Sunday, February 01, 2015

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Agents and managers, when should you stay and when should you go? An actor was sharing concern that their current representation wasn't getting them auditions, let alone bookings. These are some off-the-cuff comments I made about when to stay with an agent or manager, and when to go:

You are not alone in having encountered a rep with whom you are not effective right now. Oftentimes an ineffective rep is worse for an actor than having no rep; it can keep the actor from seeking, or being seeked out by, a rep with whom the actor will have more bookings and progress in their career. One of the best decisions I've made was once to part company with an ineffective rep once. This is anecdotal, and I did have moments or concern and near panic during the short period I had no rep afterwards, but then connected with reps that were world-class at what they did. Sometimes making room for something better is better than trying to redeem or build something that simply cannot grow well.
That said, trying to rejuvenate, and improve an existing relationship can make a world of difference. Often the rep may not be thrilled with results either. Perhaps a good, honest discussion of what you can do, together and individually, to make your work together more successful, can fix things. The true challenge is knowing when to work on it, and when to go elsewhere. Hindsight will be perfect, but best educated and reasoned guess can be the effective decision. Best of luck!

Please comment with your ideas and thoughts on when to stay with, and when to run from, an agent or manager.


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Friday, January 23, 2015

Scammer Called Out

Me: Hello?
Other person: Hi, I'm [name removed to protect the guilty]. I'm from ['agency' name], and we'd like you to come to our auditions. We're having auditions at [theatre name] on thus and such a date and time, and we'd like you to come in.
Me: Sounds great!
Other person: Okay. And please bring your headshot and resume.
Me: Great, looking forward to it. See you then...
Other person: And we're asking actors to bring $10 as a donation to [name of alleged non-profit charity] to perform.
Me: ...
(I look up the alleged charity's form 990, a tax form charities must file. I find nothing.)
Me: Thank you for inviting me. I'm not finding [name of alleged non-profit charity]'s form 990, so because of the fee charged, I will not be attending.
Other person: (Launches into rant insulting me, protesting way too much: they know they are doing a bad thing.)

This is inspired by an actual exchange I had a few years ago on email. Actors never have to pay money upfront to honest agents and managers. Representatives make a percentage of the money you are paid for work.


Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer on Friday announced the launch of a new campaign aimed at warning aspiring actors and entertainers of scams in which managers and agents seek upfront payments and other fees for representation.

(from LA Officials Announce Crackdown on Agent and Manager Talent Scams). Be careful out there.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Universe Conspires in Your Favor

Whoever is born of sound mind has been naturally intended by Heaven for honest work and some kind of life. Whoever, therefore, wishes Heaven to be nice to him, will go after this work and this kind of life, and doggedly pursue it. For Heaven favors things it has itself begun. You were made by Nature for this purpose beyond anything else. What you do from your tender years on, what you talk about, mold, fit, dream, imitate, what you try very often, what you can do easily, what you are most of all good at, what you love beyond all else, what you would be unwilling to leave - this is clearly what Heaven, and the Rector of Heaven bore for you. To this extent therefore, Heaven will favor your beginnings, and will smile on your life.

- Marcillo Ficino, physician, The Book of Life, 1485

Peter Skagen sent me an advance reader copy of his book How to Succeed in Hollywood without really Acting and it opens with this, which felt very good to read. Have a wonderful New Years!


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pain and Motivation

Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit however, it will last forever

(from Sydney Blu - Motivate). Part of our job is to feel bad. In exchange, we get fulfillment others only dream of. Hard to remember in the throws of whatever inconvenience or even real loss and hardship we may encounter.

Especially as the stress of the holiday season is upon us, remember: it is temporary. Good stress, what scientists call eustress, is experienced by our bodies virtually identically to how our bodies experience bad stress, what they call distress. The body does not physically discern between distress or eustress (according to Jon Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living). So remember, when good and great things happen be gentle with yourself just as you are when bad things happen.

Either way, our jobs demand we endure more than typical stress, so it makes sense if, like me the last couple days, you have been feeling a bit stressed. Exercise, relaxation, meditation, and anything else that helps you diffuse stress is probably a good idea, in general, and specifically when things get hectic. Wendy Braun has an audio meditation specifically for actors to have peaceful holiday gatherings, which I'm listening to as I write this.

And remember: we are supposed to have fun, it's part of our job. So enjoy the season, and hope you have a great rest of your day (he says as he plans how to have a good day himself).


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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

TV Financing Is Getting Creative

We see an opportunity to make content that does not necessarily fit the studio model.

(from The Unique New Way for TV Shows to Get Financed, thanks to Aaron Kaiser for pointing me to the article).

Before you ask what does this have to do with me, I'm an actor remember that this is how we get paid too; actor salaries come from the financing. Plus, if you ever want to produce something yourself it is more than indirectly your business how things get financed. Different business models for the projects we do mean different types of projects become possible.

Right now, most network television (as in broadcast, which in the US means ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) is made with the need to hit certain ratings. Those ratings are what the advertisers were promised by the networks back when the ads were sold to them. If a show's ratings go below certain numbers, then the network has to refund money the advertisers paid. That can sometimes make certain plots or premises seem like a bad idea; they can't risk losing audience. If they do, then the network has to write a check they really don't want to write.

Shows for other markets, like cable or internet, typically don't have the same guarantee of ratings: networks usually promise certain minimum numbers when they presell ads in May for shows that starting airing in September. Internet and premium channels typically don't manage their ad inventories that way. Networks configure themselves and their business to make big expensive shows. Non-broadcast venues don't.

That means that non-broadcast networks usually don't have to capture the attention of quite so many viewers, and therefore can sometimes do riskier material, they can risk having a smaller audience. Or at least they can take more risks with the material because the financial obligations are not as huge. For non-ad supported TV (think pay channels like HBO and Showtime, and some internet platforms) the number of viewers in ratings may not only not be the key to keeping things financially afloat, but ratings may not even get publicly shared (like House of Cards on Netflix).

Show business has historically almost always used the gathering of people together to sell them things as its basic business model, whether it was the show itself, or the products and services sold near it. But with the fragmentation of today's audience into different groups, and the explosion of new outlets and technologies makes more diverse types of shows possible because of these new forms of financing. These new versions of the business model mean we can have new forms of entertainment. News that causes some people anxiety: we can't just do business the way we always used to. But the good news for everyone: new things can thrive.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Setting Limits on Yourself

It's a mistake to set limits on yourself; life will do that whether you like it or not. A successful life must be determined by one's attitude. In a favorite phrase of my brother Ed, "We live between our ears." Sermon over.

- James Cagney


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If a Film Falls In the Forest

But no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Maybe, but it certainly won't entertain anyone, nor get anyone paid, and certainly won't lead to more work for everyone who worked on it like it could have.

5 steps of film:

  1. development,
  2. preproduction,
  3. production,
  4. post-production,
  5. marketing/distribution.

Most of our acting lives are in the third, maybe bits of rehearsal in the second, or ADR in the fourth. But even as actors, we do press and such in the fifth, and in the first, our attachment can get the funding going. But, without marketing and distribution, it never gets seen. And that is not good. If you won't do the 5th, don't do any of it. Better to quit before starting. Otherwise, it's a waste of resources, time and heartache for something that will never see the light of day, something that won't really exist in a sense. Film without an audience is rehearsal.

We may not produce, but even if it is only when we self-tape an audition, we are making film. Improving our work is something I think we should always work to do. Not just the externals like figuring out better lighting for self-taped auditions (something I am gently working on), but also how we turn a phrase, pursue a goal, break down a scene or a speech, basically everything in how we act.

I was inspired to start writing this because a project (that I was not involved with) is not finding an audience. It had, and has, great potential. It is not fun to see so much held back by so little. It has completely ignored the final step. It had no plan for how to get seen, sold, or distributed. (note: if you think I'm referring to your project, let's just assume I'm not because you're awesome, I'm awesome, and I wouldn't do that.)

Witnessing this makes me want to cheer film people (including us actors) to get stuff done. Bring things to points of completion. Writing a script for a short/web series/feature/whatever? Get a draft into shareable condition. Working on a web series that doesn't yet have the footage it needs? Choose a day, book out with reps, and get that material shot. Have the footage but the edit and post is dragging on and on? Bring it to the finish line. Have a project that hasn't yet found an audience? Take the time, money and effort and get it out there. And if you don't know how, find out how.

Improve every day. There is a boundary between those 5 steps of film-making that is worth reaching. To do otherwise is to risk activity without accomplishment. I haven't done it as much as I'd like, but I'm getting better at it. Getting better at it is worth it. It isn't the end of your life if somehow something ends up abandoned. But as much as we can, let's avoiding sinking all sorts of time, money and energy into things that don't "go." Also good to mourn as effectively as possible if the wheels do come off, a project goes into turn around or free-fall. We'll have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and take the next bold step, whatever that is. Speaking of, I'm off to commit a scene from a film (teaser trailer) that has been rattling around in my head, to paper. Have a happy Wednesday!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Inspiration

I wanted some inspiration today, and I found these:

The best acting is instinctive. It's not intellectual, it's not mechanical, it's instinctive.

- Craig MacDonald

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

- Stella Adler

Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.

- Meryl Streep

That's what makes acting so attractive. You get to break all your own rules.

- Gerardine Clark

I'm a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I've any talent is beside the point.

- Michael Caine


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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bad Rep or No Rep

Your team, the people you are surrounded by, can make a huge difference. But remember, your reps are not the center of your career. Can be tempting to focus all your energy on getting a rep. Try to remember: you didn't move to LA to get an agent. You're here to act, to book work.

Having a rep feels like it solves a problem, when it really may not. The right rep is vital. Having the right rep can really help things, but it's better to have no rep than the wrong rep. Bad representation is worse than none.


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Monday, July 21, 2014

There Is No Competition

Your roles are yours, no one else's. Their roles are their's, and never to be yours. No one is competition for you. The closest there will ever be to any competition for you isn't even you now. It is only who you were yesterday.

Who you were yesterday is the only competition you can ever have. Do you get better? Sure, you can spend time navel gazing and imagining the role that you want to think would've been yours, if only... fill in the blank. But that changes nothing and gives you no way to make things better, to make them more as you want them to be.

It is like worry, focusing on competition feels like doing something without actually doing anything. A better question: are you better at what you do than you were yesterday? If yes, even in some small way, then great, good job, you're doing it right. If no, then look to tomorrow, and do things better then.

The past cannot be changed. Crying over spilt milk, or roles un-booked, or anything that didn't go as you wanted it to will never clean up the milk, book the role or make things go as you would want them to. Is crying sometimes needed, unavoidable and even healthy and useful? Yes. But worth finding how to cry without washing away the next chance, the next opportunity in tears. The future is an unwritten book.

Improve. That, simply improving, is how things get better. Results may not materialize when you like or at a pace you'd choose. But let that be their problem. Improve what you do. And then improve it more. Progress is progress no matter how small or big. Focus on your work, your energy, your growth and health and improve how you do what you do. That's how things will get better.

Things do get better. Sometimes immediately, sometimes very slowly, and sometimes seemingly not at all and then in a big rush. However good things arrive, let them worry about the timetable, your worry will make nothing outside of you change for the better, or speed up. Your focus and energy, put where you can make things better, will.

Compete against who you have been, not who you wish or want to be, and you can go to where you'd like. It is unavoidable. It makes the moment now, the present, where everything that ever happens occurs, deserve your focus. Even when it is unpleasant. Live in the moment you are in right now.

Competition is a compelling lie that doesn't help in the now. Stay in the moment, and improve. That's how you get there. And you will get there, wherever there is.

The best way to succeed in life is usually to not process any sort of competition. If you don't know or care that 50,000 people are competing for some job you like, you're probably going to do better. You're probably going to have a clearer focus on your presentation and on phrasing your cover letter [or the role you are playing] just so, instead of lying awake at night...

(from Down With America's Kid-Competition Complex and thanks to Chloe Bridges for putting me onto it).


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Don't Feel Ready

You can do it. So can I. No matter what it is. But I don't always feel like it. And it is no fun. I like feeling like I can do something before I actually am doing it. A feeling of mastery is nice, really nice. And can feed confidence. But it doesn't always seem to visit as often as we (or at least I) would like.

Multiple characters in David Mamet movies have said "whatever one man can do another can do," and it is true all for men and women. You can, and maybe even already are, doing it. You still may not feel like it.

Sometimes things can feel bad without being bad. It can be a feeling, without being a fact. A corollary to things feeling good independently of whether they are good.

You will NEVER feel ready.
No matter how successful or experienced you become, when you are stepping up your game, it is uncomfortable.
If it were comfortable or easy, we could all become our most amazing fabulous selves from the comfort of our couch (and our pajamas).
But if you're ready to step it up a level and embrace your highest self, you are not going to feel ready.
It's just the way it is

(from I'm not ready).

You need not be perfect, you need only to be. Be what you are. You are enough. And your work, without being "ready" can be great. Your characters aren't ready. But they find themselves where they are, fighting for what they want, and what they need nonetheless. Do, whether you feel ready or not, act anyway. Know that you are ready, whether it feels like it or not. Take the leap, you are ready.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

You Only Can Do What You Can Do

It would be nice to be able to do everything, all the time, and do it extremely well. This isn't possible. Optimal is a word with meaning because there are things it does not describe. Many things may be optimal at a given moment:

And when these (or other things) are not optimal it is easy to fall into frustration and anger. Maybe we aren't able to focus as much as we'd like due to lack of sleep. Avoiding short changing your sleep in the future is good, but there is still nothing you can do to add to the 4 hours of sleep you are now functioning on today.

So, breathe. Do the best you can, and let that be enough. Be ok with doing the best you can right now. You are enough. The best you can muster right now is enough. Acting on the urge to judge yourself harshly for not doing your "best" or not being "perfect" comes from somewhere understandable and makes a big assumption:

I don't know what is "best" in my work at every instant, and I submit neither do you, and neither does the audience. No one knows what is "best" at any given moment; we only have ideas. Nobody knows anything. There is no perfect in the actual world we all live in.

Do the best you can in the moment. That is your task. It is that simple, even if it isn't easy. And accomplishing it is one part of success.

Maybe you're injured or sick, then do the role and play the scene as best you can while injured or sick. In the first Indiana Jones movie, Harrison Ford was scheduled to shoot a fight scene in which he was to use his whip to disarm a swordsman, at least that is how it was scripted. But he had food poisoning and he was too ill to do the stunt. Ford says, I was no longer capable of staying out of my trailer for more than it took to expose a role of film, which was 10 minutes, and then I would have to flee back there for sanitary facilities. He suggested filming "shooting the sucker" instead of filming the planned fight. They shot it, and an iconic scene and great character moment were born.

Food poisoning meant he couldn't do some ideal, pre-planned idea, and by just doing what he could do (and with creative flexibility on the part of the director and crew) something possibly better was made.

So if you're stressed, take a moment, breathe, refocus, and simply do what you can do. That's enough.

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How to Launch a Video - Intro to Video Uploading

I wrote this as a guest post for We Make Movies' blog:

How to Launch a Video - Intro to Video Uploading

Just putting a video online does not guarantee it will get seen by the people who would love to see it. The internet is not a "if you build it, they will come" place, at least it isn't anymore. As of today, the largest video site has more than a 100 hours worth of video getting uploaded every minute. That's more than 4 days of new videos every minute. And that's one site. And that amount is only going up in the future. How can you help your show, short, reel, or anything standout among the ocean of videos? How do you help your video get seen? This is an overview, an intro to online video best practices.

Read the rest of this post on We Make Movies' blog.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Series Finales Disappoint and Which End with a Bang?

(from Philippe Julien's twitter). Thought this was somewhat interesting on a Thursday afternoon. Keep in mind, this includes many factors that don't directly have to do with the shows themselves, like the marketing and world events that could impact ratings.


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shakespeare's Language in Lines from The Tempest

This is an old college paper of mine about some lines from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. It was written for a specific class as part of a specific curriculum, so please forgive any not-suited-for-internet or other weaknesses as simply being academic; it wasn't made to be here. I don't know if it makes sense to put this here in the first place, but I'm trying it out.

Note: Please don't plagiarize, it would make me feel bad, get you expelled from school and or imprisoned for copyright infringement. But mainly, it would be rude.


Prospero's speech beginning with Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, through [h]ave I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up in act five scene one serves to invoke the assistance of the supernatural and lead to Prospero's magic retirement, the restoration scene and the play's resolution. The first line's assonance is almost the sound of the wind, which the words say later. The plosive "b" of brooks followed quickly by the "g" in groves suggest bass, low pitch combined with the double "o" that follows, and is counterpoint to the "el" of the start of the line. The pitch shift fits in the words as Prospero speaks of nature pervasively, in all the nooks and crannies of the world, both high and low. The poetry of the verse, sonically and with images, is a calm within the storm of the play, a play paced to happen in real-time in front of the audience.

The juxtaposition of "masters" and "mutinous" deals with master-slave relationships. Some linguists theorize that "m" sounds commonly occur in words about mothers, or origins. The theory is that to make the sound, one puts the mouth in the configuration of a baby nursing. It may be a bit far-fetched, but connects to the genesis of the play: the master of a dukedom, Prospero, was removed through political mutiny at his brother's hands, tearing him and his child from their motherland. Prospero, possibly too wrapped up in his books to prevent his overthrow by attending to affairs of state, was a "weak master." He now recounts how he is overthrowing his usurper. While communing with the spirits and forces that have brought him toward restoration, he echoes his own deposition.

The recurring sea imagery, and the actual sailing vessel that opens the play with "boatswain," interconnects these lines with "mutinous." During the one appearance of the concrete title character, the tempest itself, the king demands obedience and compliance of the "boatswain" in the presence of his "master" the king. The king is quickly told that his presence, in face of nature, is hardly relevant. The antithetical presence of mutiny and mastery in the opening of the play is the same conceptual fuel for these lines and the initial breach that sent Prosero and his daughter to exile. Prospero's use of mastery and mutiny allow him to restore everyone by the end. Prospero is Duke again, the union of Milan and Naples will be a blessed marriage and not an illegal overthrow, Ariel is free, Caliban can rule the island as his, and the rebels against the king are diffused. Control and rebellion appear throughout and in these lines connect Prospero's first goodbye to his magic arts to these ideas of control and freedom that permeate much of the play.

Unstressed syllables at the end of the lines begin to address the ocean and storm. These trochees make the verse shift, fluidly like water, as the imagery builds. Later in the speech this becomes the undoing of the instrument of the tempest, using the clipped "I'll break my staff", ending with a fricative that sounds like air being let out. Almost deflating the master of the elements Prospero, and starting his transition, his sea change, from island sorcerer to the man he was in Milan. These simple syllables serve the overall theme of transition and personal change that so turns the play and so many characters in it.

The vowels of "rifted Jove's stout oak" groan following the repeated sounds of "ay" and make a tempo change. It also sets up the staccato ignition of the fire with the roar of the flames. The next line elongates these groans and next line's parallel "have I" construction echoes this staccato followed by legato pattern. This pattern also mirrors the pace of much of the play: many actions followed by periods of exposition. The pattern not only helps keep an audience from rhythmic boredom, but it's also a rhythm of a tempest. Perhaps the rhythm of a day, hours awake followed by restful sleep. Characters often sleep and wake at Prospero's discretion, but this alternation of pace may support the magical powers Prospero is stepping away from more than the sleep patterns he gives people. The pattern is almost trance-like. The break from Italian society, and reconnection with it are the bookends of the play. Magic, trances and the art of illusion fill the space between these bookends. A "di di di di, dah dah dah dah" style rhythm like a shaman's trance or spell infuse the sound of these words with that magic feeling. Reflecting the first scene of the play, and the Tempest itself, these lines move Prospero toward laying down his magic arts.

Shakespeare adapts or borrows these lines from Goulding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and possibly the original Latin. In Ovid the lines are Medea's. She invokes spirits to exact her revenge and, from her perspective, uses her magic art to set things right. She addresses her internal spiritual life in these lines before striking out in the external, concrete world. Prospero reflects and bids farewell to the magic arts he has used to control his subjects Ariel and Caliban, and used to deceive his former enemies on the island. He addresses his internal spiritual life in these lines before setting those he has mastered free and burying the hatchet with his enemies.

Unlike the Shakespeare's source material, in The Tempest this speech begins the fifth act's journey toward non-violent restoration. These lines begin Prospero stepping away from his magic, and his anger, and moves toward peaceful resolution and setting things right for the future. This coming restoration replaces the illusions with actual truth for everyone except Prospero. He seems to have learned the reality of responsibility to his people, in Milan and the island, before this, and no longer needs his magic arts to learn it. Prospero ends the master-slave relationships between himself and both Ariel and Caliban, releasing and acknowledging as his responsibility for Caliban. Up to this point in the play he has treated Caliban as more of a slave than ward. Prospero also completes the reconciliation of the breach between Milan and Naples replacing it with a sanctified marriage.

Prospero gets himself congruent with the magical forces he has used. Without committing to set aside his art, he may not be able to do make the restoration happen; without addressing what he is setting aside, what he has done, and what was done to him, he cannot move toward the conclusion; he cannot move forward. He used magic to set right the wrongs of his and his daughter's exile. Prospero speaks to the internal, spiritual parts of his world here before he reconciles with the external, human elements of his world. He begins addressing his inside life in these lines, and broadens into dealing directly with his outside life to resolve the play, close the breakage of the usurpation and finish the play.

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back. You demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites. And you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrumps, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew, by whose aid
(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war. To the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt. The strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up

Shakespeare, William (2006-04-20). The Tempest (The Annotated Shakespeare). Yale University Press - A. Kindle Edition.

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