Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chris Browning on Subtlety in Acting

You've seen Chris Browning before and you're going to see him a lot more coming up. I met Chris in the audition waiting rooms of New Mexico a couple times when I was stomping around out there. Usually if he was in the waiting room, that meant I could pack up and go home.

Chris had a great scene in "Book of Eli" as the leader of a band of hijackers that loses his hand to Denzel Washington. He was burned alive in a stagecoach in "3:10 to Yuma" and he was an underused soldier under the command of John Connor in the latest installment of the Terminator franchise. I also enjoyed his work on one of my personal favorite flicks, "Dark Country". You'll also catch him in the upcoming blockbuster "Cowboys and Aliens".

The point is, Chris is a WORKING actor. He's got to share the screen with some amazing folks on some outstanding projects. A particular actor that Chris received some advice from was Mr. Christian Bale.

Bale passed on some info to Chris that he had picked up from Michael Caine. When reading for a dayplayer you have to master the art of "just saying the line, as opposed to performing it. With smaller roles especially, the parts are written to get information to the audience. So, if you are "cop #2", the director wants you to give the info to the lead actor in such a way that it doesn't draw focus from what he wants the audience to do, which is watching the lead as he hears this information. The job is about NOT being noticed."

I've heard a similar phrase used by a lot of casting directors. "Just throw it away". Basically, it's not about you...and that's okay. You're getting a credit, an amazing experience and a decent paycheck!

Browning also emphasizes something I talked about a few posts back. "On bigger roles, or at least a role where the scene is about you, I try to find out what the most likely choices are, and then do something else. Being different stands out, as long as its still believable."

Remember, a casting director/director is going to see a lot of reads for any given role. Making yours stand out is a great way to ensure you're at least back for the second round. Getting noticed for the right reasons is always good!

I'd like to thank Chris for offering up some of the wisdom he's learned on the ropes. In addition to the rocking projects I mention above, Everyone should be on the look out for "Beneath the Dark" which just release on DVD. Check out the trailer below,


Also, make sure to drop by Chris's IMDB page and check out some of his other work:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top 10 List of Actors Who Should Play Brothers

I've done this little exercise in my head a lot when I'm watching a film...typically not a great one, because my brain has time to wander to random subjects like this. Which actors are destined to play brothers in a film? It could be something about the voice, the look, the mannerisms or it could be the total package. Anyway, here is my top 10 list of actors that I think should play brothers in a major flick!

1.) Dane Cook and Ryan Reynolds


Both are pretty funny guys and they are dead ringers for each other. So much so, that there was talk of replacing Reynolds on the "Deadpool" film with Cook when Reynolds signed on to play Hal Jordan in "The Green Lantern". These guys could easily pull of a sibling action comedy!

2.)Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg


Come on, you can barely tell me which one was in "Zombieland" and which was in "Scott Pilgrim" without going back to imdb. Sure Eisenberg is being lauded over Cera because he could play a socially awkward geek...with a dark side in stead of just a socially awkward loveable geek, but these kids are separated at birth.

3.)Terry Crews and Delroy Lindo


This one may just be me, but I've always dug Delroy Lindo and for some reason, everytime I see Crews in something like "The Expendables" or "Harsh Times" I think of Delroy Lindo. This one makes the least sense out of all my choices, but something just feels right about these guys sharing the screen as brothers.

4.)Cole Hauser and Bradley Cooper

Cole Hauser has had my attention since "Pitch Black" and a director friend of mine was lucky enough to work with the guy and speaks very highly of him. Loved him in "Tears of the Son" and even "Paparazzi". I think Bradley Cooper from "A Team" and the recently released "Limitless" would make a perfect family wingman for Cole in a flick. It's the eyes.

5.)Thomas Jane and Aaron Eckhart



There is a lot of speculation over at Thomas Jane's board, www.raw-studios.com, as to who looks the most like Tom out in Hollywood land, but I've always thought Aaron took the cake as far as a brother figure. These guys are interchangeable in a lot of roles and could easily pull of some sibling rivalry on screen.


6.)Jeffery Dean Morgan and Javier Bardem


I was watching "Eat, Pray, Love" the other night and it struck me again how fantastic Bardem is...then it hit me how much he looks like Morgan! Love both of these guys from "The Watchmen" and "Supernatural" to "No Country for Old Men". An obvious choice for onscreen bros.

7.)Michael Madsen and Tom Sizemore

Heck, I couldn't keep these guys straight in my head for the longest time. Both work in a similar genre of film and they've been notoriously mixed up for years. And here Tarantino was supposed to establish Madsen and Travolta as brothers in a flick.

8.)Harrison Ford and Dennis Quaid

Well sure, there's Randy Quaid, but for my money, Ford is a better fit. Well, for my money, I couldn't even afford Randy, but you get the point. With these two it's more than the cursory physical similarities. There are moments when I see Quaid in something like the outstanding "Pandorum" and I totally see and hear Harrison Ford. Check it out and tell me I'm wrong. This would be amazing on film!

9.) Ray Stevenson and Gerard Butler

Neither of these guys get enough credit if you ask me. While I like Jane's Punisher better, I think Ray nailed it and his portrayal of Danny Green in the recently released "Kill The Irishman" is amazing (directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, who also did Jane's Punisher flick...interesting). Then there is Butler who has given some great badass performances in "300", "Gamer", "Law Abiding Citizen" and me being a huge Ritchie fan, "Rock N Rolla". These two have some amazing similarities and would be a perfect Romulus/Remus match-up. Oh, and for another great Stevenson flick, check out "Outpost". Very cool.

10) Chris Evans and Channing Tatum

I REALLY, really like Chris Evans. If anyone was going to beat me out for Captain America, I'm glad it was him (yes, I auditioned). "The Losers" (with Morgan above), "Sunshine" and "Push" were all supercool flicks for him. Also, I was IN a film with Tatum, though we didn't even film in the same state and I think his billing was higher. These guys are close enough in looks and characteristics where they could pull it off. Oh, and Evans throws down with Cera/Eisenberg in Scott Pilgrim to boot!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sample Auditions

Here is a collection of audition tapes I grabbed from youtube to show you some auditions that either put people in the right place to become successful or where talented actors DIDN'T get the role. Watch and enjoy!















A Message from Matthew McConaughey



Matthew McConaughey shares a funny story about landing his first role in "Dazed and Confused".

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ian McKellan on Acting!

A hilarious sketch from the show "Extras" where Ian McKellan provides advice on how to better your craft!

Ed Harris "The Rock", THIS is being in Character

After the Christian Bale meltdown, someone sent this to me. This is an example of an actor in character having a moment. He's yelling, cursing, but it's because he is so much in the character. His use of "Sir" in talking to the director is just priceless. A fantastic role for him and a great example of finding a character.

"Fiery Hawk"--a Lesson in Audtions



Someone passed this on to me while shooting "Humans Vs. Zombies". Welcome to the pain of the audition. The last line is perfection!!!

Your Future in the Current Scene


Another aspect of your playing a scene is what happens next? What happens ultimately? There are a couple different elements to this process of seeing the future and several different lengths to which you can go.

The first thing I'd like to address is the SUPEROBJECTIVE. Superobjective is basically what your character is trying to accomplish throughout the whole film. All objectives should build toward this superobjective. With a dayplayer role the objective and superobjective are easily married. The FIRST thing you should do in script analysis after reading through the pages a few times is to determine what your character's overall goal for the story is. What are they working toward? With that in mind, it's easier to determine goals (objectives) for individual scenes.

Another aspect of storytelling is foreshadowing, basically hints at what is coming next. You are an important part of this in any film etc. where you have more than one scene. Heck, even within a scene, you can build toward what's going to happen at the end of the scene. It's important that YOU know what's going to happen next and keep that in mind, even though it is uncertain for your character. At the same time, while providing the right elements of foreshadowing (and seeing those opportunities in dialogue and action), you have to play that uncertainty. It can be tricky, but definitely a rewarding part of the character building process.

Another fun exercise is what happens to you AFTER the story? This can be a great way to find little nuances in your character as well. If you die, you might think this is easy, but you can still ponder things like "Who misses my character?" or "Is there a funeral?" or "What changes happened in the world because of my death?". Also, where would you have ended up if you hadn't died? What was your ideal end? Where did you think it was going?

I suggest a paragraph, similar to the on your did for your back story to examine where you are headed once the credits role. It's fun and, again, can help you find something interesting to play on in your scenes. Say, in a crime drama, it's nice to have fantasies of how you are going to blow all that loot!

In the film "Cut!", I play a sheriff's deputy in the north east. Though it's never spelled out in the script, my character aspires to get a job with the FBI one day and work big cases. It completely affected the way my character looked at evidence and the events unfolding in the film. I was after the big case and saw this as my break. When I talked to the director about my thoughts, it was a spark that brought Holt Boggs into the midst and gave us a great scene together. I had only about 5 scenes in the film, but this little exercise helped mold much of my performance.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Funny Example of Acting Gone Wrong

Taking a break from all the serious acting talk to show you a very funny example of acting gone wrong. This is priceless.

Your Present in the Scene


So you've established a history for your character to include where they've come from, what their experience is with others in the scene and even their history with props and the environment. You've taken what you could from the script and invented the rest based on personal choices. Now let's look at the PRESENT. Where are you now?

The first thing to keep in mind has to do with the performance. You've made choices and so have the other actors. Sometimes the intensity (or lack of) in another actor in a scene can completely morph your performance. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes it's very, very bad. In lower budget films the director may have cast cousin Bob to be opposite you in a scene and you really have to struggle to stay in the game. This is a tricky situation. If you talk to the other actor, they can take offense, but often times a little prodding may get the scene where it needs to be. The director may also be offended if you talk to them. The best advice I can give you is "BE POSITIVE". "You suck" or "They suck" isn't going to help the situation or anyone in it. Be constructive and at the very least, YOU be on. Your performance can give the energy needed to pull others up in their game.

I had a specific scene on "Humans Vs. Zombies" where Madison Burge pushed me in a direction I didn't expect to go in the scene. It rocked! Her unexpected fervor in her antagonizing of my character even changed the line I delivered in the scene. My original thought pattern was that my character had disappointed the others in the scene and I was going to be apologetic in my delivery. Her spark made me angry at these kids for being so unappreciative of what I had done RIGHT. Totally changed my scene and was a great moment for me as an actor. It works both ways.

Let's talk briefly about your breakdown of each scene in its present. In every scene, your character needs to have an objective. We all have moments in our lives when we don't have a particularly strong drive to do something. However, in a 90 minute film (and especially a 15 minute short) all those moments should be left off the screen. Every moment on camera needs to further the story. Therefore, everything must be interesting. So, in every scene YOU need to have something you want. What is your objective?

In my days at Missouri Southern learning stage theater and then reinforced in Larry Moss' excellent acting book "The Intent to Live" (see sidebar for a link to buy cheap on Amazon.com) I was indoctrinated into the use of objectives. Your objective should always be based on an action verb. Something you will motivate you physically as well as mentally. If you're playing a scene with two lovers that are fighting, one may have the objective to "Escape the other's torment" while the other may want to "Tower over and oppress their lover".

The most interesting scenes are ones where objectives clash. In the above description, if I want to escape and you want to tower over me, we are at odds. Maybe we both want to tear each other apart in an action sequence...or maybe just in a sparring of words. It's important to note here as well that breaking down the various types of conflict that man vs. nature and similar themes could put you at odds with the environment rather than a specific character. A hurricane could have an objective as well.

Also, you can be at odds with yourself. Recently I played a character in a scene where he was in the process of attempted suicide. His guilt over what he had done gave him the objective of "Punishing himself for his past deeds" while at the same time a fear of the hereafter and sense of survival gave him a counter-objective of "Fight to stay alive". In this scene, I had two objectives and was at odds with myself.

Rarely in film have I been given the opportunity to rehearse with the cast. That's usually called a first take! If you get the opportunity, take advantage of it. As a dayplayer, the opportunity will rarely ever present itself and bugging a director and other actors about your objective and what you think the scene should be can be disaster for your chances of ever coming back. Be cautious when sharing your vision.

It's also very important when working in a scene to be mindful of WHERE you are. What time period, what location, what's just happened (the immediate past), and who you are with are very important to the scene. In the age of green screen you may have to fake EVERYTHING. You also may be shooting scenes out of sequence (actually guaranteed most of the time) as the producers try to exhaust a location or actor before moving on to another scene. You must be mindful of the present in which your character exists.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bringing a Past to a Scene


Been a very busy few days. Came off of a great fast paced shoot on the indy film "Devotion" all day Sunday then onto a drive to Austin Monday AM to do a commercial audition and lunch with one of my "HvZ" costars and a taped audition for a local short in the evening. Such is the life...if you're doing it right. That said, I haven't had much of a chance to sit down and write here the past few days.

I also hate writing just for the sake of it. I have to think of something I actually want to convey. I don't want to waste your time and prattle on about stuff that's uninteresting and unhelpful (at least by my standards). It hit me this morning what I really wanted to write about and it's a 3 parter so that should line me out for the next few days!

Every character at every given scene in a film (much like any given point in life) has a past, a present and a future. To keep with the chronological, I'll talk about finding the character's past and using YOUR past to provide emotional punch.

I'll start with an example. Let's say you are auditioning for the role of an armored car driver who is being held up by a couple of robbers. A brief description of the scene is that you say "You can't take this money" and then you go for your gun, dieing in a hail of bullets.

First off, this is what's called a dayplayer role. It's speaking, so in a SAG production it counts towards membership and puts you on a day rate, which is good. These are also the kind of roles that locals are more likely to land in bug budget productions rolling through taking advantage of tax incentives. In all the big budget TV and film I've done, my parts were dayplayer gigs. You "usually" won't have a name (Guard #1, Apache CPG#2, Off Duty Cop, Soccent Ops Tech), but it's still excellent pay, a solid credit and always a fun time.

The tricky part is that it's one...maybe 5 lines and you have to build a character from it. Script analysis may reveal a couple things. The writer may have given you specific clues. Maybe in the action it describes the Armored Car Driver as "nervously reaching for his gun" or describes him as "looking terrified". Probably not that lucky. One of the best ways to build that read is to find out where your character came from.

There are a lot of methods to examining a character. Some people will have you fill out pages and pages on where you came from even talking about the character's favorite films, music what kinds of foods they like. Depending on how deep into character you want to go (I'm not much of a method guy myself) you may engage in that depth. I hate crating anything that may be so in depth as to clash with a director's vision so that when they say "Change this" I don't completely stall out. I like to stay flexible and have options.

Director's, HAVING your actors complete an in depth analysis can be really fun...especially if for a series or a film that may have sequels. You may discover an amazing adventure for examination down the road.

Looking at where you have been, I suggest a paragraph. Write one solid paragraph about the biggest things in your life. This will work on any size character (though you may want to flesh it out more for larger roles). Here are a couple examples of the Armored Car Driver:

"Andy has been working for the armored car service for only a couple of weeks. After a string of unemployment and financial turmoil he's happy to have the job so he can take care of his wife and 3 kids. The medical insurance has been particularly helpful with the new baby and her various ailments. Andy can't lose this job. It means everything to him and his family."

-OR-

"Hank's wife left him for his best friend yesterday. He used to be somebody. He was in the Army for 6 years and saw some pretty scary shit in the gulf. He also boxed a bit years ago. He's been drinking a bit more than he should and he's tired of getting pushed around. He's a staunch conservative and a gun enthusiast".

Just from those two examples can you see the difference in where the line is coming from. Andy can't let them take the money because he's worried he'll lose his job and can't support his family. Hank is just looking for a reason to hurt someone and these idiots walked into a place where he can kill them LEGALLY...or maybe he can just end it all in a blaze of glory. Pretty neat huh.

It's also important to look at history with the other characters in the scene. In this case, Hank and Andy probably don't know the guys. It's not written into the dialogue. However, they both have met people like these guys. Depending on the crew pulling the job, Andy may empathize with their desperation and identify with their needs. Hank probably sees them as parasites and bottom feeders that don't deserve to breathe.

You can do this with the props you're given and the scenery as well. Andy may not be from the big city and it still getting used to urban sprawl around him. He may, also, hate guns and be fairly unfamiliar with them. Quite the contrary for Hank. This is his own personal firearm and just the other night he contemplated using it on his wife and then offing himself. He used to work at a store two blocks from where he's currently preparing to die.

Take a minute and think about how you would take the line with either background in mind. Totally different. Now take another minute and write your own paragraph as the Armored Car Driver as an example.

One thing to keep in mind (and the reason I said I keep these short) is that if you can mentally prep a couple of these, you will be so much more flexible if the director doesn't like your first choice. Say you go in and take the line John Wayne style in Hank mode and the director says "Be more vulnerable...scared". Then you can hop into Andy mode and maybe deliver. Always have a back-up or two if time allows.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finding Your Character


Watching Christian Bale in "The Fighter" last night and was mesmerized at his disappearance into the character. It reminded me of what it takes to make that happen and how important it is to our craft. You can basically play yourself over and over again like Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood and if you are interesting, it will work. It's also incredibly hard to just BE you on camera and make it real. No knock against any actor who has made that their forte. But, the ability to disappear like Johnny Depp, Ben Foster, Gary Oldman, Clifton Collins Jr., Cate Blanchett and Charlize Theron is something to be marveled at.

So how do you do it? Well first of all you have to find your character. If the character you are portraying is a real life person, you can have a wealth of knowledge at your finger tips in books, video and even, if you're truly luck, the ability to interact with your subject. Bale had all of these references for his performance.

Second, you have the script. There are things revealed through the author. What do people say about the character? Perception is usually based on some sort of truth. A character may describe your character as a nice guy, though he is truly diabolical. You have to play the character so that he could be perceived as a nice guy. Also, what does the character say about himself. Referencing a villain, they are often the heroes of their own story. There is a reason for their bad behavior. Find it. Dialogue can also reveal accent and other background qualities.

The author will also reveal things about your character in the action of the script, the progression of the story and even the setting. It's very important to read the whole script, and if you have it in PDF or a similar format, you can use the find function for a couple of once throughs. You may miss important info outside of your dialogue if you just skim your parts.

How do you reveal your character in a scene or story? Let's start with the basics of speech, motion and appearance. Where is your character from? What is his education level? Life influences? All will determine accent. Accents are particularly tricky and I'll talk about them a bit later. Whatever you choose, make it real. Do the research and don't just half ass it.

Appearance is not just in the hands of the wardrobe and make-up folks. On smaller budget productions it's important to help define your character. I've shown up to several productions with my hair and facial hair totally available for modification and no one did anything with it either because there was no time, no one qualified, or nothing in the budget for those sorts of things. Particularly in smaller budget, be your own man on these things.

One thing that I think is often overlooked by actors new to the craft and I can see a lack of it in my performances is a change in posture and movement. Your walk, the way you move your hands, the way you sit...all will change based on your background and station. You should definitely define these things for your character.

The funny thing is that once you find these things...voice, appearance and action/posture, the acting becomes easy. You fall into the character. They don't have to be huge changes to where you are normally, but subtle nuances will help you nail the character.

Look at Ledger's Joker and Depp's Captain Sparrow for examples and basically anything done by the folks I mentioned earlier. This isn't even method acting. You don't have to become your character 24/7. You just have to find all the dimensions of who they are.

On a final note, your relation to other characters you interact with in the story is VITAL! It's not all about you. A lot of acting is REacting. Any character you interact with, you should have an opinion of, even if it's just a sentence. Also, part of any story is development. These relationships MUST change throughout the script to make the story interesting. Look for the pivot point where your dynamics change with others.

The moment in "The Fighter" where Dickey confronts Charlene on the porch is a masterfully done moment where dynamics change.

There is so much to write on this subject. Will tackle more later.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Marrying Your Choices

Had an audition today that reminded me of the importance of NOT marrying your choices for a character. As actors, we're often given scripts with very little to go on as far as who our character is and what is expected of us in our performance...especially when they are audition sides.

You have to prepare...and depending on how many auditions you are preparing for and how much time you have before the read (a cold read being the most severe constraint on time), you will basically have time to prepare the read one way. The caution is that you can't marry that choice. You have to be flexible.

When you walk into that room, you may have NAILED what the director wanted or you may have dazzled him with an original performance that changes the way even he looked at the character. You could also have been so far off, that he instantly knows you are "wrong for the role" or, more commonly, he will give you "direction". Amazing huh? This is a great test for you. You have to be able to DO what the DIRECTOR wants you to do. If you're Brad Pitt, by all means argue, but if you're on my level, your job is to find the director's vision and work within it.

For example, today, the first thing I was asked by the CD, with the director in the room, was to push my hat back on my head so she could see my face in the camera (in the email we got we were told to wear a certain style of shirt and hat...thank God for Goodwill...wardrobe for the audition $6). So, I pushed my hat back. She said that was refreshing because a lot of guys would argue with her. What? You have a few minutes to impress and your idea is to show you can't take simple direction? Bad call.

Next up, I gave my read. Good, but too slow. They wanted :30 and I gave them a minute. So I sped it up. Then, the director asked me to change my read from trying to compel someone to just sharing facts with some buddies. THAT is a totally different read, let me tell you. I'm not sure I nailed it, but I gave it a shot. You have to work FOR the director or you won't work at all.

One of my worst auditions (on my part) early on was an audition for a commercial in which I would play a cashier and Santa Clause comes through my checkout line. The email said we should play it big and funny. I prepped it that way. I walked into the room and was immediately told to play it like it was no big deal. Santa comes here all the time. I sucked. Worst audition ever. I was married to my choices.

Even now, with films like "Humans Vs. Zombies", the director sent me the script and I gave it a quick once over and since we are friends I sent him notes on what I thought the character should be like. Nearly everything I suggested was wrong being that it didn't fit for his vision of the film and when I read through it again and in the performance he was certainly right! I would have ruined the character. Also, had we not been friends, a lengthy email with "suggestions" to your new boss without a careful read of the script could seriously burn some bridges and make for an uncomfortable work environment. Did I mention he WROTE the script? Yep, I'm an idiot sometimes.

My advice, you HAVE to make a choice and prep it that way, but you need to learn to change things up on a dime. With limited time you won't be able to prepare a read 15 different ways, so a great way to practice is take some sides (you'll collect them quickly...I have dozens on my computer) and practice taking the lines under different possible circumstances. It will help you be flexible and be able to look at the same read in different ways.

A couple final stories on this note deals with the choices you make. In a workshop with the late Shari Rhodes, I was handed sides for a worker at a train station. The US Marshals was telling us there was a murderer they needed to transport on one of my trains. I watched 3-5 people all do the scene as if the supervisor was shocked and somewhat frightened of the idea. The lines could have certainly supported such a choice and most of the readers saw it that way in our workshop, however, I found a different approach.

I played the role as if these morons were coming in and interrupting my flow. I took the lines as if I were annoyed and even somewhat nonbelieving, but in the end cooperative. Shari stopped the class and said that she would have booked me on that read because it was innovative. It was certainly memorable.

I was auditioning for the role of a skinhead for the film "Line Watch" with Cuba Gooding Jr. In the audition, the character is supposed to speak Spanish, but the dialogue is given in English. Our job to figure it out. Now all the Spanish I learned was in gym class from a Puerto Rican kid who used to get his ass kicked with me all the time...needless to say, it wasn't "conversational" (and when I spoke Spanish in gym class, it didn't matter that they couldn't understand me...whatever it was obviously should earn me an ass-whooping or I would have said it in English).

I got with a friend of my wife's who was fluent and she translated the dialogue. I intentionally didn't learn it phonetically. This guy is a skinhead. He hates Mexicans. Why would he respect their language. I butchered it with a southern accent and it got me a callback. The director was impressed with my read too. If only, the incredibly talented Chris Browning hadn't been my competition. You've seen him in "3:10 to Yuma", "Dark Country", "Terminator: Salvation" and the upcoming "Cowboys and Aliens". An AMAZING talent.

So go in, be interesting, be different and most of all stay loose and flexible.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Actor's Tip for Directors

Looking at some of the suggestions on facebook for future topics gave me the idea to write about this. As a director, how SHOULD you handle an actor. I'll assume the role of the actor in this situation and tell you what I want and what I NEED to make a project worth my while.

First off, and MOST importantly, help me find your vision. I've watched clips of stuff that I've done from the indy side of things and cringed. I thought to myself "Wow! I made a horrible choice there. SOMEONE should have told me that sucked." Guess what? That's the director's job. You HAVE to step in and maybe even hurt an actor's feelings by telling them that they need to give more or do something different.

Having come from what little I've done, I still find that on some indy projects I don't get the feedback I should because I'm "special" and no one wants to hurt my feelings. What hurts my feelings is seeing myself look like an idiot on the big screen because someone didn't tell me that I wasn't giving what I needed to.

Next, give me good people to play off of. If you're serious about doing something with your film. If you want it to show in a festival, for people to pay for it on DVD, or even for some wider scale distribution, I recommend you pay your actors SOMETHING. It doesn't have to be tons of money (though I do like working for tons of money). Even a token payment says that you value the actor and more importantly, that you value what you are doing.

I've railed on this before on facebook and caught a lot of flak for it, but I think there is a bigger sense of accountability to make a good film if someone is spending money on it. You may be lucky and have a bunch of very talented friends that can pull off a film (hopefully a short) for no money. I'm even down for that on occasion. It's fun and I love doing this. If I didn't have a family to feed, I'd do it for free all the time. Acting is not work.

For those who are on a budget or no budget who still want to make a film, here are some pointers:

1.) Cast your friends who can act. Don't use people who can't! Don't feel guilty about not using your girlfriend or uncle Bob in your film. If you're going to make it, it should be good. You can cheat and use them as folks with little to no dialogue and usually make people happy.

2.) Limit dialogue and locations. If you don't have budget, don't pick 14 locations and 20 pages of script. I did a film out in Atlanta with some incredibly talented folks that ended up being shit because of this EXACT problem. We had a blast. It was a whirlwind, but we just couldn't get the quality we wanted in only 2 days. If it had been a 48 hour film festival we would have looked like champs, but as it was...I hope it never sees the light of day. None of us brought our A game, including me.

3.) Adjust on the fly. Change the story, collaborate with the cast, kill dialogue and scenes. Keep it simple. This will save your film from dying a hard death later on.

4.) Use paid actors in key roles. Have your story be primarily about 2-3 characters and pay them. Anyone who you need to lean on for dialogue and emotion should get something. In a market like Dallas or Albuquerque, you can get some pretty talented folks pretty cheap for a couple days to knock out a festival worthy short.

Finally, be cool to work with. I try to be respectful of time and others when I'm on set. I have fun playing at this and it makes me happy. There is no reason to be a prick. Tell me what I need to do. Push me in the moment. Don't let me deliver a bad scene. But, especially for people who are newer at this, a pat on the back or a simple "that was good" (when it actually was) goes a long way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Casting Process: A Rough Breakdown

Had to take a couple days off from writing. Hopped up to Jefferson, TX (beautiful place) to hang out with Samuel Haun, Ron Holloman, Rick Workman and Tom Walker to make what may turn out to be a festival winner. Turned out to have an amazing cast with Madison Barrett, Samantha Wohlford and the "where the hell did this guy come from" perfect performance by Chase O'Brien. Special shout out to Nick Plantico for the FX training and blank rounds. Sam put together a cool little project. Now I'm prepping for my shoot on "Devotion" this weekend with Andy Rose and Abel Berry. Some very cool scenes in there I'm looking forward to shooting. Different role for me.

Which kind of brings me to the topic at hand. How does casting work for a film. Sam is a friend and we've worked on some stuff together, as is Andy Rose (though this will be our first real gig together). I didn't have to read for either project. They thought of me for the role. The same has happened to me on a bunch of independent films and even with the amazing "Humans Vs. Zombies" where Brian Jaynes and company wrote the character with me in mind. Joe Hollow called me off of a recommendation for "Cut!" as well (thank you Mr. Slagle). These are definitely my favorite kind of castings. I love it when people just call or email (particularly when there is money involved) and offer me a role. However, you really have to work to build a reputation and network your butt off to get there. Also, unless your Brad Pitt, this isn't likely to happen to you on huge budget projects. For almost every working actor out there, the audition process is an invaluable part of what we do.

Let me walk you through a rough casting process, using a feature film as an example and then I'll talk more about the impact of the process on the actor's psyche and how we SHOULD look at it instead. First off, a PRODUCER, for whatever insane reason they decide to do so, decides to make a movie. The film basically belongs to the producer, who usually controls the purse strings for the project. They hire the DIRECTOR, who actually helms the making of the film. Producers usually deal with making a solid product that they can get money for after the fact. This can include creative control (to make sure they have a quality product) to an extent, but the director's job is usually to handle these elements.

Now there are millions of aspiring and working actors out there (to include those of us in the limbo between) who want in on any given project. There are white males out there who would read for the role of a black woman on a project in hopes they could sway your mind and EVERYONE thinks they deserve a lead. With film making, time is money and a director can't possibly look at everyone when looking for who he wants to put in his film. So, they need to narrow it down. So, the director hires a CASTING DIRECTOR or C.D. to find him people to look at for the roles.

CDs get breakdowns (brief descriptions of the characters needed) for the film from the director and they go out to find the director several solid choices for each role. With a CD, time is also money, and they don't want to wade through millions of actors and actresses either. So, most of the time, they will only go through agencies to solicit talent. An AGENT is the first gatekeeper in the system of the audition. Agencies make money when their talent is cast in a film (or other project). They also get blackballed and run into a lot of problems if they send people to a set who are unprepared, late, unprofessional, difficult to work with or just plain don't show up. They will ONLY work with people who will ensure that they continue to do business with CDs. Therefore they are selective about who they represent. Millions become thousands.

Agencies also don't want to waste a CDs time, so they carefully scrub the breakdowns and submit ONLY talent who are available and fit the description. And HERE is where the process switches into reverse. The AGENT sends a list of possibilities to a CD for an audition. The CD approves the list (maybe adding talent they know they like or taking off people they don't want to see) and the audition occurs.

When you go into an audition, you should feel privileged. Someone believed in you enough to even put you in that room and if it keeps happening, you should feel loved. Depending on the size of the project the audition process can be very different, but for our example, the audition is usually you with (lets use an example of) 40 people all reading for the same role. Some of the folks reading you will never see due to appointment times, tapings and submissions from other areas of the country (Los Angeles for example). You may be given sides (little portions of the script...usually about 1-5 pages) ahead of time and will be expected to know them when you hit the door. You may be doing a cold read (no advanced prep). You could even be doing some improv.

Here are a few key things that you NEED, when you walk in the door:

1.) You NEED to look like your headshot. Nothing is more annoying than a headshot that was 10 years or 200 pounds ago (in either direction). CDs and agents send you based off the info you have on file. That said, a good agent will have already beaten you over the head if you are in violation of this rule. This can seriously waste your time and the CDs and they may never call you back for another read.

2.) Be professional. It's never their fault. Be EARLY! Have everything you were told to have. Know that if your appointment is at 5PM, they may read you at 730PM! Whoops...but if you need the work it's "NO PROBLEM". You may show up at 4:00PM thinking you'll have more prep time and they call you in at 4:15PM because there is a lull. It's okay to ask for more time, but if they need you then, YOU GO! If they are rude, you respond positively. YOU are a professional. Take everything you need (headshot and resume in the right quantity/quality) and be ON TIME!

3.) Be in character. Dress for the part. Act the part. Don't be desperate in your NEED to work. Don't bring presents and do anything weird. Don't bring crazy props (especially WEAPONS) to an audition. Be who they want to see. Be who they want to cast.

4.) Be respective of your fellow actors and the casting folks. Let them have the time they need to prep and when you are done reading, get out of there.

I digress. So, you prep for your audition and show up. Usually, you will be put on tape with the CD. Sometimes there will be more folks in the room (typically a camera person and a reader at least), but sometimes it's just the two of you. You slap your performance down and head for the door. The CD finishes their round of auditions and then they look through the tapes and send the good ones to the DIRECTOR. Notice that not everyone who comes in is necessarily even seen by the director. A CD's job is to make the director's job easier and not waste their time. If you aren't right for the character or you blow the audition or you show up late or are rude, you may not even make it to the director's desk. Let's say, for our example that of the 40 auditions, 25 make it to the DIRECTOR.

The director looks at the tapes and then he picks his favorites. Usually, most of the people he is watching tapes from are talented cats, so this is a another stage where not making the cut doesn't mean you are a horrible actor. It means the director has a vision and can't see everyone! The director will decide to personally meet with the selected talent in a CALLBACK. For our example, let's say 15 of the 25 that made it to the director are called back to meet with him in person.

Callbacks are crazy. EVERY person there is someone the director LIKES. They are ALL possibilities. You are competing with very talented people. You go in, basically just like an audition, except the director (sometimes the producer) is there as well. They will have you read and maybe try it a couple of different ways. They may ask you questions to find out more about your personality. In the end, it's usually a quick meeting and runs just like an audition. A key piece to remember here, is that the director usually has a mental image of the character in his head. Sometimes the actor that is cast is the one that closely resembles that vision.

There may be multiple callbacks. They may whittle it down over 2-3 and you'll meet with bigger and bigger audiences trying to see if you are right for the role. the bigger the role, the more this is a guarantee. However, somewhere along the line, the director sends a "this is the guy I want" to the PRODUCER. A producer's primary job is to create a product, so they have to look at a number of angles including what value to you bring to the project in terms of name value (can you sell tickets?), cost effectiveness and dependability. It's a big risk to take, to cast an unknown in a big project. The producer, in the end, approves the casting decision and then you come to work.

If you don't look at the big picture of agents, CDs, producers and directors and the jobs they have to do, the process can beat you down. The simple vision of it is "I went in, I did my best, and I didn't get it." You can quickly run into depression and thinking about what you did wrong and you can get mad at the CD or the director for not casting you. You can come to hate yourself and many people quit because they can't deal with the audition monster.

You HAVE to look at the business end of it. You go in, you do the job and you get out. Glenn Morshower doesn't like to call them auditions. He calls them meetings. His solution is to go into a "meeting" like he has already been hired and he's on set. It's a hard vision to create for yourself, but he books a huge majority of everything he reads for and has for sometime. My theory is to never let myself believe it's possible, until they call me.

Here are some stories and examples of processes I have been through and some cool things I got to read for and didn't score so you can see the process in action. I'll start with what I've booked and how it happened:

1.) "Transformers" I already talked about prior. Basically a lot of hard work and luck, culminated in reading for a locations CD (not taped) and having her advocate with a huge name director based on her perception of my talent and what I had done for the production. THIS IS VERY, VERY RARE!!!

2.) "Price of the American Dream II". I was working as an extra for no pay on this independent project and the director found out I could shoot a gun. He pulled me into a name role for no money and no lines and I killed a main character. The director and I still keep in touch on facebook etc. This is the role that got me my agent.

3.) "Breaking Bad" and "In Plain Sight" were both TV series that I had read for several times. I had done workshops with the CDs on both. I went in for standard auditions on both. "Breaking Bad" ended up with Shari Rhodes (the CD) getting me a meeting with the producers/director ON THE SPOT and being hired before I left the audition. We filmed 2 days later. "In Plain Sight" was exactly as I described in the above example with one callback.

4.) "Expectations", "Double Negative" and "Hank and Jim" were all shorts that I helped produce. No auditions and varying degrees of success. "Expectations", despite a group of talented folks was a disaster and I hope it never sees the light of day...we tried to do too much with too little. "Double Negative" is still on inmoo.com and is a decent film (if a bit to close to the Bourne movies) and "Hank and Jim" has hit a couple festivals and has started the ball rolling on some cool future projects to include the one we just did in Jefferson.

5.) "Fool's Gold", a zombie western, was an audition I scored through the nmfilm website. The director was also the producer and CD so no callbacks. Fun project and I hear it will make a compilation disc of Soutwest shorts soon. It showed at the first Texas Bloodbath Festival.

6.) "Coyote County Loser" is a wonderful romantic comedy I was involved in. I went to an open call that I found out about on nmfilm.com and they were reading everyone for everything. It was crazy. The director and the producer were there. It was a cold read. No callbacks. www.coyotecountyloser.com

7.) "GI JOE: Rise of Cobra" was a standard audition and the director booked me off of the audition tape!

8.) "Boggy Creek" and "Humans Vs. Zombies". I was introduced to the director by a mutual friend. He gave me a small role in "Boggy Creek" (no audition) based off of my previous experience and reel and our lunch meeting and then wrote me into a lead role on "HvZ".

9.) "Cut!". A friend showed my reel to the director. Next thing I know I'm on a plane to NY. :)

10.) "Devotion". A friend called me and asked me to do his flick.

11.) "Nebulus" and "The Avenged" are in progress and I've been written in by a friend.

12.) "Code of Evil" I was cast from a taped audition I did from my house.

Here are some of my crazier auditions:

1.) I did a callback with Frank Miller on "The Spirit" up in Albuquerque. I choked a little bit, but still got a laugh out of him at the read. Didn't book it, but found out the character I read for was cut from the film.

2.) Drove 7 hours down and 7 hours back in one day for a callback on "Battle: Los Angeles". Director was awesome, told me I had a great look and then...nothing.

3.) I've submitted about 10 tapes I've done from the house for the show "Army Wives". Nothing booked yet, but they keep asking for me. I've also taped for dozens of other projects at the house to include "The Gates", "Green Zone", "Vampire Diaries", "Texas Killing Fields", "Green Lantern", "True Grit" and "Dylan Dog".

4.) I drove down to Austin for a super secret reading to audition for the role of CAPTAIN AMERICA, with the role going to Chris Evans in the upcoming flick.

5.) Read for a small role in "Gamer" and when I saw it finally, they guy who got it, had it WAY better than what I gave them.

6.) Read for "The Burrowers" with Clancy Brown, but didn't get past the audition because my hair was too short. Had a callback for the role of a white supremacist, but was beat out by the amazing Chris Browning who has been in some amazing projects.\

Lots of other stuff ranging from no budget to huge budget. If I think of more, I'll make note on here. It's been such an adventure.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Resources for Actors

Been thinking about this blog and telling my story. I feel the best way to maintain a positive purpose for this thing is to omit some large portions of it. I don't need to give some people any more attention than they are worth and I definitely don't want to stir up sympathy for them and make myself look like a jerk. That said, what I want to write about today are some online resources for actors.

First off, I touched on these before, but you want to get your resume and headshot listed on some websites ASAP. Two of the most widely used are Actors Access and Now Casting. Both are used by actual casting directors in booking roles and bringing folks in for auditions. It's best to have as much info on these sites as you can. Both offer a broad opportunity for you to insert searchable special skills, training and history of work. Basically, an online resume. You can also upload headshots (free to a point) and a reel (charges by the minute...see the value of a one minute reel again!).

You can also PAY to get info on breakdowns and such. I've found that many of the breakdowns are for non-paying or low-paying gigs. You can find a lot of those elsewhere and not have to pay cash for them. Most of the other breakdowns are going to come out where your agent will see them and submit you anyway. Keep a good relationship with your agent and if they are worth their 10%, they are already looking out for you on the stuff in your area. Usually, when I contact mine, the production isn't looking for my type, even though they are heading to my area, OR she already submitted me.

You can also forward links from these sites to other folks as an online resume. Of course, most solid agents have a pretty good online resume for you already. If you look at my agent's page for me HERE, she has several photos, my resume, some bio info and a reel listed FOR FREE. Remember, if your agent is charging for this stuff, you should be asking questions. This helps them book you, which helps them get paid.

Also there is imdbpro and imdb resume. I'm kind of up in the air on these. I've yet to book anything from using pro. The online forums for casting are a joke. Nothing real is there and people use so many bots on there that the top post may be for a film that was casting TWO years ago. Their online resume is good, but nothing compared to FREE on actorsaccess or nowcasting. I may look at changing my imdb around soon. The main reason I pay for it is to have pictures on there which I think is VITALLY important. IMDB is an industry standard for seeing what you've done and where you've been. Best to have it looking it's best. Having a resume on there certainly doesn't hurt and having access to contact info for directors and agencies could be valuable. Here is my IMDB.

That's about it for putting your resume out there. There are a lot of other sites, but the key thing should be YOU not paying for ANYTHING. IMDB is my one exception...and I may be wrong on at least some of that. Another great resource is the ability to use the internet for searching out gigs. How do I find work on the internet? Here are the best places.

FIRST, go to your state's film commission website. Here are a list of some of the popular film states and where you can find their sites. Don't be adverse to looking up info on states that you live near or would travel to once in awhile. I've actually booked roles and got auditions off doing this process. Specifically, my role in the zombie western "Fool's Gold" and my top billed role in "Coyote County Loser" were both great projects that I nailed based on going to the nmfilm website. Here are the sites:

TEXAS
NEW MEXICO
MICHIGAN
NORTH CAROLINA
NEW ORLEANS
VANCOUVER
FLORIDA

I'm sure I missed some. Some state pages are better at listing casting than others. You'll generally find out about open calls and casting opportunities for independent film this way. Some will be SAG (both "Fool's Gold" and "Coyote County Loser" were). Some will be non-paying.

Since I primarily hang my hat in Texas, you can go here for some good Texas info on casting.

Of course one can't say enough about FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, YOUTUBE, TWITTER, and even starting your own blog.

Finally, a good email address is imperative. Gmail offers you the most options as far as document sharing and I like their sortation methods. You can also get a link directly into your own webpage. Your email should be YOUR NAME! Nothing else. Mine is Fredericdoss@gmail.com. Your email you use for your professional purposes shouldn't be cute.

Speaking of webpages, here is a good example of a simple one that will tell you everything about ME.

The last thing I'll leave you with is the ability to use all of this to crossreference. Say you start with getting all your stuff onto the appropriate websites (resume/headshot/reel). You then use the state sites or imdb to find out what's coming to your neck of the woods (even big budget). You can use imdbpro to find contact info, or you can just go to the regular site and start pulling the casting folks/director up on searches in facebook or social networking sites. The bigger they are, the slimmer the chance that you'll contact them this way, but there are a LOT of talented indy folks on facebook. When you find them, strategically send them links to all of your stuff you did earlier and you've just advanced yourself with the net.

I love technology!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Supporting your Fellow Artists

A brief sidebar to talk about quick and easy ways you can GIVE to your fellow artists. It's also a great way to plus up the indy scene in the media. Here are a few quick tips.

1.) Go to imdb page and click 'LIKE' on the entertainer's page. Usually and actor/director will give you a great opportunity to do this by posting their imdb link on facebook or a similar source. Liking the post won't help. You have to actually go to the imdb site and click like in the right hand column. It takes about 5 seconds depending on internet speed and is a true help to the actor.

2.) If you've already 'liked' the imdb page and you see the link posted again, click on it. Even if you just let the page load and then close it and do something else, you're giving the actor a hit on their page, which helps to make them more popular (and thus more attractive to producers). Imdb IS important.

3.) Another imdb bonus for your acting pal! Go to their message board and leave a post. Even if it's just "Had a chance to work with this guy and he's very talented and a consummate professional." It's something. Even with signing up for your free account, it only takes a couple of minutes to do this.

4.) Youtube videos. Like them on youtube. Leave a quick "This rocks" comment. Click on them when they are reposted to give more hits/views. Subscribe to their channel. Even favorite them!

Notice how none of what I have told you to do includes SHARING the video or page on your wall, but ALL help the actor/director in question. None of these things cost money. Just a few seconds of your time.

The same can be applied to etsy stores, facebook posts and other websites. Hits mean a lot! It also applies to BLOGS!

For grins, here is my imdb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2427168/

Here is my youtube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/mksentinel

Here are the youtube pages for a couple of my films:

Humans Vs. Zombies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbGCNJSQFXU&tracker=False
Cut!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5thcmRxgwKU&tracker=False
Coyote County Loser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIIY-DG-mtQ

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Transformers -- My First Film


One day, I was an Air Force Lieutenant stationed at Holloman AFB. I was a flight commander for a transportation flight at BEAR base. BEAR is the Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources capability of the Air Force. Basically, BEAR is all the tents, equipment, generators and vehicles needed to take any location in the world with an existing runway and a source of drinkable water and generate aircraft sorties (take off and landing) within 72 hours. Within 21 days we could have 2000 people eating soft serve ice cream at the chow hall. I was basically happy with life. I was doing important work and had a wonderful wife and daughter.

However, on this one day in question, CMSgt McNichols announced at our morning staff meeting that a film crew was coming through the base to talk about a little film called "Prime Directive". They were scouting OUR site as a potential location for the movie. The Chief and I had butted heads on a few things recently and were starting to communicate better so I went up to her after the meeting. I told her that I had done theater in college and would love to come along.

She and I leaped into a golf cart and met the film crew at the front gate to our compound (BEAR is a base within a base). To our surprise, the crew was lead by Michael Bay! We escorted him around the base showing him what we could offer. We had aircraft hangars, HMMWVs, tents of all sizes and, of course personnel. The main thing I kept repeating is that he could use any of it as long as he didn't blow it up.

Our salesmanship must have worked, because, "Prime Directive" came to Holloman with a vengeance. In January of 2006, the art department (the talented Beat Frutiger) and locations folks (Michael Burmeister, Kate Chase and Emre Somnez) were everywhere and I was one of 4 people on the base responsible for coordinating their efforts. Mike, Kate, Emre and I quickly decided that what we did (them for film and me for the Air Force) was basically the same stuff. We had a blast together. I also quickly figured out, through the use of imdb, that "Prime Directive" was code for "Transformers".

I did so much behind the scenes, all in an attempt to support what the Air Force termed the biggest PR event of the year for the service. My mission was maximum support with zero liability to our mission and zero financial impact to the taxpayer. Fortunately, our civil engineers needed practice setting up tents and AM2 matting (think of lego style runway). Our vehicles all needed to be exercised every month (driven for 30 minutes...War Reserve Materiel is saved for emergencies and thus isn't driven much stateside). Any work that needed to be done that we couldn't pull of during duty hours or write off as much needed training had to be done AFTER hours on the film crews dime. Also, any work that involved our vehicles and stuff had to be done by our people.

I coordinated all the labor scheduling, payroll paperwork, hiring and employment of the military crew that was working for art and special effects to make things happen. I got a shop space we weren't effectively using cleared out so the FX guys could have a place to work. Joey DiGeatano and Steve Galich were fantastic to work with. Here I was hanging out with two guys responsible for effects on films like "Blade Runner" and "Beastmaster". When you work with Bay, your resume is liable to be impressive as hell. Their imdb resumes read like a hot list of every badass film ever made. Great guys too.

Where I ended up getting on to the big screen was helping with locations casting. Our compound was secure so we wanted military people as extras (all the guys shooting at Blackout and then running for their lives). Also, anyone driving the vehicles had to be our kids. That basically put me in the casting department. One day, the lovely Sally Jackson and I ran into each other at lunch. She was in charge of locations casting. She told me they had a role they wanted to place a military guy in and they had read 30+ people with no success. I told her I had done theater in college and she asked "Why haven't I had you into read yet?". "I don't know, why haven't you?" was my rapid response.

The next afternoon I was doing my first audition for a film. Sally was worried aboout me being nervous. She gave me the sides and told me to prep as much as I needed. I worked them for a couple of minutes and then was ready to rock. We went behind closed doors. She was more nervous for me than I was. She told me we could do as many tries as I wanted. After the first one, she jumped straight on the phone and I heard her say, "We have an actor."

After that, the ball was rolling. My first acting gig was to get suited up as a potential stand-in for one of the spec ops team that follows Duhamel around the film. I got to suit up in Crye Multicam when it was in it's infancy of coolness and all the other gear, jump on a private plane with a bunch of REAL former operators and fly to Farmington NM and Shiprock for the FIRST day of shooting. Tyrese Gibson couldn't make it due to some exhaustion from shooting a music video (WTF?). Of course, that's not who I was going to stand in for. As a matter of fact, when we got there, the other guy got picked. I did get to be there for the first day of shooting, play with the gear and even learned how to REALLY hold a handgun (non-Weaver) for the first time. I learned that I couldn't pop the top of a beer bottle like a badass special ops guy...that a badass Navy SEAL could choke you out with your own collar in seconds and that when you're a big name actor it's okay to be an absolute pansy.

Next up, was a night shoot where a bunch of Army guys are running through a tank graveyard (in the movie they are supposed to be working models) as stuff explodes all around them. It's the scene in the movie where Skorpinok shows up. We discovered a problem that first night. Apparently, the AF safety morons had taken a regulation about explosives and applied it to the movie explosives (which are designed NOT to hurt people). No military personnel were allowed within 75 METERS of the explosions. Michael was pissed. He had to find the non-military folks to get up close to do the badass stuff.

The next day, I found our Vice Wing Commander and told him our safety guys were making us look like a bunch of pussies. He went back, chewed some ass and the next night we were right up on the bang bangs. I'm one of the dudes, running in the background in that scene from burning flying tanks.

So, after a failed attempt at a stand-in and a rocking couple of nights as an extra (they forgot 5 of us one night and went to lunch without us...fun walk), my call came. From what I gather, Sally stood in front of Bay and told him, without tape of me or proof that I could do anything that I was the one they needed for the role in the SOCCENT HQ. He was skeptical, but when he found out I was the one that got the safety rule overturned, he hired me on the spot. Here I was going into my first film role ever...being directed by Michael Bay!

First day of filming was great. I got to meet Glenn Morshower. At this point, I had never seen 24, and Glenn is one of those guys you recognize from everything, but isn't uber-famous (though more talented than most that are). Charlie Bodin (the other speaking actor in the scene), Glenn and I had a couple adventures.

The first day, Glenn took the opportunity to mentor both Charlie and me on the joys of acting. This was one of the most important moments (for better or worse) in setting me on the crazy road I am on. Glenn put on a DVD of his spoken word tour "The Extra Mile" and would stop it for us to elaborate and answer questions. The next day, I picked Charlie and Glenn up in my beater Ford Aspire and we drove up to Inn of the Mountain Gods in Ruidoso, where I learned that Glenn talking craps was like listening to a foreign language. Charlie was a bit manlier than I was when it came to gambling and could hang with poker. I...played the slots. High roller.

On set that first day was amazing. They had built the whole building we were in from the ground up. I found out later, that facebook pall Matt Orsman and his crew designed all the badass video screens we were looking at. It was great.

The first crazy thing that happened was that I noticed Charlies stripes were for a SrA and not a Staff Sergeant. Wardrobe fixed it (go military advisor). Next up, Mr. Bay through my sides out and gave me all new lines that I wrote on a post-it. My line "A friend of mine was on that chopper" was all Bay. Then, Mike wanted me to tell someone at the other end of the room to "go check the mainframe". I asked him "Who?" and he said "That lady". My response, "I can't do that Mike". Got a great WTF look from that. "Why not?". The person he pointed to was a Major and I was a Petty Officer First Class. There was a rank issue with me being directive. He then told me to go check the mainframe. Not all of my lines made the film, but the good stuff did. It was enough.

The next day (after gambling) was the stunt stuff. They had rigged up a 10000lb weight pulley system to literally rip the sheet metal roof off the building. Huge fans and smoke machines would add to the badassery of the moment.

The first craziness of the day was when Mike ordered that Charlie and I be put into make-up as if we had been blasted by the glass from the control tower that we were never in. We protested...mildly, but got the pro make-up treatment...which rocked. When we got to set, Bay took one look at us and then had us taken out of the make-up. Good times.

Second, when we got to set, Michael tole me to go back to my desk. I reminded him that I had been down by the mainframe (where the action was) and he put me back down there. Mind you, that the whole group of people beside Glenn, Charlie and me was totally different...marking Bay's statement "Continuity is for sissies". He's right, by the way. I can't even notice it in the film.

Standing down by the mainframe, the first AD comes out to brief us about what is going to happen. Turns out, my whole side of the room had been replaced by stunt folks. The AD asked me to move forward (away from the coolness). However, the camera guy and I had worked out our pacing so I wouldn't kill him. When the AD was distracted, I eased back even further than I had been before. The stunt guys were snickering about my madness.

The effects/stunt folks then explained the gag and said we should "act natural". Let me tell you, when they dropped that weight, the roof ripped off, papers blew everywhere, strobes went off, smoke everywhere and the stunt guys yelling with lights swinging everywhere...there was nothing TO ACT BUT NATURAL! Holy crap! I nearly killed the camera guy. It was amazing.

After that...I was wrapped. All my buddies who had been on the film were all excited, but hearing the words "wrapped" were like being stabbed in the chest with a knife. I was lost. My wife had taken my daughter to visit her parents (I was working 18 hour days for 2 weeks) and I was all alone struggling with depression. This couldn't be it. I snuck back onto the set at 3AM and smoked a cheap cigar while I contemplated my fate. Finally, I came to the conclusion that nothing said I had to quit doing this. I decided that night that I was going to be an actor.

There are a few stories I am forgetting. We had a blast in the desert heat, building the AM2 basketball court for Tyrese to play ball on. Josh Duhamel was a class act coming up and sitting with the troops/extras and striking up conversations. Zack Ward and I shared stories about growing up in bowling alleys while we were at the cast/crew bowling party on base. I got an Air Force Achievement Medal for all the work I did on the film. I made the mistake of turning down a chance to be a locations manager on huge films because I wanted to be able to act more. I'm sure I'll remember more as soon as I publish this.

What I want to leave this section with is a few things I learned:

1.) "Transformers" didn't make me as an actor. I thought, at the time, that it was a silver bullet. I thought I was going to be able to do 100s of films because of it. It was a weird way to start a film career and I had unrealistic expectations.

2.) I badgered some important folks until they probably never want to hear from me again. In particular I had a brief email trail going with Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Being an idiot and totally self-absorbed in my own success I think I asked for or expected things, instead of just dropping a line and having a conversation. I wasn't rude...I was probably needy. People like Lorenzo have EVERYONE bugging them for a role or a chance. Don't be that guy. Be creative. Be you. Don't be a beggar and realize that EVERYONE bugs these guys for a chance at success.

3.) Glenn Morshower is an incredible human being and teacher. If you can make it to his "Extra Mile" even, GO! http://www.glennmorshower.com/

4.) Working behind the scenes can lead to things in front of the screen. Don't be afraid to put in as a PA or to do stuff like extra work. Getting close can give you opportunities that not being there at all will never get you.

5.) My special skill of being in the military got my film career going. Had nothing to do with my college time as an actor (though that prepped me and was a conversation starter). The key thing that got me in the door on all of this was that I had joined the military.

For cool Transformers pics, friend me on facebook and find the album here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=203828&id=710493427

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In the Beginning


I am not famous. Not yet anyway. I'm not making boat loads of money working in film. Not yet. But, I have worked on a lot of crazy projects, been in a lot of great situations and done a lot of things in the film industry that more than a few people find impressive. That, and I've made a lot of mistakes along the way getting to where I am (some of them I continue to make). So, the hope is here, that if you want to be an actor and you don't want to rush out to Los Angeles to do so, you can learn a couple things from my successes and failures.

Why am I sharing this? Well for one, I like helping people achieve their dreams. I've started to get asked by a lot of people, "How do I break into this business?". It's a heck of a lot easier to give people a link to a site, than to have the same 45 minute conversation over and over again and worry that I've forgotten some key piece of information. I'm also curious about writing a book about the subject and seeing who's interested. I like to write and I like making money doing things that I like to do. So, if I can get enough hits on this site to bring in advertising, then I can help people AND get paid for it, which is even better.

"Who am I?". Why should you listen to me? Well, I'll go into the nitty gritty details as I go along, but as an overview, in my life, I've been a published author in a pretty decent sized magazine (InQuest Gamer), I've been a military officer with a brief stint in Afghanistan, I'm a father of two beautiful girls and the husband of an amazingly talented, intelligent and beautiful woman. But the part you are probably most interested in is, "Why should I listen to this guy talk about acting"? Well I could tell you, or I could just show you.

Here is my resume on imdb. Most notably, I had smaller roles on "Transformers", "GI Joe: Rise of Cobra" and on USA's "In Plain Sight" and the emmy award winning show for AMC, "Breaking Bad". You can see some clips from the stuff I've done here:
video

My plan is to start at the beginning, with my first film project, "Transformers" and go from there, detailing lessons I learned along the way and describing the cool experiences that make this all worth while. I'll also talk about the hardships and heartache and the misadventures I've had along the way. Some of it might piss people off. I'll try to be as tactful as I can.

To begin with, let me start you out with a few words of wisdom. I think 10 is a good round number, to get you set in the right direction:

1.) If you can think of anything else that you could be doing for a living that would make you happy, do that instead. Not sure where that quote comes from, but it's the God's honest truth. This is a hard road and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is reserved for a select few. I haven't reached it yet. It's not for the weak at heart. There is a LOT of rejection and a lot of dashed hopes along the way. If you are going to do this, you have to want it with all of your being! Basically, you need to be certifiably insane.

2.) You need experience to get experience. Yep, it's a catch 22. Most of life is. So, how do you build a resume to show people you can actually DO this? College plays, community theater and independent shorts and features are the best way. This means you will be working for free (for the most part). You may luck into a paying gig at this point, but don't count on it. You never know what project is going to get you to that next step. After "Transformers" I couldn't get an agent. Everyone probably assumed it was an extra gig. I got my agent from doing a non-paying role on a direct-to-video film called "Price of the American Dream II". I had no lines, but they needed someone who could shoot a gun safely and in return, they gave me a name in the credits. When I submitted to The Phoenix Agency in Albuquerque, she had already signed a lot of folks who had worked on this film and that got me in the door for a meeting. Crazy, eh?

A note on extra work. I do it. It's a great way to earn money and be a part of the film experience as acting talent. Don't, however, confuse it with acting. You're pretty much a glorified prop. The only people who take it very seriously are people who can't act their way out of a paper bag and have had to turn it into a career. It's fun as heck! The hours are long and the pay is low and there is a lot of waiting, but if you are addicted to the set experience it's worth it. Also, if you don't have any other experience, THIS shows that you have been on set and know how things work. However, if you're one of those guys who try to build a fan base or an imdb resume from your "uncredited" appearances, you're pretty sleazy in my book. Definitely do the extra work, but don't take yourself too seriously for having done it.

3.) PAY for a good headshot from someone who knows what they are doing. Don't have your buddy do it in your living room. Don't get a highschool portrait photographer to knock them out for you. There is an art to it. I can't even explain it. Bottom line is, pay the money. Somewhere between $100 and $300 for decent shots. This is a MUST! It's not an option. You will BOOK roles from this. I booked work on a national NERF commercial off of a headshot alone. It's also a key part of any package you send to anyone. I'll talk more about headshots and some strategies later on.

4.) Take classes. I'm not a fan of acting schools and conservatories and the like. I don't really have the cash to blow on them personally and I'd rather be working than attending classes full time for something I think I'm pretty decent at anyway. That said, there are plenty of great workshops and weekend events that will fit the bill. Particularly, ANY event with a casting director who works in your market. No, it's not a paid audition. It's a chance to meet with a CD in a non-threatening environment and let them get to know you. Of course, if you're an unlikable bastard, this may not be a good option for you. It's worked for me though. I booked roles on "In Plain Sight" and "Breaking Bad" and part of that was because I got to know the casting directors at their workshops.

I've also done some great classes like a fight choreography workshop with the legendary Richard Norton and even acting courses from folks like Lar Park Lincoln, conducted at a horror convention here in the Dallas area last year. Classes are a MUST for your resume. They help you network, help you improve your craft and help you show that you are serious about being an actor.

You can also join improv groups (something I need to do) and join up with a group of other actors to hone your work. My buddy George Katt has a great group called the Indie's Lab up in NYC that is taking off. Great experience and, again, you're building your resume.

5.) Get a reel. Hopefully, some of the experience you got in #2 is on tape! If so, cut yourself a reel. Best bet is to get with a pal who knows about editing and have them craft it for you. I recommend 1 minute. When my agent first told me about the 1 minute reel, I thought she was nuts, but 1 minute shows a bit of what you can do and is short enough where a CD will actually WATCH IT! Nothing says I am about to waste my time like looking at that 7:47 tag on your video length. It may be the best 7:47 second of footage EVER, but if I don't click on that play button, none of it matters. Indy film that doesn't pay should ALWAYS offer free copy or footage. Also, you can stage your own scenes with a filmmaking buddy. Teamwork isn't just something for the Wonder Pets.

6.) Build your talent pool. A lot of gigs are dependent upon an actor bringing some knowledge to the table. Westerns like folks who can ride horses. Action flicks like people who can fight or shoot guns. I've missed out on opportunities lately because I don't know how to play guitar (been on my to do list for way too long). Make a list of all the things you know how to do that set you apart from your peers. My primary "talents" are my ability to do a wide variety of voices and accents, my military background and all that entails and my moderate experience in the martial arts. You may have been a football player or know how to throw pottery. I heard an amazingly funny story from a friend about his pole vaulting experience and a great story from Glenn Moreshower about his vast experience with horseback riding. More on that later.

This is also a great time to make a list of things you wish you knew how to do and start knocking them out. Oh, and stuff like having a passport and travel experience help.

7.) Make your resume! So your resume has a section for bio information, like name and contact info, height weight and the like. It also has a list of all your experience, your training (classes) and your special skills. Whoa, see how I already touched on most of that above. In addition to your resume, your acting package will include your HEADSHOT (whoa again) and your reel (wow!). These are the things that show a CD, a director, an agent or a manager that you know your stuff. I'll touch on formats and style later.

8.) Build your web presence. Get that reel on youtube. If you have film experience, look into imdb pro. imdb.com is THE source for film. You need to be on it and stay current. I learned this on "Transformers". All the behind the scenes folks and actors were telling people to check them out on imdb. The real entertainment community uses it and so should you. Also, set up free accounts on actorsaccess.com and nowcasting.com. These two sites are industry standards for casting and also help you build your resume in an electronic format.

Next up, FACEBOOK! Get out there and meet some filmmakers. Oh, and Zack Snyder doesn't care who you are. When I first started out, I was mailing him daily letters (maybe not THAT crazy) about my desire to work on "The Watchmen". The man probably is flooded by letters like that and there really isn't much of a reason to single me out over the hundreds or thousands of others. The folks you need to be talking to are the NEXT Zack Snyder. These are talented filmmakers that just haven't had that lucky break we all pray for. Talk with these guys. Offer your services. Shoot the breeze. Form FRIENDSHIPS. One of the best part of networking has been the friendships I've formed with some very cool people. What started out as simple admiration for their work has turned into kindred spirits and good times.

Something I need to work on...stay away from politics, religion and whining on your site. I've been guilty of all 3 and still fall prey occasionally. No need to scare off potential employers and co-workers because they think you are a total douche bag.

9.) Seek out an agent! Now that you have something to show them, AND NOT BEFORE! Start shopping for an agent. The best way to find a great agent is to ask around. Talk to the people in your area who are doing this thing regularly and ask them who they are with.

In addition, temper your expectations. An agent is a gatekeeper. Simply having one is a requirement to see most Casting Directors. While your agent can be a powerful ally in getting work, you can NOT rely on them to do everything. Your agent represents potentially 100s of people. They get paid when SOMEONE books a role, not necessarily you. YOU are always the key to your success. You need to work with your agent to make yourself more marketable and to find out what's out there. Also, more than one agent is not a bad thing. Look for representation in any area where you think you can feasibly work. I have representation in Texas AND representation in Louisiana (almost). Your agents are VERY busy. Help them help you.

A few notes on warning signs for agents. Agents should NEVER make ANY money off of you unless they book you/represent you on a gig. Meaning there should be no dues or fees, no required classes or things you have to buy to keep representation. Also, agents should charge somewhere in this ballpark. 10% for union gigs (per contract), %15 for nonunion and for print etc, as high as 20%. Any more than that and you are being taken for a ride. Again, if you are asking around, it's the simplest way to avoid these traps!

10.) Be professional. Always be on time to auditions. Never take yourself too seriously. Be where you say you're going to be, when you say you're going to be there. Bring your headshot and resume to your auditions (in the right quality/quantity). Don't get frustrated by long waits. Sell yourself as someone who is easy to work with. Don't sell your dignity. There are some sleazebags out there who are mainly only out to exploit you (mainly if you are a woman). The casting couch isn't worth it and is 98% a myth. If you can't be professional and market yourself, then you probably shouldn't be doing this.