wrong, but Facebook is calling Mark Zuckerberg wrong. Facebook says people do things based on what's shown to them in their Facebook stream:

Because Facebook Ads are placed in the [news] stream of information people view on Facebook, they’re more likely to see your ads and take action

(emphasis added, from Facebook business: Facebook ads retrieved November 14, 2016).

Facebook tells their paying customers that people act on what they see in news streams on Facebook. Zuckerberg says less than 1% of those stories people act on are hoaxes. Could 0.52% of those stories be something people acted on recently ;-).

For us as actors (and this post is decidedly not focused on our work, but more our online lives), EdgeRank is the machines choosing who sees what we post, including pictures and videos. Machines are not great at programming our work like the artistic director of a theatre or the cinema owner or the traffic department of a TV network (traffic as in what's on air, not what's on roads). It would be nice if everyone who would be thrilled to see our work we share would be shown our work, but no machine in the world can curate that well. Right now EdgeRank, or spending money to promote imperfectly (Facebook sometimes promises a wider reach than a spend will actually give) is all Facebook allows.

If Facebook wants to improve EdgeRank, including some of the posts we don't typically interact with in the news stream is a straightforward option. Remember: liking, sharing or commenting a post is the only data EdgeRank uses. To imagine people don't want to see or aren't affected by posts even when they don't like, share or comment is to imagine human behavior can be reduced to 3 types of database entries. It can't be. That's not even mentioning all the things we do in life that aren't strictly behavior. But this ventures into human-computer interaction, engagement measurement and metrics, and all are probably best for another post on another day...or night. Right now: good night!

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Friday, October 21, 2016

1880 Compliant

I coined the phrase 1880 Compliant or 1880 Compliance to refer to things that will still work, or keep working, if the power grid goes down. "Compliant" as in goes along with or works with, and "1880" because the first commercial power generator went online in about 1881. It's like a shorthand for business continuity without electricity: what happens if the power goes out? What happens if the power stays out? Actors are small businesses. Anything 1880 Compliant is a thing that works whether or not the power is working.

Important deadlines and other things don't care what infrastructure is doing in your area; you either showed up for work, or an audition, or you didn't. You could download the script/sides, or you couldn't. The movie/video/TV show could be watched our it couldn't. The theatre's lights could turn on or they couldn't. Business continuity isn't a major focus for actors (nor should it be) but since the internet today has many sites down, I'm going to write this instead of waiting for them to come back online. I have shared the phrase 1880 Compliant for years, but today I'll commit it to (digital) paper. Seems kind of apt. And ironic (not quite what that word means, but I digress).

Something you or a business does is 1880 Compliant for some amount of time. Books printed on paper are 1880 Compliant forever, books on a digital readers are 1880 Compliant for the life of the battery: they're basically not 1880 Compliant at all or are for only some hours or minutes.

Things that are 1880 Compliant can include:

A paper date book
Unless you lose it, burn it or otherwise physically destroy it, a paper date book will be available, complete and serve its purpose until the paper rots away. It won't care no what the power company does.
A bicycle
If it works today it will likely work tomorrow and the next day. Eventually its maintenance may need things like replacement parts and lubricants, and those need power to be available where you are, but a bike is effectively 1880 Compliant for the foreseeable future.
Talking in person
Face to face conversation doesn't require electricity to happen, and if the people's basic survival needs are met (the modern world requires electricity enabling the technologies that make food and clothes that end up in our presence), they can effectively communicate like this for the rest of their lives.

Things that are _not_ 1880 Compliant could include:

A digital planner
If you can't charge its battery it won't help you know what's next or next week. And if you think an online or home back-up will save you, you are right-ish: those will extend its 1880 Complaint time-frame, and may make your schedule retrievable, but eventually all those 1s and 0s do nothing for you if the power doesn't come back on soon.
A car
You may think "but I don't have an electric car, my car uses gas," and while that can be true, surprisingly almost all gas stations use electrically powered pumps without a petroleum product powered generator as back-up. Despite the distribution and sale of petroleum products being almost the entire business model of a gas station, they depend on the power being on. This means that in many natural disasters people have been left to abandon their cars and walk, even if they are right next to a gas station that has underground storage tanks full of fuel. That fuel is totally out of reach because the power the station's pumps rely on is not available. Remarkably foolish and tragic: this lack of a generator back-up slowed evacuations after the storm surge knocked out power before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
All communications with screens or microphones involved
Kind of obvious; electrical technology may work during a power outage at first, but eventually telephone and cell phone systems' back-ups will run out of their ability to keep things running if the power grid stays down long term.

As actors, when working on a film or TV set, the production may have brought its own generator and may then be able to keep working without interruption for a time. They may be able to keep filming and "make the day" without the local power grid providing electricity; a set might be 1880 Compliant for some hours. Our work certainly doesn't require electricity to be done, though the systems that capture it and all the people working on the shoot probably will eventually need power from the grid to work well or at all. Plus, if the power went out because of anything that wasn't limited to the power grid (like a storm or other natural disaster) then filming probably stopped for other compelling reasons.

On stage, the show probably won't go on with out the power on; most theatres don't seem to have backup systems to power everything for hours if the power goes out. The light board and sound systems may have backups for their computers, but the lights, lobby and ticketing areas are probably going to go dark and stay dark. Rehearsal might be able to happen, in a park or a space with windows during the day, and auditions maybe could too, but with out the power up, traffic signals and subways probably don't work so getting to a rehearsal or audition might not be possible. A lot of what we do for work doesn't work when the power doesn't.

A corollary I'll mention that I also coined is being 1980 Compliant, meaning working without internet connectivity. The internet wasn't widely adopted until after 1980. Now I'm off to go to an 1880 Compliant in-person meeting ;-).


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Monday, October 17, 2016

David's fight choreography in Peter and the Starcatcher in DC

David co-choreographed the stage combat in
St. Marks Players' Peter and the Starcatcher,
playing through October 22, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Peter and the Starcatcher poster image

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Let's Make a Content!

The world has embraced the word "Content" for much of what we make. But that puts so much emphasis on the container and so much less on the things contained. I am starting to use the word "material" more to myself, to clarify that what we make has value and worth even separated from the container it comes in.

"Material" can be made into stuff. "Content" is bland and emotionally agnostic. My friend Shariq Siddiqui (with whom a conversation today inspired me to actually write out this post, a post that had been tumbling around in my mind for a while now) said, people don't wanna pay for content (even if they'll pay for anything around it). Material makes it sound like...well...material! Maybe we start thinking of our film and TV work as more like material making its way through a digital mill towards the audience. And think of it less like some blank feature-less chunk of content being digitally shipped in uniform shipping-container-like units toward the viewer or user.

But "the medium is the message" rings true in so many instances, so no matter what's said, we all notice the way and place it is being said. But, I connect with the character more than the logos at the start of the show or movie, and I think you do too. That is how we all want it. That is how we expect it to be.

I'm suggesting we don't get bogged down in focusing on the "container," the "pipes," the "screen," or, heaven forbid, the "bucket," and lose sight of the reason those things exist. They were created in the first place to serve content, both to be of service to it and to deliver it. Stories of human life need to be kept somewhere. The people and the stories can live without the containers (ex: live stage performance), but the containers and outlets kind of become pointless without the people and stories.

Not sure we'll find ourselves calling a friend and saying: "let's make a great content!" But whatever we call it, let's make some great things.

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Dependent's Day Release (David is in this movie)

David plays Luke in Dependent's Day (watch it now on iTunes at and it starts its theatrical run Friday (tomorrow), October 7, 2016. To celebrate the opening, there will be a red carpet in LA at 6pm, then everyone will cross the street to the movie theatre tosee the film. Details below.


Red Carpet Pre-Party:
Friday, October 7, 2016
The Federal Bar (across the street from the theatre)
5303 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
google map

Friday, October 7, 2016
7:40pm (note that this is one of the screenings that day,
details on the continuing theatrical run below)
Laemmle Noho 7
5240 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
google map

Limited Theatrical Run:
Laemmle NoHo 7
from October 7-October 13 with showtimes every day at
1pm, 3:10pm, 5:20pm, 7:40pm with Q&A after, 10:15pm
tix now at

Dependent's Day will be on Video On Demand (VOD)
everywhere in North America on October 18th 2016


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Friday, September 16, 2016

Resolution Fetish Is a Blight

It is the crafts-person not the tool. Alicia Robbin's manifesto-like call for us to focus more on the person capturing the image more than the camera system is clear thinking. You can't fixate on the machines and then hope to tell a human story well. Character, story, plot, words, music, spectacle: these are created and shaped by people.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

TV Show Lengths Could change

You're also going to see the clock for linear channels [think broadcast and cable television, traditional television] change dramatically. A show could be 10 minutes, seven minutes, 94 minutes. We just need to tell the stories that need to be told

Says Nancy Dubuc, the President and Chief Executive Officer at A+E Networks (from TV Titans Roundtable: 5 Chiefs Spar Over the Future (and Netflix's Role as Arch-Frenemy)). This suggests that in the not-too-distant future, shows that now are online only could migrate to more traditional TV places. Exciting.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Last Mile

The trailer was riveting, and then it just stopped. The bit of the video that is normally loaded ahead of what you are currently seeing on the screen, the buffer, had gone empty. The pace of the scene, gone, the flow, now missing. Now the player was trying to find the data somewhere online from a machine that wasn't replying fast enough for anyone to watch it. See, people don't realize that it takes time to send things great distances online. And this video player clearly didn't understand it. Or more accurately, it hadn't been designed to load more into the buffer before it started playing, so it wouldn't run dry. And this trailer, and the actors in it, are paying a price for it.

This is the last bit of our work: it getting to the audience. This last bit, "the last mile" as the telecommunications industry calls it, is expensive. In the theatre not so expensive on the day it happens, but may have been in training. In theatre, the last mile is up to us: we find our light and speak clearly and distinctly enough for the last row to hear the words. In film and tv it isn't in our control unless we are the distributor (like when we put our work online ourselves). There are people who dedicate their careers to making sure broadcast tv or movie theatre prints and digital files are technically perfect. And there are engineers who build screens and projectionists who run them to insure our work makes it past this last mile.

But there are other versions of the last mile. Getting things across the finish line, to a point of completion is vital. Get a script into a shareable form, move an edit to a picture-lock status, finish a sound mix, get a project to a point of being finished, meaning it is now in the audience's minds and hearts. If our work doesn't get there, we may as well have just been rehearsing.

An additional side note: there is a reason certain video web sites are as ubiquitous and well known as they are. Well actually there are probably many reasons, but the one I'm focusing on here is this: the site by and large works whenever we, or the audience, go to it. And the site works because they spend a small fortune making sure that last mile is handled well. For instance, one major site once gave $300,000 bonuses to every one of their employees who worked on a system that stores often watched videos on the servers of your internet service provider (basically the machines near what your computer/tablet/phone connects to first) instead of further from you on their own servers in their own data centers. What this means is, if you have any say in how something you are in is going to be shared online, don't fall into thinking the off-brand site with a poorly set up player and network won't kill your project before it's even been born. Use what works. It is sad to see good shows and movies languish and disappear into irrelevance because the last mile was ignored. So please, follow through, and get your projects across the finish line. Otherwise, I fear we are basically hobbyists.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ad: Nightpantz Provides Opportunities for New Filmmakers

Sponsored Post:
Nightpantz is a digital sketch collaborative based in Los Angeles that successfully strives to give artists opportunities to be seen and heard, and they want your help to fund a second year of sketches through their Kickstarter (which launched today). Here is their ballet sketch:

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Money and Fame Are Not the Answer

Yes, they may answer the questions of what to give your landlord, or grocer, and yes it can make certain types of roles easier to book because you've got a demonstrable built-in audience, but you probably didn't become an actor because it is a get-rich-quick scheme or the easiest way to have strangers recognize you and know your name.

Meaning. Meaning is what makes a life closer to a life worth living. Right now I am too busy to write more in depth thoughts here and now, but staying sane is important, and building a good life is more important than building a good career, even as they intertwine. And so I challenge you to take this last weekday of the week, and find something meaningful to pour some of your time, heart and breath into. Do something meaningful to you. Then, have a great weekend (thanks to my friend Heather Fusari for putting me onto the video).

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Have Fun Fighting For It

Every time you make a film you should be prepared to descend into Hell and wrestle it from the claws of the Devil himself. -Werner Herzog

Any project can go into turnaround (stop moving toward production and release) at any time. Any project can suddenly, and without warning, transform so significantly it is hard to call it the same project anymore. Life can change in an instant. And there is no going back.

There isn't any rewind button on stage any more than there is in life. Film seduces with the promise of do-overs, but as I once did on a pilot, you can hear them say, "moving on," "we got it," or "new deal," after only one take and realize that one take is all the editor will have of you to choose from (happily, my worry was unneeded: I'd done well, and since my character was named Winchell, one of the other actors started calling me, "one-take Winchell" as a compliment that helped knock me out of my actor-insecurity moment).

Life happens in the now. Breathe, commit to what is happening this moment, and have fun. After all, that is part of why we choose this, right? (Herzog quote from Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog on doing what you love and his advice to those heading into the world of film.)

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Nose to Spite Face

I'm so glad that [film or tv show] did poorly at the box office/got canceled, because I have written/am attached to something very similar to it...

And what, they were stealing your thunder? No. They weren't. They were the example your business plan could've used to justify people giving you their money to make your thing. A rising tide raises all ships. Cheering the failure of anything in media or entertainment is hard to not put squarely into the category of bitterness.

Sure, we all have shows or projects we aren't personally fans of, or that didn't reach their potential or we otherwise just don't like. But keep your negative comments to yourself. Not only do they make your own projects less possible (self-interest), and they also may offend anyone who touched the project (common politeness) who you may want to hire you, recommend you or fund you, but also: feeding the negative, giving complaints your voice, and maybe even your online platforms and name, make your world worse, make it more sad and less positive (your quality of life).

Sure, maybe thus and such a project falls sort of its potential, and misses the mark artistically. Learn from it and hope they make their money back so everyone has a chance, including you and your friends, to make more stuff. I saw one too many people on my social media feeds today cheering projects' failures, failures that translate into other people's lost jobs, lost income and artistic heartbreak. Be nice.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SAG, AFTRA Health Plans Could Merge by January

The SAG and AFTRA health plans, whose still-separate status four years after the two actors unions merged has remained a major irritant, are expected to merge by January 2017, said an AFTRA plan trustee Friday.
There is underway a merger of the health plans, said Disney/ABC labor vp Marc Sandman at a UCLA law school panel. There is an expectation that it will be complete as of January next year

(from SAG, AFTRA Health Plans Expected to Merge by January, Says Trustee, thanks to Ben Whitehair for bringing it to my attention).

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