Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where are my Clips?

3 a.m. Dog tired, so naturally I can't sleep.  I got a gratifying email from an old friend this week who had taken a look at my taped Stonehenge audition from a few months back and told me how much she liked it and why.  I felt like Dianne Wiest in Hannah and her Sisters, when Woody Allen's character praises the play she's written (Really?!!  Did you really like it?!! Gosh!)

Saying you've decided to act after a career in another field, isn't met with much acceptance typically, especially by those who've known you a long time.  Some react with embarrassed silence, like this annoyintg behavior will go away if they just don't acknowledge it.  Others say "Well, you've certainly gone a lot farther than I thought you would," which sounds a lot like "How come you haven't failed yet?" Then there are those who say "Well, just so you're having fun," as though your behavior is a little bit dotty but as long as you're not hurting yourself or others they'll refrain from throwing a net over you.  I suppose it relates to that Biblical line about not being a prophet in your own land, which if I understand it right means if I know you in one capacity I can hardly find you believable in another.

More dismaying is the negativity you sometimes get from those in the business, like the actor - well known locally - who advised me not to bother ever joining a union, unless of course I was planning a really big career, because an actor can make more money negotiating small non-union gigs on his or her own.  Well, maybe that's true, but it's not about money alone and if you're not planning a really big career, why bother?

I know why I'm awake at 3 a.m.  Frustrated at the time it's taking for all these films to make it through post-production so I can get a show reel together.  Stonehenge is all I have and next week I'll have a second Stonehenge audition going online.  Those little tapes get a lot of views.  My online acting profiles and photos are getting a phenomenal number of views, especially for someone who does not have a Facebook page and 3,500 "friends" following my every move on Twitter.  And, yes, I am enjoying what I'm doing, and I'm not surprised at how far I've come, and I want to join the union.

I'm just just held up by those damned clips!  And the need for a manager.  I'm beginning to feel that I've taken this as far as I can on my own.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Good...The Bad...and The Ugly

Having one of those weeks when I wish I'd been cloned.  There are three areas of my life that require attention: acting, the day job and the household.  Two of them tugging at my sleeve I can handle.  But when all three are saying"Hey, you're needed here!" it becomes a little crazy.  Still, if happiness is defined as someone to love, something interesting to do and something to look forward to, then I'm a happy person, if a little run-ragged at the moment.

Acting jobs in the DC area appear to be drying up, which everyone is blaming on the local politicians, primarily the Democrat governor of Maryland who eliminated tax breaks that had previously been in place for production companies.  The big business has been going to Louisiana, New Mexico and other states actively courting the film industry, but now even small projects seem to be disappearing.  The rare exception being those that have to have the capitol in the background because it figures into the plot; we have Transformers 3 shooting downtown at the moment.  The election is a week from today, but I don't think actors have enough votes to kick out the governor.  That's why it was a safe tax break to eliminate.

I'm looking farther afield.  I have to be up in New York on the 4th for the first read-through on the screenplay for Pegasus I.  I submitted for another film shooting in New York in March, but haven't heard back yet.  Happy to work in New York, even on a small, non-union picture.  My day job company has a branch office in Manhattan in Chelsea so I'll just stay and work there on the 5th and come back late.  Handy that.

Inundated lately with ads for workshops on acting and the business of acting, including one that wants $350 to let me listen to five taped "conversations" guaranteed to put my career on track.  Most of these things seem of limited value.  Even if a workshop or seminar is presented by someone of note, I have to consider how much information I can get in a couple of hours shared with 12-20 other people.  I can usually get far more insight and information out of  book that costs less than $20.  Still, I've been to a couple of workshops that I thought were worth the time and money.  You just have to weigh the potential benefit.

Anyway, went over my lines for Commitment and now I'm sitting here watching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  A couple of years ago my son, who's a big Sergio Leone fan, went to some event where Eli Wallach was present and asked him for his autograph.  Wallach signed his name and then underneath wrote "Tuco," as if my son might not know who he'd played in the film.  My son thought that was very funny.  Me too.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I got the role in the New York film, shooting the latter part of November in Manhattan.  It's a very small film, but an interesting script - a kind of docudrama about tragedy that strikes the first commercial flight into space.  I play the widow of the lead scientist.  This is the third time I've played a widow, but at least this time I'm not an Italian widow.  In fact I see this role as more Kathryn Hepburn in Keeper of the Flame, a stoic preserving the reputation of her late husband.  I look forward to meeting the rest of the cast and seeing the final script.

Shooting begins on Commitment in 10 days, but my role doesn't come in until the first week in November.  In this one I play a judge, but the role has to have some ambiguity to it for a plot twist to work at the end.  The production company, Team Sizzle Worldwide, is backed by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is branching out into film production and screenwriting.  I believe Richard Volin, who is also an attorney, wrote this particular script and it's very good.

Finished Michael Caine's autobiography and watched a couple of his earlier films over the weekend: The Italian Job, which was Ocean's 11-style fluff, and A Shock to the System, which was darker and more interesting.  He plays a murderer well, as he did in Dressed to Kill.

I wish the book had revealed more about the man though.  The first 200 pages or so - up until the part where he becomes a star - are a portrait in admirable determination.  But once he catches fire the book becomes Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  He goes to party after party and they're all "lavish."  He is invited  to "exclusive" and "intimate" dinner parties and the food is invariably "delicious." All the hostesses are "charming." Everyone he knows is "famous," and they're all "close" or "very close" friends.

That's what his life is like I'm sure; it just doesn't make for very interesting reading.  But, you know, he had a long, hard slog getting where he is (the first "luxury" item he bought when he finally had money was soap) so you can hardly blame him for being wary of any dropped comment that might jeopardize that.  It's a careful book, written by someone who seems painfully conscious of status and keeping his.  In contrast, Kathryn Hepburn in Me was more opinionated and fully aware that she was revealing herself at times as a self-focused and thoughtless snot (hence the title), but she really didn't give a damn.  Hepburn, however, was born to money and status, and supremely confident of not losing that no matter what happened.  

There are things to like and emulate in both of these actors: Hepburn's physical and mental preparedness for auditions, like an athlete; Caine's work ethic and determination to stay sharp, even if it means taking a small film or one with a less than perfect script.  Reading Caine's book you realize that one common way into big films is the same route a musician would take to get to Carnegie Hall (practice! practice!)  Caine has appeared in more than 100 films, in addition to television and all the promotional appearances he puts in.  He really works at it.  I like that.

I also learned that Michael Caine and I have at least one thing in common; our fathers were both horseplayers whose gambling risked the family finances.  Many photos of me as a child are taken at Hollywood Park, Delmar, and Santa Anita racetracks.  We were poor to the cramped lodging and clothes from the thrift store level, but not to the no soap level.  My dad used to tell the story of how I - a "Little Miss Marker" at aged 2 - cracked up all the railbirds one day by holding my arms up to him and saying "Pick me up, Daddy.  I wanna watch 'em break!"

As I got older our shabby life became less amusing.  I still love horses, but never took up the habit of betting on them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Auditioned yesterday in New York for a supporting role in a small independent film.  Interesting plot.  Nice people.  
I like New Yorkers, which is why I’m often there.  Walking down the street you feel on another planet; there’s New York and then there’s the rest of the country.  But New Yorkers are always friendly, always striking up conversations, happy to give directions.  You rarely see anyone really overweight in New York because they walk everywhere – something I’ve noticed in many European cities.  Two women I passed while walking the 15 blocks from Penn Station to the audition I saw again two hours later on totally different streets.  Also saw lots of young women who look like Rockettes – 6 feet tall, legs that start under their armpits and wearing black leggings. Black is as ubiquitous in New York as turquoise is in Miami.

Anyway, I blundered in in the middle of another actress's audition - not for the same role - apologized sheepishly and found a chair outside in the empty hallway.  A few minutes later she left, grinning and giving me a thumbs up as she went.  I thought that was charming.  

The audition went okay, but only just.  Once I have a role and filming begins I’m confident that I know where I’m going with it, but in an audition there’s no set, no actor to play off of, no strong sense of time, place or plot.  They say not to memorize the lines, but when I don’t I’m distracted by having to hunt for the lines on the page.  Bah. It’s a small film – very small – but it shoots in New York.  Keeping a good thought.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Could Use Some Good News

Old cat didn’t make it.  Spent last evening curled up on the sofa watching Rudy and feeling horribly depressed.  I read that humans are the only species that adopts the young of another species and cares for them into old age.  We have not succeeded in making them live forever unfortunately, although I spent a small fortune in a last ditch attempt.

Slow week for this actress.  I could use some good news.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Up until 2 a.m. with a sick cat who was admitted for tests.  Out of bed at 7 a.m. to meet the gardener who's going to turn my bedraggled yard into Eden in small, affordable stages.  Hopeful on both counts.

Still reading Michael Caine's autobiography and I must say it's a remarkable study in dogged determination.  Surprisingly, for one so very talented, Caine took many, many years to get his career off the ground.  I wonder if it didn't have something to do with simply taking a long time to discover where he fits in as an actor - his screen persona, if you will.  I watch him now and, from film to film and character to character, I see mannerisms that remain the same, that are uniquely his.  How did he arrive at that place?

All actors need to find their niche, and simply asking "Who am I on screen?" can often jump-start the process.  For what roles is my physical self - height, weight, face, tone of voice - most suited?   Am I the girl next door?  (Nah.) Hero's best friend? (Could be.) Rugged individualist? (At times.)  Authority figure? (Oh yes.)  Then look just for those roles and audition.

Many actors take the approach of trying out for every kind of role with the idea that it's good to practice auditioning and eventually they'll find whatever roles fit best.  In the process they audition for a lot of roles they are unsuited for, don't get, and feel depressed about.  Or if they do get some of them they end up with a performance that doesn't show them at their best.  I try to narrow the types of roles down first.  That means fewer auditions but a far greater rate of bookings.  My intent is to build a successful base in one particular type of personality, then broaden my roles from there - although I suspect that even as I do the new characters will retain many aspects of the old ones.  I am what I am after all.

Another factor in slowing down a career is something I see in many young actors; they're not fully focused.  Yes, they want to act, but they also want to party every weekend, get entangled in love affairs, take a few months off and sail down the coast with a well-to-do friend, go to Europe and hang out for awhile.  (Been there, done that, happily married, whew!)  Acting is a business.  You own a company competing in this business. The product you have to sell is that screen persona of yours.  Where's the market for your product and how can you make your product better than the other actor company's similar product?  It needs to be new, improved, unique or in some way have more features.  It's good to think about it that way.

Enough pontificating.  Lack of sleep does this to me.  Mark Westbrook, who's an acting coach in Glasgow, Scotland, has a terrific blog post today on reading action into your dialogue.  I've been following Westbrook's blog for a couple of months and it's full of practical and highly useful advice on ways to approach acting. ( I agree with everything he says!)  I wish I were in Scotland; I'd take his classes.