Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Artist: Best Picture of the Year

Off to rehearse for a comedy pilot, but had to say something about The Artist, the new near-silent, black-and-white film that's generating so much buzz.  It's terrific.  The most imaginative and visually beautiful film I've seen all year.  Jean Dujardin may single-handedly bring back the pencil mustache!  (The Fedora is already making a comeback among sophisticated dressers, my darling husband included. Let's hope the film also brings back the beefy three-piece suit to replace those silly, skinny-legged things sold in New York at Suit Supply.)

But enough about fashion.  Every frame of this film is drop-dead gorgeous.  The lighting is perfection. (Watch for the scene where Dujardin stands at the back of a darkened, near empty theater with the light on his face.  It took my breath away.) The story is simple, straightforward, and compelling.  It also has some quirky scene elements reminiscent of The Coen Brothers.  In fact, this is a film the Coens would have made had they thought of it first.

The Europeans are again showing Americans how it's done.

The only disappointment: I looked up Dujardin on IMDb and his photo shows him with the ubiquitous three-day beard sported by half the actors in Hollywood.  He looked utterly forgettable, whereas in the film he's a knockout.

But that's a small point to be dealt with by his agent.  I'm buying this film.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Surprise, surprise. There's a global market for American TV.

Racing through December and trying not to be too dismayed by the scheduling conflicts and missed opportunities.  Family responsibilities.  Too much to do.  The tree isn't up. I'm so tired I found myself in tears on the way to the day job on Monday.  But I watched Phil Rosenthal's hilarious doc, Exporting Raymond, while wrapping gifts the other night and was amazed to learn there is such a foreign clamoring for American TV.  No, not subtitled reruns.  They are selling the scripts to foreign production companies and reshooting the series with foreign casts.  This doc is about efforts to sell Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia.  It's an eye-opener, and very funny!  Hang in through the credits.  There's a scream of a sight gag involving a Big Mouth Bass (the animated plaque.)  Also check out the completed Russian episodes.  The question I had was, "Is this kind of humor universal?  Or have we found a new way to export American culture?  If the latter, let's hope they stick to shows like The Nanny and ELR and leave Community in the can (or wherever they keep shows these days.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sadly, Hugo disappoints

I really looked forward to seeing Martin Scorcese's film Hugo because Scorcese is a terrific director and the film was getting great buzz online and in the papers. A lot of people like this film. Last night I saw it and, sadly, I did not.  Boo. To begin with, it's not a film for children, it's a film in which children appear.  It gets long and talky, which kids have no patience for (even for adults it could have been 20 minutes shorter), and Sacha Baron Cohen is allowed a running aside to another character that is inappropriate for children to hear.

But the killer for me is that it goes from a film about action happening to the main character (OMG a little boy is lost and in peril!!!) to a film about something that happened to Ben Kingley's character years ago (the old man fell on hard times career-wise and is just distraught about it.) At that point it loses its magic.

Films are about ACTION, as Viki King points out in her book on writing screenplays.   Plus, when Kingley's story is presented as the "mystery" the plot as been building toward, and the focus shifts to him, my reaction was "What?  THAT's all it is?!"  What about the kid?!  Oliver Twist is about Oliver Twist!  David Copperfield is about David Copperfield!  Harry Potter is about Harry Potter! Halfway into Hugo, the little boy's story goes away and the film becomes a college seminar on the origins of filmmaking.  No, no, no.

It wasted wonderful name actors, like Emily Mortimer and Jude Law, in under-five-line roles that could have just as easily gone to lesser known character actors who needed the work.  It brings in characters, like the bookseller, played by Christopher Lee, and then goes nowhere with them.  It indulges in gratuitous camera shots (the overhead in the book store, the revolves around people when they're talking) that distract the viewer from the dialogue and lose the intimacy of the moment.

That said, Hugo has a rich and breathtakingly beautiful look we don't often see in films.  It moves seamlessly between real characters and CGI.  And Asa Butterfield, the boy who plays Hugo, is captivating and a delight to watch.

And this review is why my kids don't like going to the movies with me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

If you're an aspiring screenwriter, keep the faith...and brace yourself!

This seems to be my week for delving into the technical side of the filmmaking business and watching a lot of documentaries on getting a concept from page to screen.  My husband is a budding novelist (he's shopping 3 novels around to publishers at the moment) and I have a script in the works for a tense drama/horror short.

Last night the two of us watched Tales from the Script, one of the best films about screenwriting since Get Shorty (just kidding.)  Actually one point that comes through in Get Shorty (a favorite) is that good screenwriters love the movies and have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of films and filmmakers.

But one problem screenwriters - or any writers, for that matter - have is too much love of their own words, and too often trying to "tell" the story rather than "show" it.  You have to think in scenes and emotional tone, without having your characters describe the scene or emotion.

Harrison Ford, in one of the film's many anecdotes, tells a screenwriter how much he likes the lines that were written for his character in a particular scene.  The elated writer says, "Gee, thanks!" and then Ford tells him he's not going to actually say any of them, because he can convey all of those words with a look.

Exactly.  Film is visual.  I find with my own script that I get all those words out of my system by putting it into scene direction.  The director can take it or leave it, but at least I've got my intent on the page. Another thing I find myself doing is reading the dialogue out loud to see if it rolls off the tongue and sounds like something a person would actually say.  (Actors cringe when they're handed speeches passing for dialogue.)

Bottom line from Tales of the Script: prepare to actually sell only 25 percent of your finished work and to have only half of those scripts go into production.  Once sold, prepare to see your script torn apart by a committee and scenes and characters added/deleted to make it more marketable but which ruin the story.  Still, the Hollywood pros all seem to have their own strategies for preserving as much as possible of their original concept.  For that reason alone, this is a film worth watching.

p.s. By the way, when I started out to write a screenplay, I came across a number of useful books, one of which is How to Write a Movie in 21 days: The Inner Movie Method by Viki King, an old standard that has been in print for 15 years.  Despite the rather off-putting title and breathless prose, what the book does that is very useful is get you moving.  It doesn't analyze screenwriting as high art; it's nuts and bolts, get it on the page. A lot of practical tips, and you can buy it used.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Knowing how to light a film shows you're a filmmaking pro

I've come to appreciate, in working as an actress, how very important lighting is to the overall look of a film.  Check out the lighting in Casablanca, in The Godfather, in the opening shot of Schindler's List.  In The Quiet Man, when Maureen O'Hara stands in the doorway of John Wayne's darkened cottage, one of the first times he sees her up close, a baby spot is hitting the back of her head and lighting her hair like a halo.  There is no way light would be naturally occurring in that doorway, but it's there to set a mood and frame a beautiful actress in a way that makes the leading man fall in love with her.

I'm thinking about lighting this week because I just watched a wonderful documentary on Jack Cardiff, whose 70-year career in cinematography had him shooting everything from The Red Shoes to Rambo, which is quite a span of work.  Cardiff drew his inspiration from Impressionist painters, and it shows.  His work is just breathtaking and was a huge influence on later filmmakers, like Martin Scorcese.
Scene from The Black Narcissus with Deborah Kerr

Lighting isn't only about illumination, it creates atmosphere and tells the viewer what they're supposed to think about the characters on screen.  Tellingly, carefully considered lighting is too often the first thing student moviemakers omit if they're short on funds or technicians.  It's always a mistake.  Lighting makes the shot.  It's the aspect of a film I notice first.

The documentary is Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff  by Craig McCall and it's available on Netflix.  Worth studying.

Monday, November 28, 2011

In case you missed the BackStage "List Issue"

Last August Backstage posted what they called the "List Issue," a collection of articles on everything from "5 Essential Components of an Effective Career Strategy" to "10 Monologues They Haven't Heard Yet."
Good stuff!  If you missed the issue, here it is.

Technology? I'm all for it!

No, I am not one of those people who can't wait to buy the latest gadget.  I prefer a paperback to an e-reader.  I don't play video games.  I hate it when my Word software updates and all the buttons are moved.  But this fall Apple has me swooning.  Not only did the IPhone absolutely blow me away with the voice technology, but they reworked Final Cut Pro and dropped the price into the "affordable" range.  Both are on my Christmas Wish List.

Digital technology for actors is awesome. Today we email headshots instead of handing out prints.  We audition over Skype or tape our auditions and upload for viewing.  We can email MP3 files of our voiceover demos.  And researching a role is easy.  Need an accent for a part?  Google can lead you to an example on the web.

Actress Judi Beecher pointed out some of the advantages of technology in BackStage last week and how it's changing the way actors ply their craft: "Because of the Internet, I now split my time between New York, L.A., and Paris. Most of my auditions, when I'm not in L.A., I put on tape. I booked "Warrior and Savior," which was shot in New York, while I was in Los Angeles. "Heavy Rain" I recorded in France. I've also gotten the majority of my auditions on my own. I read an article about the New York–based "Tango Shalom," by Claudio and Jos Laniado, on the Internet while I was at the Cannes Film Festival. I contacted the producer and was later cast as one of the main characters in the film. I have my own camera, microphone, and tripod, and Final Cut Pro on my computer. An actor needs to know how to do it all, as well as being a good actor. "

Too true. I'm hugely excited about learning to edit and create my own material.  I'm fascinated by the process of filmmaking, and I can really see this leading to other things.

Now I'm just waiting on Santa.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking about DIY publicity


A rigorous three weeks.  Up and back to New York three times.  New headshots by Lev Gorn Photography  (Terrific!) and auditions that didn’t pan out (bah!)  I never complain about going to New York though.  The city is so energizing.

Thanksgiving Day, closer to home, I happened to be out at a military hospital (it’s a long story) having turkey in the cafeteria and listening to a military jazz combo and a female soloist singing a knockout rendition of the old Billie Holiday standard, "God Bless the Child."  Wow, what a voice this woman had!

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a local performer – at a community or dinner theatre or, in this instance, a hospital cafeteria – and thought, “Why isn’t this person cutting records or on television? They’re terrific!”  Well, the difference, I can only assume, is visibility.  Producers, directors, and agents tend to be risk averse because their professional reputations are on the line.  They go with talent they know has already worked successfully somewhere, even when the role doesn’t call for a name star (or the name star is totally wrong for the part!)  A frumpy Scottish maiden lady can sing in her kitchen her whole life, but once she gets positive reviews on Britain’s Got Talent then overnight she’s selling recordings.  Did her voice suddenly improve?

Current Website
Actors need visibility and, lucky for us, the Internet now provides many low/no cost, do-it-yourself tools for those who can’t yet afford a publicist.  When I decided to work on the on-camera side of this business, for example, one of the first things I did was set up an Actor Website that would offer basic information about me – including résumé and headshots – showcase my films as they came along, and allow me to post news.  A basic website isn’t expensive.  There are many business hosting sites that for a very small monthly fee offer templates for building a site, help you set up your domain name, help you with search engine optimization, and provide statistics on traffic to your site.

New Website Under Construction
I went with Yahoo Small Business.  The website I built was simple and serviceable and allowed me to get something up quickly.  I had the option of allowing advertizing on my site for click-through income – and many actors add this feature – but I didn’t want to feel caught up in the need to sell some widget or service so I left that off.  (The purpose of the website was to “sell” me after all.)  YSB allowed me to add an email address that serves to direct people to my website. Another advantage was that I didn’t have to stick to the template.  It can accommodate the custom site I now have in the works and all the tracking and SEO services will remain.

The second thing I did was to start building an Email Distribution List to issue major announcements and, ideally, generate media coverage when I had major news to announce. I was lucky in this regard as my day job gave me access to a media list-building service, but I could also have built the list one name at a time through internet searches or IMDb Pro, targeting production companies, producers/directors, and reporters from online and print publications that cover the business.

Issuing news releases is very important, especially for small production companies seeking to build a reputation. In many ways it’s easier for a production house because producers can announce every step in the production process – considering the script, hiring a director, beginning casting, beginning filming, production wrapped, film submitted for/wins awards, becoming an LLC, etc.  An actor can announce being cast in principal roles in major productions, signing with an agent, a move into a major market, etc.  (If you’re a star a publicity house will make an announcement every time you change your clothes.)

Online DIY publicity tools overlap somewhat, but each serves a distinct purpose.  The thing I always try to keep in mind is that they are visual and generate more attention with photos, illustrations, and links to additional information.  More tools below…

DIY publicity using Facebook


Almost every actor I know has a Facebook Page, but I wonder if they really consider how best to use it.  One mistake I see them make is mixing professional contacts with family and non-business friends, and leaving their comments public. That runs the risk of posting something embarrassing or impolitic to their good buddy that is then read by a producer or casting director who doesn’t know them well.  Bad.  They also randomly collect hundreds, even thousands, of “friends,” which makes building business relationships almost impossible.  For career purposes, especially early in your career, FB isn’t about you it’s about your connections.

An acting coach gave me this advice about FB and it made me look at it in a whole new way.  Here’s what he said: Keep family and non-business friends on a separate FB page, because your family know and love you no matter what you say (well…almost.)  On your acting FB page, limit your friends to 100 carefully considered people who may be able to help you in some way with your acting career (hire you or pass your name along) and that you really want to know better; then rebalance the list periodically, taking people off who seem to be focused too much on something other than acting, filmmaking, or stage (i.e. your focus.) With just 100 focused friends you'll be sure to see their posts and have a chance to find common ground.

He also said not to post more than once a day and be sure it doesn’t sound like an obvious commercial or is a photo of your food (total self-focus can be annoying to others.) Do comment, however, on friends’ posts every day (they get a FB alert so they won’t miss it), but avoid responding to controversial, non-business-related issues, like politics.

FB is where you want to connect, find out what you have in common with others in the business, and build relationships.  If you have 3,500 "friends," and each friend has 3,500 "friends," it’s going to be very hard to make that happen. For one thing, with 3500 friends, their posts are hitting your wall so fast and furious that it's like a Twitter feed.  You'll see their posts only if you happen to be online when the post comes up.  And it works the same in the other direction with your posts.  Keep your friends list small, comment frequently, look for things you have in common. Facebook is two-way communication.

Also look at your FB privacy settings.  I set mine up so that when I comment on a friend’s post, only that friend and others on that particular thread will see it.  It isn’t broadly public to my own list.  My own postings go public, but I try to keep my follow-up comments specific to each person. If I want to talk about something specific or a non-business issue, and I know the person reasonably well, I shift to email.

Here’s what else I do…

Other DIY publicity tools for actors and filmmakers


A lot of actors and production companies post video clips to YouTube or Vimeo, but not as many think to establish a Personal Channel, which is super easy to set up and has the advantage of eliminating distractions from ads and random kitten videos.  My personal channel, to which I’m now giving more attention, will hold my reel and a repository of clips that I want to highlight, submit with my résumé for auditions, or link to from other outlets. You can give a personal video channel a custom look and the overall impression is much more professional than open posting of clips to the web.  I like it.

A Blog, like this one, gives me a chance to dialogue with others who are in the business, or interested in the business, and is easy for interested others to find with a web search.  As with a personal website, many actors use a blog as a means of earning money on the side via click-through advertising.  I don’t, because for me the blog actually is a personal journal.  It helps me stay focused, clarify my thoughts, express frustration, whatever – but all related to acting.  It keeps me on track.  If I mention a product or service, I don’t get paid for it, and that’s okay because I’m an actress and not a retailer.  Remember to link your blog posts to your FB and/or Twitter page to draw traffic back to the blog.

Many actors are on Twitter, but I'm not yet convinced that it’s worth my time and focus because it strikes me as largely one-way communication.  If I were a big star with a huge fan base I guess it would be useful for giving brief news flashes a personal touch.  But I’d have to be very careful about what I said in those few words, or with what was said by a publicist on my behalf.

When I was exploring Twitter I subscribed to several name actor feeds only to find myself disappointed in the person who came across in those all-too-brief remarks. An actress I admire posted only bland commercials for her work that clearly were written by some hired PR person.  Blah.  An actor I always considered funny and curmudgeonly sounded shockingly crude (and I suspect that was really him.) I found it affecting how I regarded that person as a professional.  Actors need to keep that in mind.  Twitter isn’t necessary starting out; maybe it’s something to think about for later, but carefully.

One easy thing you can do, and this applies especially to producers, is share information and visuals.  Your movie just wrapped?  Take 3-4 production stills or flattering screen shots of every member of the cast and email them to the cast members. Create a movie poster and send a digital copy to all cast and crew.  Encourage everyone to post these to their websites, blogs, and FB pages with a link to your movie site to draw traffic. Cast and crew members need stills for their online sites.  Accommodating that is appreciated and reaps benefits down the road.

Here's a very important tool: set up a Google Alert to track mentions of your name (production company, film, etc.) on the Web.  It’s free, takes a second to set up, and it allows you track what is being said about you and comment and make a connection when appropriate.  It can give you a heads-up when you’re generating buzz.  This is a must-have.

Finally, a gadget a lot of actors are using to direct casting people to their information on the Web is a QR Code printed on their headshot.  I’m still evaluating this.  I find it vaguely off-putting to be bar-coded like a can of soup.  True, it allows those with  IPhones and some other devices to scan your  code  and be directed right to your website or other information online.  But why not just print your website in small type under your name on the headshot?  (And use your name and contact number as the file name on your digital headshot?)  Again, I may need convincing here.

With all of these tools, the key consideration is the time it takes to maintain it vs. the size and specificity of the target audience.  Are there other tools out there?  Other ways of using those I’ve mentioned?  Please write and let me know.  One day I’m going to hire a publicist and every time I change my dress you’re going to hear about it.  Until then I need all the DIY help I can get.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

3 DIY Strategies for Promoting Films and Actors


Enjoying my cup of morning tea and researching online strategies for promoting my work.  Here are a few I’ve come across that sound promising:

Post and include a Photo Spread: Remembering that the Internet is visual, one DIY strategy for promoting films and film events (premieres, screenings, film festivals etc.) is to write a quick summary (1-2 paragraphs) for your blog, website, and/or Facebook page and illustrate it with as many photos/screenshots as possible, complete with identifying captions and tags. Photos tell your story far better than words.  Post them to your blog or website immediately, but wait to post (and link) to Facebook until Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. in the time zone where most of your market is likely to be found (EST for New York, PST for Los Angeles, for example.)

Why 9:30?  Social media research has shown that people log-in to Facebook as soon as they get their morning coffee and settle in.  The next best times are 11:30 a.m. (just before they go to lunch) and 5:30 p.m. (before they leave work for the day.)  Wednesdays are best for having others see and share your post because they’ve caught up on their workload and aren’t yet making plans for the weekend.

If you have a sufficient following on Twitter, also tweet a promotion to direct people to your posting.

Issue a News Release via Email:  Once you’ve posted the summary and photos, consider other media opportunities at longer-lead-time film industry publications, websites, e-newsletters and acting/producing blogs.

Turn your summary into a one-page, post-event news release – written third-person; putting the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How in the first paragraph; adding an interesting quote in paragraph 2; and at the end giving a contact number and email address for obtaining more information (you can find effective news release formats on the Web.)

Target editors and reporters at media specializing in acting, independent film, documentaries, etc.  If your original post was to a blog, website or other public site, be sure to include a link so editors and reporters can see and download the photos.

Even if it doesn’t generate a story right out of the box, putting your name or production company name in front of the media on a regular basis will develop name recognition and make you and your work known in media circles over time.

Videotape an Interview:  Get in the habit of videotaping brief interviews with your director, prominent actor, or screenwriter at your event (premier, festival screening) or onset during filming.  Or have someone tape you if your aim is to promote yourself.  You don’t need expensive equipment.  Even a Flip Ultra camera will do and comes with simple editing software that can help you quickly put together an Internet-ready video.

Remember that the key to a good interview is to draw up your 3-4 questions in advance and let the person you’ll be taping have a look.  It helps people focus and gives them time to remember and include interesting anecdotes. If you are the one being taped, consider your audience and how you want to come across on camera.  Look at actor interviews online and study those you think are most effective.

When shooting, have the person look just to the side of the camera rather than straight at the camera (you know the drill.)  Post the edited tape to your YouTube/Vimeo Channel, then link/embed the video in your website and blog and in posts to Facebook, Twitter, etc.  If it turned out especially good, consider writing a 2-sentence intro and emailing it to industry media and other professionals you know in the business.

Employing this strategy gives you a video interview that is easily accessed and shared, and potentially much more attractive than one generated by a reporter—even if it carries a bit less cachet—because you control the message.

I like these and they're do-able.

Now, time to feed the dog.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Tip for Learning Lines

Getting your lines down cold for a film or play involves a lot more work than one would think.  You can go over the script with your scene partner, but unless the two of you go through life joined at the hip he or she is not often available when you are.  Bringing in a friend or significant other to read the lines with you can be problematic because (a) ho hum, they're not invested in the outcome and have other things to do and (b) they're likely to give you a flat read in any case.

The usual way.
Alternatively you can highlight your lines on the page and hold the script at your side for quick  reference as you memorize, or hide sections of the script with your hand as you learn them, or record the scene partner's lines and flip back and forth in the script as you flub your own.  It's frustrating and a slow slog.

Here's a tip I learned from an actor in Los Angeles that has proved very effective for me, doesn't require a partner or script in hand, and goes anywhere.  Here's what you do:  read (act) the entire scene into a hand-held voice recorder.  Read your scene partner's lines loudly and with whatever emotion and pacing you think is appropriate.  When you get to your own lines in the scene, read them at a whisper.

Later - driving to the day job, walking down the street, making dinner, whenever you have a moment alone - pull out the recorder, play the scene back, and speak your lines in a normal tone and with feeling.  If you blank or get a line wrong, the correct whispered line is right there for immediate reference.

It works like a charm and has cut the time it takes for me to learn lines by at least half. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

At the Thrill Spy FF screening of Commitment...

I am astonishingly wide awake this morning despite just four hours of sleep.  Rich Volin's thriller short Commitment screened at the Thrill Spy Film Festival last night.  I hadn't yet seen the final cut and was incredibly pleased at the great job he did with it.  Co-stars Lee Ordeman and Altorro Black were in the audience, as was Rich and his lovely wife and my husband who took me to dinner afterwards at Restaurant 701 for an early celebration of our eighth anniversary.  A fine evening.  I basked in the glow. I drank way too much champagne.  As I said, I'm astonishingly wide awake this morning!
Lee Ordeman, Writer/Director Rich Volin, Producer Monica Mingo, me, Altorro Black


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Building an Acting Website


After almost two years of having an acting website I built myself from a simple Yahoo template, I’m finally working with a web designer to construct a custom site and very excited at the prospect. First, of course, I had to find the designer, a task that not only involves searching for someone who has talent and is priced within your budget but also a person who has a personality and sense of design that complements your own.  An effective working relationship is all about chemistry.

Happily, I belong to two online acting forums so getting recommendations was as simple as shooting out an email saying, “Hey, I need a web designer!”   Some of those recommended were commercial design firms, others were individuals doing it as a side business.  (Those designers below marked with an asterisk were recommended by more than one actor, so if you’re considering a custom site their samples may give you some design ideas.)



I then sent all of the designers a mock-up of what I kind of had in mind (above) and a detailed description of how I wanted each tab to function.  I used to think with vendors that if I really “spelled it out” I’d be limiting the person’s creativity and insulting them as a professional, but that thought only led me and the respective vendor down many a blind alley.  So I now go in with a core idea of what I want, but remain open to suggestions.

After I heard back from everyone (noting how long it took each to respond) I looked at all of the samples and finally decided on Los Angeles web designer Shannon MacMillan.   Being an actress herself she seemed attuned to what an acting website should look and feel like.  In terms of pricing, she was about in the middle.  She also understood my desire to keep the site (as she puts it on one of her own samples) “minimalist, hip, and inviting.”  Looking at her samples I had additional thoughts on the design, so by the end of the year everyone will see how it actually turned out.

One final thought: be sure than any animation programs used on your site are viewable on IPads and other Apple products.  You don't want to build a fancy site and then find that half your casting people can't view it.   Also, if you're not yet ready for a custom site, you can build a fairly sophisticated site for free by using the templates at WIX.  An actress friend used it to create her site and it's really quite good. Check it out at www.allisonjhoward.com.

Web Designers:

Shannon MacMillan: shannon@maxsitedesign.com
http://www.bluestormcreative.com

Dennis Baker: dennis@websiteforactors.com
http://www.websiteforactors.com

Nate Barlow: nate@natebarlow.com
Samples at:
http://www.natebarlow.com
http://www.deepintosports.com
http://www.lookingglasswars.com
http://www.daleobert.com
http://www.ingezrameau.com

Natasha Chernyavskaya
http://www.PixelsMania.com

*Enci: Enci@illuminatela.com
Samples:
http://enciperforms.com
http://lucychambers.com
http://courtneygains.net
http://eileendietz.com
http://dinamorrone.com
http://teddyvincent.com
http://markwithers.net
http://gailsilver.com

T.C. Gunter: Dabeka Inc.
http://www.dabekaink.com

Derek Houck: https://twitter.com/derekhouck
Samples at:
http://jaimiepaulson.com/
http://www.myacceptance.org/
http://luckymarketingfirm.com/

Justin Kropp: justin@thesojk.com
The SoJK Design Studio
http://www.thesojk.com

Jordan Callier:  jordan.callier@me.com
Samples:
http://www.bouldertamales.com/
http://oldwestdailyreader.com/
http://www.shelleyvalentine.net/
http://www.imageandstyleguru.com/

*Clay Teunis: info@tunarelli.com
Tunarelli Sound and Design
Samples at:
http://www.tunarelli.com/Tunarelli%20websites%20designed.shtml

Tim Kenney Marketing
http://www.tkm2.com

Swood Media: mail@SwoodMedia.com
http://www.swoodmedia.com/websites.php

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Creepy Film Locations

Abandoned Factory
Ken Arnold posted a notice to Facebook this week about Lovely Molly, a new horror film by Writer /Director Eduardo Sanchez in which he appears (and which just screened at the Toronto International Film Festival), and it reminded me to post these links to creepy, abandoned locations.  I came across the Web Urbanist site awhile back while researching another project.  If one could get the appropriate permission, these would make great locations for filming (especially horror movies) and many are on the East Coast.  (Web Urbanist also has lists of abandoned sites abroad.) There's a prison, a monastery, children's mental institution, tech office building, brewery and more.  All very creepy and I would think even more so after dark.  Just think of what locations like these would add to a production.  Wow.

http://weburbanist.com/2007/12/18/7-more-abandoned-wonders-of-the-world-amazing-american-abandonments/

http://weburbanist.com/2008/01/06/7-more-abandoned-wonders-of-america-from-military-islands-to-mental-institutions/

http://weburbanist.com/2008/03/18/7-more-abandoned-wonders-of-america-from-deserted-breweries-to-famous-factories/

p.s. By the way, if you know of more abandoned buildings/sites that would make good movie locations, please share.

p.p.s.  Here's another site referred by a friend: the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans... also known as the most terrifying place on earth (short of the children's mental institution):

http://www.lovethesepics.com/2011/05/creepy-crusty-crumbling-illegal-tour-of-abandoned-six-flags-new-orleans-75-pics/

Friday, September 23, 2011

Downtime...again.

The desk view (sigh)
Downtime.  Submitting for this.  Submitting for that.  Nothing yet lined up.  And it’s raining.  Which makes my hair frizz.  And I'm staring at the phone.  And it’s another three and a half hours until my husband supplies my Friday night glass of wine.

Things are going to be a whole lot different around here when I’m Empress of the World.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

What to carry in Your Actor's Kit


Los Angeles actor and voiceover artist David H. Lawrence XVII has a wonderful online site called Acting Answers that is a wealth of practical information on everything from auditions to working with agents to how to format your résumé.  Plus, he’ll answer questions!  I’ve only just scratched the surface of what is there, but this jumped out at me: putting together an “Actor’s Kit” so you’re always prepared for an audition.  Here’s David’s take, and here’s the original post with links to some of the items he mentions.

David H. Lawrence:

"I imagine a day where iPads and iPhones will replace most of what’s in the kit with electronic versions of physical items, but for now, I keep these items in my actor’s kit:

"Headshots/resumes. My headshot photographer, Terence Heuston, is amazing. Our session yielded 8 or 9 looks, of which I use three to submit when I hand my headshot to a CD. One is harsher for villain stuff, one is sort of an everyman look, and one is for comedy. I have a few others of which I carry one each, but I carry 5 copies each of my main headshots. I print my resume directly on the back of my headshots with my trusty Epson Artisan 50 printer, and I immediately replace the shots in my actor’s kit with new versions should my resume significantly change.

"Highlighters. You get a script, you highlight your lines. I prefer yellow, but you might want to carry several if you’re an actor that goes highlighter crazy and highlights different characters in different colors. I carry the clickable Pentel Handy Lines highlighter because it doesn’t have a cap I can manage to lose, and it’s slimmer than most highlighters. It’s also refillable, but it’s so inexpensive, it’s hardly worth the effort.

"Business cards. Like any other business, you need to be able to take advantage of interactions with others that can provide you work, leads on work and general networking. That means carrying the worldwide accepted format of promoting yourself: the business card. I take it one step further to create a memorable moment of levity: I create and purchase a new business card whenever I get a new part, and when I offer someone a business card, I grab a handful from my actor’s kit and fan them out in a pick-a-card fashion. People love choosing their own, and it speaks very loudly (without being boastful) to the depth of my experience.

"Promotional postcards. Whether it’s a production I’m in, the voiceover demo service I offer or my iPhone app, Rehearsal, I carry an assortment of postcards that I can offer to people who express interest in those items when they meet me, or to spend time while waiting in offices and studios addressing and posting to promote them. Most of the time they are 4×6, but I can accommodate oversize postcards should I have something really powerful to promote. I also carry postage stamps should I want to put some stuff in the mail.

“An open-ended side-loading letter size hard-backed plastic folio with a clear, attached plastic zippered pouch. Here’s what it looks like, filled with everything I need to enter the audition room with speed and confidence:

Scripts. Obviously, I carry scripts for the auditions I am headed to, even though I use Rehearsal [IPhone app] to electronically prepare for my sessions. But, sometimes, you’re in a position to provide a scene for a casting person, one of your own choosing. Certainly, in most casting workshops, the casting director will be bringing scripts that she will dole out to the participants, and usually those scripts are from projects she has worked on or is currently casting. But, occasionally, you’ll be asked to pick one and bring it with you – and there are a couple of scenes that really highlight various facets of my acting skill set that I love performing. I carry two sets of those scripts, one highlighted with my lines, and one highlighted with the other character’s lines for the reader or CD to use.

Mints and gum. There is nothing more distracting when working with another actor, or talking in close quarters with a casting director, casting associate or casting assistant to experience bad breath, either theirs or yours. Carrying a flat pack of mints and gum has come in so handy, especially after a quick charge at Starbucks before the session.

CastingFrontier.com bar code. When attending a commercial casting session, I’m finding that instead of asking for headshots, casting session runners are relying on electronic means of identification in the form of CastingFrontier.com bar codes. You can usually find workstations at the major casting centers that will both allow you to register with CastingFrontier, and print out your bar code should you forget it. As your the headshot you have uploaded to CastingFrontier will pop up for the runner, make sure you check every month or so that that headshot is up to date.

Thank you notes, envelopes and postage. Another way to spend productive time while in a waiting room (once you’re completely prepared, naturally) is to send out a thank you note or two. I actually take advantage of those few minutes before casting workshops begin by not only tapping the casting director’s current address into my iPhone’s Contacts app, but by hand-addressing the envelope that will, once the workshop ends, contain a short but memorable note from me. I also add postage, and drop it in the nearest mailbox on my way home.”

For women, for those last minute calls to audition when you might be hiking, at the beach, or otherwise away from home and closet, L.A. actress Alexandra Raines also suggests keeping a "Prep Box" in the trunk of your car with the following:

  • The exact matching makeup you used in your headshots, including foundation, concealer, lipstick/gloss, eye shadow, blush and brushes.
  • Deodorant
  • Hair brush, hair spray, curling iron, flat iron (most auditions offer a bathroom). 
  • Black slacks, black skirt, khakis, jeans, black low heels, clean tennis shoes, semi-casual flats, sweater set, casual top, dressy top – all neatly stacked and folded in a box. [Note from Kay: If you slide a short stack of folded clothing into those plastic bags from the grocery it will keep them from getting wrinkled.]
  • Extra headshots and resumes already cut to 8×10, but not yet stapled.
  • Stapler, pen, and several highlighters
  • A $10 roll of quarters (useful for parking and other needs.)
  • Acting music for meditation, inspiration, contemplation. As Raines puts it, if you’re at the beach having the time of your life and you get a call for a tragic mom scene you’ll need something that will focus you and bring you to your center.

It’s a lot to always have on hand, but worth it to make sure you’re always prepared when opportunity knocks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No politics please, we're actors!


Years ago when I put together my first clip reel, I ran it by a friend and former instructor who said he liked it but that he wouldn't have included one comedy clip that showed news footage of a former president. Well I thought long and hard before putting it in and even queried an on-line LA acting group about it. The consensus was that casting directors would see the clip for what it was – art. The clip stayed put.

Eventually it was rotated out of my reel and was no longer an issue, but I understood my friend's concern. We live in politically polarized times where a political viewpoint may be so wedded to a director's or casting person’s sense of self that someone who appears to take a different view must logically be seen as a “bad” person and therefore not worthy of being hired. There's also the possibility that a known political stance alienates half your audience.

Views differ on this, but I try to avoid mixing acting and politics in open discussions among those in the biz, not only because of the issues above but also because the rhetoric has become so casually over the top that genuine discussion seems no longer possible anyway. Politicians of all stripes are routinely described as “crazy, extremist, dangerous” and worse, and the only response that doesn’t risk a shouting match is “amen,” so what would be the point?

As a writer and producer, I worked among politicians and political appointees before getting into acting, and I can’t say as I’ve ever seen one who was certifiably crazy or dangerous, but I saw plenty who were arrogant, incompetent, corrupt, adulterous, alcoholic, self-serving and ignorant, especially those in districts gerrymandered as “safe” seats (a deplorable practice.) I vote religiously. I often have to hold my nose while doing so.

Getting into an argument with another acting professional over politics risks losing sight of the goal, which is to be a truly fine actor and to get as much opportunity as possible to learn and practice that craft. Any deviation breaks my concentration and makes that goal harder to attain. Since I no longer work in the political arena, I guess I could also say that arguing issues on which my information is limited and my influence nil is an exercise in futility.

Asked to comment on current political goings on, I usually just say "I've watched the sausage being made and it ain't pretty" or fall back on Rick's great line from Casablanca, "Gentlemen, you're business is politics, mine is running a saloon."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I am eating my face with envy...


I am eating my face with envy, which is not a good mood to be in when I’m trying to lose three pounds by Friday.  Bah!  Found out yesterday that a drama classmate of mine has snagged a principal role in Veep, the new HBO television series with Julia Louis-Dreyfus that’s filming locally.  It’s Erik Mueller, below, who I’ve mentioned before in this blog.  Charming fellow with a warm, sad, funny face that is just wonderful.  He’s going to do great things in comedy.

But what’s wrong with me, me?!!  Why didn’t they pick me?!!  (Because you didn’t submit for it, you dolt!  Oh.  Yeah.  That. )

Actually now that I’m a union member I just yesterday submitted for for Veep through Pat Moran & Associates in Baltimore, as they put out a new call for principal roles.  (That’s when I checked the cast list on IMBd and saw Erik listed.)  I know Pat favors actors with theatre experience (which Erik has), so I may still be toast.  Still, it’s good to see someone I know do well.  He’s a sweet guy and deserves it.  So Hooray for Erik!!




I’m still eating my face though. (wink)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Everything takes so long...

I've spent most of this weekend drafting personal emails to people who will get a link tomorrow to my acting reel.  This isn't something I can blast out with a one-size-fits-all cover note.  Personal relationships deserve personal attention.  Some I'm hoping will provide feedback so that I can improve the reel in the next go 'round.  Some will get it because the reel contains a clip from a film we appeared in together.  Casting agencies will get it as both a link and DVD.  Everyone, I'm hoping, will pass the link along if they know of someone looking for an older Union actress to fill a role.

Everything seems to take so long.

This season 23 shows are shooting in New York, including soaps like One Life to Live and a whole slew of comedy and dramatic series:  Blue Bloods, The Good Wife, Suits, White Collar.   Steven Spielberg is filming Lincoln down near Richmond next month.  Lots of great actors.  Almost all of the smaller roles were for men.  Bah.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I must find a way to get into foreign films!


I must find a way to get into foreign films and soon. I am continually blown away by the wonderful quality of films coming out of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, non-Bollywood India, Spain, Argentina, and elsewhere.  I’ve been searching on the Internet for information on  how one would go about looking for foreign productions.  Lots of study-abroad programs for acting students, but that isn’t really what I’m looking for.  I know working abroad often sets you up for double income tax, but I wonder what are the other obstacles?   A fellow actor suggested I submit the idea to the editor at AFTRA’s magazine and see if they might have someone look into it and do an article.  Sounds like a plan.  It’s obviously easy for foreign actors to appear in American films and TV - just look at how many Brits and Aussies we have - but as with many things it isn’t a two-way street.  Foreign countries make it difficult for non-citizens to work.  Anyone with information on acting in foreign films, please write!

What prompted all this is that my husband and I saw Sarah’s Key last weekend.  The casting and performances in the WWII part of the story are just excellent.  Again I’m impressed by a child with little experience or training – Mélusine Mayance, in the title role - who gets it so right.  How do kids do that?!   The overall look of that part of the film is beautiful.  Foreign filmmakers have a knack for telling a simple tale and making it compelling. (sigh) I was going to make some crack about how awful the present day part of the film was, how miscast, how badly acted, but I learned this week that Aaron Schneider, who directed and edited the perfectly wonderful film Get Low, was second unit director of photography on the 1997 Winset/DiCaprio Titanic, which I think means he shot the part with the insufferable Granny and her insufferable family.  As such, I'll shut up and allow that everyone grows in their profession, hopefully even me.

Here at home I’m running to get all that needs to be done done and even the earthquake on Tuesday allowed only a brief pause while my life flashed before my eyes.  The acting demo reel is finished at last and can be seen at lower right along with an interview I had edited down as a promotional piece.  I very much took to heart what Geoffrey Soffer said about reels - that they're less about wowing them with my version of Lady Macbeth than about conveying a type.  I think it does convey a type.

A big thanks to my friend and editor Austin Smokowicz for pulling these together for me.  I haven’t promoted the demo yet – that takes place next week when (so an actor friend tells me) Mercury is no longer retrograde and the New Moon will portend good growth (I think that last bit is from the Farmer's Almanac) – but I’m very happy with the format.  I think it has a crisp look that not only accommodates different-sized video files without distortion (films shot 4x3 and 16x9, for example) but is also easy to update without having to redo the whole reel.  I expect several new clips to come in over the next few months so I’ll be bumping off the least of these and replacing them with more recent work.  So glad that my clips are finally arriving with some regularity.

Speaking of which I just wrapped on The Louder the Better, Michael Toscano’s SAG Master’s Degree thesis for Columbia University, where I had the pleasure of working with the very talented actor Regen Wilson.  (Nice job, Regen!)  It’s always a good sign when the director shows up with a ton of crew and equipment because you can rest assured that as long as you turn in a worthy performance you’re going to look great on camera.   Toscano had a sure hand though the long (and late!) days shooting.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing the finished film, which will screen in New York next spring.  With any luck I will be there with bells on.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Connections Missed and Made


What I especially love about the New Media is the incredible variety of original material being produced, including new and thoughtful takes on old themes.

I met New York actress Melissa Center a few weeks ago through “Hollywood Happy Hour,” an online acting discussion group founded by author, producer, and casting director Bonnie Gillespie.   Melissa as it turns out has a hit series on the Web, Missed Connections Live, based on ads in the New York Craigslist Personals column, “Missed Connections.”

Personals can be a goldmine of social commentary, as Brooklyn blogger Sophie Blackall discovered in compiling a selection of them into a soon-to-be-published book Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found.  But as an actress, Melissa took a different approach.  For her, each post was a comedic moment in time that she could expand on in scripting a series that is quirky, funny and a showcase for her considerable talents.  

And even though she embellishes the source material, Melissa says the main idea is to stay true to what has been written by real, everyday people.  I suspect that’s why it resonates with so many viewers.  She’s fresh.  She’s charming.  It's real.  I love her clever opener.  Watch it.  You’ll get hooked.

Missed Connections Live has been the featured series on Blip.TV and was recently nominated for an Audience Choice Award.  Plus Melissa herself is up for a StayTunedTV Award for Best Actress in a web comedy, winner to be announced in conjunction with the International Television Festival, August 5-11 in Los Angeles.  She's planning to fly out for the festivities.

Far from missing connections, I’ve made a few in the last couple of weeks. I’ve just been cast as a Faye Dunaway-type radio network executive in a SAG short – The Louder the Better – that examines how conscience is often the first casualty in the radio talk show ratings wars.  Script by Michael Toscano.  We start shooting it August 13th.

Then a comment on Facebook prompted a note from director Paul Awad at Diesel Films about an original Western series he and screenwriter Kathryn O’Sullivan are producing for the Web (a “Web-stern” as he calls it).  I read for a role and was cast as Pearl Thurston, whose husband has just met a violent end in the town of the same name, Thurston.  This is Diesel Films 11th creative project.  Very excited to be doing a Western.  It starts filming in September in Virginia.

News of that role led to an email from actor friend Richard Cutting and an online introduction to writer/director Wayne Shipley whose recent Western feature One-Eyed Horse was filmed in nearby Maryland.  (Funny how this business works.  Success really is about who you know and how they know you.)  Shipley has a new film in preproduction, Day of the Gun.  Hoping I’ll have a chance to audition.

Commitment, a thriller short I shot last summer, gets a screening at the New York City International Film Festival on August 19 and I’m still hoping to get tickets and get up to New York to review my performance as Special Justice Helen Rider. Writer/director Richard Volin did a terrific job with it and I look forward to adding a clip to my demo reel once it finishes the rounds at the film festivals.

But for now, to bed.  It’s late.  The day job will have me up at 5 a.m.  Boo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Web TV Moving to Longer Original Shows.

Major transitions within industries happen in fits and starts, with many trying to hold on to what is familiar, and fortunes made and lost by those betting on the new.  

Web TV is presenting just such a transition.  The major networks have been indecisive about backing original programming for the Web, but those companies moving forward are seeing an "increased appetite for long-form content, which breeds higher quality shows."   Here's an interesting update from the Associated Press.  Read past the headline.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Looking for Headshot Photographers in New York?

I ran my current headshots by LA casting director Billy Damota a few weeks ago.  He said he thought they worked, but they were all of a type.  He thinks I need to also show something lighter and more appropriate for sitcoms, i.e me smiling and showing teeth.   So I've been casting about for a new photographer up in New York who can produce such a shot when I can finally work it into my budget.  Below is the list of those recommended by other actors.

Melissa Hamburg Photography
Hornstein Studios
David Morgan Photography
Sabrina Reeves Photography
Hoeberman Studio
Peter Hurley
Taylor Hooper Photography
Meredith Zinner Photography

These all looked good and many showed recognizable actors from film and television.  I particularly liked Zinner's tagline "Be You."

Actress Jennifer Emmaline advised that I narrow down possible selections by considering the following:

1. Does the photographer have enough experience dealing with actors older than 25 -- particularly female actors - that it's in their comfort zone?
2. Do they vary their poses/looks or do they seemed to have 2-3 default poses/looks (and, if the latter, is that pose/look the one I'm looking for and does it work for me?)
3. Are they able to shoot people with my complexion and coloring?

She then suggested I google each photographer on YouTube to see if they've been interviewed on tape.  (Some may also have audio or video interviews on their website.)  Getting a good shot depends a lot of whether you "click" with the photographer.  As she put it, "I was going to consult with one guy who is pretty famous, but just listening to him for five seconds made my teeth hurt."
Sounded like good advice.

Update 11/20/2011

I ultimately ended up going with Lev Gorn.  He gets the issue about capturing the eyes and was one of few that showed examples of older actors.  Also, he insists on a consultation before you come for the actual photography session to get an idea of what you're looking for. Terrific shots, well lit. Wish I'd gone with him to begin with.  New headshots will be posted in December.  Whew.


Making Progress

Feels like things are finally moving after weeks of delay.  My demo reel is coming together and the clips look good. One delay is getting a high-res version of a clip from Clear and Sunny Skies, which I hope to use as the opener.  Anthony Greene did a nice job with the film so I want to include it.  Very excited about the demo and have lined up several industry pros to review it before we cut a final.  In the meantime I'm in talks on some film projects, which should gin up this fall, and I'm lining up interviews with people in the business for this blog.  Hoping to have the demo done by the end of the month.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What's Ahead for Web TV?

According to David Samuels, president and CEO of Koldcast TV, original programming created exclusively for online audiences has exploded, with record numbers of consumers cancelling costly cable "packaged" subscriptions in favor of Web TV, where they can get exactly what they want - and only what they want - for free.  There are still challenges ahead for the creative minds producing these new series, and also for those trying to make it profitable.  Check out Samuels' take on the trends, as it appeared a year ago in the Huffington Post.  And watch for an update soon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

10 Best Westerns of All Time - In My View

Rented 3:10 to Yuma a few nights ago, the Russell Crowe remake of the 1957 original that had Glenn Ford playing against type as an outlaw.  After 10 minutes of blood spatter and no apparent story we put it back into its little red envelope to be mailed back to Netflix.  Maybe it got better, but I somehow doubt it.

The movie made me wonder why we get Westerns so wrong these days, and have since filmmakers decided you could make them in Europe, or with non-American actors, and they'd be just as good. They weren't. They aren't.  I like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  But it's not really a Western.

Which reminds me of a story from Star Trek that my husband likes to relate: in it Worf is telling heroic legends about Klingon history to a group of Klingon children who have grown up in an isolated colony that had been overtaken by the Romulans a generation earlier.  Their parents had refused to retell the stories out of shame at having surrendered.  So as Worf is relating one particular tale, a child interrupts to ask him if he believes the stories are true.  Worf replies "Yes" without hesitation, even though elements of the stories sound physically impossible.  When the child asks Worf why he believes they are true, Worf replies,"Because they tell us who we are."

Exactly.

Westerns tell us as Americans who we are.  So do films about World War II, films about the Civil Rights Movement, films about the Civil War.  The reason is that only in struggle can we define virtue - as a nation, as a culture, as an individual.  Only in pushing back against some threatening force - injustice, poverty, foreign invaders, the elements -  are we tested and learn  we are worthy.  No struggle, no virtue, no heroes.

Maybe that explains the lowbrow lineup of films this summer: Bridesmaids, The Hangover II, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses, Change Up and more.  (Sheesh, what stinkers!)

Anyway, here's my list of the 10 Best Westerns of all time: some that are on everyone's list, some that I think are often overlooked.

  1. The Big Country (1958).  William Wyler produced and directed this epic of a New England sea captain who arrives in town to marry a rancher's daughter and becomes embroiled in a feud between two families over cattle access to the Big Muddy.  Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, and the best Western score ever.
  2. High Noon (1952).  On his wedding day, a retiring Marshall insists on facing down a gang of outlaws who have vowed to kill him and are due in town on the noon train -- but he stands alone as the cowardly townspeople flee.  Even his Quaker bride deserts, but for a different reason. Tense, psychological thriller directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges.
  3. The Searchers (1956).  After his brother’s family is massacred by Indians, a Civil War veteran spends years searching for a young niece taken captive.  John Wayne at his best. A cast of Wayne regulars.  John Ford directs.
  4. Westward the Women (1951).  California rancher goes back east to recruit women willing to become wives for his lonely ranch hands. From the candidates he selects 138 who seem morally straight and able to shoot a gun, drive a team of mules, and survive the dangerous journey across mountains and prairie and Indian territory.  Different from other “mail-order bride” Westerns in its realistic depiction of the hardships and social issues and the addition of fiery French actress Denise Darcel.  The ending is a charmer.  Also stars Robert Taylor and John McIntire. 
  5. The Hanging Tree (1959).  In a gold-mining camp full of hard, dangerous men, a doctor with a sinister past finds redemption by taking in a young boy and treating an injured (and temporarily blind) immigrant woman.  Montanan Gary Cooper again, with Austrian actress Maria Schell, Karl Malden, and George C. Scott.  
  6. The Man From Laramie (1955). A stranger looking for those who sold guns to the Apaches (resulting in his brother’s death) defies the local cattle baron and his sadistic son by working for one of his oldest rivals.  James Stewart was terrific as a cowboy and it was a toss-up between this and Winchester ’73.  Cathy O'Donnell never looked lovelier. Anthony Mann directs.
  7. Winchester 73 (1950). Cowhand Lin McAdam wins a valuable Winchester 1873 repeating rifle in a shooting contest, which his brother steals, leading to a series of adventures as McAdam tracks down the weapon. James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson.  Anthony Mann directs.
  8. Red River  (1948).  Mutiny on a cattle drive when an ironfisted Texas rancher relentlessly brutalizes his cowhands, causing his adopted son to intercede and take over.  Vowing vengeance, the rancher gives chase, leading to the quintessential Western showdown.  John Wayne, Montgomery Clift in his first film role, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru.  As with The Searchers, Wayne is at his best when he's not having such an obvious good time.
  9. Heartland (1979) Scottish rancher Clyde Stewart hires a widow named Elinore as housekeeper. She penetrates Stewart's heart with her determination as she scrapes by to support her young daughter. Award-winning character study is based on Elinore Randall Stewart's autobiography of life in frontier Wyoming. Rip Torn, Conchata Ferrell
  10. My Darling Clementine (1946).  Director John Ford gives a gritty, authentic feel to this retelling of the shootout at the OK Corral, with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, Linda Darnell, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan.

These are the films that tell us who we are, or at least who we were.  We were heroes.

p.s. To those who didn't see their favorite on this list, let me respond.  The Magnificent 7 - I really like this movie, but somehow I could never quite buy Yul Brynner as a cowboy.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - great fun and a remarkable performance by Stewart's horse, but Stewart at this point was really too old for the role and the film doesn't feel very authentic.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - eh.  McCabe and Mrs. Miller - oh, please.  Unforgiven - I actually prefer the 1960 film The Unforgiven with Audrey Hepburn and Burt Lancaster and almost put it on the list.  Once Upon a Time in the West - the title gives it away; it's a fantasy.  The Wild Bunch - a lot of blood spatter and not much else.  Dances with Wolves - it scolds, but it's interesting in parts.  Blazing Saddles - I love this movie, but like Shanghai Noon it's a comedy set in some fantasy of the West, but it's not really a Western.

Call me a traditionalist.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mark Westbrook: Why Method Acting Fails the Actor

I came across this video that Glasgow acting coach Mark Westbrook posted some time back.  I wish he had said all this to camera as he sounds so animated.  But close your eyes and listen.  He makes some good points.  Also, his statement that theatre is about telling a story echoes what Soffer said about TV looking for storytellers.  I suspect that actors make the process more difficult than it needs to be sometimes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

LA Times: Web TV is Just Waiting to Click

Great piece yesterday in the Sunday, June 26 Los Angeles Times (Robert Lloyd: Critic's Notebook) about the movement toward Web TV.  Here's the money quote:

"Whether the Internet is the future of television or not, it looks like the future, the place the future wants to be. As the spoiler that steals eyes from established media and mediums, it announces itself again and again as the game that must be played. Big-time entertainment companies want a piece of it, hoping to dominate an emerging market that none of them really understands — they do not even understand whether it is in fact an emerging market — even as outsider artist-citizens see it as a way to breach the thick walls of show business in the not entirely paradoxical hope of being themselves admitted to the establishment."

Yeah, baby!  A lot going on!  I have producer friends with series headed for the Internet and I'm already a fan of  The Bannen Way, Murder Squad, and others that are just incredibly well done.  Web TV is still in its infancy, but I think this is the future.  That's why name stars are moving to the Web.

Friday, June 24, 2011

We Arrive at the Weekend

I was sorry to read that Peter Falk died yesterday.   I enjoyed his Columbo very much.  It was one of the last TV series I can remember following, until Law & Order came along. Although he modeled Columbo on Charles Vanel's Inspector Fichet in the 1955 French thriller Diabolique, Falk was unique and made the character his own.  It was a perfect fit.  He was wonderful.

We arrive at the weekend. Submitted for a low-budget feature and a training video this week and finally lined up an editor to produce my demo reel.  The actor I had originally planned to have edit it (at a certain level we all wear multiple hats) landed a speaking part in Men in Black III, so he's off shooting it this week.   Rumor has it that the film is over budget and tension is mounting on the set, but I bet this guy is loving it!  I'm so happy when things go well for those I know.  (Yay!)

Still trying to work out a contract to do a few episodes of that audio series that's coming together.  The wheels of progress have been turning slowly lately.  I just got a production still from Clear and Sunny Skies, the short film I shot last fall and that just premiered in March. That's it at upper right.  I won't get the DVD until September, so it will be awhile before any clips show up in my demo.  I like the shot though.  Pretty pictures are so boring.  This looks like my teeth are on edge. (Excellent!)  I put it on the landing page of my website too.

So I'm off to the movies.  I've been dying to see (God help me!) Bad Teacher.  The trailer is a hoot, but  I may wait until I hear from someone who actually saw it before plunking down  money for a ticket.  I got burned on The Hangover II, which turned out to be big budget porn (and I exaggerate not at all.)  The trailer for The Tree of Life makes it look too earnest by half, so that's out.  I rented The Company Men recently because it was out of the theaters before I had a chance to see it there.  That should have been the tip off.  How do you miss with a film about guys who lose their jobs during a down economy?  You focus on very rich guys who lose their jobs during a down economy.  I mean, losing your country club membership and having your Porche repossessed are tragedies to be sure, but of a somewhat lower order than having to move your family of four into the garage at your in-laws house (which actually happened to some poor guy.)  That leaves Rio (I could go for a kids' film in a pinch) or Midnight in Paris.  I'll probably do the latter.  Woody Allen and Owen Wilson are hit and miss, but they're due.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Audition Tips: How to Approach the TV Audition


Hearing a drama coach tell you to have “the courage to take risks” and “make strong choices” – especially when spoken in the same breath as phrases like “create stunning, three-dimensional characterizations,” as I heard this week – can be intimidating for an actor.  And much to the chagrin of many drama coaches I’m sure, “take risks” is too often interpreted as a directive to reach down inside yourself and pull out someone totally different from who you are.   In short, to “act.”

That’s not it.  Not according to Geoffrey Soffer, casting director for Ugly Betty and The Beautiful Life, who grew up in the business.  I took notes during the “Acting Intensive” I took with him a week ago.  I’m one of those who takes an intellectual approach to acting.  Don’t ask me to imagine being a table, just give me a strategy that makes sense!  Soffer made sense.  This is what I wrote down.  Some of it I knew, some I suspected, and some was a complete surprise.

Film and television directors cast personalities (aha!) Film directors are looking for the perfect actor personality for the role.  Television directors are looking for the perfect actor personality for the role that also fits into the show.  And if they’re casting a principal role in a TV series, they’re looking for a five-year fit so give them the whole package.  They’re not looking for you doing Meryl Streep or Bruce Willis; they’re looking for you doing you – your talk, your walk, your look.

Is that limiting?  No.  Because we’ve all had the experience at some point of being flirty, giddy, jealous, sarcastic, devastated, generous, mean-spirited, pissed off, etc., etc., and when we audition we need to draw upon those experiences as the scene requires.   That’s what makes a truthful performance.

Does being yourself take courage?  Yes.  I know a lot of actors more comfortable being someone else than being themselves, especially if the “risk” is that some casting director may say, “No, it’s not you I’m looking for.”  If your personality is on the line, then it feels like personal, not professional, rejection.  That hurts.

Know your type.  When people meet you for the first time, they form an opinion of who you are before you ever open your mouth.  Find out what that is and then do that type better than anyone else.  Take a look at Rosalind Russell in the 1934 film Evelyn Prentice (which I believe was her first film role.)  Instead of the brassy, pushy dame we love in The Women, His Girl Friday, and Auntie Mame, we see an actress trying veddy, veddy hahd to be a clingy, simpering member of the moneyed class.  It took her another five years in film to stop doing that and find her type.

Network.  That doesn't mean running around introducing yourself and asking for a job. Since they’re casting personalities, you are auditioning 24/7.  Get out where producers, directors, and other actors can see you. Go to film and theatre industry events: Screenings, film festivals, workshops, happy hours, receptions, parties.  Look like a star when you go.  Since you’re “on stage” present the most positive you in conversation.

Project a certain surety.  This is a business and despite being referred to as the "talent" actors are low on the totem pole.  If you’re a sensitive type who seems to require a lot of hand-holding, directors will look elsewhere.  Soffer said that on the set of Ugly Betty what impressed him was that the actors came across as working with them, not for them.  They came with answers, not questions.  Project that.

AUDITIONING FOR TELEVISION

Again, the audition is a presentation of your personality.  The minute you walk into the room you have to be the one they want to hire.  Walk in with a sense of belonging.  Want to be there.  Get pumped up.

Don’t bother auditioning for roles that are not suited to your type.  You want directors to see you in roles where you are a possible fit, not wondering why you’re trying out for something so totally wrong for you.

If you’re given the sides beforehand, memorize your lines so you can concentrate on your actions and reactions.  Soffer says 98 percent of those auditioning don’t have their lines memorized and having to repeatedly look down at the script is the kiss of death.  Have the lines down cold and you immediately set yourself apart from the pack.

Arrive looking your best – the very best version of you.  If you’re auditioning for a starring role, look like a star.  If you’re auditioning for a character part, dress in context, but not costume.

If you don’t get the sides until you arrive for the audition, at least the first 5 lines must be off book so step aside and memorize them quickly.  During the audition, look up as much as you can.  The eyes are a window to the soul.  They want to see your eyes.  If it makes sense in the scene, try to use the script as a prop – i.e. as a newspaper, letter, grocery list, etc.  Do not, however, roll it up and wave it like a weapon or use it to punctuate your lines.

Be 100 percent committed to your take on the character.    What jumps out at directors the most is the actor who says, “This is who I am and I can’t play it any other way.”  (I was surprised when Soffer said that.)

Pick up the pace.  Television has to tell a story in 23 minutes, 43 minutes.  The words need to come much faster.  All characters have a sense of urgency.  Americans naturally talk fast.  Leave out the dramatic pauses. Throw away more lines instead of “acting” them. Come in on top of the reader’s lines.  Directors are looking for a dynamic performance, more confidence, more personality.

Don’t play a role, play yourself reacting to what's happening.  They’re casting a whole person. Give them you.

If there is humor in the script, be sure to convey it.  Find at least four layers or “colors” of personality to play up in the scene – curiosity, warmth, humor, wit, whatever – four different sides to the character.  Find the comedy in the drama and the drama in the comedy.  Your job is to convey as much as possible about yourself and your personality during the audition.

In developing the scene, consider all of the elements.  Who are you talking to? Where is the scene taking place? What your relationship to the reader’s character?  How are you connecting to that character with your lines?  What is your opinion of what the reader’s character is saying?  What changes during the scene?

As long as your relationship to the reader’s character feels real, just go with it.  Don’t exaggerate your reactions.  Keep it dialed down.

Directors are looking for storytellers.  Make an emotional arc.  If you start at one place emotionally, finish at another place.  If you’re going with a strong emotion, build up to it.  Don’t start with it and trail off.

Glitches to avoid: If you’re sitting during the audition, sit back in your chair.  Don’t do the audition leaning forward with your elbows on your knees.  If you’re standing up, don’t break “the wall” and advance on the reader.  Don’t roll your eyes; it feels false. If the scene involves another person coming into the room or something that changes the dynamic, you must react to that. If there is stage direction in the script that requires a reaction, include it.  Otherwise ignore it. After your last line, stay connected to the reader until the casting director speaks. Don't give the impression you can't wait to have it over with.

That’s it. Were these points obvious?  If stated, were they ever substantiated or even clearly defined?  Not to me. Not in three years of drama classes. This was time well spent.