Friday, May 24, 2013

Acting Tips: Defining an actor's type and brand

What’s the difference between a type and a brand? What’s a logline? As an actress, I can see where knowing my type is important; it keeps me from wasting my time auditioning for roles that don’t suit me. Brand and loglines are marketing tools, however, and since I’m out there networking at industry events and have reels that I think convey my performance skills to some advantage, I’m not sure I need these last two. People can see how I come across on camera, right?

If you’re starting out and your strategy involves standard actor marketing (and who’s to say that isn’t just fine), it’s probably good to know what these tools are and what they can potentially do for you.

An actor’s type is a combination of the criteria found in the breakdowns when a role is being cast, i.e. sex, age range, physicality (short, tall, thin, heavy, light, dark, race), and the job titles that fit (soccer mom, corporate lawyer, big city cop, international spy, blue-collar worker, teen, medical professional.)

Brand is your type plus something of your personality that is uniquely you. Are you sexy, charming, wicked, quirky, serious, intellectual, mysterious, innocent? The qualities that others find most memorable about you is your brand, and the word on the street is that conveying the essential you to casting can help you to book roles more frequently.

Actor Josh Murray has the idea. Murray’s website says he projects “intensity,” “intelligence,” and “intrigue.” (The alliteration here doesn’t hurt either.) For a price, Los Angeles image consultant Sam Christensen can help you toward a brand that is even more fully developed.

Why is a brand important? Well if casting needs to fill a role, do they audition actors solely on a photoshopped headshot and credits on a résumé? Or do they gravitate toward those who give some hint at what’s inside the can? A brand tells them what kind of actor you are and to some extent your level of performance so they can call you in to audition with some confidence that you are what they’re looking for.

Also, hiring an actor with a recognizable brand, can make it easier for producers to get distribution, raise capital, hire a good crew, and get other top level actors on board. It doesn’t guarantee a film’s success but it can provide status and credibility. Movie stars all project a brand, but it’s based on years of public exposure through their film roles. If you’re not yet at that level yet, you may want to create a brand.

One way to do that is to draw up a list of adjectives and short phrases you think might describe you. Then ask friends and family what three words or expressions best describe you and your personality.  (Tell them you want them to be completely objective.) When you see the same words cropping up again and again, you have your brand. And if you reflect on some of your best roles and then use the words in a phrase, you’ve got a logline.

A logline is a short phrase that sums up your essence and personality. It tells others how to cast you, how you’ve been cast in the past, and what you will bring to a role. Christensen has examples on his website. After reading about his image design process, I frankly wish I had the cash to sign up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Acting resources in India

Long before Bollywood became a popular term in the West, and Indian films started turning up on cinema marquees in American suburbs, India was turning out world-class filmmakers like Satyajit Ray.  In fact, his lovely and moving 1961 film Two Daughters (Three Daughters in the original release) introduced me to Indian film and remains one of my all time favorites.
Now of course, actors in India are making much the same effort as actors anywhere to further their careers, turn in good work, and hopefully make a recognizable name for themselves in the credits. Kiran Pande, a Facebook friend of mine who has done more in film than his IMDb page would indicate, just posted a list of agencies and acting resources to his blog.  You can see the list here.

If you aspire to be an actor in India, this may be a good place to begin your journey.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finding the perfect monologue

I've been looking for a new monologue, and although there are plenty out there, even plenty of obscure monologues out there, it's unclear what makes an appropriate monologue....for me.

I've read enough about auditioning to know that no casting director wants to see a piece they've seen done a million times. I want them to focus on my talent and personality, not be sitting there thinking, "Oh no, not this again."

I also need to avoid over-long memory monologues (When I was a little girl growing up on the farm in Kansas....) or monologues intended to shock (swearing, screaming, crying, engaging in repulsive acts). I once saw a quite beautiful actress perform a monologue that involved a detailed analysis of picking her nose. It was grim.

But I recently came across an otherwise so-so book called 10 Steps to Breaking into Acting that contained a good definition of the perfect monologue, and I think this is the place to start. Here it is:

  • A good monologue is one where your character is urgently going after something that he or she needs right now. It is active and alive, powerful and conversational, and engages the listener quickly and effectively.
  • It has a beginning, middle, and an end.
  • Your character goes through the journey in 1-2 minutes tops.
  • It reflects your age and type.

The standard advice is to have four monologues memorized and ready - two for theater and two for film - but I rarely find a monologue being asked for at a film audition, only for casting agency open calls. I have one that still works for agency open calls, so I'll be looking for one that encourages projection. 

Open Call

Up at 5:30 a.m. yesterday to fix my hair and make-up, put a suit on, step into high heels, and drive nearly two hours to the Armory in Bel Air, Maryland, for an Open Call for day players and extras. This was for Season 2 of the Netflix series House of Cards, and I was only one of many who'd had a long trek in. The actor behind me in line had driven four and a half hours from Pittsburgh. Fortunately the staff at Kimberly Skyrme Casting had the drill down pat, and union actors were ushered in first. In and out in 20 minutes. Hundreds more non-union actors showed up and had a longer wait.

I'd already submitted for this series online and pointed out in writing that I frequently play members of Congress, lobbyists, judges, etc., but there is something to be said for letting the casting people see you in person and having a minute to chat. A plus was that the guy checking us in recognized me from Meghan Reynolds film The Monopoly Club, where I played a Senator, and had lots of good things to say about the film and me. (Always good to hear.) I introduced myself and got his name for future reference. Saw a lot of people in line that I knew and met a few new ones.  Then the long drive home and a nap.

Kimberly Skyrme Casting throws a wide net for actors on this series. Hoping for a part with lines. 

Searching for Crystal Liu

This is why we don't have more women confidence. I saw a 2007 film at the DC Shorts Laughs festival Friday night called "Speed Dating," which was written and directed by Crystal Liu. It was not only funny and original (and my favorite) but it had that element that makes a great story - surprise. But is there a trailer or clips on YouTube or anywhere that I can link to and give this young lady a plug? No. Any contact information? No. Not even a poster to go with the listing on IMDb. Only a few positive write-ups, but otherwise nothing. And Ms. Liu hasn't made another film since, apparently. Instead she's working as a script coordinator for TV. What a waste! Hey, Crystal, you've got talent! Make movies!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On David Patrick Green's "Become a Famous Actor" Book Series

In this business it quickly becomes apparent that paralleling the entertainment industry is a whole other
industry of people who claim to have the key that unlocks the door of success, and for a (small to very large) price they'll sell it to you. You can spend thousands of dollars on pricey headshots, classes, seminars, intensives, meet and greets, showcases, you name it, without ever earning a penny as a working actor. I've learned to take a long, hard look at who's providing the product or service before whipping out my credit card.

Well a couple of weeks ago, when I was online looking for a book on the actor-agent relationship, I came across the Become a Famous Actor series of ebooks by actor David Patrick Green, available for $3.99 each and readable in about an hour. Judging from the large number of dropped words and garbled sentences, these ebooks are apparently self-published, certainly self-edited. Also, the author has played mostly minor roles in individual episodes of TV shows, despite the rather grandiose title of his book series. But I looked at the reviews, considered the price, and decided to give them a read. My conclusion? They're a terrific bargain.

Acting, and the business of acting, has so many elements to consider that it's easy to lose track of what's really necessary to get started and make progress. Green breaks it down for the actor in a straightforward, no-nonsense way, with strong emphasis on building relationships in the industry. I found shortcuts, strategies, and some real gems of wisdom that I'm already putting into practice, and in his audition book, arguably the clunkiest, I found myself experiencing more than a few "Aha" moments. They're a quick read and easy to go back and review.

Here are the titles: 20 Acting Career Questions….Answered, 5 Insider Acting Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know, and 10 Auditioning Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know.

Now the caveat: one purpose of these ebooks is to generate interest in Green's HackHollywood website, which requires a monthly membership fee of $27, with a pitch for a "Master Class" for an additional $20 a month.

I checked with an actor friend who signed up for HackHollywood, and he said the advice is all in the books. The online program has ongoing content, like video tips and interviews with actors, and an online forum that adds accountability and allows you to ask Green and other members questions. That's $47.50 a month for a program that sounds largely motivational.

Check out the books. Decide for yourself on HackHollywood. My sense is that if you need to spend nearly $600 a year just to keep yourself motivated as an actor, you're in the wrong  business. My actor friend, however, has booked roles in six low-budget feature films in the past 6 months, so who's to say. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Playing it straight

Catching my breath.  Shooting scenes yesterday for Rob Raffety's new comedy series Capitol South, with Allison Howard, R. Michael Oliver, and stand-up comic Andrew Heaton, who came down from New York for the filming.  The initial scripts from Rob and his team of writers are brilliant.  So many talented and funny people!  I play Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright, who provides the raison d’être for the shenanigans of the Capitol Hill staff.  Rather like being the Margaret Dumont of the series!  Hah!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Found an agent

Just signed with the Maultsby Model & Talent Agency, which reps other actors in this area, including Ken Arnold, Regen Wilson, and Joe Hansard.

Maultsby is expanding. The agency currently covers the Southeast (which is getting a lot of new business, and where casting is running short of local actors and will readily accept video auditions), as
well as NY and LA (where casting still wants most auditions done in person, although the "greenness" of a link over travel may be having an appeal.) The agency is also in the process of opening an office in Florida.

The film industry is seeing an exploding market for feature films/documentaries in the under $5M budget range. This means more opportunities for non-name actors to gain significant speaking roles and work experience, often alongside actors who are better known. For example, actor Eric Roberts, brother of Julia Roberts, was recently a late addition to a local very low-budget Western, Day of the Gun, which is filming in Maryland and using many area actors. You can get a heads up on productions shooting in your area at this site:

Since video auditions are become more common, it may also be a good idea to know how to self-tape. Some videographers will tape your audition for a fee (Studio Boh in Baltimore provides that service, for example), but if you're taping your own the SAG Foundation recently sponsored a presentation on self-taped auditions and posted it to YouTube.  Anyone can view Parts 1 and 2 here:

Auditioning for TV means watching the shows that are booking locally to get a feel for the pacing and tone.  You can access these on pay TV, but past episodes may also be available online for free so check these sites first:

Yes, I am excited about getting an agent, although at this point in my career I hold no illusions and am still planning on doing 90 percent of the work myself.  An agent's real value comes in when you've booked a big role and you need someone to present your utterly ridiculous contract demands to the producer.  (The arrangement also allows the producer to say "no" without hurting your feelings.)

By the way, a decent book on the agent-actor relationship is An Agent Tells All by Tony Martinez, which is available cheap in an e-edition. More later, after I get all of my materials and headshots up online at the agency. I am told it takes a week to 10 days.