Monday, June 28, 2010

Equatorial weather. Shooting outside. My makeup is running off my face. Washington, DC is no place to make movies in the summer unless it’s one of those gritty, we’re-hot-and-miserable-and-want-to-kill-someone films. It’s a good thing young filmmakers are not into extreme close-ups. The shine would be blinding.

I like extreme close-ups actually. Not for vanity’s sake. You can say a lot with a face and eliminate pages of weighty dialog in the process. “The eyes are a window to the soul,” as they say. I believe someone also once said that “man created language to hide his thoughts,” which is as good an argument as any against too many words in a script. Let’s convey thoughts, moods, feelings, motives. Too many screenwriters forget that film is a visual medium.

I was watching Dear Frankie again the other evening, Shona Auerbach’s very unslick 2004 film that got a standing ovation at Cannes. She does things that you don’t often see anymore – close-ups of just the eyes, shots of characters where little is said but so much conveyed by their body language. Look at the long, drawn-out awkwardness before Gerard Butler and Emily Mortimer kiss. Where did Auerbach find the confidence to do that?

Or look at Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War. He says so much without words. I love Michael Kitchen’s work.

Having said all this I auditioned in Philadelphia on Saturday for a part as narrator. All words. Still, they are short and to the point and the film has a very intriguing plot twist that could prove challenging. Every film is an opportunity. Need to line up more on-camera work for August though. I’m focused; something will come up.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Well I survived the Stonehenge Film Auditions in Baltimore. I didn't forget any lines and I did okay. I started getting a frog in my throat midway into my monologue, but managed to get rid of it without having to visibly clear my throat. Also managed to keep stress to a reasonable level.

The auditions were held a small black box theatre. There were about 60 people from 35 production companies in the audience sitting on risers (a record number). Basically the only light was on the person doing the audition, but nobody watched the person; instead, everyone watched each audition projected onto a large screen. Most of the production companies were no pay/deferred pay. But about 6-8 did Screen Actors Guild low-budget productions and 2 paid SAG scale rates. There was also a casting director who has cast extras and supporting roles for major films. That was interesting.

The organizers from Team Jabberwocky brought us in to audition in groups of five and we had to perform a monologue suitable for TV or film that was not more than 90 seconds long. It went very fast! When each group finished up, all of the production company reps applauded. Then we were marched back into the theatre lobby and everyone there applauded. The organizers did that for every group. It was a nice stress breaker actually because every person who had just auditioned was thinking “Whew! Thank God that’s over!”

I ran into two actors I know. One was in the group before mine and the other in the group. I'd say of those I saw waiting to audition about 80 percent were twenty/thirty-somethings and 20 percent were over 40.

Although the specification was for monologues "suitable for TV or film" the ones I saw were overwhelmingly stage monologues, which meant mine looked very different and very abbreviated. We'll see if that turns out to be a plus or a minus. The young woman after me was very, very good. Glad she didn't go before me.

Anyway, glad I did it and glad it's over. It was a 90-minute drive each way. I got up at 6:30 a.m. and left the house at 11 for a 2:30 p.m. slot because I was afraid I'd get stuck in traffic. By the time I got home at 4:30 I was just dead. The auditions should be posted to YouTube by mid-July.

Despite the stress of auditioning for such a crowd I’m already planning a new monologue for the next Stonehenge Auditions, coming up on September 26th and also in Baltimore. This time I’m hoping to present a softer, gentler character to show some range. Will also use a different headshot.

For now my summer is busy days, nights, and weekends. Just wrapped on the hotel anti-terrorism video for the Dept. of Homeland Security. It was shot at the Wardman Park Marriott here in DC and I play “Grace,” who runs the gift shop next to the coffee shop where a bomb has been planted. (I love anti-terrorism videos!) Also voiced a conference video package for the School Nutrition Association. Tonight I’m meeting with the wardrobe person for the web series – Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden - that’s about to start shooting Season Three. Sunday I have read-through with the writer on a Sci-Fi animated short where I’ll be voicing the Artificial Intelligence character. Then on June 26th I drive up to Philadelphia to audition for a narrator part on another short film. Despite all the voice work, my goal is still a dozen on-camera roles by the end of the year. Onward!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Trying to keep my nerves at bay. I landed an audition slot for Stonehenge XI, coming up on Sunday, June 6th, in Baltimore. I’ve prepared the 45 headshots and résumés required, and signed the release to let them tape my audition and post it to YouTube. It’s a good opportunity. Representatives from 35 independent production companies with near-term film projects in the works will be in attendance and the YouTube posting makes it possible – from what I’ve heard from other actors - to get as much or more work out of the web posting as from the live audition.

My monologue is an Elizabeth Deane scene in the sci-fi thriller Virtuosity (a role played by Louise Fletcher in the film). It’s the one where she’s offering a pardon from prison to Denzel Washington if he’ll catch the android killer, played by Russell Crowe. A very “I’ve got all the cards; take it or leave it” kind of scene that calls for cool on so many levels. So naturally the weather forecast for Sunday is high heat and humidity, which almost guarantees a shiny face and frizzy hair. Must think positive. I have the monologue down pat. Also my astrology forecast says Sunday is my lucky day. (Hey, I'm grasping at anything.)

I’m also hoping my scene is different enough to draw some positive attention. One thing I’ve noticed watching open auditions is that most dramatic monologues are essentially “I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.” So if you watch a large number of actor's audition, what you see frequently is this:

“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”

It very soon becomes a blur, and at Stonehenge the production reps watching will have seen about 80 of these before they get to me. I think every actor has to consider their monologue in the context of the open audition itself. Will I make them sit up and take notice with a scene that simply has me talking to someone else? I don't know. When I performed the monologue on camera in class, my drama instructor actor Michael Gabel (who’s had supporting roles in major films and done the Stonehenge auditions several times) said that I have a lot of on-camera presence and control, and that I command the screen in a way that is seldom seen at Stonehenge. I hope he's right. I also hope that whatever I did with it that night I manage to replicate on Sunday.

The SAG Regional Boards are recommending that all acting unions merge into one union – an idea that’s come up before but couldn’t get the required support of 60 percent of the SAG membership. Still, it again raises the questions of whether and when to join a union. Acting friends say union membership cuts you off from 90 percent of the work in the Baltimore/Washington area, but is that paying work? I need more experience, but by not joining am I missing out on a chance to take my career to a level that’s more professionally recognized?

And how much experience in film is enough experience? I watched Steven Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes last week (a good film and superior in many ways to this year’s Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downing Jr. and Jude Law). The star of YSH, Nicholas Rowe, was 19 and fresh out of Eton with no acting experience apparently. Daddy was an MP, which may have helped him get a crack at reading for the part. Also, he looked like a young Sherlock Holmes, which helped. But, bottom line, he was extremely good in the role. He did sword fights, fist fights, love scenes. Spielberg’s a great director. Is it just good direction?

Or how about Himalaya – a dramatic film shot entirely with non-actors – in fact, with people who’d never seen a film because they lived in a village that’s a three-week hike from the nearest road. They quickly got the concept and turned in really remarkable performances.

Anyway, mulling it all over – unions, experience, whether I need to unlearn everything I’ve learned about acting for the stage because it doesn’t seem to help me in film. I’m reading I’ll be in my Trailer: The Creative Wars between Directors and Actors by John Badham and Craig Modderno, a terrific book recommended to me by actress Victoria Natalia. Very valuable insights into theatre and filmmaking, largely from the point of view of the director. I've learned a lot from that book.

But God I hate auditions. My heart pounds, my hands shake. Yesterday I auditioned for another industrial the company I work for is producing for the Department of Homeland Security. No monolog, no sides, no reader. I was asked to on the spot improvise one-half of a conversation. Bah! What kind of audition is that!

Well, a woman is not a prophet – nor an actor – in her own land. Looking ahead to Sunday.