Friday, January 22, 2010

To bed too late. Up too early. Another late weeknight this week as we finally had the departmental dinner out that we were too busy to hold during the holidays. And, of course, my class. I got a gold star for continuity.

Since friends have been asking, happily I got the grandmother’s part in the short film (25 min.) that I auditioned for on Saturday. They start shooting in Maryland in February and wrap the end of March. It’s an interesting storyline and I look forward to meeting the rest of the cast and getting started.

Despite my concern that my audition choices were too “earnest,” I realize that I did do a lot in that audition that worked. Plus I allowed myself plenty of time to drive there, find the studio and memorize my lines. I also arrived in neutral clothes and makeup, but brought along extra clothing changes and a bag of possible props. Having options at hand make it easier to focus on doing the scene.

The film overlaps slightly with another short film I’ll be doing mid-March through May. They don’t shoot on the same days. Both producers plan these as film festival entries. I’ll get screen credit. Now, must maintain the momentum and line up something for summer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It’s 8:30 (in the evening) and I just woke up; the small cat still stretched out on my chest where the warmth and sound of my heartbeat makes him feel safe. Office Space was just wrapping up on the TV (Stephen Root; what a great characterization) followed on by You’ve Got Mail. Decided to go downstairs and make some tea. A week full of appointments and a Saturday that begins at 5 a.m. eventually catches up to you. It caught up to me about three hours ago.

All week I kept thinking I needed to cancel something or I wasn’t going to make it through today’s audition. My stringout on the Army recruiting video looked like hash. I was facing a fifth rewrite on a 30-page boating safety guide for the Coast Guard. The dance and fitness association wanted me to redo the creative treatment for the conference video we have to put together for them in two weeks. A Homeland Security client that dodged six phone calls last month suddenly called back and said he was ready to move on his project – as in now. Then there was lunch with Lorna, meet with the financial adviser, run by the wig shop and thrift store in case I needed to compensate for what my closet lacked in “grandmother.” Oh, and take most of the menagerie to the vet and show sympathy for my husband who’s still down with a cold.

The thing was, I was too busy to call and reschedule anything and somehow it all got done – although big cat did barf on me on the way home from the vet. Revenge.

The audition went okay. It’s for a short film about loss and family. The location was northwest of Baltimore so I allowed myself plenty of time to get there (Hell, I even got the car washed on the way!). Picked up the sides two hours before my appointment and memorized the two-page scene over lunch. I wonder if my choices were too “earnest” though. Perhaps I should have taken it down a notch.

I had the monologue ready, but the director didn’t ask for it. That means I have time to work on it in class and get it down more solid than it is right now. The drama instructor thinks it might be a keeper with a few edits. That would give me one requisite contemporary dramatic monologue to go with my classic monologue (Queen Margaret from Henry the 6th, Part 3: “Great Lords! Wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss, but cheerly seek how to redress their harms...”) I wanted to do “France is alone and God is alone” from Saint Joan, but instructors have not been supportive of that idea. Well, Uta Hagen said you can never be too old to play Saint Joan, you can only be too young. (I’ve seen college students do Saint Joan on You Tube. She’s right.) Still need to find a comedy monologue.

Should hear about the film tomorrow, one way or the other.

For now I sit here sipping tea and feeling groggy and indulging in one of the scones my in-laws sent from the Athenaeum Bakery in Pasadena – dried plums, pecans, crystallized sugar all over the top. I’m joining Weight Watchers tomorrow to get rid of the eight pounds I’ve put on over the past year. This is called self-delusion.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Began another drama class this week, and on Saturday I have another audition. So much to do and I feel so unprepared. The monologue I'm trying to have ready for Saturday isn't going well and my husband's too doped up with Nyquil tonight to give me any input. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. Is it better to have a network of friends willing to watch you run through your lines again and again or to turn inward and just struggle with it? My read sounds flat. The problem I think is that I chose a monologue from a film I've actually seen - The Black Orchid, 1958. I keep seeing Sophia Loren in my head. Her read was flat too. The part was originally written for Anna Magnani, but audiences wanted to see Loren. When you look like Loren you can read it flat and no one cares.

I'm auditioning for a part in a short film as an Italian grandmother. Went out today and bought a chignon so I could pull my hair back. I hope that works. Maybe I should just brush my hair off my face like Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck. I don't know what I'm going to wear. I wish I didn't have to have a day job sometimes. There aren't enough hours in the day for all that needs to get done.

Lunch with make up artist Lorna Basse tomorrow. The Today Show is keeping her hopping. All those politicians sweating under the lights. Lorna's terrific. She taught me how to do my own make up for all the times I'd need her and she wouldn't be there. She's usually good for an hysterically funny inside story or two.

At least the drama class started okay. I need to use my hands more though. Sheesh, how can I audition as an Italian grandmother and not use my hands? Maybe I'll be the Anne Bancroft kind of Italian grandmother, just look sulky and smoke.

Panic is setting in.

Friday, January 8, 2010

You run across a lot of conflicting advice when you’re getting into acting, even from drama teachers. But one tidbit I hear now and then from other aspiring actors is that working as an Extra, or Background Performer, is a great way to break into films and to learn how films are shot – the routine, the technology. Extras, they say, are sometimes cast in bit parts that on a major film pay a huge amount of money (at least by the standards of the proletariat!)

Okay, if you really have no clue about what shooting on a set or on location looks like then stepping in as an Extra a time or two probably won’t hurt. Just remember that your role is to be wallpaper behind the star, to provide the viewer with a vague sense of place, of activity, to work as part of a large element in a shot – i.e. an army unit, a horde of attacking Mongols (although really large crowds are now created digitally). An Extra is specifically not to be noticed, and when they are the casting director has screwed up.

I always notice the guy behind Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally, where she says “I have had plenty of good sex!” The guy raises his eyebrows then resumes talking to the woman sitting across from him. He looks like Mark Harmon, and the fact that I notice him every time is a mistake. No star wants movie viewers watching their big scene thinking, who is that great-looking guy sitting at the table back there? Some will even have actors edited out of a film if they feel they’re grabbing the spotlight. (Shirley MacLaine, do you recognize yourself?) So, problem one, you’re expected to be wallpaper and if you’re not you won’t get in the shot.

Problem two, if you make a habit of working as an Extra - and this is the part that kills me - directors and crew members come to know your face and to regard you as “just an Extra,” which risks closing the door on all but bit parts.

Michael Caine makes this point in his book Acting in Film, only in mapping out his own career he set the bar even higher. He says that Laurence Olivier advised him early on to never accept a supporting role, always to be the star. Olivier’s reasoning was that if you accept supporting roles you come to be seen as just a “supporting actor” and it’s harder to then get leading roles.

For much of his career, especially while he was trying to get established and make a name for himself, Michael Caine heeded that advice, rejecting purely supporting roles in big films in favor of starring roles in small ones. Now as he gets older and starring roles for older actors in big budget films become fewer and farther between, he’s returning to more small films – like Is Anybody There? – and keeping his star billing.

I think that’s incredibly smart. Downsize the vehicle, not the role. Star in a student film, star in an industrial, star in a training video – Hell, star in something clever you put on YouTube!

Sure there's a good living to be made in supporting roles and character parts. Actors like Claude Akins and Strother Martin and a whole host of others even develop quite a following. But you learn a lot more about working in front of the camera when you have blocking and close ups and more lines. Oh, and one more benefit: no one will ever mistake you for....wallpaper.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Antsy. Feeling like something good is about to happen. Much different from last month when I just dragged along and couldn’t get anything done. (Well, okay, the two-week, “I feel like I have something terminal” cold didn’t help.)

I get this feeling from time to time. I don’t know whether it actually portends something or that simply wanting something good to happen somehow makes it happen. (My Dad was a great believer in the power of positive thinking.)

Last year around this time I had just started drama classes and was reading everything on acting that I could get my hands on, from high art to high sell. (I’m a believer in research.) Getting in front of the camera was something I’d wanted to do for a very long time, so having finally started down that path I guess I was allowing myself just a little fantasy about it – as in, Gee, wouldn’t it be cool if I’m having lunch and reading my acting book and someone in the business comes up to me, notices the book and says “I couldn’t help but notice what you’re reading. Do you act?” And then……!!!

Okay, silly.

Well here's something to file under "You just never know!" Within a week of letting that little thought wander through the transom of my mind (February 10, 2009, to be exact) I was in the McDonald's up on Duke Street in Alexandria (the seedy, industrial part of Alexandria) eating McNuggets and reading my copy of Breaking into Acting for Dummies (yes, there is such a book), and this pleasant-looking, middle-aged man walks over and says "I couldn't help noticing what you're reading. Are you an actor?" He then proceeds to tell me how his son - David Wilcox - managed to break into television as a writer, and how he now writes for Life on Mars, having written for Law & Order for four years and for some Sci-Fi Channel show before that and that his son now makes a million dollars a year.

And I sat there staring like Jon Favreau in that scene from Rudy where the blonde college girl walks up and says, “Excuse me, don’t I know you from somewhere?” I think I mumbled something like, “You must be very proud.”

And he walked away.

And I wasn't wearing any lipstick!

Why didn’t I say, “ Please, have a seat! Tell me all about him! Tell me how he did it! Tell me who you are! ” No! Head-banging stupidity!

I googled David Wilcox. He’s a writer/executive producer on Fringe, Life on Mars, Law & Order, and a whole raft of other series.

Anyway, it goes to show that you never know who you might run into in the business - or related to someone in the business - even in northern Virginia (even in McDonald's!) and that an open book on acting, even a tacky one seen upside down, is a good conversation starter.

Should that happen again, baby I am ready.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Voicing a scratch track for the Army video this morning. Amazing the lingering effects of having eaten pizza for dinner last night -- all that cheese. Sounds like I have a mouthful of bubble gum. Still need to talk to the Sergeant Major about his edits to the narration. One section appears to be right out of the Army training manual: five clauses separated by semicolons. (groan) Will track him down this afternoon and see if we can’t fix this.

I’ve been voicing industrials and TV credits and roll-ins for about eight years. My “breathing from the diaphragm” is getting better and really is the key to achieving more volume and richness. But my narrative voice for documentaries still needs work. There’s a rhythm to reading a long storyline and I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

Tried taking a voiceover class, but found myself getting frustrated at the lack of feedback – which is, after all, why I signed up. Am I doing this right or not? What do I need to do to sound better?

I’d sit in class listening to students with obvious pacing and pronunciation issues and the person leading the class would be saying, “gee, that’s just great!” Felt like I was in Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average.

Every class should impart some tangible skill. Every instructor should say, this is what you’re doing well; this is what you need to work on.

Not sure my voice will be right for this video, even when it recovers from the dairy issue. Bah.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back in the office; my first chance to get off my feet since I rolled out of bed at 5 this morning, except for the 10 minutes I took to boil an egg, wolf down toast and scan the Wall Street Journal. Speaking of which, in the book review section today some academic claims that a substantial amount of research has shown that writing is better for working through a problem than talking to friends or even to a professional counselor. I think that’s true. Writing helps you focus, as does going through life at a dead run. You weed out the unnecessary distractions.

Sometime this week I have to locate a monologue for –to put it delicately – an older woman. This is the problem: in nearly all monologues for women over 40 she’s an alcoholic, a drug addict, neurotic, suicidal, terminally ill, living her life through (or manipulating) her kids, reminiscing on some past time when life was more interesting than it is today or delivering some variation of the housewives’ lament, i.e. “I could have been a contender but for my husband.” Oh, or she’s tarted-up and from West Virginia (not the nice part).

A half-century of feminism and the wise, strong, competent, sexually desirable roles for women wouldn’t fill a shot glass. I’m not the first one to point this out.

This is the other problem: the instructor in my On-Camera Scene Study class says I look like I come from Connecticut or Long Island (and he did mean the nice part). Oh, kiss of death! The only two actresses I can think of who fit that description were Grace Kelly (Main Line Philadelphia actually, I think) and Dina Merrill, who didn’t seem to have much of a career (sorry, Dina, but it’s true).

But play to your strength, right? Maybe Connecticut will come back in fashion! Timing is everything!

So, this week, find a monologue that presents an older woman as warm, wise, compassionate, even witty. TV, film or stage. It has to have a beginning, middle and end. Preferably not a memory piece. And I’m on deadline; my next On-Camera class starts a week from tomorrow.

For now it’s on to stringing-out a recruiting video for an army special forces unit and a chat with the very nice sergeant major who hacked up the narration I wrote for this thing. Must dust off my diplomacy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

It’s 6 a.m. and the wind is howling outside my window and I’m sitting here wrapped in two bathrobes wearing “kitten” slipper socks on the wrong feet. This is the coldest winter in Washington that I can remember. I can’t seem to get warm. Must remember to put food out for the birds and squirrels when it gets light.

This is actually the third time I’ve tried to start this blog. I’d spend hours making it sound like an essay – as in complete sentences – and then look at it and think, Who is this person and why is she taking so long to write such crap?

Last night I searched the Internet for Acting Blogs. Twenty-somethings writing breathlessly about me, me, me!! “I’ve been on the phone with my agent!!” “I just had a U5 (under 5 lines) part in a TV episode!!” “I’ve been called back to do a commercial for the local cable channel!!” I’m here, there and everywhere!! I’m sooooooo busy!! I have fans!!

All this from a rather interchangeable blonde who claims she’s been in the business for 25 years although she doesn’t look older than 27, I don’t recognize her face or name, and her most recent U5 was playing a florist. Talk about discouraging.

Last night my husband and I watched Julie & Julia on DVD, and I started thinking that maybe I needed to channel some famous actress (er, actor) to write this blog, but I’m not a twenty-something (Hell, I’m not even a thirty-something.) so most current famous actors are younger than my kid and those that aren’t are dead. Jessica Tandy (dead). Beulah Bondi (dead). Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Plowright (almost dead).

I thought maybe I’d channel Alec Guinness (also dead), but although he wrote a charming book I’m not sure he’d be much of a hoot to have lunch with.

So I’ll just write. I have almost no experience in front of the camera and no experience at all on the stage (not even in high school). I have a thimbleful of talent and when I do a scene I get a knot in my stomach the size of my fist. I know that starting late and in Washington, DC, the odds are stacked against me. But I also know this: all my life I’ve had a face that strangers seem to remember and I’m going to be an actor.

And this I’ve learned: Play nice. You’re not the only kid in the sandbox.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t take more than an hour to write this, so I’m getting up now to get myself a cup of tea. God, I look like death. (Quick! Get the camera and take a “character” shot!)