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 to 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 a 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 just have 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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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Being a Clerk

We can be an order taker, or we can create something. Delivering what we're asked for as an actor, without any unique artistry is doable, and you only have to turn on a TV or watch some movies to see it being done. There's nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with delivering as asked, as expected.

There is nothing particularly right with it either. Don't get me wrong, paying your bills and getting hired again is important. But so is taking pride and doing great work, not just good work, but great work. Our goal isn't just to do a solid job, it is to do more, more than we can plan or design. Could be tapping into or connecting to a universal force of inspiration, the muses, the divine. Whatever it is, it isn't incompatible with delivering as promised.

Like anything anyone creates, it can be good, or somehow more than average, better than normal, and therefore somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Making anything, there can be workmanship skill, craft and art, not merely competence. It doesn't mean be reckless or unguided, but means to be un-mundane.

There is only one single February 17th, 2016 in the history of the universe. What can you do to make it special, important, something worth experiencing, doing more than just surviving until the 18th. Whether it is doing a day job well, really well, or folding laundry with deft precision, or maybe grocery shopping with clarity to literally nourish yourself, or as on the job as picking up a glass in the clearest way, or saying "hello" in character in a way that speaks volumes, we can do well today. Let's do well. Let's try failing well and be proud of our work, not just because the checks clear and the phone rings again.

(thanks to Chet Grissom for bringing Ethan Hawke Remembers Robin Williams' Acting Advice to my attention.)

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Friday, February 05, 2016

You Are the Insurance Policy

The default of the world is to resist our efforts.

I'm frustrated at how much trouble it is to get my movies made.

The film/s I'm in is/are stalled in post.

I can't seem to get my script read, let alone sold.

We spend our professional lives in a creative industry, meaning an industry that makes things that don't exist before we and our colleagues make them exist. This means there are a great many forces against us and or work.

This is not a complaint, it's an observation. Much of the universe tends toward chaos and loss of energy: literally the fabric of the universe cools and slowly winks out of existence (Google "entropy" for more on this). So we should not be surprised when circumstances seem to conspire toward messing up our plans:

  1. to do what we intend for an audition, including get there on time,
  2. to have the set we are working on run smoothly with all people, equipment and stuff present and fully functional, including the video and audio files not getting corrupted, effectively destroying half a days work,
  3. to connect with other like-minded, effective and talented people to collaborate with, including have your txt message not say it was "delivered" to them without actually arriving on their device,
  4. to do anything necessary to accomplish what we like to think of as our professional tasks*.

We think our role is only to be an assistant storyteller, to portray the character, and though our acting bring it to life. But that is not our only task:

* we are the insurance policy our employer took out, to get our part of the production done no matter what; even when the unexpected happens, when all plans fall apart and everything seems hopelessly chaotic and lost, we do our jobs anyway, we play our part anyway and make our characters happen anyway.

We are paid because a robot or computer cannot handle "exceptions," they cannot manage the unforeseen or accidental. They give us money because we can react to chaos in a productive way. Our job exists because a sequence of instructions cannot do it. Not only is film acting often strongest when it is accidental behavior caught on film, not only are we the squishy and is our job largely in a sense about facing uncertainty with courage, but we can expect our expectations to be wildly fallen short of. We can plan to have all our plans go awry.

For it may be that when everything has gone "wrong," when everything has gone horribly badly, that is it then that we are actually earning our keep. Our ability to persist, problem solve and prevail in the face of anything the world presents us is _exactly_ why someone decided to give us some of their treasure in the first place.

Like all other forms of insurance, our employers will hopefully look back on the projects we are part of (that fortune has smiled on) and think, "it seems calamity never came and since everything went exactly as we hoped or better, we didn't need any contingency plans after all." We are their contingency: in the event that machines can only capture our work and not do it for us, then we are the solution. We bring the emotion, humanity and life that nothing else can.

Our job is to feel bad, our task is to embrace and live in:

When reversals and frustrations come, it is just a return to the status quo: something new is not being created as we hoped it could be.

Many jobs and careers exist solely to address when things go wrong. Lots of people's work life is only about when pre-planned goals remain unrealized despite past action. They have jobs just focused on being able to put things back together when they fall apart. A cardiologist has little to do if if all hearts remained healthy on their own. So too us. We are here to insure the status quo cannot survive. Our goal is to help make change happen.

The status quo uses inertia and a myriad of things to stop us, to stop any creative endeavor, to foil all progress. Our job, the reason we are being employed, is to step into the fray, move into the chaos and dwindling energy supplies and animate a made up person. And in so doing we help tell a story.

In fact, in the process of making things, the process of creating, the only insurance against all that would defeat us is us.

Our job isn't just to do our work despite setbacks, our job is to handle the setbacks. Our characters fight for what they want and don't yet have. That lack is what drives them. Without the obstacles there may be no story. Without problems in our job, there is no need for us to have been hired to solve them. If there are no problems, it is an unexpected easy day. Sort of like how our job is to audition and the bookings are our vacations. When problems do appear, just think, "ah, yes, this is why I have a job, to push back against this."

Ridiculous problems and absurd setbacks are the whole point of our position. The reason we're here is to handle the stuff no one would design or deliberately build in, and try to get the problem solved anyway. We are the bulwark against the universal trend toward loss and disorder. We're here to insure action is taken against a world that will defeat us if it can, and sometimes will. But whether we reach our aim or not, our task is the pursuit. In short: our job is to act.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

David in The Thanksgiving Experience

David was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, the film won Best Acting Ensemble and was nominated for 10 awards total, including Best of, for the Los Angeles 48 Hour Holiday Film Project. David had the chance to work with extremely talented cast and filmmakers on The Thanksgiving Experience. It was shot over the course of just 2 days, from idea to finished film. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What's Old Is New Again: Antitrust

70 years ago, movie studios could own movie theatres. And they did. They could fill them with whatever films they wanted, like their own movies they made themselves. The ownership of everything from the beginning of the production all the way through the final sale to the end consumer (vertical integration) means lots of money and control. Never letting any competition in, or dictating terms to them, can be good for your short term bottom line.

In 1948, in US v. Paramount, the Supreme Court said it was no longer ok for studios to own the theatres too. That's why today they by and large don't. Or do they:

Giant-screen specialist IMAX Corp. is joining the content creation party, and will be generating its own movies and other programming in the near future, the company’s entertainment chief executive officer Greg Foster said Wednesday.
With the digital explosion creating countless new streaming platforms, there has been a rush to fill the content void by media firms and companies better known in other sectors, like online retailer Amazon.com and Marriott Hotels

(from IMAX Theaters to Expand Into Movie Production).

I'm not saying that making a handful of films to fill holes in programing is at all anti-competitive, nor it is likely to run into the Department of Justice's lawyers taking any action. It does suggest an interesting possibility for distribution in general: does a company (like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) making the show and owning the distribution channel it is released on seem similar to a movie studio owning theatres? Right now it's an academic thought; there is still a great deal of competition between these players and the vast majority of their new offerings were not made in house, at least not yet.

It isn't just me looking at such things, and according to the Wall Street Journal, as recently as June the government was still moving forward on whether the largest chains are already crossing antitrust lines:

Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the nation's two largest movie theater chains, have received formal inquiries from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, signaling growing government scrutiny of a tactic large theater operators commonly use to keep movies out of competing locations.

If the coming months and years result in consolidation in theatres and/or online outlets, maybe the anti-competitive possibilities will require more attention. Right now though, it just makes for an interesting show.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Objective Good

Aside from the state of being alive, there are very few things that are objectively good, if in fact any are. I'm talking about more than things seeming good or being good, I'm getting more at judgements that lead us to believe something is unflinchingly good or bad, and what we do about it. It is 3am and this may not make much sense in the light of day.

I'd hazard a guess that 95% of the things we have chosen to call good, and then acted as if they were, had little to no intrinsic, undeniable "good" in them. But we somehow felt or thought it useful to call them "good." We judge so very much not merely in terms of does it serve some purpose or reach toward a goal. In a thousand little and big almost invisible assumptions about "goodness" we accept and reject elements of reality as we encounter them.

This may court or shun things, people and situations. Almost as if our thoughts build our world and lives by pushing our attention toward some things and by blinding us to others. There is a major world religion that by and large says our thoughts make reality.

Sometimes our characters do this categorizing into "good" and "bad." They build themselves little internal cages that become their prisons: they trap themselves in expectations and assumptions. It can make sense when they do. Putting a value judgement on things makes it easier to insulate oneself from the actual complicated and nuanced world. Why deal with the vague and not-always-readily-obvious-realities when it can become this simple:

  1. Assess all things, people and situations you already know or encounter and label them either good or bad.
  2. Move toward the things labeled "good" and away from the things labeled "bad."
  3. repeat steps 1 to 3

So much simpler and less scary than actually connecting with each moment honestly and completely as they happen (and connecting with each thing and person in those moments). It is also a form of death-while-living: in exchange for promising freedom from pain and uncertainty, it demands only a subtle but complete disconnect from one's own life.

Being vulnerable and connected to one's own life is arguably the only way to be present and actually live life, as opposed to watching oneself living life. Does Hamlet stay in the moment? Not a whole lot one could interpret. Hamlet bemoans his situation and only swiftly addresses the central issues of the play once he already knows he is literally a walking dead man. Do we stay in the moment? No, often distraction, stress and compromise between contrasting goals leads us to shield ourselves from genuinely experiencing all of the emotional realities of a moment as they unfold.

It can a useful defense that keeps us alive; admiring the beauty of a lion's run as it angrily charges you may well be the last thing you ever do if you can't put that aside long enough to avoid being killed. However, similarly closing oneself to fully seeing the truth, in an important relationship in our lives for instance, may not only not protect us, but may actually allow far more harm and heartache into our life than fully recognizing reality ever could.

[Truth has a habit of being impervious to our wishes and immune to our opinions. Without launching into too much weird hair-splitting, I think you can almost say that one of truth's defining attributes is that it is not subject to whim. Not sure if such an objective truth becomes one and the same with objective reality, a reality that exists regardless of whether we think it does or not, but it seems like objective good would have to somehow interact with object realities and objective truths.]

So being alive may be an only objectively good thing because of its opposite. The opposite of being alive is the ultimate lack of options, dearth of possibilities. And possibility is the substance of the future, and each moment of everyday we make possibilities real.

It is tempting to translate this into something actionable for all of us by saying, "be alive," but that feels like a bit of weak direction, like a director saying, "be angrier." Instead, I think the objective for all of us, in work and life, may be "keep going." I'll close this late night blog post (please forgive any errors and rambling-ness) with a quote I've heard attributed to Tracy McMillan:

Everything works out in the end. If it hasn't worked out yet, then it's not the end.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Be Good to Yourself

Decide this minute to never again beg anyone for the love, respect, and attention that you should be showing yourself

(from 7 Things You Should Stop Expecting from Others).

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

99-Seat Theaters to Pay Minimum Wage

National leaders of Actors' Equity Assn. on Tuesday imposed a $9 hourly minimum wage for members who perform in Los Angeles County theaters with fewer than 100 seats...
The minimum wage for rehearsals and performances will take effect June 1, 2016, for scores of theater companies that already work under the 99-Seat Theater Plan. For decades that plan has required only token payments for actors when they perform - and nothing when they rehearse.
New producers who want to hire union actors will have to start paying the minimum wage immediately.
Backers of the wage hike argued that acting deserves the dignity of a minimum wage, and union leaders said they were responding to complaints from the L.A. rank and file about poor pay

(from Actors' Equity imposes $9 minimum wage on L.A.'s 99-seat theaters).

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