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.


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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Risks, Choices, and That Bit About Degrees

Up at dawn again.  Bah.  Our one remaining dog has his chin on my knee and is looking up with soulful brown eyes that say, "Please, please give me your oatmeal."  (Okay, he wins.)

I've been in AFTRA workshops all week learning more on the business side of acting.  I'm going over a contract this weekend for a proposed audio dramatic series and will have to run it by a union rep on Monday.  I'm hoping we can cut a deal as the series would be fun to do and voicing a drama could prove useful for getting work in animation and video games (I understand Linda Hunt has made a bundle voicing video games!), plus I could use my various accents.  What a kick that would be!

But the really important news is that I attended an "Acting Intensive" last Saturday in DC with New York casting director Geoffrey Soffer. (That's him at left looking very much the brooding New Yorker, although he was  quite cheerful and approachable in person.  His website is here.) and finally got the answer to two questions that have been hanging over my head through three years of drama classes and reading everything on acting I could get my hands on:

(1) What do directors and drama coaches mean when they say "have the courage to take risks" and "make strong choices" in auditions?  These phrases get mouthed a lot but never really defined. It's like, well, of course, everyone knows what they mean.

(2)  If you need theatre experience and a degree from a big-name acting school to get noticed - and many casting directors say you do - then how did Director Louis Malle get truthful, compelling performances out of 10- and 12-year-olds in Au Revoir Les Enfants?  And how is it that Jennifer Lawrence gets propelled into an acting career at age 14 on a summer trip to New York?  Little or no theatre one would assume, and certainly no degree from NYU.

This will run long so I'm putting the answers in the next post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Casting Agencies and Audition Resources Online

Since I've been sending out headshots I thought I'd share a list of some of the major casting agencies in the Washington, DC area.  You should never be required to pay a fee to register with an agency; casting agencies make their money from casting projects.

Most area actors say that personal contact is still the best way to generate interest. Check every agent or casting directors website for open calls and meet with them in person.  Check their website to find out whether they prefer an open call or a simple submission.  Most of these handle union, non-union, and voiceovers; some also handle print, live appearances, and other kinds of work.

Note that some of these take email submissions, some want snail mail, and some take both.

Erica Arvold Casting 
416 E Main St
Suite 206
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Betsy Royall Casting
6247 Falls Road,
Baltimore, MD 21209
Email: betsy@betsycoaching.com

Carlyn Davis Casting 
Attn: New Talent
124 E. Broad Street Unit C-2
Falls Church, Va. 22046.
Tel: 703-532-1900
Fax: 703-532-1950

Central Casting (DC)  (Call for instructions on how to submit)
623 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Tel: 202-547-6300
Fax: 202-547-8196

Independent Casting Services
Carol W Davis LLC
3950 Elm Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21211
Tel: 410-467-7770
Tel: 410-949-4148 (mobile)

Kimberly Skyrme Casting
Washington, DC Office (There's also an office in NYC)
4313 Sheridan Street
University Park, MD 20782
Tel: 301-927-4462

Baltimore Office
1200 South Conkling Street
Suite 427

Email: KimberlySkyrmeCasting@gmail.com
An up and comer, Kimberly Skyrme cast two seasons of the Netflix hit series House of Cards and is currently casting films.  Her staff is well organized and she throws a wide net when looking for actors. Works from time to time with Stonehenge Casting below.

Pat Moran and Associates
3500 Boston Street
Suite 425
Baltimore, MD 21224
Email: patmorantalent@gmail.com
Pat Moran and Associates won a 2012 Emmy for casting the film Game Change, and cast many of the major film and TV projects filming in the area, including the TV series VEEP with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, before the show returned to California.

Stonehenge Casting
A free profile site associated with Bjorn Munson's Team Jabberwocky in Baltimore, which for many years hosted the Stonehenge Auditions.  Working with Kimberly Skyrme Casting on some projects.

Studio Center
Studio Center Corporation
161 Business Park Dr.
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
Tel: 866-515-2111 or 757-286-3080
Fax: 757-622-0583
Email through their website

Taylor Royall
6247 Falls Road Baltimore, MD 21209
Phone: 410-828-6900
Email:  agents@taylorroyall.com

T.H.E. Artist Agency  (Print Ads and Runway Models)
1207 Potomac St., NW
Georgetown, DC 20007
Tel: 202-342-0933
Fax: 202-342-6471


The Virginia Film Office
Area actors have found some good jobs there and Southern Virginia has had a string of major Hollywood movies shooting in the area, including Spielberg’s Lincoln.

The Pittsburgh Film Office
Century Building
130  7th Street, Suite 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

The DC Film Alliance Calendar and Listserv
The DC Film Alliance/DC Shorts was created in part to increase communication among the local film and media community. Two excellent tools to help with this are the DC Film Alliance’s calendar and their listserv, found at the link above.

The Mid-Atlantic Union Talent Hotline (MAUTH) If you’re a union actor in the area, send an email to the list moderator Don Hagen (DonHagen@aol.com) and ask to join. His job notifications reach more than 400 union actors in the Washington/Baltimore markets.

Production Company Websites A good strategy for advancing your acting career is to target 2-3 companies that produce the kind of films in which you want to appear.  Let’s face it, any production company that’s going to turn out a professional product and take care of you before, during, and after the shoot is going to have a website and/or a listing on IMDb. Look at their creative team and what information they give on past productions.  Follow and build a relationship.

Membership in acting organizations can be a great source of audition notices as well as training and networking events, making them well worth the membership fee for the career advancing opportunities they provide.

Dragonuk Connects
For filmmakers, this is the largest publicly searchable casting database in the region, covering a broad range of acting talent, most of it non-union.

The Actors' Center
A long-standing area resource, the Actor's Center emails members a daily "Hotline" of job openings.

Women in Film and Video-Washington, DC

Women in Film and Video of Maryland 

Television, Internet and Video Association


Actors Access
This is the main service to get job notices. Breakdown Services also offers scripts/sides and Showfax for taped audition submissions on the same site.

Agency Pro
In the extended D C area (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, etc), there are 8-9 casting agencies/directors using Agency Pro software to host their actor headshot and resume files.  Actors can set up either a free basic account or upgrade to a paid account. Most area actors in a recent survey by Brian Dragonuk, however, responded that setting up an Agency Pro account got them little more than emailed sales pitches from the casting agencies for paid services, classes, workshops and headshots. The one exception was Erica Arvold Casting in Charlottesville, VA, http://www.arvold.com, which does send out quite a few general notices for actual paying jobs.

Backstage Magazine online
A subscription to the online version includes a casting calls link to thousands of film, TV, and commercial projects all across the country.
Casting Networks
The Diane Heery Agency in Philadelphia uses them and quite a few NYC-based casting directors also use them so members do get audition notices. Few DC-area actors report booking a job, however, even after multiple submissions.

Casting Frontier 
Starting to show up in several major casting directors offices. Appears to be a main source of video auditions for markets like LA and NYC out of its local offices.

If you have a subscription (and you should) film projects often turn up here via the casting link on the menu bar.

This site was mentioned by several area actors with mixed results for NYC jobs.

Sylvia Hutson Hutson Talent Agency http://www.hutsontalentagency.com in Portsmouth, VA, and Maultsby Model & Talent Agency http://www.maultsbytalent.com/ in Wilmington, NC, use this sight and their actors reportedly do well. Useful especially for the general southeast market.



Actors Equity Casting Call 

The DC Theatre Listserv
Like MAUTH below, this is another Yahoo Group listserv open to theater actors,  directors, stage managers, designers, producers, etc. General news and audition notices.http://www.actorsaccess.com

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Emotional Rollercoaster

Finally got the headshots and VO demos out to a handful of agencies (the ones most promising) and now waiting to hear back from those that require auditions to register.  Had an amazing time in Bermuda, but came home to find one of the dogs in rapidly deteriorating health.  Central Casting was sounding desperate to fill background on a major film being shot locally, so I decided to be a team player and signed on.  Worked a 16-plus hour day in the hot sun (up 23 hours straight including dressing and travel time), but was well compensated due to my union status (glad I joined).  The next day the dog took a turn for the worse and had to be put down.  Heartbreaking - just an incredibly sweet dog.  I’m still tearing up.  Two days later my husband had a scary episode and was admitted to the hospital for tests.  Nothing life threatening as it turned out (whew).  Feeling exhausted from too little sleep, too much sun, and too many reminders that I’m not in charge here.  Bermuda was such a delight.  I can understand why primitive peoples downplay their happiness for fear that the gods will snatch it away.

I remain optimistic.  Made a few good contacts while working background on the film.  Reconnected with some actors I knew.  Also had the pleasure of having several fellow actors come up and say they’d seen my Stonehenge audition or seen me in a film and liked what they saw.  Lessons from working background: Keep a death grip on your pay voucher, major film stars look much smaller in person,  and if they pass around water, take it.  

Movies not to miss:  Incendies, a film about the terrifying impact of sectarian strife in Jordan in 1970, and Biutiful, for which Javier Bardem won Best Actor at Cannes.  Biutiful starts slow and pulls you in.  Incendies is devastating right out of the gate.  Both are reminders of what a struggle it is to survive in much of the world.  Foreign filmmakers are mining gold.   If you subscribe to Netflix, also check out Linda Hunt’s performance in 1982's The Year of Living Dangerously.  Wow.