Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Filmmaking: Big Topic, Small Budget

Viewing good films is not only a way to study acting technique but also to see ways to handle a big genre on a small budget. Lonely Are the Brave, for example - a film of which Kirk Douglas was immensely proud - is an example of how to make a Western with one horse, one jeep, one star (Douglas), a handful of fine actors who were relative unknowns at the time (Carroll O'Connor, Walter Matthau, Gena Rowlands, George Kennedy), one jail set, one house, and lots of open (and free) desert.

Directed by Volker Schlondorff
Another example is now in theatres: Diplomacy, a riveting French-German film about the faceoff between Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul general in Paris during World War II (played by Andre Dussollier) and Dietrich von Choltitz, the German general charged with destroying Paris before the German infantry retreated across the Rhine (played by Niels Arestrup, a favorite of mine). The acting is superb, it is wonderfully directed by German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff, and the plot illuminates a historical event that I didn't know much about: that Paris - the Louvre, Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, everything - had been extensively wired with explosives by the Germans in August of 1944 and had come within a hair of being utterly destroyed.

It helps to base your film, as this one was, on a successful dramatic play. But look at how this film was made: one old tank, most of the story shot in one hotel room, a handful of interiors/exteriors shot very tight, panoramic shots over the rooftops of Paris (so modern cars and the McDonalds signs don't show), army uniforms and period clothing for civilians, and (inexpensive if not completely free) archival WWII clips. No budget-busting CGI that I could detect. No cast of hundreds (we don't do thousands anymore). "War" is conveyed with smoke, lights, and sound effects, and the audience buys it.

So, how do you tackle a genre film on a small budget? Focus the plot on the personal. Not the cattlemen's range war but the individual rebelling against a changing world. Not the Battle of the Bulge but the faceoff between two strong personalities and a critical decision that could change the course of history.  It can be done, and done well. Films like this one prove it.

Pirate Me!

You have to have a touch of the wanderlust in you to be an actor - travel is frequently part of the job, after all - but if as part of your travels you happen to wander into an old film location, so much the better. I often seek them out: the LA river bed where the giant ants hole up in Them!, the old train depot in New Jersey where they filmed The Station Agent.

The Caribbean island of Dominica

Last week my dear husband and I went farther afield to Dominica (pronounced Doh-meh-nee'-kah), the volcanic island near Barbados where many of the scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean films are shot. What an unbelievably gorgeous island. It rises from its black sand beaches more than 4,000 feet, all tropical rainforest with streams and waterfalls at every turn. Breathtaking.

The next in the Pirates series - Dead Men Tell No Tales - is now in preproduction. Lucky the actors who get to leave gray skies and brown trees and work there.

The beach is indeed black

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Will "Before I Disappear" be as good a film as "Curfew"?

I'm drawing up my grocery list in preparation for a day of cooking turkey, but I just saw that Shawn Christensen's film Before I Disappear is opening this week and I had to say a few words. I saw his short film Curfew, which won more than 40 film festival awards before taking the Oscar for short film in 2012. It was very funny and clever and an example of what a writer can come up with if his take on life is prefaced with "What if....?"

Before I Disappear is Curfew taken to feature length. Here's the gist: "At the lowest point in his life, Ritchie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his 11-year-old niece, Sophia, for a few hours." (The film actually opens with Ritchie in the bathtub cutting his wrists. I will say no more.)

Christensen has added a few name actors to the feature, like Ron Perlman, but he still stars himself as Ritchie and has retained Fatima Ptacek as Sophie. I actually thought Ptacek was the weakest link in the short, because she seemed too much a show-biz kid, too much 10 going on 30. We'll see how she does in the feature.

The big question is, can you expand a short, snappy comedy and still make it work? We'll see. So far the feature has won 12 festival awards and the critics are mixed but generally positive. A lot of those who saw the short can't wait to see it. Me included.

Christensen graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York with a bachelor's degree in illustration (of all things.), but is proving to be a natural screenwriter, actor, and director....an immense talent who is going to have a long and successful career in film. Whether it's writer, producer, director, star, or all of the above...who knows? But you are going to see his name a lot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

This Vampire Film Has Me Intrigued

I haven't watched a vampire film since Count Yorga, Vampire scared the bejeesus out of me as a kid by letting the vampire win. (What fun is that?) But what I've read about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, has me intrigued. This sounds like a brilliant twist. More later when I actually get a chance to see it.  As I said, lots of good films out, and women filmmakers!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Praise of Small, Funky, Creative, Inspiring Films

After starting off the year with the usual over-the-top CGI Superhero flicks designed to attract the easily amused, this has become a phenomenal year for small, funky, creative, inspiring films. My husband and I would rather eat popcorn in a movie theatre than dinner in a French restaurant, but over the summer there were weeks when we stayed home. Now there are so many choices!

The 2014 Oscars are shaping up to be a real horserace, although if Michael Keaton doesn't win the Best Actor Oscar for Birdman I'd like to see the performance that does! (More on Birdman in a separate post below.) Check out Naomi Watts both in Birdman and St. Vincent, where she does a brilliant comic turn as a pregnant Russian prostitute.

Has Filmdom discovered that a fine small film can turn a tidy profit with much less financial risk?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Suggestion for Marketing via Social Media

Arlan Godthaab, Vampire Hunter
A Los Angeles actor friend, Arlan Godthaab, posted photos yesterday on Facebook from "I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker," a horror-comedy now shooting in snowy Wisconsin, with a cast that includes Jacob Givens, Derek Haugen, Noel Carroll, and Keely Gelineau. These were interesting shots that not only made me want to learn more about the film but also got me thinking about how actors and production companies use social media to publicize their product. His is one way, and it’s a good one.

Yet most production companies, even the big ones, don’t yet get social media. Filmmakers trying to break into the business have enough on their plate just trying to figure out funding, casting, logistics, lighting, shooting, and editing. Marketing is rarely in the budget, so they don’t even think about it. They should. They have a whole team on set that can help get the word out about their production, but often the best most young filmmakers can do is set up a Facebook “fan page” and then ask everyone to “like my page.” In an incentive-based culture, that’s rarely effective because everyone is thinking, “What’s in it for me?"

Every person over age 3 has a cell phone with photo/video capability, and nearly everyone under age 80 has a Twitter account and Facebook page and more. (Judi Dench tweets, for heaven sakes!) Actors WANT that production still of their big scene. They WANT to tell people about the terrific new film they’re working on at the moment and the great production team that's creating it. They want to post it to Facebook, upload Vine videos, and tweet the news out to everyone they know! It’s part of driving down your IMDb rating and driving up your Klout number, which is why stars large and small are being advised to do it. These days a few savvy producers even consider an actor’s social media presence when casting their films…and say as much in the breakdowns!

So let me make a suggestion, maybe even a few….

Small production? Don’t have a recognizable star? Designate someone who's good with a cell phone camera to take production stills throughout each day’s shoot. (A production still is one with the camera and crew in the shot that tells everyone “See, I make movies!”) At the end of each day have them review the photos, adjust the sharpness and pump up the saturation with a cell phone app like Camera+, and then see that every member of the cast and crew gets at least one flattering shot of themselves to use on social media. (And “flattering shots” should be the instruction to the photographer.) Later, when you get to editing, have someone grab interesting screen shots from your outtakes and, again, email them to cast and crew who are in those scenes. You can also use all of these shots on your film production website and social media sites (and, yes, you should have all of those), make them available to the designer creating your poster, and use the outtakes in producing your trailer.

Work with your cast and crew to help shape the message and get lots of free and positive publicity (which helps in building audience anticipation and winning awards.) Talk to them. Get everyone pulling together.

Arlan, my best to director Clayton Cogswell and the whole Good Cops Entertainment Team at #HouseHarker. Looking forward to seeing the film.

Still photo by Jacob Givens from "I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker."   

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Classes in Washington, DC...the Demanding Ones

Acting is an ongoing education, not only in studying great actors in film and on stage but also in formal classes. We're always working on our craft.

A little play I was in last month won its one-act competition, with nice comments from the judges about my performance. It was the first time on stage that I was free of stress about my lines and about performing in front of an audience. It was enjoyable....exhilarating. Now is the time to pump up my stage work with a class that pushes me back out of my comfort zone.

I've been surveying local actors on which programs are likely to be the most challenging.  Here's what I'm hearing....

The Shakespeare Theatre Company: Accessible. Classes of 5-6 sessions. Great for the classics (and what actor doesn't need a firm foundation in the classics?). Learn at your own pace. Enunciate! Enunciate!

The Studio Theatre Conservatory:  Demanding. Not for the faint-hearted, or the thin-skinned. A full 3-year program, which they encourage beginners to take, or individual classes to round out the more experienced actor. Joy Zinoman and her faculty are known as tough customers (but I like tough customers). Just 8-12 students in each class, which is enough for good scene work and feedback, but not so many that you don't get enough time to perform.

#StudioTheatre #ShakespeareTheatreCompany #Actorslife

An actress is always learning her craft

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Non-Glamorous Side of Acting...

Up at 3 am. Camera ready and on the road by 4:30 to drive 81 miles to an early call and avoid much of rush hour. Astonishing how many cars are already on the road. Then a lonely breakfast in McDonald's, drinking coffee and watching the first gray threads of dawn break on the horizon. Worked from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., much of it in bitter cold and without a coat, then fought heavy traffic for 3 hours to get home. To get home dead tired.

I've known dayplayers and background actors  to be on the road 8-9 hours round-trip to work a film or TV show, which often means being up more than 24 hours straight, unless they can catch a catnap back in holding. It's called dedication.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Latest in a Year of Great Movies....Birdman

What a year for great movies! And what a feast for actors to watch and learn.

Saw #Birdman with my husband yesterday. Wow. That…was…different. Wow. My husband (he's the literary one) pointed out that it draws on the School of Magic (or Magical) Realism that was popular in Latin American literature in the 1940s and 1950s. Think Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Events occur as normal, then people begin to fly. Yes, it's that different.

Birdman defines "tour de force" on so many levels, right down to the titles. I can't even imagine what it took to light those tracking shots.

And Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts (This after her turn in St. Vincent. Fabulous!) The Brits have dominated acting for decades. Now the Americans are showing them how it's done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Other Sources for Acting Inspiration

Actors draw inspiration from many sources, including the fine acting to be found in silent films and old radio shows.  I’m a huge, huge fan of the radio drama, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, which aired from 1949 to 1962.  It's the story of an insurance investigator, but one that rivals any private detective from Sam Spade to Lew Archer.

I was in Nevada and Arizona a couple of weeks ago and stopped by the Lake Mojave Resort near Bullhead City, Arizona, because it was the location for several YTJD episodes, including “The Mojave Red Matter” and “The Red Mystery.”

Sixty years ago when it took 10 hours and $153.00 to fly non-stop from New York to Las Vegas, getting to the Lake Mojave Resort sounds like a trek to an exotic place.  Here’s an excerpt from “The Red Mystery” that mentions the resort:

“…the awesome beauty of the clear night sky over the desert with its billions of stars twinkling in the black sky above is something I’ll never tire of.  The stars seem close enough to reach out and touch them. As the plane hit the glide path down to the landing strip at the south end of Las Vegas the myriad many-colored lights of the city winked and sparkled like the lights on a gigantic Christmas tree.  Yeah, from the air Las Vegas, the fabulous city of chance, is just plain beautiful.

I’d like to have stuck around Las Vegas and tried my hand at some of the casinos and clubs along the gamblers’ alley they call The Strip, but I had other things to do. So, Item #2 is $50 bucks deposit on a rental car and within minutes after the plane landed I was heading south and east across the desert down toward Davis Dam, down to the Lake Mojave Resort. The desert, mile after mile of nothing but sand and sagebrush and Joshua Trees, of tumbleweed and cactus, of high plateaus and broad mesas. Here and there the skeleton of some animal that has perished in the remorseless, terrible summer sun.

And then suddenly, in the middle of it, the life giving waters of Lake Mojave.

At the south end of the lake, just above Davis Dam, is the resort, with its clean, comfortable motel, good restaurant, tackle shop, and dock, everything to warm the heart of a fisherman. Yeah, and in the bright light of the moon I could see the lake itself, calm as a millpond. That meant that, unlike the cold and snow I’d left back east, here it was warm and perfect weather for fishing. It took a bit of self-control to keep from driving right on down to the dock. Instead I drove in a circle around to the office where, in spite of the hour, someone came out to greet me…"

The reason he couldn't stop to fish was that he was tracking down murderers and racketeers. It was a wonderful show and Bob Bailey by far the best of the eight actors who played Johnny Dollar over its nearly 13 year run on radio. There’s more about Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar online on several sites devoted to old time radio. You can also listen to episodes of this and other shows - like Gunsmoke, The Six Shooter, Bold Venture, and others - at no charge at: www.oldradioprograms.us It's wonderful acting.

I enjoyed walking about the resort and took a few photos.  Next time I’m in the area, I think I’ll try my hand at fishing for some of those “lunker bass.”

Lake Mojave near Davis Dam in Arizona

Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Overview on The Biz

Flying out to Nevada I took along the book Making Movies by the late and great director Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Murder on the Orient Express, Network, The Pawnbroker, Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Running on Empty, and on and on through 73 films and TV episodes).

What a find! As actors we tend to see just one part of the elephant and can only guess about the rest. This book takes you through the entire movie-making process and explains the considerations at each step: concept, funding, writing, locations, editing, lighting, sound, directing, acting, post-production, audience previews, and marketing.

Why does a film need star casting? On what take is an actor likely to be giving the director their best? What is the preview process like? Why does a director choose to do a particular film? How has the film-making process changed over time?  And does it now make sense?  Not always.  Not even to Sidney Lumet.

But this book illuminates a lot of the whats and whys that go into making a film, and information like that makes you a more informed actor and better able to shape your career.  This is a book that is going on my Quick Reference shelf. 

I'm reading it through again, now that I'm no longer distracted by the wild-eyed woman passenger who went streaking up the airplane aisle just before the door closed and promptly keeled over in the gangway, leading to a short delay in takeoff while the airline staff called the paramedics and removed her luggage from the plane.  Ah, the joys of air travel.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Goblin Baby Premieres

The Goblin Baby, Shoshana Rosenbaum's supernatural short, premiered to a full house on September 27th at RiRa's in Georgetown. Michael Gabel, Oriana Oppice and I were among the cast who attended. Well done, Shoshana! On to the film festivals!
(L to R) Actor Michael Gabel, actress Kathryn Browning, writer/director Shoshana Rosenbaum (and son), actress Oriana Oppice, and production staff Robin Noonan-Price and Victoria Buksbazen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Time for New Headshots

Every year or two an up-and-coming actor needs new headshots, and since my hair had gone from almost black to ash blonde (Hey, blonde is the new gray, Baby!) mine were overdue.

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that the point to headshot photography is to show what I will look like when I walk in the door to audition. Well of course, you say? Try convincing the photographer! I've had inexpensive family photographers and really expensive New York photographers. I've been flat-lighted to the point where my face looks like two eyes and a mouth on a white sheet of paper. I've been photoshopped to the point where I look like I'm made of plastic.

Every actor has had this experience and the odd thing is that (1) the photographer thinks that you want it that way and (2) his or her ego is such that they can't release a photo without making you "pretty."

But the result is that whenever I see a breakdown posted, half the time the casting director now asks for a snapshot so they can see what you really look like! So who's kidding whom?

I AM pretty (well...on a good hair day), but I'm also a woman of a certain age and I wanted that to show in my face, complete with crow's feet and freckles. I also wanted lighting that put some dramatic shadows on my face, because I have been making do for the past few months with a screen shot that did just that and it was getting me auditions. I talked over my concerns with actor Ken Arnold, who does headshot photography as a sideline in Baltimore (and leads some really helpful workshops at Studio-Boh), and he got some great shots.

By the way, to look your best in headshots be sure to use Clear Eyes or other eye drops before your photo session to get the red out. You want the color of your eyes to pop and if you're like me your eyes are often irritated from makeup, hairspray, bright lights, etc. Teeth a little dull? Swish for 30 seconds with a mix of 3 parts mouthwash to 1 part hydrogen peroxide (spit it out!) and then rinse your mouth with plain water. It will remove surface stains. It also pays to learn to do your own makeup and style your own hair so you can reproduce that look for auditions. I even cut my own hair. Finally, you know the look you're going for, so choose your own outfits.   

Anyway, here are the final four, chosen for the three kinds of roles I most often get  - older Mother (which I used at right on my blog), senator/detective, and secretary/socialite - plus an "everywoman" look, since a big budget mini-series may be coming to the area where "factory worker" is likely to be a role. I didn't change my hair, makeup, or earrings from shot to shot, so they all have a similar look, but they're still just a tad in one direction or another, depending on what I was going for. An actor doesn't need to be too much in character in their submission photos. They just need to hint at the possibilities while still being themselves. Ditto the big grin. I try for a middle ground of looking amused/pleasant and keep the toothy smile in reserve if casting specifically asks for it.

Ken added a bit more color saturation on some of these, but none were retouched (which you can really see in the larger 8" x 10" prints). We'll see if these get me in the door at casting.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

If You're in West Hartford, this is a Must See!

Rae C. Wright, my good friend and a fabulous actress, opens tomorrow night as Hannah Pitt in Angels in America at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, Connecticut.  You can read the write-up in the New York Times here.

I first saw Rae three years ago in Juliet Lashinsky-Revene's deeply moving short film Keys. Wallet. Phone.  When the lights came up in the theatre, I couldn't move. Rae's performance had been so gut-wrenching. She has a face like the great Lesley Manville. It shows every emotion.

Directed by Sean Harris, #AngelsinAmerica runs through October 19. See it if you get the chance.
Rae C. Wright as Hannah Pitt and Jim Shankman as Roy Cohn rehearsing Angels in America, which opens tomorrow night at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Consider Roles in Commercials Carefully

Actors often disagree over the direction a career should take. Some feel that an actor should take any job offered, as long as it pays and it’s not pornography, because you never know where a job might lead. Others set rules about the kinds of roles they will accept, especially if the job has a potentially negative impact on their career long-term. 

Stephanie Courtney
TV commercials can be a lucrative specialty area; just ask Stephanie Courtney, who had a series of small parts in film and television before landing the role of “Flo,” the spokesperson for Progressive Insurance.  She’s making a fortune with that gig and she’s everywhere!

But acting in commercials is very different from acting in film. Because they don’t roll credits at the end, commercials present the audience with a kind of reality that blurs the line between actor and role. It isn’t an actress playing a soccer mom there on the screen, it’s a soccer mom telling you that she uses the sponsor’s product and you should too.  
If you are widely identified as that commercial person, it can severely limit what other opportunities are offered to you. A casting director might not consider you for a film or TV role if the audience response is likely to be, “Oh look, it’s that woman from the bank commercial!” It destroys the magic. Listen to one viewer's commentary on this House M.D. clip of Courtney posted to YouTube: 

As if that isn’t bad enough, the product can leave an impression about you personally that could make you unemployable. This came up today when I got an email from a casting agency saying they’d like to submit me for a commercial spot. They didn’t say in the email what product or services were being promoted, which raised a red flag. I play in the 45-60 age range, so I asked: Is the product/services age-related? Casting finessed with the broadly generic response: “healthcare.”

I passed on it. An actor friend thought I was nuts. Commercials pay good money, he said!

But I look at it this way: I have no problem playing roles where I’m not at my Sunday best. I do it all the time in film and it’s fun. But in a film I’m clearly an actress playing a role. In a commercial I’m “the person” and if “the person” is promoting health alert systems (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”), home scooters, death benefit insurance, medication for chronic pain or to prolong their love life, or anything else that screams “infirmity,” that all comes back on me. And the next time a casting agency considers me for a role, that image could affect their decision to even see me.

Not convinced? Remember Jane Powell’s unfortunate decision to promote adult diapers? I groaned.  Sure, they probably paid her a ton of money for that spot.  But now instead of fondly remembering her as the lovely little blond with the big soprano in that classic 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I get the image of her in….well, you get the picture.

Consider your commercial roles carefully. It’s money now that could end up costing you much more money later.

Monday, September 22, 2014

12 Habits to Jumpstart Your Week

It's easy to feel too busy to think, but Monday mornings set the stage for the week ahead and give you a chance to regroup and consider the big picture. Monday is the day to get pumped up about acting and your decision to make this your career. Here are things to do on Monday mornings (and some you can do every morning) to keep your acting career on track.

1. Wake up early and exercise. Not a morning person? Sleep/awake cycles are not genetic, they are set by you. Partying a lot or staying up to watch late night talk shows have to be weighed in terms of the benefit to your career. If you’re not awake until noon, you won’t be prepared. 

2. Eat a healthy breakfast. If you skip breakfast, your growling stomach will soon become a distraction. If you eat a sugary/starchy breakfast, you’ll be nodding off by 10 a.m. You want your brain to be alert and running on all cylinders, so go high protein and save the carbs for lunch.

3. Establish a routine and get started early. Review your calendar for the week and check for networking opportunities on those days when you’re not working: i.e. film festivals, union meetings, free acting seminars, etc. I’m very big on free events and the SAG Foundation sponsors a lot of workshops, casting director Q&As, and panels that are well worth attending. When you attend, make an effort to be accessible. Put a smile on your face. Introduce yourself to that person sitting quietly off to the side. You never know who you might meet. 

4.  Check your emails/texts and screen for urgent requests. Every email should get a reply, but you can miss something important if you don't first scan your inbox for urgency. Star those messages that are priorities and think quality, not quantity, in your response. But be sure to add a touch of humanity. Before you hit “Send,” read them over to ensure that they're friendly and clear. It's easy to appear curt when you're in a hurry, especially in writing. You might start by saying "Hi" and "I hope you had a great weekend."

5.  Spend no more than 20 minutes on social media. Briefly comment on what others in the industry have posted, and post acting-related information that others can use. Author Dale Carnegie said that the art of being a good conversationalist was in listening to what others had to say. The same is true of social media. The purpose is to connect with those in the business by listening/commenting on what THEY are saying. If you've acquired 10,000 "friends" and everything you post screams "Look at me!" no one will want to take you to lunch.

6. Tackle the easy tasks first. Organize your computer desktop. File receipts and compute mileage from the previous week for tax purposes. Make sure current scripts and files are easily accessible. Then if you have tougher and more time-consuming tasks, you’re ready to tackle them without having to search for what you need.

7.  Allow time for unexpected intrusions.
Expect the unexpected and try to avoid scheduling anything on Monday until late in the day. That gives you time to organize your week and if someone in production found loose ends unraveling over the weekend you have time to deal with it.   

8. But if it’s not urgent, say no. You can wear yourself out trying to please everyone. If it’s not absolutely urgent, learn to diplomatically say no by offering to connect later in the day or in the week. Then be sure to follow-up.

9.  Update your to-do list and review your goals. Be sure you are current on the tasks that have to get done during the week, review your overall goals, and then set goals for the week. Even if you don’t accomplish them all, you’ll accomplish most of them.

10.  Scan one or more trade papers
(Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Backstage), either online or in hard copy, to pick up on trends and TV/films in pre-production. I don’t read a general newspaper and haven’t for years because I found myself getting worked up over issues that I could not resolve. Try to stay focused and hope that the political scandals, global unrest, and environmental “crises” are being handled by those with more knowledge and influence.

11.  Take time to touch bases with actor friends by text or email. It reinforces a sense of purpose and community for everyone, including you.

12. Visualize success. You won’t know that you’ve arrived if you don’t know what it looks like when you get there. And learn to be patient. As Harrison Ford once said: “I realized early on that success is tied to not giving up. Most people in this business gave up and moved on to other things. If you simply didn’t give up, you would outlast the people who came on the bus with you.” Amen to that.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Advice from Julie Newmar

Photo by Firooz Zahedi
Icon Actress/Dancer Julie Newmar turned 81 on August 16th, a fact I'm sure she doesn't mind revealing as she still looks absolutely fabulous. She often gives public lectures on "How to Be a Great Beauty...Even When You're Not." Here is a sample. You'll find more on her Facebook Page. (And yes, I'm getting a 3-way mirror!)

IMAGE: By seeing the inherent beauty, intelligence, mastery in others they will see it in you. This is the MIRROR you want.

VOICE: Where does your sound come from? You can't be beautiful, if you don't sound beautiful.

BODY: Tall or short, there is one element that defines the spirit that becomes your body and that is your spine. Lift it, give your head something to balance on, then breathe and smile.

LIGHT: All the great stars know where their light is coming from, no matter where they are. We call it the key light.

MAKE-UP TRICKS: One trick is - unless your eyes are the size of saucers, never, never put eyeliner inside your lash line.

HAIR: I don't care what color it is, I'm not too fond of streaking. It sort of screams "I'm artificial."

DRESS: Most people offend the eye. Logos on T-shirts look like you are on minimum wage, wearing a sandwich board. What were they thinking? They weren't!

GO CLASSIC: Ralph Lauren made a billion dollars with his RL classic look. For a few dollars more, go simple. The clothes don't enter the room, you do. Walk with dignity. "Everything is working out for me". Think this way.

WHO IS GORGEOUS? Who are your dress idols? Olivia de Havilland at 96 looks absolutely stunning. Brooke Astor at her 100th birthday party in blue, looking absolutely gorgeous.

RANDOM ADVICE: If you don't have a 3-way mirror, you shouldn't go out in public, under any circumstances.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Acting Tip: Finding an Agent

Finding actor representation can be tough, especially if you're looking to break into a new market.  You need an agency that has an established presence and a network of relationships so they can actively market you, not just submit you for roles.

Life Coach Dallas Travers has some tips that I think address the difficulties in a very pro-active way.  In a nutshell, here is her 7-Step Plan (See her original post here.):

Step 1: Send an email.  This email should be no more than three sentences, and should be structured as so: Introduction. Credibility. Invitation. Links. So, an example would be, “Hi, my name is …(introduction), and I recently graduated from ….. (credibility). I’m new to the LA (NY, whatever) market and would love to meet to discuss working together (invitation). Please click the link below to see my demo reel (links).” Sign your name, and hit send!

Step 2: Send a mailing.  Five days after your initial email, mail a postcard or one-sheet, whatever piece of marketing you’ve been using. Write the exact same message on this marketing that you wrote in the email.  Warning: Do not mail your demo reel! At this point, it’s unlikely to be seen and will end up just costing you money.

Step 3: Fax a letter. That’s right, you read correctly, I used the word “fax.” This works because most businesses still own fax machines but they’re not frequently used, ensuring that this is a piece of marketing that will get noticed. This should happen five business days after Step 2. Make sure you’re faxing this letter on a text-only one-sheet that looks like letterhead so your name and information is at the top. Then write the same introduction you used in steps 1 and 2, and include any quotes or testimonials that you have in the letter.

Step 4: Do a drop-off. Five days after you send the fax, drop by the office and leave some kind of marketing. You could give them the letter that you faxed, or if you have demos and you can afford to make copies, go ahead and drop off those. Feel free to get as creative as you want. Check out www.PaperMart.com for some fun and inexpensive ideas.

Step 5: Pick up the phone.  Now we’re turning up the volume. Two business days after you do the drop-off, make a phone call. The script is the same as your original letter.

Step 6: Take action. When you complete Step 5, the agency is going to give you some form of resistance. They’ll say something like, “We need an industry referral,” or “We need you to email us your demo reel.” Now your job is to take the action they’ve requested, even if you’ve already done it. Don’t mention that you’ve already given them what they’re asking for because that opens the door for them to respond with, “Great! If we’re interested, we’ll give you a call."

Step 7: Make the final phone call.  Do this two business days after Step 6. Often, you won’t even get to this step because you will already have gotten a meeting or a clear no. This step is your chance to make sure you’ve done everything you can to know where you stand with everyone on your list.

Sounds easy enough. Professional but persistent.  Initial contacts with agencies often have to pass through an intern (yes, it's true). This could do it.

#ActorAgents #SAGAFTRA #KayBrowning #ActorTips

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Michael Chekhov's 3 Archetypes

As I've often said in this journal, I'm a thinking actress, not a feeling actress, and I'm always looking for shortcuts to developing a character. Brits are known for an outside in approach, for example: get the walk and the talk first and then to let the character develop from there.

Actor Michael Chekhov, nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov, developed a system that can help in capturing the walk and the talk. Chekhov said all characters fell into one of three archetypes, which he called Head-, Heart-, and Groin-centered.

“Head” characters seem to draw their emotional energy from the head and all of their gestures seem to come from there. They slap or tap their head, scratch their head, make sweeping farewell gestures from the head. They also sit forward in chairs and walk forward on the balls of their feet. Head characters are perceptive. Consider Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who frequently tips his hat, touches his moustache, and nods his head, not to mentioned constantly referring to those “little grey cells.” Or in the photo, Laurence Harvey expressing frustration as a Head character.

“Heart” characters draw emotional energy from the chest and heart area. They may place a hand over their heart when they speak, clasp or wring hands at the waist, and make open-handed gestures from the waist to convince you of their sincerity. Their intelligence and emotions are more balanced. They sit up straight and walk with their feet flat on the ground. Think of the characters in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Sincere, honorable, doing what’s right.

“Groin” characters are earthy types with a low center of energy. They slouch into a chair, hook their thumbs in their pockets, and lean back when speaking. All gestures, from amorous caresses to a threatening fist, come at hip level. Marlon Brando personified the "groin" character. Think Stanley Kowalski or Don Corleone.

It sounds simplistic, but with practice the Chekhov system can have enormous value to the actor, including voice actors. Try it when preparing an audition and see how your read changes from type to type.

#KayBrowning #MichaelChekhov #ActorsAccess #SagAftra

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Auditioning for Network TV vs. Auditioning for Cable

Australia-based casting director Greg Apps has an interesting piece in Backstage magazine, pointing to the differences in auditioning for shows on network television and cable.  While these won't hold true every time, the basics are these:

Network is plot driven. Cable is character driven. Network shows are self-contained within one hour. The baddie must be caught, a relationship must be resolved. What happens is more important than to whom it happens. You need to deliver clear concise characterizations for network. Pace is more important than a pause. Do not overcook the character, because that is secondary to the story rhythm being clearly communicated. Cable characters make the audience work that little bit harder.

Network delivers recognizable emotions and relationships. Cable delivers conundrums. Network programs concisely deliver a character’s feelings and emotions. The audience is comfortable. They know the territory. Cable series performance hints at a character’s feelings, leaving subtle clues. The audience savors the intrigue and tension of being delivered morsels of information. It sets up discussion. If network TV did this, the viewer would reach for the remote.

Network is about style over substance. Cable is substance over style. Look your best for a network test. Look even better than your best. Network needs their audience to know exactly who the character is the moment they appear on screen, so dress appropriately for a network audition. Cable takes the audience into foreign territory —emotionally not geographically. A place where they have never been before. The cable script is the map, but it is the characters that create the emotional environment.

Network decisions are driven by how you look. Cable is driven by “Have I seen this character before?” Characters in a network show need to be instantly recognizable. We know the character in a short time. In your cable audition you can make bolder decisions about your character. Warning: Be careful to not make your character bigger, but rather more obtuse, more perplexing. Find moments that give your character added dimension.

Interesting points! Read the full article and more on Greg Apps here.

#KathrynBrowning #Backstage #Auditions #GregApps #ActorsAccess

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Best Thing that can happen to an Actor

You lost out. You auditioned and they loved you. Casting was so moved by your performance they were in tears. You were called back, more than once. They said you nailed it. Or maybe you even got the part in the big budget production and shot the scene. The famous director told you how terrific you were on camera. You went home walking on air. You told all of your actor friends. Everyone said you were on your way. And then….nothing. The part went to a different actor. Your scene was edited out of the film. Your big moment turned to sand.

It doesn’t feel like a gift at that moment, (No, it hurts like hell.) but for an actor early in their career it may just be the best thing that can possibly happen. Why? Because you want that role desperately.  You need it. Your sense of self-worth hangs on it. You leave auditions replaying the scene in your head: “Maybe I should have done it this way, maybe I should have done it that way.”  You’re a bundle of nerves with no sense of who you are or what you bring to a role, and that is wrecking your chances for more work. 

Let it go. Film and TV production is a hugely expensive business, and a score of considerations go into deciding who is cast and whether a scene stays in the picture. You can’t possibly know what all of them are, so more often than not you are going to lose out to some other actor. There is no magic strategy to a cold read.

But once you stop agonizing over it, once you learn to deal with career disappointments, suck it up, and keep going, something magical DOES happen. You begin to relax during your auditions. You become more sure of yourself as an actor and as a human being, and your performances become more natural. You still want the role (Of course you do.), but you’re not going to lie awake at night beating yourself up if you don’t get it. You give the audition your best shot, and then you walk out the door and let it go.  

In short, you become a real pro.

#KathrynBrowning #ActorsAccess #KayBrowning #SAGAFTRA #ActorAuditions

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Being an Actor means getting up early

Auditioned this morning in NY for a role in a new TV series that's been green-lighted. A lot of production companies with streaming capability are bypassing pilots and committing to projects right off. This is a positive new trend, because it means they're putting thought and money into development of a superior product, like House of Cards. Anyway, this one is with a major production house. I think I did well, but two other actresses auditioning for the same role were on a first name basis with casting. It's a tough market.
4 a.m. in Washington's Union Station, waiting for a train.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Making Progress

I was off the radar this spring overseeing repairs to the house. Now things are picking up. I shot a principal speaking role in the Netflix series House of Cards, Season 3. Last summer I auditioned twice and was cast twice in speaking roles for two Season 2 episodes, both directed by James Foley, a wonderful director. Lost them both in editing.

Getting edited out is one of the hazards in this business as filmmakers typically shoot much more footage than they can use. But actors mourn it when it happens (and I did). I have my fingers crossed that the scene for Season 3 stays in. So far, it looks good.  House of Cards is a wonderful series, beautifully shot and extremely well written. 
A short film I was in earlier this year is about to come out, Shoshana Rosenbaum's supernatural thriller "The Goblin Baby." Looking forward to seeing the finished version.

I was also just cast in a lead role in a new Laurence Peters play, "The Illusionist," about the world of art forgery.  The play will have a brief run this fall, with me as Barbara Goldberg, the disgruntled ex-wife who blows the whistle on the fraud scheme.

Looming large on the horizon, is an audition I just taped for a terrific role in Jon Jashni's feature film Brilliance. The production is gathering steam for fall filming up near Pittsburgh. No word yet. Noomi Rapace, who was so brilliant as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, is the only name showing in the cast so far.

Actors get a bit rusty during down time, as I had this spring, so even though I'm getting some booking I think it's time to head back to acting coach John Pallotta's Studio in New York. John Pallotta is also an actor, writer, and director, so he has instant rapport with his actor clients, who continue to turn up regularly in feature films and in TV shows like Arrested Development, Blue Bloods, Boardwalk Empire, CSI, VEEP, Orange is the new Black, and many others. John has a unique approach to getting into character that is very accessible. And he's right, to be successful you have to love this business of acting more than anything.

 So, off to New York!

#KathrynBrowning #JohnPallotta #HouseofCards #ArrestedDevelopment #BlueBloods #OrangeistheNewBlack #BoardwalkEmpire #VEEP #CSI #ActorsAccess #SAGAFTRA #Brilliance #NoomiRapace #JonJashni