Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shona Auerbach is back!

My husband and I were up last night watching director Shona Auerbach's 2004 film Dear Frankie for about the 20th time. This is a brilliant and moving film, beautifully shot, and incredibly her first attempt at a feature, having made a slew of commercials and one short prior. (It is quite possibly the best role ever for Gerard Butler, who plays The Stranger.) Written by Andrea Gibb, produced by Caroline Wood, a lyrical score by Alex Heffes (composer on the just released Escape Plan), the film won raves at the Cannes International Film Festival, BAFTA and London Film Critics nominations, and a slew of film festival wins from Bulgaria to L.A.

I have searched the Web repeatedly over the years for word of her and any follow-on projects.  Nothing. I had this sinking feeling that something terrible had happened to this incredible talent, because she had seemingly vanished. Last night while watching Dear Frankie I got out my laptop and gave it another try. And there she was!  She has a website, which you can see here, and a new film Rudy that just finished shooting and has a Facebook page here.

I sent her an email, thinking it would take a week to get passed through her London film agent. Surprised to get a response back from the director herself within minutes. Extremely happy to see her back in the game. Can't wait to see Rudy in theatres. Wow!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grabbing and sharing your actor clips

Technology is playing a larger and larger role in our lives as actors. Not only do we share our demo reels and send taped auditions via the Internet but we also – after we’ve gotten that coveted role – use the Internet to grab our performance clips off of the films and television shows in which we appear.

Uploading and Sharing Video

Taping an audition, as I’ll be doing later today for an HBO series, typically means shooting a big HD file and then creating a smaller size or different type of video file that can be uploaded to the Internet and then pulled down by your agent and the casting director.

Here are some low cost/no cost options for creating and sharing smaller files:

1. Try Mpeg Streamclip, which is a free program that you can learn about here and download here in versions for Mac and Windows and others. I use this and find it super easy to create smaller files of sufficient quality to share with agents and casting.

2. Open a free account at or, where you can upload your video files to share and also create smaller file versions that can be downloaded by others.  I have a Vimeo channel and like the quality and versatility better than YouTube. Some casting directors will ask you to upload to YouTube, however, so it's good to have both.

3. If you edit on a Mac with Final Cut Pro X, as I do, you can use your compressor. Select the YouTube video settings, then change the size of the video to 50 percent before exporting.

4. Try a program called Handbrake. I haven’t tried this one, but it came highly recommended.  You can learn more about it here and download it here.  It's available for Mac and other platforms.

5. If you're using Mac OSX 10.8, you can create a smaller file with Quicktime. Just open your video and go to file/export. In the drop down menu in the bottom of the dialogue box choose "iPod Touch & iPhone 3GS" or "iPad/iPhone 4 & Apple TV."  This reportedly works great and is very fast.

Need to send a video file?  Try, which will send files up to 2 gigs for free, and larger files through a paid account. Better than, in my view. Very easy and fast.

Of course, for an actor the bigger issue is snagging performance clips for your reel.  Since I have some TV performances coming up, I put this question to my online actor group.

Getting Clips from Film and Television

When an actor is just starting out, the biggest problem can be getting clips from student films, which can sometimes involve chasing down the student’s professor and making a formal appeal. I never had to resort to that fortunately. All of my student filmmakers behaved like pros, posted the finished video, and sent me the download link.

Footage from feature films and television gets trickier unless you make friends with someone in production. To get performance clips from these, actor Michael Alban suggests using a program called Video Clone. You can download the trial version for free and capture up to 5 continuous minutes of streaming video to test it. If the clip you need is more than 5 minutes, you can pay for the full version to get longer clips. It’s easy to use and the footage looks decent, he says.  You can access it here.  I suggest doing a test run first to make sure you're getting the quality you want.

Michael says an easy software program for pulling clips from non-streaming sources is Mozilla's Firefox browser with the Video Download Helper add-on. You can grab any file that's on Youtube and on most other sites. With VDH, you're grabbing the actual file since it's directly available to you, whereas with streaming video, you're making a copy. Find the Mozilla VDH link here.

Net Video Hunter, available here, was recommended by another Mac user, but reportedly would involve a second step through Mpeg Streamclip to get it to an editable version.

If anyone has gotten good results by getting their clips through other programs, please let me know.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

CapSouth continues to gain media attention

#CapSouth, the new online political comedy about the antics of the Capitol Hill staff of yours truly (as Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright) continues to gather media accolades: the Washington Post, Washington Times, Morning Express, Politico (full page spread with photos), RollCall (twice), The Hill, and online at 7/9/13 and Comedy TV is Dead.  Creator Rob Raffety also got a radio interview with CBS radio affiliate WNEW here in DC and a write up in his hometown paper the West Virginia Gazette.  I think that has been more attention than even House of Cards got - at least from the inside-the-Beltway press.

"Gracie," by the way, is very media savvy.  She has her own Facebook page for responding to "constituents" and tweets at @HonorableGracie.  Episodes of CapSouth can be found online at YouTube, and I appear (so far) in episodes 2 and 5.  We'll see where this takes us.  Will it prove a hit or be too inside baseball for the rest of America?  Here's the latest episode.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Atlantic gives the lowdown on awful blockbuster movies

Cinemas full of loud, dumb, crash-bang movies is why my husband and I are spending Saturday nights this summer staring at each other instead of gobbling up popcorn. The Atlantic just weighed in on why thoughtful film buffs can expect more of this's all economics and a foreign market that has developed a taste for it. (The French loved Jerry Lewis films, remember?) See the full article here.

Let's hope that Netflix makes a ton of money with brilliant programming like House of Cards. (More please! And not just because I got a few lines.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Acting Tips: Writing your Actor Bio

Actors often have trouble writing their actor's bio, which is probably why Playbill bios tend to be folksy/cutesy. We feel awkward and self-conscious, and it shows.

Gwyn Gilliss has an informative piece on the topic in Backstage this week (you can see the full article here) that gives useful guidelines that sound right on the money.  I will say that having been a professional writer I still managed to miss most of this, so my next task this morning is rewriting my bio.

Here's Gwyn's step-by-step advice:

Paragraph 1: Recent roles/Strongest credits. (Theater if you’re in New York and film/TV if you’re in L.A.) Try to use recognizable plays and roles, not just “showcases.” If you’re just starting out, you can include “representative” roles. Those parts from Shakespeare or Chekov done at school outweigh showcases of unknown writers Off-Off-Broadway.

Paragraph 2: Training. Don’t be afraid to name drop master teachers or prestigious drama schools, as well as directors you’ve studied with. If you’ve worked with “greats,” they will assume you will be great!

Paragraph 3: Recent work. (Switch what you included in paragraph one.) Include Indie films and appearances on primetime or daytime TV or include all major stage credits from Off-Off-Broadway to Broadway. Your credits tell them how to cast you and what roles you are consistently hired to play. Don’t include extra work—it's not considered a professional credit if you’re standing in the background.

Paragraph 4: Personal Life. Here, write about your interests, skills, travel, languages, or musical instruments—anything that makes you memorable. Elaborate don’t just list.

She also weighs in on style, advising actors to keep it short, avoid lists, give the "what" not the "why," and write in the third person and in inverted pyramid style that puts the most important information first.

Good stuff!

I would only add that somewhere in there - probably up near the top - you find a way to work in the three on-screen qualities that make you compelling as an actor.  For example, I'm often cast in power roles - judge, corporate executive, member of Congress - so my three qualities are "forceful, intelligent, pragmatic."  It can help in casting.

I would also advise that you downplay training as you build experience. Once you've gotten recognizably good roles, training becomes less and less important.

Monday, July 8, 2013

#CapSouth sees print in today's Politico

An actor will take good news wherever he/she can find it, and this is the week my horoscope said my career was going to take off! I know nothing about the movement of the planets but - so far - it's looking pretty darn good!

Check out the spread on my new political comedy #CapSouth in today's edition of Politico!  That's me as Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright in the photo at lower right, with the statue of former House Speaker Sam Rayburn. The series was created by Rob Raffety, and the cast (playing my Capitol Hill staff) includes NY comic Andrew Heaton, R. Michael Oliver, Allison J. Howard, Naomi Brockwell, Satya Thallam, Chris Mannix, and a host of others.

The CapSouth Marketing Team has been working overtime and doing a bang-up job.

July 8th spread in Politico

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright arrives in Washington!

Gracie arrives in Washington, DC, this week in the new YouTube political comedy #CapSouth. The nation's capital may never be the same.

Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright in #CapSouth     Photo by Lauren Shannon

Finding comedy in a scene

My new political comedy, CapSouth, is launching this week on YouTube. Whew, high tension!  It's already been written up in RollCallThe Hill and Politico, and rumor has it that an important announcement will soon be made in Buzzfeed.

I don't think of myself as a comic actress and, as I've said before, feel somewhat like I'm playing the Margaret Dumont role in a brilliant cast of Marx Brothers.

But there are tips even second bananas can draw upon to find comedy in a scene. Backstage magazine recently had a nice piece by actor and audition coach Michael Kostroff that outlined some of the frequently recurring elements to consider when approaching a comedy script. They are:

"Disproportion: an extreme reaction to a small problem; a small reaction to a huge problem; lots of effort for an easy task; little effort for a great task.

"Lack of self-awareness: an unattractive character who thinks he’s irresistibly good-looking; a drunk who thinks he’s behaving normally.

"Awkwardness created by obligations, such as manners, customs, etiquette, social norms, restrictions, or assignments: trying to stay awake while a talkative dinner guest overstays his welcome; hiding an embarrassing stain at an important job interview; Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory…look it up!

"Skewed status: a bossy secretary; a wimpy king; a snobby beggar.

"Wrong person for the job: an insecure psychotherapist; a squeamish surgeon; a tone-deaf backup singer.

"Recognizable human foibles: nervousness about asking someone out; dissolving at the sight of a baby; pining for food while on a diet; not making sense first thing in the morning."

There are many more elements than these six of course. For a more in-depth look at playing comedy, check out Scott Sedita's excellent book The Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to Sitcom Acting and Writing, which is available in both hardcover and Kindle editions.

Now, on to the launch! By the way, my CapSouth character, Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright, has her own fan page on Facebook, where she responds to questions and comments from her "constituents." This is going to be a fun run.   

Acting Tips: Defining acting roles on your résumé

What am I?

I just posted a new television credit to my résumé, which again raised the issue of billing and how to officially define a role. Résumé credit terminology can be dizzying shades of gray and for years the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) had different terms for similar roles.

There are clues.  If you’re working a union television contract, your billing should be spelled out specifically in your contract.  If you have no contract or deal memo for your work, you can check the original breakdown for the project, as the billing for the role is often listed after the character description. You can also check with your agent or someone in production.

This is what I came up with, broken down by genre:


Lead (Star): The actor appears in most scenes in a role that is central to the story and without which the film would not exist.  His/her name is often in the on-screen credits at the beginning of the film, in addition to appearing in the complete end credits.

Principal: In film, this term refers to a speaking role, without getting too specific about how central the actor’s character is to the story. It has also been used to denote non-contract players who have five or more lines.

Supporting: The actor fills a principal role and appears in one or more scenes.  Although important to the storyline, the role is not a lead character.

Featured: The actor has one scene with one or more lines; not big enough to be a supporting role and easily cut from the final version of the film. If the role stays in, the actor’s name appears in the end credits.

Cameo: A term that designates an established star in a stunt-cast role.

Background: The actor fills a non-speaking role with no on-screen credit given. Sometimes you will see the term "Featured Background," which means you're not in a crowd scene but clearly recognizable, i.e. standing next to the star. Either way, Background should not appear on an acting résumé.


Series Regular: The actor is under exclusive contract with the show to appear (or be paid regardless of appearing) every week.

Recurring: The actor returns as the same character over multiple episodes, either on a standing contract or contracted periodically, with payment based on the terms negotiated and the number of appearances.

Guest Star: The actor appears as a one-episode guest whose character's storyline is central to that particular episode. The actor works at the standard union weekly rate, even if filming takes place over only a day or two.

Co-star: The actor appears as a one-episode guest whose character may or may not be central to that episode’s storyline.  Co-star billing is typically negotiated and is unrelated to the size of the role.

Contract Role: This is an AFTRA contract term for a series regular or recurring character on a daytime soap opera.

Under 5: This is an AFTRA contract term for a role with between one and five lines.  You could also use the term “Featured,” but it is so often applied to a role as an Extra, where you appear prominently in a scene but without lines, that it may be misleading if you have lines.

Cameo: A term that designates an established star in a stunt-cast role, i.e. Brad Pitt appearing in an episode of Friends.

Extra: A non-speaking role with no on-screen credit. This billing should not appear on an acting résumé.


Theatre credits on a résumé typically include only the character name, as the role size is generally known. If the production is an original work or a recent play, however, an actor may note "lead" or "supporting" after the character name. Also noteworthy is whether the actor originated the role, especially if the play later becomes well known.

Understudy:  A stage term for an actor who will only appear in a principal role if the primary actor cast in that role (and for whom the actor is understudying) cannot perform.  It should be noted however that some theatres guarantee a certain number of performances for understudies.