Mind over Matter: Changing the Audition Mentality

If I knew then what I know now.

Resounding words.  There are countless lessons I wish I could share with my fresh-off-the-boat, newbie actor self, but the most important would be this one:

Your mentality around acting/auditioning is AS important, if not more so, than your actual skill.

Wow.  What a statement, right?  This is NOT something people talk about.  They talk about HOW to audition, but they don’t tell you how to silence the nerves that stand in your way.  But yet, as someone who has struggled for YEARS with auditioning, I can vouch for the validity.

Does any of this sound familiar:

You cannot book a role to save your life.  You work HARD in class.  You consistently get good feedback.  But, auditioning is a beast.  You shake like a leaf.  You drop lines, even when you’ve worked on the script for hours.  The reader just ISN’T giving you anything, or jumps your line, which gets you in your head.  A phone rang in your audition.  The girl going in before you hugged the casting director.  The guy sitting next to  you is talking to his agent about his wardrobe fitting for a role on a network show.  You left in plenty of time for the audition, but there was unexpected road construction, and then street cleaning, and PHEW, you’re still 5 minutes early, but your heart is pounding.. and you’re first on the list to go in, so there’s no time to calm down.  You’ve worked for several hours, but you still just don’t feel like it’s enough.  You feel like a failure at your chosen career… even though you KNOW that you’re good at what you do!  You know you can DO the job, but you just can’t get over that audition hump.  And you HATE auditioning.

Friends, this was me.  Despite having taken classes for years with some of the most well-regarded coaches in town, I just couldn’t get out of my own way during auditions.  Under the tutelage of a new mentor, I realized that acting wasn’t my problem.  It was my mentality.  I’d set up this mentality around auditioning where, instead of coming in, doing my job, connecting, listening, living, I was anticipating judgement.  I was measuring all those around me- was I better prepared, or less?  Were they more attractive than me?  Did I pick the wrong clothes for the read?  I’d blame the reader (to my friends, of course- not at the audition), blame myself for bungling a line, etc.  I’d harp on everything that “went wrong.”  More-over, I was terrified of not being “good enough.”

Of COURSE I wasn’t having any success with this mindset.  Acting isn’t supposed to be about YOU, the ACTOR.  You, the ACTOR, are a vessel.  If you’re overly concerned with yourself, your performance, how you look, analyzing within the audition, etc., you aren’t a vessel.  You’re just you, the actor.  You can’t be a self-involved actor and also a fully-fleshed out, present human being with needs, desires, challenges at the same time.  If you’re angry because the reader said the line wrong, and that’ll screw up the brilliance of your created interpretation, then you’re bound to fail.  Because, you’re not present for the reality- which, like in life, is unpredictable.  If you create the other person fully enough, then it doesn’t matter HOW they say the lines.  You’ll hear the words through a different ear.  I can assure you that if I grew up as a female in Afghanistan rather than the USA, I’d have a remarkably different perception of the world.  I’d hear the same words, see the same actions, but my interpretation wouldn’t be the same.  Your challenge is to create so fully that you hear through the ears of your “character,” rather than the judging ears of you, the actor.  No one wants to watch an actor who is thinking about his lines, concerned with how they’ll be said.  People want to watch a human being going THROUGH something.

Okay, so that’s all easy to say… but how DO you change your mentality?

1.) Reflect daily.  Analyze what happened in “the room”- were you psyched out by the casting directors?  Did you lose your lines when something went differently than your expectation?  Identify and meditate what it is that prevented you from being a fully present human being.

2.) Re-wire your brain from ego-centric to purpose-driven.  You must make your world on the page more important than the world of the audition room.  Personally, I’ve found listening to YouTube meditations to be helpful.  Listening to these gives me a jumping off point to begin to reflect on my larger calling as an artist, and the power of speaking for those whom cannot speak.  Telling stories that are important to increase awareness, change mindsets, promote action.  You must accept in your heart that “the audition” isn’t about you at all.   If you’re a rape victim in the story, and you’re more focused on whether or not you can cry when recounting your rape in front of the casting director, then you are NOT being service to the actual rape victims in the world.  You are NOT being a voice for those who’ve perhaps been silenced by fear or shame.  You are being a self-involved actor, worrying about your own momentary experience.  And, you won’t get the part.

3.) Consider purchasing Diana Castle’s “Audition vs. Opportunity,” available on iTunes.  I listen to this lecture on the way to my “opportunities,” and it helps me calm the nerves that inevitably pop up, center myself, and continue to re-frame the way I think about “the room.”  Diana also provides helpful ways to change your language to aid in the re-wiring of your brain.

4.) Seek healthy and supportive class environments. There are teachers in this town who essentially create fear and anxiety within their students for the purpose of creating “disciples” to their method.  If you fear “putting up your scene,” you may be in one of these classes.  You shouldn’t FEAR doing what you supposedly love to do!  What’s the fun in that?  These type of teachers are doing you NO favors.  They are encouraging a mindset of fear and judgement around your work which, trust me, will be a hindrance for years.  A great teacher WILL hold you accountable for your work outside of class.  However, he/she will guide you to grow in a constructive manor that will help you expand in empathy, accessibility, confidence, and ability to see more deeply into the words on the page.

What happens when you start focusing on your purpose as an artist?  When you find your voice, it will become more about what you’re saying through your character, and less about what they think of and about you.  When their perceived judgement is no longer important, the nerves will start to diminish.  You will not only be more interesting to watch, but you’ll start to actually enjoy the process.  As for me, I never thought I’d say this, but auditions are starting to actually be FUN!  When you take away all the judgement and icky feelings, they become a chance to play.  So, before you condemn yourself as a “classroom actor” forever… consider putting effort into changing your mindset.  You may surprise yourself with how high you may, indeed, be able to rise.

Dream big, and live in your purpose!

Emily

How To Self Tape for Auditions!

In this video, I talk about how to put yourself on tape for auditions.  Specifically, I discuss which camera, tripod, and lighting equipment I use, how much they cost, and where to buy these items.  I also provide information on framing, slates, and mention a few taping facilities in Los Angeles.  Please comment or e-mail if you have any questions I missed in regards to taping, and I’ll answer to the best of my ability!

Be well,

Emily

[youtube=http://youtu.be/gWRWuZiHSQI]

What Has Acting Ever Done for ME?????

“You cannot remedy anything by condemning it.”- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

There are those days (or for me, most commonly nights – of the 2AM tossing and turning variety) that all actors experience.  That dreaded weight that sits on the heart: Why do I put myself through this?  There are so many culprits that lead to this soul-shaking inquisition.  Another holiday spent away from the family.  A horrible audition that leaves you questioning your career choices.  A great audition that doesn’t pan out.  Never, ever having enough money, as all extra funds funnel back out into your business through classes, workshops, and marketing (whether you’ve received a financial return on your investment or not).  The loneliness of the middle of the night after a bad shift.  Struggling to find and/or maintain relationships because of erratic schedules.  Watching your friends back home couple up and settle down in beautiful, thriving spaces while you live paycheck to paycheck.  The nagging fear that it may never, ever happen for you.  Even on a small scale.  WHY DO I PUT MYSELF THROUGH THIS?  WHAT HAS ACTING DONE FOR ME?

I asked myself this question recently.  What I heard back, in return, surprised me.   It was a calm, clear, rational voice.  This is what acting has provided for me:

1.) Vulnerability.  I well remember my first assignment in my first “serious” acting class in LA.  I connected extremely well with the play; I even shared the same name as the protagonist.  Up on stage, my scene partner and I “broke up” because of my character’s inability to be vulnerable.  It hit home on a personal level; I had the most difficult time even looking my scene partner in the eyes.  It was just too hard to be vulnerable.  I’m a very sensitive person, but I’m also proud.  I pushed people away in my personal life at the first sign of trouble, rather than express any feelings.  I had to have a few drinks before any serious conversations (thankfully, I never developed a dependence on alcohol).  Acting class forced me to be vulnerable, to be intimate, in a way I’m not sure I would have been able to do otherwise.  In turn, I’ve become more vocal, more invested, and my relationships and health have flourished.

2.) Friendships.  People say that a shared catastrophe can forge resilient relationships (as a student in NYC during 9/11, I can attest to this fact), but I believe the shared vulnerability can be as much of the catalyst for this type of depth in friendships as the catastrophe itself.  Some of my dearest, lifelong friends I’ve met through acting out here.  I know some of their most intimate secrets, and they mine.  They are profound relationships, and for that I am thankful.

3.) Patience and discipline.  I’m not by nature a patient person.  I’ve never shied away from hard work, but I couldn’t stick with things long term if I didn’t receive instant gratification.  If you’d have told me 10 years ago that I would have worked this hard for this long without essentially any recognizable credits, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I didn’t think I actually had it in me to stay at something for so long.  I’m proud that I haven’t given up.  I’m proud that I work daily at growing at my craft.  I’m proud that said discipline has provided an internal resolve, and that my goals have shifted from results oriented into craft oriented.  The change in perspective has changed ME, and that’s such a gift.

4.) Bravery.  As I mentioned above, I’ve had difficulty being vulnerable.  SO much of what I’ve done out here requires vulnerability, and therefore bravery.   Moving cross country and knowing no one. Starting classes with people who’ve been training for years.  My first workshops with a respected casting directors, when I’ve literally never worked.  Beyond bombing a workshop, yet going back another week to the same casting director- this time after coaching- just to prove to myself I can do it.  (Note: After doing so, I went to another workshop from the same casting director 3 years of training later.  I got called into her office to read for a role on her show.  Resilience pays off!)  Shaking like a leaf, but still going on.  Fearing that I’ll always be alone.  Fearing that I’ll never work consistently as an actress- if at all.  Walking into a casting office on a studio lot, with highly respected people present who can change my career… when I’ve only had a few hours to prep the audition piece.  So many times I’ve literally wanted to run away.  I went in anyway.  Come hell or high water, I’ve trudged on.  Each experience that I’ve made it through- sometimes unscathed, other times with gaping wounds- has empowered me more.  I previously never considered myself a particularly brave person, but now I do.

5.) Faith/Spirit.  In acting, I’ve been blessed to work in a capacity that allows me to work on myself.  I’m confronted daily with my weaknesses and strengths, and I am very aware of these parts of myself, as they affect what I do.  Because of acting, I am more accessible to my inner sensitivities than I was before, and I empathize and desire to empathize more with others.  I find myself considering the stories of strangers on the streets instead of judging them at first glance.  In living paycheck to paycheck for so long, I’ve stopped coveting material items.  They just don’t appeal to me in the way they used to any more.  My faith, and my capacity for faith, has grown.  I’ve realized I’m a vessel for stories that can impact and change lives, and through that realization, I have given less and less credence to my ego, which previously dominated me.  Not in a “I’m the queen of the world” type of way, but in the “I have to accomplish this, or I will have failed at life,” type of way.  I now realize that’s not at all the case.   I realize now that it isn’t even about ME at ALL, but about the story.  Not about whether someone thinks I’m good or right in my embodiment, but whether those watching me feel a little less alone than before, or perhaps compelled to think in a different way.  I commune daily with Spirit and nature.  I pray not for bookings, but for the story that only I can tell to come along… and that when it does, that I will have the discipline, faith, and resolve necessary to be a powerful, genuine storyteller.  I feel less anxiety than ever before about the future (rare 2AM panic attacks not withstanding).  I would never have thought I’d feel LESS anxiety with each passing year, but I do.  I’m certainly a work in progress, and I know my growth will never cease, but that’s the beauty of it.  I feel at peace in the journey.

So, although acting has not provided me with validation I once sought from others, it appears that acting has provided me with a more important type of validation: self-validation.  I can’t help but look back and smile… it all seems so clear now.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated/anxious/depressed about your acting career, I encourage you to ask yourself the same question.  You may be likewise surprised at the answer.

Love,

Emily

 

YOUniquely You: Branding Yourself for Success

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.  If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened.  But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m going to step away from the philosophical implications of the quote above, and take it into a more metaphorical translation.  If you’ve chosen to make a serious career out of acting, you are likely already “an individual.”  You’ve chosen to be bold in your life and choices from the time you were a child.  Making the decision to pursue a career in the arts is not easy or rational.  Going to auditions, workshops, and class can be INCREDIBLY humbling.  There are thousands of incredibly gorgeous, talented people who are extremely driven in this town.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of attributing lack of success to some physical shortcoming you believe you have, particularly when your gorgeous classmate auditions every day.  “Well, if my boobs were bigger/my nose smaller/my skin more even/my abs toned”, then I’d work more.  WRONG.  If you change yourself to conform to what you THINK others want, you’re ignoring your greatest asset: who YOU already are.

That’s right, folks.  YOU are a product.  You are selling yourself and your skills as a commodity.  Let’s break it down by business sense and speak in terms you may understand all too well: restaurant jargon.  There are literally thousands of restaurants in LA.  Let’s say you’re the owner/chef of a cozy Italian restaurant specializing in home-style cuisine.  Currently, the craze is to be gluten-free.  Would you start to offer sushi instead of pasta?  No, because it would completely contradict who you are as a restaurant.

Well, that’s how you need to think as an actor.  Who are YOU?   What is your essence?  It’s not just what you look like (i.e. cozy Italian restaurant as opposed to sleek Sushi joint), but who you are (comfort food vs. trendy, healthy, raw).  Your look and what-you-are-inside need to work in conjunction to best insure opportunities for auditions, and therefore, work. As Dr. Seuss most aptly put it: “Today you are You, that is Truer than True.  There is no one alive who is Youer than YOU.”

How do you determine this essence subjectively?  There are several ways.  Firstly, you can go to see a image/branding expert, such as Sam Christensen  to help you identify how the world sees you.  I’ve never worked with Sam, but have heard wonderful things about him!  From what I understand, he helps you brand yourself from headshot to attire to hair style.  Secondly, you can query those who know you.  Dallas Travers’ The Tao of Showbusiness offers a free companionship workbook, which is a phenomenal resource.   This workbook offers a “castability” survey for friends/classmates/acquaintances to fill out to help you identify how others see you.  You might be surprised that what you THINK you are and how people actually SEE you can be quite different!  Thirdly, if you’re represented, you can ask your agent or manager for your Breakdowns submission history and see the type of roles they’ve been submitting you for.  Fourthly, you can do your own investigations.  Catalog your submissions vs. auditions vs. bookings.  You can view your own self-submission history through actors access.  Make notes of the roles you get called back for/book as opposed to those you rarely/if ever get called back for/book.  From there, you can somewhat deduce what is working and what isn’t.

To truly embody the essence, you need break it down further than the typical prototypes so that you stand out, not blend in.  If you’re the “hot guy,” type, what type of “hot guy” are you?  Do you come across as a bit of a douche (accurate or not), like Ashton Kutcher?  Are you the sexy, mysterious type (Robert Pattison)?  Are you the jock with hidden soft side (Channing Tatum)?  If you’re the girl next door, are you the nerdy, comic-book-cute girl next door (Zoe Deshanel), the pretty straight-A good girl (Natalie Portman), or the All-American popular girl (Kristen Bell)?  Be specific!  Use what you discover to determine which headshots best promote your type.   Zoe Deshanel is actually a perfect example; her look/essence match, and you can understand her casting without ever meeting her, which is incredibly important when there are only a few casting time slots allotted per role.  Her essence is in line.  On the contrary, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, or that you can play “ANY role”, fighting your essence will ONLY prevent you from getting roles as those in charge will only see what’s NOT working.  Salma Hayek didn’t just jump into playing “Frida.”  She had to embrace her sexy, bombshell essence in roles for years before earning the right to work outside of her essence.

One more note on essence: essence also has to intersect with time frame for many people.  For some, they’ll work a lot in their early 20s, but will likely have trouble working as they get older.  For others, they won’t work at all until they get older- their look has to catch up to their essence.  Some character actors may start to come into their own in middle age… youth may be “too attractive” for the type that they’ll inevitably find the most work.  Next time you find yourself jealous of that guy or girl in class who is always auditioning for something juicy, consider that he/she may be peaking in essence right now, and may have a very difficult time in finding work down the road.

If Robert De Niro had emulated Paul Newman, we wouldn’t have Taxi Driver or Goodfellas.  Can you imagine Meryl Streep with a boob job?  Love yourself first, and others will fall in love with you, too.

Be well,

Emily

Shooting a SAG Short: Contractually Speaking, Part II

In my last column, I outlined the steps a producer must follow in order to become a signatory for a SAG-AFTRA short film.  If you’ve received the “Agreement Cleared and Activated” e-mail from SAG-AFTRA, pat yourself on the back!  You have completed the most confusing and laborious part of your contractual obligation!  However, though the hard part is over, there’s still a bit more paperwork remaining.  After receiving your letter of clearance from SAG-AFTRA, your business representative will contact you with a second signatory packet that will include the required production documents.  P

Step 3: Production

While the production packet will initially seem a bit daunting, most of the documents are purely informative or for “in case of….” scenarios.  Included are:

  • Accident Report to fill out in the event of an injury
  • American Humane Society Mailer that must be completed if you employ any animal actors
  • Pension and Health Memorandum (an FYI form, unless you’re paying actors)
  • Studio Map to indicate boundaries of where you can ask actors and crew to drive without reimbursing for travel expenses.  The zone extends 30 miles in each direction from the center, which located at the southeast corner of Beverly Blvd. and La Cienega
  • Production Notices and Resources describe policies on anti-sexual harassment and discrimination, guidelines for employing a minor, safety bulletins, title changes, and requirements for screen credits and placement of the SAG logo

The documents that are required for all producers to fill out within the production process are:

  • Performer Contract – Four original copies.  You must give this to the performer to sign at the end of the first day of filming.  One copy will go to the performer, one copy to the performer’s agent/manager, one to SAG-AFTRA, and one for your records.  You must deliver these contracts to SAG-AFTRA AND the performer’s representative within 4 days of the first day of work!  You may be fined $10/day for any delay to submit the contracts.  Also, keep in mind that the name as Producer/Production Company must match the name that the agreement is filed under!  In my case, it was filed under my name rather than production company, so I filled out “Emily Callaway” under both “By” and “Proudcer”.
  • Performer’s Confirmation of Receipts must be signed by all performers to acknowledge receipt of Performer Contract
  • Production Time Report.  You must have a separate time report for each day of rehearsal and filming, and each actor must fill out the time sheet at end of a day of work.  Keep track of when each actor goes into make-up and when you break for meals.
  1.  MVP – number of Meal Penalty Violations that day.  Remember that you must feed your performers within 6 hours of their call time or else    you will receive a meal penalty violation!  Second meal must occur within 6 hours of performers returning to set after first meal.  Meal penalties are a state law in addition to a SAG-AFTRA law, and as a producer, you will be penalized for not feeding your performers appropriately at a rate of $25/half hour (for short/student/ULB films only – more for features!).  It adds up!  Disgruntled and hungry SAG-AFTRA actors will report you, so stay on top of your time!
  2. Forced Call if you required performers to report back to set less than 12 hours after wrapping.  Forced calls mean that you have to pay your actors their day rate, which for a SAG-AFTRA short would be $100/day, which is the amount you agreed to defer to actors.  FORCED CALLS ARE NOT DEFERRED MONIES, and you will owe each actors $100 immediately.   I didn’t chance it to see if SAG-AFTRA would actually enforce this on a low budget short, and I wouldn’t recommend rolling the dice on this one!  You DON’T want to get on SAG’s bad side!
  3. No. of Outfits Provided indicates the number of outfits the performer wore that day that came from his/her own wardrobe.
  4. Minor Tutoring Time/Stunt Adj.: Fill out as N/A, unless you’ve employed minors/stunt actors.  In those cases, you’re aware of the additional stipulations/requirements of you
  5. Deferred pay under the short film contract only allows for 8 hours of work!  Overtime UNTIL 12 hours can be deferred and added to the $100/day contract, but overtime AFTER the 12th hour will be double the hourly rate and owed to the actor upfront!  Do not go over 12 hours!
  • Final Cast List 

Step 4: Post-Production

Breath a sigh of relief… you’re almost there!  Very little paperwork remains once you’ve reached the Post-Production stage of your film.

  • Make copies of Performer Contracts, Performer Confirmation of Receipts, Time Sheets, and Final Cast List for your records, and submit the originals to the attention of your business representative.  In my case, I was able to do all at one time, as we only shot one weekend.  But, do remember the rule about returning the contracts within 4 days of the first shoot date!
  • If you encounter issues with clarity of dialogue in post-production, you may have to schedule an ADR session.  If ADR is required, you’ll need to fill out the ADR MEMBER REPORT and return it to SAG-AFTRA within 48 hours of your ADR Session.
  • Credits:
  1. You must include the words “”Special Thanks to SAG-AFTRA” in your credits.  Additionally, must include the SAG-AFTRA logo or union bug in the credits.
  2. Note that all credits must be of a readable size and font, and that there are time standards that must be observed as far as the speed of at which the credits can be exhibited.  See Production Notices and Resources from your production packet for a breakdown of the time standards.

That’s it!  You’re done!  While the paperwork can be overwhelming for a first time filmmaker, supporting your fellow union actors and creating your own film at the same time is an incredible accomplishment.  Congratulations!

Shooting a SAG Short: Contractually Speaking, Part I

In this second post in the series, “Shooting a SAG Short,” I’ll approach one of the most arduous tasks for the beginning filmmaker: The Contract.  I’m a proud, card-carrying member of SAG-AFTRA, and thus operating without a union-backed contract was not an option for me.  Other than sifting through the paperwork, there’s really no reason NOT to go SAG-AFTRA when shooting a short film.  Both non-union and union actors may perform under the contract, and you are able to defer payment to your principle performers to keep budgets low.  However, despite the best efforts of the union, the process of becoming SAG-AFTRA can be confusing and overwhelming.  In this blog, I’ll be guiding you through the first steps of pre-production and providing clarification from the filmmaker’s point of view.

Step 1: Become Signatory

You must become Signatory AT LEAST four weeks before your anticipated shoot date, and preferably six weeks or more out from your shoot date to insure the paperwork is completed.  You should allot as much time as possible, as SAG-AFTRA reps are often very busy!  Start the process online here: Sign SAG-AFTRA Online.  You’ll fill out a series of questions about the purpose of your project (i.e. for film school vs. for film festival), the locations, your anticipated run time, budget, and number of shoot days .  Run time/budget will be estimations, and you can approximate the run time with this formula: One Page = One Minute.  The purpose of these questions is to determine if you’re applying for the appropriate contract (i.e. anything over 35 minutes is not considered a short under the SAG Short Agreement).   Fill them out to the best of your ability, and do not let the questions paralyze you!   My original budget breakdown was VERY simplified and was modified as I moved closer to production, and my original Cast List had an actor listed as “TBD.”   THEY DO NOT EXPECT YOU TO KNOW EVERYTHING AT THIS POINT!!!!  After filling out the forms and uploading the required documents (Script/Budget Break-down/Driver’s License/Pre-Production Cast List), your application will be submitted and a SAG-AFTRA representative will be assigned.  You can check the progress of your application by visiting the same link and looking under “Application List.”    

STEP 2: Pre-Production 

Your SAG-AFTRA business representative will contact you by e-mail within several days of your application.  She will alert you if she’s missing any documentation and will provide you with information for the next steps to take.  In my case, I had to revise the Pre-Production Cast List once I completed casting.  She’ll also attach the Adherence Letter Pension and Health Plans and a .ZIP file with the Short Film Agreement, Pre-Production Cast List, and a Producer’s Guide to filling out the paperwork.  The Health Plan is just protocol; while it sounds complicated, there’s nothing technical to be concerned about!  You should be able to download and fill out all of these documents electronically (the forms have been enabled to allow electronic data entry) and e-mail them back to your representative as you complete them.  However, while I had no issues with the Cast List or Health Letter, I did had problems e-signing the Short Film Agreement via Acrobat.  My representative alerted me of the issue and sent me a link to e-sign via the Online Signatory Application, thus I was able to complete the paperwork.  Your representative is there to answer any questions and help guide you through any of these technical issues!

Additionally, you’ll need to print out and hand-sign original copies of the Short Film Agreement and Pre-Production Cast List to either overnight or hand-deliver to the attention of your representative.  Be sure to complete your casting BEFORE filling out the Pre-Production Cast List!  You’ll need to list the name of all actors and either their SAG or last four digits of their Social Security numbers on the List.  All actors (union or non-union) who have headshots, etc, should be considered professional performers and listed on the Cast List.  You’ll receive an e-mail from SAG when your agreement is cleared, and you’re ready to go… into production mode, that is!  Eventually, you’ll also receive the counter signed Short Film Agreement and Pre-Production Cast List in the mail to keep for your records.

A note on Workers Compensation:

My representative alerted me to the state law regarding Workers Compensation.  While not a SAG-AFTRA enforced rule, the state of California requires employers to have Workers Compensation for their employees.  Workers Compensation is very expensive (i.e. usually in the upwards of $1000 for a weekend).   For features and paid projects, workers comp is mandatory and is often provided within the package of a payroll company.  SAG-AFTRA doesn’t enforce mandatory Workers Compensation for shorts where pay is deferred, but be aware that you are legally responsible in the event of an accident.  Many of my filmmaker friends who’ve produced simple, deferred pay short films have opted to pass on Workers Comp with no issues.  However, use your discretion and steer clear of stunts!

This concludes the section on Pre-Production Contracts.  Not too terribly daunting, right?  Next week, I’ll delve into the documents required for actual production!

Shooting a SAG short: Sculpting the Script

In my last post (I’m ashamed to say that it was a New Years’ post!), I wrote of my ambition to create my own project.  Firstly, I apologize for my woefully neglected blog.  However, I’m thrilled to say that only six months into the year, I’ve followed through with my #1 Resolution and am currently in post-production for my first short film, “Flies in Amber”!  With this incredibly empowering yet humbling experience, I’ve uncovered loads of new information to share with you who are considering following the same path.  In the next few weeks, I’ll begin chronicling the steps needed to produce a SAG-AFTRA short film.  I chose to go with a short for my first project, and would definitely recommend any newbie Actor/Filmmakers to do the same.  Big projects require big investment, and if you’re just learning the process of producing, you can end up blowing your sizable budget pretty quickly!  Webseries are great, but I think a shorter, simpler project is best as a starter project as there is such a learning curve within the development of the project!

Penning the first script is a daunting task for any would-be producer.  I’m a writer (albeit, new to the screenwriting genre), and creating my first “baby” intimidated the beejesus out of me!  Where to even begin?

Start by dedicating at least 20 minutes each day to freestyle writing.  Staring at the blank computer screen and feeling pressured for a quality sentence will leave you… well, feeling defeated, most of the time.  Sit down with a lined journal (NOT at your computer!), and start writing… about anything.  Your day.  Your feelings.  Whatever!  Don’t judge your writing… just let it flow.   Make this part of your day, every day.   You’ll be amazed what comes up within your little brainstorming sessions!  Make notes of ideas that arise at the end of each entry.  Within the freewriting sessions, also brainstorm YOU and YOUR INTENT!  What footage are you missing from your reel?  What type of character showcases you the best?   Do you want this to be an experimental arty festival film, or a dialogue-driven piece that’ll showcase your range?  From your freewriting sessions, you’ll eventually be led to an idea or interesting starting point.

Now, time to start writing, right?  Well, before you start the actual writing process, it’s important to understand structure.  I recommend checking out a book on screenwriting.  Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!  series is a quick, easy but comprehensive read that provides a guide to framing a screenplay.   Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting is a classic, and  I’ve heard really wonderful things about Syd Field’s books as well.  While the short has a more simplified structure than the typical Three Act feature screenplay, understanding the basics is essential.  These books also provide guidelines on outlining your screenplay so that you’ll have direction that’ll make the actual writing part a cinch!   I’d give you more specific instruction, but seriously… check out these books.  The time it’ll take to read them will be a worthy investment.  Also, it must be said: read all the scripts you can get your hands on.  Check out Sides Express in Breakdown Services or run Google searches on the screenplays of your favorite films.  Read, read, read, and then read some more!  Not only will you be able to understand structure (and identify the formulas as written in the books), it’ll demystify the screenwriting process and increase your confidence.  There are many films that get made with poor writing… I bet you can do better than those!

In addition to reading those books and scripts, I’d suggest checking out successful short films.  Porcelain Unicorn is so simple, yet so beautiful.  I’ll Wait for the Next One  was nominated for an Oscar.  Signs is a bit longer, but more character driven.  Granted, these are certainly more cinematic, higher budget shorts, but they can give you an idea of what you can accomplish within the context of a short.  Becoming familiar with the genre will also help you to grasp the rhythm and flow needed for a short.  Adequate research will also help you pinpoint exactly the tone you want to give.

As you’re writing with the aim of self-producing, there are certain points to evaluate.  Assuming you’re a starving artist (aren’t we all?), finances will be an issue.  Addressing the constraints of finances at the most elementary level of screenwriting will lessen the headache once you actually start the production work.  Consider the challenges of:

-Locations: Where do you have easy access to shoot without use of permits?  Think about your connections, and write with locations in mind.   Try to avoid writing scenes that require a shoot in a store or restaurant.  Unless you have a fantastic rapport with the owner, finding a location to shoot a bar scene can be an expensive challenge.   Street or park scenes can occasionally be shot guerilla style, but you’ll be taking a risk without a permit, and your footage can be confiscated.  Sometimes, however, thinking outside of the box can pay off… literally!  In one of my past projects, the writer envisioned a laundry facility for a short scene, though the scene could be altered to take place elsewhere.  She contacted the manager of her neighborhood hole-in-the-wall laundry facility, and offered her a decent cash incentive for a couple hours of filming.  We had a bare bones crew, so didn’t need to shut down the business in order to get the needed footage, and it worked out perfectly!

-Crowd scenes: Although you can find friends who’ll help you out by doing free extra work, you’ll need to be prepared to feed them, which can be expensive!  Getting a number of people to spend an afternoon doing extra work for free will be a challenge.  Furthermore, without pay, your extras will be more likely to flake for other plans.  You can consider offering IMDB credit even for “featured” roles; for some new actors, this will be a good incentive!

-Period pieces: Architecture, set decor, and automobiles can be difficult to fake if you’re going back in time.  Even if you can use your art deco style apartment to shoot a roaring 20s scene, will the lighting and furniture be authentic?  Don’t underestimate the expense of set dressing!

Also, don’t be afraid to use your skills from acting class to your advantage!  If you’ve studied method, apply the script breakdown that you do as an actor to your characters.  Flesh out their intentions and backstory in your mind as you write.  If you’re thinking a short comedy for Funny or Die!, consider “the game” of the scene as learned in improv, or incorporating the types of reversals you’ve identified in your comedy class.  It’ll help you create a vivid character that jumps off the page.  Another advantage that actors have is that we are able to workshop the piece ourselves.  My co-producer and I met every weekend to workshop the writing as I constructed it.  We took 5-page sections each session to re-write any dialogue that sounded stilted and were able identify script issues and correct as needed.

Does this sound like a lot of work?  Yes.  But, creating your own film is an investment in YOU.  You’ll have ownership of something YOU created.  You’ll have the ability to paint the character YOU want to play, and illustrate the script in a way that tells the story YOU want to tell it.  Learning about screenwriting takes a bit of dedication and time, but it’s worth it.  You will never regret establishing groundwork and a solid foundation in which to build your film, and thus, part of your career, upon.

2013: Arousing the Dream

“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life and in change there is power.” — Alan Cohen

So, we’re officially a month into the New Year.  2013.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve sworn up and down that this year will be different.  Better.  This is going to be the year you break through!  Maybe you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “This is MY YEAR!!!”  I think that’s great.  Getting jazzed about your work, about your year ahead, is awesome.

However, I  have a very serious question for you.  I don’t mean to squash your spirit or energy, but this question is imperative for you to accomplish those very goals.  The question is… HOW?  How are you going to be better?  How are you going to “break through”?  I ask you to do some serious soul-searching on this question.

As actors, we live in an unstable world.   You guys all know this.  Therefore, we seek stability in the patterns we establish.  We attend the same class with the same people for years.  Or, we go to one workshop a week, convinced at some point we’ll get “our break.”  Maybe… or maybe not.  We self-submit to varying amounts of success.  These are all good things that will give you insight and provide growth to your career.  But, if you’ve been doing the same things for years without much to show, consider the likelihood of  this year being different.   As Albert Einstein famously spoke, “Insanity (is) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I’m going to be completely honest and vulnerable with you.  My “career” has not gone exactly how I envisioned.  I thought by this point, I’d be established… that I’d at LEAST have more recognizable credits that I currently do.  I’m an incredibly hard worker.  I’ve studied with some of the best teachers and coaches in LA.  I hustle my butt off.  I have great representation.  I’m talented.  I consistently rate at the highest levels at workshops, and casting directors have told me that I’ll be a lead on a show within the next ten years.  I’ve been doing everything right… but nothing comes of it.  I can’t even seem to get seen.  I’ve changed my hair color, changed my representation, changed my headshots, and sent out a bajillion postcards.  Zero, zip, zilch.  How can I break through if I can’t even get my foot into the office?  Does this sound familiar?

I’ve likened all of this as trying to break through a fortress.  A life where I consistently audition is on the other side of the wall.  A life where I rarely audition is on my side.  I keep flying full speed at the wall, hit it, and SPLAT!  I’m flat on my face.  Each of these attempts creates cracks in the wall, but I’m still left a little bruised from the process.  However, I re-adjust, heal up, train, look for another place to hit, and I’m off again.

My latest strategy (in conjunction with the training/postcarding/workshopping/etc, of course) involves owning my own power.  It sounds so easy, but really, it came about as an “Aha!” moment.  For years, family and friends have encouraged me to create my own projects.  I did associate produce The Maybelline Girls a couple of years ago, but I’d never written a script of my own.  In fact, I flat out REFUSED to write my own script. Did I mention I majored in Creative Writing at NYU?  I felt that everyone really, in their heart of hearts, wanted me to pursue writing rather than acting.  Get into production.  Maybe casting?  Anything, really, rather than continue to pursue this deluded acting dream.  I rebelled against the idea.  I’m an ACTOR.  I’m not going to write, or produce, or do anything but get paid to act.  SO THERE!

Except here’s the thing… I’m rarely paid to act.  And, as previously mentioned, I’m having trouble getting into rooms.  I’ve exhausted almost every other possibility.  To put it plainly, I’m flippin’ tired of waiting around!  Postcarding and workshopping, while pro-active, still puts power in others’ hands.  I literally cannot spend several more years of waiting to be called into offices.  I’ve worked too darn hard.  I’m too smart, too educated, too driven to just throw my whole life and future someone else’s hands.  Why should THEY have all the power?  I’ve always been a leader, and I’ve never been one to give away my power willingly.  I want some RESPECT!!!

SO… I’ve given in.  Begrudgingly, I started to write my first project.  I’m not going to lie… I was super intimidated and overwhelmed initially.  I wasn’t really sure how to proceed.  Screenplays are a new type of beast to me!  But, as I devoured more scripts, I began to realize how many projects with mediocre get made, and it became more tangible.  I thought for the first time… You know, I can actually do this!  As actors, we do have certain advantages, because we THINK like actors.  And thus WRITE like actors with objectives, intentions, fleshed out characters.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I’ve found myself deliriously intoxicated by this process.  I started to fall in love with my characters.  I have a voice, and I’ve created something meaningful to me.  I wrote the project with myself and a close friend in mind as the leads, and as we’ve re-worked dialogue, running scenes to iron out any stilted language, our excitement is growing exponentially.  It’s becoming MORE to us.  Not only will this be reel material… it’ll be another IMDB credit.  It’ll be something to talk about in those postcards, something to DO.   It’s our baby, and we’re loving watching it grow.  If we do it well enough, it could be a festival contender.  From inception to completion, it’ll take about 3 months.  That’s it!  If I write three shorts this year… that’s 3 additional credits!  Add on anything else I book this year and I will, quite possibly, double the number of credits I’ve built up over 4 years.  Amazing!  Also, I am fully in charge of the different roles I want to portray.   As I’ve gotten in this mindset, I’ve started looking at the successes out there… the Lena Dunhams, the Brit Marlings…  Through this, I’ve also seen my goals start to evolve.  No longer is it “I want to book a national commercial, make $50K, quit my job, and be able to attend workshops every night!” (Although that would certainly be an added bonus!!!) Nope.  It’s “I want to create and sell my projects.”  I’ll be in charge of my own destiny, and my work will be the gift that keeps giving.  I will also be blogging on my process to help those of you who decide to continue down the same path.

Whether you’re ready for the road of creation or not, I challenge you to challenge yourself this year.  Whether you try a new technique, thus leaving the class that has become your family, or part ways with your agency, or develop a marketing scheme, or get image consulting to develop your brand, or start to workshop, or produce your own project… Try something new.  Try something BIG.  Shake things up!  What’s the worst that can happen?  Dare to make this, truly, Your Year.

Blessings,

Emily

How To Do Your Own Make-up for Headshots and Auditions!

Hey guys!!  Decided it was about high-time that I got with the 21st century and introduce some vlogging to this site.  As I previously mentioned, I did my own make-up for my last two headshot sessions.  While I definitely suggest investing in a professional make-up artist when you can, for times when you’re doing supplemental shots or working for free with a friend, you may want to do your own.  On this video, I show you how to achieve a natural, neutral camera-ready look for headshots and auditions.  I hope you like it!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAY45hqyaa8&w=420&h=315]

Making Workshops Work for You

While I’ve already written one post on workshops awhile back, I thought this was a relevant enough topic to warrant further exploration… particularly on the mistakes that well-meaning actors make while on the workshop circuit.  Hence, the most important piece of advice I have for you:

In preparing a scene for a workshop, Do. Your. Diligent. Research.

I’m being blunt with you on this, as I learned this the hard way.  No, not by getting low marks.  By wasting hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars on workshops without tangible results because of a few mistakes.  Now, as any workshop reader will tell you, “This is not a guarantee of an audition.”  But, performing for a casting director IS sort of a pre-audition for the office, is it not?  Why not give yourself the best shot to become known to that CD?

The temptation is to perfect a scene- perhaps one that you’ve done in class, or maybe in a play- and perform it over and over and over for different CDs until you get called in.   After you’ve seen the CDs once, you lather, rinse, and repeat with a new scene.  There’s a couple of reasons that this isn’t the best approach.

One- GENRE.  A one-hour procedural (usually crime/doctor shows where a case is solved each week, like Criminal Minds) is different than a one-hour relationship drama (Brothers and Sisters) is different than a single-cam comedy (New Girl) is different than multi-cam (2 1/2 Men) is different than film (duh), and then there’s Sorkin (The Newsroom).  You cannot use the same scene across the board.  I repeat, you CANNOT use the same scene across the board!  Sure, you may demonstrate that you’re a talented actor, but a casting director isn’t going to be sold on your ability to handle the particular complexities of their show if you’re out of genre.  Procedurals are fast, simple, and expository.  Multi-cam shows are very technical and sharp.  A very talented friend who was a SERIES REGULAR on a single-cam comedy told me recently that he couldn’t break into multi-cam because the producers of a certain show told him that they didn’t trust that he understood the reversals/set-ups of multi-cam.  Friends, this is a friend who was a lead on a show, and they didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt.  That’s how difficult to convince when auditioning out of genre.  If you’re targeting a CD, pick your scene appropriately.

Two- CHARACTER.  If you don’t have TV/FILM credits, you almost assuredly won’t be going in for a lead on a TV show.  Casting Directors pluck actors out of workshops that they can easily and seamlessly cast in their co-star roles for their particular show.  Why show proficiency as the lead prosecutor when they already have a lead prosecutor on the show?  That’s not going to be what you play!!  If you’re reading for a procedural, you’ll likely be one of several categories- victim, witness, or possibly killer (though these are often guest stars).  Watch at least a few episodes of the show you’re targeting and write down the co-star roles.  Pay attention to the how the actors deliver the lines, look at their type (working class as opposed to upscale), wardrobe, everything, and see where you fit in.  Shows like CSI:NY cast a lot of blue-collar type co-stars, where Revenge casts upscale types who look like they could reside in the Hamptons.  Choose a scene that tells the CD how to cast you, and choose appropriate wardrobe for that role.  They have 2000 choices per role.  Make it easy for them to insert you into their show.

Other oft-made mistakes:

-Becoming defensive when given re-directs or feedback.  Maybe the CD thinks you did a great job, and just wants to see you stretch.  Maybe you’re slightly off the mark, and with tweaking you can hit a home-run.  Maybe he/she doesn’t know the scene/episode like you do, and the re-direct is completely off.   Regardless, IT DOESN’T MATTER.  Assume you won’t get a re-direct and make strong choices out of the gate.  But if you do- look at it as another chance to show what you can do!  Acting is supposed to be fun, right?  Don’t take yourself (and your choices) so seriously!  I once saw an actress get very defensive about her choices in front of a CD.  When she left the room, he threw her headshot into the garbage can.  What a waste of an opportunity, money, and time!  Think of it this way.  Many of you work in the restaurant industry.  Take a moment to think about your most memorable guests.  Got those guests in mind?  You probably remember the guests who were kind and generous, and those who were jerks to you.  Well, I’d assume casting is similar.  If you’re prickly, the CDs WILL remember you… it’s their job.  Do you think they’ll want to take  a chance on you being defensive with a director on set if you’re defensive in the room with them?  I mean, think back to those guests with whom you had a bad experience… would you really choose to work with those guests again, if it could be avoided?  To work in this industry, you must be malleable.  Right or wrong is arbitrary.  Execution is essential.

-Playing it safe.  SIMPLE is good.  SAFE is not.  Make choices, be specific, and take risks.  If you have a chunk of dialogue, look for chances to check in with the reader.  In life, we’re constantly evaluating how what we say affects other people.  Our words aren’t just AT people, and they aren’t  usually just random streams of consciousness.  Find a way to connect, to check-in.  Like the above restaurant analogy, if you’re serving hundreds of people a week… you won’t remember everyone you’ve served.  Particularly 6 months down the line.  But, you WILL remember those who impressed you, or those to whom something happened to (i.e. food wait took forever/food not prepared correctly) who handled the obstacles graciously.  Be generous with your SKILL.  Be the one they remember.  If you commit fully to a wrong choice, own it!  That’s a chance to come back and show your incredible growth in the future.  Better than being blah!  You may have given a lovely read, but do you really want lovely?  Or do you want soul-baring unforgettable awesomeness?  This doesn’t mean to push or overact.  It means to color the script with images, thoughts, and specificity that will lead you to make bold and interesting choices.

-Forgetting that, because you’re in a room, that they’re not evaluating you for camera.  Don’t bring props.  Try to consider how you’d perform the scene if a camera were in the room.  You can move around- don’t feel nailed to the floor- but be mindful that a certain degree of stillness is necessary for on-camera auditions.

Be bold, be prepared, but most of all, be you.