Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sound & the Furious

Sound: Yesterday I got another very L.A. experience. My former neighbor, who is a composer and does the music for one of the hottest shows on television, invited me to watch a studio session as he recorded a score for the show. Of course, I said yes and as he showed me around the studio, I saw gold records from many of the rock icons of my youth. Classic albums such as Motley Crue's Girls, Girls, Girls and Guns 'N Roses' Use Your Illusion I were recorded in the same studio.

It was really interesting to see him (and his dozen or so amazing studio musicians) work. David had composed the music in advance and the musicians (all strings: violins, violas, cellos, bass) were seeing it for the first time. And it was amazing how few takes it took to get it the way David wanted. They would play it, he would make a couple adjustments, they would play it again, and that would be it. Man, musicians/composers/musically talented people in general just amaze me...

The Furious: Me. Well, not really furious. But, today was one of those days that can be a little demoralizing. First of all, the extras casting director from that project I have been working on was upset that I couldn't make one of the days upcoming since I had another commitment. Never mind that I hadn't been asked before to 'set aside' that day or the fact that last time I was asked to set aside days for him - 15 of them in fact - I worked exactly 2, having to give up other jobs during that time since I was 'on-call.' I know out here the ideal is the "career extra" so you can work background all day everyday, day or night, without any pesky things like getting notice, or auditions, classes or ACTING ambitions of any kind. So, the sooner I can actually get some work, the sooner I can stop worrying about angering an extras casting director because I --gasp! -- actually want to act.

Then, I had a meeting with a very good agency, and it just didn't really go well. My reading was okay but at least 2 standard deviations worse than I had just done it out in the hallway... Sigh, it was good experience anyway, and hopefully I can take what I learned into my next meeting -- should I be lucky enough to get another one...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's Shakin'?

After getting home at 7 a.m. and sleeping for a couple hours, I was outside checking my mail before I was to leave for an audition. As I closed the mailbox (affixed to the outside of my house), the ground beneath me started moving, and for a moment I thought it was something to do with the construction going on above me. But, I looked up and EVERYTHING was moving. The house, all 3 stories of bricks towering above me, was swaying back and forth. It was a "spinning room" feeling - vertigo! There was a distinct rolling feeling, too, which my neighbor, Rebecca, summed up perfectly when she described it "as if the ground is on a skateboard." It was an intense, but not an altogether unpleasant, experience though I'm glad it didn't last longer than the ten or so seconds it went on for...

Audition for a Toyota Tundra commercial - essentially blue-collar guys holding the impressive Tundra truck parts.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Breakfast at Six -- P.M., That Is...

I worked Friday night/Saturday morning from about 6 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., and it's one of those funny on-set conventions: the first meal, no matter what time is "breakfast," the second is "lunch." So although it was Mexican food and salad, the first meal they gave us was indeed breakfast. And lunch was served at 1:15 a.m...

From a tip by a friend, I found a movie theatre nearby that allows free entry with a SAG card - whoo-hoo! And not just free for me, but free for a guest, too. I guess I found where I'll be seeing most of my movies...

Had an audition for a SAG short on Sunday. The director is a guy I met at the SAG conservatory a few weekends ago. It is a fun little script, so hopefully I hear back.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Big Fat INDIAN Wedding...and a (Fake) Funeral

Yesterday/last night I worked background again on that movie (the same one from a couple weeks back). It was a big elaborate (fake) funeral scene, with lots of extras. We shot on the Sony lot which was fun and the many costumes were neat to see. Good food as usual and easy work. Anyway, it was a semi-night shoot, going from 2:00 p.m. to about 2:00 a.m. So, by the time I got back home it was quite late, and I hoped to sleep in a bit.

Any thoughts I had of sleeping in, however, were quashed early in the morning as a metal cutting saw and power sander on the floor above me rattled my walls - and my teeth. As some of you know, the house I'm living in is undergoing an extensive renovation, and is basically a loud construction zone all day. So, I got up and went to the Y. When I came home, my street was like Grand Central Station - cars everywhere, people in elaborate outfits with gifts, flowers, food. I came to find out that there is an Indian wedding going down next door. I wonder if they'll invite us over for some eats?? Hope so...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Double Agent (Search)

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, the commercial agent I signed with in March left the agency which kind of leaves me in limbo. The agency let me know through e-mail and said they would contact each of us individually. I'm still waiting. So, not sure what I'm going to do about that...

In the meantime, I have begun to look for a theatrical (film/tv) agent. This is a tremendously difficult process since there are a million actors here seeking representation, and while there are indeed a lot of agencies, there aren't nearly enough spots on their roster to accommodate all of us. Also, getting an agent and getting work go hand in hand, but the catch-22 is that it usually takes an agent to get good auditions/work, but an agent doesn't usually want to sign actors that haven't yet got substantial tv/film work on their resumes.

All that being said, I still hope to land one. I am beginning with a targeted mailing (sending a package with headshot/resume/reel) to 10 or so agents that I would really like to get. If I don't get any responses in a couple weeks or so, I'll send to another 10 and so on. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I'll find an agent willing to work with me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Great Idea! (But Will Anyone Listen?)

This thoughtful (and sensible!) letter was posted on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily Blog today:

Peter Coyote's Open Letter To Lead Actors

The venerable actor has asked me to post this:

Dear Colleagues,
A small minority of actors are internationally known, iconic figures, whom audiences flock to see in films and on television. Producers know these actors as the best means to insure return on their investments and reward them appropriately for that security. In addition to talent, these actors have had that extra measure of good fortune, and have been propelled to the very top of our profession. It is to these actors that this letter is addressed, because your good fortune may have insulated you from issues currently afflicting the majority of actors who support you as the ‘friends’, ‘lovers’, ‘cops’, ‘lawyers’, ‘judges’, ‘villains’, and ‘side-kicks in films, and who are also hard-working, talented and skilled professionals.

Since 1990 the earnings of the top leading actors have increased exponentially while the salaries of nearly all other actors have been systematically driven down. In many cases, the earnings of established character actors have been rolled back by 60-70 percent. This occurs, in large part, because the working professional (as opposed to the star) is at a disadvantage when negotiating in the new corporatized production environment. We do not possess a unique, marketable (and often media exploited) brand, and consequently lack the power to make or break the existence or profitability of a film. Consequently, respected, veteran actors with numerous credits and hard-earned “quotes” now routinely receive "take-it-or-leave it" offers, often at “scale”---a beginners wage.

Our actor’s Guild has two weapons to employ in protecting its members: the threat or fact of strike, and the power of its “star” members. The power to strike is the union's ultimate weapon, but it is a crude and draconian one and wounds everyone in our industry. Consequently, like nuclear weapons, it is rarely used. The industry is currently facing its second strike this year because the majority of its membership is suffering and feel they have no other recourse. If you possess only one weapon, it’s the one you use. Given the radical depression in earnings there’s little wonder that a strike is on the table again.

There is a simple way leading actors might bring a second, more flexible and targeted weapon into the fray on behalf of your colleagues which incidentally, would provide the ancillary benefit of insuring that you consistently play opposite actors of the highest caliber. If you were to include language in your contracts specifying that, in your films, the "quotes" of your peers must be recognized as a negotiating floor for their compensation, if you publicized that fact, and, if you kicked back a modest amount, say on salaries over six million dollars a film to make that money available, each and every actor negotiating to play opposite you would be empowered to demand the fair compensation that he or she has won for their work.

Why should you be asked to kick back, you might well ask? (and even wonder at the nerve of the suggestion? ) There are a few reasons that make sense to me. 1) You are the engines of the industry, and consequently immune to pressure and intimidation. 2) You are the wealthiest sub-community of the actors, and, possessing the awareness and sensibilities of artists, understand the mutuality of our work in a way that producers never will. 3) Such a gesture would buttress your peers who cannot win such gains for themselves except by sabotaging the entire industry with a strike, which prevents much work in which you have points from getting made.

Also, let’s relate to the non-celluloid world for a moment. Once an actor reaches the six or ten million dollar mark for several months work, they are financially secure for life unless they are morons or have extremely bad habits. By the time they’re earning 15-20 million, some measurable percentage of those earnings is meaningless. A major star on a film we were doing together, once told me, (We were discussing this issue) “Hey there’s no difference between 17 and 18 million to me! My agent tells me so-and-so gets it and so should I.”

That “no difference money” is the difference between earning a living or not for most of the rest of us. A modest return to insure the health of the entire community (the principle behind income taxes) hardly seems excessive. While this would not solve all the problems of our community, it would certainly remove much of the desperation and rancor from negotiations and make earning a living once again possible for far more of the membership. It cannot be legislated by law, only by custom, but as a custom it would lend a definite grace to our industry, and perhaps set a model that might inspire others. (Why do the words “Corporate executives” leap to mind?)

You cannot grow roses without mulch. While stars represent the beautiful blooms of the industry, the soil of the industry, the medium of growth supplied by all those who surround you, is being starved for nourishment. Eventually, this lack of payback to the medium supporting all the growth will kill, if not the plant itself, at least its quality and vitality. Our industry is not secure while the majority of its players are not. To change the situation requires consciousness, solidarity, and power. We have the consciousness and solidarity. We appeal to you for help with the power.

Peter Coyote

Posted by Nikki Finke on Monday, Jul 21st, 2008 at 01:11PM |

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Friday

Few things:
1) Haven't seen The Dark Knight yet, and won't until tomorrow afternoon. I trust many of you have, and while I'm trying to avoid spoilers, I keep hearing it is magnificent.
2) Audition - commercial for Oscar de la Hoya's show - maybe called "Oscar's Big Fight?" It was pretty funny because I get there and most of the dudes that were waiting were HUGE. Not tall, most maybe 5' 10'', but at least 210 lbs. and solid - street-fighter types. Needless to say, I haven't heard back and doubt that I will ;)
3) Got my first SAG work check that included mileage, and it was pretty funny. SAG calculates mileage from the production office of a movie to wherever the location shoot happens to be. This mileage is paid at a rate of -- drumroll please! -- a whopping thirty cents a mile. Yep, .30/mile, the same rate that was negotiated 30 years ago and, as I understand it, that the Studios refuse to renegotiate. In that time, gas has went up some 500%, not to mention increases in car upkeep costs. Geez, if they won't even discuss that, don't hold your breath for any other gains in the new labor contract...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Casting Director Workshops

CD Workshops are very popular in L.A. These are events (usually a couple hours long) where you get to meet and work with a casting director. Typically you are given a scene, assigned a partner, and you then have anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes to work together outside before you come back in to perform (this is what's called a 'cold read' since you likely don't have it memorized, and you haven't had a whole lot of time.) The CD will then critique your performance and occasionally ask you to do it again.

These workshops, which typically cost around $30-45, can be hit or miss. Sometimes they will be great learning experiences and sometimes they won't be. Sometimes the CD puts a lot of time and thought into assigning the scenes and critiquing your work, and sometimes he/she doesn't. The main reason they are so popular (and some would say necessary) is that they can build that valuable connection to a particular casting director or casting office. It is very difficult to meet CDs otherwise, so workshops can provide at least a brief introduction, and casting people are more likely to call in people they know than people they don't. The hope, of course, is that the CD will remember your work and call you in for future projects they are casting.

This week I went to two CD workshops at SAG -- both free, another bonus of my union membership! -- and they went pretty well. It was good to meet the two CDs; they both happen to be independent casting directors (that is, not affiliated with a big agency or studio or show) who mainly work on independent films. It was also good to practice cold reading skills and performing in front of people since many auditions will be just that. Now, the key will be staying in touch with these CDs, sending them postcards, updates of things I'm doing -- just to stay on their radar, so that if a role comes up that I might be suited for I would hopefully pop into their mind.

So, 2 CDs down, just another 300 to go...

Monday, July 14, 2008

A SAG Weekend

This weekend was the annual SAG Conservatory Summer Seminar held on the AFI campus (and a nice 5 minute drive from my apartment!) It was my first experience with the program. Some 70 classes, workshops, and lectures were held on Saturday and Sunday, and I was able to attend several. I got to meet and work worth several teachers, some of whom are also filmmakers: Shawn Tolleson, Howard Fine, Karine Nissim, and Doug Warhit to name a few. It was an absolutely amazing experience! I picked up many useful nuggets that I will take with me -- from audition tips to career strategy to casting director perspectives, these courses covered a ton of valuable information. I look forward to taking further SAG Conservatory courses/workshops when the new 'semester' rolls around this fall.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

Never mind yesterday's post. After calling to confirm my work for last night, I travel an hour and get to the set to find out there was a mix-up; since I worked Wednesday night, I can't be used in the huge scene they are shooting for the next two weeks. So, I turned around and headed home - in rush hour traffic, of course. This after I turned down a few other things (including one just earlier in the day). I know it's nobody's fault, such is the film business. Still it's frustrating. I guess I should have known after the errant ground ball last Sunday that this wasn't going to be my week...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Night Moves

Worked on that film (the one I mentioned last week) last night for the first time. As I said, I can't really say what it is since I had to sign my life away, but it is a big, fun movie -- or should be anyway. The most memorable moment of the night was when the star of the film, one of the biggest stars around actually, laughed hysterically at the uniforms/costumes my cohort and I were wearing. The uniforms are indeed a bit strange looking though I'm told they're quite authentic...

Anyway, it was a pretty short shoot last night, but tonight it begins in earnest. We start at 4:00 p.m. and will likely go until 4-5 a.m. and then the same schedule tomorrow night. Fun stuff! I think it goes through the 23rd, and I plan to be working most of those days/nights. I hope so anyway, since I've had to turn down other things. It would figure that I can't find work for a month and now that I have a couple weeks worth of work, I've been asked to do at least 3-4 other projects at the same time. Note to Work: please, please still be there at the end of the month! ;)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

AFTRA Deal Passes

Last night it was announced that AFTRA (the other acting union) members passed the deal with the studios that its negotiators had agreed to last month. It only had a 62% YES vote, so it was hardly resounding, but passed nonetheless. SAG was urging AFTRA members (many actors are members of both unions) to vote it down, since they believed it was a terrible deal and would result in the studios being willing only to agree to similar terms for the SAG contract.

For those that don't know, AFTRA covers performers (broadcasters, radio DJ's, etc.) as well as actors. Only a few TV shows are done under the AFTRA contract -- including soaps, a couple cable shows, and a new pilot or two -- and no films. Still, SAG fears that the other union's willingness to accept a bad deal will make it difficult or impossible for SAG to negotiate a better deal.

Here's a link to what each of the principles had to say about the approval:

I think what needs to happen is that SAG needs to take whatever crappy deal they can get, and then in three years when all the union contracts expire, all the creative unions join together to get better terms (the writers, directors, and actors) Only against a united front will the studios see a real need to actually negotiate.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Friend Joe

Last week I met a friend of mine from Chicago, Joe Burke, for coffee. We worked on a couple projects together in the past -- Joe is an actor/writer/director -- and it was good to catch up. He's currently in the midst of the graduate directing program at the American Film Institute (AFI), and I expect big things from him down the road. Check out his directing reel sometime:

Nip/Tuck was fun yesterday. They didn't mind my cut so much, so that was good. The shot that we were in got cut down considerably though, and no doubt will be cut even further in the editing room, but that's to be expected ;) The best part of the shoot was that it was at the Paramount lot in Hollywood which is only a 5 minute drive from my apartment.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Oh, Mamma Mia! Backhanding a Bad Hop Grounder With Sunglasses...

...instead of a glove, leads to this. Or at least, this is what it looks like after the doctor glues one's head back together. I should know better than to take ground balls on a crappy infield, but alas, I got an ugly reminder.

It didn't bleed nearly as much as last time I split that same eyebrow open a 1/4 inch further left a couple years back (a flying elbow from a 260 lb/ dude), but it was still a wide enough gash to warrant stitches. Instead of stitches though, I asked the doctor to give me the 'dermabond' -- which is really just super glue that always looks wet -- since that is easier to cover with make-up.

You see, and this is the worst part, I'm supposed to work Nip/Tuck later today, and I don't think they really want their CSI Techs looking like Frankenstein. I called the casting director and gave him a heads-up, and he thought it would be okay, as long as make-up could cover it. But, I won't be convinced until I'm actually on the set -- they still could send me home when I get there. Curses!

In brighter news, as a member of the SAG Film Society, I saw a preview screening of Momma Mia! last night at the beautiful DGA (Director's Guild of America) theatre in Hollywood. I knew nothing of the Broadway show the film follows, except that it is based on ABBA music. Although I like some of ABBA's songs, I'm generally not a big fan of musicals, so I wasn't expecting much. But, it was actually a lot of fun! It may have had something to do with packed house, the great sound, and the absolutely pristine print they screened -- no dots or lines or jumps or marks of any kind on the screen or blips in the audio. Somehow, those perfect prints never make it to the Ridge Cinemas in New Berlin, Wisconsin... On the writers' picket line, I actually met a couple guys whose only job it was to watch reels of new films all day and grade them, so they may be distributed properly. I trust this one would have garnered their highest marks. But, I digress.

Mamma Mia! It is filled with great performances (some of the stars have great voices, others maybe not so much...) and the locations are stunning -- it was shot mostly on location in the Greek Islands. I think it goes wide July 18th, and even if you're not a huge fan of musicals, the movie is a good time and worth checking out.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Central Casting

This morning I went to an Orientation session at Central Casting, which was basically a Q and A session about how their business works. Much of the stuff I knew, but I learned a few things and got to see a couple friends.

Incidentally, as luck would have it, right when I finally get some work (that job I was fitted for yesterday) not 1, but 2 --TWO-- TV show baseball gigs appeared on the Central Casting hotline. They need baseball players who are about my age and can really play. Fun stuff no doubt! Neither had concrete shooting dates, but I'm guessing they will both shoot sooner rather than later. Of course I submitted myself, but I had to make the caveat that I am already working on a job where I have to be available for a 2-week chunk of time (which may mean zero, one, or many days of work) Because of that, I think it highly unlikely that they will call me in for either baseball show which is too bad. Oh well, them's the breaks, right?

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A 'Fitting' Way to Start July

This morning I had a fitting for an extra gig that works a few days starting next week. I was a bit surprised to get the call since there is still much up in the air regarding the SAG contract. But, I'm grateful for the work! For those that don't know, a fitting is just where you go to the studio and they check your measurements, make you put on a costume, pin it all over for alterations, take pictures, and send you on your way. It is once again on one of those big-budget (super-secret!) features, so they made me sign my life away in confidentiality agreements. I won't be able to tell you what it is for awhile, but my costume is pretty groovy, so it should be a fun shoot. Hopefully, I will be needed for several days...

Back On The Field

Dirt burns and bruised fingers can only mean one thing - Softball Season! A woman that I met at the SAG picnic a couple weeks back runs a co-ed team that plays on Sundays in Encino. She called last Saturday to ask me to fill in on Sunday for one of the guys who was gone. I said, "Of course!" and played and had a lot of fun -- a highlight was my hook slide (safe!) into home plate in the 6th inning. It had been years since I played regular 12'' softball (16'' ruled the day in Chicago), but it went well. Their summer season ends soon, but they start a new season the week after Labor Day which runs until Christmas. Ah, softball in December... Did I mention I love the weather here???

I miss my Carbines teammates back in Chicago and I can only hope this team will as fun to play with. Carbines, don't you wish we could have played year-round!?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Networking Event

One of the many online acting forums I peruse often is called "Hollywood Happy Hour." As understand it, a couple years back, HHH had many networking events where actors (and anyone else - writers, casting directors) could get together, meet one another, and possibly make connections within the industry. They hadn't had one for some 18 months until last night. It was held at a place in North Hollywood and they had some comedy acts and interviews with people in the industry which were informative. There were also a few casting director trays where everyone could leave a headshot.

I haven't been too proactive in attending these networking events (likely because I' m not real comfortable going up and talking with strangers), but I met a few great people who I hope to stay in touch with. It is one of my goals this year to try and get myself out to as many of these type events as possible.

June 30, the end of the SAG contract, has come and gone, and it doesn't seem like a deal is imminent. Late last night, the AMPTP made a "Final" offer which SAG is looking at, but which sounds like it doesn't address most of the union's concerns. Part of the AMPTP statement reads, "Our industry is now in a de facto strike, with film production virtually shut down and television production now seriously threatened." Ugh...